- Lifestyle & Sports
- 18 Oct 17
Albania is the last undiscovered secret of Europe and the capital of Tirana is its heart. This fascinating city offers the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle and surprises visitors with its unexpected possibilities. By Anisa Kurtaj
Where exactly is it?
Tirana is the capital and the largest city of Albania, a country in southeast Europe with a coastline that runs from the Adriatic Sea to the lonian Sea. Italy lies to the west and Greece to the south. The city of Tirana itself is located east of the Adriatic coast, which is only 30km away. It has a very ancient history, dating back to the Palaeolithic era, some 10,000 to 30,000 years ago. Tirana's geographic location in the very heart of Albania, between mountains and sea, has made this city very attractive to Albanians as well as tourists.
Why should I go?
Tirana is a city where you can see ancient Ottoman and monarchical influences, Italian architecture and communist-era style at the same time. All of these aspects intertwined make it a special capital with a unique style. On the one hand, Tirana is a metropolitan city of politics, business, arts and night-life, and on the other hand it's a place surrounded by castles, mountains and natural beauty. Tourists can enjoy hiking or cycling on the mountain of Dajti, or exploring the surrounding rural green areas. There are also a lot of opportunities for dining in the beautifully decorated restaurants which serve traditional food, as well as international gastronomic specialities.
How do I get there?
There are unfortunately no direct flights between Dublin and Tirana. However, Irish visitors have the opportunity to use alternative routes via Amsterdam, Rome, Frankfurt, Munich or Vienna. Furthermore, British Airways is operating direct flights from London Gatwick to Tirana five times a week. Flights from Dublin via London Gatwick may also be a good option for travellers visiting Tirana. If you bock your flights early enough and outside of the summer holiday months (June — August), you may find very competitive rates.
What language do they speak?
Albania is an ethnically homogeneous country with the vast majority of the population speaking the Albanian language (called "Shqip"), which is also the country's official language. Italian and English are the most popular foreign languages spoken by Albanians. Unlike Italian, English is widely taught in schools across Albania. Thus, English is the most commonly spoken foreign language among the youth of Albania.
Where should I stay?
Albanian hotels have style: most of them are boutique hotels with an eccentric personality. They are fun, trendy and offbeat, with only a few of them having 50 rooms or more. If you are looking for a special treat, The Plaza Tirana (Rruga 28 Nentori, Tel: +355 4 221 1221; plazatirana. com) is the city's newest luxury hotel. There's a wellness spa and a choice of three Italian-influenced restaurants. Double rooms start at €140, including breakfast.
A well-known mid-range hotel is The Rogner (Bulevardi Deshmoret e Kombit, Tel: +355 4 223 5035; hatel-europaparic.com). lt is a famous and sophisticated building in the heart of Tirana, surrounded by nature and a unique Mediterranean garden. Doubles, with breakfast, start at €99. However, for travellers looking for cheap accommodation, there are also hostels, which are a good option for young travellers who love to share experiences and have company.
If you are looking for a special experience and want to take a glimpse into the past, you can find rooms with decor and furniture from the '60s and '70s with a story to tell at the Propaganda Hostel (Rruga Pjeter Bogdani, +355 68 904 2744). Airbnb is, of course, a very good opportunity as well: you can get rooms from €20 per night in the centre of the city.
Where can I get a drink?
Tirana is a city that never sleeps —you can find all kinds of late-night bars, pubs, discos, karaokes, and live music. Alcora is a modern stylish rooftop bar and venue which is a combination of chic and trendy, surrounded by trees and nice music in the background. Here you can have the best cocktails in town accompanied by delicious snacks. It's up to you to decide if you want to stay inside or outside on the rooftop (Blv. Deshmoret e Kombit (Twin Towers), +355 42 28 01 42). If you prefer something more casual, the Hemingway Bar located in a quieter part of town not far from Skanderbeg Square has a friendly atmosphere with a bohemian twist. There is a very large choice of drinks, from long drinks, cocktails, beers and wine, but the real highlight is the collection of over 100 types of rum from different countries. If you're into clubbing, check out Folie Terrace Club (Rr. Murat Toptani, Tirana, Albania). There's a super atmosphere as the crowd dance to night away to banging electro and house.
Also worth checking out is Tirana's newest club, Top Hill, which frequently hosts famous artists from both Albania and other countries. The last star who performed here was Albanian singer Dua Lipa.
What's the transport like?
Renting a car costs around €15-20 per day, while a one-way bus ticket costs 40 Albanian lek (30 cent). Public bus transportation runs from 6am-11pm, and while there are no regular schedules, the frequency is very high and you'll usually wait only three-ten minutes.
What's the food like?
Albanian food has a huge Mediterranean influence; it's a mixture of Greek, Turkish and Italian, in addition to some traditional Albanian flavour. The most important staples in Albanian cuisine include heavy stews, pickled cabbage, feta cheese, breads, rice, and smoked meat. Meat dishes are by far the most ubiquitous meal you'll find in Tirana; the national dish is 'tave kosi', comprised of baked lamb, rice and yoghurt sauce. Elsewhere, the national drink is the grape brandy Raki — often home brewed, and often powerful, you won't make it far without being offered a taste!
What are the touristy things to do?
If you want an unforgettable image of Tirana, just walk down from Skanderbeg Square to the spectacular Deshmoret e Kombit Boulevard. Also worth checking out is the National Historical Museum in Skanderbeg Square. The building is famous for the mural above the entrance depicting the timeline of Albanian history. The nearby opera house is another huge attraction in Tirana, while further highlights include the Clock Tower, the Pyramid, the Postbllok Memorial, and the Mother Teresa Square. Don’t forget to go to Blloku district, which is very famous in Albania (as Temple Bar is in Dublin). Blloku became very attractive after the fall of communism in Albania, as during that period it was an area closed to the public, where only the communist elites lived. Nowadays it is the hub of café culture in Tirana. After a long day of sightseeing, grab a cup of coffee and relax while sitting outside at one of the many cosy cafés the city has to offer.
What should I bring home?
In Tirana there’s a great jewellery store selling semi-precious stones and tasteful silver jewellery, called Koralia (on Rugga Abdyl Frashëri). You can also buy handmade wool socks, classic wool slippers and woven textiles. A few old antiques and Raki are also recommended. Please bear in mind that the currency used in Albania is “Albanian Lek”. Its exchange rate has been stable during the last few years, ranging between 130 and 140 LEK for 1 Euro.