Tourism in Albania

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The Albanian Riviera, panoramic view

Tourism in Albania is characterized by archaeological heritage from Illyrian, Greek, Roman and Ottoman times, unspoiled beaches, mountainous topography, delicious traditional Albanian cuisine, Cold War era artifacts, unique traditions and hospitality, and the wild and peculiar atmosphere of the countryside. In 2014, the New York Times ranked Albania fourth among 52 destinations to be visited.[1] Although still underdeveloped, Albania is set to prime its debut on the world scene as it celebrates a century of independence.[2] Lonely Planet ranked Albania as the no. 1 destination to be visited in 2011.[3] A Huffington Post article outlined 10 reasons for visiting Albania in 2013.[4] Recently, Albania has been officially dubbed as "Go Your Own Way". Previously, it was dubbed as "A New Mediterranean Love" and "Europe's Last Secret".[5]

World Heritage Site of Berat
Ancient Amphitheater of Butrint
Gjirokaster, the city of stone

The bulk of international tourists going to Albania are from Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece , and Italy.[6] Foreign tourists mostly come from Central and Eastern Europe, particularly from Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Tourists also come from Western European countries such as Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, UK, Scandinavia, and others including the United States, Turkey and countries in Asia.[7] To better enjoy ones's stay and for useful information, first time travelers to Albania are strongly encouraged to consult online/print publications, travel forums and blogs on specific tips and itinerary, or can simply book a tour with a local tour operator. Some travelers include Albania as part of the wider Balkan tour package. Backpackers are common and prefer resting at hostels, camping in the countryside or along the coast. Organized groups visit the numerous archaeological sites, historic towns, or rest at seaside resorts. A growing trend has become canyon rafting, bird-watching, cycling, mountain biking, hiking, and off-road touring in the countryside. Other travelers enjoy exploring the trendy area of Blloku, Tirana's entertainment district which transfers along the Albanian Riviera during the peak summer months. Car rental agencies, tour operators, and tourist information centers have opened branches in the capital and other towns. Dental tourism has become popular as local dentists offer services with much lower prices. Local delicious cuisine can be tasted at traditional Albanian restaurants located in emerging agrotourism areas, near tourist attractions, and in scenic spots throughout the country.

However, tourism is hampered by local management issues such as poor road and public utilities infrastructure, unregulated waste disposal, illegal construction and hunting, uncertain land ownership, and an unqualified hospitality sector. These are due to Albania's long isolation, but are being dealt with and improvement is being seen constantly. Most main and coastal roads, some mountainous ones, and water supply and treatment facilities have been recently reconstructed mainly through IPA pre-accession funds to the European Union. The private sector and foreign donors are heavily investing in accommodation and renovations at historical sites, seasonal charter flights are increasing, while others are expressing interest and investing in building tourist resorts and marinas.

General Information[edit]

  • Flag: Black double-headed eagle on red background
  • International telephone prefix: +355
  • Government: Parliamentary Democracy
  • Population: 2,821,977 inhabitants (according to 2011 Census)
  • Area: 28,748 km2
  • Capital city: Tirana
  • Language: Albanian, Greek & Italian with English as a foreign language
  • Currency: Lekë

Official Holidays[edit]

Albania has other holidays as well but may not be official state recognised bank holidays as the above. Albanian Counties may have local holidays such as Greek National Day in Himara, that are not officially celebrated by the central government.

Religious Coexistence[edit]

In Albania, there is a peaceful coexistence of those practicing a variety of religious faiths. Muslims, Orthodox, and those following the teachings of the Catholic Church comprise the majority of people adherent to religion. In 1967, religious worship was prohibited and the country became the world’s only official atheist state. Since the end of the Communism, Albanians have been guaranteed the freedom of religion and have exercised that freedom in various ways.

Skanderbeg Museum in the Castle of Kruja overlooking the Adriatic
Vibrant capital Tirana

Towns and archaeological sites[edit]

Stemming from a rich history of civilizations, Albania holds a mix of interesting artifacts. Since 2013, town centers in Albania are being redesigned and facades painted to reflect a more Mediterranean look. The most visited towns are:

The most visited archaeological sites are

UNESCO World Heritage Sites[edit]

Albania is home to two World Heritage Sites (Berat and Gjirokastër are listed together)

The Wild Albanian Alps in Northern Albania
Lake Koman Ferry in northern Albania
Curative beach sands of Shengjin in the north

Natural attractions and emerging agritourism areas[edit]

Northern Albania[edit]

Northern Albania is known for its alpine mountainous landscape, conservative highlands, large hydroelectric reservoirs, and where the southern most glaciers of Europe are located. Some increasingly popular features include:

Golem beach south of Durres. Other coastal retreats can also be found around Durres.

Coastal western lowland of Albania[edit]

The western lowland of Albania alternates between archaeological sites, castles, long stretches of curative sandy beaches, and lagoon areas perfect for bird-watching. In total, the coastline of Albania stretches over 362 km[8] and is administered by the AKB National Coastal Agency[1]. Some emerging coastal areas include:

  • Curative beaches of coastal Shengjin near Lezhe, and Velipoja close to Ada Bojana near the Montenegrin border
  • Coastal areas of Lalzi Bay north of Durrës near Rodon Cape, Golem Beach south of Durres, and General's Beach near Kavaje
  • Kune-Vain Lagoon near Lezhe, and Karavasta Lagoon near Divjake along the Adriatic Sea
  • Picturesque areas of Fushe-Kuqe and Shenkoll near the Kune-Vain-Tale Lagoon Area
  • Protected coastal area of Pishe-Poro in the Vjosa River Delta near Narta Lagoon featuring bird-watching, sand dunes and medicinal herbs
Seaside town of Saranda across from Corfu
Turquoise beaches in Radhima south of Vlora and down along the Albania Riviera
Blue Eye spring

Central Albania[edit]

Central Albania alternates between hilly and mountainous topography, ancient castles and rich culinary traditions of rural Tirana, Elbasan, and Gramsh.

Southern and Southeastern Albania[edit]

Southern and Southeastern Albania are mostly mountainous and known for UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and long stretches of shingle and sandy beaches along the Albanian Riviera and Lake Ohrid.

Climate[edit]

Olive groves and serpentine on the SH3 at Krraba Pass near Elbasan

Albania has a Mediterranean climate with each season offering distinct, yet pleasant weather. Some features of the climate vary by region: The coastal areas have a Central Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The alpine areas have a Central Continental climate with cold, snowy winters and temperate summers. The lowlands have mild winters, averaging about 7 °C, and summer temperatures average 24 °C. Lowland rainfall ranges from 1,000 mm to more than 1,500 mm annually, with greater rainfall in the north. Nearly 95% of rainfall occurs in the winter and rainfall in the upland mountain ranges is heavier. Despite the rain, Albanians enjoy a great deal of sunshine, second only to Spain in average annual sunny days. The overall climate is pleasant and favors outdoor activity.

Panoramic routes[edit]

Adventure tourism like off-road touring and rafting in Albania

Due to the varying geographic elevation, Albania features endless panoramic routes with the main being:

  • SH8-AL.svg Vlora-Saranda route in Southwestern Albania along the Albanian Riviera starting from coastal Vlorë into Llogara Pass and along the Ceraunian Mountains
  • Autostrada A1 Italia.svg Rreshen-Kalimash motorway connecting Albania with Kosovo between mountains along the Fan River Valley in Northern Albania
  • SH78 Jergucat-Delvine along Muzina Pass overlooking the Dropulli Plain in Southern Albania
  • SH75 Korçë-Ersekë-Përmet-Këlcyrë-Tepelenë route along alpine meadows and Vjosa River Valley in Southeastern Albania
  • SH3-AL.svg Tirana-Elbasan-Pogradec route along the Shkumbin River valley and Ohrid Lake in central Albania
  • SH21 Koplik-Theth and SH20 Hani Hotit-Tamare in the Albanian Alps overlooking steep cliffs, challenging mountain peaks, and crystal clear rivers and waterfalls

Festivals and national heritage[edit]

Skanderbeg Grave in Lezha

The Albanian culture is known for its rich folklore and unique traditions showcased in various forms:

  • National Historic Museum in Tirana, Skanderbeg Museum in Kruja, Skanderbeg's Tomb in Lezha, and the many Ethnographic Museums scattered in various cities
  • Gjirokaster National Folklore Festival is held every five years in Gjirokaster (to be held from 10 to 16 May 2015)[9]
  • Lock-in Tower of Theth as an artifact of the bloodfeud tradition.
  • Albanian traditional wedding celebrations mostly take place in the summer time and can be observed at historic sites as well. Albanian traditional clothing is renown for being detailed, colorful, and ornamental. To this day, some conservative older men and women mainly from the North still wear traditional clothing in their daily lives. Instead, older women from the South usually wear all black outfits.
  • Evening walkabouts are a traditional ritual usually in the summer months as locals promenade along the town squares or seaside promenades to relax after tiring hot summer days. Cafes are usually full mainly with retirees and students, while local parks with families. In addition, Tirana enjoys a very active nightlife where luxury cars and charming people invade the streets and bars of the former politburo residence area known as Blloku. The afternoon siesta is observed as some shops close down for a few hours after midday.
  • There is a strict code of conduct when meeting with Albanians.[10]
  • Throughout the year, many regions organize local exhibitions and festivals of regional crafts and delicacies which can be found in local souvenir and artisan shops.

Issues affecting tourism[edit]

Bird-watching in Karavasta Lagoon revived by a moratorium

The main problem to a viable tourism industry is the lack of a clear strategy. By far, tourism is not seen as the main economic industry of the country. Some problematic issues include spatial planning such as illegal construction, unregulated waste disposal, poor road and public utilities infrastructure, illegal logging and hunting, noise pollution, and unclear land ownership. On the economic aspect, there is an unfavorable fiscal policy, expensive sea and air entry points, and lack of state incentives and limited accommodation capacities. Furthermore, there lacks a clear accommodation classification system and qualified hospitality sector personnel. Finally, there are successful efforts to extend the tourist season from April to October instead of cramming in the traditional peak months of July and August.

See also[edit]

Cultural and Gastronomic Albania Gallery[edit]

Apollonia 
Mesi Bridge 
Skanderbeg Castle in Rodon Cape 
Gjirokaster Castle Clock Tower 
Petrela Castle 
Preza Castle 
Durres Amphitheater 
Bashtova Castle 
Zvernec Island Monastery 
Ottoman Mosque in Gjirokastra 
Ardenica Monastery 
Rozafa Castle 
Kulla Lock-in Tower in Theth 
Southern Albanian fustanella 
Northern Tropoja region costumes 
Central Albanian costumes 
Central Albania Jeleku 
Central Albanian women clothing 
Woman sleeveless jacket 
Albanian Burek 
Flija 
Tave in Has region 
Bass dish 
Dhalle 

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Official Regional Travel Guides[edit]