Top Things to Do in Tirana: Europe’s Most Underrated Capital


Published on 10 May 2023

I had done a fair bit of research before heading out to Tirana, and I wasn’t sure if it was somewhere we would like. Were there many things to do in Tirana? From what I had understood, the Albanian rich live here, driving round exhibitionist-style in their fancy cars making sure that everyone sees them in their fancy cars. (Anyone that knows me, knows that this is one of my biggest turn-offs.) I had also read that it was really run down, and was a destination in the country that most tourists skip; even Albanians that we spoke to had either not recommended it, or recommended against it. So, we decided that we had to go and see it for ourselves… and I can report that the haters are definitely wrong. We loved Tirana.

Find all the top things to do in Tirana in this guide.

Bright Colours of Tirana

Colourful Tirana

A relatively new city of 400 years, Tirana has been the capital city of Albania since 1920.

Yes, the residue of communism still lingers in its architecture and its main points of interest. It’s not the prettiest of European cities, but it is one of the most interesting.

Even though reminders of Albania’s dark past still reside here; bright and modern elements have begun to take over, switching up the narrative. Symbols of the dictatorship are being transformed to represent modernity and the freedom of Albania. Tirana now has a welcoming and free-spirited feel with its quirky cafe scene and impressive street art collection, while still recognising this bleak period in Albanian history. For a truly unique and inspiring city break, Tirana is the ticket.

In this post, find our favourite things to do in Tirana, as well as our favourite restaurants, and all the practical/logistical info to get there.

How to Get to Tirana

Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA) is very well connected with most European countries and some of the Middle East.

Wherever you are in Albania, you will undoubtedly be able to get a bus to Tirana.

Buses that we got in and out of Tirana:

Shkoder to Tirana: cost 400 lek and took around two hours, leaving Shkoder at 10am. We arrived into the North/South bus terminal, from which we had to get a city bus into the centre.  There is a small bus stop just outside of the station. When you get on the bus, ask for ‘Skanderbeg Square’ (the main square in the centre of the city). If they nod, you know it’s going the right direction. It should take about thirty minutes to get to Skanderbeg Square and cost 40 lek for your ticket which you pay in cash on the bus.

Tirana to Berat: cost 500 lek and took around two and a half hours. From Tirana Central Bus Stop, just off Skanderbeg Square, get on the white bus with Termini written on the front. Pay 40 lek to be taken back to the main bus station to get the bus to Berat.

Learn About the Communist Dictatorship of Albania in Bunk’Art 1 and 2

Bunk’Art 1 and 2 are museums set in nuclear resistant bunkers that the paranoid Enver Hoxha demanded be built all over the country during his dictatorship.

Bunk’Art 1 is definitely the more hard-hitting of the two. If you have time for just the one museum, make the effort to travel just out of town to visit this one.

At Tirana Central Bus Stop, just off Skanderbeg Square, jump on the blue bus with ‘Porcelan’ written on the front. It’s a short journey of maybe twenty minutes and costs 40 lek each way, payable on the bus in cash. When you get off the bus, you have to walk down a long, dark tunnel (this in itself starts to set the atmosphere). Entrance costs 500 lek to enter this one bunker, but if you wanted to see Bunk’Art 2 also, you can get a discounted double ticket for 800 lek.

Bunk'Art 1 Tunnel Entrance, things to do in Tirana

Bunk’Art 1 entrance

Going down into the bunker is cold and stark. There are many exhibitions displayed across several rooms covering the span of Hoxha’s rule. We had spent about two and a half hours in the bunker going through all the fascinating, yet harrowing detail before we came to the assembly hall. Because we had entered later in the day, we were the only people left in the bunker before closing.

This felt eerie: no one else around while we stood in a large hall full of red velvet chairs facing a stage. This was the stuff of horror films. Not only did I have to continually tell myself that we would not mistakenly be locked in here because we were the last visitors of the day (catastrophiser over here!), but I felt a genuine connection to all the gritty detail in the exhibitions as we stood in this cold and empty space.

Make sure you’re ready for this one. It’s hard-hitting, no question, but it’s the atmosphere down in the bunker that is really powerful.

Bunk'Art 1 Assembly Hall

Assembly hall, Bunk’Art 1

Bunk’Art 2 is in the centre of the city. It is a point of great controversy, understandably, as an artificial bunker dome shape was added to the entrance. This museum, also set in an underground bunker, is focused on the secret police known as the Sigurimi, and the political persecution to which Albanian people were subjected. You could spend about an hour or so taking in all the information in the exhibits.

Bunk'Art 2

Bunk’Art 2

Bunk'Art 2

Bunk’Art 2 entrance

Go in Search of Remarkable Street Art

On a much lighter note, Tirana has some incredible street art. A lot of the art is splashed on the walls of buildings around Blloku which is the area where the Communist party elite used to live. Street art signed by Franko appears all over the city, often featuring prominent issues of today. Keep an eye out for these in particular. We spent an afternoon wandering around and hunting them all down. Vagabundler has a great map that we used to make sure we found the best spots. Don’t forget to look out for street art on the electrical boxes and road signs too.

Tirana Street Art

Hard hitting street art by Kelo

Street art of cartoon birds

Different perspective

Franko Street Art

Franko street art

Go on a Quirky Cafe/Bar Crawl

Tirana is not short on quirky cafes! See how many you can find – heading over to the Blloku district is your best bet.

Our favourites are Komiteti Café MuseumSmall, Nouvelle Vague and Tymi (not a cafe, more of a bar/restaurant, definitely quirky though.)

Small Cafe, thing to do in Tirana

Small Cafe

Walk Skanderbeg Square

What used to be a very communist area surrounded by statues of both Enver Hoxha and Joseph Stalin, is now a very open and inclusive area with a statue of Albania’s national hero: Skanderbeg. The square is paved with coloured stones from different parts of the country. Look carefully, and you might be able to see a place name carved into a paving stone.

There are several buildings around the square worth seeing: Ethem Bey Mosque, Clock Tower, National History Museum, Opera House. Ethem Bey mosque is beautifully and intricately decorated, while the National History Museum is the largest in Albania. Entrance fee is 500 lek. (Unfortunately, we did not see the museum or its communist propaganda mosaic façade as there were restoration works going on. Next time!)

Skanderbeg Square, Tirana

Skanderbeg Square

Uncover the Dictatorial Regime Secrets in the House of Leaves

The House of Leaves AKA the Museum of Secret Surveillance is the building that was used as the headquarters of the ‘National Intelligence Service’ during the regime. Collaborators and regular people who were blackmailed or threatened into becoming informants, were spying, recording conversations and reporting their findings. Those found to be speaking out against the regime were then punished; some were imprisoned, some disappeared. This museum shares details on the monitoring, controlling and manipulating of the Albanian people. Entrance costs 700 lek.

House of Leaves Museum, things to do in Tirana

House of Leaves Museum

Former Residence of Enver Hoxha and the Pyramid

Catch a glimpse of the dictator’s former residence. You can only see it from outside of the gates. Again, this is another point of controversy as it remains as it was during the regime, however, there are rumours of plans to turn it into a museum or public space.

The Pyramid was originally constructed to become a museum dedicated to the dictator. Designed by Hoxha’s daughter (amongst others), the attempt to link pharaonic connotations to the dictator was not well-received. The pyramid has had several different uses since the fall of the dictatorship: notably a NATO base during the Kosovo war and then a nightclub.

Now, restoration work is going ahead to dramatically change the structure into an open space; a cultural hub for education and socialising. Plans for walkways over the top of this former dictatorship symbol will act as a modern-day symbol of Albanians regaining their country and their freedom: the period of renaissance.

Enver Hoxha's Former Residence

Former residence of Enver Hoxha

Rummage for Hidden Treasures at the Book Markets

There are book markets and book shops all around the city. My favourite is on this bridge. Otherwise, there are some absolute beauties in basement-style shops throughout the city, where you can find books stacked up to the ceilings!

book market on a bridge, things to do in Tirana

Bridge Book market

Wander Shëtitorja Murat Toptani Pedestrian Street

You will find restaurants, cafes, shops, market stalls and street art all down this one street. Its lively atmosphere really does make it the place to be in the evenings. Head over here around 7/8pm and take part in xhiro (Albania’s custom of walking pedestrian streets in the evening, catching up with friends and family).

Tirana Pedestrianised Street

Shëtitorja Murat Toptani pedestrian street

Amble Through Tirana Castle (That Is No Longer Actually a Castle)

At one end of Shëtitorja Murat Toptani pedestrian street is ‘Tirana Castle’. Enter through the fortress wall, where the castle once stood, and discover an area with bars, restaurants, shops, photo booths, and traditional handicrafts. Once you have completed your xhiro down the main street, veer off and explore this new shopping and eating sector.

Where to Find Tasty Vegetarian Food

So, we had been travelling for six weeks by the time we reached Tirana and were craving Asian food really badly. Back home, we cook Asian dishes on the regular: miso, tofu, curries, we put chilli in everything! And this was something that we had been lacking significantly. So when we got to Tirana and realised there were Asian restaurants and vegan restaurants, we got a little excited and didn’t really eat much Albanian food.

Wondering what traditional vegetarian food Albania has to offer? Read this post here.

Oriental City Chinese

This is where you get the good stuff. We had been missing these flavours big time! Mapo tofu, sweet and sour crispy rice, and spicy aubergine casserole.

mapo tofu and sweet and sour rice

Unbelievably tasty, Oriental City Chinese (excuse the prawn crackers)

Chakra Indian Fusion

Indian food means plenty of veggie options. We ordered onion bhajis, dal, chana masala and garlic nan with a beer and a lassi. Definitely well off budget at 2700 lek. It’s a bit difficult to find using Google Maps alone. Head towards the cinema entrance and you’ll find it right next door.

onion bhajis, naan, and curries

Someone’s excited about the Indian


Again, there was so much choice for vegetarians (obviously, it’s in the name). We tried the ramen and the veg noodles. Both were great, and we would have returned to try some more options if we were in Tirana for longer.

Ramen at Veggies Restaurant

Ramen noodles

Veggies Restaurant Decor


Green and Protein

This place does big bowls of salad. Not just lettuce, tomato, cucumber; they do proper salad. Falafel, edamame beans, sweet potato, avocado, quinoa. We went for the ‘Wabi Sabi’ and the ‘Eda-Mami Protein’ which were both super tasty and filling. They also do burgers, wraps and juices.


Greek fast food. The halloumi wrap was a perfect quick lunch stop on our day of street art hunting.

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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