Exploring the Scenic Railways of Albania

Albanian Adventures Exploring the Scenic Railways of Albania

Albania is a beautiful and underrated destination. Its beaches, mountains, and culture are all worth visiting. The best time for hiking and exploring is spring and autumn, when the weather is milder.

Getting around the country can be challenging. Local buses, called furgons, have a well-deserved reputation for being disorganized and unreliable. Renting a car opens up a world of flexibility and exploration.

Tirana – Berat

The UNESCO-listed town of Berat is worth spending a few days or even a week to fully appreciate. The hilltop castle is an architectural wonder that looms over the old town below, which is best explored on foot, allowing you to stroll through cobbled streets and peer into courtyards brimming with history. Several churches, a mosque, and the National Iconographic Museum Onufri are also worth visiting.

One of the most popular ways to explore Berat is on a full-day guided tour, which takes you to all the top sights and eats at local restaurants. These tours are well-organised and a great way to avoid the hassle of navigating public transport on your own. To book a tour, visit an online booking site or ask your hotel for recommendations.

Getting to Berat from Tirana is easy. You can take a bus, a taxi or rent a car. If you’re looking for a premium experience, the Tirana Airport Shuttle offers an easy, seamless transfer from the airport to Berat, as well as to other destinations across Albania. This service is ideal for travelers who want to start their adventure in style.

Bus tickets from Tirana to Berat cost 500 Leke (about 4.40 euros) per person for a one-way journey. Be sure to bring cash with you, as not all buses are equipped with a credit card machine.

It’s best to arrive at the bus station early, especially if you plan on traveling during peak season. The line can get crowded during these times, and buses are often overbooked. If you’re not comfortable waiting around for a bus, consider a private taxi. It’s a bit more expensive than the bus, but it will save you time and stress.

If you’re planning to spend more than a day in Berat, consider staying at an Airbnb or budget hotel in the old town and enjoying local Albanian cuisine. There are several restaurants in the area that serve delicious dishes at an affordable price. Some of the most popular include Homemade Food Lili and Tirana’s House Restaurant.

For a day trip from Berat that’s a little more active, consider joining a guided hike to Osumi Canyon and Bogove Waterfall. This canyon is beautiful and a little off the beaten track, with views that aren’t searchable on Google. You’ll see the Flags Panoramic Loop and the Bride’s Hole, as well as the gushing waterfall at the end of the hike.

Saranda – Gjirokastra

Albania, a tiny country adorning rugged mountains and pristine beaches, is home to a wealth of natural beauty and culture. Getting around, however, requires forward planning, patience and a sense of adventure. Albanian Adventures is an agency in Berat that specialises in tailoring unique walking holidays and exploring the country’s incredible flora and fauna, UNESCO-listed cities, and other lesser-known gems.

A day trip to Gjirokastra, nicknamed the ‘town of a thousand steps’ is a must for history buffs. The UNESCO World Heritage Site town is set on the hills overlooking the River Drino and offers spectacular views. Stroll through the cobbled streets, visit a number of historic churches and take in the atmosphere of this fascinating place.

The Blue Eye, also known as Syri i Kalter is an extraordinary natural phenomenon, formed by a karst spring that appears to be shaped like a human eye with a turquoise blue pupil in the middle. This spring is situated just a short drive from Gjirokastra, making it an easy add-on to your itinerary. The best time to visit is spring or autumn, as these are the milder seasons in Albania.

In summer, the temperatures can reach 30°C and this is a busy time for many of the region’s attractions. During this season, visitors can find great deals on hotels, however, accommodation in the popular spots can sell out quickly.

Get the most out of your visit to Gjirokastra with a tour that combines it with a trip to some of the area’s other highlights. A full-day tour to Gjirokastra includes a guided visit of the Old Fortress, the National Amory Museum, and a look at some of the city’s unique architecture.

Alternatively, explore Tirana on foot with a sightseeing tour that takes you to some of the city’s most interesting sights, including Skanderbeg Square, the New Bazaar, and Enver Hoxha’s Pyramid. Some tours combine a city tour with an afternoon hiking in the mountains, kayaking across turquoise lagoons or whitewater rafting through the Osumi Canyon. Whatever you choose to do, an Albanian adventure is guaranteed to be a memorable one.

Vlore – Butrint

Vlore is one of Albania’s most beautiful coastal towns and an excellent base for exploring the region’s many attractions. Its most famous landmark is the Independence Monument, which commemorates Ismail Qemali’s first government and represents Albania’s independence from the Ottomans in 1912. It stands in Flag Square, an attractive outdoor space with palm trees and benches to relax on.

The city is also a short distance from the sands of Orikum, where a pleasing sweep of white pebbles lies next to the clear waters. The beach is popular with locals on summer weekends, and the water’s crystalline quality makes it a fantastic place to swim. The nearby village of Fier is another highlight, as it’s home to the Apollonia archaeological park, an ancient Greek colony with some amazing fragments, including the portico of a temple and an Odeon theatre.

Not far from Vlore is the Llogara National Park, a stunning area of wilderness that’s perfect for hiking. The park’s peaks are a dramatic sight, and it’s possible to reach some at an altitude of 2000 metres, with views that extend as far as Italy. It’s also possible to walk around Zvernec Island, a small islet within the Narta Lagoon that hosts a 13th-century monastery and a pine forest.

Another great option is to drive south from the city and explore some of the region’s most impressive beaches and mountainscapes. The coast is dotted with relaxing tourist beaches, while the wider Ceraunian mountain range offers an untamed landscape with rolling mountains and lush forests.

For a full-day exploration of the coastline and UNESCO sites of Butrint, Saranda, and Gjirokaster, consider a guided tour that includes comfortable transportation in an air-conditioned vehicle. This tour leaves from Tirana and visits the symbolic city of independence, explores the ancient site of Butrint, admires the enchanting beaches in Saranda, and sees the castle-topped town of Gjirokaster.

Alternatively, you can take a private speedboat trip with a guide that will allow you to visit Sazan Island and Haxhi Ali Cave as well as the Karaburun Peninsula and Grama Bay. The experience is a bit more expensive, but the opportunity to explore a marine national park by boat at sunset is hard to beat.

Gjirokaster – Tirana

The UNESCO World Heritage City of Gjirokaster is one of the best things to do in Albania. The quaint town is incredibly well preserved and offers breathtaking panoramic views. You can spend the day exploring the cobblestone streets and soaking in the culture. Then, head up the hill to see the awe-inspiring castle.

Although much of the country’s tourism revolves around the beaches along the Albanian Riviera, the historic town of Gjirokaster is worth adding to your itinerary. It’s a place that has been so beautifully preserved despite war and communist rule, it now stands as a shining example of what history can bring when people are willing to work together.

Getting there from Tirana is easy, and you can do it on your own if you want to save money. Simply catch a bus from the Regional Bus Terminal, which is located near Tirana International Airport. Then, get off at the Gjirokaster stop, and from there, it’s a 20-minute walk up the hill to the Old Town. The walk is rocky, and you’ll be going up for about 60% of it, so make sure to wear sturdy shoes!

Once you’re in the Old Town, all of the tourist attractions are within walking distance. Skenduli House is a traditional Ottoman-era home that’s open to the public for a small fee, and it’s a great way to learn about the local culture. The Ethnographic Museum is another interesting place to visit, and it’s a good option in case the Skenduli House is too busy or isn’t open on your day of travel.

For travelers who are looking to experience the scenic railways of Albania, we recommend working with a reputable tour operator such as 1001 Albanian Adventures. They have a wide variety of active adventures, including a trip to Gjirokaster that can be incorporated into any of their itineraries. In fact, this is one of the most popular tours on their website! Check out their selection of itineraries here, and let them know if you have any questions. Happy planning!

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