Unlike the previous cities and countries we have visited, Ben and I had no preconceptions about Tirana or Albania itself. We didn’t know the food we would eat, the language we would (poorly attempt) to speak, the scenery we would see, and didn’t even know about the long intricate history Albania possessed.
We left Athens on the 18th of February and headed to the beautiful city of Tirana, Albania where we swapped sun for…more sun! Our plane landed in the evening so we had TREMENDOUS fun navigating the roads of Tirana to get to our apartment in a city where road rules definitely don’t exist!
Tirana is a city full of renewed energy, colourful buildings, and a strong sense of community. Our apartment was absolutely fantastic and situated in a new-build block alongside the Pazari i Ri, also known as the New Bazaar, which one of the oldest areas of the city and hosts bustling markets, world restaurants, and fresh local groceries.
Stepping into a Communist Past
Now, I mentioned earlier than Ben and I felt completely unprepared for the history of Albania as unlike British, Russian and German history, we didn’t learn about it at school. It was therefore a shocking and not to mention EYEOPENING experience, learning about Albania’s communist past whilst having the privilege to walk the streets where so much anguish and pain took place.
Tirana have done and continue to do their upmost to present forward a city of beautiful colours to both residents and outsiders. Drab, monochrome buildings have been replaced with reds, yellows and pinks in an attempt to mask the dreadful past which occurred not so long ago.
Ben and I didn’t realise that Albania was actually only released from the clutches of its communist rule in 1992. Evidence of the communist era is still evident across the city of Tirana where residents show wariness to tourists and foreigners due to not being used to their beloved city being shut off from the outside world for so long.
One of the main things Ben wanted to do during our two weeks in Tirana was to visit a Bunk’Art museum known as Bunk’Art2. These are a series of museums that teach you about the intricacies of Albanian communist rule, set out in real bunkers dotted across the city. Since 1967, Albania has produced over a whopping 750,000 communist bunkers built under the orders of Enver Hoxha who was Albania’s communist leader from the end of World War Two, up until his death in 1985. These bunkers are spread out across the country and some have since been converted to cafés, residential accommodation, and shelters.
The Bunk’Art2 museum was a step into history Ben and I will never forget. It was equal parts terrifying and informative and is an experience we both would highly recommend if you get the opportunity to visit Tirana.
Snow, Cable Cars and Mountain-Top Mini Golf
From deep down in the bunkers to high up in the mountains, Ben and I truly experienced the highs and lows of Tirana! We were recommended this trip by both our Airbnb host and also through our research into Tirana itself.
Tirana is situated just 25km east of Mount Dajti National Park, an area of beautiful views across the city and the most accessible mountain in all of Albania, where residents of the country visit to devour a spit-roast lamb lunch before popping back on the 15-minute cable car to head back into the city.
On top of Mount Dajti there is a restaurant, visitor centre, horse-riding centre, huge chicken coop, adventure park, and mini-golf course. Yes, they are a mix-match of activities, and no we didn’t try them all. However, we did enjoy a traditional Albanian lunch and round of mini-golf in the snow!
I don’t know why I was shocked to see snow after stepping off the cable car, but I was. It was very warm and sunny in the city, around 20 degrees Celsius, despite it being the middle of February! Once we arrived at the top of the mountain, I actually reached down to feel the snow to make sure it was real! We were definitely not dressed for our surroundings on the mountain, and I had turned up in thin leggings and trainers while families stepped off the cable car decked out in full snow and ski gear.
The top of Mount Dajti offered some stunning sunset views across the country and we managed to spend almost a full day at the top – something we were told was difficult to do due to there not being much up there, so we were surprised!
Ben and I would highly recommend a trip up Mount Dajti – even I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the 15-minute cable car ride up and ride down where I thought I would die MANY TIMES! Whether you are afraid of floating boxes in the sky or not, Mount Dajti should be a staple on everyone’s Tirana travel list!
So that is a wrap on Tirana…for now! We will definitely be revisiting Albania at some point in the future as there are still so many stunning places the country has to offer!
Next stop is beautiful Budapest! I have wanted to visit Hungary FOREVER, and was so grateful that we were able to fit it in before news of the world got worse!