This is our complete guide to the sights in Tirana. It’s all about the landmarks, attractions and best experiences in the capital of Albania. Plus the most important travel tips with a map of the sights at the end.
The main square of Tirana is dedicated to the Albanian national hero George Kastriota “Skanderbeg” from the Middle Ages. The statue of Skanderbeg in the square is the landmark of Tirana.
Around the square are some of the most important sights of Tirana, to which I still dedicate separate points.
These include the Et’hem Bey Mosque with its clock tower, the nearby Catholic Cathedral, the National Historical Museum, the nearby Bunk’Art 2 Museum, the Opera House and what was once the most exclusive hotel during the dictatorship: the 4-star Tirana International Hotel.
More than 200,000 bunkers are a reminder of the communist dictatorship in Albania. A large part of them has fallen into disrepair, others are stables, others are cafes and some have found a new purpose.
Two examples are the Bunk’Art museums in Tirana. Bunk’Art 2 is an exhibition in an abandoned nuclear bunker with 2.4-meter-thick reinforced concrete walls near Skanderberg Square, behind the former Ministry of Public Order.
The exhibition in the 1,000-square-meter bunker shows how the police persecuted opponents of the regime during the communist period. You’ll see photos, equipment and memories of the political persecution of more than 100,000 people between 1945 and 1991 in Albania.
Bunk’Art 1 is the nuclear bunker on the outskirts of Tirana, meant for the former communist leadership.
You can see in the massive bunker of 200.000 m² with an exhibition about life in the dictatorship, the invasions in Albania and planned rooms for the dictator Enver Hoxha.
It is one of the few mosques that survived the dictatorship in Tirana. Hundreds of mosques, churches and houses of other faiths were destroyed throughout Albania then.
Et’hem Bey Mosque dates back to the Ottoman period in Albania, from 1794, which also makes it one of the oldest buildings in Tirana. It stands in Skanderbeg Square in the center, right next to the clock tower of Tirana. The minaret of the mosque, together with the clock tower, is one of the most striking buildings from old Albania.
Entrance: If you want to see the inside of Et’hem Bey Mosque, come outside the prayer times. Inside the mosque, men and women must cover their legs and shoulders, women must cover their hair.
Explore the Pazari i Ri (Bazaar) of Tirana
Although it was forbidden, merchants sold their goods in the bazaar even after the Second World War. Unfortunately, there are no historical, preserved market buildings.
The old Ottoman bazaar had to make way for a normal market as early as 1931. In 2017, the old wooden roofs were replaced by a glass and steel construction. Since then, the corner east of Skanderbeg Square has become a popular leisure and nightlife area, with probably more bars and restaurants than market stalls. The stalls have a roof, Albanian souvenirs and fresh produce are sold, and you can find a lot of restaurants surrounding the area.
Interesting are the cafés, restaurants and bars around the market. The area belongs to the nightlife districts of Tirana because of them.
Eat, drink coffee and buy souvenirs at Tirana Castle. The castle in the old city of Tirana dates back to the Byzantine Empire.
What you see today dates largely from the Ottoman Empire. Don’t expect a typical knight’s castle or oriental castle with an exhibition in Tirana Castle. It has become more of a meeting place in the city with cafés, bars and restaurants between Skanderbeg Square and the Pazari (bazaar).
If you want to eat out, inside the old city walls you will find restaurants with all kinds of national cuisines – from typical Albanian to Italian. There are also some handicraft stores with typical Albanian goods. If you are still looking for a souvenir, Tirana Castle is also a good place.
House of Leaves
The House of Leaves is the equivalent of the Stasi headquarters of the former GDR.
The name House of Leavs is ambiguous. It is about things hidden in the woods and names on the leaves of the files of the communist secret police of Albania. Are you curious about what the spies were doing in the headquarters of the infamous secret police, House of Leaves shows everything.
I must warn you, though. The exhibition is not for a bad stomach. In the house you will see the worst sides of the dictatorship in Albania, with the history of thousands of persecuted people who were against the regime.
Grand Park of Tirana
The Grand Park of Tirana is located about 20 minutes walk from Skanderbeg Square. This city park is the green lung of the city, a beautiful recreational area with an artificial large lake. Here you can comfortably spend the evening or have a picnic. In the park itself, there are also some buildings, such as the church of St. Prokopios or the main building of the University of Tirana.
The cathedral is the new center of Orthodox Christians in Albania. Like all religions, the Orthodox Church in Albania went through a difficult time after World War II.
The Resurrection Cathedral, built in 2002, is the new centre of the Albanian Orthodox Church. It stands between Skanderbeg Square and the House of Leaves. Admission to the cathedral is free. Remember that you should not dress too revealingly in Orthodox churches either. Your shoulders should be covered in the cathedral.
National Historical Museum
The National Historical Museum shows you the history of Albania. The Historical Museum dates back to the time of dictatorship. It is located in Skanderbeg Square and shows Albanian history from ancient to modern times.
The exhibition includes findings from the ancient sites of Albania, from the medieval castles and from the Albanian National Movement. The museum also displays the Albanian Resistance during World War II and commemorates the mass murders under the communist dictatorship.
If you want to learn more about Albania, the museum is the best place to do it. Plan an afternoon for the museum if it interests you a lot, or at least an hour or two.
Café Hop in Bloku District
A trip to Tirana is not possible without coffee. There is one coffee house per 152 inhabitants in Albania.
This is the world record. In no other country are there more coffee houses compared to the population.
Standing on the edge of the “bloku,” the trendy centre of modern Tirana, one has to imagine that this neighborhood was once a segregated and heavily guarded area of the city, where the country’s fiercest communist advocates enjoyed life behind closed doors while their compatriots mired in poverty outside the compound.
Today, Blloku is a vibrant network of the city’s best restaurants and cafés, chic boutiques and hip bars. It’s where Tirana comes to eat, shop and party – until midnight, when the neighbourhood closes its doors.
Coffee is part of a city trip to Tirana. You’ll find good cafés also around Skandenbeg Square, at Pazari (bazaar) and in Tirana Castle. Sit down, order a coffee, maybe oriental style, made with a briki and eat a byrek, a piece of baklava or a cake with it.
Take a Free Walking Tour of Tirana
As in almost every major city, you can take a free walking tour in Tirana. This tour takes place daily at 10am and 6pm and meets in front of the Opera House. During the two-hour tour, you will see the main highlights and squares of the city. More info here: Free Walking Tour Tirana. You can also book a guided 3-hour tour via GetYourGuide* including tickets to the National Historical Museum and the Et’hem Bey Mosque. Tirana also offers really cool street food tours.
Take the cable car to Mount Dajti (Mount Dajti)
Behind the outdated apartment blocks on the outskirts of the city rise the green peaks of Mount Dajti National Park. You can either hike to the top or take the scenic 20-minute cable car ride there – a quick and easy way to trade the hectic city streets for lush foothills and beautiful views in a matter of minutes.
Although the thick smog shrouds the city in a blue haze, on clear days you can see all the way to the sparkling Adriatic Sea. From the upper cable car station, you can go even further up and follow a trail for 2.5 km to the top. From there you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the mountains that form the border with Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia.
For the best view of the sunset, visit the Balkoni Dajtit restaurant or the revolving bar on the 7th floor of the Dajti Tower.
Getting there | Take one of the light blue city buses that leave behind the National Opera House near Skanderbeg Square and ask for Mount Dajti. The buses run regularly and let you off a short walk from the lower cable car station for just 50 lek (€0.40).
Opening hours | The Dajti Ekspres cable car runs from 9 am to 7 pm. The last cable car leaves 30 minutes before closing time. Closed on Tuesdays.
Price | A round-trip ticket for adults costs 1,000 lek (8 €). Unfortunately, the “Bunk Art + Cable Car” combo ticket is no longer available.
Immerse yourself in Albania’s communist past at BUNK’ART 1
If the Free Walking Tour has whetted your appetite for Albanian history, then you should visit Bunk’art 1 next. Located in the original bomb shelter of communist dictator Enver Hoxha, Bunk’art traces the rise of fascism, communism, and the courageous uprising that eventually led to the liberation of Albania. The space is huge, very atmospheric and, frankly, it’s almost too much to take it all in, but a few hours here will certainly leave a lasting impression.
For those who don’t have time to travel to the outskirts of the city, Bunk’art 2 in the heart of the city offers a smaller alternative.
Arrival | Located just before the Dajti Ekspres cable car, it makes sense to visit these two attractions on the same day. Start with Bunk’art before going up to the cable car for sunset. Take the same bus as described above.
Opening hours | 9am to 6pm in summer or 4pm in winter. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Price | Admission costs 500 lek (4 €).
Get to know Albania’s hero Skanderbeg on a day trip to Kruja
If you haven’t heard of Skanderbeg before arriving in Albania, you will certainly know who he is by the time you return from Kruja at the latest.
As a young nobleman, Skanderbeg was taken hostage and trained to serve in the Ottoman army. Decades later, he deserted during a battle in Albania and, as Prince of Kruja, placed himself at the head of the Albanian uprising against the Ottoman Empire. This storied history is kept alive throughout the country, and the hero is the namesake of just about everything of great significance.
Kruja and its castle are nestled among mysterious, mist-shrouded peaks and make for a great half-day excursion from Tirana. Stroll through the ruins of the ancient castle complex, browse the antiques that adorn the cobbled main street, and enter the Skanderbeg Museum to learn the rest of the story of this mystical figure and enjoy a magnificent view from the second-floor balcony.
It’s best to try to arrive early, as Kruja is a popular stop for tour buses in the afternoon and can get quite crowded.
Top Tip | I was highly recommended to try a unique traditional dish from the region called Kabuni, which oddly enough is a sweet, sticky dessert made with meat. Slow-cooked and enhanced with Christmas spices, fruits and rice, it is certainly an interesting concoction and worth trying.
Getting There | Although you can visit Kruja as part of an organized tour, the city is also easy to reach on your own. Buses leave about every 2 hours from the northern bus station and take about 1 hour to reach the historic part of Kruja. During my visit, buses departed at 10 am and 11 am and at 1 pm, 3 pm, 5 pm, and 6 pm. Alternatively, minibuses depart regularly from the parking lot next to the bus station to Fusha-Kruje – the lower part of the city. From here you can transfer to another bus that will take you to Kruja on the top of the mountain.
For the return trip, you can either arrange direct departure times with your driver upon arrival or simply board one of the buses to Fusha-Kruje, which leaves every half hour and transfer to one of the buses to Tirana. The direct bus from Tirana to Kruja costs 100 lek (€0.80), while the partial route costs a bit more.
Don’t have much time? Search here for the best Kruja day trips.
Price | The castle complex can be visited for free, while entrance to the Skanderbeg Museum costs 200 lek (€1.60).
A Day in Durres
Durres is a port city with beaches, ancient ruins and nightlife near Tirana. Durres is a port city located 40 km from Tirana with miles of sandy beaches, Roman ruins, and a beach promenade with bars, clubs and restaurants.
You can reach Durres from Tirana by bus or directly from Tirana airport by bus. There is no reasonable train from Tirana to Durres, because the Albanian railroad has increasingly fewer connections.
If you plan a long weekend in Tirana, you can go to Durres for a day at the beach and lie comfortably in the sun. The city combines the sea with history, nightlife, sun, ancient ruins and museums. Durres is one of the top 10 sights in Albania that you can easily see from Tirana.
Map of places of interest
- Best time to visit: The climate in Tirana is Mediterranean. You can expect daytime temperatures above 20° between April and October, and warmer than 30° in summer, with little rain.
- Duration of the trip: For the top 10 sights directly in Tirana, two days is enough. In addition, be sure to plan a trip to Berat and Durres. Tirana is a good destination for a long weekend, over three or four days.
- Easy arrival: You can find cheap flights with Ryanair and Wizz Air for often less than €50 to Albania’s only international airport, Tirana Airport, using Skyscanner’s “All Month” feature. There are also scheduled Lufthansa flights from the major cities of Germany.
- Airport transfer: You pay for the airport bus with cash in Albanian Lek. The one-hour ride from the airport to the centre costs the equivalent of less than €5. A cab ride to the centre should cost less than €20. Albanian cab drivers are okay in my experience.
- Public transport: A typical ticket for public transport costs less than 200 Albanian Lek, which is less than €1.50. There is a driver and a ticket inspector on the bus who settles up. You pay with cash.
- Pay and change money: You need cash in Albania and a real credit card from Visa or Mastercard because giro cards partly do not work in Albania. The rate of exchange offices is okay, even in the airport. Cards are accepted by tourist restaurants, new cafés and stores.
Our opinion: Albania is one of the most overlooked destinations in Europe. Yet there are enough sights in the capital for a long weekend, and you can spend a few days on the beach in Durres, Saranda or Vlora in the summer. For us, Tirana is one of the best insider tips in Europe, which is a clear recommendation from us. You see once a country, in which there are much too many prejudices. Albania has changed very positively if you are worried. If you have any questions about it, own tips or want to share your experiences, feel free to write me below in the comments.
What is a must-see in Tirana?
One must see in Tirana the Skanderbeg Square, the Historical Museum and the Bunk’Art Museums. The statue of the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg is the landmark of Tirana.
What is the landmark of Tirana?
The landmark of Tirana is the statue of the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg in Skanderbeg Square. It is the main square of the city, around which many others of Tirana’s most famous landmarks are located, for example, the Mosque, the Historical Museum and the Bunk’Art Museum.
How far is Tirana from the sea?
The sea is about 40 km away from Tirana. The nearest seaside resort is Durres, with a kilometre-long sandy beach, ancient ruins, and a beach promenade with cafés, restaurants and bars. The trip from Tirana to Durres by bus takes about an hour because the bus stops in several places along the route. There is also a direct bus from Tirana airport to Durres.