Hidden for many decades behind the Iron Curtain, Tirana was an unknown quantity for many years, and even after its totalitarian government crumbled in the 90’s, the infrastructure and the economy here were in such shambles that nobody but the most intrepid of travelers made the trip.
More than 20 years later, this city and the country it leads is finally starting to come into its own, as visitors seeking the authentic and affordable Europe of old are finding it here, and telling all their friends about it.
As such, it is vital that you get in now, before the pace of economic improvement transforms this place into the stylish metropolis that it will no doubt morph into in the decades ahead.
As the capital of Albania, Tirana is filled with institutions that help tell the story of this mysterious corner of the Balkans. Naturally, the best place to turn to begin learning about its past is at the National Historical Museum.
It is the largest facility of its kind in the country, with over 27,000 square meters of space for exhibits covering topics such as the Middle Ages, The Renaissance, war, Communism and Mother Teresa, who came from an Albanian background (despite being born and raised in Macedonia).
With artifacts from as far back as the Late Paleolithic Era, this attraction will take a fair bit of time for the history enthusiast to comb through, so be sure to budget your time appropriately before checking this place out.
While most associate the Europe to be a place where Christian religions dominate the spiritual landscape, many parts of the Balkans contain large pockets of adherents to Islam, with Albania having one of the larger populations in the region, with well over half the population belonging to the Sunni sect.
Et’hem Bey Mosque is this country’s most significant holy place for Muslims, as it managed to survive Albania’s communist era without having its murals defaced and destroyed. The frescoes within contain depiction of still-life art forms, which are exceptionally rare in Islamic art elsewhere in the world.
Next, head to Skanderbeg Square, which is widely considered by citizens of Tirana to be the central social gathering place in the city. Named after an Albanian hero (whose real name was George Kastrioti, but was known as Skanderbeg by the locals) that successfully resisted the expansion of the Ottomans in his lifetime (they ended up taking Albania in the end), this square contains a likeness of him on horseback, and is surrounded by museums, opera companies, and the national library.
If the cultural attractions that you have taken in thus far have begun to wear on you a bit, take a break by spending an afternoon at the Taiwan Complex, which is so named due to the resemblance of the site to the island of Taiwan from above.
Here, you can enjoy elaborate fountains while sipping an expertly prepared coffee, or you can head inside and try to throw a perfect game at the bowling alley. Several excellent restaurants are prepared to serve you some of the better meals in the city, while a nightclub located here is also one of the hottest places to drink and dance late into the night.
If you’d rather just get a great view of the surrounding city and get on with your day, then ascending Tirana’s Clock Tower is a quick and easy way of accomplishing this end. Standing 115 feet above the ground, it was the tallest building in Tirana at the time of its completion in the early 19th century, so if you’re fit enough to heft your body up its 90 step spiral staircase, you too can be the proud owner of a panoramic shot of the cityscape of Tirana from one its best vantage points.
If you’d like to get up even higher while communing with Mother Nature in the process, be sure to climb or take the cable car up nearby Mount Dajt instead. Covered with many fragrant pines, as well as oak and beech trees that often play host to nests for mountain eagles, there is plenty of opportunity to unwind and recover from the frenetic nature of the city below.
When you are ready, those with a long range lens will be able to capture sharp photos of Albania’s capital thousands of feet below without the having to endure its chaos.