Shkoder is known as Albania’s ancient city and it’s the culture capital of the country. The city has a lively atmosphere and the CUTEST city centre I’ve seen in all of Albania. I think Shkoder is a super underrated city in Albania, so in this post I’m gonna tell you all about the wonderful things this place has to offer and convince you to visit!
Aside from Shkoder’s vibe and bright culture, the main reason people visit the city is because Shkoder is the access point to the Albanian Alps. Shkoder acts as a base for exploring Albania’s Accursed mountains because the public transportation is all routed through here. If you want to visit Theth or Valbona National Park, you’ll have to visit Shkoder first!
In this post I’ll outline all the things to do in Shkoder, as well as provide a 6 day Shkoder/Alps itinerary.
- How to get to Shkoder
- Where to stay in Shkoder
- Things to do in Shkoder
- Where to eat in Shkoder
- 6 day Shkoder/Alps itinerary
- Tips for visiting Shkoder
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Quick Albania Travel Guide:
Currency: Albanian LEK (aka ALL). This is a closed currency so you’ll need to wait until you’re in Albania to exchange $.
Phone: purchase a SIM card from Vodafone in Albania – the plans are cheap and they include lots of data.
Language: Albanian, however you can totally get by with English.
Helpful Info: don’t drink the tap water, bring an international travel adapter, notify your bank before travelling.
How to get to Shkoder
Shkoder is located in the northern region of Albania – close to the Montenegro border, actually. All buses that lead to Shkoder from Albania are routed through Tirana. So, even if you’re coming from another major city, you’ll have to stop at Tirana’s bus station and catch a connecting bus to Shkoder. The bus from Tirana should take approximately 2.5-3 hours and it costs around 400LEK/4 euros.
^there are no public trains in Albania, so unless you’re travelling via car you can expect to use the bus system.
BUT a word of warning about Albania’s bus system – it’s very flaky and unreliable. You won’t find timetables or transit routes online, so your best bet at finding accurate information about the bus schedule to Shkoder is to ask the employees of your hotel or hostel. They’ll know best!
For reference, this is the “bus station” in Shkoder – buuuut it’s more like buses lined up on the side of the road with signs in the window for where they’re going. If you want to go to Tirana from Shkoder the bus is located around the corner. Ask the locals or the bus drivers where the Tirana stop is and they’ll point you in the right direction.
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Where to Stay in Shkoder
Lucky for you (and me) Albania is kind of a backpacker’s paradise. The country isn’t part of the Schengen Zone or the EU which means it hasn’t been subjected to any crazy inflation. If you’re open to staying in hostels you can easily find accommodations in Albania for 10 euros/night. And even if you’re wanting something more private, like a hotel, you’ll most likely still be able to find something for around 15-20 euros/night.
Where to Stay in Shkoder
There are plenty of options for where to stay in Shkoder – all of which you can see here – however I’ve broken down the best options by category to make things a little easier for you.
- Wanderer’s Hostel is the #1 place I recommend staying in Shkoder. They serve a yummy (included) breakfast, they will literally plan your trip to the alps, and they’ll store your extra luggage while you’re out hiking. The staff here are absolutely lovely and the accommodations are superb.
- If Wanderer’s is full, Shkodra Backpackers (aka Mi Casa es Tu Casa) is a great alternative!
- Hotel Colosseo & Spa is rated 5 stars with over 300 glowing reviews on Booking.com. Hotel Colosseo offers a complimentary breakfast, a fitness studio as well as various heath and wellness facilities like saunas, an indoor pool, and massage free of charge. Here you’ll get air conditioning, free parking, and an on-site restaurant with a prime location in the city’s centre.
- Grand Hotel Europa is another 5 star hotel in Shkoder that offers free access to a fitness studio and a spa.
Things to do in Shkoder
1. Walk to Rozafa Castle for Sunset
Rozafa Castle, or Rozafa Fortress, is a pretty massive castle resting just outside the city centre. Here you can find castle ruins and a museum (for an extra fee).
The best time of day to visit the castle is in the evening for sunset. You’ll have a view overlooking the entire city as well as the surrounding mountains. Considering the castle is in a city, I must say the view is quite impressive from here!
There are also events that are hosted fairly frequently at the castle. If you’re lucky, there might be some sort of concert or festival happening when you visit!
2. Bike to Shiroka
#2 on the list of things to do in Shkoder is bike to Shiroka; a cute and quiet little village along Skadar Lake. It’s located 14kms (roundtrip) from the city centre of Shkoder which makes Shiroka the perfect place for a day trip from the city.
You can rent bikes from (literally) anywhere in Shkoder. There’s a huge biking culture in this city and “rental” shops pop up everywhere. Oftentimes hotels and hostels offer cheap rentals as well as restaurants. I rented a bike from Eko Club (by the way this place offers cheap, delicious, healthy food and the yummiest fresh juice) for just a few euros/day. I wouldn’t have been able to bike the Tour de France with this bike, but from Shkoder to Shiroka it was perfect!
Once you arrive in Shiroka make sure you try the carp fresh from the lake – Shkoder’s signature local dish.
3. Rent Kayaks on Lake Skadar
Speaking of Lake Skadar, something you may want to do after biking here is rent kayaks.
There are a few small rental shops located along the shore of the lake where you can rent kayaks pretty cheap!
4. Stroll Down Rruga Kolë Idromeno
In the centre of the city you’ll find a large pedestrian area filled with shops, ice cream parlours, restaurants, souvenir shops – you name it!
This is primarily where all the life in Shkoder happens, where all the hostels are located, and where you’ll want to be for evening xhiro. You’ll find adorable cobblestone streets here, colourful buildings, and a massive patio culture.
Make sure you add a stroll down Rruga Kolë Idromeno to your list of things to do in Shkoder!
5. Engage in Xhiro
Okay so xhiro – that weird word I just mentioned – is the Albanian word for “walk.” And lemme tell ya, Albanians LOVE their xhiro.
In the evening hours when the sun sets, all of Albanian emerges and this place becomes SO social! Patios are packed, there’s live music, and everyone’s out & about with their friends and family.
Going for an evening walk or grabbing a late dinner at one of Shkoder’s patios is great way to engage with local culture.
ps. xhiro during the weekend is when it’s most lively! Shkoder on a Friday or Saturday night is really something else.
6. Visit the Albanian Alps
The Albanian Alps are a trademark attraction of Albania and since Shkoder acts as the base city for exploring them, travelling to the mountains is something you have to do in Shkoder.
The main 3 areas of the Albanian Alps are: Komani Lake, Theth National Park, and Valbona Valley National Park. There are incredible hiking trails, waterfalls, and unique water sources in the alps you won’t want to miss. So, grab your daypack, lace those hiking boots, and prepare to see some wicked views – because DAMN. The scenery here is really next level.
Here’s my complete guide to visiting the Albanian Alps. There is SO much information in this post – I’d definitely recommend giving it a read!
7. Stay a Night on the Shala River
The Shala River is definitely a hidden gem and yet it’s one of the most beautiful places in all of Albania.
The reason the Shala River makes this list of things to do in Shkoder is because – like the Alps – Shkoder acts as the base city for exploring it. The Shala River is only a quick minibus and boat ride away from the city of Shkoder and WOW is it worth visiting.
The Shala River is a branch of Komani Lake and both of these bodies of water are known as the “Thailand of Albania.” The reason for this being that the water is an incredible shade of green/blue and it’s lined by the most lush, green, uniquely shaped mountains. Boating through these waters will seriously make you feel like you’re boating in Thailand!
I stayed 2 nights on the Shala River and these 2 nights were two of my favourite nights I had during my entire 1.5 month visit in Albania. There’s something really, really special about this place!
You can read all about my experience on the Shala River (incl. hiking trails, things to do here, travel information, etc) here: “10 Reasons You Need to Visit the Shala River.“
8. Visit Ebu Bekr Mosque
The Ebu Bekr Mosque is one of the prettiest mosques in Albania! It’s located right next to the pedestrian area in the city, so it’s impossible to miss.
You can photograph the mosque from the outside or venture inside and learn about the muslim religion – the locals will be happy to teach you. Just make sure you don’t enter during an active prayer session!
9. Learn About Albanian History
Albania in general has rich history… and lots of it! When it comes to Albania’s past, there’s a lot of dark history to be unravelled and discovered. Tirana in particular has tons of museums and historic buildings, but Shkoder has quite a few as well.
You can start off with the Shkodra Historical Museum followed up by the museum up at Rozafa Castle. If you’re wanting more, you can also check out to Photography Museum (Marubi Photo Collection) or the Venice Art Mask Factory; a workshop and museum all wrapped up into one.
10. Visit the Mes Bridge
The Mes Bridge is a fantastic Ottoman-style bridge located approx. 17kms (roundtrip) from the city centre of Shkoder. If you’re looking for more outdoor adventures and ways to be active in the city, grab a bike and start cycling!
This bridge dates back to 1770 (woah old) and was previously on the trade route between Shkoder and Kosovo. It’s 100m in length. Now it’s lined by green vegetation and the hills of the Maranai Nature Park.
Here’s the location for Mes Bridge.
Tours in Shkoder
If you’re looking for tours run by locals in Shkoder, look no further than Get Your Guide! Get Your Guide has an extensive list of tours in Shkoder ranging from cultural city-based tours to multi-day hiking trips to the Alps. You can view all the tours offered in Shkoder here.
click here to
Where to Eat in Shkoder
I’m not a huge foodie so I won’t go too in-depth here, however these are some notable restaurants and cafes in Shkoder:
- Eko Club – veg options, great cheese platter, YUM fresh juice, local desserts, and cheap.
- Fisi Traditional Restaurant – traditional foods at a decent price. Large servings.
- Gelateria Bell Italia – fantastic ice cream – best pistachio ice cream I’ve ever had – and yummy desserts.
- Stolia Coffee House & Brunch – healthy options, great wifi (perfect for digital nomads), and bright/nicely decorated interior. Good vibes.
6 Day Shkoder/Alps Itinerary
With everything I mentioned above, I honestly think you need more than 6 days to explore Shkoder and the alps. I think 7-9 days would be ideal, BUT not everyone has the luxury of time! With that being said, here’s a PACKED 6 day itinerary which encompasses all the highlights of Shkoder and all the highlights of the alps.
In this post I’m going to (very) briefly go over the itinerary I recommend, however in this post you can find MUCH more information regarding hiking, transportation, and all the other important stuff you need to know about visiting the alps.
6 Day Shkoder/Alps Itinerary
- Day 1: Shkoder
- Contact your accommodations in Shkoder ahead of time to ensure they can book transportation & accommodations in the alps for you and so that when you arrive in Shkoder you can get right to exploring! On day 1 rent a bike and cycle over to Shiroka to explore Lake Skadar. Make sure you try the local fish, carp. In the evening walk over to Rozafa Castle for sunset.
- Day 2: Shkoder to Shala River
- On day 2 you’ll catch a mini bus to the Komani Lake ferry port where you’ll board a boat to the Shala River. I talk about everything you need to know about visiting the Shala River here.
- Day 3: Shala River to Valbona
- On day 3 you’ll catch a boat back to the Komani ferry port where you’ll then board the main ferry to Fierza followed up by a minibus to Valbona. Once you arrive in Valbona walk to Xhema Lake and the Old Mill.
- Day 4: Valbona to Theth
- On day 4 you’ll hike from one national park to the next! This is the biggest bucket list hike in Albania.
- Day 5: Theth
- On day 5 you’ll spend the day in Theth hiking to the Blue Eye, Grunas waterfall, and Grunas Canyon.
- Day 6: Theth to Shkoder
- You’ll end your time in the alps by catching a minibus back to Shkoder around 11am. The afternoon will then be yours for the choosing! You can visit the museums in Shkoder, shop around, and/or go out for evening xhiro.
Tips for Visiting Shkoder
- Grab a bike and get cycling! This is the local’s form of transportation and it’s the best way to see the sights surrounding the city.
- Book your accommodations in advance. Popular hostels, like Wanderer’s, fill up quick!
- Try the local fish, carp.
- Try to visit during the weekend – this is when Shkoder’s xhiro culture will be most lively.
- Plan to spend around a week in Shkoder. You’ll need extra time to visit the alps.
- Shkoder can get really (and I mean really) hot in the summer months. Make sure you’re drinking enough water! The locals say you can drink the tap water here, however I was still skeptical so I bought bottled.
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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!