24 Hours in Tirana

24 Hours in Tirana

When it comes to city breaks, Tirana is an unexpected gem. Perhaps a little rougher around the edges than some of the classic European short stays, the Albanian capital has a lively atmosphere to rival its troubled past. From reclaimed bunkers to Soviet-era architecture, there’s plenty of history here, but that doesn’t mean Tirana sits in the shadow of its former communist rule. These days, the city is awash with colourful street art, elegant watering holes and bustling markets. Ready for a visit? Here’s how we recommend spending 24 hours in Tirana… 


9am: Coffee at Cafe Botanica

Our 24 hours in Tirana is going to be busy, so you’ll want to fuel up on caffeine. Where better than at Cafe Botanica? The glamorous spot in the very heart of the city is a prime example of Tirana’s metropolitan vibe. Grab a seat on the terrace to indulge in some people watching and peruse the sweets menu (trust us, the cakes are divine). The seasonal menu focuses on local produce and so changes frequently but the dishes never fail to surprise. 


10am: Uncover History at Skanderbeg Square

Any tour of Albania’s capital should start in Skanderbeg Square, the city’s main square. Here, you’re surrounded by Tirana’s most important buildings and must-see sights from the Et’hem Bej Mosque to the National Library. You’ll find the square’s namesake here, too – the Skanderbeg Statue was built in honour of Albania’s national hero who fought to resist Ottoman takeover. Diving deeper into the city’s history, pass by the National Historic Museum to see the mosaic mural that takes over one half of the building and depicts Albania’s victory over fascism. Head towards the river and cross over to the Pyramid of Tirana, an architectural feat that is woven into the city’s history, having been used as NATO headquarters during the war in Kosovo. 


11am: Cross the Lana River

Continue down the Lana River (and spot some bold street art along the way) to reach the Ura e Tabakeve bridge. Also known as Tanners’ Bridge, this simple stone footbridge was built in the 19th century and is a prime example of Ottoman-era architecture. 


11.30am: Work up an Appetite at Pazari i Ri

History lesson done, head to the New Bazaar (or Pazari i Ri) area of town. Named so for its market stalls, this neighbourhood is alive with local life and more than 300 farmers from surrounding areas come here to sell their produce at the busy market. Take in the colourful stalls of fresh vegetables, spices and souvenirs and if you’re hungry, pick up a gofte zgare – a traditional twist on a hamburger patty – to tide you over. The market is also a good place to grab a bottle of local raki, traditional fruit liquor, to take home. 


12.30pm Get a Flavour for Tradition at Oda

For traditional Albanian food, head to Oda. The famous restaurant is smaller than its reputation so be prepared for a short wait (the food is worth it, we promise). Inside, everything is traditional, from the rustic decor to the warm welcome given by the servers. Order the fërgesë (cottage cheese with peppers), patëllxhanë te mbushur (eggplants cooked with spices) or kukurec (lamb entrails) to get a real taste of local, homecooked cuisine. 


2pm: Coffee at Komiteti Kafe Muzeum

There’s still so much left to see during your 24 hours in Tirana, so you might want to make another quick coffee stop. Get your refuel with a side of history at Komiteti Kafe Muzeum, a cafe-museum hybrid. Every inch of the space is adorned with a relic from Tirana’s past, be it a TV set or a porcelain plate. There are 25 varieties of raki to choose from at the bar, too, if you’re in need of something stronger to kickstart your afternoon. 


2.30pm: Go Back in Time at Bunk’Art 1

Bunk’Art 1 is one of two bunkers-come-galleries in Tirana. Built in the 1970s as a fallout shelter for dictator Enver Hoxha, it offers a look at Communist-era Albania. Spread over several underground levels, the museum incorporates exhibitions about Albanian’s history as well as space for contemporary art. Bunk’Art 2 can be found in the centre of town if you want more. 


5pm: Hop on a Cable Car to Mount Dajti

Just near Bunk’Art 1 is the Dajti Ekspres cable car, which takes you 3,600ft above sea level in just 15 minutes. From the viewing point in Dajti Mountain National Park, you can see right across the surrounding farmland and get a bird's eye view of the bunkers. 


7pm: Finish up with Dinner and Drinks in Blloku

Once off limits to everyone but the communist elite, locals have reclaimed the neighbourhood of Blloku and it’s now the hottest area of town come nightfall. Head here for dinner at Otium, another elegant restaurant that uses only locally-sourced ingredients. Then, rub shoulders with locals at the vibrant bars that line the lively streets. For creative cocktails and funk, head to Nouvelle Vague – the menu serves up completely original (and yummy) tipples like the Rum si Unë, a potent rum concoction. For live music, drop by Radio. The retro-inspired bar plays host to DJs and an impressive craft beer selection. By the time your 24 hours in Tirana draws to a close, you’ll be able to pronounce gëzuar (tip: geh-zoo-ar, meaning cheers) like a local.