After the tranquil lakeside days I spent in Ohrid, Tirana was a little overwhelming. It’s a big city packed with crazy drivers. Seriously these drivers will not stop for you unless you are staring them down the entire time you cross the road. While it’s terrifying, it adds to how vibrant and full of life Tirana is. Post-communism, they covered all of the drab buildings in colors and patterns. You can’t walk five feet without seeing some street art. Tirana isn’t packed with “must-see” museums or monuments, it’s more about walking down the street and experiencing the vibrant culture.
Here’s what to do in Tirana
The “I ❤ Tirana” Sign
This is the big Tirana photo op. Stop by to take a cute new photo for Instagram. They change up the designs painted on the words every so often. I went towards the end of January/beginning of February so they were covering the words with hearts.
This pyramid was built as a museum to the communist leader Enver Hoxha. After communism fell, the museum changed purposes a few times before eventually falling into disrepair. Now, people climb to the top of the pyramid for a view of the city. There are no stairs or handholds so it can be dangerous and people have died falling from it. There is talk of demolishing it and replacing it with something more modern and useful.
Explore the Great Park of Tirana
This large public park features acres of green space, a botanical garden, a zoo, and a man made lake. It’s less than a 15 minute walk from Tirana’s city center and the perfect escape from Tirana’s busy streets.
Learn about Albanian Communism
During Albania’s communist era, leader Enver Hoxha was hostel to outsiders, and was constantly preparing for war. Part of that preparation was known as “bunkerization.” He built almost 200,000 bunkers during his time in power, none of which were ever used. Now two bunkers in Tirana are open to the public as museums on Albanian communism.
Bunk’art 1 is a short bus ride from the city center. Catch the bus to Linze and purchase the ticket on the bus for 40 linze, or approximately 40 cents. After about 15 minutes, pay attention to the stops and you’ll see a sign for Bunk’art. Get off at that stop then follow the signs to the bunker.
Bunk’art 1 is massive. It tells the story of Albanian communism and history on a more international scale, through the World Wars and up until the fall of communism. It’s a focus on the political and military side of things. Bunk’art 2 is a focus on the life of the average person during communism, and the ways the government controlled that life.
Both museums cost under five dollars to get into and they’re both very worth it. If you can only go to one, choose Bunk’art 1. The bunker itself is a lot bigger and more interactive.
Where to drink in Tirana
In the hip Blloku district of Tirana, you can’t really go wrong with any bar you choose. This area is the place to be for all of Tirana’s young professionals, although it’s a bit more expensive then other areas of Tirana it still doesn’t come close to U.S. big city prices.
This bar is packed with comfy couches, black and white portraits, and old school radios giving it a retro 50s Americana kind of vibe. This bar was non-smoking inside which was a refreshing change from most of the other bars I’ve been to in the Balkans. I felt like I could actually relax and enjoy my time without worrying about future laundry. The cocktails themselves were quite good. They weren’t craft cocktails, but they did know how to make a good Negroni and a good margarita. The service was prompt, friendly, and helpful. Overall this is a great place to pass an evening.
Check Point Charlie
This quirky pub is decorated with old communist propaganda and photos, from both Berlin and Albania. The bar is large and spacious, making it good for groups and for meeting people on a busy Friday or Saturday night. It also has a great beer selection. On draft is all local and Heinken, but in bottles they have a variety of great Belgian, Balkan, and international options.