The Ultimate Guide to Albania Bus Travel

The Ultimate Guide to Albania Bus Travel

The Ultimate Guide to Albania Bus Travel

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Searching for information online about Albania bus travel and schedules is a tough task. My go-to websites/apps don’t have any information; they reckon that schedules don’t exist. But they do, of course they do; these websites just aren’t in the know. Getting around Albania by bus just requires being a bit braver than in other Eastern European countries.

Now, when I say ‘braver’, I don’t mean that you are taking your life in your hands by getting in an Albanian bus. What I do mean, is that you will have to do a lot of crossing your fingers, standing at the side of the road where a local thinks the bus passes, and getting up close and personal (and likely very sweaty!) with everyone else on the bus.

Travelling by bus in Albania is a whole cultural experience in itself, and I would say that if you haven’t jumped in a furgon (more on that later!), you haven’t really been to Albania.

We spent five weeks exploring the whole country by bus, and so we have put together this ultimate guide to Albania bus travel to give you the info that we wish we had!

Road through Valbona, Albania bus travel

Road conditions are improving

Road conditions along the main routes are pretty good. The older blogs with reviews about potholed and dangerous roads are becoming more and more obsolete. The road quality around Albania is improving significantly.

That being said, the road from Shkoder to the Komani Lake ferry terminal is an absolute shocker. We were being thrown around in the bus for two and a half hours because of the lumpy roads. (Fingers crossed this will be fixed because it is a main route for tourists venturing up to Valbona in the Albanian Alps.) Find out more about hiking in the Albanian Alps here.

A furgon is a minibus

Furgons are minibuses that yoyo back and forth on a specific route. They are very flexible and so will pick you up or drop you off anywhere along their route. They have their destination on a sign in the window.  Flag it down, jump in, and then pay by cash when you leave. Bear in mind that more people will be squeezed in than can actually fit. 

Furgon, Albania bus travel

Furgon down the Albanian Alps

Bus stations aren’t centrally located

Bus stations are generally out of the main part of town. Most bus stations have a public bus service nearby that can take you into the city. Buses connecting out of town stations to the city centre have a very small fee. Pay this in cash on the bus, sometimes, 30 or 40 lek.

Bigger buses have aircon

Bigger buses have aircon and connect larger cities. They tend to be more comfortable but are not necessarily more expensive. Pay on board in cash.

Cities have multiple bus stations

Larger cities may have several bus stations in different parts of the city servicing buses to different parts of the country, so make sure you check which bus station you need to go to first.

Start travel days early

Because the bus times are not always reliable, I would recommend starting your travel days early, and not to plan much else for this day. Go into your travel days with the expectation of it not going smoothly, and you will be pleasantly surprised. We didn’t have any major hiccups, but you never know with a flexible bus schedule. Under promise, over deliver; that’s what they say, right?

waiting for a furgon at the roadside, albania bus travel

Classic ‘bus stop’

You might not find direct buses

There may not be buses going directly to where you are heading. So in this case, just walk into the bus station saying your destination. Someone will tell you the best place to switch over and point you in the right direction (don’t worry, they aren’t going to expect a tip!). Tell the driver your final destination, and they will tell you where to get on the next bus, the time it leaves etc.

Don’t attempt the Saranda to Ksamil bus in the summer

The bus from Saranda to Ksamil is not worth taking in the height of the summer. Honestly, you’d be better off paying for a taxi. There were SO many people on this bus that we could barely breathe. We had 20kg of backpack on our backs and 10kg on our fronts and were well and truly sardined in this bus.

Chris was sweating so much that there was a physical puddle forming from the sweat dripping down his elbow and on to the floor as we held on for dear life (and I am absolutely not exaggerating even in the slightest!).

Locals know best

The locals will know the times that the bus leaves, where it leaves from etc. so if you’re not sure, ask around in restaurants or shops. The Albanian people are really friendly, and if they don’t know the answer, they will likely find someone else to help you.

Cute anecdote: We were staggering with our big old backpacks to the bus station. A guy in a car pulled up next to us and asked if we were going to Tirana; we weren’t. But, he had just driven past the station and had seen the bus for Tirana was being packed up. He was worried we were getting this bus and thought we were going to miss it, so was offering us a ride!

Almost beach time

Bus stations are marked on Maps.me

Bus stations and bus stops aren’t always marked on Google Maps. Download an Albanian map on Maps.me instead. It will have several bus stops/stations marked, so zoom into the city you’re looking for and search all the bus icons. They will be named something clear like ‘Bus to Tirana’, ‘Bus to Montenegro’ etc.

The Albanian transport website

Our absolute best tip is to plan your routes using Gjirafa. Secret squirrel. This is THE only website that we have found that knows when and where the buses are going. (FYI Albanians call Albania ‘Shqipëria’ and not ‘Albania’. You will see this on the website – it confused me!)

Everything is possible in Albania

And, in all seriousness, travelling is as much about the journey as it is the destination. It’s all part of that authentic Albanian experience. Furgon rides are the perfect place to get chatting to locals or other travellers. We met an Australian father and daughter on a bus and spent the journey exchanging recommendations for our next few stops in Albania. Roll with the punches, keep a very loose plan on travel days, and keep the faith that it’ll work out (because it will!).

Never ending views to Korca

Have you travelled around Albania by bus? Do you have any other tips?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

Thanks for reading!

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How to Get from Pogradec to Ohrid

How to Get from Pogradec to Ohrid

How to Get from Pogradec to Ohrid

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Planning our route through Albania and into North Macedonia, I saw a spot on lake Ohrid on the Albanian side which looked nice: Pogradec. The idea was then to find a bus to take us an hour or so round the lake through the North Macedonian border and to Ohrid city.

We arrived into Pogradec, and started asking around for our onward journey to Ohrid. The bus station said there were no buses. Why would there be no buses to drive an hour round the lake? Surely that’s a perfect day trip? Or vice versa? Confused and convinced that they must have had it wrong, we spoke to some other people; and sure enough, there is not a single bus that goes this route!

We couldn’t find much information on how to get from Pogradec to Ohrid online, so hopefully this small guide helps.

If you are in a similar situation, do not fear. You don’t have to pay for an expensive taxi ride. It will be more of a challenge, but that’s half the fun of travelling, right?

Tips for Making this Journey

1. Download a North Macedonia map on Maps.me. This has the locations of bus stops and walking paths that Google Maps has never heard of.

2. Make sure you have euro notes or Macedonian denar. The bus on the North Macedonian side will not accept Albanian lek as payment, and we didn’t see ATMs.

3. Be aware that you will have to carry luggage across the border yourself and walk for at least ten minutes between border posts.

Ok, so leg 1: Pogradec to the border/Tushemisht

There are minibuses that will take you to the border which are meant to leave at 8am, but it depends on how full the buses are. If there aren’t many people, you might have to hang around until there are enough. We were quoted 250 lek each. However, when we got the bus stop point early, a taxi driver offered us a ride for 400 lek total, so we jumped in the taxi and off we went.

how to get from pogradec to ohrid

En route to Ohrid

Leg 2: Crossing the Tushemisht/St. Naum Border

There was not a single other person here except for the guy checking passports. No queues, nothing. It was a dead easy border crossing. Bear in mind, to get from the Albanian border to the North Macedonian border, you will need to walk for about ten minutes. At the North Macedonian border, there was literally no one, not even border police! We approached the border and tried to catch their attention by making noise, talking loudly etc. and someone came out of an office. Stamped our passports, and again, off we trotted.

Alternative Leg 2.5: St. Naum Border to St. Naum Monastery Bus Stop

If you are particularly early for the bus (like we were) or didn’t know the bus drove directly to the border (like us), you might walk to the St.Naum bus stop and get picked up from there. Otherwise, skip to Leg 3 below.

Walk from the border along the road for a while, maybe five minutes, and you will see a small dirt path off to your left. Walk down here and you will hit a better trodden path. Follow this to the left and it will bring you round by a caravan park, St. Petka Church and St. Naum Monastery. You should see Lake Ohrid in front of you by this point. Follow the pedestrianised road along the water to the right. Walk through the fancy St. Naum archway and you will see a small wooden bus shelter ahead of you on the right. You’ve made it!

Leg 3: St. Naum Border to Ohrid City Centre

Sit tight at the other side of the North Macedonian border and the bus will come and pick you up. Just after 9:20 is the first bus. It costs 180 MKD each and must be paid in Macedonian denar or Euro notes (not coins). There are no ATMs at the border, so make sure you get enough currency before you cross the border. The bus will take you on a scenic drive around the lake and drop you into Ohrid city centre just before the City Central roundabout.

Looking for ideas for the rest of your North Macedonian itinerary? I would thoroughly recommend our two favourite spots in the country Bitola and Krusevo.

Bitola has a characterful Ottoman-style bazaar, plenty of restaurants catering to vegetarians, is home to the ancient mosaics of Heraclea Lyncestis, and has a great cafe culture.

Krusevo is a small but mighty mountain town known for its historic victory against the Ottomans. Perfect for street photography lovers, the cobbled streets and traditional buildings are idyllic. Make sure you head over to the UFO-like Ilinden monument too!

Have you made this journey? How did it go?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

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Top 10 Budget European City Breaks

Top 10 Budget European City Breaks

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Top 10 Budget European City Breaks

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Looking to book a European city break? You want to avoid the big crowds of tourists like those you find in Rome, Paris, Madrid? And you don’t want to pay extortionate prices for local transport, entrance fees and a local meal at a restaurant? You’re looking for more of an adventure off the beaten path?

This top ten list of budget European city breaks will give you a flavour of the vibrancy and beauty that the Balkans has to offer. A generally overlooked region when tourists consider ‘Europe’, the Balkans deserves so much more recognition as a tourist destination. Stunning landscapes, local hopsitality and friendliness, charming towns full of rich history, and some great restaurants (catering surprisingly well to us veggies). And everything is SO much more affordable than the likes of your classic Western European city. Have a read below and get planning your Balkan city break!

Sarajevo

The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo is steeped in history, culture and character. Wander the cobbled streets of the Ottoman bazaar, take the cable car up to Mt Trebevic for panoramic city views, explore the abandoned Olympic bobsled track, and walk a preserved section of the historic Tunnel of Hope. Order a traditional Bonian coffee served in a proper copper coffee pot, gorge yourself on flaky burek and explore the various vegetarian options at restaurants throughout the city. The general way of life in Sarajevo is slow-paced, so you are sure to feel relaxed and recharged.

Transport: Fly into SJJ Sarajevo International Airport serviced by Wizz Air from Europe

We spent £25 per night for a small apartment with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and lounge.

We spent an average of £20 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including coffees, ice creams, bakery stops, at least one meal out per day, and grocery shop visits.

Sarajevo - abudget European city break

Sarajevo Tea House

Shkoder

Shkoder, in north Albania, is somewhere that is usually overlooked by tourists who see the city as a stopover point for venturing into the mountains or nearby Kosovo or Montenegro. This really is somewhere that I didn’t have high expectations for, but I was so so wrong. If you’re a street photography fan, you will absolutely love exploring all the residential backstreets with dilapidated buildings and characterful doors. Hire a bike and cycle down to Rozafa castle for panoramic views, and then on to the peaceful lake. Gorge yourself on Albanian slow food, and take part in an evening xhiro.

Transport: Fly into TIA Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza which connects many other European destinations to Albania. From here, it’s a two hour bus ride north. If you have time, you could visit both cities – Tirana and Shkoder!

We spent £27 per night for a double room with ensuite and a beautiful courtyard outlook. Plus a freshly cooked breakfast each morning.

We spent an average of £28 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits, cafe stops, and plenty of ice cream.

Shkoder - affordable European city break

Shkoder lake

Sibiu

Sibiu, located in Romania‘s Transylvania, is a beautiful pastel-coloured town with cobbled streets, green spaces, narrow staircases and plenty of bakeries. You’ll find the medieval old town split into the upper town (that is fancier) and the lower town (where the peasants used to live), and plenty of traditional houses that look like they have eyes!  Grab yourself a perfectly crisp yet still soft gogosi, and wander the town, spotting the guild towers and exploring the hidden passages between streets.

Transport: Fly into SBZ Sibiu International Airport which connects many other European destinations to Romania.

We spent £28 per night for a small apartment with a kitchen and washing machine in a traditional Romanian shared courtyard.

We spent an average of £24 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including one meal out each day, grocery shop visits to cook back at the apartment, bakery stops, and coffees out.

Sibiu - budget European city break

The houses have eyes, Sibiu

Plovdiv

Our favourite city in Bulgaria, Plovdiv has such a friendly and energetic atmosphere compared to other Bulgarian cities we visited. See the street art, grab a coffee at a quirky cafe, eat a great vegan meal at Veggic, explore the old town with its traditional tiered houses, take in the view from the top of all of the six hills of Plovdiv, and explore the hipster Kapana arty district.

Transport: Fly into PDV Plovdiv International Airport which connects the UK and Ireland to Bulgaria. Otherwise try to get a flight connection at Sofia International Airport, or get a two hour bus ride from Sofia to Plovdiv.

We spent £27 per night for a small apartment with a kitchen and washing machine.

We spent an average of £31 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits to cook back at the apartment, bakery stops, coffees out, and several stops for rakia!

Plovdiv - affordable European city break

Hilltop views across Plovdiv

Brasov

One of Romania’s medieval fortified cities, Brasov has all the beauty of a traditional old town, while also being the perfect hub for day trips. Hike up to the Brasov ‘Hollywood’ sign, see the Gothic Black Church, and Disneyland-style Caterina’s Gate, try some of Romania’s best gelato, and head out for day trips to Dracula’s castle and tranquil Sinaia.

Transport: Fly into SBZ Sibiu International Airport, and then take a two hour train or bus ride to Brasov. Or fly into OTP Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport and take a two and a half hour train to Brasov. Maybe visit two cities during your Romanian break – Sibiu and Brasov, or Bucharest and Brasov!

We spent £27 per night for a double room with ensuite and a beautiful courtyard outlook. Plus a freshly cooked breakfast each morning.

We spent an average of £28 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits, cafe stops, and plenty of ice cream.

Brasov - budget european city break

Brasov street photography

Tirana

What a gem. If you are looking for a really different and intriguing destination, the Albanian capital city of Tirana is the ticket. Learn all about the ex-communist dictatorship at the city’s many museums, go street art hunting, rummage for books at the market, and wander down the pedestrian street at xhiro time.

Transport: Fly into TIA Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza which connects many other European destinations to Albania.

We spent £24 per night for a small apartment with a kitchen.

We spent an average of £22 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including going to fancier restaurants (with non-local food which is definitely more expensive than regular restaurants), plenty of coffees at quirky cafes, and grocery shop visits.

Tirana

Colourful Tirana

Mostar

Mostar is probably Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most visited city and with good reason. It has all the aspects of a historic Ottoman town within a day trip’s distance from Dubrovnik. Cobbled streets, Ottoman-style arched bridges, a little old town and the blue waters of the Neretva river all make this a hotspot for tourists. But there is more to this city than just its old town. Explore the newer part of town and search for street art, head up to city viewpoints, venture out to ancient Pocitelj and Blagaj Dervish house as day trips.

Transport: Fly into SJJ Sarajevo International Airport serviced by Wizz Air from Europe, and then jump on a bus or book yourself a transfer to Mostar. The bus journey will take an hour and a half to two hours and a half. Maybe even have a double city break and see both – Sarajevo and Mostar!

We spent £27 per night for a double room with ensuite with a communal courtyard.

We spent an average of £30 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including coffees, ice creams, bakery stops, at least one meal out per day, and grocery shop visits.

Mostar

Stari Most, Mostar

Sighisoara

Literally a fairy tale city in Romania. Walking the medieval old town of Sighisoara, we honestly felt like we had stepped on to the set of Beauty and the Beast. Head up to the 14th century clock tower for views over the city, eat your body weight in fried dough (both savoury langos and sweet papanasi), stop for plenty of coffees with a view, walk the cobbles, and find all the traditional guild towers.

Transport: Fly into SBZ Sibiu International Airport, and then take a two hour train to Sighisoara. See two of Romania’s fairytale cities in one trip  – Sibiu and Sighisoara!

We spent £31 per night for a small apartment with a kitchen and washing machine.

We spent an average of £24 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits, coffees out, and stops for papanasi and langos.

Sighisoara

Sighisoara’s pastel-coloured buildings

Two wild cards that you’ll need to travel a little further for, but are definitely worth it!

Gjirokaster

One of Albania’s UNESCO listed cities, Gjirokaster’s historic old town is unique. Take tours of traditional old mansions, hike to Ali Pasha bridge (a remaining section of an Ottoman aqueduct), find the spot for the ultimate coffee with a view, shop for trinkets at the bazaar, explore the castle and the museum, and try all the local food!

Transport: Fly into TIA Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza, and then take a four hour furgon to Gjirokaster. Add a visit to Tirana on to your Gjirokaster trip for the perfect Albanian city break.

We spent £24 per night for a double room with a view and shared outdoor space, plus freshly cooked breakfast each morning.

We spent an average of £23 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits, coffees out, and stops for ice cream and trilece.

Gjirokaster - affordable European city break

Gjirokaster city view from the castle

Korca

Korca, in Albania, isn’t really on the tourist radar yet, but it is the perfect for fans of street photography. You could spend hours just wandering the backstreets exploring with your camera. Head to the Korca brewery, find the city viewpoints, explore the medieval art museum (which really was fascinating!), hike to Shën Ilia Church, and visit the pazari.

Transport: Fly into TIA Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza, and then take a three hour furgon to Korca. Spend some time in the capital city and make your trip a double destination break – Tirana and Korca!

We spent £23 per night for a double room with kitchenette with washing machine an balcony.

We spent an average of £20 per day on vegetarian food between the two of us including at least one meal out each day, grocery shop visits, coffees out, and stops for Korca beer.

Korca - alternative European city break

Korca’s traditional buildings

Do you have any other favourites? Or have you been to any of these locations?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

Thanks for reading!

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11 Best Things to Do in Korca

11 Best Things to Do in Korca

11 Best Things to Do in Korca

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Korca (Korca or Korça) is only a three hour bus ride away from Tirana, yet feels like it’s completely off the tourist trail. It has a bustling city, a stunning residential area full of interesting architectural points, and is surrounded by beautiful mountains that make great viewpoints over the city. Korca really feels authentic, and is the perfect destination to add to your Albanian itinerary to step away and catch your breath.

So, if Korca isn’t really on the tourist trail, is there much for tourists to do or see? Yes. We spent three nights in Korca and didn’t get bored with the place. In fact, our fondness for the place kept on growing. Could we see ourselves living here? Yes. Sign me up.

Pop of colour

How to Get to Korca

Most major cities seem to have links straight to Korca. It has a huge bus station so is pretty well-connected with the rest of the country.

We came from Gjirokaster to Korca and it cost us 1500 Lek and took about five hours. The bus leaves at 7am and takes you on a really scenic route. The landscapes are stunning, however, the roads are particularly windy. I’m not someone that gets travel sick, and at the half way point stop off, I felt rough. It took me the whole thirty minute break to get myself back together. So, maybe get yourself some travel sickness tablets.

From Korca we went north to Pogradec on the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid. It took about an hour and cost 250 Lek. The buses leave every 30 minutes from Korca, so this would make a nice day trip.

Things to Do in Korca

Venture the Neighbourhood Behind the Orthodox Cathedral

The architecture round here is amazing and has such variety. Some buildings are really historic and crumbling, some have Ottoman influence, some Romanian, some have a retro and even communist feel to them. A real eclectic mix, yet it all works together. We spent a good three hours wandering around exploring each nook and cranny, but if we had more time, I probably could have spent a full day!

Take a look at the Orthodox Cathedral (Ringjallja e Krishtit) too. It is a stunning building and has intricate painting and artwork on all the walls and ceiling inside. It’s pretty new with the build being completed in 1995.

Exposed brickwork on dilapidated buildings, Korca

Exposed brickwork on dilapidated buildings

Korca Orthodox Cathedral, things to do in Korca

Korca Orthodox Cathedral

See where Shën Gjergji Church Once Stood

Shën Gjergji Orthodox Church was destroyed during the communist regime to make way for a library. Along Bulevardi Shën Gjergji, you can see the outline of where the church used to stand and a plaque to ensure that the history is not lost.

Shen Gjergji church

Reminder of where the church used to stand before communism

Find the Prominent Architectural Spots

The eclectic mix of architectural styles that I mentioned earlier isn’t just confined to the backstreets. Find the theatre, the ‘cheese’ building, the yellow Romanian house and cinema. Each is unique and in some cases, bizarre.

Yellow Romanian house, things to do in Korca

Romanian house

Cheese building

Cheese building

Climb the Red Tower Viewpoint

What appears to be a randomly placed tower at the end of Bulevardi Shën Gjergji acts as a viewpoint over the city. And that’s really all there is to this tower. Pay 50 LEK to go up, see the view, take a couple of photos and come back down.

Red tower viewpoint, things to do in Korca

Red Tower

City views from Red Tower, things to do in Korca

City view from Red Tower

Be Wowed at the National Museum of Medieval Art

We’re not artsy people, and generally, art museums, galleries etc. are not on our list. However, this is one of the exceptions. Honestly, the art was phenomenal and it’s all ancient which makes it all the more impressive. There is so much gold everywhere too. The entrance way is, just, wow. Photography is banned, so nothing to show you but the outside of the museum. 100% worth a visit. Entrance is 700 lek.

National Museum of Medieval Art, things to do in Korca

National Museum of Medieval Art

Take a Free Walking Tour with Eugene

Eugene really know his stuff when it comes to Korca. We went on a really in-depth tour around the city and to areas that you wouldn’t even know or think to explore. One of our favourite walking tours that we have taken in the Balkans. Give him a shout.

Korca Brewery and Beer Garden

So, while in Korca, its compulsory to drink Korca beer, right? Head over to Korca beer garden to drink straight from the source (the brewery is next door). Don’t have too high expectations though. The service here is not great, so you need to be a bit pushy to get your drink. Don’t wait for the servers to come to you, order at the bar instead.

You can also tour the brewery, but it seems there is no standard procedure for going about doing this. We asked at the beer garden about a tour, and they told us to turn up tomorrow at 10am. Grand.

We turned up to the brewery, and there was no official tour or anything of the sort organised. They didn’t seem to even be expecting us. We asked if we could have a look around anyway. A guy who spoke perfect English showed us round the whole site giving us loads of information as we went, and then gave us a ‘taster’ of the beer (which was much much more than a taster. Chris was beyond chuffed!) And our guide refused to take any payment at the end, not even a tip.

Korca brewery

Korca Brewery

Korca Brewery Tasting Room

Korca Brewery Tasting Room

Korca Brewery Beer Taster

The largest taster you ever did see

Walk Up to the Martyrs’ Cemetery for Astounding Views

You’re best off following the route on Maps.me. There are a lot of steps up and it’s not particularly well maintained, some slabs are broken. But once you make it to the top and look back at the city, the views go on forever. A great spot to view sunset. It’ll probably be about twenty/thirty minutes of walking up from the Orthodox Cathedral.

City Views from the Martyrs' Cemetery

Never ending views of Korca

Venture up to Shën Ilia Church (St. Ilia Church)

Follow the path round the back of the Martyr’s Cemetery (again best to follow this on Maps.me). You’ll then make it to a very quiet road and you can follow this up to St. Ilia Church. It’s a small church with a big cross that sits on top of a hill overlooking the city. The church itself is very modestly decorated inside and the views from outside were worth the climb. We ventured up in the midday heat of summer (not such a good plan), but it took us about an hour/hour and a half.

St. Ilia Church, things to do in Korca

St. Ilia Church and stunning views

Inside decoration of St. Ilia church, Korca

Sparse decoration inside St. Ilia Church

Swing by the First Albanian Language School

Up until the school was established in 1887, teaching in Albanian was only carried out in secret because of the enforcement during Ottoman rule. It’s great to take a look, maybe some photos and understand the importance of the building, however, the museum that now resides here is not worth going in.  On the Korca free walking tour, you will learn about this and you will get a much better insight from your guide than from the museum.

Albanian language school, things to do in Korca

Albanian Language School courtyard

Visit the Pazari (Old Bazaar)

This is high on most people’s to do lists, but it didn’t make enough of an impression on me to be very high on mine. Yes, there are the historic hans (inns), such as Hani I Pazarit which has been beautifully renovated into a hotel. But I feel like there has been a little too much restoration in the bazaar and it seems to have lost its charm. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from in this area, so it is very much the place to be in the evenings.

Korca Pazari

Cobbled streets of the Pazari

Where to Find Tasty Vegetarian Food

We managed to find really tasty vegetarian food throughout Albania. Find out which dishes to look out for in our post here.

Antika

Anitka does the most delicious hand-made pasta. We had the pasta with creamy truffle sauce and a simple pasta with cherry tomatoes. Both were beautiful. (We came back for a second portion of the truffle pasta the next day.) Also worth noting is the cheese croquette starter with cherry jam.

Just phenomenal

and again… phenomenal

FindFour

Find Four has plenty of veggie/vegan options. We went for the white bean lakror pie (a Korca speciality) and a quinoa salad. There is a lovely outside seating area too.

lakror pie, things to do in Korca

Lakror pie

Quinoa salad

Restorant Bujtina Liceu

Restorant Bujtina Liceu sits opposite a French language school and offers several options for vegetarians. The outdoor seating area under vines makes the perfect place to stop for a coffee too. The pllaka (large casseroled beans) and the fried mushrooms are really tasty.

Pllaka

Have you been to Korca? Is there anything else you would add?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

Thanks for reading!

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The Tastiest Vegetarian Food in Albania

The Tastiest Vegetarian Food in Albania

The Tastiest Vegetarian Food in Albania

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Travelling around Albania, I was pretty convinced we would have a difficult time on the food front. My perception was a lot of kebabs and meaty stews. And although that is pretty spot on, there are also plenty of options for vegetarian food in Albania. Because even if you are eating meat, you have to eat other things that are not just meat, right?

Albania actually has loads of dishes that are traditionally vegetarian, and they’re good. At the very least, you will be able to find some sort of grilled vegetable dish, a pepper or aubergine stuffed with rice, salad or pastry filled with cheese, herbs, potato etc. My point is even if you are somewhere really remote and the options are really limited, you likely won’t starve or have to turn carnivore!

We really didn’t have much of a problem finding vegetarian food in Albania and found that we really loved the options. We gave Albania a 6/10 on the vegetarian friendliness rating.

If you’re heading over to Albania, give these vegetarian dishes a go.

Tasty Veggie Stuff

Fërgesë

One of Albania’s most loved national dishes, fërgesë originated from Tirana, but you will be able to find this everywhere. It is a chunky dip of roasted tomatoes, peppers, onions and a cottage cheese similar to feta. Served warm with some crusty bread. Beautiful.

fergese, vegetarian food in albania

Kaçkavall

Albania typically classifies cheeses into white or yellow. Yellow being a salty cheese that would melt (at least a bit). White cheese would be more of a sour, crumbly cheese like a feta. Kaçkavall falls into the yellow cheese category. It’s often on the menu as a baked cheese. A bit gooey and great with some bread.

kackaval, vegetarian food in albania

Plaki

The Balkans seem to be pretty good at cooking beans and this is a prime example! Huge beans (what I would recognise as ‘butter beans’ in the UK) are cooked in tomatoes, herbs and spices. Served with a hunk of bread. (Spotted the theme yet?).

plaki, vegetarian food in albania

Lemon and egg soup

Now this was a weird one, it wasn’t bad at all, just a flavour combination that I hadn’t experienced before. A creamy and smooth soup with beaten egg mixed into it (not bits of egg throughout) with a sharp lemon twang. (Just double check that a veg stock is used for the base.) Served with, erm, bread.

lemon and egg soup

Djathë i ziem

A typical dish from up in the north and the mountains, this is a gooey, cheesy, fondu style dish. Perfect with (you guessed it!) a hunk of bread.

djathe i ziem

Qifqi

The closest thing I could liken this to would be arancini. A mixture of rice, egg, mint (and sometimes other herbs too) that is rolled into balls and fried. This is a dish originating from Gjirokaster and is traditionally made in a specific pan with rounded sockets to keep the ball shape of the qifqi. Served warm (but not with bread!)

qifqi, vegetarian food in albania

Sarma or Yaprak or Dolma

All very similar, different names, but essentially some kind of leaf (whether it be cabbage, vine leaves etc.) filled with rice, herbs and spices and wrapped into cigar shapes.

sarma

Stuffed Aubergine or Pepper

An absolute classic that you will find everywhere. Often stuffed with rice, herbs, veg, cheese; these aren’t always served hot. Don’t be surprised if it’s luke warm or even cold.

stuffed peppers

Lakror

A speciality from Korca, this is a phyllo pastry pie generally filled with leeks, but there are variations on fillings. We had a bean filling when we were in Korca. Perfect for on the go.

lakror pie

Petulla

Often served as breakfast but can be eaten whenever. Little bits of fried dough that are served with jams or sometimes a white cheese. Essentially, a deconstructed donut!

petulla

Shapkat or Pispili

Originating from Gjirokaster, shapkat is a cornbread pie with feta, dill and spinach or leeks.

shapkat

Trilece

A sponge cake drenched in cream and topped with a sticky caramel, served cold. You’ll be able to find this all over the Balkans from Sarajevo to Istanbul!

trilece, vegetarian food in albania

Portokalopita

Traditionally, ripped up phyllo pastry is mixed with a creamy orange custard and baked before being topped with orange syrup. The versions that we tried were a semolina based cake instead of the pastry.

portokalopita

Oshaf

Another one originating from Gjirokaster, this is a creamy custard pudding with dried figs mixed throughout. Generally topped with cinnamon in a criss cross pattern. Rich and decadent.

oshaf

Have you tried any of these? Do you have any other Albanian vegetarian favourites?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

Thanks for reading!

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Explore Albania’s City of Stone: Gjirokaster

Explore Albania’s City of Stone: Gjirokaster

Gjirokaster

Explore Albania’s City of Stone: Gjirokaster

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Gjirokaster, also spelt Gjirokastër or Gjirokastra, is a historical city in south Albania, near the Greek border. Being built into the hillside means that Gjirokaster affords stunning views of the nearby mountains from any point in the city.

Gjirokaster has UNESCO World Heritage site status thanks to its old town with traditional buildings and unique rooftops, which has prompted the nicknames Stone City and Silver City. Made from locally quarried limestone, each roof tile is positioned and held in place purely by its weight. When it rained back in the olden days, the whole household would have to work together to rearrange the roof tiles to stop any leaks. The rooftops are essentially a huge jigsaw puzzle and can weigh up to 550 kg per square metre!

Gjirokaster rooftop

Jigsaw puzzle rooftops

As well as Gjirokaster’s traditional rooftops, the city is known for its Ottoman-influenced architecture in its grand mansions, its vibrant bazaar and for being the birthplace of two well-known Albanians: well-loved author, Ismail Kadare, and brutal communist dictator, Enver Hoxha.

Easily accessible from nearby seaside town, Saranda, means that most people visit on a day trip. If you have the time though, this is definitely somewhere worth staying for a while. I would recommend at least two full days (we stayed for five, and fell in love with the place).

How to Reach Gjirokaster

Albanian transport information is limited online. Gjirokaster, being one of two of Albania’s UNESCO World Heritage listed towns/cities, is very well-connected. Buses connect Gjirokaster with Korca, Tirana, Vlore, Durres and Berat, as well as others.

Buses we took to and from Gjirokaster:

Saranda to Gjirokaster: cost 500 lek and took an hour and a half, leaving Saranda at 10am.

Gjirokaster to Korca: cost 1500 lek and took five hours, leaving Gjirokaster at 7am.

Where to Stay in Gjirokaster

Patio Rooms Gjirokaster is the only place you should even think about staying. Run by the loveliest people (and now our good friends), Ergest and Irsida, you are sure to love this place and feel right at home. The accommodation is set out of the main town and away from the crowds, but still only a fifteen minute walk to the bazaar. Peaceful, modern rooms with massive TVs, shared patio space with stunning mountain views, and a delicious homemade breakfast each morning (which is different each day).

P.S. Ask Ergest about his rakia!

Gjirokaster mountain views

Patio Rooms Gjirokaster views

Patio Rooms Gjirokaster outside seating

Walk the Cobbles at the Open Air Bazaar

Gjirokaster’s main attraction. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s worth walking the cobbles to look at the displays on the street and to marvel at the architecture. The bazaar is set amongst several different paths all connected at a crossroads. Brightly coloured carpets, jewellery and ceramics line the streets, and then one shop at the end of the street sells antique military gear. Definitely not in keeping with the rest of the bazaar, but an interesting contrast.

Gjirokaster bazaar

Bazaar cobbled streets

colourful bazaar stalls

Ceramics and Carpets

Slowly Stroll the Backstreets, Camera at the Ready

Get your camera out and wander away from the tourists, particularly over to Dunavat Quarter (the other side of the castle) and up towards Rruga Ago Topulli. The cobbles are uneven and steep, so I’d recommend wearing shoes with decent support. You’ll find beautiful alleyways lined with flowers and traditional buildings, THE best viewpoints of the city and mountains, abandoned buildings, hidden churches and authenticity.

things to do in Gjirokaster - wander the back streets

Away from the crowds

Stop for Coffee with an Outrageous View

Wandering the backstreets high up the hillside, we stumbled across what looked like a little shop selling groceries. We stepped inside to ask if they sold coffee. And they did. She showed us through a room off the side of the shop and on to a balcony that had two plastic chairs and a table, and the most beautiful backdrop. We had the whole balcony to ourselves and THE ultimate coffee with a view.

The place is not marked on Google Maps but is around about here.

coffee with a view

Coffee with the ULTIMATE view

Take a Tour of a Grand Ottoman Style Mansion (or Two)

Skenduli House and Zekate House are two houses that we visited that I would recommend for different reasons.

To take a look around Skenduli House, you pay 200 lek and then are shown around by a member of the family. They show you secret passage ways, give you full explanation on how the rooms were used and give you little anecdotes. The painting and decoration in the building is intricate and detailed, however, the room with the most impressive artwork has strictly no photos allowed.  You have to pay your tour guide in cash and they kind of hover around checking on your every move around their house after the tour. Skenduli House is great because you really get to learn about the history of the house and the family, but you do feel a little ‘monitored’.

interior of traditional Skenduli house

Skenduli House interior

original artwork in Skenduli house

Skenduli House artwork

Skenduli house balcony

Skenduli House balcony

Zekate House, known for its distinctive two tower structure, on the other hand is the complete opposite. You pay your fee of 250 lek and wander round at your own pace by yourself, exploring all the nooks and crannies, taking photos of whatever you want. We had the entire building to ourselves as no one else was visiting at the same time. However, because you have the freedom to go by yourself, you don’t get the information or history of the building. We felt that both had similar layouts and artwork, but preferred the less-pressured approach at Zekate House.

Ornate decoration at Zekate House

Zekate house

Zekate House

Get your Sturdy Shoes on and Venture up to Ali Pasha Bridge

Definitely wear some sturdy shoes for this one. Ali Pasha Bridge is maybe a thirty minute walk up through the town. I recommend using Maps.me to get your there (Google Maps doesn’t have a clue).

From the bazaar, you head up until there is no more up. Once you reach the top of the path, the houses end and the landscape opens up into rolling hills. This part is particularly rocky under foot. The path continues down the side of a valley and this is where you will start to see Ali Pasha’s bridge connecting both sides of the valley.

Ali Pasha bridge

Ali Pasha ‘bridge’

In actual fact, it isn’t a bridge, but a part of an aqueduct that has survived since Ottoman times. Because the rest of the aqueduct is no more, and this arch stands by itself, it looks like a bridge.

You can walk underneath it, or some people dare to walk across it. I didn’t have faith in it and probably would not recommend this as it is a ruin that is definitely not maintained, so it could quite easily end up like the rest of the aqueduct!

Still, the views from around here are beautiful and the structure itself is a sight to behold. You are very unlikely to see any other tourists venturing out here, so you’ll have the whole valley to yourself.

walking across the top of Ali Pasha bridge

Chris venturing across Ali Pasha bridge

Wander around the Ethnographic Museum

The Ethnographic Museum is built on the site of Enver Hoxha’s birthplace. The building in which Hoxha was born burned down and a different building was put in its place to be in keeping with the other buildings in Gjirokaster, not to replicate the original house. The museum itself makes very little reference to the dictator; it is about traditional Albanian culture.

The Ethnographic Museum was being renovated when we were there. We had a look around even though it wasn’t fully up and running yet. So far, there was a display of traditional kitchen items and homeware, traditional clothing and footwear, and rooms were set up as they would have been in Ottoman times. There was a balcony that looked out over the city and towards the mountains. What was going on looked really promising and I was gutted we couldn’t see the finished museum. If you have been, please let me know what it was like in the comments!

Entrance fee is 500 lek.

Gjirokaster ethnographic museum

Dining room setup at Ethnographic museum

traditional Albanian shoes

Traditional shoes

Learn about Gjirokaster’s History up at the Castle, and Take in the View

I wouldn’t say that visiting the castle is a top thing to do in Gjirokaster, however, it is so huge and imposing, and positioned perfectly for some great views, it is worth going for a nosey. There is some information inside but not a huge amount. Your best bet is to pay the extra 200 lek to visit the museums within the castle: prison, military exhibits and Gjirokaster history. Then head outside towards the clock tower for some great views.

Entrance fee is 400 lek.

Entrance to the museums inside is an extra 200 lek.

Gjirokaster castle

Castle walkway

castle clock tower

Castle clock tower

And one thing I would recommend against: Cold War Bunker

The Cold War Bunker tour cost 200 lek and lasted a total of about ten minutes. They rushed us round, gave us very little information and then kicked us out. This was such a rip off and really not worth the time or money.

If you’re interested in exploring Albania’s bunkers, this is not the place to get a flavour of it all. Head to Tirana instead. Read all about things to do in Tirana in this post.

Nuclear resistant bunker doors

Assembly hall 

Where to Find the Tastiest Vegetarian Food in Gjirokaster

Edua

Edua serves healthy and local food, and even has a shop where you can buy some of their produce. We went there twice. And would thoroughly recommend the beet salad, veggie balls, the beans and finish off with Gjirokaster’s traditional oshaf for dessert. They have seating outside on the street in the evenings.

veggie balls and beet salad at Edua

Veggie balls and beet salad

Restaurant Gjoça Tradicional

Gjoça Tradicional is a tiny little restaurant on the main street of the bazaar. There are only a couple of tables outside so if you see one free, grab it. The place is run by one guy who does all the cooking right there in front of you. He will give you recommendations on what to order based on the freshest food he has. The stuffed aubergine, roasted cheese and trilece are beautiful.

stuffed aubergine, roasted cheese and salad

Stuffed aubergine, salad, and roasted cheese

Taverna Lani

A little bit out of the main centre, but worth the ten minute walk. We tried the sarma, stuffed aubergine and rice and beans. We were also given a welcome drink, a plate full of juicy cherries and a biscuit after dinner. The servers are really friendly here too.

Taverna Kuka

Taverna Kuka has a big open seating area. We ordered carbs three ways! Qifqi, which are herby rice balls and are a traditional Gjirokaster dish, cheesy roasted potatoes and beans. Good food and a lovely setting.

roasted potatoes and beans

Cheesy roasted potatoes and beans

Gjirokaster qifqi

Qifqi

Sweets Snacks and Coffee

Snack Bar Simple

This cafe has the prettiest little seating area and serves outrageously good sweets. Give the trilece and portokolapita a go. And don’t forget a rich, dark Turkish coffee to go with it.

Cafe Bar Simple outdoor seating

Portokolapita, trilece and Turkish coffee

Kodra Sweet Hill

Next door to Snack Bar Simple, Kodra Sweet Hill has more of a focus on ice cream. The affogato is amazing! Top tip: ask to switch the vanilla ice cream for caramel. Now you’re talking.

Antigonea Furre Buke Pasticeri

This bakery in the newer part of town. We only tried the donuts from here, they were top notch.

Pistachio donut

Te Raqi

This bar/cafe is out of the older part of town, down the hill towards the bus station. This is a local joint that serves good coffee at good prices.

Have you been to Gjirokaster? Is there anything else you would add?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.

 

Thanks for reading!

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