Albania is an unexplored paradise in the Balkans widely known as “the next Greece.” The country is FULL of hidden beaches, bright blue water, mountains, and untapped nature. In this article you’ll find 18 helpful travel tips for Albania I wish I would have known before visiting.
The culture and the way of life in Eastern Europe/the Balkans is much different than in North America or Western Europe. When you’re travelling in Albania you can expect a more laid back, slow lifestyle which is consequently reflected in the infrastructure, public transit, and other aspects of day-to-day life here.
Initially I was quite shocked and nervous about the way Albanians handle things, but once you get used to the culture and accept that things aren’t a “given,” you’ll relax and have a wonderful time exploring Albania. This all sounds weird and maybe even a little confusing, but once you read this article you’ll have a much better understanding of what I mean and know exactly what to expect!
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18 Helpful Travel Tips for Albania:
1. Public Transportation in Albania
My first Albania travel tip for you HAS to be about public transportation because the public transit in Albania is chaos… Organized chaos.
If you’re travelling anywhere in the country you’ll want to utilize the bus. You can forget about getting on a comfy train or taking a plane across the country. And taxis – they’re not crazy expensive, but you’ll save so much $ by walking and taking the bus. The locals use the bus and you should too (trust me).
The driving in Albania is absolutely nuts (more about that next) and it’s literally impossible to find bus routes and schedules without local knowledge. You can’t google how to get from point A to point B via google maps – the bus schedules in Albania aren’t uploaded on the internet – and there will be little to no information listed at actual bus stops about when the bus is coming or where it’s going.
The Albanian public transit sounds scary and daunting, but it’s totally doable – you got this!
Here are Some Helpful Tips for Taking the bus in Albania:
- ASK your hotel, hostel or wherever you’re staying for information about the bus schedules. The employees are super knowledgeable and this will be your best bet at finding accurate information about times and stops.
- If you struggle in the heat, travel via bus early morning or in the evening. The weather in Albania is SCORCHING in the summer and if you’re unlucky, your bus won’t have air conditioning.
- In addition to buses, sometimes you’ll be travelling via furgon (minibus). These buses actually don’t follow a schedule and depart whenever they’re full.
- NEVER rely on the last bus of the day – the public transit in Albania can be a bit dodgy. You don’t want to get stranded!
- There’s always a person on intracity buses who collects money – these people are SO kind and helpful. If you’re not sure where to get off ask and they’ll help you out. Just note that these people typically don’t speak English so it’s best you write down the name of the place you want to stop so they can see where you’re going.
- Be patient. The bus is super unreliable and will almost never be exactly on time (if there even is a “time).
- If you have important flights or travel dates, make sure you travel via bus early or a day in advance. The buses are extremely unreliable.
ps. the buses are super cheap in Albania which makes them a very affordable method of transportation! Intracity will cost you around 40 LEK ($0.45 CAD) and intercity it will usually cost around 6-12 euros.
Quick Albania Bus Story
Okay so ironically the DAY I started writing this post I had a horrendous Albania bus experience. I was travelling from Himara to Saranda which is a 1 hour bus ride… Long story short it took me 5 hours!
The bus was supposed to come at 12… never showed.
The bus was supposed to come at 1… never showed.
The bus was supposed to come at 2… never showed.
FINALLY the bus arrived at 2:30 – I spent a total of 2.5 hours in 100 degree heat waiting for this bus!
THEN the bus pulled off the side of the road, unloaded our luggage at a gas station and kicked us off. Yup.
We then had to wait another 20 minutes until a new bus came and when it finally did come it backed up into the gas station so fast it almost hit me!
On the second bus the driver was using his phone, making calls, and was screaming at the person on the other end. He stopped the bus to buy cigarettes and then engaged in what I was 99% sure was a drug deal.
When I finally made it Saranda I had a 1km uphill-ish walk to my hostel carrying my bags in the scorching heat.
I thought I’d arrive around 1 and instead I arrived at 5. And THIS is why you can’t put your faith in a timely Albanian bus schedule.
In summary, my #1 (and arguably most important) Albania travel tip is to use the public bus system, BUT to not necessarily rely on it.
2. Local Currency
Albania’s local currency is the Albanian LEK (aka ALL). The currency is closed which means you can’t exchange it abroad – you’ll have to wait until you arrive in Albania for that.
You can use euros anywhere in Albania, however the exchange rate is terrible and in most places it’s much easier using LEK. I’d recommend withdrawing a small amount of LEK at the airport – just enough to pay your taxi or bus to the center, then finding an ATM in the center.
Albania travel tip #3 – the Credins ATMs don’t have a service charge for withdrawing Albanian LEK!
3. SIM Card
When you arrive in Albania you’ll most likely want to pick up a SIM card. I don’t even want to KNOW how much roaming or international texting/calling would run you here.
You can pick up a SIM card in Albania at the airport or at Vodafone once you arrive in the city centre. In Tirana (where you’ll most likely arrive) there seems to be a Vodafone on every street corner so you won’t have any issues finding one.
When I purchased my Albanian SIM card at Vodafone I actually got it free with a plan. And by the way, phone plans are cheap here – especially if you buy the monthly ones. You can get a whack load of data for under $20!
Albania travel tip #3 – grab a cheap SIM card, but pay attention to the international minutes and international texts as those are quite limited.
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4. Safety in Albania
Albania (and a lot of the Balkan countries) have a bad rep for being unsafe, especially for solo female travellers. I’m here to tell you that’s not true!
To be honest, a lot of Albania looks sketchy. SO sketchy. When I first arrived I was a bit worried because the streets, buildings, and even natural spots looked dangerous; trash everywhere, stray dogs, run down buildings, etc.
You’ll quickly discover that this is just Albania though! Just because it looks sketchy doesn’t mean it’s sketchy at all. In fact most places are totally safe and the people… The people are so lovely here.
Like anywhere you’ll want to take general safety precautions, but I honestly felt safer walking alone in Albania than I do in many places in Canada and the US. So, Albania travel tip #4 is to take normal safety precautions, but be open minded and don’t stress about everything!
I can’t attest to this because I didn’t personally hitchhike, but apparently it’s so safe here that the hitchhiking culture in Albania is huge! Everyone you talk to – locals and travellers alike – rave about how easy and safe it is to hitchhike in Albania.
5. People and Culture in Albania
Like I previously mentioned, the people in Albania are INCREDIBLE and so social! I’ve never been part of a culture that’s so kind, welcoming, helpful, and generous.
Almost everyone here wants to chat on the street and is willing to lend a helping hand, especially when it comes to public transit. I was struggling to navigate the bus one day. I asked a local man for help and he went so above and beyond. He got me on the right bus, paid my bus fare, brought me to the connecting furgon, carried my bags, AND invited me back to his bar in Tirana for free beers afterwards!
I’ve also noticed that Albanians are so excited to meet North American people. The locals are thrilled to hear I’m from Canada and they’re even excited to meet Americans too (unlike other places in Europe hahaha)! One night my American friend and I were blessed by a non-English speaking Albanian man. And for no particular reason either! He just heard us speaking English and wanted to send us good energy.
So, my 5th Albanian travel tip for you is to get to know the local people (it’s not hard) and don’t be shy about asking for help.
6. “Albania Time”
Remember that whole unreliable bus thing I was just talking about. Okay, well that ties into the whole “Albania time” thing.
Albanians are so slow moving and chill; that’s the way of life in the Balkans. People don’t rush around here and people certainly don’t walk fast on the street. At first I thought this was just because the culture was so low-key and unbothered, but after spending some time here I’m actually realizing it’s because it’s just too hot to move quickly.
I’m a super fast walker and such a go-go-go person, however in Albania I found myself walking at such a leisurely pace and not following the schedule/itinerary I made for myself. The entire vibe of my trip in Albania was “eh, whatever.” And you’ll find this attitude everywhere.
Albania time also corresponds to tours and other excursion based activities. Your boat tour was supposed depart at 10am? Now it’s 10:45 and you still haven’t left? Albania time.
^side note – at first I found the Albania time thing kinda “sketchy” and had questions like “is this safe?” “am I getting scammed?” floating around in my head. 99/100 times the situation is not sketchy, it’s “just Albania” (as you’ll constantly hear the locals say).
Albania travel tip #6 is expect delays wherever you go and with whatever you do. Learn to roll with it and embrace the whole “chill vibes” thing!
7. Purchasing… Anything
One thing I found to be quite challenging in Albania was the lack of available… Everything.
Come prepared with everything you need in Albania. There’s an ongoing joke here that goes something like:
Traveller: “Where can I buy a backpack?”
This is a joke, but it’s also not a joke. You can’t buy anything practical in Albania, for instance a backpack. Upon arriving I needed to buy a natural bar of soap, a water filter, a spork, and a bathing suit. I could ONLY get the bathing suit.
So, my 7th (and very important) Albanian travel tip is to bring everything you need to Albania. Don’t just expect to be able to buy things here because you will have to scramble and you will be disappointed.
8. “The Next Greece”
Okay pay close attention to this Albanian travel tip – TRAVEL ALBANIA SOONER THAN LATER!
Albania is quite literally the next Greece and is one of the last unexplored/undiscovered countries in Europe. The country is cheap to travel and it’s not as touristic as other destinations like Italy or France.
Albania is a hidden gem, but this status won’t last forever! Albania is growing in popularity every year and the country can quite literally “only go up from here” in terms of prices, infrastructure, and inflation.
There’s no better time than now, so Albania travel tip #8 is to pack your bags and book that flight to Albania!
9. Local Knowledge
Now I’m gonna add on to the whole “unexplored” and “undiscovered” thing. Since Albania isn’t one of those “top 10 travel destinations” everyone flocks to, you won’t find too many travel bloggers talking about this place. And that means you’ll find limited information about Albania on the web.
Throughout your google searches you’ll find a few helpful websites or articles, however said websites and articles will only have some information – you’ll still be left with lots of unanswered questions.
So, my next Albania travel tip is to utilize local knowledge.
Ask questions at your hotel or hostel. Talk to Albanian people on the street. Quiz your waiter or waitress. This will be a hard pill to swallow if you’re an independent traveller (like me), however in Albania you NEED to talk to people to get around.
Throughout my time in Albania I found hostel employees to be the most helpful and knowledgeable. In fact, a huge part of Albania’s tourism industry is based on this whole idea of local knowledge. You can’t just “go do stuff” in Albania like you can in other countries. You need their help and they need your business!
10. Culture Shock
I hate to say it because I really do love Albania, but this country isn’t great in a lot of ways. There’s trash everywhere, it’s loud, it’s busy, and the socialization is much different here than in my home country of Canada. I can 100% say that when I first arrived in Albania I experienced HUGE culture shock and had a moment of “oh no, what did I get myself into!?”
The driving here is absolutely insane (especially in Tirana). To put it into perspective, between the trash, the traffic, and the general “rundown vibe” you’ll feel like you’re in India.
You’ll (hopefully) quickly adjust to the culture though and escape to the more nature-y spots of the country like Himara or the beautiful national park of Theth. In these spots you’ll experience less of what I just talked about and have a more relaxing/less culture shock-y style trip.
At first travelling in Albania can be daunting, so Albania travel tip #10 is to embrace these cultural differences and know ahead of time what you’re getting into.
11. English Speakers
This is something I was not expecting, but the Albanian people actually speak pretty decent English! I’ve had very few instances of (seriously) struggling due to a language barrier.
The older generation here speaks very little (if any) English, whereas the children here speak almost flawless English. The 20-something’s are pretty hit or miss with English, but speak enough to at least have an okay conversation.
English is now a school requirement in Albania, so in the coming years you can only expect English to become more and more commonplace.
Albania travel tip #11 – you can get by speaking English, however having the google translate app downloaded to your phone is not a bad idea!
12. Albanian Drivers
I keep touching on the whole crazy driving thing in Albania, but I haven’t explained it fully. So here we go.
I’m all about driving and road tripping. I’ve had car since forever and my greatest adventures have happened via road trip. However my 12th Albania travel tip for you is to NOT rent a car or road trip here – use tours and public transit to get around instead!
Of course having a car is ideal and if you’re more of a nature traveller you’ll be longing for a car. I recommend hiring a car or doing tours instead though. Hiring a car or embarking on tours is relatively cheap in Albania and if you’re brave you can negotiate a price with the driver.
Alternatively you can use websites like Viator – my favourite adventure booking site – to book tours that include your transportation. This way you meet people, there’s no planning involved, you don’t have to drive, AND you’re utilizing that whole local knowledge thing I talked about in Albania travel tip #9.
A few of my favourite tours in Albania are: The Blue Eye, rafting in the Vjosa River, horseback riding/4×4 to Lengarica Canyon & the thermal baths, Osumi Canyon rafting, and the Bovilla Lake Tour (just outside of Tirana).
Here’s why I don’t recommend driving in Albania:
- People just walk out into the street whenever they want.
- Cars don’t signal OR LOOK when changing lanes.
- The speeds that people drive here… omg.
- People will just stop their cars and park wherever they want. Middle of the freeway? Sure. Stop and block and entire street? Why not.
- Everyone uses their phones while driving… Even the taxi drivers.
- The accident rate is phenomenally high here.
- Motorbikes cut in and out of traffic like it’s no one’s business. And the drivers don’t even wear helmets!
- The roads are literally terrible. So steep, rocky, and full of potholes.
I’m sure there are driving and road rules in Albania. But I’m also sure no one knows what they are (or at least they don’t care).
13. Weather & When to Visit Albania
The summer is so hot in Albania. Like SO H O T. If you struggle in the heat I’d recommend visiting during the off season because summer is borderline unbearable.
Summer is a great time of year to visit Albania if you’re into water sports or roasting yourself on the beach all day. However if you’re into hiking or outdoor adventure, you’ll quickly discover Albania’s searing summer temps are just too much to bear.
Albania travel tip #13 is to visit during early spring or fall if you’re searching for outdoor adventure or more moderate temperatures.
If you plan to visit Albania in the summer, make sure you are drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fruit to replenish your sugar levels. Like drink what you think is a lot, and then drink more.
14. Eco-Friendly (not)
Albania is the least eco-friendly country I’ve visited. I knew it wouldn’t be great here, but it’s unfortunately even worse than I expected.
My next Albania travel tip goes out to all the eco-conscious and natural-living folk out there. Be prepared, plan ahead, AND bring everything you need to be eco-friendly.
Albania is a beautiful country with so much potential, but it’s quite behind in a lot of ways and conscious living is one of them. Unfortunately plastic is king here, there’s no recycling, you need to buy water in plastic bottles because of heavy metals from the tap, there’s trash on the ground everywhere, and nothing is natural.
We all have our own ways of being eco-friendly, but a few items I’ve found absolutely invaluable in Albania are my shampoo & conditioner bars, Stasher bags (find on Stasher or Amazon), toothpaste tablets, and coconut oil.
A couple things I wish I would have brought are more homemade sunscreen, a water filter (more on that next), and an extra bar of natural soap because you won’t be able to find the things in Albania.
Remember, planning is key!
15. Spontaneous Planning
Luckily, Albania is a country in which you don’t need to plan in advance. Everything here is accessible, accommodation is cheap, and because it’s less touristy you’ll find availability everywhere – even last minute.
The combination of these things makes Albania the perfect place for spontaneous travel and it’s one of my favourite things about the country. There’s just no stress to it! This was especially nice to experience after travelling in Norway which is a destination where everything needs to be planned in advance.
This whole spontaneous, cheap travel thing won’t last forever though. Remember Albania travel tip #8? Albania is the next Greece and in the coming years it will grow in both popularity and price.
16. Drinking Water in Albania
One of the biggest Albania-based questions people have when visiting is “can I drink the tap water in Albania?” The answer is tricky – yes and no.
In the capital city (Tirana) you can absolutely not drink the tap water. It’s full of heavy metals and it’s super unsafe to drink. Unfortunately you’ll need to buy bottled water. From an environmental standpoint I recommend bringing a reusable water bottle or a 2L Hydrapak and refiling them with the 5L jugs from the store when you’re on-the-go.
Albania travel tip #16 – drink bottled water 🙁 do what the locals do (even if it involves plastic).
Better yet, bring a water filter to Albania that rids heavy metals. Not all water filters are made equally and you therefore can’t use popular brands like Lifestraw in Albania. I’m doing some research on what filters can and can’t be used in Albania and I’ll update this post when I find answers! If you have suggestions though, leave them in the comment section at the end of this post 🙂
The yes part to this question – in Valbona and Theth national park the water is SO clean you can drink it right from the source (although I do always recommend bringing aquatabs). If you’re lucky you’ll also come across some hostels or accommodations that have a reverse osmosis filter. I stayed at numerous hostels like the Himara Hostel and Hasta la Vista in Saranda which thankfully had them.
17. Dress Code in Albania
This can’t be a complete list of Albania travel tips without touching on what to wear. To break it down, bring only flowy clothes. The heat and the sun and the absurd amount of sweat that will inevitably come out of your body makes wearing tight clothes a nightmare.
Albania travel tip #17 – bring light, flowy clothes, leave the heavy materials & tight stuff at home!
I’d recommend packing the following clothing for Albania:
- One athletic outfit.
- CROCS – the ultimate adventure/beach shoe. Or TEVA’s if you want something a little more dressy.
- A couple pairs of light/flowy pants (sun protection/avoiding the whole thighs sticking to chair thing).
- 1 lightweight long sleeve (also for sun protection – one that can preferably be worn in water).
- A BUNCH of flowy shorts and tank tops.
- A lightweight cardigan/shall for more sun protection.
- A hat that throws a decent amount of shade.
Here’s an extra tip – pack light and leave all the extras at home! You don’t want to carry around heavy bags in the sweltering Albanian heat.
Not necessarily an Albanian travel tip, but something I think is interesting and super cute.
Unless you’re at the beach you won’t find anyone outside during the hot Albanian summer days. Everyone hides inside, blasts the air con, or literally sits in front of a rotating fan until the sun goes down. THEN, sunset xhiro begins.
Xhiro translates to “walk” in English and this walk is a beloved Albanian pastime. In the cooler (and by cooler I still mean 80-90 degrees F) hours of the evening you will suddenly find all of Albania emerging from their homes and strolling around the city/beach.
You’ll have also noticed all the strangely empty patios and outdoor seating areas during the daytime hours – during Xhiro all these locations are PACKED and Albania becomes the most social place I’ve ever seen.
If you want to take part in a true Albanian pastime, set out for a sunset stroll or “xhiro.”
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About The Author
Hey! I’m Taylor – the voice behind The Holistic Backpacker.
After moving to Banff National Park in 2020 I became an outdoor adventure enthusiast and vowed to never stop exploring.
I’m now focused on travelling the world and seeing everything our beautiful home has to offer.
I created The Holistic Backpacker so I could share my adventures and help connect people like you with the same amazing experiences.
I am also an advocate for the environment and do as much as I can to take care of our planet.
Get to know me and my story more here 🙂
I can’t wait to share my adventures with you!