Tirana is the striking capital of Albania with a deep tumultuous past, it is a very interesting city to visit brimming with excellent museums, galleries, and historic attractions. A city filled with ugly communist-era architecture and cement block buildings that are now being brightened up with pops of color and murals with the campaign to bring color to Tirana. The capital city has experienced plenty of intense turmoil since the 1600s, and the collapse of communism in 1992 worsened the situation with chaos and crime engulfing the city, it is slowly regaining its independence and being discovered by tourists.
Today visitors can absorb the more colorful Ottoman, Fascist, and Soviet-era architecture, a beautiful mosque the largest in the country, a derelict concrete pyramid, an Orthodox Christian Church, and the bustling Skanderbeg Square, which is the focal point of the city, named for the equestrian statue of a national hero. Visit some of the most fascinating museums in the country including the modernist National History Museum, which covers the prehistoric times through Communist rule, the BunkArt and BunkArt2 Museums housed in underground nuclear bunkers, and the House of Leaves, a historical museum that once served as the Sigurimi’s (secret service) headquarters.
Tirana is a pleasant city today with plenty of wide-open green spaces, it is the political, cultural, and entertainment of Albania with nearly one million residents. Exploring the city can be done easily in one day with museums, monuments, parks, and historic buildings to see. Dine on delicious authentic Albanian cuisine found in local restaurants, markets, and a growing café scene. Soak up the spectacular nightlife of the capital city found in Bukkho or The Block with glitzy bars and pumping nightclubs.
Things to see and do
Taking a walking tour of Tirana is a great way to discover all of the city’s sights and attractions. The city center is compact enough to explore all the major attractions on foot in a day. Wander through several verdant parks such as Grand Park, which covers hundreds of acres and features an artificial lake and plenty of outdoor activities including walking, cycling, swimming, and a few sights such as the Zoo and a Botanical Garden.
Skanderbeg Square is the bustling heart of Tirana, where many of the city’s important monuments and attractions can be found. Check out the Clock Tower, Et’hem Bey Mosque, The Opera House, and the National Museum. The square is the host to many of the city’s popular celebrations and is a magical location to see during Christmas with the large tree in the center, hundreds of lights, a carousel, and a charming Christmas market.
Et’hem Bey Mosque was built between 1798 and 1812, it is considered one of the most beautiful mosques in Albania and boasts some interesting decor and artwork. The outer walls depict idyllic scenery including forests and waterfalls which are not normally permitted in Islamic Art.
The National History Museum is a spectacular museum to visit, the largest museum in the country featuring over 4,750 objects. The museum's facade features a huge colorful mosaic on the front that illustrates different eras in Albanian History. It is a great place to learn about the history of the country and its culture, organized by pavilions with each one covering a different period of time.
Take the cable car to the top of Mount Dajtit and enjoy the spectacular views on the way up. At the summit explore the national park with its walking and hiking trails, the mountain soars to 5,291 feet. There is an excellent restaurant at the top serving excellent Albanian cuisine and breathtaking views. And this is said to be the best place in the city to capture views of a stunning sunset. Horseback riding and rocking climbing are popular through the park during the summer, and in wintertime, the snow-capped mountain is a great location for skiing.
Climb the Piramida,, a unique derelict pyramid-shaped building just a short walk from Skanderbeg Square. It was built in 1987 by the daughter of Albanian’s dictator Enver Hoxha as a museum to honor her father. It has now been abandoned and the glass panels that once covered it are gone and the building is covered with graffiti, however, it is an iconic landmark in the city, and is culturally significant. Many young children play here, climbing up and sliding down or skateboarding.
Take a day trip to Durres, the primary seaport of Albania on the Adriatic Coast, it was once the country’s capital. The historic city dates back to 627 BC and features a Roman Amphitheater, the largest in the country and a superb archeological site. The beach here is buzzing with activity and lined with excellent accommodations and restaurants serving some delicious fish and seafood.
There are plenty of shopping opportunities to uncover when in Tirana, including countless shopping malls, shopping centers, and swanky shopping boulevards like Myslym Shyri.
Adrion has been a famous bookshop in Skanderbeg Square since 1994, selling an excellent selection of English language books, magazines, maps, postcards, and high-end souvenirs.
Coin Center is the most prestigious shopping center in the city offering several famous international brands to choose from including Versace, and Armani along with some great Albanian restaurants. Ring Center, and ETC are two other shopping centers scattered around the city. Souvenirs shops are normally found in the shopping centers in Tirana
City Park is the second-largest shopping mall in the country home to 180 shops and international brands, the mall also has a supermarket, an ice skating rink, and Cartoon land a children's play area. Tirana East Gate or TEG is one of the largest shopping malls in Albania featuring over 1010 famous shops, a food court, a 3D movie theatre, and a popular supermarket.
Many of the streets in central Tirana are lined with beautiful shopping opportunities with unique boutiques, authentic stores, and craft and pottery stores. Walking along the shopping streets of Myslym Shri and through the neighborhood of Tregu Cam, and Tregu i Madhu is the perfect place to browse the storefronts, stop in and pick up authentic items and great souvenirs from your trip. There is a growing café culture in the city and the city center is brimming with cute cafes to stop into and enjoy some coffee and a snack.
Some authentic items to search for in the city are traditional Albanian handicrafts like unglazed terra-cotta pottery, patterned linens, handmade jewelry, olive oil, and soaps and creams made from Albanian herbs.
Dining and Nightlife
Dining opportunities in Tirana are plentiful and will keep foodies busy with many places to explore and try traditional Albanian cuisine along with a plethora of international cuisines. The city is an excellent place to try some of the best coffee in the country with cafes being the perfect place for a fresh cup of joe and to do some people watching, the café culture has taken off in Albania and the country now has more coffee houses and cafes per capita in the world, surpassing Spain. Quaint cafes give visitors the opportunity to some great coffee, delectable pastries, and good gelato
The restaurant scene in Tirana has evolved and features beautiful restaurants with stylish décor and delicious locally grown food. The region is known for the Fergesa, a traditional dish made with either peppers or liver, it can be found on several menus throughout the city.
There are many small shops and roadside vendors located throughout the city selling authentic food like suflage, doner, and gjiro. Another local specialty is byrek made with cheese or spinach.
Mullixhiu sits on the edge of Grand Park’s artificial lake opened by native Albanian Bledar Kola serving up traditional dishes and methods using working millstones. Dishes here might include charred pumpkin with pomegranate molasses, jufka (Albanian paste) with porcini mushrooms, quail roasted inside of clay and colorful salads, and cured goat tongue.
Oda is a popular local restaurant located close to the New Bazaar servicing up delicious homemade authentic cuisine and the mouth-watering lamb dish. Get there early for seats if not expect to wait in line. Sofra Beratase restaurant also serves similar local cuisine and is another very popular eatery.
Nightlife in Tirana is mostly concentrated in Blloku, or The Block where evenings can be enjoyed in upscale hotels, designer cafes, restaurants, and the glitzy Sky Club, a rotating bar high in the air with magnificent views. The city boasts a great offering of restaurants, theatres, and clubs to enjoy after dark with live music, the Opera House, galleries, and museums where world-famous performers have recently been featured. There are Irish pubs, American style bars, luxurious cocktail bars, a casino, and much more. Visit Bunker 1944 on Friday and Saturday nights a renowned bar in the city, named after the year Albania threw out the Nazi invaders and installed the communist government. Bunker features mid-century decor, DJs and live bands, and tasty cocktails including the yogurt and vodka Nafijie.
History and Culture
Albanian is steeped in history and the city of Tirana boasts a great network of museums including the National Historic Museum adorned with a huge social mural on the façade and thousands of ancient artifacts. Skanderbeg Square was named after the national hero who ensured Albanian was independent of the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century.
Tirana has been continuously inhabited since the Bronze Age, but not officially established as a town until 1614 when a mosque, bazaar, and Turkish baths were built in the heart of the city. The country gained its independence from Ottoman rule in 1912 and Tirana became the new national capital (originally Durres) in 1920. Tirana succumbed to fascist forces in 1939 and saw the creation of the Communist Party of Albania during World War II. In 1944 the communists successfully seized power of the city and Enver Hoxha emerged as the leader of Albania.
The city is now home to a population of 1 million people where over one-third of the country’s inhabitants call the city home. It is now a bustling city with lots of color being brought to the bland concrete communist buildings. Once a grim Soviet-style city, Tirana is recovering from its difficult past when it was under the oppressive rule of Hoxha.