Tirana is located almost in the heart of Albania and has been the country’s capital since 1920. Situated between three rivers, the city is an excellent communication junction, which is a brilliant base for exploring the fascinating spots around it – the picturesquely situated Krujë, historic Elbasan, sunny Durrës or the surrounding mountains.
30 kilometres north of Tirana lies Krujë – one of the most famous tourist destinations in central Albania.The city, located on a mountain slope, is today considered the cradle of Albanian statehood, as it was the first capital of the emerging Albanian state.The name and importance of the city are closely related to the activities of Albania’s national hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu, who made it a stronghold of resistance against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.Although Krujë was ruined by wars and disasters in the past, its architecture and picturesque surroundings still please the eye of tourists.
Sightseeing in Krujë
The most famous attraction in Krujë is Kalaja e Krujës – a characteristic yellow castle. However, it is difficult to call it a monument, as most of it is a modern reconstruction. Only the tower and a small part of the walls are of historical value. The castle houses the Skanderbeg Museum, which has numerous memorabilia related to both the figure and the history of the region. You can find there original documents and bibliographies, maps, reproductions depicting the life of people in the 15th century, mosaics and icons, ceramics, bells from the anti-Turkish period, sculptures and even furniture related to the hero. It is also worth taking a look at the exhibition devoted to the Ottoman times and the anti-Turkish uprising, as well as visiting the museum library.
The castle also houses the Ethnographic Museum, recognized as one of the most important cultural monuments in Albania. Although it is not bigger than only a few rooms, it exhibits items depicting Albanian craftsmanship and living conditions in this country over the past 300 years. There is also a small Bektashite monastery within the fortress walls. The road to the castle leads through a wooden Turkish market. You can find there numerous local souvenirs: colourful carpets, copper dishes and ceramics, Skanderbeg figurines, coins, books, T-shirts with the Albanian flag, and even… various types of weapons. Remember to haggle!
The castle and the market are surrounded by numerous narrow streets with atmospheric cafés and restaurants, where you can try local specialties. In many places, you can meet the staff in traditional folk clothes.
Elbasan: a city with a colourful past
Another historic city on the map of central Albania, whose rich history dates back to ancient times, is Elbasan. It was founded by the Romans in the 1st century AD, who called it Scampa. In the mid-15th century, the city was taken over by the Ottoman Empire and remained under Turkish rule for almost four consecutive centuries. In the 16th century, Sultan Mehmed II had the ancient Roman fortress expanded, and its ruins have survived to this day.
The former centre of Elbasan was also built during the Turkish rule and is today one of the best-preserved examples of Ottoman architecture. The monumental Market Gate leads to a small historic area interspersed with a network of narrow streets and old houses, opposite which there is an archaeological site from the Byzantine times. In the corners of the old town, you will find numerous shops and small manufactories. A characteristic feature of the former buildings is also the 60-meter-high clock tower, which today is one of the symbols of the city.
Today, Elbasan is also the main centre of Islam in Albania. This is where the oldest mosques in the country are located, including the Imperial Mosque Xhamia e Mbretit dating back to the end of the 15th century, built at the request of Mehmet II and the Naziresh Mosque.
What other attractions does the historic city offer? You can see there the Cathedral of St. Mary, the Turkish bath, visit the Archaeological Museum, and explore the remains of the 4th century town fortifications and numerous Orthodox churches.
Durrës: Albanian resort
Once the capital of Albania, today the main seaside resort, distinguished by the country’s largest harbour and a 10-kilometre-long beach. Located about 40 kilometres from Tirana, Durrës has an extremely rich history dating back to the 7th century BC. Although the city does not abound in monuments, those that can be visited are really impressive.
One of the highlights of Durrës is the Roman amphitheatre Rruga Kalase, located approximately 5 minutes’ walk from the port and promenade. It is the largest Roman amphitheatre in the western Balkans. Interestingly, its ruins were found by accident, when in 1966 one of the buildings located there began to collapse. According to archaeologists, the amphitheatre could hold between 15 and 18 thousand spectators. Heading from the amphitheatre towards the harbour, you can find the remains of the Venetian fortifications, of which the best preserved is the round, 9-meter-high tower. It is a great vantage point from which you can admire the sea, the harbour and the surrounding buildings. The tower also holds a café.
History enthusiasts will surely be interested in visiting the Archaeological Museum. Numerous exhibits and artefacts found there, discovered during local excavations, present to the interested the history of the city from the times of the Greeks and Romans.
If you want to take a closer look at the city’s panorama, it is also worth going to the viewpoint located at the villa of Zog I. The building is located on a hill above the Archaeological Museum. It was built in the 1920s as a gift to King Zog I. The residence, once impressive and vibrant with life, was deserted at the end of the 1990s.
Durrës is, above all, a resort, thus its modern buildings are mainly hotels, big and small, as well as pubs and bars located right next to the beach, which encourage tourists to relax.
Good to know
How to get to Krujë?
You can get from Tirana to Krujë in several ways: by bus, coach or the so-called carriage of people, as well as your own car. If you decide on the latter, you should take the SH11 state road towards Fushë- Krujë, and then for about 11 km drive the SH 38 road to Krujë. The journey by car will take less than an hour.
How to get to Elbasan?
From Tirana to Elbasan you can get by, among others, train or bus. The easiest option is to get there by car - thanks to the highway connecting both cities, the journey is very fast.
How to get to Durrës?
You can get from Tirana to Durrës in several ways. The easiest way to get there is by car - thanks to the highway connecting both cities, you will reach your destination in less than an hour. The resort is, however, well connected, so you can also use public transport. Buses to Durrës run from the centre of the Albanian capital every fifteen minutes. Price? About 130 Albanian lekë, which is the equivalent of 1 euro.
Port lotniczy Rinas położony jest 17 km od Tirany. Najszybszym sposobem dostania się do Tirany jest taksówka ( Auto Holiday Albania (AHA)). Podróż zajmuje 20-25 min, koszt ok 2500 lek (20 euro). Transfery do Tirany i innych miast oferują firmy autobusowe: LU-NA shpk ( połączenie co godzinę do Tirany), Adis shpk (do Durres), Likometaj Aeroport (Fier). Szczegóły można sprawdzić na stronie lotniska https://www.tirana-airport.com/c/16/bus Rinas Airport is 17 km from Tirana. The fastest way to get to Tirana is by taxi (AHA). It travels 20-25 minutes, the cost is about 2500 lek (20 euro). Transfers to Tirana and other cities are offered by bus companies: LU-NA shpk (hourly company to Tirana), Adis shpk (to Durres), Lycometai Aeroport (Fier). Details can be checked on the airport website https://www.tirana-airport.com/c/16/bus