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5 reasons why you should visit Albania in 2020

Jan. 11, 2020
8 min read
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Taking a wild guess, I'd say that Albania is probably not on your list of places to visit this year. In all honestly, it wasn't on my list either, but I already can't wait to go back.

I went for three days in November to earn British Airways Tier Points. For $273 return, I had the choice between Helsinki (HEL), Tirana (TIA) and Sofia (SOF) -- none of which I had been to before. I'd heard good things about Tirana and Albania in general, so that's where I decided to go -- and I was pleasantly surprised to say the least.

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1. It's cheap

When I say cheap, I mean really cheap. The cheapest beer I could find was $1.80 for a stein -- which is about a liter. Eating out in general was also unbelievably low cost. Without talking too much about the food, one morning I had a huge two-course breakfast and two coffees and my total was $6.50.

Breakfast omelet in Ejona restaurant, Tirana. (Photo by Dan Ross/The Points Guy)

And this was my dessert -- traditional Albanian pancakes with cheese and some kind of fig jam.

(Photo by The Points Guy/Dan Ross)

Stopping for a coffee is equally as cheap. Two coffees and a bottle of water came to a grand total of less than $2.60.

As per usual, alcohol was the most expensive thing we bought, but even then, spirits and a mixer and cocktails were only around $9 in bars in the more upscale Blloku area of the city.

For a trip of three days I spent about $130. That included every meal out, alcohol as well as taxis to and from the airport. That said, I didn't hold back and could probably have done the whole thing for under $65 if I'd been more frugal.

2. Beautiful beaches

In the south, close to the Greek border, there are some beautiful coastal resorts including Sarandë and Ksamil. In the north, less than an hour from the capital of Tirana, is Durrës, a small port city with plenty of beaches.

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Crystal clear waters in Ksamil. (Photo by Ashleigh Smith/The Points Guy)

Ksamil is absolutely stunning. Its beaches boast crystal clear water which you'd be forgiven for thinking was the Caribbean. The sand was so fine and soft and the sunsets, well, I'll let the picture do the talking.

Stunning sunset shot from Guvat Restaurant in Ksamil. (Photo by Ashleigh Smith/The Points Guy)

3. Tourists are few and far between

The lack of tourists in the city is one of the things that stood out to me the most. I can't recall recognizing French, Spanish or Greek -- or any other language being spoken in the street. And as a linguist, these are the kinds of things I notice when I go to new places. I'm certainly nowhere close to being fluent in Albanian, but it has quite a recognizable ring to it and it's definitely the main language I heard being spoken during my stay.

The lack of tourists in Tirana at the end of November probably makes sense. But, I would expect that to be an entirely different story in the southwestern beach towns in the middle of the summer season. The photo below is of a very empty Skanderbeg Square -- a stark difference to many other European main squares, which are often overcrowded with tourists.

Skanderbeg Square, the center of Tirana. (Photo by Dan Ross/The Points Guy)

4. Amazing bars and restaurants

I ate in all kinds of restaurants in Tirana to try and get an insight into Albanian cuisine and culture. The first night we ate at a very simple brasserie called Kernace Zgare Fatosi -- not too far from Sanderbeg Square. Its on-street seating area gave the place a very sophisticated feel and was very busy with locals who had stopped by for a beer and a bite to eat on the way home from work.

The menu was mainly grilled meat, which seemed to be the staple pretty much everywhere we went. We ordered a few different things from the menu and everything was truly delicious. When it came time to pay, we were astonished at the price: two stein beers each and so much food and the total came to around $16.

On the opposite end of the scale, we had dinner one night in Restorant Piceri Era in Blloku. For starters, we ordered a selection -- and what a selection it was. The waiter attempted to explain as best he could what each thing was, but it got a little lost in translation. That being said, every thing we ate was delicious.

(Photo by Dan Ross/The Points Guy)

For the main course, our trusty waiter recommended the traditional Albanian stew -- ferges. It tasted more like a hot pot, or a shepherd's pie without the potato and it was quite tasty. I only wish I'd known the other main ingredient was fermented milk.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
One of Albania's traditional dishes - ferges. (Photo by Dan Ross/The Points Guy)

There were many bars dotted around the city, but mainly in the Blloku area. One in particular, Radio Bar, had a great selection of gins -- including my favorite, Nordés, from Galicia in Spain.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Radio Bar, Tirana. (Photo by Dan Ross/The Points Guy)

Oh, and Western fast-food chains -- not a thing here. It was nice to know that this KFC is the only fast-food place in the city, and you won't so much as glimpse a McDonald's anywhere in the country.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Dan Ross/The Points Guy)

You can expect to find equally good cuisine farther south, too. This is the quirky outdoor area of the Guvat Restaurant in Ksamil.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Guvat Restaurant in Ksamil. (Photo by Ashleigh Smith/The Points Guy)

As this is quite a touristy area, in the height of summer prices are higher. At Guvat, a three-course meal with cocktails and wine for two cost around $90.

Read more: From Surrey to Thailand: The best hotels to do Dry January

5. Weather

During my trip at the end of November, the Mercury hovered around 64 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day for the three days. Temperatures deeper into the winter tend to drop a little, but it stays dry and sunny for the most part. Thanks to the Mediterranean climate, Albania's summers tend to be long, dry and hot with temperatures up into the 80s.

Bottom line

I really don't have anything bad to say about my time in Albania. Even the airport lounge was decent. If you're looking for somewhere new with cheap, great food and beautiful beaches then cancel that trip to Marbella and get yourself to Albania. Trust me -- you will not be disappointed.

Featured image by (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

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Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023