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Still emerging from isolation Albania's wealth of historic sites, charming rural villages and the colourful capital, Tirana, are all waiting to be discovered. Along the way explore the Adriatic Coast, the White Mountains and peaceful shores of Lake Ohrid.
Explore Tour Leader
10 nights comfortable hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Tirana, Albania's colourful capital city. With a blend of communist architecture and a backdrop of rugged mountains, Tirana is a mix of new and old.
For those arriving on time our Tour Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Tirana at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Tirana International Airport (TIA), which is about 30 minutes' drive. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Tour Leader will inform you of any essential information on the morning of day two.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to head out to explore the city which is easy to navigate on foot. The National Museum with its easily recognisable mosaic frontage, is well worth a visit to learn about the fascinating history of Albania. If you're into markets, check out Pazari i Ri, an open-air market where you can buy everything from fresh produce to local specialties such as byreks, baklavas and honey.
Whilst in Albania we'll have the opportunity to sample the delicious cuisine, which is a real mix of Turkish, Greek and Italian influences, like byrek - a spinach and feta stuffed filo pie, and in the more rural mountainous areas barbequed lamb and 'earthy' vegetables such as griddled aubergines and mushrooms are particularly popular. Along the coast, there will be the chance to sample fresh seafood. Albanian red wine is especially good and also local beers, such as Birra Korca.
On this trip, we have packed in as many highlights of Tirana as we can, but there is very little free time in the city, so if you wish to spend some time discovering more on your own, we recommend extending your stay for a night or two.
Hotel Vila Tafaj (or similar)
This morning, we drive a short distance to the outskirts of Tirana and visit Bunk Art 1, a huge nuclear bunker that was intended as a shelter for dictator Enver Hoxha and the innermost circle of his government. Just arriving at the bunker is quite an exciting experience, as you go through a long, dark tunnel in the hillside that leads you to the entrance on the side of a still-active Albanian military base. Once you're inside the bunker itself, you can wander through the furnished rooms intended for the communist elite as they faced the invasion that so terrified them.
After the visit, we jump on the Dajti Express cable car, which is the longest cableway in the Balkans. Our 15-minute journey takes us almost to the top of Mount Dajti at around 1,049 metres. From here, we admire the views over the city below and the surrounding highlands.
From Mount Dajti, we continue our drive to the Pellumbus Guesthouse where we will meet the Duqi family. They have transformed their home into a guesthouse welcoming visitors from around the world. Lunch will be served in their garden, and we will have the opportunity to try tasty local produce such as cheeses, jams, fruits and olive oils.
We then drive back to Tirana for a walking tour of the city to see the main sights including the government buildings, Skanderbeg Square, the old bazaar and Et'Hem Bey Mosque.
This morning before leaving Tirana we will visit the Bektashi World Centre. The Bektashi Order is an Islamic dervish sect who blends elements of both Shia and Sufi beliefs. We'll have a brief stop to see their ornately decorated tekke (place of worship) with its marble mosaics.
We then drive two-and-a-half hours to Elbasan to visit the historic fortress before continuing to the picturesque fisherman's village of Lin where we will have free time for lunch before we drive to Pogradec, on the shores of Lake Ohrid. The lake is one of the oldest in the world and is a spot renowned for its natural beauty. During the summer months, you might want to take a refreshing swim in the lake before dinner.
Enkelana Hotel (or similar)
Today, we make the journey to Voskopoja - formally known as Moskopoje. Founded in the 16th century, the town was once a major urban settlement and was famous for its churches which were adorned with many beautiful frescoes. After exploring the churches, we will have lunch in one of the local restaurants and try some of the local specialities.
We then continue to Korca, sitting at the foot of Moravia Mountain, where we will spend the night.
On arrival, we take a city tour including the Resurrection Cathedral, which is the main Orthodox Church.
In the evening, there is the change to go to the old town and try the famous 'Baked Raki' (Raki e pjekur). A raki tasting provides a delightful opportunity to appreciate and discover the rich tradition of Albanian spirits. Local establishment invites visitors to sample a variety of raki flavors while enjoying the cozy ambiance of this historic city.
Hotel Grand Palace (or similar)
Our journey today takes us through the southern highlands to Gjirokaster. Travelling along one of the most scenic routes in Albania, we will reach the Barmash Pass (1,040 metres) where we can enjoy sweeping views of the Nemercka Mountains, which are snow covered for most of the year and form the border with Greece.
For lunch, we will stop in a mountainside restaurant serving homemade raki or if it is too early for you, try the mountain tea, one of the most popular herbal teas in Albania.
We continue our drive to Gjirokaster with a stop at Benja to admire the stunning view of the Ottoman stone bridge over the river with the mountains in the distance. There, enjoy a dip in the warming waters of the thermal pools, born from the geothermal waters near Permet. The heated water flows down the river unless it gets diverted into one of the several human-made pools. Some say the baths have healing properties.
The rest of the drive to Gjirokaster takes us through the White Mountains via Kelcyra Gorge, carved by the Vjosa River on its way to the Adriatic Sea. The scenery in the mountains is breathtaking with rolling valleys, that in spring are covered with some of the most exuberant wildflowers you are likely to see anywhere in Albania.
We will spend the next two nights in Gjirokaster, often referred to as 'the pearl of Albania' and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and enchanting towns on the Balkan Peninsula.
Hotel Cajupi (or similar)
This morning, we visit The Ethnographical Museum in the historic district of Palorto where the dictator Enver Hoxha was born. Set over four floors it offers us an insight into the traditional affluent Albanian lifestyle of the town with numerous household items, folk costumes, and cultural artefacts on display.
We then drive to Dhkosat village for a traditional homemade lunch at a family house. We meet the family and explore their farm where we will learn about the rural life in Albania. Depending on the season, discover the beehive and taste their local honey, walk around the vineyard, and learn about the local wine production or visit the padlocks to meet the goats and other animals on the farm.
Later, we return to Gjirokaster where we take a walking tour through the cobbled streets of its UNESCO-listed historic centre and visit Gjirokastra Castle. The castle sits at a height of 336 metres and is one of the most magnificent structures in the city with views over the hilly countryside, river valley and city. There have been extensive renovations to the building since it was constructed in the 12th century and it now possesses five towers, a church, a cistern, and houses the Weapons Museum. The museum exhibits captured artillery and memorabilia of the Communist resistance against German occupation, as well as a captured US Air Force plane to commemorate the Communist regime's struggle against the 'imperialist' western powers.
Leaving Gjirokaster behind us, we drive two-and-a-half hours to Saranda. Along the way, we will stop and walk to the karstic spring, known as 'The Blue Eye' where we can marvel at the blue clear waters.
This afternoon, we visit UNESCO listed Butrint, which is one of the great archaeological sites in the Balkans. With a long and colourful history dating back to the early Neolithic age, Butrint has been occupied and fought over until the Ottoman period when it lay abandoned. More recently, excavations have taken place and all periods of Butrint's history have been revealed including its Roman theatre, Roman house and thermal baths as well as a fine baptistery with fabulous mosaic floors. The setting is idyllic with the ruins nestling in the bend of the Vivari River.
After spending time exploring this fascinating site, we return to the shores of the Mediterranean and Saranda for the night.
Hotel Brilanti (or similar)
As we leave Saranda, we can look forward to another scenic coastal drive (three hours) along the Albanian Riviera, before winding over the 1,000-metre-high pass at Llogora as we travel to the national park, which goes by the same name. Along our route we pass terraces planted with citrus groves and olive trees and enjoy the views over the mountains, sea and forest.
We stop at Ali Pasha Fortress, a castle on a small peninsula within Palermo Bay with stunning views over the turquoise coastal waters. Although small, the walls of the triangular fort are well preserved, along with some cannons found here. We'll stop for lunch along the beach at Himara and for a well needed refreshing swim in the clear waters during the summer months.
Upon reaching Llogora National Park, we will have time for an optional hike in the mountains with many attractive views along the way. Tonight, we'll stay at hotel nestled amongst the pine trees of this tranquil national park.
Hotel Alpin (or similar)
This morning, en route to Apollonia. we stop at Vlora where we visit Flag Square and the Muradi Mosque.
From here, we continue our drive to Apollonia. Founded in 585 BC and dedicated to the god Apollo, the city achieved fame and wealth before being incorporated into the Roman Empire to become Caesar's stronghold during the civil war with Pompey. The most impressive feature of the site is the bouleuterion - a facade with six Corinthian columns which are thought to date back to the 2nd century AD. Although much of the ancient site is yet to be excavated, with so few other visitors, it is possible to imagine a time when the site supported 55,000 men and Octavian (later to become Emperor Augustus) was one of its students.
We continue our drive to Berat where we spend the night.
Hotel Mangalemi (or similar)
Situated over a gorge next to the Osumi River and in the shadow of Mount Tomori, Berat's white buildings sprawl up the hillside towards the fortress. New construction is strictly regulated in order to maintain the city's unique character in its UNESCO listed historical centre. Exploring on foot this morning, we head up to the fortress and see the painted icons and frescoes in the Church of Saint Mary, one of the seven churches within the citadel walls. We will also visit the oldest mosque in Albania, the Red Mosque, and the Onufri Icon Museum.
We drive on to Durresi which is one of Albania's main ports. Originally founded in 627 BC by the Greeks and then called Epidamnos, the city was later plundered and conquered by the Illyrians, Romans, Normans, Venetians and Serbs, which resulted in the many reminders we can see as we wander around the city today of its long and varied history. For example, we will stop off at the Roman Amphitheatre, which is not far from the modern city's main square. We will also visit the Archaeological Museum before we depart and drive to Kruja where we spend the last night of our trip.
Hotel Panorama (or similar)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Kruja.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Kruja at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive an airport transfer today, you need to depart from Tirana International Airport (TIA), which is about 40 minutes' drive.
Depending on the time of your flight or if you are extending your stay by a night then you may have some free time today to explore Kruja, perhaps to visit the fortress, which is a place of pilgrimage and inspiration for Albanians, the nearby bazaar or the Ethnographic Museum.
Albania has a mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers (ranging from 9 - 11 hours of sunshine a day in Tirana). Temperatures can reach up to 40°C in July. October to April is much cooler and can be wet. Albania is a mountainous country and the high peaks are snow-capped all year with seasonal weather patterns in the mountains that can be unpredictable.
2 Pin Round
Islam, Albanian Orthodox, Roman Catholic
Albanian, Greek, Vlach, Romani, Slavic dialects
A raincoat is essential at all times of year in case of the odd shower. For departures in early spring and autumn it can be colder in the mountains, so bring a warm jacket and pack layers. You should dress with respect in the rural villages so bring some long trousers and ensure your shoulders are covered when entering churches. Don't forget your swimming costume and a towel for taking a dip in the sea or hot springs.
There are a number of walks on this trip, so we recommend taking lightweight walking or trail boots and comfortable shoes or sandals for visiting the sites and towns.
One main piece of baggage and a daypack. Remember you are expected to carry your own luggage so don't overload yourself. Please bear in mind there are lots of stairs in Albania and porterage isn't normally available in the hotels.
Take a water bottle, insect repellent, sun hat, sun glasses and sun cream. If you are travelling in the early spring or autumn then you might want to bring gloves, a scarf and a hat for when you are in the mountains. A torch will be useful for the evenings as some areas are not well lit and also for viewing the frescoes in dimly lit churches. You may also wish to take walking poles, as some of the walks are over uneven terrain and cobble stones can be slippery underfoot. Most importantly don't forget your camera.
On this tour, you will be staying in properties chosen for their location offering a warm welcome and a good standard of accommodation. The accommodation listed above are the ones most frequently used for this trip, however on some departures, alternative accommodation of a similar standard may be used and the facilities may differ from the details shown here. Please note that hotel's breakfasts in Albania are generally very basic and simple consisting of some cold items generally with a few hot items as well and sometimes yoghurt and fresh fruits.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Albania Visas are not required by UK, Australian, New Zealand, US and Canadian citizens. Macedonia: Visas are not required by UK, Australian, New Zealand, US and Canadian citizens. Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office.
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
We recommend protection against hepatitis A, typhoid, polio and tetanus. Rabies vaccination is recommended by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office due to the large number of stray dogs in Albania. You should seek further advice from your travel clinic. Tick-borne encephalitis is recommended by some medical sources if travelling in certain areas of Eastern Europe, at specific times of the year. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.