The Albanian capital isn’t particularly famous, but it’s undoubtedly worth a stop. Home to a wide variety of cultural and culinary sites, Tirana is growing into a funky European city. Apart from that, Albania is a Cold War tourism hotspot. On this basis, here are the best things to do in Tirana, Albania.
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Welcome to Tirana: Albania’s Underrated Capital
When visiting the Balkans, many people immediately head to Croatia or Montenegro. As such, most travelers overlook Albania and its capital. Tirana, however, is one of the coolest cities in this region.
Founded in 1614, when Albania was part of the Ottoman Empire, Tirana today displays a mix of different architectural styles.
In the 20th century, Tirana was occupied by the Italians before becoming the capital of Enver Hoxha’s Albania, one of the most isolated countries in history.
During the Cold War, Hoxha ordered the construction of massive military facilities and bunkers all over the country, and Tirana is no exception.
In the 21st century, Tirana is rapidly evolving into a modern and trendy European capital, with hip restaurants, coffee shops, and modern buildings popping up everywhere.
All in all, I was positively surprised by the Albanian capital and suggest checking it out. Here are the top attractions and things to do in Tirana, Albania.
My vlog on visiting Tirana, Albania
The Best Things to do in Tirana, Albania
There are a lot of fun things to do in Tirana, and most of them are in the city center. A few nature-related Tirana attractions are further away from the main core. As such, it’s best to plan at least two days in the city.
Start Your Visit on Skanderbeg Square
Skanderbeg (1405-1468) is Albania’s most famous national here. In the 15th century, he was a military commander who fought several rebellions against the Ottoman Empire – asserting the idea of an Albanian nation.
The interesting aspect of Skanderbeg Square is that it changed names and statues in the 20th century. It was first the square of Stalin, then Enver Hoxha, and now Skanderbeg.
Located in the middle of the city, the square is an excellent place to start your Tirana sightseeing tour. It also holds the National History Museum, the Opera House, and the Ottoman Et’hem Bey Mosque.
Head to Some of the Most Beautiful Mosques and Churches in Tirana
The best places to visit in Tirana also include the city’s stunning mosques and churches.
The Et’hem Bey Mosque on Skanderbeg Square is small but historically significant as it dates from the 1820s. During the communist era, the mosque was closed. As such, it only reopened in 1991.
Apart from the Et’hem Bey, the Great Mosque of Tirana (Namazgah Mosque) is the largest religious building in the city and adheres to the Neo-Ottoman style.
Albania’s religious diversity is visible everywhere in Tirana as you can also visit the Catholic St. Paul’s Cathedral (2002) – and the Orthodox Resurrection Cathedral (2012).
Get Into Cold War Mood Inside the City’s Bunkers
During the Cold War and the rule of Enver Hoxha (1944-1985), Albania was one of the most isolated countries in the world. Hoxha was also convinced that both Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union wanted to invade Albania.
As such, he ordered the construction of over 170,000 bunkers. Most of these bunkers are small and nowadays decaying in nature. Nevertheless, you can visit two massive Cold War bunkers in Tirana: Bunk’art I and Bunk’art II.
Bunk’art I is the biggest nuclear bunker in Albania. Its purpose was to shelter the communist elite in case of an invasion. You can find it around 5 km from the city center, close to Dajti Cable Car station.
Bunk’art II is a bit smaller but located right in the center of Tirana.
The communist things to see in Tirana also include the Pyramid, currently under redevelopment. Once completed, it will be a cultural center with diverse expositions.
My vlog of the largest bunker in Albania and Dajti Mountain
Visit Some of the Best Museums in Tirana
The Albanian capital is home to some fascinating museums showcasing the country’s painful Cold War history but also its culture.
In this context, the National History Museum is a Tirana must-see, and the House of Leaves is the perfect place to learn about the repressive Enver Hoxha regime.
Aside from those, the National Arts Gallery and the Archaeological Museum are also worth a stop if you have time.
Hike in the Surrounding Mountains
Stunning mountainous scenery surrounds the cityscape of Tirana. The most accessible location to hike in the mountains is Dajti, reachable by cable car from the suburbs.
The Dajti mountain top has several hiking paths, horse riding, shooting ranges, and an excellent restaurant with a view.
Admire the City’s Grand Park
Tirana’s Grand Park is one of the most beautiful urban green spaces in the Balkans and an excellent spot for a casual walk or a romantic date.
Enjoy a Night Out in Blloku
Blloku is Tirana’s nightlife area.
If you are looking for fun things to do in Tirana at night, head to Blloku. In this area, some of my favorite bars include Radio (a trendy cocktail bar) and Komitete (a vintage-style bar with communist elements).
Where to Stay in Tirana
The best area to stay in Tirana is undoubtedly the center, around Skanderbeg Square. From here, you can visit most Tirana tourist attractions on foot.
Things to do in Tirana: Know Before You Go
To make the most out of your Tirana sightseeing trip, here are some things to know before traveling to Tirana.
How to get to Tirana
Tirana’s international airport has excellent connections to European hubs and Istanbul.
Aside from flying, you can take buses from Montenegro, Kosovo, Greece, or North Macedonia.
The Best Time to Visit Tirana
Tirana gets hot in the summers and cold in the winters. The best time to visit is arguably May and June, as well as September and October.
Safety in Tirana, Albania
Tirana is generally a safe place to visit. Use common sense and guard your belongings, and you shouldn’t have any trouble.