Author: Anita Hendrieka
There’s no doubt that Albania is a hidden gem in Europe, many people don’t even know it exists! As I now live in Albania, I have gathered many must-read tips if you are going to travel to Albania. There is so much to see, do and experience that it should be at the top of your European bucket list.
Here are my top tips to know before you travel to Albania!
1. Go with the flow
This is the biggest Albania travel tip because if there’s something you should know about Albania, it’s to relax and go with the flow! Albania is unlike other countries you might have visited. Don’t expect a bus to be on time, don’t expect everything to go your way, don’t expect anything. It’s good to have no expectations with Albania, that way you will experience the real Albania.
Albanians are very relaxed. Everything takes time, appointments are merely suggestions most of the time. If someone says to you ‘I’ll have it done by tomorrow’ they probably mean they will have it done for you next month.
2. Get used to the staring
The staring is something you will have to get used to if it’s not common for your culture. I have lived here for a year and it’s still something I struggle with. Staring is part of the Albania culture. They love to people watch, it might just be the favourite Albanian past time. Don’t be offended if someone is staring at you, it’s normal!
3. Say yes
One of my favourite parts about Albania is the hospitality. They have world-class hospitality. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you do – you will be welcomed with open arms. Saying yes should be an important Albania travel tip because during your time in Albania you will probably be asked many times if you want something to eat, drink, go and see something etc.
Albanians love being hospitable and, I have learned that no means nothing. For example, when I visit my boyfriend’s family if his mother asks if I want a chocolate, I MUST eat that chocolate – there’s no other way around it.
4. Go to the Albanian Riviera
You cannot go to Albania and only visit Tirana, you are missing out. The Albanian Riviera is home to some of the most beautiful beaches I have seen. You will find many hidden coves, beaches and quaint villages. My favourite little village is upper Qeparo, it’s a half-abandoned village which sits on a mountain and overlooks the sea.
The best way to experience the Albanian Riviera is to start in Saranda and make your way up to Vlora, or the other way around (from Vlora to Saranda). If you’re pressed on time you can spend a week hopping down the coast, but I recommend 2 weeks if you want to really see everything and relax too.
5. Eat the local food
This is a great tip for tourists because many people come here expecting the finest salmon or great sushi. The reality is you’re going to be disappointed. Don’t expect western food, instead try the local cuisine. Eat what comes in abundance here in Albania! For example, along the Albanian Riviera make sure you try seafood. It’s fresh, delicious and (most of the time) comes straight from the sea onto your dinner plate.
You can find some good western style restaurants in Tirana, but it’s not going to be as good as you can probably get while your home. Instead dive deep into Albanian food – it’s fresh, delicious and healthy!
6. Learn a few words
Albanians really appreciate you trying to speak their language, even if you do get it wrong! The Albanian language is unlike any other language in the world – that’s a fact, not an opinion. There is no other European language that is like Albanian. The Albanian language has its own roots!
Fun fact: The North and the south have different dialects so they cannot understand what each other are saying.
Here are a few words that you should learn:
- Pershentdejte – Hello
- Falemenderit – Thank you
- Gazuar – Cheers or Salut!
7. Know the prices
Unfortunately, like nearly every place in the world, there are going to be people who try and rip you off because you’re a tourist. The best thing you can do is to do some research and get to know the prices. In the last year, I have noticed it more in Albania. I think it’s due to tourism rising and more people seeing the opportunity to completely rip tourists off and making them pay triple for something.
8. Learn a little about the history
Albania has had an interesting but difficult past. To understand the country and the people you should learn a little about the recent history. From the 1940s until the 1990’s Albania was under a communist rule which meant there were strict restrictions. Some compare it with North Korea. After communism fell, 2/3 of Albania’s population lost all of their life savings due to a pyramid scheme. When the scheme collapsed, rioting begun, the government collapsed and that was the start of a civil war which lasted for around 6/7 months.
9. Talk politics
When you come to Albania you will soon notice that Albanians LOVE to talk politics. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of problems in the country that still are yet to be solved. No jobs, wages are low and the quality of living in low. Albania is hard to live in and hard to get ahead as an Albanian. You will certainly have these kinds of talks with Albanians when you come here.
10. Talk philosophy
On top of politics, Albanians also love to talk about philosophy. This is something I noticed within the first year of living here. You will get into deep conversations about existence, language, the mind and why are we here?!
11. Try the pizza!
This may seem a little strange, but Albanians make incredible pizza! Italy is only just across the water so it’s a given that they have a little bit of Italian influence. Also, a lot of Albanians moved to Italy and found work in pizza restaurants and have learned the art of Italian pizza. Now they have brought that back to Albania and you can find quality pizza. I’m sorry Italians, but I have had better pizza in Albania than I have had in Italy.
12. Take cash
Albania is a cash society. You won’t find many shops or restaurants take Eftpos. In Saranda,I know of only a couple of places that take a card. When you come to Albania you should try to go to an atm as soon as you can get some LEK out. Most businesses also take euro. Some ATMs charge a fee for cash. I have been charged as much as 800lek to get money out. Some have a 500lek fee and some are free! You can also get euro cash out of at least one atm but best to ask a local where that is.
13. Don’t underestimate the raki
Raki is the local moonshine and it’s strong, very strong. In fact, raki can be upwards of 70% proof and the great thing, you never really know how strong it is until it hits you. But raki is not made for getting drunk. It goes deeper than that. You will see old men having a glass of raki with their morning coffee. Albanians believe raki is good for the heart, good for the bones, good for everything – but in moderation of course.
Raki is also used in hospitals and as medicine for toothaches and wounds. It’s the perfect all-round drink! Most families who live in a village will make their own raki, and a lot of it so it lasts them a while. If you visit Tirana, make sure you visit a bar called Komiteti. It’s a raki bar with dozens of flavours!
Unfortunately, Albania has many misconceptions. Mostly due to misinformation, no information and the movie Taken. Actually, only one of the actors who plays an Albanian is actually Albanian. They are constantly portrayed as bad guys, drug dealers, drug lords, gangs etc. Although Albania has a history of some of those things, doesn’t nearly every country in the world? Albania is completely safe, in fact, I have felt safer here than in western European countries.
The crime rate is extremely low against tourists, in fact non-existent. And the mafia? Well, let’s just say there’s more money to be made elsewhere. You don’t have to ever worry about that sort of thing. Albanians are incredibly friendly, very helpful and vow to always keep you safe while visiting or living in their country. If I ever have a situation or need help, there’s always a bunch of people offering to help, even if they can’t, they will find someone!