Albania is one of the most interesting countries in Europe, and one of the friendliest – perhaps in part because it’s so small, with a population of just 2.8 million. It is also a top destination for foodies, with affordable fine dining and delicious local dishes such as fërgesë stew to try. Be pleasantly surprised by the world-class beaches of the Riviera, or find your inner adventurer by hiring a car and driving into the mountains. Here’s what to know before you go.
Albanians are incredibly friendly
One of the best things about travelling to the Land of the Eagles is that wherever you go, from the capital city to the Riviera, from the mountains to the historical towns, you will be welcomed by the locals. Albania is one of the friendliest countries you’ll ever visit. So don’t be afraid to ask for directions or other information – there will always be someone who will help you find what you’re looking for, be it accommodation, a place to eat or transport advice. Many Albanians speak English, and tourism is developing within the country and is welcomed as a key part of the country’s economy.
Albania is one of the friendliest countries you’ll ever visit
© Chad Case / Alamy
It is a safe country
Albania is one of the least dangerous places in Europe. According to the UK Foreign Office, public safety is generally good, and there are very few reports of crime aimed at foreigners or tourists, although pickpocketing does happen. You can travel to Albania with children, with a loved one or by yourself (women included) without worrying about your safety as you might in some countries.
The country does lie in an earthquake zone, and a 6.4-magnitude quake in 2019 killed 51 people. The epicentre was in Mamurras, in the northwest of the country, with tremors felt in Tirana. Life has gone on since the quake, and the government has since tightened up construction regulations.
Foreigners and locals generally stick to bottled water in Albania, as it’s not advised to drink the tap water – and make sure any meat you eat is well cooked.
Albania is one of the least dangerous places in Europe
© Andfoto / Alamy
The beaches along the Riviera are gorgeous
There is a good reason why most tourists visiting Albania come to its beaches: the Albanian Riviera has some of the finest stretches of coast in Europe. These pebbly and sandy shores line crystal waters that could stand toe-to-toe in a beauty contest with the beaches of Italy, Greece or Croatia. The best beaches on the Riviera are Drymades, with clear water, live music and beach bars, and Ksamil, which also has clear-blue water and is part of Butrint National Park. However, you will find sublime stretches of sand all along the coast. Palasa Beach, surrounded by rocky cliffs and green hills, is also a great place to relax, as is Dhermi beach, which has a party vibe.
The Albanian Riviera has some of the finest beaches in Europe, such as this one at Dhermi
© Panther Media GmbH / Alamy
Albania isn’t just about fantastic beaches
Mountains, including the Albanian Alps and the Sharr and Pindus ranges, run along the length of the country
© Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy
Albania is very affordable
Compared to neighbouring nations, tourism in Albania is very affordable. You can spend a phenomenal week travelling through the country without breaking the bank. Tirana, the capital, is the most expensive city, but you still won’t spend too much compared to other Eastern European destinations.
When it comes to activities, parks are free, and while museums require tickets to enter, the fees are low. For shopping, bear in mind that many shops take only Albanian lekë (the local currency), but hotels take euros as well. Credit cards are not accepted everywhere, so be sure to have some cash on you.
Tourism in Albania is very affordable
© Arco / Therin-Weise / Alamy
Albanian food is delicious
The best Albanian dishes are tasty and affordable
© Alexander Mychko / Alamy
Raki is the answer to everything
Bad day? Drink raki. Good day? Drink raki. Don’t feel good? Drink raki. Have something to celebrate? Drink raki. For Albanians, raki is the answer to everything – but what is it? Raki is an intense aromatic liquor that’s very similar to grappa, as it is made from grape pomace. It is often flavoured with aniseed. You’ll find it throughout Albania and the Balkans, as well as Kazakhstan, and it is considered the national drink in Turkey.
It is thought raki was originally made by monks in Greece during the 14th century. Don’t forget to say gëzuar (cheers) before drinking it down.
Raki was originally made by monks in Greece during the 14th century
© Peter Eastland / Alamy
The Albanian language is unique in Europe
You can spend a phenomenal week travelling through the country without breaking the bank
© Olena Korol / Alamy
Travelling in Albania is an adventure
A trip to Albania is a real adventure
© Marketa Novakova / Alamy
There are more Albanians outside the country than in it
Albania is tolerant of many religions
One of the most beautiful things about Albania is that it is a tolerant nation when it comes to religion. Christians, Muslims and Jews all feel safe and welcome here. In every town you’ll see an Orthodox church and a Catholic church within a few metres of a mosque. According to the 2011 census, just under 60 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, 10 percent Roman Catholic and seven percent Eastern Orthodox, with Bektashi Muslims, other Christians and other religions also represented.
Albania is a tolerant nation when it comes to religion
© Leonid Andronov / Alamy