Why is Tirana famous? Capital of Albania
If you are planning to visit Albania, you might be wondering why Tirana is famous. Or more specifically, what attractions or places in Tirana are famous spots to visit? And whether or not Tirana is actually worth a visit.
Why is Tirana famous? Tirana is famous as the capital city of Albania. Tirana city gives you a unique insight into Albania’s communist history, you can visit famous landmarks, like the government boulevard, Skanderbeg Square, the Pyramid of Tirana and the Bunk’Art 1 bunker Museum.
I am a private tour guide in Albania and I live in the capital city Tirana. In this blog post, I will give you an overview of the famous spots in Tirana and a short introduction to them. So that you can decide for yourself, whether Tirana is worth a visit for you or not.
What is Tirana famous for?
Tirana is famous as the capital city of Albania. Many of Tirana’s famous spots to visit are communist history landmarks, like the communist bunkers and government buildings from that period.
Let me start with the 2x most famous tourist attractions in Tirana:
- The Bunk’Art 1 Bunker museum
- The Dajti Express Cable Car
If you only have 1 day in Tirana city, I recommend you visit Bunk’Art 1 and the Dajti Express Cable Car in one day. These two famous sightseeing attractions are right next to each other, so a great combination. And Bunk’Art 1 and the Dajti Express are always on the top of the best places to visit in Tirana on TripAdvisor!
1. Bunk’Art 1 – the famous bunker museum in Tirana
One of the best places to get an insight into Albania’s history is the Bunk’Art 1 museum. Bunk’Art 1 is a museum inside a communist bunker. This communist bunker was built by Albania’s former dictator during the communist regime.
Albania was ruled by communism from the end of the second World War until 1992. For most of this period, the country was ruled by a man named Enver Hoxha.
Enver Hoxha was a communist dictator. His primary focus was on preparing the country for the war that never happened. Gymnastics became a part of everyday life because the Albanian people needed to be strong and fit to defend their country, during the war that never happened. The Albanians had weapons in their home to defend their country, which they luckily never actually need to use.
And most impressively, the communist dictator built 173.000 bunkers all across Albania. So that the Albanian people could hide in case of a foreign nuclear attack, of course, that attack never happened.
When you visit Albania and particularly Tirana, it is good to get to know a bit of Albania’s history. And the Bunk’Art 1 museum is one of the best places to get familiar with Albania’s past.
Bunk’Art 1 is a museum inside a massive bunker complex. The former dictator Enver Hoxha built this gigantic complex for himself and his political elite. In his mind, the dictator and his government would go inside the bunker to rule the country, when Albania was at war or under nuclear attack. Of course, the gigantic bunker complex was never used, because there was no foreign attack and no war.
However, it is fascinating to walk through the massive bunker complex. Inside, you can see the room of the dictator, the room of his second in command and the room of an officer. The museum also tells the story of how Albania became a communist country after the Italian rule and German rule ended at the end of the second World War.
If you have time to visit only 1 attraction in Tirana, choose Bunk’Art 1, because it is really impressive!
Note: Bunk’Art 1 is about a 20-minute taxi ride from the city centre of Tirana. The bunker museum is in Tirana, but it is more on the outskirts next to Dajti mountain. Bunk’Art 1 is not within a walking distance, so it does require either a car or taxi.
2. The Dajti Express Cable Car
Without a doubt, the Dajti Express Cable Car is my favourite attraction in Tirana. Basically, the Dajti Express is a cable car on the outskirts of Tirana.
To get to the cable car, you must take a taxi ride of about 20 minutes from the city centre of Tirana. Since the Dajti Express Cable Car is located right next to the Bunk’Art 1 bunker museum, it makes sense to combine the two attractions in one day.
Your taxi will drop you off at the lower station of the Dajti Express. You buy a ticket and board one of the cable car carriages. Really, it feels like getting on a ride in a theme park when you were a child.
The Dajti Express Cable Car has a very gentle pace. In a 15-minute journey, you fly across the national park of Dajti. You look down on the treetops, mountain cliffs, little farmhouses and natural lakes.
After approximately 15 minutes, you arrive at the upper station of the Dajti Express. On the Dajti Mountain balcony, you have some beautiful viewing spots from where you can see a panorama of Tirana city from above. But you can see even further than that, you can see Tirana airport, the mountain valley and the Adriatic coastline in the distance.
The Dajti mountain balcony is a place for relaxation and entertainment. You can have lunch at the Ballkoni Restaurant. This restaurant was built right on top of the mountain cliff. So you have beautiful views of Tirana city whilst having your lunch and a glass of wine.
There is also a rotating bar on the top of the Dajti Hotel. Where you can enjoy a drink, whilst rotating 360 degrees in about 45 minutes.
You can also go to the Dajti Adventure Park, where you can climb on the high ropes course and take a zipline down.
And there is a variety of outdoor entertainment, like minigolf, buggy rides, horse riding, shooting on balloons and a bee hive.
Famous places to visit in Tirana’s city centre
Compared to other capital cities in Europe, Tirana is quite a small city. The city centre of Tirana is very walkable. You can easily explore the main landmarks and highlights by foot during a 1-2 hour walking tour.
3. Skanderbeg Square
The central square in Tirana is called Skanderbeg Square. Some of Tirana’s main landmarks are located around Skanderbeg Square.
4. The National History Museum in Tirana
The most prominent building is the National History Museum. The National History Museum is a classic museum that displays Albania’s history through the Greek & Roman times, the Ottoman Empire in the Middle Ages and the more recent communist history in chronological order.
One of my favourite parts of the National History Museum is the gigantic mosaic above the entrance of the museum called The Albanians. You basically, don’t even need to enter the museum to see this highlight.
The mosaic shows the Albanian people throughout the centuries. The mosaic displays a Greek, a Roman, an Ottoman-Turk, the national hero Skanderbeg, an Italian, a German and three communist workers in charge of their country. It shows how Albania was ruled by all the different empires throughout the centuries, and how the Albanians were finally in charge of their country during communism. Obviously, this mosaic was made during communism. It is a piece of socialist realism, which is a kind of artwork that shows communist idealism.
5. The Palace of Culture
To the right of the National History Museum, you will see the Palace of Culture. This large building was also designed during communist rule. The building holds the National Theatre of Opera & Ballet. As well as National Library.
6. The Et’hem Bey Mosque & the Clock Tower
Next to the Palace of Culture, there is the small Et’hem Bey Mosque. This little mosque is really famous in Albania. It was designed during Middle Ages when Albania was ruled by the Ottoman-Turkish Empire. It is a miracle that is small mosque survived because many religious buildings were broken down during the communist period. Since the former dictator made Albania the first atheist country in the world and religious practices, like praying, were forbidden.
In 1991, the little Et’hem Bey Mosque played an important part in the ending of communism in Albania. About 10.000 Albanian people re-opened the mosque, without permission of the communist authorities. The police and state security did not interfere, as they had lost a lot of their power since the dictator died about 6 years before. So this event is seen as the beginning of the end of communism and the rebirth of religious freedom in Albania.
The Et’hem Bey Mosque is accompanied by a beautiful clocktower. You can climb the circular staircase for a nice view of Skanderbeg Square.
7. The main government boulevard
From Skanderbeg Square, you can walk into the main government boulevard. The main government boulevard is called “Rruga e Deshmoret e Kombit”.
At the beginning of the boulevard, you will see the ministries of the Albanian government, like the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Finance etcetera. These buildings are very easy to recognize because they are bright yellow, orange and pink coloured.
8. Murat Toptani Street
After you have passed the main government boulevard, you will see Murat Toptani Street on your left. This is a beautiful walking boulevard, where all the restaurants, cafes and food court are located. So this is where you can have a great lunch or dinner in Tirana.
9. The Pyramid of Tirana
By far, the most important landmark in Tirana is the Pyramid of Tirana. The Pyramid is also located along the main government boulevard.
This pyramid was originally designed by the daughter of the former communist dictator Enver Hoxha. It was supposed to be a museum in honour of the dictator after his death. But soon after Enver Hoxha’s death, communism ended and nobody was interested in keeping a museum about the former dictator.
So as a result the pyramid of Tirana was then used for a series of uses, like a convention centre, a nightclub, a broadcasting station and a NATO base during the Kosovo War. Over the years, the pyramid lacked maintenance, as it was constantly being repurposed.
Thankfully, the pyramid is now being refurbished into an IT centre for youth, startup culture and robotics. You could call it a mini Silicon Valley in Albania.
10. The Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the President
At the end of the main government boulevard, you can see the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the President.
Albania has a very interesting prime minister called Edi Rama. Edi Rama is incredibly popular and currently in his 3rd term of leading the country. And even before that, he was the Mayor of Tirana for a long period of time.
Alongside the prime minister, Albania also has a president. Although the president has more of a ceremonial function in Albania, like opening buildings, cutting ribbons and representing Albania in foreign countries.
Interestingly, the current office of the President was designed during the communist period as the Embassy of the Soviet Union. However, during the communist period, the dictator broke ties with the Soviet Union and therefore the diplomats left and the embassy was closed.
11. The new football stadium in Tirana
At the end of the government boulevard, you will notice a large red-and-black-coloured building with a tower. This is the new football stadium in Tirana. Where the national football team of Albania trains and plays in competitions.
Just like in many countries, football is incredibly popular in Albania. So the new football stadium is a piece of pride.
12. The Grand Park of Tirana
At the end of the government boulevard, you can visit the Grand Park of Tirana. The Grand Park of Tirana is a place for relaxation for the locals. The park is quite hilly, so you must walk up the hill and then descend to get to the other side of the park. That said, your effort will be rewarded, because there is a beautiful artificial lake in the park. With some lovely cafes on the lakefront. The grand park of Tirana is also a lovely place to visit with children as there are some beautiful playgrounds.
13. The Blloku Neighbourhood
The Blloku neighbourhood is a cool area of Tirana. Blloku is the area where you will find fancy restaurants, trendy bars and expensive shops. The Blloku area is right next to Grand Park and behind the Office of the President.
14. The House of Enver Hoxha
One of the main sightseeing spots in the Blloku Area is the house of the former dictator Enver Hoxha. Although the house is not open to the public, you can see the house from the street. I will say that you won’t be astonished. Because the house of the former dictator is actually quite a simple villa, so not a palace at all! Another interesting fact is that all the former dictator’s belongings are still inside, after the death of both the dictator and his wife, the doors were simply closed up. And the house still sits there in the capital of Albania untouched!
How would you describe Tirana?
I would describe Tirana as a colourful, buzzing Mediterranean city.
Tirana is a very colourful city, many of the apartments, flats and government buildings have been painted in happy colours, like orange, pink and yellow. So you will definitely notice the colour of the city immediately.
Tirana is a relatively small city, especially compared to large capital cities in the rest of Europe. However, it is a buzzing city. There are big fancy cars driving around the city, little scooters and the terraces are full of people drinking coffee all around.
And finally, I will say that Tirana has a Mediterranean vibe. The city centre has beautiful leafy trees and sunshine. And everywhere you will see beautiful terraces, where you can eat gelato ice cream, have a pizza and drink a strong espresso.
How long should you spend in Tirana?
You should spend about 1-2 days in Tirana to see the capital city itself. That being said, Tirana is also a great place to stay to make day trips in the surrounding area.
To see the main sightseeing spots in Tirana, you only need 1-2 days. You will need 1-2 hours to explore the central Skanderbeg Square and the main government boulevard by foot. You can make additional make stops at the New Bazaar Market (Pazari i Ri), Tanner’s bridge and in the Blloku area. But really it only takes 1-2 hours to see the main landmarks of the city.
The two best attractions to visit are the Bunk’Art 1 bunker museum and the Dajti Express Cable Car. For the Bunk’Art 1 bunker museum, you will need approximately 2 hours. And for the Dajti Express Cable Car approximately 2-4 hours depending on whether you have lunch at the mountain balcony before returning or not.
That being said, Tirana city is a great place to stay if you plan on making day trips starting from Tirana.
Day trips from Tirana:
- Kruja Castle and Mount Sarisalltik
- Berat UNESCO city
- Shkoder city, the city of artists and culture
- Cape of Rodon and the Bay of Lalzi coastline
- Preza and Petrella Castle – visit authentic villages in Albania
Things to do in Tirana
The best things to do in Tirana are:
- Bunk’Art 1 bunker museum
- Dajti Express Cable Car
- Sightseeing at Skanderbeg Square
- A walking tour of the main government boulevard and the city centre
- Go for a coffee at the New Bazaar Food Market (Pazari i Ri)
- Go for a fancy dinner in the Blloku neighbourhood
- Relax with your family in the Grand Park of Tirana
- Go for your morning coffee in the Murat Toptani Street
Is Tirana a cool city? Tirana definitely has a cool neighbourhood, which is the Blloku Area. If you are interested in exploring the nightlife and going to fancy restaurants, I suggest you book a night at the Xheko Imperial hotel in the Blloku Area.
Is Albania famous for anything? Albania is famous for its communist history & the 173.000 bunkers, the beautiful beaches of the Albanian Riviera in the South of Albania, and hiking to the remote villages in the Albanian Alps in the North of Albania and the beautiful UNESCO cities of Berat & Gjirokaster.
Is Tirana worth visiting? Tirana is worth visiting if you would like to explore a bit of Albania’s history. Tirana has a lot of history, landmarks and a fascinating Bunk’Art museum about Albania’s communist history. Another highlight is the Dajti Express which is a cable car that takes you up Dajti Mountain for spectacular views.
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
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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.
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