It all began five years ago when a now-defunct Instagram account documenting a solo traveller’s summer of European country-hopping introduced me to Albania. Freshly back from travelling Asia (and no less infected with the travel bug), I was hooked on the idea of travelling the Balkans, with Albania in particular catapulted to the top of my bucket list.
How I planned the ultimate two week Albania road trip itinerary
While the long backpacking trips I love are now restricted by annual leave, my long-held dream of exploring Albania didn’t disappoint. The lesser visited Adriatic neighbour to Montenegro and Greece, Albania’s tourism industry is still fairly new but – according to conversations with locals – expanding quickly.
I already knew that I wouldn’t get to see absolutely everything in Albania in just two weeks – even writing this now, I could easily go back! – so my plan was all about maximising the time we had. That meant a road trip: more flexibility, no waiting for buses or organised tours and luckily, my travel partner was up for being designated driver.
From historic towns nestled in the gorgeous countryside to the azure coastline, if you’re looking for a taste of all Albania has to offer, then this two week road trip itinerary is perfect for you.
Tirana: two nights
If you’re flying into Albania like we did, you’ll be starting your trip in the country’s capital Tirana. We landed at nearly 2am so headed straight to bed, leaving us with one full day to explore the city.
While Albania’s communist regime fell in the early 1990s, I was still surprised by how picturesque Tirana is with many colourful buildings and beautiful Dajti mountain backdrop. In our day there, we visited Bunk’Art 2, worked out the buses to the Dajti mountain cable car and pounded the city streets to Blloku, a restaurant-filled neighbourhood once housing high-level communist party members that now wouldn’t look out of place in any modern city.
While Tirana is a nice enough city, I wouldn’t recommend spending more than one day there if you’re in a rush as we were. It’s a cool place and we enjoyed our time there, but the rest of the country is where the magic really happens!
Berat: two nights
The next morning, hire car secured, we drove 90 minutes to Berat and fell in love pretty much instantly. Located south ofTirana, this picturesque Ottoman homes that lead to its nickname as ‘the city of a thousand windows’ sit perched on the side of a hilltop. When we visited in July, the streets were quiet in the daytime heat but came to life each evening, when seemingly the entire town appeared to ‘xhiro’ (translated as simply walk) down Bulevardi Republika.
Prepare your calves – the stone streets are steep, but the views were worth the climb. We headed up to Berat Castle just before sunset (realising we chose a trickier route than necessary when we found the road back down!) which you can easily spend a few hours exploring and enjoying the views. It’s still largely intact with houses, shops and restaurants all located within the castle grounds. We didn’t eat there however as we’d been lucky enough to book a table at Berat’s most popular restaurant. I’m going to join every travel blogger out there in recommending Homemade Food Lili -the food was delicious and as for Lili himself…don’t be surprised if you end up drinking Raki with him in his garden restaurant until the early hours.
I’d highly recommend using your second day in Berat (as most do) with a trip to the most famous natural attractions near Berat. I’ve written a whole blog post about how to get to Bogova Waterfall and Osumi Canyon with tons more details about the day, but trust me when I say it’s well worth the visit!
Gjirokaster: one night
With such a fast-paced itinerary, I was toying with skipping Gjirokaster entirely but I’m so glad we didn’t. I wasn’t expecting it to match our wonderful few days in Berat but Gjirokaster’s World Heritage city centre captured our hearts too. It’s a small city but prepare your thighs because the hills are steep – all the more perfect for burning off Qifqi (the city’s signature risotto-like balls).
We stayed at Stone City Hostel which I’d highly recommend: great location, spacious rooms with free breakfast and great social scene if you want it. We were out and about pretty much the whole time as there’s a huge castle to explore – it doubles up as a wonderful spot to catch the sunset over the valley too!
Ksamil: two nights
Now it’s time to head to the coast! Albania’s beaches are some of the most underrated in Europe with clear, sparkling blue seas to match any paradise-esque water you’ve ever seen. Ksamil is home to a couple of the rarer sandy beaches (most are white pebbles, similar to Greece & Croatia) so it was a priority to head there.
If you’re driving like us, this is the perfect time to stop at Blue Eye, the famous water hole fed by a series of ancient underground springs. Nobody knows exactly how deep this Blue Eye is, but the icy, clear water that bubbles up to the surface (with surprising strength!) is so beautiful, you won’t be able to resist getting your toes in.
I had mixed feelings about Ksamil in July. It was packed to the point where sun-loungers (all at a charge) were strewn on every available inch of sand, making the beach itself pretty much invisible. Seeing pictures in other months, where the smooth sand is on show without the crowds, is the only thing that makes me regret taking the trip in peak season. You’ll definitely feel like you’ve been plunged into a more touristy spot, and the prices reflect that. We swum out to two of the islands just offshore – a must-do on many travel blogs – but honestly, there wasn’t all that much to explore!
On our second day in Ksamil, we visited Butrint National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site with tons to see – you could plan in for a solid morning or afternoon here easily. While it flourished under the Byzantine Empire, there’s evidence of occupation here that dates back as early as 50,000 B.C. so history lovers won’t want to miss out.
Himare: two nights
Ready for some more relaxation after Ksamil’s busier shores on our two week Albania road trip itinerary, we skipped Sarande after hearing it was even more popular and headed for Himare, with a quick stop at Borsch beach’s long, pebbly shores en route.
I can’t speak too much for Himare town, as we had a wonderful homestay with a Greek family in the castle grounds. Staying in the castle grounds is only really practical if you have a car, as it’s a short drive from the nearby beaches such as Livadhi beach, but for us, it was worth it for the amazing views from our balcony.
Beach hopping is the best way to spend two summer’s days in Himare, whether that’s by car or by boat. I can highly recommend Himare Seas the Day who took us on a fantastic half day boat trip. With both private and shared tours available, they’re pretty flexible on which beaches you visit and even let you hop off at different places if you want a small stretch of sand all to yourself. There are some beaches you won’t be able to get to by land, making them all the more secluded, and if you’re lucky enough to stop at Gjipe beach, you can spend 40 minutes or so exploring the spectacular canyon behind the beach. Nico, our captain for the day, also tipped us off about a great restaurant – I’d highly recommend checking out Velco, a taverna just up the hill from the centre of Himare, for a wonderful lunch with excellent service.
I’d have loved another night or two to explore some of Himare’s beaches, but with time tight, it was time to head up to the mountains. If you aren’t fussed on hiking, you could definitely extend your time on the coast, but the next few days were pretty special.
Shkoder: one night
Travelling from Himare to Shkoder was our longest journey yet but with an early departure, you can still be in Albania’s most northern city with an afternoon ahead to explore. Located on the banks of Skadar Lake, Montenegro is virtually in touching distance, and it’s common for those doing a longer road-trip through the Balkans to enter or leave Albania via Shkoder.
Shkoder is fairly quiet and even cheaper than the rest of Albania, but with a fairly lively backpacker scene centred around The Wanderers Hostel. They have a great social area, making it really easy to meet people, although the dorms are located above some of the local bars, making it a loud place to stay at the weekend!
With just an afternoon to explore, we decided to check out Shkoder Castle, which matched up to Gjirokaster in its gorgeous views across the Albanian Alps, Skadar Lake and Montenegro beyond. We also dropped off our hire car in Skhoder, as the next leg of our journey needed us to take public transport, before heading back to the airport – a great tip if you’d like to save money on the extra days car hire!
Valbona – Theth: two nights
Albania’s most popular day hike is the one-way excursion from Valbona to Theth (or Theth to Valbona, depending on your preference) and if you love walking or mountain scenery, this hike is a must do on your two week road trip. Most travellers visit Shkoder as the base for this hike, so we booked transport to take us to/from the hike when we arrived at The Wanderers Hhostel, along with a guesthouse for our night in Valbona.
This three days was an experience in itself: from the most beautiful ferry ride I’ve ever taken to the stunningly beautiful mountain scenery on our six hour hike, it was without doubt one of the best parts of our entire trip. A blog post about the Valbona to Theth hike is definitely coming soon!
Shkoder: one night
After negotiating a later transfer back from the mountains, which let us hike to Theth’s famous Blue Eye (yes, there’s more than one Blue Eye in Albania!), Shkoder was a great location to spend our last night in Albania. The next day, we caught the bus back to Tirana, then headed onward to the airport for our flight home that evening. We’d squeezed so much into two weeks, but it still felt like a relaxing trip with enough time to wander around our chosen destinations, enjoying the country’s chilled atmosphere.
And that’s a wrap on my two week Albania road trip itinerary!
If you’re considering visiting Albania, I couldn’t recommend it any more highly. Self-drive itineraries can sometimes feel a little bit intimidating but we loved having the freedom to explore at our own pace and get to some of those harder to reach places without a needing to arrange a day trip or taxis.
I hope this two week Albania road trip itinerary has helped your travel plans and if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer in the comments or on Instagram!
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How to get to the Bogove Waterfall and Osum Canyon