The changing face of Albania
Albania’s capital has come a long way in recent years. Once a rather grim grey place, a lick of paint and a programme of renovation have transformed the city into a capital worth visiting. That’s not to say it’s perfect. Tirana still gets clogged with horn-honking traffic and heavy pollution and power cuts are an almost daily occurrence, but it’s getting there. The city’s central boulevards and monuments give clues to the country’s chequered history with ornamental minarets and Socialist murals reflecting its Ottoman, Italian and Communist past. In trendy Blloku, once the exclusive neighbourhood of the Communist Party, the stylish bars and boutiques are pulling in the well-dressed crowd; further evidence that Tirana is staking its claim as a hip European capital.
Tirana is a charming, compact city with a lively café culture, increasingly buzzy nightlife, some interesting sights, lovely parks and intriguing history. Seeing the newly-painted old communist buildings is fascinating, and for anyone with an interest in post-Glasnost history Tirana is a must.
When to Go?
The best time to visit Tirana is during the summer months - June, July and August - when the city is warm and dry. Spring and autumn are also pleasant but the winter months from November to February are rainy and cold, and not recommended.
How to get there?
Direct flights from London are available to Nënë Tereza International Airport at Rinas which is 26km from the city. Between 6am and 6pm a bus service operates to the centre of Tirana every hour. Taxis are available into the city from the airport and take 20-25 minutes.
For lashings of art and culture, visit the National Art Gallery with its 3200 works by Albanian and foreign artists. Escape to nature with a wander along the paths through The Grand Park (Parku i Madh), and then stop for a picnic. For a thought-provoking experience, visit the Martyrs’ Cemetery. Commemorating the death of 900 partisans who died in WW2, it’s a stirring spot with excellent views over the city and the surrounding mountains. For a taste of Tirana’s high life, head to the revolving Sky Club bar at the top of a 16-floor skyscraper in Blloku. Caution though, one drink is enough at that altitude!