What to do and see in Albania with a van?
Albania is certainly not one of the top countries to visit when you think of “campervan holidays in Europe”. However this country has a lot to offer. Discover in our travel blog our tips for a road trip in Albania with a van, at the heart of the Balkans.
Itinerary by van in the north of Albania
We went in Albania with a van at the end of July, during the high season.
Watermelons as far as the eye can see, thousands of bunkers, minis ultra kitsch castles, old Mercedes everywhere on the roads, online sports betting shops on every street corner, horseshoes on cars, a diversified cuisine and creepy teddy bears hanging on the houses… an intriguing Albania.
1/ Road trip’s stages in Albanie with a van
On the map above, are marked all stages: our places to sleep with the van, activities, restaurants…
1.1/ D1 – Arrival in Albania, 1st stop in Shkodra
Here we are, our 1st glimpse of Albania… what a change of scene! We park in the center of a very busy street in downtown Shkodra, “Rruga Martin Camaj”. Everywhere on the sidewalks there are stalls where Albanians sell everything and nothing. It’s like being in North Africa, with less bullying.
Full of life in the morning and afternoon. It’s really calm between noon and 2 pm. Shkodra is the 5th largest city in the country, close to the Skadar Lake we discovered when we arrived from the North, from Montenegro. Here, our road trip in Montenegro by van.
We walk in the city, down to the Xhamia e Madhe mosque. Then we stop to eat and take our 1st local beer, a Stela.
Then we take the van again towards:
- The Mes bridge, 10 mins more at North-East. Passing over the Kir River (108 m), it is the longest Ottoman bridge in the region, or the country, not really sure about this.
- Rozafa Castle more South. On the Tepe hill, it is said to be the best preserved citadel of Albania. The entrance is 200 Lek (about 2 €), allow 2 hours maximum.
1st Sleeping Spot – Albania with a van:
We want to sleep close to the sea. So we drive about 40 mins to the nearby Shengjin coast, in the district of Lezhe. On the first km, it’s crowded, it looks like the Italian coast we didn’t particularly like. But a bit after, we find a little piece of paradise. The shaded parking of a small beach restaurant. We ask the permission to spend the nigh. It’s perfect, and there is even a beach shower!
1.2/ J2 – On the waterfront, 1st swim in the Adriatic sea
We spend the day at the beach and buy lunch and dinner at the restaurant. For the beach chairs rental and the 2 meals, we pay less than 20 € to 2. And bonus, Huaca, our little dog is accepted on the beach and restaurant terrace (not often in the Balkans).
2cd Sleeping Spot – Albania with a van:
A gas station’s motorhome area. With FREE water and electricity. Not really glamour, but very convenient and we have a beautiful sunset on the fields on the other side of the road!
1.3/ D3 – Tirana, the albanian capital
We don’t find a nice spot to park the van fro free so end up in a paid parking in the south of the city. Then, we go north to visit the center. We come across a lot of nice graffiti, including one on the French Embassy in Albania (below).
The center is a bit small, we walk along the Skanderbeg place and its statue, the Palace of Culture, the national historic museum (and its very nice mosaïc) and the Et’Hem Bey Mosque.
If you have time, visit the Bunkart 2 (in the center) or the 1 (further north of the city). It nice to learn many things about the history of the country.
Just for your info… between 1967 and 1997, President Enver Hoxha has built about 700 000 bunkers throughout the country… you will surely see many on your way!
3rd Sleeping Spot – Albania with a van:
On the road between Tirana and Durres, in a small path with houses, that goes to a big artificial lake.
1.4/ D4 – Visit of Durres and Apollonia sites
We stop the morning in Durrës. It is the most important Albanian harbour city (economic and cultural). It is often visited for its beaches and amphitheatre. The Durres amphitheatre is very big and located right in the middle of the city. We didn’t pay the entrance, we just saw it from the outside because it is less impressive than we thought.
Apollonia archaeological site
We decide to make a small detour near the city of Fier, to see the ruins of an ancient Greek city. Apollonia, named after the god: Apollo. Ruins are still in good condition and it’s a nice visit. Furthermore, we have a beautiful view of the surroundings.
The entrance is 400 Lek (so approx. 3.5€).
4th Sleeping Spot – Albania with a van:
Great spot very close to a big lake. We asked for permission because there is a small house with people. There are very nice, fishermen and watermelons’ sellers… like most Albanians.
1.5/ D5 – The city of a thousand windows – Berat
Berat is certainly the most touristic city we visited during our travel in Albania with a van. Despite that, it’s worth it. Indeed, nicknamed “the city of a thousand windows” for its typical white houses with large windows, there are very beautiful panoramas.
We parked in the free parking in the city center to start our visit. First, a small walk on the other side of the river Osum, we climb a bit on the hill to enjoy a nice view of the city. On the way back, Huaca took the opportunity to swim in the river.
Before continuing the day, we stop at the hotel-restaurant Pasarela which accepts dogs (the size of ours at least). Surprise, we eat on the rooftop terrace and have a great view of the mosque and the small hills around! In addition it was very cheap, just 11 € for: 2 starters, 2 dishes and 2 pint of beer… great!).
Then we go up to the fortress, it’s like a small town in the city. Churches, mosques, walls, and a nice view, but on the other side of the river this time.
5th Sleeping Spot – Albania with a van:
Going north, there is a nice spot near the Banje artificial lake. Of course, like often, the parking is quite dirty (with rubbish) and 2 stray dogs are around. However, we have a beautiful view on the lake and you can swim there.
1.6/ D6 – Elbasan and its old citadel
Going north again, we decide to spend the day at Elbasan. The morning, we walk first in the old town. Like always, we love to stroll in the markets… see local products and buy 2 or 3 fruits for breakfast.
Then we visit the ethnographic museum of the city, located in a traditional Albanian house. It’s not the best museum we’ve visited on earth but it’s quite interesting and it allows you to learn a lot about albanian history and local crafts.
Then we go (not far) to the citadel of the city. Inside the fortification, we discover its castle, the clock tower, the cathedral Sainte-Marie and the mosque of the king. It is said to be the oldest citadel in Albania.
6th Sleeping Spot – Albania with a van:
10 km further east of Elbasan, we cross a bridge over the Shkumbin River and we find a small quiet path not far from the water. It’s not possible to swim but the place is nice. Our last night in Albania…
1.7/ D7 – On the way to Macedonia
On the road to Macedonia, we cross many landscapes different from what we have seen so far. More green, more nature, there are beautiful panoramas.
We drive along rivers, one of which looks brown / red. And we finally arrive at Lake Ohrid. The deepest lake of the Balkans, which also marks the border with Macedonia.
There are fish sellers on the side of the road… they’ll be our last memory before going on the other side of the lake. By the way, we were searched by the customs at the border… but nothing bad!
2/ Useful info: Albania with a van
Here are all the useful information to prepare a road trip in Albania with a van.
2.1/ Roads in Albania
To be very honest … the network is really bad! Except the main roads (which are Ok), you never really know how is going to be the road. And as our van is not very young, we avoid doing somme of the activities/places that we had planned to do/visit. With a newer vehicle it probably would have been a bit different!
And as you might imagine, there is no highway in Albania! Indeed, all the money should have been used to built those crazy Bunkers…
2.2/ Hygiene: shower and drinkable water
Not always easy to find water but not to hard either. We collected water from some drinkable water points by the roadside, at the beach or by asking locals.
In summer, our camping shower and beach showers were enough!
2.3/ Be careful with your mobile phone / internet!
Once you go more South than Croatia, Balkan countries do not fit anymore into our phone / internet packages! And it costs about 2 to 8 €/ Mo of data… Let’s just say that you can forget internet if it’s not a free wifi in a bar!
So be careful and check your mobile subscription!
2.4/ Find your Camper van’s spots in Albania
Without internet, you can forget the Park4Night mobile application. But really, we had no problem to find nice spots with the map of Albania. There is very few tourism in the country, so we didn’t feel a bad welcom from the locals. However, spots (even in the nature) are often dirty.
2.5/ Money and budget in Albania
They don’t use Euro in Albania. The local Albanian currency is LEK. The conversion in January 2019 is 1 € = 124 Lek
Clearly, among all the countries we have visited during our road trip in Europe, Albania must be the cheapest… It costs about 10 € for a local restaurant for 2 people (with starter, main dish and beverage). Our favorite… in summer, a 10 kg watermelon costs less than 2 €, let’s just say that we ate kilos of them!
2.6/ Some words in Albanian
Ok, Slavic languages are not very easy for english speakers… but here bellow are 2, 3 words that could be useful:
- Hello: Mirëdita
- Good bye: Mirupafshim
- Thank you: Faleminderit
To finish, just a few words about Albania
For your info, there are good and less good things in Albania and it will not necessarily be a good destination for everyone. Indeed, being the poorest country in Europe, you won’t find all the comfort we are used to in general in Europe.
Things we liked:
- We met really nice and simple people with a nice welcome.
- There is really very few tourism, even in summer.
- Prices are… very cheap.
- Albanian cooking is simple but good and there are many influences from slav countries, turkey and greece…
- Everythings is to be discovered…
Things we didn’t like:
- We saw very big inequalities: a minority drive brand new Mercedes and build ultra kitsch mini-castles with gigantic statues while the rest of the population seems really poor.
- The road network is really bad (except main roads).
- There are a lot of unpleasant smells near the cities (factory, garbage, tire…) and of course a lot of rubbish.
- Albanians do not have pets (or only very few maybe). Dogs are in packs, often very dirty or even sick (not necessarily naughty). So, the country is not really dog friendly (here bellow, we put a picture of “pretty dogs”) …
On our side we liked to discover Albania with a van. We just regret not having been able to visit places more “nature” because of the road network. Like the north and the trek from Theth to Valbona, or canyoning on the Osum river… but who knows, one day maybe …?
Here we are, we hope that this article about discovering “Albania with a van” will be useful for you. If yes, do not hesitate to write us a little message and follow our adventures on Facebook and Instagram!
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