Albania is Europe’s enigma. Closed to travellers for much of the 20th century, it sat between Montenegro and Greece like a silent keeps-themselves-to-themselves neighbour. But since flinging open its doors in the early nineties, it has delivered one surprise after another. From jumbled mountains and secluded Ionian bays to bucolic towns and moreish sufllaqë – more on that later – here’s our pick of the best things to do in Albania.

Relax Along the Ionian Coast

Greece and Italy aren’t the only countries to enjoy slices of the Ionian Coast, Albania does too. And there’s a good chance, if you time it right, you’ll have it all to yourself. Home to just under 300 miles of warm Mediterranean coastline, you can choose between lively resort towns like Saranda, which overlooks the cypress-studded Corfu, or secluded wild beaches like Porto Novo Bay. Located on the coast of Zvernec, its steep cliffs, turquoise waters and few people make it the perfect spot for anyone after an afternoon of tranquillity.

Try Traditional Albanian Food

You probably don’t associate Albania with its food. But after a holiday to the enigmatic land, we guarantee you will. Influences of Slavic, Italian and Turkish cuisines are peppered throughout its dishes, while lamb takes centre stage. From qebab (kebabs) and qoftë (grilled lamb rissoles), to tavë kosi, Albania’s national dish of lamb and rice baked with yoghurt and eggs, Albania sure knows how to take a lamb dish and run with it. Not a meat eater though? No problem. Albania’s coastal regions are well-known for their generous salads and fresh seafood dishes. And snacks are an integral part of an Albanian diet. Whether it be burek (pastry filled with cheese, meat or spinach) or sufllaqë (kebab meat and french fries stuffed in flatbread), a morning cooking class or guided tour around Tirana’s markets will make you an Albanian foodie in no time.

Hike into Mount Dajti National Park

Albania has a network of over 14 national parks and eight archaeological parks. So, naturally, when looking for things to do in Albania, one (at least) should top the list. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from the country’s capital Tirana, Mount Dajti National Park is its calming antidote. Ride the sky-high cable car, the Dajti Express, to the top of the mountain, stop for a couple of bureks at pretty picnic spots and head into the mountainside’s beech forests for a scenic stretch of the legs. There’s also the opportunity for a sit-down lamb roast at its cable-car restaurant.

Hunker in a Bunker

As you wander round Albania’s cities, towns and countryside, one of the first things that’ll strike you are the grey domes that pockmark them (around 750,000). A concrete reminder of the country’s communist regime, they were the brainchild of Enver Hoxha (a former partisan who ruled post-war Albania for a brutal and surreal 40 years) in the event of a Cold War invasion. While they were never really put to the test, they did put the Albanian sense of gjithmone gati (always ready to go) to good practice. Now, they are one of the best things to do in Albania. Visit Tirana’s 106-room shelter, known as Bunk’Art, for the historical museum and art space that now reside in it; or take a trip to the most remote of them all, Bilisht, in south-eastern Albania, close to the border with Greece.

Be Tourists in Berat

You’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve accidentally stumbled into southern Italy when you enter Berat. From its cliffside covered in white Ottoman houses to the crumbling castle that crowns it, Berat has no trouble in the easy-going charm department. Walk along cobblestoned paths to the Kalaja (said crumbling castle), catch your breath in Bogove Waterfall’s turquoise yet icy waters, and get a lesson in local history at the town’s countless mosques and Orthodox churches. If you’d rather swap history for oenophilia, Cobo winery is just a town away. Experience local wine culture and enjoy the views of central Albania with a merlot in hand.

Contact one of our Albania specialists