A CABLE CAR AND A MOUNTAIN WITH UNIQUE VIEWS
If at a certain point during your stay in Tirana you feel like escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, we suggest a fun option: a cable car ride up Mount Dajti, which overlooks the east of the capital. From here you will be able to enjoy the sight of the mountains and the whole city from above.
Tirana´s Dajti Express cable car rises up the side of the mountain and takes you to the top in about 20 minutes, making a journey of about one kilometre, the longest cable car ride in the Balkans.
The installation itself is considered a milestone in Tirana´s public transport system, as well as a breakthrough in the field of tourism and nature protection. The production and assembly of the machinery, the construction of the support towers and the design of the stations make the Dajti Express a unique and quite complex work of its kind.
Once you reach the top, you´ll understand why it´s worth the trip: the panoramic views of the city from the top are breathtaking. You can do a lot more on the mountain than just enjoy a nice walk, there are also good opportunities for hiking, climbing and mountain biking; in summer you can go horseback riding and in winter you can go skiing. Many Tirana residents come here on weekends to relax and picnic. If you don´t feel like carrying food, don´t worry, there is a resort complex upstairs with two restaurants, one of them with a rotatory bar and an observation deck.
The cable car is closed on Tuesdays, but every other day you can use it from 9am to 7pm. In high season (from the beginning of May to the end of October) you can even go up and down until 9pm. If Tuesday is a public holiday, the cable car will be open. Tickets can only be purchased at the station below, so be sure to buy a return ticket or you´ll be in for a long walk back. There are combination tickets that include an activity such as mini-golf or the adventure park.
To get to the station from the top you can take the blue bus number 11 from Skanderbeg Square, next to the library, to Porcelain, which costs just 40 lek. The last stop is where you get off, from there it is a five-minute walk to the Dajti Express station. You can also negotiate a taxi from the centre for between 700 - 1000 lek one way.
One thing to keep in mind is that due to the change in altitude, it will be colder at the top. If you visit Tirana during the summer this won´t be too noticeable, but out of those months, you´ll want to bring some warm clothes with you.
Mount Dajti is the perfect place if you want to get an epic view of Tirana from the heights.
Address: Stacioni i Poshtem i Teleferikut Tirane-Dajti, 1040 Tirana
A GENUINELY ALBANIAN MENU
Albanian cuisine is strongly influenced by the Ottoman tradition, and many of its dishes are variants of those found in other Balkan countries. Here is a menu of three genuinely Albanian dishes that you´ll have no trouble finding in any popular restaurant in Tirana.
1. “Fërgesë” is a dish of peasant origin, typical of central Albania, particularly from the area extending from Tirana to Elbasan. It is a traditional meal based on tomatoes, onions, peppers and locally made salted cottage cheese (or feta cheese as a substitute), basil, butter, flour and olive oil.
The vegetables are sauteed, while the butter and flour are made into a roux in a separate pan and the cheese is melted on top. All the ingredients are mixed in small earthenware pots, seasoned and put in the oven. After the dish has cooled a little, it is garnished with finely chopped parsley and served with crusty bread on the side.
It is a typical summer dish, perfect with the first tomatoes of the season. Another version of this dish adds chopped liver with garlic to the mixture, believed to be the original recipe; the vegetarian version was created by poor families who could not always afford liver, is the most popular and it is mainly served as a starter or side dish.
2. “Tavë kosi” is the national dish of Albania. It consists of a lamb meat casserole and rice seasoned and topped with "kos", sour goat´s or sheep´s milk. The dish dates back to the 15th century and originates from the town of Elbasani, but today it is enjoyed throughout Albania. The original recipe has been modified; instead of sour milk, the dish is usually topped with a sauce made from yoghurt and eggs, while another common variation, ´tavë kosi me mish pule´, replaces the lamb with chicken meat.
The final result is a quiche-like dish with tender meat and a creamy, light egg topping. It is a dish with a very special flavour. The baked yoghurt has a smooth texture and a slightly sour taste, while the meat balances it well, giving the whole a unique, juicy flavour.
3. “Shendetlie” is a delicious Albanian delicacy and one of the most typical desserts. A cross between a biscuit and a cake, it is made with a dough made of eggs, honey and walnuts. The first texture when taken out of the oven resembles a biscuit. Then it is soaked in syrup even overnight, so the dough softens and acquires a sponge cake texture and a full, sweet and sensational taste.
Enjoy the gastronomy of Tirana with this menu that we propose, more Albanian than you can imagine!
KILIM, THE TAPESTRY CARPET THAT WILL DECORATE YOUR HOME
Apart from the ubiquitous objects with the national flag as a motif and the more than common bunker ashtray, you have an item that is not only a typical Albanian product but also a home decoration and a great gift to take with you.
Certainly, one of the best things you can buy in Albania is a kilim, a typical handmade carpet. Generally speaking, a kilim is a carpet without raised pile or yarn.
Kilims are made by tightly weaving the warp and weft threads together to produce a smooth surface. The hidden warp threads maybe wool or cotton, the weft threads, with the pattern and colour visible, are almost always wool. The warp threads are visible only at the ends and are usually tied in bundles to prevent the weave from unravelling or becoming loose.
In traditional Albanian society, kilims were woven by women.
The motifs and colours changed at different stages of their lives: before marriage, in preparation for married life; while married, for children, grandchildren, and finally for one´s own funeral. The kilims were made for family and personal use, and had a strong personal and social significance in village culture; feelings of happiness or sadness, hopes and fears, are expressed in the motifs of the weaving.
As a women´s trade, during the communist era, many women worked in the state textile factories. After the fall of the regime in 1991, these workshops were destroyed, as many state-owned factories in the country. Today, there are only a few hundred women left in Albania who weave these carpets on looms in their own homes. This is how this ancient art survives.
Because of their intricate designs and patterns, carpets in Albania are used not only as floor coverings but as tapestries. Albanians often hang these rugs on the walls, making the space cosier and more welcoming.
It is a good idea to avoid the larger shops and go to a smaller local shop, where you will find more original pieces at reasonable prices. You will find them in different designs, shapes and sizes, be sure you will find one that suits your taste.
With their beautiful designs, Albanian rugs can be an original form of decoration. Take a kilim home and your room will look unique!
THE MOST COLOURFUL SQUARE IN TIRANA
What to do with a city full of gloomy buildings? Like many other Eastern European cities, this was the dilemma facing Albania´s capital after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
When artist Edi Rama was elected mayor of Tirana in 2000, he decided that an answer had to be found and the aesthetics of the city had to be completely transformed. Painting the grey Soviet-style buildings in bright colours was the solution. After initially designing some drawings himself, Mayor Rama invited many foreign artists, as well as students and children from the city, to participate in the facelift of the city. Their drawings began to be reproduced on Tirana´s facades. Geometric patterns, polka dots and giant trees began to appear on the walls, as well as beautiful murals and artistic graffiti.
At first, many people were sceptical that their buildings would be painted in bright colours. Today the majority of Tirana´s inhabitants are happy with them. There is nothing special about the drawings themselves, but the visual effect they produce when walking down the street is striking. These buildings, originally built without any taste, became attractive. It was the only option for a city with such a small budget.
One of the best ways to admire the colours of Tirana is to take a stroll through the “ Pazari i Ri” area.
Once one of the most disreputable areas in the city, today, after a major renovation, it is one of the must-see places for every traveller.
This neighbourhood, whose name means "New Bazaar", is located around the square that gives it its name.
The New Bazaar was created in 1931 as a necessity to derive the commercial activity that the Old Bazaar could no longer accommodate. After the demolition of the Old Bazaar in 1959, the New Bazaar remained for a long time the only major market for meat, fish, vegetables and fruit in Tirana, and even today it is still one of the largest markets for the trade of these products.
The market, which occupies the centre of the square, is a colourful place, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to try. The surrounding area is a pleasant pedestrian zone with numerous cafés, restaurants and terraces.
The square itself is one of the most photogenic places in Tirana. The brightly painted buildings decorated with traditional Albanian patterns offer plenty of opportunities to take beautiful snapshots.
The New Bazaar is a 24-hour area, with the main focus on fresh produce trading in the morning and catering in the evening, along with artistic and cultural activities.
It is an ideal area to stroll around, take pictures and soak up the atmosphere. Colours and architecture combine the traditional and the modern making the whole area a unique place to visit.
Address: Pazari i ri, Tirana,
TIRANA’S UNKNOWN MOSAIC
In the western area of Tirana there is a hidden archaeological jewel that few tourists visit. It is located a few minutes away from the city centre and its importance may arise your interest. The Tirana Mosaic or Mozaiku i Tiranës is also the only archaeological monument you can visit within the area of the Albanian capital.
In 1972, while working on the foundations of a housing block in Tirana´s District 9, the ruins of an ancient building were discovered. One of its spaces was paved with mosaics, alongside the mosaics, remains of walls, fragments of tiles, bricks and pottery vessels were found. The excavated part of the monument was surrounded and protected by the Institute of Monuments of Culture.
Archaeologists determined that the mosaic was part of the decoration of an ancient Roman peasant house from the 3rd century, which they called the ´Villa Rustica´, on top of which, between the 5th and 6th centuries, an early Christian basilica would have been built. In 1973, the complex was declared a first-class cultural monument. Further archaeological finds from other sites such as Dyrrachium and Apollonia were found in the garden surrounding the main building, mainly fragments of columns and the remains of stelae.
In 2002, other objects were found around the ruins of the villa, such as vats for the fermentation of the grape must. When the area was cleared in 2003, the foundations of several smaller rooms were discovered on the north side of the building, possibly wine-fermenting cellars. Subsequent excavations reinforced the idea that this was a Roman country villa, although no evidence was found for its reconstruction as an early Christian basilica, as archaeologists in the 1970s had argued when they considered the fish to be an early Christian symbol. There is evidence that the building was used as a basilica, but from the 16th century onwards. The archaeological site is conventionally known as the ´Tirana Mosaic´.
The monument is important not only for its cultural and artistic value but also because it testifies to the existence of social life since ancient times in the Tirana area. However, so far only this villa has been located and there are no other finds to confirm whether it was an urban area.
The mosaics uncovered show various geometric patterns and depict birds and fish. Only one-fifth of the floor mosaic, originally 164 m² in size, is still preserved. The pattern of the floor mosaic is predominantly geometric, dominated by interlacing hoops and spirals, tendrils, waves and floral motifs. Next to these, on the western edge of the room, is a drinking vessel (kantharos), while in the vestibule is a representation of a fish.
If you are interested in archaeology and want to see the remains of an ancient Roman villa with mosaics from the 3rd century, don´t miss the little-known "Tirana Mosaic". You´ll also find yourself in the middle of a charming residential neighbourhood, with lively cafés in the surrounding area.
Address: Mozaiku i Tiranës, Rruga Sandër Prosi, Tirana, Albania
CLIMB THE PYRAMID OF TIRANA
If you think you can only see pyramids in Egypt, you´d be wrong. Tirana has its own pyramids too, and their presence in the city´s urban landscape continues to stir controversy - for many Albanians they are an awkward and unattractive construction reminiscent of the country´s darkest days.
From 1945 to 1985 Albania was ruled by one man, Enver Hoxha, a communist leader who, inspired by the harsh ideals of Soviet Stalinism, held power with an iron fist even decades after the death of his Russian namesake. His figure remains highly controversial in Albania.
The bizarre 11800 m² building was built in the 1980s to commemorate the dictator after his death. It was designed by the leader´s daughter and son-in-law as a museum dedicated to his memory, to showcase his power and uphold his legacy.
It opened in 1988 shortly after his death, earning the informal name “Enver Hoxha Mausoleum” although that was never its purpose; it was said to be the most expensive structure ever built in Albania. The museum retained its original intended use until 1991 when the communist system collapsed.
After the fall of the regime, this unique monument already known as the Pyramid of Tirana was reused several times. Its marble-tiled structure went from a museum for the greater glory of the leader to a convention centre, then a military parking area, television station and even a discotheque.
Rotating ownership led to massive neglect, combined with the unpopular communist legacy associated with its construction.
The building began to be looted for materials, leading to its current state of ruin. The exterior marble tiles covering the structure were moved to a warehouse outside Tirana.
The pyramid has a unique silhouette and a strong presence in the urban environment. It has never left the public eye, has been a focal point for numerous protests and a backdrop for demonstrations.
Despite its generous glass façade, the building appears to be hermetically sealed and inaccessible. Inside it is supposed to contain a large number of Enver´s personal effects and many televisions that projected films onto it.
Its crumbling façade is popular with graffiti artists and young people who climb and relax around what is now known as ´The Pyramid´. It´s also in a rather nice area of Tirana for you to enjoy.
If you decide to climb to the top, from the top you can see the city from a different perspective, certainly one of the best places to admire Tirana from above without spending a lek.
If you are a disciple of Enver Hoxha, a history buff, or just like unusual looking buildings, don´t miss this pyramid
WHO WAS SKANDERBEG?
Tirana´s main square is named after him. His statue on horseback is one of the city´s most famous and photographed monuments. But who was Skanderbeg?
- His real name was George Castriota, Gjergj Kastrioti in Albanian.
- Skanderbeg is a nickname derived from the Ottomans´ nickname for him, Iskender Bey, "Prince Alexander", because his courage on the battlefield was reminiscent of the great Alexander the Great.
- He belonged to one of the most important noble families of Albania whose territory the Turks had subdued.
- He was sent to the Ottoman court as a hostage to secure the payment of tribute and his family´s loyalty to the sultan.
- He spent several years there, converted to Islam and was able to attend military school in Edirne.
- As a commander in the Ottoman army, he achieved great prestige and won victories for the Ottomans.
- In 1443, amid a battle against the Hungarians, Skanderbeg switched sides with 300 men, took the town of Küje and sent a letter to the sultan declaring himself lord of that territory.
- At the same time, he abjured Islam and, raising the banner of the double-headed eagle, swore that he would avenge his family and the whole of Albania.
- At the beginning of the uprising, the Republic of Venice supported Skanderbeg, then relations became strained.
- Skanderbeg had to fight against Venice and the Ottomans on two fronts, but he was not defeated and Venice had to offer peace.
- During his fight against Venice, Skanderbeg established links with King Alfonso V of Aragon who was also an enemy of Venice. He received his support in Albania and Skanderbeg, in turn, helped him in southern Italy.
- In 1451 he married Donika Arianiti, a 23-year-old Albanian princess, at the age of 46.
- Skanderbeg held out for 25 years against the Ottoman Empire, the greatest military power of the 15th century.
- For his energetic defence against the advancing Ottoman infidels, Skanderbeg was awarded the title of Athleta Christi or "Champion of Christ" by Pope Pius II.
- Skanderbeg died of malaria on 17 January 1468 at the age of 62.
- The Albanian resistance against the Ottomans still lasted twelve years after his death.
- Skanderbeg´s struggle against the Ottoman yoke became a symbol of Albanian nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries and of national independence.
- In addition to the famous one in Tirana, there are monuments dedicated to Skanderbeg in many cities in Europe.
- Antonio Vivaldi composed the opera "Scanderbeg" in his honour.
- During World War II, the 21st Waffen SS Division of the Nazi army bore the name "Skanderbeg".
- Skanderbeg´s helmet and sword are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
- His widow is buried in Spain. After the Ottoman conquest of Albania, Donika was received by King Ferdinand I of Naples and his wife Joan of Aragon. The war in Italy forced Donika to leave Naples and come to Spain where she died in Valencia in 1506 and was buried in the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in that city.
Address: Plaza Skanderbeg
THE ANCIENT LEADERS FORBADE NEIGHBOURHOOD.
If during your tour of Tirana you suddenly find yourself strolling through a tidy, dynamic-looking neighbourhood, there is a good chance that you are walking through Blloku, something that in the past was off-limits to ordinary Tirana residents.
During the communist period in Albania, high-ranking officials of the regime, including Enver Hoxha who ruled the country until 1985, enjoyed better living conditions than the general population.
The Blloku neighbourhood acquired its name in 1961, when it became a residential area restricted to members of the Politburo of the Communist Party, only they could cross its streets and enjoy its orderly urbanism, the rest of the citizens were forbidden to stay or pass through the area. The area was fenced off and always under heavy guard.
The district is located right on the southern bank of the Lana River and west of Tirana´s main street, Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard.
The original part was bounded by Sami Frashëri Street to the west and Abdyl Frashëri Street to the south.
Today small areas further south and west of the Selman Stërmasi stadium are also included in Blloku.
In the Blloku area, mainly villas were built, but by the late 1940s very few remained.
After World War II and the communist rise to power, the owners of the houses in Blloku were expropriated.
The area became a residential area reserved for the rulers of Albania. Today the main reminder of the communist past is the former house of the dictator Enver Hoxha, a simple villa located right in the middle of the area, unfortunately, closed to the public but visible from the street.
After the collapse of the communist system in 1991 the district was opened to the public and was one of the biggest sights of the time. Soon the area began to change its face. Some of the houses were occupied by international organisations, the first cafes and restaurants started to open in the liberated spaces. The youth took possession of Blloku and the district where high communist officials hid from the people became noisy and casual. New apartment buildings and modern hotels changed its appearance forever.
Blloku is now a high-end residential district and Tirana´s main entertainment area, with numerous bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels and shops. The Sky Tower in the middle of the district was once the tallest building in Albania. Along Dëshmort e Kombit Boulevard, which borders Blloku to the east there are
several notable public buildings, including the Parliament, the Prime Minister´s Office, the Archaeological Museum, the Academy of Art and the Pyramid building, as well as the Postbllok monument, which commemorates the victims of the communist regime.
A PARK, A LAKE AND MANY OTHER THINGS
If you are looking for a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, the man-made lake park at the end of the Blloku district is a great option, especially popular on weekends when locals come to stroll around and enjoy the nature and fresh air. We suggest you consider the lake especially if you are travelling with children as the area is home to the largest children´s playground in Tirana.
The lake is surrounded by the “Parku i Madh i Tiranës” or Great Park of Tirana, also known as the Artificial Lake Park, one of the most beautiful parks in the Balkans.
The park covers an area of 289 hectares in the southeast of the Tirana plain and is home to around 120 species of trees, shrubs and flowers that line its paths. The park begins below the University of Tirana, at the southern end of the Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard that starts from Skanderbeg Square.
It was designed in 1955 by a group of Bulgarian engineers, in a green area formerly known as ´St. Procopius Park´, because of the church of the same name within its boundaries.
The church was converted into a restaurant in 1967 when religions were banned in Albania. After the collapse of the communist system, the property was returned to the Orthodox Church.
The 55-hectare artificial lake was created in 1955 using several local watercourses, thanks to the work of volunteers who built a 400-metre dam to prevent it from overflowing into the city.
There is a long jogging track around the lake and above the dam, there is also a footpath.
In addition to the lake, the park has other attractions: at the southern end are the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens. To the north of the lake, there is a swimming pool complex with several sports fields. The park also has a small amphitheatre for various cultural activities, especially in the summer months. For a long time, the park was a popular retreat for lovers, it was also called “Parku i Puthjeve” or "the Kissing Park".
Attached to the park stands the Royal Palace built by King Zog, who never saw it completed.
It served as a royal residence only once, for the Italian King Victor Emmanuel III on his only visit to Albania in May 1941 as the imposed king of Albania. Today the building is the official residence of the president of the republic, used for state visits, receptions and other ceremonial occasions. The reconstructed mausoleum of the Albanian royal family is located in the spacious palace garden.
The Artificial Lake Park is a great place for walking and sports. It is also a great place to relax sitting by the lake or in the surrounding cafes, with its dry leaves in autumn and colourful flowers in spring the park is worth a visit and lots of photos.
Address: Parku i Madh i Tiranës, Rruga Herman Gmeiner, Tirana
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