Greetings Internet Stranger, and welcome to the Balkans in general and Tirana, Albania specifically. One of the best things about visiting Tirana is that it’s so close to many other beautiful destinations. In my non-Albanian opinion, the best day trip you can take is this Tirana to Ohrid day trip. If you’re doing a little tour of the Balkans, the stunning Lake Ohrid is the perfect stop in between Tirana and Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia.
Unfortunately, the transportation in this region isn’t always optimal, so I don’t recommend doing this trip by bus. (As far as I could tell, Albania doesn’t yet have working trains.) Instead, hire this wonderful company called My Day Trip. This way you’ll have an affordable yet private driver take you on your Tirana to Ohrid day trip. Your driver can drop you off in Skopje after the stop in Ohrid, or you can spend the night in Ohrid. To be honest, Ohrid is so pretty, you could spend several days there and not get bored. Feel free to create the itinerary that works best for you!
Tirana to Ohrid Day Trip
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.
Tirana to Ohrid Day Trip
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 and Ohrid are both 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.
Tirana to Ohrid Day Trip
If you use the My Day Trip service, you can choose places to stop along the way on your Tirana to Ohrid trip. I chose Elbasan because it’s the third largest city in Albania. As an American, I wanted to see if it was anything like our 3rd largest city, Chicago. (Spoiler alert! It is not!)
But even if Elbasan isn’t quite as big as Chicago, there’s still enough here for me to give you…
Three Fun Facts: Elbasan
1) Elbasan is Rather Elderly
One of the many ways Elbasan is not like Chicago is that it is incredibly old. (I’m pretty sure Chicago was founded in the 1920s by Al Capone, but that might not be accurate.) Elbasan, on the other hand, dates back to the 3rd-4th century AD, although back then it wasn’t called Elbasan. It was an important city for the spread of Christianity on the Balkan Peninsula. (Religion is a complicated subject in Albania, just like politics, rakia, and which Belushi brother is funnier.)
2) Don’t Miss the King Mosque
The King Mosque is the most famous attraction in Elbasan. This part of Albania was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century, and they created the fortified city you see today. (They also named it Elbasan, which means conquered country. I suppose this was the Ottoman way of taunting their main rival, the Albanian military leader Skanderbeg.) It’s one of the oldest mosques in Albania, so definitely don’t miss it when you are in Elbasan.
Any Ottoman Turkish city needed three things and one of them was a mosque. (Another was a bazaar, and we’ll get to the third in a second.) I wasn’t able to go inside the King Mosque, so I can’t guarantee you’ll be able to visit either. But even if you just get to see the outside, I’m sure you’ll appreciate getting a glimpse at this fascinating part of history.
3) No Watch? No Problem!
You can tell the time anywhere in Elbasan by looking up at the Sahati Clock Tower. It is attached to the third thing every Ottoman city needed: a fab-tastic castle. Not much of the castle remains. I’m not sure exactly what happened to it, but Albania was a Community country for decades, and Communists generally aren’t big on castles. But at least the most useful part of the castle, a giant clock, is still standing.
Tirana to Ohrid Day Trip
Afternoon: Lake Ohrid
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tirana to Ohrid day trip without Lake Ohrid. This stunning summer vacation spot is probably the most famous and popular destination in North Macedonia. (Remember, North Macedonia is a different country from Albania, and neither one is yet a member of the EU, so be sure to have your passport handy when you cross the border.) Also be sure to have your camera handy, so you can take oodles of photos of…
Approximately Top 5: Lake Ohrid
1) Samuel’s Fortress
Are you ready for some crazy complicated Balkan history! Excellent! Then you’re in the right blog. But before we enter Samuel’s Fortress, you’re going to need some cold, hard, Macedonian dinar. They don’t take Albanian currency. I suggest asking your driver to help you stop at an ATM before you get to the Fortress. I was lucky and got a Macedonian driver, so he could communicate perfectly with everyone for me. Most people in Ohrid speak English because they deal with so many tourists, but not everyone.
This fortress used to be the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire back in the 11th century. What’s that you say? You thought we were in North Macedonia, not Bulgaria? Well, there’s a big dispute between North Macedonia and Bulgaria about whether or not North Macedonia is basically Bulgaria. North Macedonia has basically bounced back and forth between Bulgaria and Serbia for a long time. It was part of Yugoslavia and only got its independence in the early 90s, thankfully without the bloodshed we saw in Croatia and Bosnia.
I met Bulgarians who insisted that Macedonian and Bulgarian were basically the same language and Macedonians who insisted that they weren’t. What answer is correct? Well, the first rule of Balkan politics is: do not talk about Balkan politics.
Be sure to wear comfy shoes because walking the walls of the fortress can be treacherous. But it’s all worth it for these spectacular views of Lake Ohrid!
2) Church of Saints Clement and Pantalaimon
If there’s one thing North Macedonians know, it’s churches. You’ll have an opportunity to see some real stunners here. If you are a woman, be sure to carry a head covering like a scarf around if you are visiting Orthodox churches, though it’s not always required, especially for tourists.
Saint Clement, pictured dead and above, is a very important saint for North Macedonians. He was sent by his most gracious sovereign, King Boris I of Bulgaria, to teach the Cyrillic alphabet to the locals. (Very important point! Never refer to this alphabet as the “Russian” alphabet in either North Macedonia or Bulgaria. It was Bulgarian before it was Russian. And we haven’t even begun to cover the many things that count as controversial topics in the Balkans.)
3) Church of Saint Sophia
Yet another gorgeous church on our Tirana to Ohrid day trip! This one is the church of Saint Sophia. This church also costs a small admission fee to enter, but I didn’t have small Macedonian bills, so my guide/driver talked the ticket taker into letting me in for free. I can’t guarantee the same will happen for you though!
Photo taking is not allowed inside the church, so I’ll just have to paint you a picture with my words. The interior of this church is really something special. It’s covered in Byzantine paintings that date back to the Middle Ages. As an American, my favorite part of visiting Europe is getting to experience relics from the past like this. Fun Fact! In my hometown of New York City, our oldest building is actually a Duane Reade that dates back to 1972.
4) Stuff Your Face!
It will be about time on our Tirana to Ohrid day trip for lunch. My guide/driver told me that pretty much all the restaurants by the lake were “about the same” in terms of quality, but we stopped at Restaurant Cun. Pick one with tables outside so you can admire the lake. It was summertime, so I suggest starting with a salad made from seasonal, fresh, local tomatoes.
For the main course, I picked the Ohrid meat pot, because I always eat anything that has the city’s name in the dish’s name. It was definitely a satisfying and hearty peasant meal. If you don’t eat meat, there’s always the famous Ohrid trout to consider. It can be a little difficult to find strictly vegetarian food in the Balkans. (I’m not a vegetarian, but I did notice that meat eating is a big part of the culture here.)
If you imbibe, I suggest getting a small glass of rakija, the famous fruit brandy from the Balkans. Each country claims their rakija is the best, so the only way to know for sure is to have a glass in each country. After all, you’re not the one who is driving!
5) Enjoy the lake!
There won’t be enough time on this trip to get into or onto the water, but be sure to admire its stunning color and clarity. It’s so gorgeous, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that George Clooney has a secret lake house here. Actually, let’s try to get that rumor started. It might increase tourism to North Macedonia.
We will also have time to do a little shopping, so if your guide knows where the reputable stores are, buy some famous Ohrid pearl jewelry. The prices are insanely affordable, but only shop at a place that gives you a certificate of authenticity. Apparently Ohrid has a counterfeit pearl problem just like we have a problem with people selling Chamel or Versase knockoff bags in NYC.
Tirana to Ohrid Day Trip
Evening: Dinner in Skopje!
Since we’ve made it all the way from Albania today, I suggest continuing to Skopje and spending the night there in the capital of North Macedonia. But if you are returning to Tirana, you can find my recommendations for places to eat dinner here.
We’ve been traveling all day, so if you’re anything like me, you won’t want an elaborate dinner. Stop for a quick snack instead at Fast Food 7. I link to their website just in case, but if you don’t read the Cyrillic alphabet and you don’t know what a PECTOPAH is, the website won’t be much help to you.
This restaurant has been around since the 80s, and it has the feel of a Soviet’s idea of what an American burger joint would be like. Why do they put fries on the burger? Why is there mayo on top of ketchup? The world may never know, but I found it pretty tasty nevertheless.
You’re not really going to want to sit and eat in Fast Food 7, so take your burger with you and enjoy the bright lights of Skopje as the sun sets. There’s a reason they call it the Las Vegas of the Balkans! But more about that next time…
That’s a Perfect Tirana to Ohrid Day Trip!
What would you do on a Tirana to Ohrid day trip? What is the first rule of Balkan politics? And are there any vegetarians in North Macedonia? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Ohrid.