If you’re travelling in Albania or exploring the Balkan region, you probably want at least one day in Tirana, the lively capital of Albania.
It’s a vibrant city with a unique history and a warm, welcoming culture – I’d recommend you include Tirana on any Albania itinerary.
This article gives you ideas about how to spend one day in Tirana, with a flexible itinerary and ideas for making the most of the city in a day. I’ve also included ideas for more days in Tirana, should your schedule allow it. And I’ve dropped in some recommendations for places to eat and also to stay (for those whose day in Tirana includes a night).
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I might earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.
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Is Tirana Worth Visiting?
As someone who is interested in cities, I definitely think so. I like cities in general, but think the capital cities of most countries are especially interesting because the history of that country tends to get written on the architecture and in the streets of the capital in a really tangible way.
And this is true with Tirana. As the capital of Albania, a country that has been fought over across centuries and which had a very isolated existence for much of the second half of the 20th century, it is key to understanding the country overall.
Tirana was the nerve centre of the country during the communist era when the population and city grew and developed significantly. So, of course, it has many historic and cultural landmarks that help tell the story of modern Albania.
And it’s also just a buzzy city full of life, with a rich food scene and nightlife.
I have to admit, based on what I’d read and photos I’d seen of Tirana before I visited, I was expecting it to be a bit drab and beige, with lots of worn-out concrete and communist architecture. And there is a fair amount of that. But during my time there, I saw a colourful side of Tirana – literally and figuratively.
Is One Day In Tirana Enough?
The honest answer to this question is no: of course one day is not enough to fully explore and appreciate Tirana (or most cities). It’s a sizeable city with a lot going on, so you’d need more than one day in Tirana to fully do it justice. I spent a couple of days there and I’m still aware there was more to see and do than I experienced.
But I’m also aware that many people have limited time available to travel. Therefore, if all you have is one day, I think it’s better to spend one day in Tirana than no days in Tirana!
One Day In Tirana – Suggested Itinerary
Here’s my itinerary for spending one jam-packed day in Tirana! I’m suggesting you get some history in the itinerary, as well as see the major landmarks and exhibitions, plus get a feel for Tirana’s restaurants and nightlife.
Guided Walking Tour
I suggest you do a guided walking tour of Central Tirana in the morning. I don’t always love tours, but with only one day in Tirana, I think a guided tour will help you maximise the time you have.
Like many cities, there are free Tirana tours available (though, of course, it’s expected that you tip the guide, even though there’s no charge).
However, if you are interested in Albania’s recent history, I really recommend a paid-for tour I did, called the Communist Tour.
This tour focuses on the communist regime which lasted from 1946 to 1992 and led to Albania being very isolated, with heavy restrictions placed on its people. The tour will take you to various landmarks around Tirana, including the monument to the unknown soldier, the National Museum of History, National Palace of Culture and the former headquarters of the Albanian Communist Party.
My tour was led by a local man who was a child during communism. He was able to bring the tour to life with his own memories and stories of living under the regime. It was really powerful to get a first-hand account from someone who had lived through it.
You can book via the TiranaFreeTour.com website, but there is a charge of €20 per person.
Self-Guided Walking Tour
If prefer to wander on your own, without a guide, here are some of the landmarks you could check out around the centre of Tirana in the morning. You could spend 2-3 hours exploring these spots in the city at a leisurely pace. however, if you wanted to go into any of the museums, you would probably need more time.
Named for the military commander who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, Skanderbeg Square is the main plaza in Tirana.
It’s more interesting than beautiful in my opinion: the square itself is a big pedestrian paved area that is like a very shallow dome, with water fountains dotted around. Around it are several buildings of importance, including the Opera House and the National History Museum. There’s an ‘I heart T’ sign near the Opera House, and a statue of Gjergj Kastriotit (also known as Skanderbeg) on the south side. Near here, there’s also a small 18th-century mosque, Et’hem Bej Mosque, a 19th-century clock tower (Kulla e Sahatit) and Tirana’s City Hall.
The Unknown Soldier
Just east of Skanderbeg Square is the Monument for the Unknown Soldier, honouring those who died in World War II.
Heading down Rruga George W Bush, you’ll see a large white and gold mosque, called Namazgjah Mosque. When I saw it, it was still under construction but was nevertheless very impressive and attractive from the exterior.
Ps. I was told the road was named for Bush because he is the only US president who has come to Tirana (NB. I haven’t verified this!).
You could easily miss Ura e Tabakëve (Tanners’ Bridge), which is an 18th century Ottoman style bridge which is no longer in use. It used to cross a stream and was used to bring livestock and produce into the city near the area where leather workers were located (hence the name Tanner).
The stream has since been diverted and the bridge is no longer in use. But you can still walk over it and it gives a small idea of how Tirana might have been centuries ago.
Ali Demi Neighbourhood
Just across the Lana river, off Bajram Curri Boulevard, is a residential area that has been painted in colourful blocks. I was told that they were painted by the government around 2000 to brighten the city and lift the mood of the people. Apparently, the practise became popular and other some people have done it to their own houses.
Coffee at Komiteti – Kafe Muzeum
Komiteti is probably one of the best-known cafes in Tirana and is a good place to stop for refreshments mid-morning. It’s a cafe & museum not because it has an exhibition as such, but because it’s full of artefacts and nik naks from the past. It feels a little like you’re stepping back in time.
Ps. Another café I loved in Tirana is Tea Room, which is exactly what it sounds like: a place that specialises in tea, including iced tea, which is the perfect drink if you’re in Tirana in summer.
Pyramid of Tirana
The Pyramid of Tirana is a legendary landmark in Tirana. It’s not strictly a pyramid, I think because it is asymmetrical. To me, it looks like something out of Star Wars.
It opened in 1988 as the Enver Hoxha Museum, about the life of the communist dictator. At the time, it was said to be the most expensive individual structure ever constructed in Albania.
It has since been a conference centre and a NATO base (during the Kosovo War). I heard about it from other travellers who told me there was a ‘challenge’ to climb the external slopes of the pyramid to get to the top.
I didn’t try this though. It was closed for renovation when I visited in the summer of 2022, and the boards around the site indicated it would become some sort of IT centre.
Lulishte Ismail Qemali
Lulishte Ismail Qemali is a small park, which contains some of the concrete underground bunkers that Albania is famous for, as well as a section of the Berlin Wall.
A note on bunkers in Albania: the stat I’m told about bunkers is that there were 750,000 underground bunkers built in Albania between the 1960s and 1980s, as protection against a possible attack on Albania by Yugoslavia or NATO. The bunkers were abandoned following the dissolution of the communist government in 1992 and most are now derelict – but you might see the little round concrete dome of the entrances to them dotted around.
Boulevard Dëshmorët e Kombit & Mother Teresa Square
If you’re thinking this long straight boulevard lined by Stone Pine trees reminds you of Rome, it’s because it was designed by Italians in the 1920s, during a time when they had a lot of influence in Albania (they also invaded in 1939).
My Communist Tour guide said that at that time, Tirana was not such a big city, and someone had remarked that they had seen cities without boulevards before, but never before had they seen a boulevard without a city.
There are some important buildings along this grand road, including the Presidential Palace, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Palace of Congress and the University of Tirana. To the south is Mother Teresa Square, named for arguably the most well-known ethnic Albanian.
Enver Hoxha’s Former Residence
Enver Hoxha was the dictator that presided over communism in Albania between 1946 and his death in 1985.
Under his rule, arguably, some good things happened: infrastructure was built, literacy improved and life expectancy increased significantly.
However, it was an oppressive regime that banned religion and foreign travel and led to the imprisonment and death of dissenters. He wrote many books, which the people were expected to buy, study, display in their homes and live by. He was paranoid about disloyalty and had an extensive spying system on politicians and members of the public. Anyone who was a potential threat was arrested, put in a concentration camp or killed.
He lived in a house on Rruga Ismail Qemali in the upmarket Blloku neighbourhood. It might not look as grand as other presidential homes around the world. However, considering the average Albanian in Tirana was living in cramped apartments, his modernist-style home was palatial by comparison.
National Museum of Fine Arts & The Cloud
This is the national art museum in Tirana. It was closed for reconstruction when I visited in 2022, but I’ve read it’s due to re-open towards the end of 2023.
Outside the museum is an installation called The Cloud, which is a delicate, three-dimensional structure made from fine steel bars. It was designed by Japanese artist Sou Fujimoto for the Serpentine Pavilion in London in 2013 and moved to Tirana in 2016.
Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
The central dome of this building might be reminiscent of a mosque, but this is an orthodox Christian cathedral, built in 2012.
For a swanky lunch (why not, you’re only spending one day in Tirana – make the most of it!), try Salt, a modern, stylish place a block from Enver Hoxha’s Former Residence in trendy Blloku. It has an international menu, including Asian food, sushi, middle eastern food and pasta.
Don’t worry, you’ll have something traditional Albanian for your evening meal – I’m trying to give you a taste of the variety of what’s available in Tirana.
You did a lot of walking in the morning, so you can go at a slower pace in the afternoon. Head to Bunk’Art 2, a fascinating museum housed in of those underground bunkers I mentioned earlier.
In the centre of Tirana, Bunk’Art 2 reconstructs the history of the Albanian Ministry of Internal Affairs from 1912 to 1991. It focuses specifically on the ‘Sigurimi’, the political police used by the regime of Enver Hoxha to spy on and control the Albanian people.
There’s a lot of history documented in the exhibition, which is housed in a series of rooms and corridors underground. It covers the horror of surveillance, torture, internment and killings. Some details feel like they’re out of dystopian novels like 1984, including details about how the regime would edit enemies out of textbooks and photographs as if erasing them from history.
Some of it is quite emotional, including, for me, a video of a woman’s testimony about living in an Albanian concentration camp, which moved me to tears.
In the evening, I suggest you take part in the Albanian tradition of sunset xhiro, which means ‘walk’. You’ll find the streets of Tirana fill with people in the evenings: walking, talking, catching up. It’s a very chill way to round off a day in Tirana.
Some nice places to take a xhiro include Shëtitorja Murat Toptani, a leafy pedestrian walkway between the Cloud and Rruga George W Bush.
Another nice area is around the Old Bazaar and New Bazaar. I saw lots of families out and about in this area, which also has some good restaurants for dinner.
As promised, I suggest dinner is for traditional Albanian cuisine.
A good option I tried in Tirana is Zgara AlPazar. It’s a no-frills place and seemed popular with locals.
I had fried white cheese for a starter, was like halloumi. For a main, I had Fërgesë, which they translated as ‘traditional Tirana food’ on the menu. The Fërgesë was quite intense: it’s made with tomatoes, peppers and feta and was probably a bad choice after a cheese starter. If I went back, I’d choose a different combination, but both were nice dishes.
Other traditional Albanian restaurants you could try include:
- Oda Garden was recommended by several other bloggers and the leafy courtyard looked very attractive. But it seemed a little too touristy to me, with a roaming band and signs on the table saying there was a charge for the music, so I skipped it.
- Restorant Tymi – this is the other side of Skanderbeg Square and was so popular it was hard to get a table! The clientele seemed like a mixture of locals and tourists, and the décor is kind of kitsch, with a picture of the Queen and pop culture figures on the wall.
After dinner, why not go out for drinks? If you only have one day in Tirana, you might as well maximise the experience!
I really liked Hemingway Bar, which is pretty much as you’d expect a bar themed around Ernest Hemingway to be: it looks like a set from a Johnny Depp movie, the walls festooned with paraphernalia, quotes and neon signs. I loved the easy-going cat that seemed to live in the bar. There was no air conditioning, though, which made it rather stuffy on a hot summer evening.
Another option is Radio Bar, which is also full of retro nik-naks and mid-century posters (kitsch is a bit of a recurring theme in Tirana cafes and bars, I think!). The drinks and staff were great and the AC was lovely and cool.
Other Things To Do In Tirana (If You Have More Than One Day)
- Sky Tower: there’s a high rise in Tirana with a panoramic view of the city. I missed out on my visit because it was closed for renovations, but I would check it out if I ever returned
- New Bazaar: this is a food market near the city centre and has a variety of foods and crafts on sale. I really liked it as a place to browse and people-watch
- Grand Park of Tirana: to the south of Mother Teresa Square is a large park with woods, walkways and a lake. It’s a nice place for a stroll if you have extra time in Tirana, beyond one day.
- Bunk’Art 1: the original Bunk’Art exhibition is out on the outskirts of Tirana. It focuses on the history of the Albanian communist army and the daily lives of Albanians during the regime. I don’t recommend you go to this one if you only have one day in the city, as it’s far out, but I’ve heard it’s worth the trek if you have more time
- National History Museum: this museum on Skanderbeg Square charts the history of Albania from antiquity and is worth an hour or two if you have more than one day in Tirana
- Dajti Ekspres is a cable car that will take you up to Dajti Mountain for a view over Tirana
- Kalaja e Tiranës is a complex of cafes and shops within the walls of what was an Ottoman-era castle.
- Take a day trip to the surrounding area. In the end, I didn’t do this during my time in Tirana, but I had been eyeing up a day trip to Kruja, a mountain town north of Tirana with a castle. Some people also go on day trips to Berat, a historic town to the south famous for its Ottoman architecture, but I think Berat warrants an overnight stay, personally.
Map: Things To Do In Tirana
Here’s a map of the things to do in Tirana that I have recommended in this post, including the places to eat & drink:
How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one. If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.
When Is Best To Visit Tirana?
Albania is a Mediterranean country, so in summer, Tirana is hot, hot, hot!
I visited towards the end of June 2022. I had originally planned to go to Ukraine and Russia at that time but changed my plans after the war started, and I didn’t really think through the implications of being in Albania in summer – d’oh! Out in the streets, it was baking hot and I was thankful for every café with air conditioning!
If I were to go back, I’d probably choose the shoulder seasons, which are my preferred seasons for southern Europe in general: spring (April-May) or Autumn (Sept-Oct).
Getting To Tirana
Albania’s only international airport is in Tirana, so if you’re flying in, you’ll be flying into Tirana. I tend to use Skyscanner to find flight deals.
Tirana International Airport is 20 km from the city centre and connected by bus and taxi.
However, Tirana is also connected to its neighbours by many bus routes. I personally arrived in Tirana by bus from Ohrid in North Macedonia (which is gorgeous! I’ll write about that place someday…).
You can also get around Albania by private driver/taxi, which was my preferred option after taking a LOT of busses around the Balkans region and getting a bit sick of them by the time I got to Albania!
Trains aren’t really a thing in Albania anymore (from what I understand, there’s only one line still in operation today, and that’s only once a week), so you should expect to get around Albania by road, not rail.
Where To Stay In Tirana
I am happy to recommend the hotel I stayed in, which was the Hotel Boutique Gloria. It is located fairly centrally, on a quiet-ish road which has a nice bakery nearby (try Byrek – it’s a must when in Albania) and it is easily walkable to Skanderbeg Square. The decor is a little old-fashioned but my room was comfortable, with a nice bathroom and air conditioning. The staff were really pleasant and helpful and the breakfast was the most opulent I’ve ever been served in a hotel!
Breakfast was served in their open-air top-floor dining room and it came in courses: first up was coffee with a delicious fruit smoothie. Then came an amazing platter of yoghurt, pancakes and various baked goods. Then (!) a final plate of omelette with cheeses and fruit. There was so much tasty food that it was hard not to waste some!
The Last Word
I hope I’ve inspired you with some idea of how to spend your one day in Tirana (or more, if your schedule can stretch to it). Writing this has brought back to mind the great time I had there, despite the sweltering June heat!
I really hope you have as good a time as I did.