Over recent years the now thriving city of Tirana has been transformed into a vibrant metropolitan centre. As the capital of this relatively small country Tirana brings together everything that is best about Albania, including a rapidly expanding retail scene and an amazing selection of restaurants offering beautifully prepared Albanian cuisine.
Once a communist dystopia of grey tower blocks and cracked pavements, Tirana has been transformed into a fantastically coloured metropolis over the last decade. Among the nicest of the hotels on offer is the bright orange Boutique Hotel Kotoni (4 Rruga Donika Kastrioti), which is as colourful without as it is within. Equally cheerful is the pale pink Capital Tirana Hotel (Rruga Qemal Stafa) – a budget affair in the heart of the city centre. Also worth a look is the scarlet and cream Jolly Hotel (Sheshi Avni Rustemi), which boasts bright rooms that live up to its moniker.
If you’re after kitsch crafts or a knock-off Prada bag, Tirana is shopping nirvana. Most of the action is concentrated around Rruga Myslym Shyri, the Albanian capital’s main shopping street, where you’ll find everything from food to fashion. Early risers in search of a bargain should head to Tregu i Madh (Rruga Ferit Xhajko), a vast Turkish-style bazaar that closes just after lunch but is a brilliant place to hunt for unique souvenirs. For international names, head to Casa Italia on the Tirana-Durrës motorway. Along with Zara and co, they also have a branch of JYSK – the cooler, Danish version of IKEA.
There’s no shortage of good places to eat in Tirana, particularly if you’re interested in sampling the local fare and tasting some of the local firewater, raki. Head to Sarajet (Rruga Abdi Toptan) for Albanian cuisine and a singalong with eccentric owner Paskal Prifti in a pretty 19th-century villa. If you’ve got cash to spare and a hankering for Mediterranean fare, try Juvenilja Castelo (Rruga Gjeneral Niko Pushkini) on the edge of Tirana Big Park. One not to be missed is Oda (Rruga Luigj Gurakuqi), which serves up your supper in a reconstructed oda (guestroom), complete with large ottomans and shelves peppered with strings of garlic and old photos.
Albanian Wine Expo
The Balkans might not be known for their wine, but as this event proves Albanians really do know how to make a decent vino. Expect plenty of opportunities to taste it as well as exhibitions staged by local vintners.
Albania’s biggest pagan festival celebrates the end of winter courtesy of festive feasts, bonfires and parties up and down the country. Although Shkumbin is the epicentre, you’ll find a marathon, plenty of live music and food galore in Tirana.
Tirana International Guitar Festival
A must-do for folk and rock fans, the Tirana International Guitar Festival includes performances from some of the world’s top musicians as well as competitions for would-be Brian Mays.
Head to Mother Theresa Square to see a stampede of rally cars choking up Tirana before heading out along the rough Albanian country roads. The race continues in Macedonia and Kosovo before returning to the Albanian capital.
Tirana International Film Festival
One of the biggest events of Tirana’s year, the annual film festival attracts film and documentary makers from all over the world and allows you to see cutting-edge shorts for nothing.