Six of the Best Things to do in Tirana
Updated: May 15
Tirana is a city steeped in a deep and fascinating history. A stroll through the streets will provide an unusual blend of architecture and culture from past and present, East and West.
Albania became an independent state in the early 20th century after hundreds of years of Ottoman rule. Since then, the country has been occupied by the Italians from 1939 - ‘43, the Germans from 1943 - ‘44 and later became a Communist State until the late 1980s when the Eastern Bloc capitulated. This dramatic timeline provides an unusual and intriguing charm to the city which is evident throughout its architecture, culture and people.
We only spent 3 days in Tirana - one of which we travelled to Duress - so we had to cram a lot into what felt like just a few hours in this enchanting city. Here is a small compilation, in no particular order, of what we consider to be some the best things to do in Tirana
If you’re in to history, politics or something a bit creepy, then this is the place for you. Bunk’Art is a museum exhibition set inside the atomic bunker of Dictator Enver Hoxha. The exhibit clearly displays fascinating videos, images and memorabilia from Albania’s recent history. It shows a terrifying insight into the paranoia of Enver Hoxha and the propaganda and violence used during his rule. We spent hours exploring this eerie, underground bunker, so if you want to read about it in more detail and find out practical information, click here - https://www.thebalkansandbeyond.com/home/tirana-above-or-below-expectations .
2. Cable Car - Dajti Ekspres
Take a trip to the very top of Tirana on the longest cable car in the Balkans. In 15 mins you travel up to the top of Dajti Mountain at 1,613m. Along the way, the views of the city are incredible (as long as you’re not afraid of heights!). You also pass over small, rural houses and farms, a little lake and you can see the entrance to Enver Hoxhas bunker. Upon reaching the top you can take a break at the Dajti Tower hotel which has a rotating bar and a viewing terrace where you can gaze over Tirana and beyond. Again, we spent a while up here so we’ve put another blog together with more detail. As Bunk’Art is in the same area, we visited the two together. Click HERE to check out how we did it and for more info including how to get there, cost and when to visit. https://www.thebalkansandbeyond.com/home/tirana-above-or-below-expectations
3. Pyramid of Tirana
Some call it a mausoleum, others call it an eyesore and many use it as a playground. This structure was built in 1988 as a museum of the Dictator Enver Hoxha, who had died 3 years earlier. Since the fall of communism the museum has not been used for this purpose and lies mostly vacant. Stumbling upon it one spring evening when walking back to our apartment, we were surprised to see people running up the rather steep sides of the structure. One brave chap made it to the top resulting in much celebration. Apparently, this is a thing. Scrambling to the top and posting your triumphant video online. However, we were more than happy to admire the Brutalist architecture from the ground. There is a bit of debate about the future of the Piramida and it’s unlikely to be there forever. So if you like communist architecture, history or running up the steep sides of buildings (probably illegal), then take a stroll passed this one. It’s right in the centre of Tirana and you can easily walk from Skanderbeg Square to explore its dilapidated charm.
4. Tanners Bridge
A quirky 18th century Ottoman bridge that sits in the centre of modern Tirana. Originally constructed to connect Tirana to the Eastern Highlands, it has recently been refurbished and is used as a pedestrian bridge today. There are a few shops and cafes around so it’s a nice place to stop for a refreshment or to take a few pictures.
5. Toptani Shopping Center
Seven floors of shopping heaven. This mall has around 100 stores, bars and restaurants and is right in the centre of Tirana. If you’re in need of some retail therapy or you want a good choice of convenient restaurants, check it out. We didn’t buy anything but we did enjoy some FroYo on the top floor (and cruising up and down the 7 stories in the capsule lift). The mall is located at Rruga Abdi Toptani 1001, Tiranë, Albania and is open from 9am - 10pm every day.
6. Skanderbeg Square
Named after the Albanian national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu, Skanderbeg Square is in the very heart of Tirana. An imposing monument of the same name watches over the crowds from the edge of the plaza. This was originally a statue of Stalin but was later replaced. The square is vast, open and practically immaculate giving a feeling of space and freedom in a growing city. Other noteworthy buildings on the square are the Palace of Culture, the National Opera, the National Library, the National Bank, the Ethem Bey Mosque, the Clock Tower, the City Hall, quite a few Ministries and the National Historical Museum. Tirana is not known for its architectural beauty, but on show here are examples from the Ottoman era, Italian influence, Communist designs and modern Albanian structures, like the TID Tower Hotel. Well worth a wander.
7. The Great Mosque of Tirana, also known as the Namazgah Mosque
Tirana’s newest and largest Mosque, this is a seriously impressive structure. Islam is the most commonly practiced religion in Albania and after a period of communist rule there were only 8 mosques left in Tirana. Still under construction, it is expected to be large enough for 5000 worshipers and, when completed, it will be the largest Mosque in the Balkans. It’s interesting to see both the ancient Ethem Bey Mosque and the modern, colossal Namazgah Mosque both within 5 minutes walk of each other. When we visited in April ’19 it looked to be almost complete. Even if you still can't go inside it’s definitely worth a look if you’re in the centre of Tirana.
Note - The Square, Tanners Bridge, The Great Mosque, The Pyramid and Toptani Mall are all within easy walking distance of each other. If you want to be super-efficient, you can do a whistle stop tour of all of them in a day or a long afternoon.
Where to eat
This blog wouldn’t be complete without a quick word on Albanian food and the restaurants we tried whilst in Tirana. We weren’t there for long but we managed to try some authentic Albanian dishes, drinks and lots of ice cream!
On our first night in Tirana we wanted to try some authentic cuisine. Oda came highly recommended by a friend and was just around the corner from our apartment so it really would be rude not to.
We turned down a quiet lane towards the small, ivy covered façade. The cozy rooms were decorated with traditional Albanian pictures, wood panelling, shelves of wines and spirits and rows of garlic. We had arrived on a busy Sunday evening with no booking but the waitress kindly arranged a seat for us and we shared a table with an Italian couple. In the room next door there was some pretty lively music and enthusiastic dancing which really added to the experience.
As this was our first taste of Albanian food we didn’t know what to expect so ordered a few ‘safe’ dishes between us. These included the Lakror (pie with leek, spinach and filo pastry), stuffed peppers and aubergine stuffed with vegetables.
I suspect a lot of this restaurant is geared towards tourists, but as an introduction to Albanian food it really fits the bill. The service was great, the food delicious, a really fun atmosphere and the prices very inexpensive (by western standards). Oda is close to the centre and can be found at Rruga Luigj Gurakuqi, Tirana, Albania.
The leafy front of this restaurant caught our eye whilst looking for somewhere to eat. Inside, the décor is natural, rustic and comfortable with friendly staff and an extensive menu. The food is mostly Mediterranean and Italian with a good selection of vegetarian and vegan options.
Having very little willpower when it comes to food, we had already over indulged on ice cream not two hours ago. So we chose healthy options and ordered the avocado salad and a grilled chicken dish, both came with homemade bread and oil. After enjoying our meal, we decided to stay a little longer and appreciate a couple of mojitos.
The food was tasty and fresh and the restaurant has a relaxed, friendly atmosphere with really efficient service. Ejona is in the heart of Tirana and it is certainly recommended if you are looking for something a bit lighter or a vegetarian/vegan option, which can be difficult to find in Tirana. There are also some great bars in the ‘Blloku’ area if you’re planning to make a night of it. Drop in to Ejona at Rr. "Brigada VIII" nr. 7, Bllok Tirana Tirana, 1060, Albania.
If you’re already planning a trip to Tirana you won’t be disappointed. If you’re not, get on it! This complex and intriguing city has a lot to offer for lovers of history, politics, architecture and food. We only spent 3 nights in Tirana and I feel there is still a lot more to explore. If you’re looking for a trip that is a little off the beaten tourist track, great value for money and saturated in history I would thoroughly recommend a long weekend in Tirana.