Yes, I did it again. Just like my experience in Belgrade, I had only 21 hours to explore a capital city; this time, it was Tirana. I don’t like to make a habit of doing this, but sometimes you just have to go with what you have. I just had 21 hours. The reason being, I was in Albania to work and not merely to travel. So, I only had a few days to make the return journey from Shkoder to Saranda and see what I could along the way.
To get to Saranda, I had to go to Tirana first and then find the correct place to get another bus to Saranda. You see, there isn’t a main bus station in Tirana. Instead, the buses arrive and depart from Tirana at different locations around the city. Since I didn’t have a clue where to go to find a bus to Saranda, I decided to go easy on myself, stay one night, and leave early the next morning for Saranda. That gave me a bit of time to explore Tirana and this is what I found along the way:
Hire a bike
The traffic in Tirana wasn’t as crazy as I thought it would be and, apparently, lots of people are turning to two wheels and using bikes. This is certainly something to consider, especially if you only have a short amount time, as I did, in Tirana. I hasten to add that I didn’t hire a bike. I walked around the city. But, if you’re interested, there are at least two spots in the city where you can hire bikes. They are sponsored by some of the banks and will set you back 60 lek per hour (May 2014). That’s less than 0.50 Euros, in case you were wondering. Not a bad deal, is it?
St Paul’s Cathedral
I walked around and around for a while trying to find this cathedral and eventually sussed out where it was. It’s one of the more unusual-looking modern catholic cathedrals. Interestingly, although it’s called St Paul’s, it seems to be dedicated to Mother Teresa. In the grounds, as you walk in, there is a shrine to Mother Teresa and then, when you enter, there’s beautiful stained-glass windows, one of which features Mother Teresa. In addition, there is a seashell mosaic of Mother Teresa on the wall, which I particularly liked.
Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
This rather grand orthodox cathedral replaces a church (Orthodox Church of the Holy Evangelist) that was closed in the 60s. Apparently, this new one, which was officially opened in 2012, is the third largest orthodox church in Europe.
As I was walking along, I spotted an odd-shaped, ugly-looking building. It was in the shape of a pyramid and is a building you are unlikely to miss as you wander around Tirana. I noticed that it had graffiti all over it, but, at the time, I had no idea what it was. I later found out that it started out as the Enver Hoxha Museum and was one of the buildings designed by his daughter and her husband. It is now known as the pyramid. You are likely to see people scaling the pyramid, although it tends to be local kids and travellers. That seems to be quite a popular thing to do. I didn’t climb up it because I wanted to see as much as I could in the short time I had there.
As far as I know, the building isn’t in use, although there have been discussions in recent years of the best use of the building. I don’t think any agreement has been reached.
This is the main square in Tirana and is one of those useful reference points to help you navigate around the city. The square was named after George Skanderbeg, Albania’s national hero, having defended Albania against the Ottoman Empire for 24 years A statue of him on a horse takes centre stage in the square.
Et’hem Bey Mosque
Close to Skanderbeg Square is Et’hem Bey Mosque, which was completed in 1823, but then closed for a long time during communist rule in Albania. However, in 1991, after years of being disallowed the opportunity to attend a mosque, without permission to do so, thousands of muslims entered the mosque to pray. The authorities didn’t stop them and this extraordinary event marked a turning point in religious freedom and expression in Albania.
Next to the mosque is the clock tower. It was originally built in 1822 and had a bell that rang every hour. The clock itself has been replaced a few times over the years. The clock tower was restored in 2010 with funding from the US. I have read that you can walk to the top of the clock tower, which is something I wanted to do, but it was closed when I was there in the afternoon.
This 18th century Ottoman bridge is an important historical monument in Tirana. Don’t expect to see a grand Ottoman bridge in a picturesque setting though, nor one that arches over flowing water. It is, in fact, a small footbridge over dry land because the stream was rerouted at some point.
See a bunker
I hope you get to see more of Albania than just its capital. If not, you don’t have to miss out on seeing a bunker or two. I spotted a couple in a park as I wandered around the city. They are unique to Albania and well worth taking a look at.
Chill in a cafe
I was really tired and, once I felt I had done enough sightseeing, I went for a coffee in one of the many trendy cafes in the city. This one happened to be on… wait for it… George W Bush Street. That was a surprise, I can tell you. I hadn’t planned to stop on this street specifically, but I was in need of a coffee, it looked like a cool cafe, had WiFi, and was opposite a leafy park. What more can I say?
Would I return?
Yes, I suppose I would. I don’t tend to stay long in capital cities, but 21 hours wasn’t really long enough to get a feel for the city. I met some travellers in Saranda who loved Tirana and spent a lot more time there.
Here are some of the locations pinpointed on the map:
Have your say
Have you been to Tirana? What else would you recommend seeing and doing in such a short about of time?