Traditionally it may not be one of the first countries you would think of visiting, but Albania is becoming increasingly popular because of its interesting history, welcoming people, beautiful nature and still very reasonable prices. All that combined and topped off with the very alluring beaches, it is no wonder that Albania is also becoming a very sought after summer destination. In any case, whether you’re coming just for the beach or a more elaborate experience, the capital Tirana should definitely be on your list, even if just for a short stop – here are a few tips on what to do and see over a short visit.
1. Skanderbeg Square
All Tirana’s premier monuments can be seen at the Skanderbeg Square including the National History Museum, the Clock Tower and Et’hem Bey Mosque. Named after Albanian national hero George Castriot Skanderbeg who halted the advance of the Ottoman Empire into central Europe, the impressive square tells the story of the country. Where there was once a communist-era statue of Josef Stalin, there is now a monument to Skanderbeg dominating the large area of the square, the location of the most popular city celebrations like 100 years of Albanian Independence in 2012.
2. National History Museum
The best place to get some insight into the complex history of Tirana and Albania is most certainly the National History Museum. Organised by pavilions that each cover a different period of the history of the region, from ancient to contemporary times, the museum is an excellent starting point to explore the rich past of the area. The star exhibit is the Beauty of Durrës from the 4th century BC which is the museum’s pride and the most admired and treasured ancient mosaic in the country.
It is impossible to stay indifferent to this unbelievable sight that really sheds light on Albania’s recent past. The underground bunker now called Bunk’Art was constructed during the communist era for Tirana’s politicians and military high officials in case of nuclear war. The shelter is spread across over five stories, with over 100 different rooms. It is an astonishing architectural creation that now helps people come to terms with the difficult history and attracts tourists interested in communism and the Cold War era.
Completed a bit before the fall of communism in Albania, this now very controversial building was first meant to be a museum to Enver Hoxha, dictator who ruled the country from 1944 till 1985. Piramida is now the center of the debate on how to treat the period after the Second World War that was marked by the 45-year long isolation of the country. While some believe it should stay as a monument to the era, others want to see it torn down – in any case the building of Piramida is unique and charged with political, historical and cultural significance.
5. Ruga Murat Toptani
Taking a stroll through this lovely promenade between the Parliament Building and the National Art Gallery is especially beautiful during the summer when the plants and trees on each side are in their full beauty and give shade to the street. Named after the Toptani Family, one of the most powerful families in Tirana dating all the way back to the 1700s, the street also offers the view of the many city’s old fortifications as well as giving the full view of the life of the contemporary city.
While enjoying Tirana even for a short time, with its mixture of the modern buildings, those from the communist era and grand monuments standing side by side, don’t forget to also walk into one of the many traditional Albanian taverns and restaurants and enjoy some delicious Albanian food. Try Ferges, a tasty summer stew, or lamb-based tavë kosi, the favourite food of locals – only then you will round up your experience of this incredible city.