THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO A BEACH HOLIDAY IN ALBANIA

How many of my readers have visited Albania?
I do plan to share many descriptive and personal blogs about destinations in Albania where I have been and I will visit again, but there is one thing that I like to do. I like to “hunt” for other travellers blogs about Albania. In this way I discover new blogs, new and very interesting travellers, because we are used with the ones who go to the most typical places to visit in Europe, not like Albania, which is not yet viewed massively like a first choice touristic destination…Also, I discover their point of view and I have to say I have never been disappointed from what I have found.

My last “discovery” is a very brave and interesting traveller, Heart My Backpack and her post of 2015 about Albanian Riviera.

I contacted her and got the permission to share this post. I hope she doesn’t mind that I will also add some other pictures in this post.

Want a budget beach holiday in Europe? Travel to Albanian Riviera with this guide and you’ll be all set, because Albanian beaches are amazing. I promise.

Totally empty white beaches with crystal clear turquoise water, fresh seafood, baklava and local wine, and prices so low they make Thailand look expensive – isn’t southern Europe just wonderful?

gjipe Gjipe Beach
gjipe2 Gjipe Beach
Wait. Europe?

It doesn’t really seem possible that an undiscovered beach paradise could be found in Europe these days, much less that it would be so affordable. But that’s exactly what the Albanian Riviera is.

Okay, maybe it’s not totally undiscovered, but while there in early June Dan and I had most of the beaches we visited pretty much to ourselves.

After falling for the Albanian Riviera last year, I couldn’t wait to return again – this time with a car! After only spending time on Saranda, Ksamil, Himara and Vlora’s main beaches (and Lazarat, but that’s another story…), this time I was determined to explore every nook and cranny of the Riviera and find the best secret beach spots.

And that’s exactly what we did!

Car Rental in Albania

To properly explore Albania’s best beaches, you’ll definitely need a car. Or at least, you will if you want to see all the best, hidden beaches in Albania! During my first trip to Albania I hitchhiked and took the bus everywhere, but this time I wanted to be able to stop at all the hidden spots I saw from the road, so we rented a car in Tirana for a week.

Car rental in Albania isn’t too expensive, but it’s SO worth it. You can see so much more with a car, plus renting a car in Albania meant that we could get to totally deserted beaches instead of sticking to the more popular (and crowded) beach spots like Ksamil and Vlora.

Driving in Albania

A lot of people have asked me about driving in Albania, and while Dan was actually the one doing the driving, I would say it really isn’t so bad. Most of the roads of little traffic, and for the most part the roads are very wide and nicely paved. And I felt like Albanian drivers were very reasonable – it certainly wasn’t a scary place to be driving.

Well, it was fine aside from the time we drove down Albania’s Death Road – but that’s far away from the Albanian beaches, so you probably won’t be headed there.

I would recommend renting a car through a global chain as their prices are lower and the companies are reliable – I usually use Sixt because it’s the cheapest, but also has good customer service. In fact you can save 10% on car rental in Albania with this link

Travel to Saranda

Saranda (Sarandë) is the main city along the Albanian Riviera, though with around 30,000 inhabitants it’s not exactly huge. While this is probably the main destination for tourists on the Riviera, it’s not actually the best for beaches – but it’s a fine base from which to explore some nearby beaches, as well as Butrint, the ruins of an ancient city nestled in a dense forest.

While there are better beach spots along the coast, Saranda is well worth a stop to get a feel for Albania’s beach towns. You can buy cheap seafood and produce (try the cherries!!) at a local market, check out the shops and restaurants along the main beach promenade, and walk up to Lekursi Castle for some unreal views.

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Don’t forget to wave smugly at the throngs of tourists across the bay in Corfu, paying three times as much to swim in these same waters. I mean, if you’re the sort of person to do something like that, which of course you aren’t. Me neither.

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The Best Saranda Hotels and Hostels

DEMI HOTEL // for those wanting a luxury hotel in Saranda

This four star hotel is right on the beach, and it’s absolutely worth upgrading to a sea view room for a balcony overlooking the water! This is a family-run hotel so it has a lot more character than a big chain, and the staff are super sweet and helpful here.

Click here for current rates and availability at Demi Hotel

BED & BREAKFAST AHMETI // for those looking for a mid-range hotel in Saranda

This B&B is run by a very nice family and I love that it’s within easy walking distance of the city center while still being tucked away from the noise downtown (it’s about a 10 minute walk uphill from the center). They also have parking spaces available here, so you won’t need to stress over finding a spot on the street.

Click here for current prices and availability at B&B Ahmeti

DOLPHIN HOSTEL // for those traveling to Saranda on a budget

Dan and I stayed at Dolphin Hostel while in Saranda, which I couldn’t recommend more highly! Even when we arrived exhausted from a harrowing drive from Tirana we somehow ended up staying up late into the night talking with the hostel’s manager.

Breakfast is included (and amazing!) and on our second night he cooked everyone a delicious meal of fish and fresh clams, which mysteriously only cost us each 1 euro. The best!

Click here for current prices and availability at Dolphin Hostel

Ksamil – a favorite Albanian beach town

A 15-minute car or bus ride away from Saranda, Ksamil is where everyone goes to see the nicest Albanian beaches. These are some of the only truly sandy beaches on the Albanian Riviera (most have smooth white stones).

The only downside to Ksamil is that its beaches are fairly small and often privately owned, so you’ll have to pay a couple of dollars for a beach chair or drink/snack to use the beach, and there are more people here. I mean, by Albanian standards, which really just means you’ll see 4 or 5 other people on the beach.

Ksamil is perfect if you want a pretty beach without traveling far from the center of things. You could even stay in a lovely apartment right by the beach there.

The Best Hotels and Apartments in Ksamil

HOTEL CASTLE // mid-range to luxury hotel accommodation in Ksamil

There actually isn’t really any true luxury hotel accommodation in Ksamil, but Hotel Castle is still quite luxurious, especially with its gorgeous views out over the Albanian Riviera. It’s right by the beach and near town and the design is sort of hilarious Albanian kitsch in a building meant to look like a castle!

Check current rates and availability here

VILLA MARKU SOANNA // mid-range apartment accommodation in Ksamil

Villa Marku is run by a really lovely family who speak good English, and the apartments are right by the sea and near the town center. The owners will happily give you tips and advice for exploring the area, though you could also just relax near the hotel as it’s close by everything.

Check current rates and availability here

KSAMIL APARTMENTS // budget apartment accommodation in Ksamil

The Ksamil Apartments are a short walk both to the beach and the town center, but still in a quiet area. The apartments are spacious with balconies and really for the price they are such a good bargain.

Check current rates and availability here

Ksamilksamil2

The Blue Eye (Syri Kalter)

Okay, this is a spring, not an Albanian beach, but you might want to forget the seaside and just spend your entire Albanian holiday gazing into it.

Water in The Blue Eye bubbles up from more than 50 meters deep at a sort of alarming rate. Seriously, where is it all coming from, and how can it be that blue? Is Albania’s tourism board secretly dumping dye into this thing each morning?

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The Blue Eye spring is about a 25 minute drive inland from Saranda (on the way to Girokaster) and I’ve heard that it can get crowded in the summer with people swimming, but in early June it was empty – and freezing!

And before heading back to Saranda drive farther up into the mountains for some pretty stunning views!

Drive the SH8 from Saranda to Himara

The drive along the seaside from Saranda to Himara is stunning, and full of turn-offs into little abandoned beaches. We simply turned down every small road we passed that looked like it was heading towards the water, and not once were we disappointed.

llogara pass
Llogara pass
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Porto Palermo Beach
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Llaman
borsh
Borsh Beach
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Dhermi Beach

One of my favorite spots was a teeny tiny strip of beach right after Porto Palermo – the view of the little islands from the road wasn’t terrible either!

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One of my favorite spots was a teeny tiny strip of beach right after Porto Palermo – the view of the little islands from the road wasn’t terrible either!

We stayed at Himara Riviera Rooms, where we had a lovely little apartment with a balcony overlooking the sea. The owners were SO lovely and this is really my #1 recommendation for a hotel in Himara. It really is just perfect.

Check current prices and availability at Himara Riviera Rooms

CAMPING KRANEA // budget accommodation in Himara

Our first night we camped at Camping Kranea on a beach in the north of town, and it was so, so lovely to wake up right on the beach. If you’re on a very tight budget this is an excellent option.

Check current rates and availability 

RAPOS RESORT HOTEL // luxury hotel in Himara

This is the only real resort in Himara, and it has amazing sea views from its rooms, a swimming pool, and a beach right in front of the hotel. The wonderful thing about a beach holiday in Albania is that a hotel like this isn’t even expensive – if you want to escape to a beach resort I would highly recommend heading here!

Check current prices and availability at Rapos Resort Hotel

The Best Albanian Beaches near Himara

One of my favorite beaches in the area wasn’t actually in Himara, but 10 kilometers north in Jala. Jali Beach wasn’t as empty as other beaches we went to, but I enjoyed sunning myself with the locals and taking in the relaxing atmosphere of the small beachside village.

Travel to Dhermi

Dhermi (Dhërmi) was my favorite place we stayed in Albania! Dhermi Beach is the longest I saw in Albania and seems to cater to more upscale tourists. The village itself lies up a hill from the water and has beautiful old stone houses built into the side of a mountain. If you want the best Albanian beach experience, I would definitely recommend heading to Dhermi (in fact I have recommended a beach holiday in Dhermi to so many of my friends!).

Best Hotels in Dhermi

GUEST HOUSE FOUR SEASONS // budget to mid-range hotel in Dhermi

We stayed in a double room at Guest House Four Seasons, which had a balcony overlooking the sea and was surprisingly cheap. It felt like being on a luxury holiday, but on a backpacker’s budget.

Click here for current prices and availability at the Guest House Four Seasons

SARAJET E PASHAIT // mid-range to luxury hotel in Dhermi

I had dinner here one night and it was SO nice. The food was amazing, the restaurant has a view over the water, and it’s really close to a sandy beach. If you want a luxury Albanian beach escape, I’d definitely come here!

Click here for current rates and availability at Sarajet e Pashait

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Dhermi

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The Best Beaches near Dhermi

Dhermi is also just 8 kilometers from what might be Albania’s most beautiful beach: Gjipe Beach.

You’ll have to walk the last couple of kilometers, but I promise it’s worth it! This was definitely my happy place on the Albanian Riviera, and I plan on returning to Gjipe Beach again and again.

Driving from Dhermi to Vlora and Tirana

And, if you’re heading north from Dhermi you’re in for a serious treat – well, unless you’re prone to carsickness. The hairpin curves on the road climbing the mountain towards Vlora are brutal, but they’ll take you to a heavenly view of the coastline.

Albania Cultural Tour: North to South

Albania may be a little country but there is a lot to see and do in this exciting up-and-coming location. Bordering Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo and Montenegro, Albania’s long coastline is one of the most ruggedly beautiful in the world.

While Albania is slowly becoming more popular with tourists it remains extremely undiscovered, as well as almost completely unspoiled. Albania boasts some of the best examples of Ottoman architecture in the world, along with supremely clear Mediterranean air and stunningly fabulous beaches.

And, perhaps best of all, travelling to Albania remains an extremely affordable trip, even compared to much of the rest of this part of Europe. Let’s start with the city and cultural tour North to South.

1. Gjirokastra

The City of Stone

Old City Gjirokastra

Old City Gjirokastra
The old bazaar

The city of Gjirokastra is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and is one of the most attractive tourist sites of the country. Perched on the eastern side of the Wide Mountain (Mali i Gjërë), the city began as a fourth century castle, which is today the greatest castle in the whole country. Inside the fortress is the Museum of Weapons, where weapons of different periods up until the Second World War are displayed. Gjirokastra is known as “The City of Stone”


The museum city of Gjirokastra was built on the eastern side of “Mali i Gjerë”. Since 2005, it has been in UNESCO World Heritage site. The origin of the city starts with the castle of Gjirokastra, built in IV century AD. The main characteristic of Gjirokastra is the intensive use of stone in building the houses, which look like small fortresses, the streets of cobblestone, which all lead to Bazaar. Due to all these features, Gjirokastra is also known as the “The Stone City”.

Zekati family houseGjirokastra FortressThe most important structure of the city is the castle, which is the biggest castle in Albania. You can also visit the house of Zekati family in Palorto, in a dominating position, which has undergone restoration. It is one of the most magnificent and characteristic buildings of Gjirokastra. Built in 1811-1812, it is a magnificent three-floor building and has two twin towers.

2. Butint
The Microcosmos of Mediterranean

Butrint Ancient theatreButrint mosaicButrintButrint Ancient theatreThe first Albanian site to be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage was Butrint, in the south of the country, in 1992. It has been inhabited since prehistoric times and was a part of the Greek and Roman colonies.
The most ancient objects found at the archeological site in Butrint are a stone hammer and a shaft belonging to the second half of the second millennium B.C.

Hekateus made first mention of the city at the end of the sixth century B.C., affirming that the city was built according to Troy and that the origin of the name refers to the sacrifice of a bull, Buthrotos, provided by the Trojan prince Aeneas on his way to Dodona. During its early period, Butrint was the center of the Kaonic tribes, later to become part of the kingdom of Epirus.

The most extraordinary objects discovered in the theater of Butrint are the statue of Apollo, the goddess of Butrint, the marble heads of Zeus, the portrait of Agrippina, the head of Livia and many Latin and Greek epigraphs. Parts of the city were rebuilt during the fifth century B.C.

3. Apollonia
Where Roman emperor Augustus study philosophy

APOLLONIAAPOLLONIAAPOLLONIAApollonia was an ancient Greek colony city and former bishopric in Illyria , located on the right bank of the Aous river (modern-day Vjosa). Its ruins are situated in the Fier region, near the village of Pojani (Polina), in modern-day Albania.
The ancient city of Apollonia is situated in southwestern Albania, about 13 miles from the city of Fier. The fascinating landscape of the archeological park, which has been preserved in an exceptionally intact condition, comprises a successful combination between the beauty of monuments and nature, attractive through its long history, in an atmosphere of relaxation and meditation. Its foundation took place immediately after the foundation of Epidamnus – Dyrrachium and quickly became one of the most eminent cities of the Adriatic basin, which was mentioned more frequently from the other 30 (thirty) cities bearing the same name during Antiquity. The city lay in the territory of the political communion of the Taulantii and was broadly known as Apollonia of Illyria. According to the tradition it was founded during the first half of the 6th century BC by Greek colonist from Corfu and Corinth, led by Gylax, which named the city after his name (Gylakeia). After its quick establishment the city changed its name to Apollonia, according to the powerful divinity Apollo. It stands on a hilly plateau from where expands the fertile plain of Musacchia with the Adriatic Sea and the hills of Mallakastra. The ruins of Apollonia are discovered in the beginning of the 19th century.

This archaeologic park or site contain also a Museum of Archaeology that is situated at the old Monastery of Saint Mary .

4. Berat
2400 year old museum city

BERAT1Berat Old CityBERAT CASTLEThis 2,413 years-old city, the pride of Albanian architecture which is under the protection of UNESCO, is located 120 km from Tirana. The city forms a wonderful combination of eastern and western cultures, costumes, traditions and outlook. Berat is a treasure-trove of Albanian history, culture and a testament to the country’s tradition of religious harmony
The city’s life began in the 6th-5th century B.C. as an Illyrian settlement. Later, in the 3rd century B.C., it was turned into a castle city known as Antipatrea. The castle expanded afterwards, particularly during the feudal dominion of the Muzakaj family. Inside the castle, they built churches with valuable frescoes and icons, and also a calligraphy school. Uniquely today, residents still live inside of the castle walls. The three major neighborhoods of the old city are Mangalemi, Gorica, and Kala, where the castle itself is located.

5. Kruja
The City of Scanderbeg

Kruja MuseumKruja CastleKRUJA The Old BazaarKruja is just 32km away from Tirana and very close to Tirana International Airport. This historic city is 608m above sea level and offers an open vista to an amazing panoramic view.
The name and the importance of the city are closely related to the 25 years of activity of our national hero, Skanderbeg, who in the fifteenth century made Kruja a bastion of uncompromising resistance against the Ottoman. The Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg Museum is situated inside the castle walls, which date back to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.

The museum itself was inaugurated in 1981. Within the walls of the castle are also the Ethnographic Museum and the Dollma Tekke. Near the castle’s entrance is a traditional market, which dates back to the period of Skanderbeg. Here, tourists can find Albanian craft products such as embroidered items, carpeting, silver objects, copper, alabaster, filigree, traditional clothing, antiques at the traditional Old Baazar of Kruja .

6. Shkodra
Gateway to the Albanian Alps

Shkodra, it is one of the oldest cities in the country, founded in the 4th century B.C. as the center of the Labeat tribe of Illyrians known with the name Scodra .
Shkodra has been occupied several times throughout history: First by the Romans (168 B.C.), then the Serbians (1040), the Venetians (1396), and finally by the Ottomans (1479).
The city returned to Albanian control as the feudal principality of the Balshaj during the 14th century and served as the municipal center of the Bushatllinj Pashallëk from 1757 to 1831. Shkodra is very rich in cultural heritage , the city itself as well as the people bear pride in the large number of artists, musicians, painters, photographers, poets, and writers born here. Shkodra’s main tourist attraction is Rozafa Castle. Rising majestically upon a rocky hill west of the city, the outcroppings and battlements paint a blazing picture against the setting sun.

Shkodra is one of the most important cities of Albania and is also known to be the center of Albanian Catholicism , Culture and Harmony between different religions .

The lake of Shkodra is also suggested to visit , to bath , or to eat some of the best dishes of Albanian cuisine like Krap ne tave typical for this region .

3 lakes, view from castleCastle of ShkodraShkodra Pedonale

7. Tirana

The lively capital

We all can say convinced that the capital of Albania has transformed into a lively, affordable destination. And I might add, that every foreigner I have met there has falled in love with the city.

Interest in Balkan countries has soared significantly in recent years, with curious travelers now regularly seeking out the serenity of the Adriatic Sea and medieval, stone-walled cities like Dubrovnik in Croatia and Kotor in Montenegro. Tirana does not embody such traditional allure. Instead, it impresses as a soulful, urban hub with a strong personality shaped by a turbulent history.

Much like Sarajevo remarkably moved past the atrocities of the 1990s to evolve into a thriving Eastern European capital, Albania is looking past its own decades of horror and isolation to the future.

This is only the main cultural scene of Albania. Many more to come on beaches and entertainment on future blogs. Stay posted.

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7 Most Photographed Places in Bangkok

Where to take the best photos of Bangkok? Bangkok is very chaotic, but there is no arguing that Thailand’s capital has a unique charm. It’s a cheerful, giant city, and its qualities are often captured through the lens by professional and aspiring photographers. Trying to perfect my photography skills, I stumbled upon this great list with a detailed knowledge of the best places to go to capture the best angles of the city, and present it through the eyes of a foreigner at its exotic best. Follow this tips to ensure you go home with photos that will impress your friends and create a lifetime of nostalgia.

  1. Wat Arun

Wat ArunKnown as the Temple of Dawn, this is one of the most alluring images of ancient Bangkok. While the temple is actually located on the Thonburi side of the river, the best photographs are taken from across the river on the city side of the water. Choose a bar opposite and take your time with a glass in hand.

Where to Shoot: In the morning, the rising sun bathes Wat Arun in light when seen from the city side of the river, whereas at sunset, professional photographers can get beautiful silhouettes in front of a deep orange orb. Alternatively, take a river cruise in the evening to see this stunning Khmer-style temple lit up at night.

2. Golden Chedi at Grand Palace

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The most famous palace in Thailand and the former seat of the king, this magnificent complex has several postcard worthy vistas. The biggest challenge for most people is finding a nice angle free from thousands of other visitors blocking the view.

Where to Shoot: The most popular is in front of the patch of grass next to the ticket booths. From here you see three golden spires stretching elegantly into the sky, with many arched temple roofs glimmering in the sunshine. However, for our pro tip, you can get a shot of Wat Pra Keaw (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) practically free of other people if you run straight there when the gates open at 08:30 – remember to dress appropriately with shoulders and knees covered otherwise you will be asked to rent long pants and a shawl.

3. Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

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Wat Pho is a huge temple complex with many buildings and stupas inside, although it is the reclining Buddha that draws the crowds. Perhaps the most famous Buddha image in Thailand and wildly popular, there are two classic photos of the reclining Buddha.

Where to Shoot: The first position is looking directly up at the serene face between two poles. A wide angle lens is needed for best results. The other position is down by the feet of the Buddha image. Adorned with intricate pearl details with the full length of statue still in shot, this is where people queue for a photo with their family and friends. It’s tough to get a shot here without others intruding, so, patience.

4. Yaowarat Road (Chinatown)

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Chinatown is a real photographer’s playground, with intriguing scenes confronting you at every turn. However, the most alluring image of this area of Bangkok must be the shot of the numerous shop signs with their multi coloured Chinese characters.

Where to Shoot: This scene is beautiful during day or night, but for the best shot, try to find a 7-11 at the beginning of a gentle curve in Yaowarat Road, as this allows for the most shop signs to be in the photograph.

5. The Dome at Skybar

the dome.jpgThe Dome on top of the lebua State Tower can be seen from very far away, and every night is lit up like a beacon of luxury due to the collection of fine dining restaurants and posh cocktail bars it houses. Head up to Skybar for a cocktail and to enjoy the impeccable views or splash out and enjoy a great meal with a great view. The classic shot of the Dome at dusk is likely to be a treasured memory.

When to Shoot: Don’t run away once the sun has set. Stay another 30 minutes when the sky drops into a dark blue which balances the light from the golden dome beautifully.

6. Cityscape from Baiyoke Tower

baiyoke_skyThis old skyscraper held the record as Bangkok’s tallest building for many years, and although it has now lost that accolade to the new MahaNakorn Tower in Sathorn, the 88 storey Baiyoke Tower still offers bird’s-eye-views over Bangkok, and on a clear day you can see well into neighbouring provinces.

Where to Shoot: The night shot from here, looking out east over the tangle of expressways, is a classic, while those with a video camera setting or GoPro might consider a time lapse video.

7. In front of the fountain at Siam Paragon

fountainBelieve it or not, Siam Paragon was one of the most photographed places in 2014 on Instagram. Exactly why this shopping mall beat cultural landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower or the Burj Khalifa nobody knows, but it seems no one can resist taking a snap of Siam Paragon.

Where to shoot: The best shot is from outside the shopping mall on the mezzanine level that leads to the BTS Skytrain. Stand just behind the fountain and wait for the water to shoot out the ground, with the glass and steel atrium of Paragon in the background.

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