Nine of Albania’s Most Beautiful Small Towns and Villages

Travelling from the glittering Byzantine glory of Berat to the café-strewn piazzas of Korçë, we’ve pulled together a handful of beautiful small towns that first-time visitors to Albania must visit.

Albania is Europe's ultimate underdog - there, we said it. Despite being separated from sun-baked Puglia by just a slither of water and sharing a coastline with Croatia as well as a border with Greece (three of our all-time favourite destinations), it still remains a blindspot on the traveller's map. Unsure where to go? From the windows glinting on the hillsides of Berat to the tumbling waterfalls of Theth, we've pulled together a handful of beautiful small towns that first-timers in the country must visit.

The best small towns and villages to visit in Albania


It's known in Albania as "the city of a thousand windows" and it won't take you long to realise why; on the approach, this Unesco-listed town looks like a tumbling mosaic of pane-spangled, whitewashed streets. Hike up to Berat Castle, tick off as many Byzantine churches as you can (good luck, there are quite a few) and meander through the labyrinthine streets of Gorica before calling it quits with a glass of Albania's finest wine at one of the many bars along the Bulevardi Republika.


Tucked cosily among the pine-carpeted foothills of mountains, lies this village of the same name. The big pull here is the medieval castle - the battleground where Albanian hero, Gjergj Kastrioti, or "Skanderbeg", defeated the Ottomans - which is also home to the Skanderbeg Museum. It's one of Albania's most impressive institutions so well worth a visit. After scouring trinkets in the bazaar and refuelling on Turkish coffee, change into something more comfortable and hit up the hiking trails of the Qafshtame National Park.


Okay, it's not teeny-tiny (admittedly, it's a city) but we're including Korçë in this list anyway. For an affordable, romantic getaway, you can't go wrong with a weekend here. It started as a feudal estate in the 13th century and, over the years, has developed into a thrumming metropolitan hub. While away your days people-watching from a café perch on one of its many tree-lined public squares, pootle around the quaint Turkish quarter and swot up on your history knowledge at the National Museum of Medieval Art.


Just over the border from Montenegro, high up in the sublime peaks of the Albanian Alps, you'll find Theth. This is Albania at its most rustic. If you're a committed city-breaker, this place isn't for you. Aside from the Tower of Nikoll Koçeku, a creepy former dungeon with an intriguing history, there aren't many "attractions" so to speak. Instead, spend your days chasing waterfalls (must not miss: Grunas Canyon) in Theth National Park before sampling traditional, folksy fare as night falls over the splintered mountain peaks.


You want an outdoorsy trip? We've got you. This kaleidoscopic wilderness of rippling lakes and untouched forests is how we imagine the Alps might have looked two hundred years ago before it became punctuated with resort towns. Take your pick of more than 200km of hiking trails, try your hand at kayaking the Valbona river or set forth from Valbona on a multi-day walking tour through the mountains, stopping off in Montenegro and Slovenia as you go.



Heard of the Albanian Riviera? It's time you did. Close to the border with Greece, the secluded white-sand beaches and crystalline waters around Ksamil rival many better-known Ionian hotspots at a fraction of the price. While one of Albania's most popular destinations, its beautiful shores protected by Butrint National Park, it's still far from crowded. The area of Ksamil encompasses four uninhabited islands, which can be visited by boat for supreme snorkelling opportunities. Just a five-minute drive away, the ruins of the ancient city of Butrint date back to the eighth century BC, when it was a thriving fortified city with an acropolis. The archaeological site is virtually devoid of tourists, and will be a trip highlight for classics enthusiasts and romantics alike.



Gjirokastra, aka "The City of Stone", is one of the finest Ottoman merchant towns surviving in the Balkans: a bustling bazaar, narrow cobbled streets and whitewashed tower houses fill the historic old town, leading up to a medieval castle on the hill. Looking out across the snow-capped peaks of southern Albania's Drino Valley, not too far from the Greek border, Gjirokastra has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, thanks in part to the hundreds of rock-hewn buildings which give it its moniker. For Albanians, the hillside settlement is also known for its links to the former communist dictator Enver Hoxha, who was born here.



Another village on the Ionian coast blessed with paradisaical beaches, Dhërmi's rugged beauty attracted Victorian poets including Lord Byron, before it fell firmly off the tourist map following decades of conflict. An hour-and-a-half drive from the nearest big city - Vlorë - Dhërmi's remote location is one of the reasons that its glorious architecture has been so well preserved. The beach is lined with wooden bars and restaurants, attracting mostly local tourists, but a little way back from the sea, the landscape appears almost the same as it would have in Byron's day - a magical-looking monastery surrounded by white houses, spliced between shoreline and mountains.



Though the town may not seem remarkable at first glance, Shkodër, or Shkodra, which is surrounded by three rivers near Albania's northern border with Montenegro, is in fact one of the country's oldest cities. A strategic battleground and the gateway to the Albanian Alps, it has seen Roman, Serbian, Venetian and Ottoman occupation over the centuries, with influences of all still visible. The main attraction is Lake Shkodra - the largest in southern Europe - at 370sq km. The historic quarter of Pjaca is the prettiest part of the city, characterised by a fascinating mix of mosques and Catholic churches. The ruins of Rozafa Castle, an imposing Illyrian fortress situated on a rocky hill overlooking the town and lake, are also well worth a visit, especially at sunset.

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