Sarandë really is the best of both worlds. It’s a bustling beach city, located in the very south of Albania, right near the border with Greece. It’s a short ferry ride from Corfu, so is an idea spot for backpackers to stop for a few nights before heading on. The city itself has a pretty good nightlife, with bars and clubs packed every night of the week. During the day it gets pretty busy, as it’s a hotspot for Italian tourists wanting a cheap beach holiday. Spend a day or two down at the beautiful Ksamil islands (here’s how to get there from Sarande), or hike up to the fortress overlooking the city.
This was hands-down my favourite spot in Albania, and probably one of the best places I visited in Europe. A small beach town north of Sarandë, Himarë is the place to come when you want to chill out. It’s way less crowded, and the beaches are far better. You can kayak to isolated coves, eat fish that was literally just pulled from the ocean, and explore a 800-year-old castle without running into another tourist. Here’s a bit more info about what to do in Himare.
I didn’t plan to visit Korce at all, just pass through on my way from Thessaloniki, Greece, to Sarande. But thanks to the infrequency of Albanian buses, I ended up spending a night here, and enjoyed it a lot more than I thought. It’s a cute little city, and worth a night if you’ve got time to spare. The residents are fairly rich, in relation to the rest of the country, which you’ll notice while looking at the houses. The architecture is weird – it’s a mix of every different style you could ever imagine. Stately manors with columns and marble steps stand next to French-inspired facades, and modernist apartment blocks flank small townhouses. There’s good hiking and lakes nearby, but can only be visited if you’ve got a car or join a tour.
This small, charming village in the hills stole my heart. Skip the new town, and instead spend your time exploring the old town, on the upper part of the hill. There’s not much going on here, but its a great stop for a few days. Sit in restaurants, sip coffee at a cafe’s outdoor table, check out the cheap souvenirs at the bazaar, and hike up to the fortress atop the hill. It’s nicknamed the City of 1000 Steps, so get ready for a calf and butt workout while walking around.
I didn’t love Berat, but its location made sense as a stopping point on my way up north. The UNESCO-protected city is beautiful, a great example of Ottoman architecture. Of course, there’s a castle on top of the hill, just like every other Albanian (and Balkan) town. While I wasn’t enamoured by the city, I did enjoy the nature surrounding it. We caught the public bus out to Bogovë Falls, a 30-minute hike from the highway and a beautiful oasis that’s worth visiting.
After spending two weeks exploring some of Albania’s most beautiful offerings, I was underwhelmed by Lake Shkodër. The town itself was pretty cute, and a good cheap place to hang out for a couple of days. The thing that brings most tourists to Shkodër is the Theth to Valbonë hike, which was truly incredible.
This hike seriously blew me away. The views we got felt more like Switzerland or Austria than Albania. There are a number of ways you can tackle it – start at either end. Theth and Valbonë are both small mountain villages with guesthouses for around 15 Euros a night. Definitely combine it with the ferry ride on Komani lake – one of the most beautiful boat trips in the world. My hostel in Shkodër helped me organise everything, which made everything a lot easier. We got a shuttle from Shkodër to the lake, then one to Valbone. After staying overnight in a guesthouse here, we hiked the six hours up over the mountain to Theth, and found another guesthouse to stay the night. From there you can catch a bus or taxi back to Shkodër.