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Tirana is the capital city of Albania and the country’s business hub. What used to be a dull grey Communism city has recently been brought alive with colour and with it, an increase in popularity as a tourist destination.
8 places you have to visit in Tirana:
The New Bazaar
The New Bazaar is one of Tirana’s newest attractions and is definitely one of the most exciting places to visit in Tirana. It’s a great example of the way Albania is developing and changing dramatically in recent years.
The Bazaar is located on Anvi Rustemi Square, less than a 10 minute walk from the centre in the oldest part of the city. Previously the square was run-down and home to many vendors selling their goods in an uncoordinated and chaotic fashion, resulting in the regeneration of the area in 2017.
Now the New Bazaar has a new lease of life, with colourful facades and many cute restaurants and cafes surrounding the modern central market. Inside of the market itself, you can buy anything from fresh fruit and veg to traditional Albanian goods.
Take a stroll around the market then sit outside one of the cafes for a coffee and a spot of people watching. The perfect way to start a day of exploring in Tirana!
Skanderbeg Square is the large main plaza in the centre of Tirana and is home to many iconic buildings and points of interest.
You can learn about Albania’s interesting history at the National Historical Museum, watch a show at the National Opera, visit the Palace of Culture, check out the Skanderbeg Monument (the national hero of Albania who resisted the Ottomans, for whom the square is named after), gaze up at the tall Clock Tower and admire the impressive Ethem Bey Mosque.
Many of the top places to visit in Tirana are located on this square, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore!
What many people don’t realise is that the patchwork of tiles covering 28,000 square metres of Skanderbeg Square has a deeper meaning than simply aesthetics. Each type of tile is made from rock taken from different mountains all across Albania, bringing the whole country together into this central meeting place in the capital. The trees around the borders of the square are also from different areas of the country.
The Pyramid of Tirana
The iconic Pyramid of Tirana was originally built in 1988 to home a museum about the life of Enver Hoxha, the long-time leader of Communist Albania, and was designed by the former leader’s daughter and son-in-law.
Unsurprisingly, after the fall of communism in 1991, the museum was closed and the building went on to be used as a conference centre and exhibition venue for several years.
In 2001 the pyramid was closed completely and has been sat falling into ruin ever since. It was proposed that the pyramid be demolished, however, the backlash from Tirana’s local as well as leading foreign architects stopped this from happening.
In 2018, a new project was unveiled that would turn the Pyramid into a technology centre for youth focused on computer programming, robotics, and startups.
But until the renovation starts, you can still visit the pyramid to admire the huge structure and watch local youths climbing and sliding their way around.
Bunk’art and Bunk’art2
When visiting anywhere in Albania, it’s highly likely that you’ll come across the small concrete bunkers that litter every inch of the country, acting as little reminders of the countries dark past.
This was due to communist leader Enver Hoxha’s policy of “bunkerisation” that saw 750,000+ (estimated) bunkers built all across Albania during the 1960’s-80s to protect the isolated nation from a war that never came.
Now the majority of the bunkers are left unused, however, a few have been renovated into the likes of museums, restaurant, bars and cafes.
Bunk’art and Bunk’art2 are two such former bunkers which have been converted into history and art museums. Bunk’art is the much bigger of the two and is located on the edge of the city, whereas Bunk’art2 is slightly smaller but centrally located for those with more limited time to explore.
The museum takes you on a journey through the bunker’s secret underground tunnels and tells the story of the countries heart-breaking history through tales, objects and photos. Its intention is not just as a tourist attraction, but also to help Albanian’s reconcile with their own past and move on into the future (although much of the writing is translated into English).
Visiting the museum with my Albanian friends, I could see the emotions building up as we made our way around the labyrinth of rooms, cumulating in the shedding of a few tears for their own ancestors and a sigh of relief as they exited the bunker to modern-day Tirana which is quickly moving further and further away from its troubled past.
The Friendship monument
The Friendship Monument is a large and colourful structure given as a gift to Albania from Kuwait to commemorate the eternal friendship and cooperation between the two countries, with the colours of the roof matching those of the Kuwaiti flag.
However, the best thing about the Friendship Monument isn’t the structure itself, rather the people who congregate around it. The monument provides shade during the hot Albanian summers and has, therefore, become the meeting point for many of the cities older residents.
Stop by during the day and you’ll likely spot a group of old men playing a game of chess on the monument’s steps or a couple of ladies catching up over some freshly made cakes. The Friendship Monument is a place where you can spot true friendships and see traditional Albanian culture come to life.
The Resurrection Cathedral
The Resurrection Cathedral is an Albanian Orthodox Autocephalous Church located close to Skanderbeg Square. The cathedral is relatively new, having been opened in 2012, and is the third largest Orthodox church in Europe.
It’s impressive exterior and interior are worth visiting if you’re in this part of town, especially now that the inside walls are currently being decorated with large and impressive murals of religious scenes.
Rinia Park is the central public park of Tirana and covers an area of almost 30 hectares close to Skanderbeg Square. Another area which was previously extremely run-down and full of illegal buildings and shady going-ons, Rinia Park was cleaned up in 2000 and is now a lovely family park full of leafy trees and arty sculptures.
One such piece of art is the I love Tirana statue which is probably among the most popular places to visit in Tirana for tourists and those looking for their next Instagram snap!
Sitting on the Western edge of the park is the large Taivani building, a restaurant complex with other entertainment activities such as bowling. Grab an ice-cream and sit by the fountains on a hot day to cool-off.
Blloku district and the Sky Tower
The Blloku (Block in English) area is around 10 minutes from the city centre and has recently become the most vibrant and upmarket area of Tirana, as well as one of the most popular places to visit in Tirana as a tourist.
During the communist era, Blloku was a restricted residential area for the members of the executive committee of the communist party. However, after the fall of communism, plenty of new developments turned Blloku into the popular and exciting place it is today.
Now you can find a selection of the hippest restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs lining the streets of Blloku, with the city’s young and elite rubbing shoulders throughout the day and night.
Blloku is also home to The Sky Tower and it’s 17th story SKY CLUB Panoramic Bar & Restaurant. Ride the lift to the top and sit outside for cocktails on a sunny day, or head inside to the restaurant and take in the panoramic views over a fancy dinner.
The Sky Tower is also a hotel if you want to stay in the Blloku district. Click here for rates and to book a room.
Can you recommend any other places to visit in Tirana? Let me know in the comments below…