Tirana – Albania’s Weird Capital

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One of Europe’s most bizarre cities, Tirana is a fun place to visit. The capital of once isolated Albania is great for strolling (between the main square and the University you will pass through Ottoman, Italian and communist architecture), food (a mixture of Balkan and Italian cuisine) and parties (plenty of cool bars and clubs line Blloku area, the former Politburo center). Recent urban projects have revamped Tirana’s former gray neighborhoods. The city is for sure starting to look good! However, Tirana’s natural environment stands out. In fact, 1 day in Tirana may be enough for sightseeing. Nevertheless, if you want to get to know a real Balkan town go further south to Berat or Gjirokaster.

City view from Sky Tower

Tirana Sightseeing

Although Tirana is a relatively large city, its historical center is rather small. Most of the places to visit in Tirana line the main street, Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard. Hence, start your walk at Skenderbeg Square. The National Historical Museum, the Opera House, the Et’hem Bey Mosque and the Clock Tower are all on the recently revamped square. Keep on walking on the square until you pass the ministry buildings. Then you will encounter a nice park and the Lana River. Further down the road, you’ll spot Tirana’s most famous sight: the Piramida. Its story is funny. It was going to be a museum dedicated to the former dictator. Fortunately, the building got completed as his rule ended.  Now abandoned, people use it as a slide. Much better than a museum glorifying a dictator! Continue a few more steps along the street and you’ll get to the University and behind it the Grand Park with its artificial lake.

The Pyramid - International Center of Culture

Other Places to Visit in Tirana

Tirana is perfect for sightseeing. A great place to discover walking is pedestrian Toptani Street. Watch young people pass by and families shop while sipping coffee at any of the restaurants that line the street.  Walk all the way till the end of the street to get to tiny Tanners’ Bridge. The bridge is a testament of Tirana’s long Ottoman past. In the same area the Pazari i Ri is a nearby refurbished marketplace you shouldn’t miss. Grocers sell delicious fruit and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. If you have some time left pay a visit to the recently opened Orthodox Cathedral and the BunkArt 2 museum. Go out for dinner at any of the fancy restaurants on Blloku Neighborhood.

If you have more than 1 day in Tirana take the Dajti Ekspres cable car and spend some time in the mountains.

National History Museum of Albania

Where to Stay in Tirana

The accommodation offer in Tirana has improved remarkably in the past years. There were only two good hotels when we visited a couple of years ago: the Tirana International Hotel and the Sheraton Hotel. We stayed at the Tirana International Hotel. It’s located on the main square and offers the best views in town. The Sheraton is now called Mak Albania Hotel and is arguably the best hotel in Tirana. Another top class hotel is the centrally located Plaza Tirana. On the other hand, the young and hip favor La Bohème Hotel in Blloku. Finally, stay at Sar’Otel Hotel & SPA if you want to hang out by the pool.

Polytechnic University of Tirana

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