What is Albania famous for? 15 Unique Things about Albania

This week, I received a message asking: What is Albania famous for? Therefore, I decided to write this helpful blogpost answering the question.

1. The Inaccesible Accursed Mountains of Albania

One of the most famous places in Albania are the Accursed Mountains.

The Accursed Mountains are a spectacular mountain range in the North of Albania. The mountains are spread over the boarders of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. Very often the Accursed Mountains are also called “the Albanian Alps”.

What makes the Accursed Mountains so special is their remoteness. Until this day, the mountains are virtually inaccessible.

It is unthinkable, if you compare these mountains to for instance the Mont Blanc. Whereas the Mont Blanc has cable cars, roads, tunnels etcetera. The Accursed Mountains remain very remote without any cable cars, tunnels and only a stoney dirt track to drive on.

To give you an example of how inaccesible the area really is, in the winter you cannot visit this area. Because the mountain roads are competely covered in snow. But even in summer months, you need to drive a 4 wheel drive to safely make your way to the remote villages of the Accursed Mountains.

The two most well known mountain villages in the Accursed Mountains are: Valbone and Theth. These two villages are only connected to each other by a trail over the mountains. The only way to get from one village to the next, is by hiking 8 hours accross the Valbone Pass. There are no roads or cable cars, so you must carry your luggage or strap your luggage on the back of a mule.

At the same time, it is exactly this remoteness, that attracks many tourists and hikers to the Accursed Mountains!
In the Accursed Mountains, you can disconnect from our fast paced world. You can loose yourself in nature and go on a real adventure!

Another mayor plus is the authenticity of the Accursed Mountains. You can stay in a guest house close to the local family. In the guest house, you will be able to try the fresh local food. There is pure mountain honey, that comes straight from the beehive. And people still cook the traditional “Flija” pancakes on a round dish in the open fire outside.

And of course, the beauty of the Accursed Mountains is very attractive. You can visit the 50 meter deep Valbone River Canyon. And you can hike to the Blue Eye of Theth, which is a natural mountain pool filled by a little waterfall. And then there is the impressive 30 meter high Grunas Waterfall surrounded by the peaks of the Albanian Alps.

The Accursed Mountains are Europe’s remaining wilderness. You can hike through deep green valleys, thick forests and stay in a quaint little villages. And along the way, you will see the local shepherds take their flock to the mountains. And if you wake up in your guest house in the Accursed Mountains, you truly feel as if you are in a different world.

2. Street Art and Colourful buildings in Tirana

The capital city of Albania has a beautiful collection of colourful buildings and street art.

The street art in Tirana was initiated by Edi Rama. Edi Rama is currently the prime minister of Albania, but previously he was the mayor of Tirana for 11 years.

What is most interesting about Edi Rama is that apart from being a politician, he is also a well-known painter. He even helt an international exhibition in the Marian Goodman gallery in New York.

In his TED talk called “Take back your city with paint”, Edi Rama explains how as a mayor of Tirana, he began painting the buildings of the city.

After the long communist regime, the city had many sober, grey and concrete buildings. Rama used paint to change the colour of the city and to bring hope and light to its inhabitants.

Under his leadership, Tirana city removed 123.000 tons of concrete from the river bank. More than 5000 illegal buildings were demolished, to get back the public space. And 55.000 trees and bushes were planted in the city.

As Edi Rama said himself: “I used colour in order to revive hope that had been lost in Tirana.” People were fascinated by the first coloured building, there was a traffic jam and a hugh crowd gathered. Then a survey of Tirana’s inhabitants showed that people wanted the painting of buildings to continue.

With the street art, Edi Rama wanted to give the Albanian people a promise of a brighter and more colourful future. He used his background as a painter to bring change to Tirana after the very dark communist period in Albania.

The best way to explore the city center of Tirana is by foot. Go on a walking tour of the capital city, start at the central Skanderbeg Square and wonder around the city. You will see that as a capital city Tirana still has a long way to go, but it is certainly colourful and the future is looking more bright because of it.

3. The refurbished bunkers of Albania

One of the things that Albania is definitely famous for: The Bunkers.

Albania has an estimated 750.000 bunkers all across the country. These bunkers were built by the former communist dictator Enver Hoxha.

Enver Hoxha ruled the country from 1941 until 1985. And he was brutal to the Albanian people and paranoid. He strongly believed that a foreign attack on Albania was imminent. Whether it was Greece, Yugoslavia or the former Soviet allies, he saw a foreign attrack happening.

Hoxha was wrong, a foreign attrack never took place. However, since the former dictator was convinced, he started constructing thousands of bunkers from the 1960s until the early 1980s. Some of these bunkers are small two person igloos and others have multiple rooms.

The end of the communism in 1992, left Albania incredibly poor and with thousands of bunkers reminding them of the past. Many of the bunkers were destroyed, but still you can see bunkers everywhere.

Some of the bunkers have been painted in bright colours. And some of the bunkers have been converted into hostels, where you can stay the night.

The most impressive conversion is the Bunk’Art 1 Museum, which is a museum about Albania’s history inside a massive bunker.

Inside Bunk’Art 1, you can see TV footage of parades in the capital city. You can also hear the dictator speak over the telephone. And you can see how the communist regime experimented with nuclear material.

Of course, the Bunk’Art 1 museum also highlights the darker sides of the communist regime. You can, for instance, see the fencing that was built around the country to keep the Albanians from leaving. And you can see a cage that was used to imprison those who did not agree with the politics.

4. The Lake Koman Ferry

The Lake Koman Ferry is a famous boat trip in Albania. The Bradt Travel Guide described this boat trip as “one of the world greatest boat trips”.

The reason why Lake Koman is so popular is the incredible beauty of the surroundings. Lake Koman is a very long “river-like” lake, that turns and twists through the mountains.

Therefore, onboard the ferry, you will constantly see new breathtaking mountain views. Every time, you expect the ferry to sail into a mountain, the boat turns just before the cliff and you see a new breathtaking view.

If you are planning to visit Albania, you must absolutely include the Lake Koman Ferry in your shortlist of places to visit.
In order to visit Lake Koman, you need one full day. You can board the Lake Koman Ferry in the Koman village, approximately 2 hours by car from the city Shkoder in the North of Albania.

You must start your day trip to the Lake Koman Ferry early though, because the ferry departs at 9AM from Koman. So if you start your day trip from Shkoder, you must leave around 7AM. And if you start from Tirana, you must start driving at 5AM.

The Lake Koman ferry journey lasts 3 hours. The boat departs from Koman at 9AM and it arrives around 12PM noon at Fierze. However, if you plan on returning to Shkoder or Tirana at the end of the day, you must take the same ferry boat back to Koman. So you will be a total of 6 hours on board the ferry.

The alternative is travelling onwards from the ferry terminal in Fierza to the small Valbone village in the Albanian Alps. From Valbone, you can plan a day-long hike across the Valbone Pass to Theth. And you can travel from the Theth mountain village back to Shkoder the following day.

Regardless, if you plan on visiting Albania, then make sure you do not miss a visit to the famous Lake Koman Ferry.

5. The Blue Eye of Albania

The Blue Eye of Albania is a famous natural wonder in Albania.

In the South of Albania, between the cities Saranda and Gjirokaster, you can visit the unique Blue Eye of Albania.

Essentially, the Blue Eye of Albania is a fresh water spring. However, what makes this fresh water spring so special is the stunning beauty.

The fresh water spring is bright turquoise blue. If you look into the spring from the top, you can see this natural wonder resembles a human eye. The water is pumped up to the surface from a dark underwater cave, which resembles the pupil of a human eye. And the bright blue-green water resembles the iris of a human eye.

Although, there are many beautiful pictures online of the Blue Eye of Albania. This is an attraction that you have to see with your own eyes. It is very hard to believe that is spring is all natural, because coloured water is so bright and pure.

When you visit, you will also see the wooden platform, that was built above the Blue Eye. From the platform, some of the locals enjoy to jump into the Blue Eye spring. However, the moment someone hits the water, they immediately resurface. Because the water pressure of the spring is incredibly powerful.

Some divers, have tried to dive to the bottom of the spring. However, nobody has succeeded, because diving or swimming against the incredible pressure of the spring is very very dangerous. It is for certain that the spring is at least 50 meters deep, but nobody knows how much deeper.

The Blue Eye of Albania is a famous attraction amongst tourists and locals alike. Therefore, if you plan on visiting, be sure to arrive in the early morning. Because at the start of the day, you will have this stunning natural phenomenon to yourself!

6. The famous Furgon mini-busses

The public transportation in Albania is truly unique.

If you plan on travelling through Albania by bus, you are in for an adventure. Because the bus system in Albania is very different from any other European country.

If you want to travel from one city to the next, you must take a small mini-bus, which is called the “Furgon” in Albania. You can board one of these mini-busses at the central bus station in each city.

What makes these mini-busses different from other countries, is that the Furgons are independently owned. Which means that the driver of the bus is the owner of the bus. This also means that the more passengers onboard, the more money the bus driver makes that day.

Due to the independent ownership, the bus trips in Albania are a lot less “formal” and a lot more personal in Albania. When you enter the bus station, the bus drivers will approach you to find out if you are interested in boarding their bus.

Furthermore, the bus driver may wait some time for more passengers to board, so that he can make more money.

Another difference, is that the independently owned busses make stops everywhere along the way. There may be people standing next to the highway, and the bus will stop. Or one of the passengers will request a stop at their home or at their hotel, and the bus driver will divert the journey.

Although travelling by mini-bus in Albania is truly unique, it can also be time consuming. For sure, you will save money, because renting a car or taking a taxi is a lot pricier. But travelling by mini-bus can be slow and it can be time consuming to figure it out as a foreigner.

Therefore, you must consider the time you have available and whether you will be patient and enjoy such a bus journey.

7. The Pyramid of Tirana

The Pyramid of Tirana is a historical landmark in the center of the capital city.

The main government street in Albania, literally has a large concrete pyramid. Although this pyramid is a landmark for the city, it has a quite dark history.

The Pyramid of Tirana was opened in 1988 as a Museum about Enver Hoxha. Enver Hoxha was the former communist dictator of Albania, who had died in 1985. The Pyramid was designed by the former dictator’s daughter and her husband. Even though, the dictator had died, the communism continued for the next several years.

However, when communism came to an end after 1991, the Pyramid stopped being a museum about the former dictator.

In the next 3 decades, the pyramid was repurposed for a variety of uses. I became a conference center and exhibition venue. Then during the Kosovo War in 1999, the pyramid was used as a NATO base for humanitarian organizations.

Shortly after, the Pyramid was used as a broadcasting center for the Albanian Top Channel and Top Albania Radio. At some point, it was even used a nightclub.

Over the years, many plans have been created for the the “purposeless” pyramid. Although demolition was suggested, the majority of the citizens of Tirana were against demolishing the pyramid.

The lastest refurbishment project suggests that the Pyramid will become an IT center for youth. Where young people can learn about computer programming, robotics and start ups.

In the meantime, the pyramid has suffered due to a lack of maintenance. And the in grafitti covered pyramid has become kind of a symbol of Albania dealing with its dark communist history. Albania is taking steps to move forward into the future, but the bad state of the pyramid shows that Albania has not completely dealt with the difficult past yet.

8. Unique Albanian dance and costumes

One of the most unique things about Albania are the traditional dances.

The Albanian people love their traditional folk dances. Each region within Albania has their own variation on the traditional Albanian folk dance.

During any Albanian folk dance, the dancers hold earch others hands and they dance around the room in a circle. If you have never seen this dance, you may imagine a variation on the Greek dance.

In combination with the folk dance, each region has their own design of the traditional Albanian clothing. If you are interested in seeing the different Albanian costumes, you can visit the display in the National History Museum in Tirana.

Although, you may think these folk dances are “old fashioned”. They are still incredibly popular within Albania. The Albanian people dance their folk dances on each wedding. And the Albanian people love their big weddings, so every Albanian has many opportunities to practice their dance skills.

But it is not only weddings, some restaurants play the Albanian traditional music live. And this definitely inspires the Albanian people to start dancing.

Don’t be fooled as a foreigner, although the dances may seem easy on the outlook. The choreography of the Albanian dances is challenging. And the rhythm of the music may be hard to follow if you are not used to these dance moves.

9. UNESCO World Heritage towns

Albania has two historical towns, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. These towns are Berat city and Gjirokaster city.

Berat city is a very beautiful historical town in the center of Albania. The city has two old neighbourhoods with traditional white houses. The neighbourhoods are called the Mangalem Quarter and the Gorica Quarter.

The beauty of Berat are the little white houses, that were built on the slope of the hill. Berat is also called “the city of a thousand windows”. Because, if you are standing in the valley and you look up towards the old town, you will see a thousand little windows looking down on you.

Berat is very popular amongst tourists visiting Albania, because it has a very romantic athmosphere and an “Italian” feel.

In Berat, you can stroll through the old neighbourhoods over the little cobblestone streets. And you will see that Berat’s old town center is still very much alive. You will see that many of the traditional houses have been converted into hotels, restaurants and cafes.

Berat is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, because it is an example of a typical Ottoman town. Which means that the old town center was built, when Albania was a part of the Turkish Ottoman empire. And the city has architecture that was typical during that period of time.

Apart from the historical town center, Berat also has an impressive hilltop castle. The Berat Castle is absolutely worth visiting, because it has a stunning panoramic view.
The other historical town on the UNESCO World Heritage List is Gjirokaster city.

Gjirokaster is a city in the South of Albania, close to the Greek border. The city is known for its typical stone houses, that were built during the Ottoman Empire.

The main tourist attraction in Gjirokaster is the Gjirokaster Castle. This massive fortress is located on the top of the hill and it overlooks the entire city.

The Gjirokaster Castle has quite a dark history, because it was mainly used as a prison during the last century. During the communist period, the castle imprisoned people, who did not follow or agree with the regulations set by the former dictator.

Other touristic highlights are Zekate House and Skenduli House. These historical houses are open to the public. Inside the houses, you can see the traditional interior as it was during the Ottoman Empire. So you will get a unique insight into what life was like for a rich family during the Ottoman Empire.

10. The isolated beaches of the Albanian Riviera

Albania is off-the-beaten-path and not many people are familiar with Albania as a tourist destination.

However, Albania has one of the most beautiful shorelines in Europe. And in the summer months, Albania’s beaches are still quiet compared to the French Riviera, the Spanish coastline and Italy’s beaches.

The most beautiful beaches of Albania are located in the South of Albania. This piece of coastline is called the Albanian Riviera. It is the 120 kilometer long stretch of coastline between Vlore Beach and Saranda Beach.

What attracts tourists most to the Albanian Riviera are the isolated beaches. In Albania, you can still visit wild beaches, that are completely untouched.

One of the most beautiful untouched beaches is Gjipe beach. Gjipe beach is completely surrounded by cliffs. Therefore, it is not possible to reach this beach by car. To get to Gjipe Beach, you must hike through the cliffs or kayak to the beach from the nearby Jale Beach.

It is absolutely worth visiting an isolated beach like Gjipe beach. Because you will have a perfect white beach completely to yourself. You can swim in privacy, explore the sea caves and have a picnic on the beach.

Although some of the larger coastal towns and villages offer a variety of hotels and restaurants. There are still plenty of hidden coves, that you can escape to.

My personal favorite beaches include, Aquarium Bay, Mirror Beach and Drymades beach. Each of these beaches are close to larger villages in the Albanian Riviera, but you can only find these hidden beaches, if you know where to look!

11. Albanians do not travel by train

One of the popular questions to Google about Albania is: Does Albania have trains?

The reality is that Albania has a few trains, but these trains and the rail network date back to the communist period. Since the fall of the communism in 1992, these trains and rails have not been maintained, updated or refurbished.

Due to the lack of investment in the trains, the Albanian trains can only travel incredibly slow. As a result, the Albanian people do not travel by train. Simply because any bus is faster than the train. Due to its unpopularity, the number of trains that operate daily is very very low.

Another interesting fact is that Albania does not have international passenger trains. During the communist period, Albania was completely isolated from the rest of the world. Albania was similar to North Korea today. Therefore, Albania’s train rails were not connected to the European rail network.

Every once in a while, I receive an email from a foreiger, who would like to travel by train in Albania. And I always explain that travelling by train in Albania is not effective or fast.

If you want to travel by train in Albania to get a unique experience or to go on an adventure. Then you may actually enjoy taking the train in Albania. But if you want a quick and effortless way to go to your destination, then I recommend renting a car or booking a tour.

12. The uninhabited islands of Ksamil

One of the most unique things you can do in Albania is visiting an uninhabited island.
Ksamil beach is the most beautiful beach in Albania. And although the beach of Ksamil is very attractive. What makes Ksamil beach truly unique are the four little uninhabited islands in front of the beach.

Ksamil beach is set on a little peninsula. There are four little islands that you can easily visit from Ksamil beach.

You can swim to the nearest island. But it is very popular to rent a little boat or a kayak. Because with a kayak or boat, you can peddle to all of the little islands.

The two most popular islands to visit are the twin islands. These two little islands are connected to each other by a narrow strip of land.

None of the Ksamil islands are inhabited, so this is a unique opportunity to visit and uninhabited island.

Ksamil beach is truly a paradise. The beach has perfect white sand and there are little wooden shutters along the shoreline, which lead into the water. The seawater is perfectly clear. And it is therefore, great for snorkelling.

Make sure you have time to spend the evening at Ksamil beach, because it is absolutely breathtaking to see the sun go down over the little islands.

Amongst the Albanians, Ksamil beach is known as “the pearl of the Albanian Riviera”. Because Ksamil is without a doubt the most beautiful beach in Albania.

If you are convinced and you are wondering how to get to Ksamil. You can either take a taxi from Tirana for approximately 5 hours. Or you can fly to the Greek Corfu island and take the ferry to Albania.

13. Religious tolerance in Albania

Albania is known worldwide for its religious tolerance.

The two main religions in Albania are Islam and Christianity. Although, Muslims make up more than half of the population. Albania is a country which really respects all religions.

In Albania, you can often see churches and mosques side by side. And it is no problem at all for Albanians to marry someone with different believes.

In the famous Onufri Museum in Berat, you can see an Albanian art work from the 18th century. The painting shows a Christian scene, but there are minarets in the background. Which shows that Albania has long been a country, where different religions live side by side.

Albania also has a very interesting past with religion. Because in 1967, Albania became the first country where religion was banned. This was the decision of Albania’s former dictator Enver Hoxha.

Basically, Enver Hoxha anounced that Albania was going to be the world’s first atheist state. And shortly after Albania’s churches and mosques were destroyed, seized by the military or converted into something else, like a cinema or hospital.

One of Albania’s most famous mosques is the Et’hem Bey Mosque on the central Skanderbeg Square. On the 18th of January 1991, 10.000 people attended a ceremony at the Et’hem Bey Mosque. And shortly after the communist regime ended in 1992. This event is very important for Albania, because it marked the rebirth of religious freedom in Albania.

Albanian people value their religion. But if they meet someone from a different faith, they respect this person just as much. Albania truly is unique and famous for it religious tolerance. And in 2014, the head of the Catholic Church Pope Francis, actually praised Albania for its religious tolerance and said that Albania is an example for the world.

14. Albanian Hospitality

When you will visit Albania, you will soon see that the Albanian people will go out of their way to welcome you to their country.

Albanian people are known for their hospitality. Don’t be surprised, that as a foreigner in Albania, you will be approached by the locals.

On one side, the Albanian people are incredibly interested in foreigners and everything from abroad. But on the other side, it is also the Albanian generosity and hospitality.

And if you pick up a conversation with any of the locals, you will most likely receive an invitation to their home within minutes.

And it is not only for the foreigners, the Albanian people literally always have their doors open for visitors. In Albania, you can visit any of your friends, family members, neighbours or acquiantances, whenever you like. No need to make an appointment or call beforehand. Because in Albania, you can literally walk in the door and expect to be welcomed with open arms.

Moreover, the Albanians also have a history of hospitality. In the 1990s, more than 500.000 refugees from Kosovo came to Albania. There were refugee camps set up in Albania. But the Albanian families would simply go to the camp and take one of the families from Kosovo home and offer them food, clothing and welcome them in their family.

As a traveller in Albania, you will most definitely experience the Albanian hospitality. Anyone will try to help you and speak with you, even the older people who do not speak English will offer you help.

15. Butrint UNESCO Heritage Site

Butrint is a very impressive UNESCO Heritage Site in Albania.

At Butrint, you can see the ruins of an ancient city. Basically, Butrint is a beautiful archaeological park on a little peninsula, which is surrounded by water.

The city of Butrint has been inhabited since the prehistoric time. Throughout history, Butrint was a Greek colony, then a Roman city and then a bishopric. The city continued to exist during the Byzantine Empire and was even briefly occupied by the Venetians. Then in the Middle Ages, Butrint was abandoned.

If you visit the Butrint archaeological park, you can see ruins from each period that the city was occupied.

But it is not just the ruins that make this archaeological park so special. Because the ruins have been surrounded by wild nature. And it is the combination of the ruins with the nature, that make this unique location stand out.

Moreover, because the little peninsula that holds the ruins is completely surrounded by water, it is a very serene environment.

About me

About me

I am an Albania Tour Guide, who organizes 1-day, 2-day or multiple day private tours in Albania. I arrange your transportation and I am your English speaking guide. So that, you get to experience the most beautiful places in Albania!
Kind regards, Manon

Welcome to Albania!

I am a Tour Guide in Albania

I am an Albania Tour Guide, who organizes 1-day, 2-day or multiple day private tours in Albania.

Book your free Albania Planning Session via Skype now, by using my online scheduler to find a time that’s convenient for you.