For the 52nd country to leave my footprints I found another great deal with British Airways Holidays to Tirana, Albania, in September 2019. I had no problem to persuade my usual travel companion to go with me.
Tirana International Hotel
The location of this hotel is ideal for embarking on a great cultural experience. It’s on Skanderbeg Square, right at the heart of the city centre. It means that all the interesting places are within walking distance from the hotel. Besides it was over 30C everyday when we were in Tirana so it was very handy for getting back to cool off and have a pit-stop.
The hotel was not pretty to look at. Being built in 1979 for the communist regime, it was boxy and functional rather than aesthetically pleasing to the eye. However the renovation in 2001 made it a comfortable place to stay
Our room on the 12th floor commanded a great view of the Square. And the restaurant on the 2nd floor balcony was great for watching the world go by
Tirana is not pretty in the usual picture-postcard way of many European capitals with imposing palaces or stately buildings. It’s probably because Tirana was a relatively insignificant city until it was declared the capital after Albania became independent in 1912.
Consequently there’re few reminders of the many ancient civilisations – Greek, Roman, Byzantine etc – that inhabited Albania.
Let’s start with Skanderbeg Square which is dominated by the Monument dedicated to the eponymous Albanian hero Skanderbeg
The square is vast and nearly all the interesting buildings in Tirana are within walking distance from it
National Museum of History
This museum is right on Skanderbeg Square. I love the giant mosaic that fronts the museum. It captures the spirits of the people who triumphed over various invasions in the Albanian history
This museum was only opened in 1981. It’s an amazing place to learn something about Albania’s history. Unfortunately the exhibits for the latter years were signed only in Albanian when I visited.
There’s no air-conditioning in the museum, but the large fans dotted everywhere provided some respite from the sizzling sun outside!!
On baking hot days water oozes from underground around the Square to keep the temperature down. How cool is that!!
National Theatre of Opera
Opposite to the National Museum of History stands the National Theatre of Opera. The theatre was boarded up for maintenance during my visit. However the Opera Café next door was a great place for a drink and people watching!
Next to the café is Libraria Adrion (international bookstore) with this cool giant image on display
National Art Gallery
This vibrantly coloured building is a short walk from the Clock Tower.
The Clock Tower of Tirana /Et’hem Bey Mosque
Built in 1822, the Clock Tower was the tallest building of its days at 35 metres high. My friend and I paid 200 lek (€1.65) each for the privilege of climbing the 90 narrow winding steps.
So was it worth it? It was very dark and not lit and the views from the balcony was similar to that from our hotel. So maybe not for everyone. Fortunately we went shortly after it opened at 9.00 and did not meet anyone going down or it would have been tricky!
Et’hem Bey Mosque
The mosque was built in the 18th century and is located right by the Clock Tower at the edge of Skanderbeg Square. It is one of the most relevant landmarks in the city. Unfortunately it was boarded up for renovation at the time of my visit.
Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
This cathedral is just a few minutes’ walk from Skanderbeg Square
St Paul’s Cathedral
I really appreciate the fact that the places of worship for different religions are sited not far from one another. This Catholic Cathedral is a short walk from the Square too. It looks modern because it was only opened in 2002. It features the statues of Pope John Paul Second on the top and Mother Teresa at the entrance
This monument is an eye-catching structure just off Skanderbeg Square and near the main bus stops. It was built in 2016, a gift from Kuwait.
Rruga Murat Toptani / Tirana Castle
When walking along Rr. Murat Toptani I spotted a signpost for “the Castle”. I quickened my steps to get there…. to find that it’s not a castle but an outlet for restaurants and shops!
Saying that there’re some lovely eateries inside, including The Silver Spoon (Luga e Argjendte) Restaurant, one of the best in Tirana
Talking about eateries, we were recommended to go to Oda for traditional Albanian food. It’s not far from “the Castle” and we were lucky to get a table at 19.00. But it’s advisable to book in advance
Tanners’ Bridge – this footbridge is a rare relic of the ottoman past in Tirana
The Great Mosque of Tirana – it’s due to be finished in 2019. When completed it’ll be the biggest mosque in the Balkans and no doubt an additional tourist attraction!! It’s near to the Plaza Hotel and the Castle
Something inspiring and something ugly!
These cool sets of traffic lights are being installed around Tirana
Grand Park of Tirana
From our hotel room we could see as far as a large white building which turns out to be the Polytechnic University of Tirana. Grand Park of Tirana with its Artificial Lake is just behind it. It’s in the south of the city and about 35 minutes’ walk in a straight line from our hotel.
The park is popular with the locals for cycling, jogging and family outings as there’s many trees to provide shades on hot sunny days. It’s a great place to spend a hour or so walking around. The views of the lake are rather pretty!
Dajti Mountain National Park
Dajti Mountain National Park is quite easy to get to. It involves a short ride on the blue Porcelain bus 11 to the cablecar terminus. The bus leaves frequently from the same side as the Friendship Monument near the Clock Tower.
The journey time to the Cable car terminus is about 15 minutes. It’s always worth confirming with the bus conductor where to get off. From the bus stop it’s only a short walk up a slope to the cablecar terminus
The return trip on the cable car was 1000 lek (€8.30) per person. It took about 20 minutes to get to the top. The cableway is the longest in the Balkans
On arrival I was rather disappointed to note that it was not the rugged mountain scenery that I expected. It looked more like a holiday resort with a hotel and children’s playground. But it’s all very nicely laid out. The view was quite fantastic
There’s a large “couples heart” at a viewpoint with a sign inviting people to place their locks. Either it was very new or else only 3 people were enticed to place a lock there!!
Balkoni I Dajti Restaurant
We managed to a window table at Balkoni I Dajti Restaurant for a view overlooking the cable cars ascending the mountain.
Why visit Tirana?
Tirana is an up-and-coming tourist destination. There’re a lot of building work going on in with parks and landmarks being renovated.
It’s very green with lots of tree-lined avenues.
The people are really hospitable and warm
Good traditional food cost a fraction of that elsewhere in Europe.
Finally, here are the fridge magnet to add to my collection, and photo of me making memories