If you’re flying to Albania then your exploration of the country will start in the capital, Tirana. As the transport hub for the country even those arriving by road are likely to come through town. You need at least a day to see the city’s sights and get a perspective on the country’s history.
Young for a capital city and founded in the seventeenth century Tirana only becoming capital in 1920. It’s a manageable size to negotiate on foot, with the main sites clustered in the centre.
Just south of Skanderbeg Square is another feast for the eyes, in the National Art Gallery. The upper floors are dedicated to Socialist Realist art, many in vast glowing canvases.
Continuing south down the main boulevard you pass on your left the looming bulk of the pyramid built to commemorate Albania’s Communist dictator Enver Hoxha.
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You may feel by now that you’ve earned some lunch. Take the opportunity to experience the historical setting of the elegant Ottoman home which now houses Sarajet restaurant and where you can sample some distinctive Albanian dishes.
Just one block further south of the pyramid is its architectural cousin on display in the small ‘Memorial to Communist Isolation’. Here, together with a piece of the Berlin wall and some pit props from the notorious camp at Spaç for political prisoners, is one of the 750 000 concrete bunkers sprinkled across Albania’s countryside by Hoxha’s paranoia.
Moving forward from the grim architecture of its Communist past, Tirana had the energy of an artist-turned-mayor, now turned Prime Minister, Edi Rama. Mayor from 2000 to 2011, Rama’s artistic vision for Tirana included a low-budget high-impact painting of the city’s tower blocks. A walk east along the Lana river will show the playful transformations wrought on the cubist apartment blocks.
If by now you’re yearning for some green space, and to get perspective on the city then head to the imposing Mount Dajti which overlooks the town and can be accessed by a dramatic cable car route. There is hiking to be done, or just the enjoyment of a coffee with a great view.
Tirana has great restaurant opportunities, but for a special treat foodies will consider the drive out of town to Mrizi i Zanave ‘Slow Food’ restaurant worth the trip.