Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect 24 hours in Tirana itinerary! Are you the sort of person who dreams of finding the next cool club or restaurant or hot wings shack before all your friends do? Then this 24 hours in Tirana itinerary is for you.
Tirana, which is the capital of Albania, is certainly not an over visited tourist destination. It’s had years of difficulties, mostly stemming from a brutal Communist dictatorship that is now blessedly in the past. But now Albania and Tirana are ready to join the 21st century, and they are hoping to join the European Union. Visit now before that happens and you’ll be able to say you like Albania’s earlier stuff…you know, before it was cool.
24 Hours in Tirana Itinerary
Where to Stay
Tirana definitely attracts plenty of budget travelers because the prices are still so affordable. And for an insanely low price, I was able to afford a stay at the Prime Hotel. It’s small, but centrally located, and the staff is very helpful. Look at how sweetly they set up my sheets! That’s four-star service on a one-star budget!
And look at this huge breakfast they provided me with every morning! There was a sandwich, a pastry, yogurt, fruit…truly no one could eat all of it. I was spoiled for choice. The one thing I will say is that the coffee isn’t super high-quality, but it’s drinkable. Albania is not yet famous for its coffee plantations.
If you’re looking for a crazy good deal on this hotel, click here. And if you’d rather explore deals on almost 900 even more affordable hotels in Tirana, click here. I’m sure you’ll find something in your budget.
24 Hours in Tirana Itinerary
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Tirana is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen, especially if you want to tango in the streets all day. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Tirana Itinerary
Morning: BunkArt 1
BunkArt 1 is probably the most popular tourist attraction in all of Tirana, and it’s certainly one of the strangest. After all, how many times are you going to get to visit a secret underground lair built by a mad dictator? And if that’s a typical Saturday afternoon for you, te salut.
Tirana is a fairly spread-out city, and it’s completely unfamiliar to me, so I chose to take a day tour of the street food and Communist history of the city with a local guide from the company Good Albania. I strongly recommend this tour because so many secret attractions and yummy foods were included that I would never have been able to find on my own. And given that Tirana is already off-the-beaten-track, that makes this tour doubly cool. You can book the tour by clicking the link below.
I don’t want to spoil all the interesting info I learned about BunkArt from my guide, whom I shall call Jim after the most famous Albanian-American, Jim Belushi. But I will give you a taste of what to expect with…
Three Not-Really-Fun Facts: Bunk Art
1) Why is BunkArt?
BunkArt was created by the notorious Albanian Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. It was a secret underground lair that was supposed to protect Hoxha and the rest of the Albanian government in the case of a nuclear attack during the Cold War. Jim told me that there are rumors that the men who built BunkArt were killed to hide the location, but these rumors aren’t true. The workers were brought to the location in shifts so that none of them would really understand what they were doing.
After the death of Enver Hoxha and the end of Communism in Albania, this secret bunker was discovered by the rest of Albania. Eventually, it was decided that the bunker would be turned into a museum of Albanian Communist history. Now it’s an attraction that brings much-needed money into the city. And if you want to, you can listen to Enver Hoxha here from beyond the graaaaaaave! (There’s a recording of his voice if you pick up the phone.)
2) What Was Life Like During Communist Albania?
It sounded a little scary! The country was very closed off from other countries. Initially Albania had been allied with the USSR and its all-powerful dictator Josef Stalin. Even though Albania was a neighbor of Yugoslavia, it didn’t join Yugoslavia. That’s because Stalin wanted Albania to stay independent and be his “little friend” in case the USSR and Yugoslavia ever had a conflict.
But after Stalin died and the more moderate Nikita Krushchev took over the USSR, Enver Hoxha felt that he was “too moderate” and Albania needed to find purer Communist allies. So Albania wasn’t even really in communication with its Communist neighbors like Yugoslavia. And there was constant fear in Albania of a nuclear attack from the USA. You can see gas masks and other evidence of nuclear drills all over BunkArt. But don’t try to steal them! I’m pretty sure the gear has all expired.
3) So Who Was Albania’s Ally?
Eventually Hoxha found his ideal ally: the Chinese Communist party. China would supply Albania with weapons and Albania would support China in the United Nations. China even had Albania enter a resolution in the United Nations that Taiwan could not be independent. It’s called the Albania Resolution to this day. That seems really shady to me, but maybe that’s why I don’t have a job in international diplomacy.
Because Albania wasn’t doing the export/import thing, there weren’t a lot of options for shopping. The Community Party leadership lived fairly lavishly–you can see some of Hoxha’s fancy clothes in the bunker. But for ordinary Albanians, times were hard. BunkArt even has a replica of a shop from the time period, but there’s almost nothing left in the stores. So I see they’ve still kept their sense of humor from the Communist period.
You tell me. Would you want to shop here?
24 Hours in Tirana Itinerary
Afternoon: Explore Tirana
Tirana will probably never be listed in articles called “Most Beautiful Cities in Europe” or even “Most Beautiful Cities in the Balkans”. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find plenty of fascinating things to see and do here. Fortunately, we have our local guide Jim with us to show where to eat, what to see, and tell us what it all means. I’ll pass on a bit of his knowledge to you with…
Approximately Top 5: 24 Hours in Tirana Itinerary
I spent an entire summer traveling around the Balkans, so I promise you there is one common theme when it comes to food in the Balkans, and that theme is MEAT! Most of the meat you’re going to find is lamb or beef, not pork. Jim told me that’s because Albania was a majority Muslim country since it was occupied by the Ottoman Turks for so many years. But after so many years of Communism, Albanians aren’t terribly religious.
But don’t worry, Internet Stranger! Just because there’s tons of sausages and Turkish meatballs doesn’t mean we can’t have carbs. Enjoy a heaping basket of bread and fries with a side of yogurt dip as well. Between this and my GINORMOUS hotel breakfast, Albania was obviously determined to fatten me up.
2) Communist Ice Cream
This tour was definitely following my best advice when it comes to eating because we had Lunch Dessert in a different place than we had Actual Lunch. This adorable shop serves some of the best ice cream in Albania. I asked Jim which flavor was the best, and he suggested Zana, which is made with a caramel candy from Communist times. But don’t worry–you can only taste the yummy caramel, not the Communism.
It’s funny, but I’ve been to a lot of former Communist countries, and there’s always nostalgia for some treat from the Communist days, whether it’s Communist soda in Bratislava or Communist rum candy in Romania. I guess when you don’t have treats every day, the ones you do get are that much more special.
3) National Gallery
We’ve learned tons about Albanian history, so let’s dive deep into Albanian art by visiting the National Gallery. People have been in the Albanian region for thousands of years, but Albania is a relatively young nation, so the art in this museum is basically from the 19th and 20th century. There aren’t a ton of signs, so it was much better having Jim with me to explain who the artists are and what the paintings mean.
Plus I got to take ridiculous pictures of myself posing like the paintings, which is always a good time.
But my favorite works in the National Gallery were the photos of ordinary Albanians from the 1920s and 30s, before the country was conquered by Fascist Italy. (Yes, Mussolini actually managed to conquer a country. Also Albania has been through a lot. You don’t even know the half of it. If I’d been through half the things Albania has been through, I would never leave my apartment.)
4) Enver Hoxha’s Pyramid
This fugly eyesore/failed spaceship is probably the most famous sight in Tirana. It was built to be a monument to the wonders of Enver Hoxha. No good ever comes of a person who is this obsessed with building a giant monument to themselves. His daughter wanted it to be a museum where people could learn about Hoxha and all the “good” “things” he did for Albania.
However, after the Albanian Communist Party collapsed, no one wanted a museum to him anymore. So it’s since fallen in disrepair. No one can decide what to do with it! Ahh, government gridlock! As an American, this is definitely something I can relate to. Apparently they are hoping to turn it into a youth center. I sure hope they fix the windows first! That seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen.
5) A Secret Bar!
The last stop on the tour was an adorable coffee shop/museum/bar. But it’s not a typical museum. It’s more of a place where people can bring memorabilia from Albania’s past and leave it to be displayed here. Can you see this weird glowing red wooden lady head back home? I think not.
I got two drinks for the price of one here. (Actually for the price of none because it was all included with the tour.) The first was a very strong coffee. Because Albania was part of the Ottoman Turkish empire, they tend to drink their coffee Turkish style, which means short and strong like I like my men.
The other drink was rakia, the fruit brandy you can find in all the Balkan countries. The waitress suggested I go with a more unusual brandy than plum, so I tried the blackberry rakia. This stuff will warm you up even if you’re hiding from nuclear weapons in a secret underground bunker.
24 Hours in Tirana Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at A La Sante
Albania is still developing its tourism and dining, so there’s not a ton of fine dining options in Tirana. But I do want to recommend A La Sante. This is a great place to go if you want to get some lighter, fresher food with vegetarian/pescatarian options. I suggest starting with the vegetable soup of the day. The celery in my soup was so fresh, I could practically hear it crying as I consumed it with glee.
Though Albania has a coast, Tirana is landlocked, so I was excited to see seafood on the menu. This pasta was hand-cut and made with squid ink, so it tasted like the sea. And the salmon was smoked, which just added to the brininess of the dish. And of course, using smoked salmon is a great solution for a place that isn’t on the water and doesn’t necessarily have access to the freshest fish. (It’s also possibly a good solution if you are trapped in an underground bunker.)
I loved the dessert the most: a satiny creme brulee given just a touch of a Turkish feel with the addition of fresh pomegranates and oranges. Eating fresh fruit by itself for dessert sucks, but the perfect touch of fresh fruit to a real dessert makes it so much better. That’s just science.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Tirana Itinerary!
What would you do with a 24 hours in Tirana itinerary? Have you ever seen an uglier building than that Enver Hoxha period? And just how shady is the United Nations? Please leave your thoughts below.
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