OAT welcomes you to Albania, one of the last undiscovered pockets of Europe, where progress is balanced against a storied past. Discover hillside castles and a colorful modern capital still throwing off the yoke of communist dictatorship. It’s a rare opportunity to step into both present and past as you explore this welcoming land.
- It's Included:
- Accommodations for 4 nights in Tirana
- 5 meals—4 breakfasts and 1 dinner
- 2 small group activities
- Services of a local OAT representative, who speaks English and the native language
- All transfers
Fly overnight from the U.S. to Tirana, Albania.
Arrive in Tirana this afternoon and transfer to your hotel. This evening, gather for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
With its prime location on the Adriatic and Ionian seas, bounded by Greece, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo, Albania boasts a history that dates to the Stone Age. Albania’s capital city and cultural and economic hub, Tirana was founded in 1614 by Sulejman Pasha, who was drawn here by the fertility of this inland region and by its location at the crossroads of caravan routes. The city flourished until the 19th century, when the unfortunate death of Sulejman Pasha’s grand-nephew, Kaplan Pasha, left the city under the control of an insane megalomaniac, Esat Toptani. It was not until the city was named the capital of Albania in 1920 that it began to thrive again. Today, Tirana is rapidly modernizing, and its once-mud brick houses and cobbled alleyways have largely been replaced by modern architecture and wide paved streets. Hills have been reforested, inviting parks have been created, and the gray façades that characterized the communist regime now exude a jumble of bright colors.
We’ll get our first experience of Tirana’s rebirth during our morning walking tour, featuring Skënderbeg Square, the heart of the city, where the mosque of Sulejman Pasha once stood and where today you will see the Ethem Bey Mosque, a national monument known for its beautiful minaret. We’ll also see the huge statue of Skënderbeg (George Kastrioti) who overthrew the Turkish sultan and founded an independent Albania during the 15th century; view the Soviet-designed Palace of Culture and the National Library; and pass by Petrela Castle, a Byzantine fortress built around a tower that dates to AD 500.
The afternoon is yours to explore this eminently walkable city. You may wish to take in the collections of the National History Museum, the Archaeological Museum, or the Museum of Natural Sciences. Enjoy a taste of local life at the old market, near the Palace of Culture. And be sure to take in The Block, former residence of the Communist dictator. Once forbidden to the public, it now features a mix of shops, galleries, and cafés.
Lunch and dinner are on your own.
Today is at leisure to continue exploring Tirana on your own. Or, join our optional excursion to Kruja, a hilltop town that gained its legendary reputation during the 15th century when national hero Skanderbeg made it the center of Albania’s war against invading Ottoman Turks. This tour includes a visit to Kruja’s castle and visits to the Skanderbeg and Ethnographic museums. And since Kruja is considered the best place to shop for embroidery and traditional keepsakes of Albania, we’ll spend some time at the local bazaar.
Those remaining in Tirana may wish to venture to Tirana National Park, in the hills near the university, to relax by the man-made lake or explore the botanical garden and the zoo. Or, simply stroll the streets, admiring architecture that exhibits a blend of Italian and Turkish influences.
For lunch or dinner on your own, perhaps you’ll sample the local specialty: byrek—a pastry filled with feta cheese, vegetables, or meat.
Today is also at leisure to explore Tirana on your own. Lunch and dinner are also on your own.
After breakfast, we travel by coach to Dubrovnik. Crossing the border into Montenegro, we’ll stop in Budva, one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic and today a popular beach resort, where you’ll have time for lunch on your own. We continue on to Dubrovnik, arriving late in the afternoon. This evening, meet your fellow OAT travelers and Trip Leader and begin Day 2 of the Crossroads of the Adriatic itinerary.