The roads are awful, the buildings are dilapidated, there are donkeys and carts strewn around everywhere and Tirana, as a capital, appears to be falling apart. Albania has has a chequered past with their 20th century alignments first to the USSR, then later to Mao’s China, then their own communist party took over, and to cut a long story short people starved to death, left the country in their millions and it’s never fully recovered.
It was never a dream of mine to visit Albania but coming from Greece and heading to Montenegro and Croatia, it was in the way, so off I went – straight to it’s Capital, Tirana. I had recently been to Kosovo (Albania’s ‘little brother’) so I was expecting something pretty similar and, to be fair, I wasn’t wrong.
Tirana isn’t gonna win any awards for the Balkins most aesthetic city, that much I can guarantee but in a way it’s nice to be off the beaten track again, I feel like I’m really traveling again. The Greek islands were magical, and the Croation ones promise to be too but I was sharing them with 1 million Aussies and 1 million Russians so I’m not exactly break the mould, with Albania it’s different. This place is devoid of tourists and it’s all the better experience for it.
With that little history lesson over, I thought I’d show you guys the ‘highlights’ of Tirana, although I think it’s fair to say that Tirana is most certainly a one-day city, you won’t wanna be here any longer than that! With that said, here are the top5 things to see in Tirana:
1) Skanderbeg Square:
The centre of Tirana, and the country, Skanderberg square play host to the huge equestrian statue of Skanderberg (Albani’s national hero). The square isn’t that pretty actually, but it’s been the scene of the political movements for decades so that alone means it’s worth a visit.
This is a surreal sight. A rundown, communist-looking concrete ‘pyramid’ on the main strecth of the city. It’s previously been a museum, a nightclub, a café and now it’s just existing, slowly decaying, covered in graffiti and the Government is lobbying for its destruction. Like I say, very surreal.
3) National History Museum:
I love to learn about the history of the country I’m visiting, and I’m particularly interested in the Balkan states. However, the museum lacks almost any English whatsoever, so while it holds some pretty awesome WWII weaponry and some poignant propaganda it’s pretty fair to say I didn’t learn anything here.
4) Era Restaurant:
Im clutching at straws for a fourth sight to add, so I thought I do you guys a huge favour and tell you how to spend an hour or two of your time in the city – eat lunch (and/or) dinner at Era restaurant, it’s near the pyramid on Rr Ismail Qemali street and it’s tip top. 3 courses of delicious local or Italian food for around $10. Perfect.
5) Mount Dajti:
For views of all of Tirana you can take the cable car to the summIt of Mount Dajti ($5). With an altitude of 1600m, t’s a great way to escape the heat too
I could lie to you about the orthodox churches, the mother Theresa statue or the ‘art’ gallery but they’re all so mediocre that you’d be wasting your time! Forget the hyperbole in your lonely planet or wikitravel, this is one place which doesn’t live up to the hype. Tirana is quite simply nothing special, hit up the top 3 sights, eat a feast at the restaurant and plot your escape, either north to Montenegro or south to their two UNESCO world heritage sites – Berat and Gjirokastra.