Albania’s noisy, chaotic capital can get a bit overwhelming at times and I can understand why many residents choose to get out of the city on the weekends. Tourists might want to follow their lead and head to one of the peaceful mountain destinations which are a short drive from Tirana. If you only have a couple of days in Tirana I’d probably give these a miss and enjoy the craziness that is Tirana but if you’re going to be around a while, the fresh mountain air is definitely welcome.
If you’re planning a trip to Tirana, my Tirana hotel and neighbourhood guide might be of help.
Coming from a very flat part of the world, I love the mountains (provided I don’t have to walk up them), so I can appreciate a mountain with a cable car. At 1,613 meters, Tirana’s Mount Dajti is a little on the short side but hey, there’s nothing wrong with being short. There are some very cool views from the top of the mountain and the cable car ride itself is probably the best part of the trip.
The 15 minute journey provides a kind of summary of life in Albania and its history. Once you depart from the disarray of modern Tirana, with its high rise apartments which have sprung up on every spare piece of land, the landscape quickly becomes more rural. Chickens roam the streets along with stray dogs as they vie for any scraps mixed amongst the piles of rubbish. The streets become unpaved and the run-down village houses more remote. Further along you can spot the infamous military bunkers, the gruesome location of countless executions of political prisoners during communist rule. As they say in Albania, “these mountains are full of skeletons”.
Once at the top of the mountain there is little to do but enjoy the view. Through the clouds, it was possible to see as far as the port of Durres and out over the Adriatic Sea but I’m sure you’d see much more on a clearer day. The tourist restaurant which hangs off the mountain is the perfect spot for taking in the view but you’ll pay for the privilege.
How to get to Dajti
It’s possible to drive to the Dajti cable car (the Dajti Express) but it’s difficult if you don’t know your way around Tirana. I suggest getting a taxi instead which will cost around €10-15 each way. It’s kinda pricey so ask at your hotel to see if they can’t get you a better deal. Get the phone number of the taxi driver so you can arrange for him to pick you up when you are ready to return to Tirana.
With its mountaintop castle and old Ottoman bazaar, Kruja is a different kind of mountain getaway. The medieval city is located in an ancient region which is now teeming with ghastly modern high rise apartment buildings. Way to ruin a good thing Albania. That’s not to say it’s not worth a visit, you just need to close one eye and squint with other to imagine how great this place once was.
What I did like was the bazaar. Ok, it’s a tourist shopping street but there are some very unusual Albanian souvenirs like communist era military caps stamped with the iconic red star, leather hip flasks for hauling your raki while herding goats and a fairly significant number of scary looking weapons. Kruja’s bazaar is like a smaller version of Sarajevo’s old bazaar and a bit like those I’ve seen in Kosovo. Not a bad place for a quick visit.
I will say this though, Albania, your mountains are stunning.
How to get to Kruja
Head out of Tirana on Rruga Durresit then take the main exit for Kosovo (the exit is 5-10 minutes past the Carrefour supermarket on the right). After another 15 minutes or so you’ll see the exit for Kruja which takes you along a winding mountain road sure to make you passengers carsick. The road to Kosovo is a known driving black spot so drive carefully, especially if overtaking.
There are much more beautiful places to see in the south and on the coast. To find out more and discover the places and I love and recommend visiting in Albania, read my Albania travel guide.