Photo of a man riding a horse. He is holding a sword in his right hand and there is a bird sitting on top of both the sword and on top of his hat. In the background are three tall rectangular buildings, one in blue, one in green and one in a dark orange colour.

One day in Tirana

Although I stayed for two nights in Tirana, because I did a day trip to Prizren I was only there for one day. Still, I felt this was a perfect amount of time to get a feeling for the city and to see the main sights. There are a few things I didn’t have time to do, but I was able to squeeze a lot into just one day. Since October 2023 Ryanair now fly to Tirana, which has made it more accessible to a lot of people. I know some people even do an extreme day trip to Tirana by taking advantage of cheap flights. There are also lots of bus links with the rest of the Balkans if you want to explore the whole region, or visit from a neighbouring country.

If you’re considering a trip and not sure if one day in Tirana is enough, then hopefully this post will help give you an idea of what you can do!

Tirana Free Walking Tour

Photo of the outside of a building. There are various people in different historical outfits with one carrying the Albanian flag and several others with weapons such as guns and swords.
The outside of the National Historical Museum in Skanderbeg Square.

I started my day in Tirana with a free walking tour with Tirana Free Tour. I love walking tours as they are a great way to see the city. The tour started at 10am, so it gave me enough time to grab some Burek on my way. The free tours run four times a day, in both the morning and afternoon. They also offer a (paid) communist tour for those that want to learn more about communism.

The group was so large that we were split into three small groups to explore the city. Our guide tried her best to keep us in the shade as much as possible due to it being such a hot day. At the end of the tour, she gave us leaflets showing their other tours and on the back were various recommendations for things to do/eat. I really enjoyed the tour, and would recommend doing the morning one so that you have the afternoon free to explore some of the places recommended.

Skanderbeg Square

Photo of large letters saying "I heart t". Behind the letters is a large flagpole flying the Albania flag. To the right is a building with rectangular columns that says Opera and behind that is a building covered in scaffolding.
The meeting point for the walking tour was on the steps of the Opera building, near the I love t sign.

The first stop on my walking tour, and somewhere that most visitors will go, was Skanderbeg Square. This is the centre of Tirana, which was renovated in 2017 to pedestrianise it. There is a statue of Skanderbeg, who is a national hero of Albania. One interesting thing our guide shared is just how modern all the buildings are. The oldest building at the Square is the Et’hem Bey Mosque, which is only 200 years old. Compared to a lot of other cities in Europe, Tirana does not have an old town or many old buildings. While I was there, there was a lot of construction going on and our guide often talked about how the city has changed so much since she moved there. I think it will be really interesting to revisit Tirana in a few years time to see how it has changed.

The square has a “I heart t” sign in front of the Opera building and at the right angle, you can get the Albanian flag in the background of your photo. The building under construction behind the flag is apparently meant to be in the shape of Skanderbeg himself. You can just make out the shape of a face through the scaffolding, so it will be interesting to see once it’s finished.

Et’hem Bey Mosque

Photo of the inside of a mosque. The walls and ceiling are all decorated with paintings, lots of beautiful floral patterns and some buildings. There is also a large chandelier hanging from the roof.
The art inside covers the whole room – the walls and the ceiling.

The Et’hem Bey Mosque is one of the oldest buildings in Tirana. When the communist regime decided to destroy most of the religious buildings, it was spared due to being marked as a site of cultural heritage. This is due to the beautiful artwork that covers the entire building. We looked at the outside during the walking tour, but I came back later to go inside. I would definitely recommend going inside as it’s breathtaking!

The Mosque is free to enter, as long as it’s not during prayer times. They had free scarves you could borrow to cover your hair when entering, and you need to remove your shoes. I was even given a free leaflet to give me more information about the Mosque.

Tirana Castle

Street art of the entrance to Tirana Castle area

Despite the name, there is no actual castle in Tirana. The only remnants of what used to be here are the walls itself. Inside, the castle area is now full of shops and restaurants. We walked through this area briefly and this is a good location if you are looking for souvenirs. I would recommend getting them outside the actual walls though, as all the shops in the “castle” section looked quite expensive.

St Paul’s Cathedral

Photo of an image of Mother Teresa's face, with her hands praying. The image is made out of shells of different colours.
Shell mosaic art of Mother Teresa.

The next stop on our walking tour was St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s a very modern building, and indeed if I was just walking past I wouldn’t have realised it was a cathedral. There is a statue of Mother Teresa outside, and inside is a lovely shell mosaic of her. It’s free to visit, however as it’s so new there isn’t much history here. Personally I think this is somewhere you could easily skip if you are exploring by yourself. I did enjoy the shell mosaic, but that was it.

Postbllok Memorial

Photo of the top of a bunker. Behind it are a series of girders forming an archway. They are both in a park with lots of grass and trees in the background.
The bunker and girders at the memorial. The Berlin Wall section is off to the right.

The Postbllok memorial is actually three separate items. The first is one of the actual bunkers. Unlike the one at Bunk Art 2, this one is significantly smaller. Secondly is a collection of girders taken from a prison where one of the creators was imprisoned during the communist regime. The final part of the memorial is a piece of the Berlin wall that was gifted to Tirana. Our guide pointed out that you can also see several more of the bunkers in the park if you look through the trees.

Tirana Pyramid

Before coming to Tirana, if you had told me they had a pyramid in the middle of the city I wouldn’t have believed you! However, the pyramid of Tirana is now one of the must-see sights in the city centre! Located south of Skanderbeg Square, this was originally built as a museum about the communist leader Enver Hoxha, before being used by NATO during the Kosovo crisis. It then fell into disuse, and according to our guide was not a very pleasant area at all. However it was then renovated, with stairs added, and now offers fantastic views across the city.

Surrounding the base are some coffee shops and several art pieces. Not all were open when I visited, but our guide said she expects the rest will be opening soon. During the walking tour, we walked around the base of it, then I came back later to climb it.

Resurrection Cathedral

The inside of the Resurrection Cathedral.

The final stop on my free walking tour was the Resurrection Cathedral, which is an Eastern Orthodox cathedral. It is one of the biggest in the Balkans and was only finished in 2012. The inside of this building is stunning, so I’d definitely recommend going inside. There was some scaffolding up during my visit, but you were still able to see most of the artwork on the walls.

Across the street is the House of Leaves museum which is all about the secret surveillance during the Communist era. I didn’t have time to visit it, however our guide strongly recommended it so that’s something I’ll have to do next time I visit!

Traditional Albanian food at Kastrati

Photo of a food dish - Tavë kosi. There is a crispy layer on the top and lots of what looks like scrambled eggs on a white plate.
My dish of Tavë kosi – I really loved the crispy layer on top.

Top on my list of things to do in Tirana was to try some Albanian food. One of the restaurants recommended on my walking tour was Kastrati, which is located north of Skanderbeg Square. It’s on the second floor, so can be a bit difficult to find (you need to go through a white door that has a staircase leading upstairs).

The dish I wanted to try was the national dish, Tavë kosi. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it, but it was so cheap that I knew I could order something else if I didn’t like it. Luckily, I ended up loving it! While there I noticed they also had Shopska salad, which I love, so I got that as a starter too. They ended up bringing both dishes out together, though, so keep that in mind if you’re ordering multiple dishes. My entire meal was incredibly cheap, at under 10 euros for both plus a drink. It’s a popular location with locals and the food is basic canteen style, but very tasty. If you are looking for somewhere to eat then I would definitely recommend giving this place a try. They have English menus available on request.

Bunk Art 2

Photo showing curved concrete walls covered in black and white photos of various men. There is a large broken section of concrete letting in lots of light.
The entrance to Bunk Art 2, showing the damaged section of the bunker. The images are of victims of the communist regime.

There are two museums in Tirana located in former communist bunkers. The first one, Bunk Art 1, is closed on Monday and Tuesday so I wasn’t able to visit it. It’s also located on the edge of the city so requires taking a bus or taxi to reach it. Bunk Art 2 is located just a few minutes away from Skanderbeg Square. It’s open every single day, although the times vary, so it’s best to check their website.

The museum only accepts cash, so make sure you have plenty when you visit. You can pay in either Lek or Euro. You can also buy a combo ticket for both Bunk Art 1 and 2.

Bunk Art 2 is located in the tunnels of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They were never actually used, and the entrance and exit for the museum were built to allow access. The entrance is designed in the style of the bunkers you can see around the city. Our guide pointed out several points where it had been repaired with plastic. She explained that the design was so unpopular when it was first built that locals attacked it and this was the damage they caused.

The museum covers the history of the police force, the Sigurimi, and various tactics used by the communist state. The layout means that you walk down narrow corridors, into small rooms. This means it can get quite crowded and difficult to read the signs. I found the room about surveillance particularly interesting, and they had a great explanation of the different ways to covertly follow a suspect in different situations.

Le Bon Tirana

Photo of a large selection of desserts.
This is just part of the huge selection of desserts – and you can see just how cheap they are!

To use up the last of my cash, I headed to Le Bon, which had become my favourite place in Tirana. It was located near my hostel and opens until 10pm at night. When I first arrived, I grabbed two treats to eat after checking in. They were so good that I went back the next day after my day trip to Prizren. Finally, I went on my last day just before heading to get the airport bus.

They serve lunch, however I was there for the delicious sweet treats! They have a huge selection at very reasonable prices. The minimum spend on card is 300 lek, and I had to buy two things in order to hit that. Although everything I tried was good, my favourite was the passionfruit lemon meringue.

Bus to Tirana Airport

Photo of a blue bus with a sign in the window saying airport. In front of the bus is a timetable showing the airport times which are on the hour, every hour.
The airport bus is very clearly marked and easy to find.

After stuffing myself with delicious food, it was time to get the bus to Tirana airport. It runs every hour from the bus stop to the east of Skanderbeg Square. When I got it, it cost 400 lek, or 4 euros. I was also able to pay by card on the way to the city centre.

Although the timetable says it departs on the hour, don’t trust it. Arrive as early as you can, as our bus ended up departing 10 minutes early once the bus was full.

Tirana Airport

Photo of a Ryanair boarding pass. It says Tirana international airport and the name says "Sarah". It is being held so that you can't see the last name. The destination is partially covered so only the letters "nburgh" are visible.
I didn’t think I’d ever hold a Ryanair boarding card again!

At the time of my visit, Tirana Airport did not accept mobile boarding passes, and so you need a physical copy. I wasn’t sure if Ryanair would charge, so I made sure to print mine off in advance. There is a printing shop beside Burger King at Skanderbeg Square with really friendly staff who will print it for just 20 lek. Once at the airport, I queued up anyway to find out if you could get a free boarding pass. I handed over my passport and was immediately given my boarding pass for no extra charge! Other people were using their printed pdf files, so those are also acceptable.

I always bring a refillable water bottle with me, but unfortunately I couldn’t find anywhere to refill it at Tirana Airport. The Airport is very small, but security and passport control were both very efficient, so I was able to get through and get to my gate very quickly.

Have you visited Albania? Is there anything else I’ve missed that you would recommend to visitors spending just one day in Tirana?

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