The center of Albania : Krujë, Berat and Gjirokastër
Our time in the center of Albania was spent in different tempos. Just after Tirana, we slept a night in Krujë, then, went south to Berat where we spent another night. Last, after a few days on the Riviera, we visited Gjirokastër for a day.
In this article, we will explain to you what to do in these cool cities, the two last are listed at UNESCO world heritage, respectively since 2008 and 2005.
Krujë, a wonderful history escape near Tirana
We arrived there just 40 minutes after grabbing our rental car in Tirana.
Being so close to the capital, we really advice visiting Krujë, at least for a day trip. But better to sleep one night.
Situated in the mountains, with panoramic views, one facing Tirana, and the other going down all the way to the sea, this little mountain village has a lot to offer.
Spending the night there will let you enjoy an epic sunset and sunrise.
The next morning you will have a quiet time to enjoy the town before the tourist buses full of people arrive from Tirana around 10-11 am.
Lose yourself in the medieval old town and enjoy this moment out of time, discovering secret gates, gardens and 700 years old olive trees.
Definitely, a must-visit for everyon spending time in Albania.
We were invited by Emiliano’s room to stay in their super charming guest house, this alone was one of the highlights of our visit.
The hotel is the highest in the city, therefore, it has the best view of the castle which is just next door (the dining tables are literally on the ruins of it).
The food is as typical as it gets and most importantly, is cooked by Emiliano’s mother.
For 600 Lek per person you’ll get a vast degustation of Albanese food of the region.
Good luck finishing all that comes in the menu!
The view while eating is simply breathtaking.
To clarify, alcoholic beverages are not included and charged extra. But a glass of wine in Albania is actually a full glass!
In the property, there are cats and dogs hanging around. Likewise, we can hear the sound of cows and sheep coming from the far away in the mountain.
In other words, you can enjoy this, as well as a room with a private bathroom for around 20 €.
Detour to the wineries
After Krujë, we choose to drive south to Berat by taking the little roads. In this part of the country, there is not a lot to see, but if like us, you love wine, we recommend you to stop in the town of Marikaj.
This area is well known for producing Albania’s best wine therefore, some of the top wineries of the country are there.
Going up a hill in a little country road and without following any recommendation, just looking for the closest wine producer on the map, we ended up in front of “Bardha Winery”.
Two polite gentlemen received us and proposed us to take a small tour around the property and the vines. Up there between the hills and the vineyards we felt like if we were in Tuscany.
Berat, the city of the thousand windows
It was during the afternoon when we arrived in Berat, an Ottoman-era town. The city is divided into few parts by a river and a mountain.
There is Mangalem, the old part of the town with Mosques and little crooked streets, mixing now as well with the modern part of the city. Above this part of Berat is where the famous castle sits.
On the other side of the river, there is Gorica, a mainly Orthodox part. However, the two sides are connected by two bridges.
Berat city center
In Berat, the main activity for us was to walk! We enjoyed the Orthodox side, which has wonderful views on the thousand windows of Mangalem (the most famous photo of Berat). There are two churches to visit on that side, admire the architecture and be careful to not slip on a rock walking in the steep streets!
…of the persons that will propose to explain to you the history, and make for you a little walking tour. In other words, scammers. It is a nice experience and you will have explanations of buildings and places of interest, but in the end, they will ask you for money ( a lot) even if nothing was said upfront. Therefore, don’t make the same mistake as us, prevent some cash with some coins to tip if necessary and don’t go out just with big notes in your pocket!
If you want to give tips, keep in mind that the minimum wage in Albania is around 210 € / month and that a walking tour of an hour in the western countries won’t cost more than 10 €.
This is the kind of thing we dislike in tourist cities like Berat, (but it happens in all the world) some people will see you as a wallet on legs just because you look like you are western European or American.
Stroll around and take in the vibes of modern life in this part of the city. A lot of people and families walk around these streets, and mainly on this boulevard during the afternoon, before sunset time. All generations are out, drinking, walking, playing, gossiping.
Climb up to Kalaja Beratit, the castle of Berat
To avoid the heat, likewise, the groups of people and of course enjoy a nice light, we climbed up really early in the morning. You will need 30 minutes to get to the top tower. Bring water and sneakers or hiking shoes because it is steep! Berat castle offers fantastic views of the valley, the river, and the city.
You can as well explore the really old part with houses on the property of the castle, and don’t miss Kisha Shën Triadha, a small super cute orthodox church, situated on the other side opposite of the tower.
Where to eat / sleep?
You have several decent options to eat and sleep in the city, but the places we went to, had nothing special even if there were not bad at all. As a result, we prefer not to recommend any of them to you.
Syri i Kaltër: The blue eye
On our way to Gjirokastër, we took a small deviation to visit the famous Blue Eye. This nature monument is a spring of clear blue water where the Bistricë river starts. The park is enclosed in a forest of oak and sycamore trees.
The water is thought to bubble from a depth of 50 meters but this has never been confirmed even though several diving expeditions have been made to localize the exact source of the water.
The entrance to the park is 200 LEK per person.
NOTE: if you have some time under your belt, the blue eye is a good place to visit, but after 1 hour you will have finished to see all the park, so don’t plan to spend there all day. Keep in mind that you can’t swim in the water.
A UNESCO world heritage site, the old town of Gjirokastër is where we can find all the main activities to do. Just hiking around the cobblestoned streets in this part of town will soak you with hundreds of years of history. You will be marveled contemplating houses built in the 17th century and perfectly preserved Ottoman architecture.
Explore the fortress
The building that stands out the most is the castle, imposing itself at the top of the hill and overlooking all the city and the valley. It is a big fortress, so is worth it to climb up to enjoy the best vantage point of the city and to visit the interesting history that displays on the inside.
Visit Zekate house
Definitely, the most beautiful house in Gjirokastër, this 200-year-old and 3 story building was a gift made to a general in the Ottoman army, and will surely take your breath. Now converted into a museum, you can visit from bottom to top for only 150 Lek, and get a very good idea of how people were living in that time.
Grab your souvenirs
In the cutest little house of the old bazaar area, you will find Alma shop, a super interesting construction where the owners found an indoors well, that now is displayed inside the store.
We came to know about this place through Nila, a reader who’s hometown is Gjirokastër (she is now living in France).
Nila passed the word to her family that we were coming and they received us with a cheerful welcome.
We talked exchanging laughs and jokes about our different cultures and in the end, they gave us nice recommendations about how to spend the day in the city.
Rruga Alqi Kondi,
Not your typical souvenir store, you will find a big selection of Albanese delicatessen.
Moreover, what makes this shop really stand out is the curated and fine selection of articles displayed.
Rruga Gjin Bue Shpata,
Where to eat?
You can eat outside on the charming terrace, observing the busy life of the old town pass by. The food is really good and fresh, as a plus, they have vegetarian options on the menu.
We tried the dolmades and the Quifqi (fried riceballs with mint) a specialty of Gjirokastër. Truly a great price-quality rapport. (cash only)
Snack Bar Simple
Nice mini terrace to grab a coffee or a beer.
Snack Bar Simple
Rruga Ismail Kadare,
A road trip in Albania
You can find all the articles about our trip in Albania 🇦🇱 by following the link below.
➞ What you need to know for a road trip in Albania ?
➞ A city guide of the capital Tirana
➞ The center of the country (Krujë, Berat and Gjirokaster)
➞ How to find the best beaches of the Riviera ?