DOS & DON’TS
What to Wear
Mail & Package Services
Newspapers & Magazines
For More Information
Albania, one of Europe’s most remote countries, has opened its doors for business and travelers. Although it still looks the part of a poor nation—potholed roads, fields tilled by hand, utilities that regularly fail, and the horse and cart a common mode of transportation—Albania is moving ahead. There is steady international investment in the major cities, and it is safe for travel to Tirana and to the outskirts (if traveling with an escorted tour). Albania’s greatest asset is its natural beauty. The scenery along the southern coast is breathtaking, as are the jagged mountains in the interior. Although a trip to Albania isn’t for everyone (even under the best conditions), adventurous travelers will find it an exciting and rewarding destination.
Albanians explain the country’s geography this way: Albania was one of the last countries to be created by God, and all he had left were mountains. They are impressive mountains, however—a continuation of the Italian and Dinaric Alps. The mountainside terraces, built over decades by “volunteer” student labor, are lined with orange groves and olive trees. The country also has beautiful lakes and numerous streams and rivers. The seacoasts are sandy along the Adriatic and rocky along the Ionian.
This ancient land, formerly called Illyria, was mentioned in histories dating from the fourth century BC. (More than 90% of Albania’s population is Shqiptare—descended from the ancient Illyrians.) The region was conquered by the Romans in 167 BC and again by the Ottoman Turks, who controlled it for more than 400 years. The Turks were challenged in the 15th century by Albanian bey (feudal lord) Gjergj Kastrioti. Called Skanderbeg, he became the national hero of Albania, fighting against the Turks for 24 years. In a series of battles, he carved an Albanian nation from the Ottoman lands.
After his death, the region returned to Turkish rule, where it remained until 1912, when Albania achieved a short-lived independence before being swept into World War I. In 1920, Albania once again gained its independence, which it maintained for the next 18 years before Italy invaded on the eve of World War II. When Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, Albania was subsequently taken over by Nazi Germany. Enver Hoxha and his communist partisans began a guerrilla war against the Nazis and controlled most of Albania by 1944. That same year, the communists proclaimed Albania a republic and elected Hoxha its premier.
Over the next three decades, Albania allied itself with other communist countries (Yugoslavia, China, the U.S.S.R.) before eventually turning its back on them (and the rest of the world) in 1978. The country spent the next 10 years in complete isolation. After Hoxha’s death in 1985 and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe four years later, Albania moved slowly toward multiparty elections. After a period of instability, plagued with ineffective government and a financially devastating pyramid scheme, life has settled. Satellite TV, mobile phones and upscale hotels converge with sheep on the highway, horse-and-cart transportation and fields tilled by hand. Some problems still exist: Car use has escalated, but road infrastructure is poor, and public utilities frequently fail for part of the day. Many cities and towns are still marred by unattractive communist-style buildings. The government is now acting to control shoddy development, especially in Tirana, and build more eye-pleasing structures as well as to encourage more foreign investment in the country.
Albania’s foremost attractions are forest and mountain scenery, undeveloped beaches, lakes, friendly people, and Illyrian, Greek and Roman ruins. Almost every field has a military bunker, and they are found in every corner of the country.
Albania will appeal to travelers who want to escape the crowds, see a vanishing way of life (ancient rural and the aftermath of communism) and see a part of Europe where time seems to have stood still for decades. Don’t go if you are simply looking for a luxurious beach vacation on the Adriatic—Greece has similar sites and many more amenities. If you go to Albania, be prepared for erratic schedules and less-than-perfect accommodations, service and shopping.
During Communist rule, many Albanians secretly (and illegally) learned Italian by turning their rooftop antennas to pick up Italian television.
In 1990, there were only 6,000 telephones in the entire country—one telephone for every 585 inhabitants. Today mobile-phone coverage is available in all parts of the country.
In the Communist era, there were only around 600 cars in Albania, but now the country experiences frequent traffic jams in its larger cities. The most common car is the Mercedes.
An Albanian’s word, called besa, is his bond. Traditional law holds that a man who breaks his besa must be executed by his peers, and his house pulled down and the stones scattered. Even today, Albanians are reluctant to promise anything, no matter how small, unless they are sure they can keep their promise. (In return, don’t make any promises you don’t intend to keep.)
Although born in Macedonia, Mother Teresa was an ethnic Albanian.
The annual Tirana Film Festival, initiated in 2003, unites film makers from all over the world and provides awards for distinguished entries.
Under Enver Hoxha and his “perfectly just” society, there were no lawyers in Albania.
At one point in its history, Albania outlawed all religion. Most of the country’s mosques and churches were turned into gymnasiums, cinemas and fast-food restaurants. Since the fall of totalitarianism, most churches and mosques have reopened.
Traditionally, Albania is 60% Muslim, 20% Roman Catholic, 20% Orthodox—and mostly nonpracticing. The high Muslim percentage is attributed to the times when non-Muslims had to pay exorbitant taxes. Many converted for fiscal reasons.
Relics of Illyrian tribes can be found at Kuc i Zi, Barc, Pazhok and elsewhere, and ruins of Illyrian cities can be seen at Dimal, Amantia and Selca e Poshtme. The Byzantine influence is more evident in the south, and remains of the Roman Empire can be found primarily in the north.
As the country’s infrastructure is being modernized, daily power outages are quite common everywhere.
Outdoor pursuits in Albania are becoming more popular. There are good one-day hiking trails in the north, and canoeing and white-water kayaking in the north and south.
Bird-watchers should keep in mind that the crested pelican can be seen nationwide all year long. The smaller rose pelican spends the summer on Lake Prespa, on the Greek-Macedonian border. The white sea eagle breeds in the
There is skiing at Dardha and Mount Dajti, among other places, though it will only challenge beginning and intermediate skiers. At Mount Dajti, located near the Institute of Nuclear Physics, you can also take the Dajti Express, a 2.5 mi/4 km enclosed cable car ride up the mountain. The trip lasts approximately 15 minutes and is worth doing for the magnificent views it provides. http://www.dajtiekspres.com.
In general, it is best to travel the region with local guides.
For tourists, Albania offers a number of interesting souvenirs. Carpets, filigree, copper tea sets, wood carvings, glassware and other local handicrafts are generally good bargains. In Tirana, you’ll also find good quality, Italian-made shoes available at inexpensive prices. There are also some larger shopping centers in Tirana. If you crave a mall experience while there, head to the Galeria mall, located inside the European Trade Centre. The mall has about 70 shops and cafes as well as a supermarket.
Outside of Tirana, go to the local bazaars and markets to purchase both necessities and souvenirs.
Shopping Hours: In general, Monday-Saturday 7 am-noon and 3-7 pm. Some shops are also open on Sunday.
Restaurants have opened everywhere in Albania, and a wide range of options is available. Traditional Albanian food is tasty. It always includes meat (mostly lamb) and has a Mediterranean style. Local dishes include shish kebab, qofte (meatballs), roasted mutton qofte zgore (herb sausages) and lamb stew. Seafood is the specialty of many restaurants, and Ohrid Lake trout is a local delicacy. Soups can be very good, especially the lemon-flavored rice soup. Fruit, in season, is delicious.
Spend any time at all with Albanians and soon you’ll be invited to have a glass of raki, a strong grape brandy, or cognac. Before you drink, toast your hosts by saying “gezuar.” The local espresso and Turkish coffee are excellent.
Visitors to Albania should remain alert. Crime exists in both the large cities and the countryside. Although most people are friendly and welcoming, be wary of those who go out of their way to help you. Take commonsense precautions, and travel in a group when you can. Police are commonplace, even in rural areas.
Avoid the borders with Kosovo and Macedonia, as the Albanian government has less control of the area. There may still be some unexploded land mines along the border with Kosovo.
One of the greatest risk areas in Albania is on the road. They are generally in poor condition, driving standards are very low, and driving while intoxicated is commonplace.
In Tirana, phone 19 for the police, 17 for an ambulance, and 18 for a fire. For the latest information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.
Medical facilities are very limited, especially outside of Tirana. Sanitary conditions in most restaurants in Albania are adequate, however. Hot, freshly cooked food should be safe (especially if it’s included on a package tour), but assume that tap water is unsafe (stick with prepackaged or boiled drinks). Ask your doctor about vaccinations for hepatitis and typhoid. Take along all prescription medicine needed for the trip. The sun can be very strong on the coast, so use sunscreen liberally and wear a hat. Remember to take along a pair of comfortable walking shoes.
If you require medical attention while in Albania, an English-speaking clinic is available in Tirana, although it’s open only Monday-Friday 9 am-1 pm (ABC Family Heath Centre, Rr. Qemal Stafa 260, Tirana. Phone 355-42-34105).
Travelers must pay for all of their medical care. Before your departure, check with your insurance company about reimbursement, but be prepared to pay in cash.
Albania has a ban on smoking in all public places. Now, restaurants and other communal areas are all smoke-free.
The people, however, are still some of the world’s great chain-smokers. For more information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.
DOS & DON’TS
Do avoid driving at night and, if possible, driving at all. Road conditions are extremely poor and often hazardous.
Don’t forget that some Albanians mean “yes” when they shake their heads from side to side and “no” when they nod up and down. Ask for verbal confirmation.
Do keep your passport and valuables in a safe place. Carry a photocopy of your passport’s identification page with you.
Don’t take a moonlight hike in the countryside, however alluring it may seem. Armed goatherds and their dogs can get jumpy at night.
Do keep in mind that although there are projects to improve water supplies, the system frequently does fail in rural areas.
Don’t expect to find Western-style toilets outside of major towns—the squat style predominates, except in hotels.
Do listen to the “variegated songs” (tunes relaying the local folklore) and watch some of the local dances (such as the trio dance, where two women and a man perform).
Don’t be surprised if an Albanian offers to buy a round of drinks or offers cigarettes all around. Albanians are gracious hosts, even to complete strangers. As a vistor, you should be willing to reciprocate.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. need passports and proof of onward passage. Additionally, citizens of these countries may stay in Albania for up to 30 days. If you plan on staying longer than 30 days, but less than 90, you will need to apply for an extension through the General Police Directorate in Tirana. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure. Visitors are charged an arrival and departure tax.
Languages: Albanian (Shqip), Greek, Italian, Romani, Slavic dialects, some English.
Predominant Religions: Islamic, Christian (Albanian Orthodox, Roman Catholic)..
Time Zone: 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+1 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the end of March to the end of October.
Voltage Requirements: 220 volts. 50 Hz.
Telephone Codes: 355, country code; 42,Tirana city code; 52,Durres city code; 224,Shkoder city code; 545,Elbassan city code; 824,Korce city code.
Albania’s currency is the lek (ALL). When using the lek currency, people may refer to old leks or new leks—always ask which one is meant. The actual value on the bill refers to the new lek value; however, if someone says an item costs 1,000 old lek, a 100 lek banknote is presented. This is because you need to add a zero to the value of the (new) lek banknote in order to obtain the old lek value.
For fair market value, you can change money in a safe environment at the international Raiffeisen Bank, which has numerous locations in Tirana and throughout the country. Their main office is located at Rr. “Kavajes” Pall 12 Kat in Tirana. Also in Tirana, the American Bank of Albania at Rr. Ismail Qemali 27 is a good choice for currency exchange, and it is open on Saturday. U.S. dollars are accepted in large stores (for big purchases) and hotels, but the euro is more readily recognized outside Tirana. Debit and credit cards are used and accepted for purchases, and ATMs are prevalent, especially in the cities.
Bureaux de change also change cash. Traveler’s checks are not easily changed except in Tirana.
There is a 20% value-added tax on goods and services excluding certain financial and medical services. You may find it difficult to try to reclaim the VAT on departure.
Tip 5%-10% in restaurants and round up the bill in cafes.
The best time to visit is from mid-May to mid-September, when the temperatures range from warm to hot and humid. Winter in the interior can be cold and drizzly, with nights near freezing or colder (coastal temperatures are more moderate). Dress warmly if you’re going in the winter.
What to Wear
If traveling on business to Albania, business attire for men is a standard suit and tie; for women, business clothes are a dress or a suit with skirt or slacks. If traveling on vacation and depending on the season, you’ll be fine with typical casual attire of jeans, sweaters, coats (in fall and winter) and boots; in the spring and summer, jeans, T-shirts and sneakers are acceptable. People in Tirana tend to dress up more in the evenings.
Some northern Albanians follow a code of ethics known as Kanun, where women wear headscarves and more traditional clothes. If you will be visiting these areas as well as visiting churches or other religious places, then dress more conservatively. Remember to pack an umbrella in case you encounter any unplanned rain.
Fixed telephone lines in Albania are limited, especially in the remote areas. However, cell phones are prevalent and relatively dependable in the main towns and along coastal areas. If you will be traveling extensively throughout the country, check with a travel agency, the hotel where you will be staying in Albania, or a major car rental agency on the possibility of renting a local cell phone while in the country. Larger hotels will have fixed phone lines available in hotel rooms for their guests’ use. Telephone booths are also available at the Tirana airport and in the cities. You must purchase a telephone card (available at post offices in varying denominations) to use as payment in the phone booths.
In Albania, when dialing between cities, add the city code to the local number.
Internet cafes are available in most towns at an average cost of 100 ALL per hour. In Tirana, InterAlb at Rr. Deshmoret e 4 Shkurtit, pall. 25/1 (near the Hotel President), can provide friendly computer-related assistance when you need it.
Certain hotels also offer Wi-Fi connections; at the Tirana International Airport, Internet service is also available for free to travelers through Wi-Fi connections.
Mail & Package Services
To be sure that your packages or letters will arrive in a timely fashion and securely at their destination, you may want to send them via the local DHL office in Tirana. The mailing costs for these items are more than at the post office but will ensure their arrival. Rruga Ded Gjo Luli No 6, Tirana. Phone 355-42-27667. Open Monday-Friday 8am-5 pm, Saturday 8 am-noon.
Newspapers & Magazines
The best English-language source for local news on Albania is the Albanian Daily News, published in Tirana. The newspaper presents topical information on the country, including cultural and tourist-related issues. An online version is also available to subscribers only. http://www.albaniannews.com.
Tirana International Airport Nene Tereza (TIA), also known as Mother Teresa Airport, is the main airport in Albania. It is located 20 mi/30 km northeast of Tirana. The airport is growing substantially, hosts international flights and has a relatively new terminal. Passenger services include duty-free and other shops, restaurants and cafes, Wi-Fi availability and ATMs. Rental car agencies also maintain branches at the airport. http://www.tirana-airport.com.al.
For 200 ALL, the Rinas Express bus runs to the National Museum in Tirana hourly from the airport. Taxis are also available outside the baggage claim. The taxi fare one-way to Tirana is approximately 2,500 ALL. Agree to the fare before leaving. Intercity buses run from Tirana to most towns, as well as to Greece. Trains shuttle between Tirana and Durres several times a day, and service is gradually being extended to the rest of the country. If you’re not on a tour, the easiest way to get around is to hire a car and driver. If you do rent a car, keep in mind that roads are in poor condition. Albanians tend to veer out of their lane when driving (and lanes are shared with donkey carts, goats, bicycles and large trucks). Traffic moves on the right.
For 25 euros roundtrip, there are daily ferries and hydrofoils between Corfu, Greece, and Saranda, Albania. The hydrofoil trip takes about 40 minutes. In the summer, a hydrofoil is also available from Corfu to Himara, Albania.
Offers daily bus travel to Greece. Blv. Zogu
I, 39, Albania. Phone 355-42-251866.
Blv. Zogu I, 39
This is a reliable taxi company in Tirana.
Phone 355-42-244444 or 355-42-377777.
For More Information
The closest thing to an “official” tourist office is the government’s Tourist Development Committee. There, you can find people who will try to assist you with your tourism-related questions. Open Monday-Friday 9 am-4 pm. Blv. Deshmoret e Kombit 8, Tirana. Phone 355-42-58322.
Albania does not have official tourist offices in Canada, the U.K. or the U.S., but tourist information may be available at embassies.
U.S.: Embassy of the Republic of Albania, 2100 S St. N.W., Washington, DC, 20008. Phone 202-223-4942. Fax
Canada: Embassy of the Republic of Albania, 130 Albert St., Suite 302, Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 5G4. Phone
613-236-4114. Fax 613-236-0804.
U.K.: Embassy of the Republic of Albania, 24 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6LB England. Phone
Foreign Embassies Serving Albania
The Canadian Embassy in Italy is responsible for Canadian interests in Albania.
Embassy of Canada. Via Zara 30, Rome, Italy 00198. Phone 39-06-85444-2911. http://www.canada.it. A Canadian consular office is also available in Tirana.
Consulate of Canada, Rr. Dervish Hima, Kulla, No. 2, Apt. 22, Tirana. Phone 355-42-57274. Fax 355-42-57273.
U.S. Embassy, Rr. E Elbasanit 103, Tirana. Phone 355-42-47285. Fax 355-42-32222. http://tirana.usembassy.gov.
British Embassy, Rr. Skenderbej 12, Tirana. Phone 355-42-34973. Fax 355-42-47697.
Albania: The Bradt Travel Guide by Gillian Gloyer (Bradt).
Albania is also included in Mediterranean Europe, 8th ed., by Duncan Garwood et al. (Lonely Planet).
High Albania by Edith Durham (Phoenix Press). The classic account of an Englishwoman’s travels in northern Albania during the early part of the 20th century.
The Albanians: A Modern History by Miranda Vickers. A good overview of Albanian history, now out of print.
Biografi: An Albanian Quest by Lloyd Jones. Recounts the search for Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha’s double. Although the book is written as if it were a true story, the part about Hoxha’s double appears to be more imagined than factual. Jones does, however, capture the mood of the country after the fall of communism.