Tourism in Albania
The bulk of tourists coming to Albania is made up of Albanians coming from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and expats from Greece, and Italy. These prefer mostly beach tourism, while rural tourism is slowly gaining popularity. Foreign tourists mostly come from Eastern Europe, particularly from Poland, and the Czech Republic, and also from Western Europe such as Germany, Italy, France, and Scandinavian countries. They tend to visit alpine settings though beach tourism is also practiced. Backpackers are common and prefer resting at the many hostels in Tirana, or camping in the countryside or along the coast. Organized groups mainly visit the numerous archaeological sites and historic towns. A growing trend has become rafting in the many canions, cycling, hiking in the mountains, or cross-country off-road touring in the countryside. The latter can also be explored through the adventurous Albanian railway system. Recently, car rental agencies and information centers have opened branches in Tirana International Airport, in the capital and other towns. Dental tourism has become popular as local dentists offer Western standards with much lower prices. Local delicious cuisine can be tasted at traditional Albanian restaurants located near tourist attractions and scenic spots throughout the country.
However, tourism is hampered by local management issues such as poor road and public utilities infrastructure, unregulated waste disposal, illegal construction and hunting, uncertain land ownership, and an unqualified hospitality sector. Recently, some coastal, and mountainous roads have been reconstructed, while the local private sector and foreign donors are heavily investing in accommodation and renovations at historical sites. Albania has been dubbed the "New Mediterranean Love".
Entry requirementsCitizens of the following countries do not require visas to enter: All 27 EU members, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chili, Croatia, Vatican, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Malaysia, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, United States of America, and Ukraine.
HistoryAlbania has been visited by a number of important chroniclers, including Evliya Çelebi, Lord Byron, Edith Durham, Rose Wilder Lane, and Edward Lear. Tourism in Albania was officially established with the creation of the Royal Motor Tourist Club serving business travelers in King Zogs era. At the same time, the period saw the publication of promotional pamphlets and the construction of beach cabins in Durres by Italian engineers. Following the establishment of communism in 1945, foreign tourists came only from the Eastern block and were accommodated at the foreigners-only Adriatik Hotel in Durres. Following the break with the USSR, the regime encouraged Chinese tourists to visit Albania. Afterwards, foreign tourism was outlawed and all foreign tourists were banned from entering Albania. However in the 1980s, Western tourists were allowed to visit Albania as part of Marxist-Leninist organizations and were allowed to only visit historic sites. Upon arrival, some of them underwent shaving by local authorities. In fact, beards and long hair in men were banned in Albania as signs of degenerated bourgeoisie manners.
With a growing and stable working class, the state allowed the construction of additional hotels and beach cabinbs in tourist areas. By communist law, all Albanians were allowed to rest for 15 days per annum at the state owned Rest Houses (Shtepi Pushimi) usually located along the seaside. Every year, Albanians had to choose between going to the seaside or the mountain areas interchangeably. Holidays were very cheap as expenses only equalled 1/5 of the monthly salary. The latter rested at heavily guarded secluded areas mainly in Golem Beach south of Durres, Drilon Swans Park east of Pogradec, in village areas, and along the Albanian Riviera. Youth camps were also established and a tourist boat called Punetori (the Worker) was constructed. The population used heavily rail transport as private car ownership was forbidden by law.
Since the fall of communism, visiting restrictions greatly eased while the tourism sector experienced a spontaneous and uncontrolled construction spree. The 1997 unrest was a major blow as it contributed to the negative image of Albania as a lawless and unsafe country. In the 2000s, important roadways were reconstructed while illegal/spontaneous construction continued in some popular areas. Lately, domestic tourists and businessmen have started to rediscover forgotten parts of Albania. A significant watershed moment for the redevelopment of tourism was the publication of several promotional videos on major global news channels and the writing of promotional articles in important international newspapers. In 2010, tourism in Albania had the greatest increase in the world with a 42% growth.
Significant progress is being made particularly in ecotourism. Coastal-bound roads have been reconstructed, while private businesses have heavily invested in acceptable accommodation and in keeping clean the surrounding environment. A successful example of a private sector initiative is the 40 Guesthouses Initiative in the Albanian Alps. Locals with aid from foreign donors have organized in turning their inns into accommodation enmities for ecotourism. Once a deprived area, it became a leading part of a self sustainable project providing much needed income to locals. As part of UNESCO membership, Albanian sites are being awarded funds for the reconstruction of important landmarks. The World Bank and other donors finance regional master plans and public utilities infrastructure projects. In the professionalism aspect, the European University for Tourism (EUFT) opened in Tirana to better train hospitality sector personnel. International hotel chains are established in Tirana, while trans-border travel agencies organize day trips from Corfu to Sarandë and nearby Butrint. Other tour operators are including Albania as part of their Balkan region packages. Club Med has proposed a development between Vlorë and Sarandë at Kakome Bay.
Towns and archaeological sitesStemming from a rich history of conquests, Albania holds a mix of interesting artifacts. The most visited towns are:
- A thousand and one window town of Berat
- Old port city of Durrës (Dyrrhachium)
- Stone city of Gjirokastër
- Krujë, the balcony over the Adriatic sea
- Shkodër, the city that is home, among others to the Rozafa Castle
- Tirana, the capital with a vibrant nightlife
- Beach city of Vlorë (the city of olives and grapes)
- Lezha, the historic diplomatic capital of Albania
- Poet's city of Pogradec
- Honeymooners' city of Sarandë
- Year round festive city of Korcë
Natural attractionsAlbania is known for its breathtaking landscape. Some increasingly popular features include:
- Albanian Riviera, the coastal area stretching from Vlore to Saranda along the Ionian Sea. The whole coastline of Albania stretches over 450 km.
- Albanian Alps, part of the Prokletije or Accursed Mountains range in extreme Northern Albania where the highest mountain peak of the range is located. Seventy percent of the country's terrain is mountainous.
- Naturally occurring phenomenon of the Blue Eye Spring near Sarande in extreme Southern Albania
- Lake Komani Ferry, a unique journey amidst spectacular mountain views in Northern Albania
- The 20 km long Osum Canyon, the largest in Albania located near Corovode in Skrapar District
- Coastal areas of Lalzi Bay north of Durrës near Rodon Cape, and General's Beach near Kavaje
- Curative beaches of coastal Velipoja in Ada Bojana near the Montenegrin border, and Shengjin near Lezhe.
- Kune-Vain Lagoon near Lezhe and Karavasta Lagoon near Divjake along the Adriatic Sea
Village areasAlbania is a rural and agricultural oriented country. The main emerging agritourism destinations are:
- Historic Moscopole, and alpine Dardhë, Vithkuq, and Boboshticë villages near Korcë
- Albanian stretch of Ohrid Lake in Hudenisht stretching from Qafë Thanë/Kjafasan to Pogradec
- Area of Përmet District in southeastern Albania, and Libohovë village near Gjirokastër
- Fishing village of Shiroka along Shkodër Lake
- Drilon Swans Park east of Pogradec
- Emerging agritourism villages of Gjinar near Elbasan, Rovje in Gramsh District, and Shishtavec in Kukes County
- Picturesque areas of Fushe-Kuqe and Shenkoll near the Kune-Vain-Tale Lagoon Area of Lezhe District
- Suburban area along Rruga e Elbasanit, and panoramic region of Mount Dajt both in the outskirts of Tirana
Panoramic routesDue to the varying geographic elevation, Albania features endless panoramic routes with the main being:
- Vlora-Saranda route in Southwestern Albania along the Albanian Riviera starting from coastal Vlore into Llogara Pass and along the Ceraunian Mountains
- Rreshen-Kalimash motorway along the Fan River Valley in Northern Albania
- SH83 Jergucat-Delvine route overlooking the Dropulli Plain in Southern Albania
- Elbasan-Pogradec route along the Shkumbin River valley and Ohrid Lake
- Koplik-Theth and Koplik-Vermosh in the Albanian Alps overlooking steep cliffs, challenging mountain peaks, and crystal clear rivers and waterfalls
Festivals and national heritageThe Albanian culture is known for its rich folklore and unique traditions showcased in various forms:
- Gjirokaster National Folklore Festival is held every 5 years in Gjirokaster (last held in September 2009)
- Lock-in Tower of Theth as an artifact of the bloodfeud tradition
- National Historic Museum in Tirana, Skanderbeg Museum in Kruja, Skanderbeg's Tomb in Lezha, and the many Ethnographic Museums scattered in various cities
- Albanian traditional wedding celebrations mostly take place in the summer time and can be observed at historic sites as well. Moreover, some conservative older men and women mainly from the North still wear traditional clothing in their daily lives. Instead, older women from the South usually wear all black outfits.
- Evening walkabouts are a traditional ritual usually in the summer months as locals promenade along the town squares or seaside promenades to relax after tiring hot summer days. Cafes are usually full mainly with retirees and students, while local parks with families. In addition, Tirana enjoys a very active nightlife where luxury cars and charming women invade the streets and bars of the former politburo residence area known as Blloku. The afternoon Siesta is observed as some shops close down for a few hours after midday.
- There is a strict code of conduct when meeting with Albanians.
- Throughout the year, many regions organize local exhibitions and festivals of regional crafts and delicacies.
UNESCO World Heritage SitesAlbania is home to three World Heritage Sites:
- Butrint, an ancient Greek and Roman city
- Gjirokastër, a well-preserved Ottoman medieval town
- Berat, the 'town of a thousand and one windows'
Issues affecting tourismThe main problem to a viable tourism industry is the lack of a clear strategy. By far, tourism is not seen as the main economic industry of the country. Some problematic issues include spatial planning such as illegal construction, unregulated waste disposal, poor road and utilities infrastructure, illegal logging and hunting, and unclear land ownership. On the education aspect, there lacks a clear accommodation classification system and qualified hospitality personnel. The private sector has taken some tasks from the local government as the latter has proven ineffective in tackling most of the above problems, while foreign institutions are financing public infrastructure and town planning projects.
Construction, infrastructure, and waste managementIllegal construction is ruining some popular areas while poor road and public utilities' infrastructure greatly hamper tourism. Electrical power outages are still common, while water supply in some areas is intermittent. New water supply systems are being constructed at tourist areas through money financed by foreign banks. The consumption of bottled water instead of tap water is recommended. In recent years, most main roads have been undergoing reconstruction thus further adding to delays but greatly improving the road system. Independent bus and minibus (furgon) operators provide inexpensive transport between most large communities, but schedules and prices are not fixed. Train service is also limited and sporadic.
Uncontrolled waste disposal is a problem mostly visible along major roadways and some coastal stretches in the countryside, as waste is burned into the atmosphere or dumped along major rivers to return back to the coast. Volunteers' groups have taken the initiative to clean the affected areas as local authorities are ineffective and powerless. A number of landfills have been constructed recently while some towns have started to implement recycling programs. The production of cement and lime takes place near the touristic town of Kruja, while air pollution from car exhaust mostly affects Tirana. Furthermore, illegal hunting in the country's many lagoons has dramatically reduced rare bird species. Mosquito disinfection campaigns along former swamps have long been halted.
Even though 70% of the country is mountainous, Albania is the only country in Europe where ski lifts and mountain rescue structures do not exist. However, a local ski resort opened recently the first ski tow in Albania. International beach resort chains are not present in the country as of yet, though some have expressed interest while others, like Lalzit Bay Resort and Spa have begun construction work along the Adriatic coast north of Durres.
Since 2006, the Albanian government has imposed a moratorium on all domestically owned, motor-powered boats on all Albanian lakes, rivers, and seas to curb organized crime. This has acted as a halting factor to the domestic sailing and tourism industry. However, foreign and government owned boats, fishing boats, and jet boats are exempted from the moratorium. For sailing information, visit.
- Transport in Albania, including road construction updates
- Geography of Albania
- List of national parks of Albania, including archaeological and marine ones
- List of World Heritage Sites in Albania
- List of castles in Albania
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- Albania travel guide from Wikitravel
- Albanian Tourism Official Portal
- Albania at In Your Pocket City Guide
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- Albania From the Air Photo Album by paraglider Alket Islami
- Interactive Travel Map of Albania