Albania’s UNESCO World Heritage sites

If you’re a castle and ruins-aholic like me, then Albania’s UNESCO World Heritage sites are a dream. An unexpected hive of history; castles peak out over mountain ranges, Greek and Roman-influenced ruins face the Ionian sea.

The settings are as memorable as the remnants of the buildings they’re famous for.

I visited three of Albania’s UNESCO World Heritage sites – Berat, Gjirokaster and the Greek/Roman ruins of Butrint. Here’s a snapshot of all three.

Berat and Berat Castle

Albania's UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Berat

Church at Berat Castle

Berat’s Castle dates from the 4th century, though most of the structure is from the 13th. It’s a schlep up the cobbled hill from the main highway, and the castle is a neighbourhood in itself. The very pleasure is in ambling through the narrow streets, clambering around the walls, and admiring the outlook from 360 viewpoints.

For eats, a homely local restaurant sits on the right just after the castle entrance (turn right after the café umbrellas). You can be plied with local specialities, including raki, for a few Euro. Delicious. And/or intoxicating.

Berat and Gjirokaster share Ottoman-style architecture, featuring white buildings with portrait rectangular windows facing out from the hillside over the valley below.

It’s a pretty picture, and wandering through the town you’ll find examples of the pre-restored versions of these imposing homes.

Practicalities

  • The bus from Tirana to Berat costs 400lek (less than €3) and takes around 3 hours. It’s not a fancy tourist bus, but it does the trick. It stops centrally in Berat.
  • Berat Castle has an entrance fee of 100 lek (about €0.75). Other museums within the castle complex also cost 100 lek. The Ethnography Museum (not on the castle complex) is 200 lek (€1.50).
  • There’s plenty of accommodation to be found in Berat. I stayed at the Hotel Belgrad Mangalem.
  • The helpful folks at Berat Backpackers are a good source of information on onward buses.

Gjirokaster and Gjirokaster Castle

Gjirokaster has similar 17th century Ottoman architecture to Berat, with a setting even more dramatic. I discovered this the hard way, after kidding myself it would be easy to wheel my case a mile. After all, how hard can a mile be??? Up 30 degree incline cobbles – pretty hard! Mind you, the view is worth it (or it was after I’d collapsed in a heap at the top).

Gjirokaster’s accommodation options – unlike those in Berat – sit far nearer the castle, which means that once you’ve lugged your luggage up there (or for the more sensible, got a taxi), it’s not too much further up to visit the castle.

The castle welcomes you with artillery remnants in an arched vault; and follows up with an only marginally less impressive US fighter plane perched overlooking the city.

Practicalities

  • Albania's UNESCO World Heritage sites - Gjirokaster

    Textiles at the Ethnography Museum, Gjirokaster

    The bus from Sarande to Gjirokaster costs 300lek (less than €3). If you catch the one that’s going through to Tirana, it’s coach style and drops you on the highway that bypasses Gjirokaster.

  • Gjirokaster castle costs 200 lek (about €1.50). The Ethnography Museum is the same price. There are other local museums to visit at a similar cost.
  • Gjirokaster is the only place I visited in Albania where the locals asked me if I needed somewhere to stay, so you shouldn’t get stuck for a room. I stayed at Kotoni B&B; they can help with onward bus details.
  • A taxi from the highway to the part of town near the castle is 400 lek. It’s money well spent (as I did on the journey back down the hill).

Butrint ruins

Butrint – situated south of the Albanian Riviera resort of Sarande – has a history that started Greek, went through Roman, and ended with Venetian. The city was abandoned in the late middle ages, but remnants of all its reinventions remain.

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Practicalities

  • The (roughly hourly) bus from Sarande to Butrint costs 100 lek (around €0.75) and takes around 40 minutes.
  • The Butrint entrance fee is 700 lek for foreigners (about €5). It takes a good couple of hours to fully explore the site.
  • There are zillions of accommodation options in Sarande. I stayed at the Flowers Residence.

If you fancy another dose of Castle in Albania, then Shkodra is another option. It’s been added to my wish list!

Have you visited Albania’s UNESCO World Heritage sites? Is Albania a destination you’ve considered? Spill the beans below.

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