Albania is a small gem of a country located in the Balkan region of Southern Europe. In recent years it’s become a welcome tourist destination for those who fancy lounging for days on glorious white sand beaches or those who seek out cultural experiences in far-flung places, without breaking the budget.
The once vast Albanian territory, with an enviable, long coastline that spans the Ionian and the Adriatic Seas, was inhabited by ancient Illyrians. It was then conquered by Romans in the 2 century BCE, falling to Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. A much smaller independent Albania emerged in 1912.
Not done with its woes, the country then suffered a Communist dictatorship, keeping Albania isolated from the West and modernity, between 1944 and the 1990’s.
Today, Albania is a fascinating fusion of its past cultural influences. With a few bustling cities, a Mediterranean-vibed seacoast, archaeological remnants of castles and fortresses, plus stunning mountain scenery, Albania is largely unspoiled and ready to be explored.
Albania’s climate is mild by European standards, and there’s something to do all year ‘round. The summers heat up from June-September, perfect for beach going and mountain hiking. Short shoulder seasons offer up perfect, mild days. Winters are cold, but it rarely snows, except in the higher elevations, where winter sports (hiking, snowboarding and skiing) are popular attractions.
Albania uses a standard Euro 230V plug, with two round prong sockets. If you have American appliances with flat-prongs, you’ll need an adapter to use your appliances in Albania. If your appliance does not accept 110-240V, you’ll also need a converter.
Distance is measured in meters and kilometers.
The maximum visa-free stay for almost 90 countries is 90 days within an 180-day period. There are some exceptions, for example, American citizens can stay one full year, visa-free. Check your passport’s requirements, as some passports may need a visa prior to arrival.
Note: All passports receive an electronic scan upon entry, with no physical “stamp.” Be sure to take note of the day you entered to ensure that you don’t overstay your allotted time.
Albanian currency, ALL or Albanian Lek, is a locked currency used only within the country. Several currencies can be exchanged for Lek within Albania, including EUR, USD, and GBP.
The best cash to bring with you is the Euro. Most touristic places (airport bus/taxi, hotels and larger restaurants) will quote prices in Euros and you can pay with Euros.
Albania is primarily a cash society. Many smaller cafes, bakeries, fruit and veggie vendors don’t accepting credit or debit cards.
TIP: ATMs accept most international debit/credit cards and charge 5-6€ transaction fees, plus currency conversion fees.
Albania is a very safe country for travellers (despite what movies you’ve seen!), including for solo women (with some caveats). Albanian people, in general, are very friendly and helpful, and petty crime is rare. Locals will go so far as to return a wallet or correct you if you overpay in a restaurant or shop.
That said, it’s always smart to keep an eye on your belongings when in crowded touristic places, and it’s better for women to avoid being out alone late at night.
There’s a wide range of accommodation available throughout Albania, from 5-star hotels to abundant self-catering apartments to simple hostels. Online platforms like Booking.com and AirBnb, offer plenty of choices.
Albanian hotels and apartments rarely have insulation against heat or cold, so check for AC/Heating units before booking.
With its bountiful natural resources, Albania is a strong supporter of sustainable tourism. There are many options for agritourism (staying on a working farm or orchard) and opportunities to enjoy “farm to table” venues, where seasonal organic produce, meats, cheeses, and homemade wine/spirits are served up with welcoming hospitality.
Although there are laws that prohibit smoking in indoor spaces, smoking is regularly accepted throughout Albania in cafes, buses, pubs and restaurants. Public venues such as museums, banks and churches are usually non-smoking.
Albanians drink a lot of alcohol, but driving with any alcohol in your blood is illegal in Albania – so don’t do it. The roads are difficult enough to navigate without alcohol, anyway! That said, alcohol (beer, wine, spirits) is available at most markets any day or night, all year round, for those 18 years or older.
Most bars, cafes and restaurants have toilets that you can use, but not all shops will have or offer toilet use.
Albania is not a tipping culture. You also don’t always get the smiley over-the-top friendly service in bars or restaurants that happens elsewhere.
Although many tourists do tip for service, resist the urge to “over-tip.” An amount that might seem insignificant to you is impossible for local patrons to pay, and that can upset the natural economy, if the restaurant also caters to local patrons.
Do feel free to tip tourist-related service providers, such as private drivers, tour guides and trekking guides, as they spend hours or days providing you with good service specific to tourism.
Albanians often drink bottled water, so that is safest for tourists, also. Check locally, though, as some towns and cities have municipal water that is perfectly safe to drink.
Most accommodations include WIFI, with a range from slowish to very fast. Many cafes have WIFI, and there are usually a few options in the city centers to hang out at a cafe with your laptop, (if you buy multiple coffees!) although this is not a typically Albanian habit.
Local SIM cards are inexpensive and easily obtainable with your passport.
ONE – packages between 500-1500 ALL, works throughout Balkan region
Vodaphone – packages between 500-800 ALL, only In Albania
Modern Albanians are descendants of the original Illyrians, Greeks, Italians, and Ottomans. Albania’s religious landscape is primarily Sunni and Bektashi Muslim, with a minority of Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
After facing religious oppression under the dictator, Enver Xoxha, today’s Albanian religious groups live together relatively harmoniously. Most cities possess grand old-world mosques alongside impressive historic cathedrals and churches.
Tirana International Airport Mother Theresa (TIA) is Albania’s main airport, located 20 minutes outside the capital city, Tirana.
Airport transfer buses to Tirana city center operate from 8am-midnight: approx. 2.50€ (will accept Euros).
Later arrivals require a taxi ride into the city: between 25-30 €. Apartments or hotels might arrange a (paid) pick-up for you upon request, or you can get a taxi at the airport.
Hint: From city center back to the airport, the rate is less, around 1200 ALL if you order an electric taxi.
Kukës Airport (KFZ) – in eastern Albania, limited international service to Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Turkey, no domestic flights.
Ferries run seasonally, once or twice per day, on scheduled days of the week. You can take a 30-minute speed ferry or a 1.10 hour ferry from Corfu, Greece to Sarande in the south. Both options cost under 30€.
You can drive or take a bus into Albania from:
Greece (to the south)
North Macedonia (to the east)
Kosovo (to the northeast)
Montenegro (to the north)
There is no country-wide rail system in Albania, so options for getting around Albania include:
Buses – large coaches, between city routes
Mini-Buses (Furgons) up to 12 passengers, between cities
Private Car Transfer (with driver)
Car rental is a great, economical way to get around Albania, if you are an adventuresome driver and don’t mind under-developed roads. Local drivers are also more reckless than what you might be used to, so take on city driving with a sturdy spine!
The bus system in Albania is quirky and you can eventually get wherever you want to go. The good news is, Albanian buses are cheap! Tickets range from 1 Euro for a short ½ hour ride, to around 7 Euros for a several-hour trip.
Hiring a private car and driver is much more expensive, but more comfortable, direct and more reliable. If you have a group, family and/or unwieldy luggage, it’s well worth the money for the ease of transport.
Regardless of where you are in Albania, evening is time for a “xhiro” (pronounced jeer-o) or evening stroll. If there’s a main boulevard, central park, main square, touristic avenue or beachside promenade, when dusk arrives, Albanians will be out for their daily walk. This is the time to meet up with friends, enjoy the weather and welcome in the night.
Albanians shake their head side to side in little rapid motions to indicate that they are in agreement with what you are saying (even if it looks like they’re indicating “no!”)
You’ll recognize a firm “No!” when someone holds up a finger in front of their face and shakes it from side to side. In that case, no really does mean no, no point in arguing… it’s a no.
Most Albanians will want to shake your hand upon greeting.
You might get random offers from a stranger at a cafe, or from someone you just met to pay for your coffee. Or, as has happened to us, you might go to pay your bill and find that a stranger has already paid it for you! You might even get offers to join locals for a coffee… if you’re not pressed for time, say yes and enjoy, as it is considered rude to refuse an offer.
Along that line, if you are joining Albanians for coffee, they will always try to pay the bill, even to the point of arguing about it – it’s a country craze that everyone tries to pay! If this happens, let them pay and try to cover the bill the next time. However, it is considered rude to go behind someone’s back and pay the bill! (unless it’s a random stranger, as described above!)
Albania is fairly conservative and upholds family values, so it’s best to avoid displays of affection in public.
It’s always a good idea to dress more conservatively, as you are a guest in the country; follow the lead of locals in your area or group. Women should bring a scarf for covering the head when visiting mosques or churches.
Albania’s climate is fairly predictable and doesn’t require special gear, unless you’re planning a hike or specific sports activity. Do bring winter clothing (jacket, boots, and thermals), for high altitudes.
Hiking boots are suggested for rigorous hiking/trekking activities, rather than just walking shoes.
A scarf comes in useful as a head cover, if you plan to visit mosques or churches, where modest clothing is suggested.
For beach activities, bring plenty of sunscreen, as the sun can be fierce these days!
There are no casinos for gambling in Albania (as of 2018) but you will find a vibrant nightclub scene in Tirana, as well as in the larger beach cities. Towns throughout Albania host summer music festivals and outdoor events, crowded with young people, drinking and dancing.
It’s important to know, however, that Albania is a fairly traditional country that upholds family values, and is not welcoming of ultra-liberal activity, especially public displays of affection.
Beach attire is common at beaches and on the nearby boardwalks, but wear shorts and a top or a cover-up, on leaving the immediate beach area.
Albanians are friendly, and greet each other with the correct greeting per time of day (see below). You’ll also see women and men place their right palm over their heart as a sign of respect or appreciation for someone, saying the word “respekt” while doing so.
The Albanian language, known as “shqipja” (ship-iya) is an Indo-European language, spoken in Albania; and somewhat in Kosovo, North Macedonia and Montenegro.
Most younger-generation Albanians speak some English, so it’s usually easy to find someone to translate for you. In the northern part of the country, Italian is also widely spoken, and in the south, Greek is a more common second language.
Hello! - Përshëndetje! (pear-shen-det-ye)
How are you – Si jeni? (see-yeni)
Good, well – Mire (meer)
Good Morning! Mirëmëngjes! (before noon) (meer-men-jess)
Good Day! Mirëdita! (noon-evening) (meer-deeta)
Good evening! (evening-bedtime) Mirëmbrëma! (meer-mbrum-uh)
Good night! Natën e mirë! (upon leaving someone for the night) (naten-eh-meer)
See you later! - Mirupafshim! (meer-oo-paf-sheem)
Where is.... Ku eshte (koo esht)
... the toilet (tualeti) (too-ah-let-ee)
... the bus (autobusi) (auto-boo-see)
Please - Ju lutem (yoo-loo-tem)
Thank you – Faleminderit (fa-leh-men-der-it)
Yes – Po
No - Yo
Planning a trip to Albania? Read our other Albania travel guides
Last Updated 15 August 2023