An aerial view of Rozafa Castle overlooking the lake and the river in Albania

Northern Albania: a 10 day itinerary

Maysie Dee

Contributing writer

It is easy to get lost in the wonders of Northern Albania. Rugged mountains, caves, waterfalls, and beaches provide the adventurous traveller with plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities.

Those who are also fascinated with bygone times will revel in the crumbling castles and fortresses set in gorgeous locales. In fact, several of the most beautiful places in Albania are in the north.

Plentiful chestnut forests dot the northern Albanian landscapes that also host native wineries and enticing farm-to-table eateries. With bountiful agricultural areas, it’s no surprise that Albanians love good food and wine.  

The northern part of Albania is full of historical monuments, enticing beaches and compelling vistas… here’s an itinerary that takes you through the highlights of the region that you won’t want to miss.

The first peak of the village of Valbona

How much time should I spend in Northern Albania?

How much do you love the out-of-doors, exploring historic ruins and enjoying sandy beaches? You could easily spend a few weeks jaunting through Northern Albania, but if you’re pressed for time you can hit the highlights in about 7-10 days.

Of course, that also depends on how you travel around Albania. There is ample, inexpensive public transportation in the country, but buses don’t always show up as scheduled (or at all!), can be crowded and generally cause travellers a lot of frustration. For this reason, I’d suggest renting a car to tour Northern Albania. 

The rates aren’t unreasonable, and the country is relatively small. This itinerary, never has you driving more than two hours without reaching a spot to stop for sightseeing or arriving at the next overnight destination.

If you really want to splash out, hire a personal driver to drive you around Northern Albania in style. There are excellent English-speaking drivers - our favourite driver is friendly and never fails us! A personal driver will go out of the way to make your trip amazing – that includes helping you find hidden gems to visit in the key areas, lugging your bags, and negotiating better rates along the way.

Although there are gorgeous mountain hideaways and ski resorts to enjoy in winter, the best time to tour Northern Albania is in late spring, summer or very early autumn. The roads are also free from dangerous winter conditions in these seasons. 

You’ll also be able to go on hikes that are not possible in winter, and comfortably relax in the Albanian countryside or at the beaches under the glowing Ionian sun and azure skies.

Now, on to the itinerary...

People walking along a wide pedestrian street with a cafe under the trees

Tirana (1 night)

For travelling purposes, the country is roughly divided from north to south from Tirana, the capital city. As international flights to the country arrive in Tirana, it’s the perfect point to start off your northern Albania tour.

Depending on when you arrive, you might choose to relax and take a day to tour the eclectic city, by taking a walking tour to take in the highlights. You’ll want to see the famous Communist-era bunkers scattered around and visit the Et'hem Bey Mosque, with its colourful frescoes and mosaic work. 

You can also take the gondola (Dajti Ekspres) in town up Mt Dajti for the fantastic views over the city. Be sure to have a meal of local cuisine and enjoy a coffee at one of the many trendy cafes in the capital.

Stay at the Crown Boutique Hotel, within walking distance of Skanderbeg Square

Looking down on Durres city and waterfront on a sunny day.

Durres (2 nights)

Head out of Tirana and take a short 40-minute drive to Durres, a large modern city on the Adriatic Sea. Durres’ long, beautiful, white sand beach with its inviting sapphire-blue water is ever-popular among foreign and Albanian tourists. 

With an unbelievable amount of reasonably priced high-rise condos and high-quality hotels, you can have an upscale beach holiday in Durres without breaking your budget. The city also features a shopping promenade with boutiques, historical mosques, ruins of a Roman amphitheatre, and lively nightlife.

Enjoy your time sunbathing, kite surfing, or windsurfing, among other water sports. Excellent cafes, seafood restaurants and beach bars round out the offerings of this dynamic city with its own captivating beach. Most hotels include beach umbrella rentals in the price; check when making reservations.

If you’re really into beach time, just a short drive south of Durres is the popular Golem Beach, with an enchanting pine forest as a backdrop, deep blue waters and a charming renovated beach promenade. There are plenty of bars, restaurants, and snack bars right on the beach, with lots of space for everyone, even in summer. 

If you’re a fan of agritourism, don’t miss a trip to Agroturizëm Huqi, about 19 minutes outside Durres, near the town of Rade. This is a family-friendly property that offers fabulous regional cuisine, along with separate cozy cabins set on stilts for (optional) comfortable overnight stays). 

The speciality of the house is a traditional preparation of lamb, along with chicken dishes, salads, Albanian savoury pies, homemade cheeses and fresh garden vegetables. Explore the ample gardens, too, and pet the farm animals on the inspiring 15-hectare property where you can fish, and paddle-boat on the lake. Onsite camping is also possible.

Stay at the Relax Inn Durres near the beach and within walking distance of the city centre.

The ruins of Lezhe Fortress and the view of the town on a sunny day.

Lezhe (1 night)

After a night in the countryside (or a continued stay in Durres) your next stop should be the awe-inspiring rocky peninsula known as the Cape of Rodon (about an hour from Durres or 45 minutes from Rade). The cape is one of those ancient places that’s all the more beautiful because it is yet mostly undiscovered. 

You can peacefully enjoy the glorious views from the forested hiking trails on the narrow slice of land that reaches into the Adriatic. In springtime, it’s covered with flowers and in summer, the clear deep blue waters are perfect for a swim.  

Also located on the historical peninsula are the ruins of the Castle of Skanderbeg, (sometimes known as Castle Rodoni) built in the 1400s. Near the base of the peninsula is the quaint ancient Church of St. Anthony, a cultural monument built in the 17th century. The ruin contains remains of frescoes and is a beautiful example of Romano-Gothic architecture.

After the cape, head on to the distinctive Lezhe Castle, which sits high above the attractive town of Lezhe on the Adriatic coast.

One of the most important castles in Albanian history that served as a major defence against outside attacks, the grand stone fortress reflects Illyrian, Byzantine, and Ottoman influences. Roam through the ruins and enjoy the views of Lezhe town, the River Drin and the Adriatic below. 

Then, stroll the stone-tiled streets of Lezhe, an art lover's dream of galleries, museums, and exhibitions, and host to numerous cultural festivals, along with scrumptious regional cuisine.

Or, if you’re into artisanal wines and tranquil country environments, you’ll probably enjoy a tour of an Albanian vineyard. Although great wine is produced throughout the country, Kallmet Winery is a great option for a happy afternoon of wine tasting:

Located near the town of Lezhe in Kallmet Village, this winery welcomes all visitors on every weekday, without prior appointment. Once there, you can visit the wine and brandy facilities, view olive oil production, and of course, try the wine for yourself.

Stay at Hotel Liss for comfortable rooms near the castle.

People walking in downtown Shkoder, a city in north of Albania

Shkoder (2 nights)

Next up is Shkoder, a lovely small city located on the vast Plain of Mbishkodra, less than one hour from Lezhe. Not only is the city prized for its history as one of the oldest settlements in the country, but also for being the perfect access point for visiting the exalted Albanian Alps and impressive Lake Shkoder (Skadar).

The town itself is charming, with eco-minded cyclists, a lively walking promenade, and beautiful historic cathedrals and mosques. Here you’ll find other travellers enjoying everything from coffee to Albanian specialties to pizza, while they take in the surroundings and plan their ventures to outlying mountains, caves, lakes, and rivers. 

Shkoder is also known for its enthusiastic and helpful trip guides and excellent customer service.

While in Shkoder, take a tour of the absolutely fascinating Venice Art Mask Factory, an easy 20-minute walk from the city center. This artisanal workshop of 160 employees creates stunning Venetian carnival masks by hand, using the Italian cartapesta papier-mâché technique. 

If you’re a lover of beautiful things, you’ll be thrilled to browse the gallery filled with thousands of exquisitely painted and embellished masks and wall hangings for sale, plus intricately beaded costumes on display. There's an entry fee of approx. €3.50 (no purchase required).

A 6-minute drive (or 20-minute bike ride) outside Shkoder will take you to Rozafa Castle for expansive views of the city, the Drin and Buna Rivers, and Lake Shkoder, while you wander the ruins.

Spend the night in Shkoder and plan to visit the nearby natural and cultural sites before heading up to Lake Koman, which is a must-not-be-missed point on this itinerary.

Just beyond Shkoder is the wondrous Kir Valley, a spectacular natural environment for enjoying warm spring, summer and autumn weather. The impressive landscape, encircled with steep cliffs, makes the area perfect for cycling trips, swimming, hiking and nature photography. 

In summer, when water levels of the river are low, you can explore the 104-meter Zhyla Cave system, via several water openings to the cave along the river bank. Nearby Prekal village provides some infrastructure (a few bars and cozy restaurants) as a resting point, among lush greenery and stunning views.

Stay at Çoçja Boutique Hotel with stylish rooms in the city centre.

An aerial view of the stone Mesi Bridge and surrounding countryside.

Mesi Bridge and Drishti Castle

While you’re in the area, you’ll want to stand on the iconic Mesi Bridge, about 6 kilometres outside Shkoder. This grand relic is Albania’s largest remaining Ottoman Bridge - over 108 meters long – and is a testament to Albania’s ancient roots. 

The bridge’s fifteen impressive arches span the luminous blue water of the Kir River. Mesi Bridge was constructed in the late 1700s to connect bustling trade roads between Albania and the ancient Serbian Empire.  It's best in spring and autumn when the river is fullest.

In the same area as Mesi Bridge, you’ll find the medieval Dhristi Castle. Built in part by Byzantines during the 13th century, and by Venetians in the 14th, the castle and fortress became one of the strongholds (along with Rozafa Castle) that protected Shkoder from Ottoman control.

You can peruse the ruins and examine the remnants of several houses within the fortress’ ruined walls.

Lake Koman surrounded by mountains in Northern Albania in the summer

Lake Koman (2 nights)

While in Shkoder, make your plans to visit gorgeous Lake Koman. The expansive and stunning lake, about one and a half hours from Shkoder, is a wonder to behold. The happy result of a hydroelectric dam project, the sparkling emerald and teal lake and surrounding mountains are often referred to as “Albania’s Switzerland.”

Taking a ferry from the small town of Koman, you’ll slip between towering cliffside canyon walls, the lake twisting, as if a river, then opening to wide sweeping views across the glittering water. The ferry pauses at various little hamlets along the way, which also serve as stepping-off points for hiking the famous Valbona and Theth alpine trails

If you hike the Theth trails, be sure to visit another of northern Albania’s wonders, The Blue Eye of Theth. Nourished by the Black River, this captivating cold-water spring is deep, set amidst green foliage and a small waterfall. The pool’s luminous lapis blue and turquoise water is perfect for a refreshing dip after a long and strenuous hike. 

The ferry ride and hiking trails are best experienced during late spring and early autumn, as hiking is not possible after the snows set in. You can also join the throngs in summer… it’s very hot then, but a trip into the mountains will cool you off, for sure…

There are several active tour companies lining the touristic Gjuhadol walking street in central Shkoder who will be happy to reserve your ferry seats or guide you there themselves. It’s possible to do a day trip if you forego hiking, but if you have time, the hikes are amazing!

Stay at Kulla e Vjeter, a comfortable guesthouse with an onsite restaurant near the lake.

A boat on Lake Shkoder in Albania.

Lake Shkoder (1 night)

When you return to Shkoder after your Lake Koman adventure, take a day afterwards to soak your weary muscles in the healing Velipojë Beach sands.

Located on a small bay about 30 minutes from Shkoder town, Velipojë is Albania’s northernmost beach. Velipojë Beach is truly a hidden treasure that is nestled near a protected area with surrounding tall pines and green vegetation.

The unique attraction of Velipojë is its curative dark sand, full of natural minerals, such as iodine. Many visitors come for a walk along the beach or to immerse themselves in the sand as a free therapy for rheumatism, asthma and cardiac issues. 

The 5-kilometre beach has inviting sapphire blue water, a shallow entry, and is calm enough for families, children, and seniors, who all enjoy swimming there. 

Beach access and amenities are available to everyone (beach umbrellas €6). 

Spend the night near the beautiful, shimmering Lake Shkoder (also known as Lake Skadar). The largest lake in the Balkans is just a quick taxi or bike ride from the centre of Shkoder. The lake is great for picnicking, kayaking, fishing or just having a restful meal in one of the many inviting restaurants ringing the lakeside.

Before you leave Shkoder, take in Shkreli Regional Nature Park, a 2000-hectare nature area located between Lake Shkoder and the Theth National Park.  With numerous hiking trails, caves, horseback riding and farm-to-table destinations, it’s a haven for adventure lovers.

You can easily spend a day or enjoy an extended visit. Clean air and stunning views are the signature elements that bring visitors to the area for rejuvenation.

Villages in the area are popular for their organic produce. Be sure to check out the abundant chestnut forests, especially in September and October, when chestnuts are ripe and local autumn celebrations take place.

Stay at the Four Generation Hotel with stunning views of the lake.

Aerial view of Krujë Castle overlooking the town in Albania

Driving back to Tirana

As you end your tour of Northern Albania, there are still a couple of sites to enjoy. 

Before you head south, located only about 15 minutes north of Shkoder, is Kantina Mani, another great winery where you can take a tour and have a wonderful lunch. After living in Italy for some years, Fatjon Mani returned to his family land and decided to plant grapes. With the help of a few of his Dutch friends, Faton began wine production in his small facility.

The winery now produces a few varieties of select wine, plus homemade rakija. In 2020, they used natural materials from his family’s original homestead to build a kantina, so they could invite visitors to partake in wine tastings and delicious traditional meals in the beautiful surroundings. 

Today this humble kantina offers (by reservation) wine tastings, meals, vineyard tours, pick-your-own grapes, and traditional cooking and raki-making workshops - all at very reasonable prices, with friendly personal service.

On your way back to Tirana, be sure to stop at the Castle of Krujë (Kru-yeh), the ancient fortress of Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, Albania’s beloved national hero. 

You’ll find the castle about an hour and a half outside Shokder, set on a lofty hilltop above the small town below.

The castle remains are now home to a small museum, but the main attraction is the incredible breathtaking view from the stronghold. With one glimpse, you’ll understand why Skanderberg chose this location for his home, as he struggled to protect his homeland from invaders. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Adriatic Sea in the distance. 

If you want to take the time, Krujë village is a charming place to wander. he Stroll through the Old Bazaar, stop for a coffee (because there’s always time for coffee in Albania!) or have a delicious local-style lunch with a view overlooking the area.

From  Krujë, it’s just an hour's drive back to the capital city of Tirana. If you have more time, head south to relax on the beaches of the Albanian Riviera.

Planning a trip to Albania? Read our travel guides.

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Maysie Dee

Author - Maysie Dee

Maysie Dee is a freelance writer, content editor, and recipe creator. She and her husband have travelled across the world for decades as natural product consultants, collecting stories along the way.

Last Updated 18 February 2024

Ksamil Beach, Albania on a summer's day


With rugged mountains, clear waters and an extensive archaeological heritage, a trip to Albania can encompass the outdoor adventures, impressive landmarks or a beachside break.