Tirana, Albania by far Europe’s quirkiest capital city, has changed at breakneck speed since 2001. The city centre would be completely unrecognisable to someone beamed up from the early 1990s; buildings and skyscrapers in various stages of lingering construction or early decay pepper the city, with more planned – and there’s even a bike rental scheme nowadays.
Foreign visitors can look forward to a vibrant restaurant scene with several new high-quality options. Tirana has also recently been enriched with several excellent boutique hotels, while accommodation prices on the whole have not risen much. The renovated National Art Gallery, the new Postblloku memorial on the main boulevard (depicted on the front cover) and the spruced-up Grand Park are all additional reasons to visit Tirana.
Getting to Albania has never been this easy, with affordable links over land, sea and air.
A brief history of Tirana…
Tirana was founded in the early 17th century. In 1920 it succeeded Durres as the capital of Albania.
In spite of the fact that it is a relatively new city and recently released from a dictator’s iron-grip, Tirana has an interesting heritage with lots of castles and monuments which are certainly worth a visit.
Top things to see and do in the centre of Tirana:
Clock Tower & Et’hem Beu Mosque
This is the heart of the city and proudly boasts a statue of Albania’s famous son Gjergj Kastriot Skandebeu. The square has recently been remodernised and is nicely landscaped with several interesting buildings around it.
- Opera – the home of Albania’s cultural home showing national and international productions in song and dance.
- National Museum – the biggest and the most important museum in Albania showing many ancient artefacts from the region
- Mosque – the central mosque is known as Mosque of Et’hem Beu is an old mosque in the center of the city.
- Clock Tower – behind the mosque is the tall clock tower, which you can climb and use to get your bearings. Indeed, it’s quite peaceful up there watching the square.
- Taiwan – grab a coffee or pizza and watch the world go by. Or you can gamble your holiday money away in the casino!
- The Block- is Tirana’s most stylish area – used under the Communist regime to give friends and families of the ruling party a place to relax away from the realities of life under Envers Hoxha. It’s now the most fashionable area where you can find plenty of shops, hundreds of cafes and restaurants and numerous clubs and pubs with a thriving nightlife during the weekends
- Boulevard Deshmoret e Kombit – one of Tirana’s great boulevards built by the Italians. This wide boulevard leads up to Italy Square and you can get some lovely views all the way down to Skanderbeg Square. In the Italian square you can see a statue of Mother Teresa and aso the Sheraton Hotel.
- The Pyramid – The pyramid was built during communism times with white-marble walls. Now covered in grafffiti, the last governement decided to destroy the relic most commonly associated with Enver Hoxha. The Bell of Peace is a more recent memorial to the country’s post-communist years, made from bullet cases collected by Albanian children.
- Albanian Parliament – see where Albania’s parliament sit under Prime Miniser Sali Berisha.
- The National Stadium “Qemal Stafa” – Albanians love football. It’s the biggist stadium in Albania and will be soon under reconstruction to increase capacity and modernise the terraces.
- Skytower – get some great views of Tirana and the surroundng mountains from Skytower located in the block area. There’s a cafe at the top which rotates 360 degrees so you get to see everything without moving from your seat.
- Tirana’s “Central Park” – just a few minutes walk from the center, you have the chance to walk through the enormous trees, enjoy the fresh air, the shade and the amazing views of Tirana’s lake.
- If you fancy a trip out of the centre, you can choose to spend more time visiting other destinations near Tirana including Petrela Castel, Dajti Mountain or the trade center .