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Is Tirana worth visiting?

When I was planning my trip to Theth National Park in Albania, it required me to pass through Tirana. I did a bit of research and saw some mixed reviews on the city, with one blogger even claiming it’s the least visited capital in Europe.

However, I was passing through anyway so I decided to spend 24 hours in Tirana to check it out.

What I found is that Tirana is definitely worth a visit! The capital city seriously surprised me and I actually wish I had more time there.

During my Albania vacation I also visited the lakeside town of Shkoder. To my surprise, I found I strongly preferred Tirana over the more popular destination of Shkoder and if I could do it again, I would probably trade my time there for extra time in the capital.

Is Tirana worth visiting? After 24 hours in the city I can answer with a resounding YES. If you’re curious to learn more about it, here’s how we filled our time in the city and what you can expect when you’re passing though. 

 

Salt sushi restaurant in Tirana

 

Where to Eat in Tirana

I didn’t eat traditional Albanian food in Tirana (we go more than enough of that in Theth) but I did have some delicious meals. Check them out below and visit these three places for good eats in Tirana.

 

Salt

I had a sushi craving and Salt hit the spot. It’s super modern and chic, has a great cocktail menu, and the food was on point.

Salt is definitely a bit expensive for the cost of living in Tirana but after three days of heavy meat and cheese meals in the mountains, I was so ready for some variety. They deliver on flavor, service, and ambiance so if you’re looking for good food in Tirana, this is the place.

 

Mon Amour Bakery

This bakery is heavenly.

I got the gelato but there are sooo many different options to tempt you. There was baklava, macaroons, mini tarts, cheesecakes and so much more. Plus, the outdoor seating area is really nice to sit in and people watch while you chow down.

 

New York Bagels

I never knew that bagels are an American food until I traveled abroad.

They’re almost nowhere to be found in the rest of the world so when I saw a New York bagel place in Tirana stopping in was a no brainer. The place is both budget friendly and delicious with bagel sandwiches starting at only 120 lek / 1.30 usd.

Daniel and I actually got four… two for lunch and two more to pack up for dinner on our bus ride to Skopje.

The salmon and the caprese were my favorite but the BLT and turkey sandwiches are both good as well. I was pretty skeptical, but the bagels do not disappoint and this place is perfect for a quick and cheap breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Tirana.

 

shisha in Tirana

Colorful shisha at The Shisha Room

 

Where to Drink in Tirana

Looking for somewhere to grab a drink?

Tirana has you covered. I visited on a Saturday in the summer and the music, lights, and people spilling out of the restaurants and bars in the Blloku district set the stage for a great night.

 

Explore the Blloku Neighborhood

I was beyond surprised to see how hipster and artsy Tirana is. I didn’t really expect much from the city and because of that I was blown away.

There are so many colorful bars and cool restaurants to explore and the Blloku neighborhood is the best place to see them. If you want to get a drink in the evening or grab dinner somewhere, this is the nicest and liveliest area in Tirana.

 

Sky Club Rotating Restaurant 

Seriously, who doesn’t love drinks with a view?

The Panoramic Bar & Restaurant even spins slowly, so you can get a full 360 degree view of the city. Plus, it’s in easy walking distance from the Blloku neighborhood, the Pyramid of Tirana, and Bunk’Art 2, so you can easily combine them into one afternoon.

 

Smoke Shisha From the Future

The Shisha Room is pretty expensive, but a nice place to unwind from a day of traveling.

I liked it because the hookah was futuristic, with a cold ice block in the handle to cool it down, flashing lights, and a totally unique design. I enjoyed it, and if you’re into shisha consider spending a couple hours here on your trip to Tirana.

 

Tirana Pyramid

Tirana Pyramid

 

What to Do in Tirana

Even though this city is pretty far off the beaten tourist trail through Eastern Europe, there is still a lot to do when you visit! Check out these three attractions for a good mix of history and activity during your time in Tirana. 

 

Climb Up the Tirana Pyramid

The Pyramid of Tirana is a really strange building. Basically, it was originally built as a museum to honor the dictator, and when the communist regime ended it was closed down.

After serving a few other purposes it has now fallen into disrepair, but Wikipedia reports there are plans to turn it into tech center.

Despite the barbed wire, broken glass, and dilapidated appearance, people still stop by to climb to the top.

I amused myself watching the tourists slowly sliding back down on their butts, imagining how this would never, ever fly in the US. Even if you don’t want to climb to the top, this interesting piece of history is worth passing by.

 

Take the Cable Car to the Top of Mount Dajti

Just like my 24 hours in Skopje, Tirana was horrifically hot during our visit in July.

Due to that we had to give the cable car a miss, unfortunately. However, if you visit in another season and the temperatures are on your side, this is a great way to see the city from above and get some beautiful photos as well.

There’s also a restaurant, hiking trails, and more to explore if you have the time.

 

Visit Bunk’Art or Bunk’Art 2

Daniel and I opted to visit the smaller location, Bunk’Art 2, because it’s in the city center, while the original (and much larger) museum is out in the suburbs.

The museum is built into an old bunker, one of more than 100,000 built by the paranoid dictator throughout Albania.

The cost is 500 lek / 4.50 usd and the museum covers basically the entire 1900’s through the wars, dictatorship, and to almost present day. I learned a lot from the displays, recreated bunker rooms and art installations throughout it.

 

Bunk Art 2 Museum in Tirana

Exhibition at the Bunk Art 2 Museum

 

Suggested Itinerary for 24 Hours in Tirana

If you prefer to explore cities by foot, like I do, and are staying near the city center, this suggested itinerary groups together the best activities for 24 hours in Tirana. Check them out in this order to see the sites more efficiently and avoid taking unnecessary taxis.

Morning: Take a cable car to Mount Dajti.

Afternoon: Eat lunch at New York Bagels, climb the Tirana Pyramid, and visit Bunk’Art 2.

Evening: Have dinner at Salt, explore the Blloku neighborhood, grab dessert at Mon Amour, and finish the night by smoking shisha or enjoying the view the Sky Club.

 

street art in Tirana

 

Where to Stay in Tirana

There are tons of cute and affordable Airbnbs to choose from in Tirana, like this colorful apartment with a view and this villa with a private garden.

If you’d rather stay in a hotel, the Sky Apartments have an insane 9.9 review score and a great location in the hip Blloku district (my favorite part of the city).

For travelers on an tighter budget, hostels like the Zig Zag hostel, the All Stars Hostel and the Vertigo Hostel also have beds for less than $10 per night.

 

So, is Tirana worth visiting?

Without a doubt. If I could go back and do my Albanian vacation again, I would spend at least two nights in the city or maybe even three.

There’s a big difference between a city being nicer than you expected, and being objectively nice. Surprisingly, I found Tirana was in the latter category.

The city is hip and young, the vibe feels very alive, and I can totally tell that Tirana is going to emerge as a real tourist destination in Eastern Europe in the future. Make the time to stop in Tirana on your trip to Albania, and I know you won’t regret it.

 

Ready to go?

Explore unique stays on Airbnb – like this colorful apartment with a view or this villa with a private garden – and the top hotels on Booking.com to plan the perfect night, weekend, or long-term stay in Tirana.

Or, book a multi-day Balkans tour to see the entire region and finish planning your trip in one click!

 

This article is part of the Alluring Albania series. Read the rest below:

The Complete Guide to Theth and Albania’s Accursed Mountains

How to Hike to the Blue Eye of Theth

How to Hike from Theth to Valbona Peak (and Back Again)

Shkoder, Albania Travel Guide

11-Day Albania and Macedonia Itinerary You Can Do Without a Car 

Then, explore the complete Albania series for more tips on what to see, do, eat, drink, and discover in the country.

 

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