Albania Travel Guide
Relatively new to tourism, Albania is a small country that makes up the Balkans peninsula. It boasts spectacular natural beauty from snow-capped mountains to perfect Mediterranean-like beaches. It’s capital, Tirana, is home to a huge amount of cultural highlights including Skanderbeg Square, named after the Albanian hero who led the rebellion against the Ottoman empire. While Albania has had a fascinating and often turbulent history, the country has transformed into vibrant place to explore.
The monetary unit in Albania is the lekë (ALL). All major currencies can be exchanged at banks and bureaux de change. Currency markets operate on the street in front of the main post office or bank in most towns, a perfectly legal way to exchange your money and avoid bank commission. You will not be able to exchange lekë outside of Albania so make sure you exchange before you leave.
While most rural towns still deal exclusively in cash, supermarkets in cities, the better bookstores and the better boutique stores will generally accept credit or debit cards. The most widely accepted credit cards are VISA, MasterCard, and Diner’s Club. Most banks will give cash advances on credit cards with a passport. There are ATMs in most towns which you can use to withdraw cash from most international Visa and MasterCard credit or debit cards. Traveler’s cheques can be changed in banks in most larger towns. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers are advised to take traveler’s cheques in US dollars or Euros. The main banks in Albania who serve tourists are Raiffeisen Bank, American Bank of Albania, Pro Credit Bank and Tirana Bank.
Major Cities and Towns in Albania
Albania’s main city is its capital, Tirana. It is home to a huge amount of cultural sights and is bursting with colour. It has undergone a huge transformation since the 1990s, and you can now enjoy lively bars and,fascinating museums plus galleries and relics from its Ottoman, Communist and Italian past.
Another Albanian gem is the small town of Berat, situated in the middle of Albania. Nestled on the mountainside this town has been listed as a UNESCO Heritage site since 2008. White picturesque Ottoman houses line the hillside, giving it the nickname “the town of a thousand windows.” One of its major highlights is the ruins of the original castle built here.
Electricity supply in Albania is 230 volts and the most common plug socket is for two round-prong plugs such as that used in Europe.If in doubt, take a universal adaptor to cover your bases especially if you are travelling on a multi-country tour.
Etiquette and Culture
Albania is a largely Muslim country, but it is also made up of a number of different minority groups including Bulgarians, Greek, Romanian and Macedonian. Albanians are extremely hospitable and traditional cultures honour guests. Therefore they are welcoming and smiling towards tourists, especially as tourism is still a relatively new concept. Sometimes body language may be different than what you may be used to. Shaking the head means ‘yes’ whilst a nod means ‘no’.
Albania is bordered by Montenegro to the north, Kosovo to the northeast, Macedonia to the east and Greece to the southeast. It also has a coast on the Adriatic Sea and Ionian Sea. About 70% of the country is mountainous and over a third of the territory is forested.
The country known to us as the Republic of Albania is known locally as Shqipëria. The heritage of Albanians can be traced back to prehistoric times, when the area was ruled by Illyrian tribes. The country was later taken over by Greeks, followed by Romans who occupied the land from 168 BC and incorporated it into the Roman Empire. Albania became part of the Byzantine Empire when the Roman Empire divided into east and west in 395 AD. During the 14th century AD the territory was turned over to the Ottoman Turks, who ruled throughout the medieval era into the Middle Ages subduing all resistance in the Balkan region, including the small strip of Albanian coastline which was famously crushed after staging a fierce but futile battle against the occupiers in the 15th century. Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912 after five hundred years of domination, but fell to Italian rule under Mussolini in 1939. Communist partisans later liberated Albania from Italian control and in 1941 Enver Hoxha became leader of the ruling Albanian Communist Party, a position he held until his death in 1985. Albania was free of German control in 1944 and then allied itself with the USSR until 1960, followed by China until 1978. In the early 1990s, Albania ended 46 years of Communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. Albania is a member of the United Nations, NATO, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, World Trade Organisation, and is a potential candidate for EU accession and formally applied for membership in 2009.