Last Updated on December 21, 2023
Tirana, the capital city of Albania, a small Balkan country, is one of the most interesting towns in Europe. Its population is around 410,000 people, but if you include those living in the suburbs, this number swells to 800,000.
The city’s physical footprint is not very large so the main tourist attractions are all within walking distance of each other.
If you are planning to drive while visiting, you should know that parking in Tirana is not easy. There is parking available under Skanderbeg Square so I would advise leaving your car there while you explore the city’s favorite meeting point.
If you’re visiting at night, the first thing that will catch your eye is an old-fashioned carousel which children will love. If you are visiting during the day, your first priority should be the best-known symbol of Tirana: the Skanderbeg Statue, made by Odhise Paskali in 1968.
Skanderbeg, the Dragoon of Albania, is the national hero of the Albanians. He fought successfully against the Ottoman invasion between 1443 and 1468. You will see his name and image everywhere in the country, including in souvenir shops.
Just next to the square is the beautiful Et’hem Bey Mosque. Built in 1821, it is one of the oldest buildings in the city. It is also home to a copy of the world’s smallest Koran.
The 115-foot-tall Clock Tower, finished in 1822, was the highest building in town until 1970.
National Archaeological Museum
This huge Stalinist building is located next to Skanderbeg Square. You can’t miss the enormous mosaic on the front which dominates the whole building. The faces on the mosaic were changed many times during the life of Enver Hoxha, dictator of Albania from 1943 to 1985. As he changed friends, so he changed the faces on the mosaic.
This is the biggest museum of Albania with historical, archaeological, and fine art sections. Over the three floors you can learn the social and political history of Albania, from the very beginning until the end of the Communist period.
The photo exhibition about the royal family, showing their everyday lives before World War II, offers some relaxing moments after the other interesting and sometimes tragic displays on Albanian history.
New Market (Pazari I Ri)
The New Market is just a few streets from the Skanderbeg Square. On your way you can choose from many restaurants and bistros to taste the Balkan national food, qofte shtëpie, an Albanian type of hash. Don’t miss out!
A picturesque view of the dried fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olives welcomes visitors. The inner part of the market has cheese and milk products, herbs, and tobacco.
At the other end there is a flea market, where rows of counters are full with bric-à-brac from old black fire stove hot irons to Enver Hoxha badges or out of date mobile phones.
Tanners’ Bridge (Ura e Tabakëve)
As a tannery needs a lot of water, the sides of the Lana, Tirana’s river, was a good place for the tanners to set up shop. In the 18th century they built their own mosque and later a stone bridge over the river.
The bridge and the surrounding area became an important part of the social life of the Tanners’ Quarter; it was in use until the 1930s, when the Lana was diverted and the Tanners’ Bridge lost its river.
The Ottoman style bridge was renovated in 2004, and it is now a pedestrian bridge. It is one of the most important cultural heritage monuments in the city.
Grand Park (Parku i Madh)
The Grand Park of Tirana is a green oasis in the middle of the city. It has everything you need and can find in the Western world’s parks: promenades and sportsgrounds, eateries and fancy restaurants, green spaces for a picnic and leisure activities, and playgrounds for the children.
On weekends and holidays the park is full of tourists and locals. The open-air theater hosts concerts and stage shows. And, thanks to smart entrepreneurs, you can even have an elegant haircut while sitting next to the stage, at the side of the water, listening to the music.
The picturesque view of the artificial lake, which was built in the 20th century, is the perfect place for runners to train or for anybody to enjoy the golden rays of the westering sun mirroring on the surface of the water.
Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
The cathedral is one of the largest orthodox churches, officially opened on June 24, 2012, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the revival of the Albanian Orthodox Church. Its dome is 105 feet high with a ceiling fresco of Christ Pantokrator inside.
Next to the church is a small museum, and a 150-foot-tall bell tower.
Museum of Secret Surveillance
Albania was run by a dictatorship for long enough that there are lasting relics of this era all around the country. You can see bunkers everywhere in the towns and in the countryside; in Tirana there are two big bunkers built for Enver Hoxha as a place of refuge in case of an attack on the country. It now houses a museum.
Hoxha was not only fearful of attacks from other countries, he was also afraid of attacks from within Albania. The Museum of Secret Surveillance, also known as the House of Leaves, shows details of this infernal period.
Paranoia and mistrust was rampant. The exhibition is haunting but is an important lesson about the world when bad people are in high places.
Dajti National Park, Dajti Ekspres
Tirana is located at the foot of the iconic Dajti Mountain, and Dajti National Park is a very popular place among locals.
To visit you can take the Dajti Ekspres, a gondola lift with just two stations. Since opening in July 2005, the 14,000-foot-long lift is an attractive option for tourists. The travel duration is 15 minutes, and you can catch a bus from the city center from the lower station in the suburbs.
You can also access the park from the road, but do so only if you like to live dangerously. The road is narrow and full of bends. I tried this route, without knowing the warnings, so I know what I am talking about.
At the upper station there are endless possibilities for entertainment. A mini-golf course, quad or horse rentals, amusement park, wandering trails, and of course a restaurant. At the top of the building is a rotating coffee bar, so while sitting with your mocha or americano you can enjoy a 360 degree view of Tirana.
If you are lucky and the weather is clear, you can even catch sight of the sea.
Special to BookCottages.com from Orsolya Harrach