Albania – the great unexplored!

Albania – the last wild frontier of Europe!

For those visiting Albania for the first time.

The official currency in Albania is the Albanian Lek (ALL or L) and it comes in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 coins, and 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 notes. You can check out the up to date exchange RATES HERE.

Albania has a huge informal economy which means that there are few places that accept debit or credit cards. Big hotels, chain supermarkets, chain shops, and a handful of restaurants will accept cards, but the vast majority are cash only.

There are lots of exchange shops around Tirana and the centres of larger cities, or depending on the deal you have with your bank, you can withdraw local currency from ATMs. Some will charge, some do not, it depends on who your provider is but it is always advisable to carry between 2000 and 5000 lek on you, including some small coins. If you are outside of Tirana in the countryside or by the sea, be prepared to have to travel for miles to find an ATM if you run out of cash.

Do not try and pay for small items with 5000 lek notes (around 40 euros) – most shops, taxi drivers and small businesses are not prepared to give change for such a large amount. In the context of the Euro, it would be like trying to pay for a coffee with a 100 EUR note.

For those coming from Europe and the US, Albania is a very cheap and affordable country. Just be sure to always ask for prices before you order or agree to anything, and always insist on a receipt (a legal requirement- you can be fined if you leave an establishment without a receipt) before you hand over your money. Check the exchange rate via XE.com and then hand over your money when you are sure you are paying the right amount. On the whole people are honest and lovely, but like anywhere, there are always people looking to make extra money in a less than honest way!

Getting around Tirana and getting around Albania are two very different things in terms of efficiency and ease. If you are visiting the south of Albania, it is best that you hire a car. Whilst there are public transport options available, they are not reliable or comfortable and take many hours. Your best bet is to hire a rental from the airport and return it before you leave.

There are taxis and busses that go regularly between Tirana and the airport. The bus will cost you a euro at most, whereas you could pay up to EUR 20 for a taxi.

When in Tirana, you can get around to most places on foot with little issue- most places you would want to walk to are in a 30 minute radius of the centre. Alternatively you can get a yellow taxi. Be sure to always insist on the meter being on and getting a receipt for your journey- you should be paying between 300 and 700 lek to travel in the city.

You could decide to use Tirana’s busses, but I wouldn’t advise it. They are often overcrowded and don’t seem to run to any particular time table. Also the driver is unlikely to speak English so you may end up getting lost! Fares are cheap but there are incidents of pickpocketing on public busses, particularly targeting foreigners.

If you want to go out of Tirana for a day or two and don’t want to hire a car, you can take a furgon. Get yourself over to the Shqiponja roundabout and you can take a minibus to pretty much anywhere in the country for just a few euros. Remember though, get there early and unless you will stay overnight at your destination, be sure to check what time the last furgon comes back as this tends to be around 3/4pm.

Albania is a secular country. It does have a high number of people that identify as Muslim, followed by Orthodox Christianity, and Catholicism. This does not have any impact on what you can or cannot do however- alcohol and pork is available in most places, and there are no particular rules you need to adhere to around the time of Ramadan. Albania is quite possibly the most religiously tolerant and relaxed country in the world- something that many other countries could learn a lot from.

Albanian or Shqip is the official language with two main dialects- Gheg and Tosk that are spoken in the North and South respectively. A growing number of people speak English at some level, but this is mainly in cities or locations that get a lot of foreign visitors. Some speak conversational Italian, but it is advisable to have Google translate or a phrasebook ready to help you if you are travelling to areas off the beaten track.

Albanians are super friendly and curious so do not be freaked out or offended if they come to speak to you and ask you 1000 questions about why you are here, where you are from, and what you think.

Always accept things from your host- whether it is a glass of raki, a five course dinner, or them getting the coffee bill- it is generally considered rude to refuse or to argue.

Hotels in Albania vary a lot but you can expect to pay between EUR 10 and EUR 200 a night, depending on where you are and what sort of level of luxury you are after. The best sites to use are Booking.com as they display the prices for you so there are no issues or surprises when you get the bill. Most have free WiFi and breakfast included

Albania is one of the sunniest countries in Europe, it is also one of the wettest. The winters are short and mild, rarely dipping below 8 degrees and only lasting between mid-November and March. Spring is warm and wet, and the summers are very long, very hot, and at times very humid. You can expect temperatures in some places to reach 40 degrees. It is also not uncommon to experience thunder, rain, wind cold, and blistering heat all the the same day.

Most places have WiFi and are happy to share the code with you, but you can always pick up a local sim card for your stay. Vodafone is a good bet and you can top up with 10GB of data, as well as local calls and messages for around EUR 10. You will need your passport or photographic ID to sign up though.

Albania is safe. Crimes or issues against tourists are almost never heard of and most places are totally safe to walk around at any time of the day or night. Of course, as you would anywhere, do not flash cash, fancy jewellery, or expensive items everywhere you go and use your common sense. But do not judge Albania on its international reputation- the locals abide by an ancient code called the Kanun of Leke that literally binds them to be nice, friendly and hospitable to guests.

Learn a few words of Albanian before you come. It is a very hard language but knowing words like “te lutem” (please), “faliminderit” (thankyou), “mirepafshim” (goodbye), and “pershendetje” (hello) will make a lot of people smile.

EU Citizens are able to stay in Albania for a period of three months without needing to apply for a visa. Once this three months is up, you can apply for a visa to stay, or you can go for a coffee in Kosovo or Macedonia and reenter, thus resetting your time.

Albanian food is wonderful but is very heavy on meet and dairy. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, unfortunately you are going to find it pretty hard to satiate your appetite unless you are happy to live on salad and beans. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

In Albania the power plugs and sockets are of type C and F. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. Most hotels have adaptors but you can pick up one in Rossman’s (there is one in every town!) or a supermarket for the equivalent of a couple of euros.

You really need travel insurance before you come here and ideally a comprehensive one that will allow you to attend a private hospital. The state hospitals do not have the best reputation and you may be asked to pay under the table for medical care. In addition to this, you might struggle to find someone who speaks your language. There are some good private hospitals with multilingual staff such as Hygeia and Amerikan Hospital.

In case of emergency, there is a list of emergency numbers

Emergency serviceNumber
Road police126
Ambulance127
Fire brigade128
Police129
General emergency112
Emergency at sea125

Albanians are the friendliest people you will ever meet, the food is amazing, the weather is divine, the scenery is to die for, and you won’t find a more interesting and chaotically wonderful place on the European continent. Leave every single preconception at the door and prepare for a trip that you will never, ever forget.

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