An Introduction to Albania

Key Facts and Highlights

As you plan your next European adventure, consider adding Albania to your itinerary. Located in southeastern Europe along the Adriatic and Ionian seas, Albania offers beautiful beaches, rugged mountain landscapes, historic cities, and a fascinating culture shaped by ancient civilizations and decades of communist rule. With archeological sites dating back to the Neolithic era and pristine national parks covering nearly 20 percent of the country, Albania has plenty to captivate any traveler interested in history, nature, architecture, and more. Though it remains off the radar for many, Albania has emerged in recent years as an up-and-coming Balkan destination. This introduction outlines some of the key facts and highlights that make Albania worth a visit.

About Albania: Location and Geography

Albania is a small country located in Southeast Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. Bordered by Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Greece, Albania has a long coastline on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The capital and largest city is Tirana.


Albania has a total area of 28,748 square kilometers. The country is 70% mountainous, with the highest peak being Mount Korab at 2,764 meters. The coastline stretches 362 kilometers along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.

The climate is Mediterranean along the coast, continental in the interior, and alpine in the mountains. Albania has over 300 sunny days per year. Winters are cool, summers are hot and dry. The rugged, mountainous terrain provides excellent opportunities for hiking, rock climbing and other outdoor pursuits.

### Rivers and Lakes

Major rivers include the Drin, Vjosë, Seman, and Shkumbin. The largest lake is Lake Shkodër, which borders Montenegro. Lake Ohrid, which Albania shares with North Macedonia, is a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its natural beauty and biodiversity.

Albania’s unique geography, with its long coastline, mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes creates a variety of natural landscapes ranging from beaches, to forests, pastures and snow-capped peaks. The country’s natural beauty and Mediterranean climate make it an appealing tourist destination.

A Brief History of Albania

Albania has a long and complex history, ranging from its days as part of the Roman Empire to decades of isolation under communist rule. ###Early History

The area that is now Albania was once part of the Roman Empire. After the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century CE, the region became part of the Byzantine Empire. Slavs and Bulgarians migrated into the area during the 6th and 7th centuries.

Ottoman Rule

The Ottoman Empire took control of Albania during the 15th century, ruling for over 400 years until Albania gained independence in 1912. During Ottoman rule, many Albanians converted to Islam. However, a majority retained their Christian faith.

Independence and Communist Regime

Albania gained independence in 1912. In the aftermath of World War II, the communist Party of Labor came to power, establishing a socialist state aligned with the Soviet Union. The authoritarian regime of Enver Hoxha isolated Albania from most of the outside world for decades.

Democratic Transition

The communist government collapsed in 1990-1991, and Albania transitioned to a democratic republic with a multi-party political system. The first democratic elections were held in 1991. Albania joined NATO in 2009 and applied for membership in the European Union in 2009. Accession talks are ongoing.

Today, Albania is a developing democracy with a market-based economy. Tourism has become an important industry, with many attracted to Albania’s beaches and mountains. Though still a largely secular country, Albania’s Muslim and Christian religious traditions continue to shape its culture. Understanding Albania’s complex history helps in gaining a fuller appreciation of this fascinating country.

Albania’s Government and Politics

Albania is a democratic parliamentary republic. The unicameral parliament is the central legislative body, comprised of 140 members elected through multi-party elections every four years. The Prime Minister is the head of government and holds executive power. Historically, Albania was a monarchy until 1946 when it became a Marxist-Leninist system. Since the 1990s, Albania established a multi-party system and transitioned to a democratic republic.

  • The two major political parties in Albania are the Socialist Party (currently the majority) and the Democratic Party. Several smaller parties are also active in parliament.
  • Corruption and organized crime have been significant challenges for Albania’s developing democracy. The government has taken steps to combat corruption in recent years, though more progress is still needed.
  • Albania became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2009. Joining the European Union (EU) is a top priority for Albania, though the EU has noted more progress is needed in areas like rule of law and anti-corruption before membership can be granted.
  • The president is the head of state, a largely ceremonial role. The president is elected by parliament to a five-year term. The current president is Ilir Meta, a former prime minister.

To summarize, Albania’s government is a democratic system with a separation of powers across the judicial, executive and legislative branches. Ongoing priorities for Albania’s democracy include reducing corruption, strengthening rule of law, and continuing integration with Western institutions like the EU and NATO. Overall, Albania has made significant progress in establishing a democratic political system and open society since transitioning from communism in the early 1990s.

The Albanian Culture, People, and Traditions

Albania has a long, rich history and culture. The Albanian people value hospitality, family, and tradition.

Religious Beliefs

The majority of Albanians (about 59%) practice Islam, with Christianity being the second largest religious group at 28%. However, religious tolerance is an important part of the culture. People of different faiths live harmoniously together.


The official language of Albania is Albanian, also called Shqip by locals. It is spoken by nearly 100% of the population. Greek and Italian are also commonly spoken, as well as English, which is widely taught in schools.


Albanian cuisine incorporates Mediterranean, Italian, Greek, and Turkish influences. Popular foods include byrek, a pastry stuffed with cheese or meat; gjellë, a stew made with meat and vegetables; and salçiçe, grilled sausages. Black tea, Turkish coffee, and raki, an anise-flavored spirit, are popular drinks.

Traditional Dress

Traditional Albanian dress includes the white plis or qeleshe, a brimless white cap; the xhubleta, an elaborately embroidered vest worn by women; the brez or shokë, a wide waistband; and the opinga, leather shoes with pointed toes. These traditional outfits are most often worn during celebrations and festivals.

Music and Dance

Albanian folk music incorporates a variety of instruments like the çifteli, a two-stringed instrument similar to a mandolin; the fyell, a type of flute; and the def, a frame drum. Popular folk dances include the vallja e rakisë, which imitates the effect of drinking raki, and vallja e shamisë, where dancers hold and manipulate a scarf.

Albania has a rich, diverse culture influenced by its long history. Learning about the religious beliefs, languages, cuisine, dress, music, and dance of Albania offers insight into the traditions and values of its welcoming, hospitable people.

Albania’s Cuisine and Food

Albania’s cuisine is influenced by Turkish, Greek, and Italian cultures and cooking styles. Some traditional Albanian foods you must try include:

  • Byrek – Fried or baked pastry stuffed with cheese, spinach, or meat. Byrek comes in savory and sweet varieties and is one of Albania’s most popular dishes.
  • Tavë Kosi – Baked lamb or chicken with rice and a garlicky yogurt sauce. Comfort food at its finest.
  • Fergesë – Bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggs scrambled together. Usually served for breakfast with crusty bread to dip in the flavorful juices.
  • Pite – A flaky pastry usually filled with cheese, spinach, or ground meat.
  • Qofta – Grilled meatballs, usually made of beef, lamb or turkey and seasoned with Mediterranean spices like oregano, parsley, and black pepper.


Two popular traditional Albanian drinks are raki and boza.

  • Raki – A grape-based brandy, usually homemade. It is commonly compared to grappa.
  • Boza – A mildly alcoholic drink made from fermented wheat or barley. It has a thick, creamy texture and a subtle sweet and sour flavor.

Albania produces wine, especially in the southern and central regions. Look for varietals like Shesh i Bardhë, a crisp white; Shesh i Zi, an earthy red; and Mavrud, a full-bodied red.

Coffee is also an important part of Albanian culture. Turks introduced coffee to Albania during the Ottoman rule. Albanians prepare Turkish coffee, brewing finely ground coffee beans in a pot on the stovetop with sugar. It is usually served in small cups and meant to be slowly savored.

Albania’s cuisine reflects its history and geography. It incorporates fresh Mediterranean ingredients, Balkan grilling techniques, and Turkish and Italian influences. The result is a mix of flavors as diverse and complex as the country itself. Experiencing Albanian food is a delicious way to begin understanding this fascinating culture.

Top Tourist Attractions and Things to Do in Albania

Albania offers many exciting attractions and activities for visitors. Some of the top places to see and things to do in Albania include:

Explore the Ancient City of Butrint

One of Albania’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, Butrint was an ancient Greek and Roman city. You can see ruins of theaters, temples, and churches in a picturesque natural setting. It’s an ideal spot for learning about the country’s history while enjoying the outdoors.

Visit the Blue Eye Spring

The Blue Eye Spring is a natural wonder featuring a deep blue pool of water surrounded by lush greenery. According to legend, the “blue eye” at the bottom of the pool grants wishes. Whether or not the legend is true, the spring’s bright azure waters and verdant landscape make it a must-see destination.

Relax on the Beaches of Ksamil

With crystal-clear turquoise waters and white sand beaches, the Ksamil Peninsula is a premier beach destination. The small coastal villages and secluded beaches offer a peaceful escape from the crowds. It’s a perfect spot for sunbathing, swimming, and other beach activities.

Explore the Rugged Theth National Park

For outdoor adventure, head to Theth National Park, a mountainous area with stunning peaks, valleys, and hiking trails. Some highlights include the Grunas Waterfall, Canyon of Gjeravica, and historic stone houses in the village of Theth. The park is ideal for hiking, camping, climbing, and other rugged outdoor pursuits.

Visit Colorful Berat

Nicknamed the “City of a Thousand Windows,” Berat has a well-preserved historical center with Ottoman-era architecture, stone buildings, and Byzantine churches. Walking through the cobblestone streets, you’ll see houses with distinctive white walls and red-tiled roofs. It’s a perfect introduction to Albania’s cultural heritage.

In summary, Albania offers historic sites, natural wonders, outdoor adventures, and cultural attractions for all interests. Exploring the country’s top tourist highlights will give you an unforgettable glimpse into this fascinating but often overlooked Balkan nation.

The Albanian Economy and Industries

The economy of Albania has shifted from agriculture to industry and services over the past decades. Some of the major industries and economic contributors in Albania today include:

  • Tourism: Albania’s picturesque coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, stunning mountain ranges, historic sites and vibrant culture have made tourism an increasingly important industry. Revenue from tourism has grown substantially since the early 1990s.
  • Mining: Albania has extensive deposits of chromium, copper, nickel and coal. Mining for chromite, copper, and nickel ores are important sources of export revenue and employment. Coal mining also provides jobs, though mostly for domestic energy production.
  • Agriculture: While agriculture’s contribution to GDP has declined, it still employs about 40% of the population.Major agricultural products include wheat, corn, tobacco, figs, olives, grapes, sugar beets, potatoes and dairy. Cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry are raised for meat, milk, eggs, and wool.
  • Manufacturing: Albania has a developing manufacturing sector, including textiles and clothing, building materials, and processed foods. The textile industry accounts for about 80% of exports and provides employment for around 100,000 people. Building materials like cement, ceramics and marble are also exported.
  • Energy: Albania generates over 95% of its electricity from hydropower, making it a major exporter of electricity in the region. There are plans to increase domestic energy production from other renewable sources like solar and wind.

Albania continues to make progress in transitioning to a market-based economy, improving infrastructure, increasing foreign direct investment, and reducing corruption. With further economic reforms and integration into global markets, Albania’s diverse industries and economic potential can continue to grow.

Albania Fun Facts and Trivia

Albania is a small country with a rich history and culture. Here are some interesting facts about Albania:

Albania has a long history of occupation.

  • Albania has been occupied by the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. It was under Ottoman rule for nearly 500 years until 1912.
  • Albania was occupied by Italy during World War II until 1943. After WWII, it became a communist nation and was allied with the Soviet Union.
  • Albania transitioned from a communist nation to a democratic republic in the early 1990s.

The capital city Tirana has an interesting history.

  • Tirana became the capital city of Albania in 1920. Prior to that, the capital city was Shkodër.
  • Under communist leader Enver Hoxha, many historical buildings in Tirana were destroyed to make way for communist architecture. Today, remnants of communist architecture can still be seen in Tirana.

The Albanian language is unique.

  • The Albanian language is one of the oldest languages in Europe. It is not related to any other European language and originates from the Illyrian language.
  • Albania’s two main dialects are Gheg and Tosk. The Tosk dialect is the basis for the official Albanian language.

Albania has a diverse landscape.

  • Albania has beaches along its coastline, the Albanian Alps in the north, and fields and pastures in the east.
  • Albania’s coastline on the Adriatic and Ionian Sea is home to picturesque beaches and resorts. The Albanian Riviera is a popular tourist destination.
  • Albania’s interior has scenic mountains, including Mount Korab which is the highest peak in Albania.

Albania may be a small country but it is filled with history, culture, natural beauty and intrigue. There is more to discover in this fascinating country.

FAQs About Albania: Answering Your Top Questions

Albania is a country that remains mysterious to many. As you plan your trip, you likely have some questions about what to expect. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Albania.

What language do they speak in Albania?

The official language of Albania is Albanian, also known as Shqip. It is spoken by nearly all Albanians and is a distinct Indo-European language isolated from other languages in the region. Italian, English, and Greek are also commonly spoken, especially in tourist destinations and cities.

Is Albania safe to visit?

Albania is generally a safe country to visit, but some caution is advised. Petty theft and pickpocketing can occur, so secure your valuables and documents. Be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded tourist spots. Violent crime is rare, but corruption and organized crime exist, so exercise caution if encountering police or government officials asking for bribes. Most visits proceed without issues, but remain vigilant as you would in any new place.

What is the weather like in Albania?

Albania has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and short, mild winters. Summers last from June to September, with average highs around 82 F. The coastline has a hot sea climate while the interior has a hot-summer Mediterranean climate. Winters are rainy, with average highs in the low 50s F. The spring and fall shoulder seasons in April-May and September-October can also be pleasant times to visit.

Do I need a visa to enter Albania?

Citizens of EU and NATO countries, as well as most other European and Western nations, do not need a visa to enter Albania for stays up to 90 days. US citizens can enter visa-free for up to one year. Still, check with your local embassy for the latest requirements and ensure your passport is valid for at least three months from your departure date from Albania. Entry requirements can change, so verify that your nation allows visa-free access to Albania before travel.


As you have seen, Albania is a unique country with a long, complex history and culture. While it may be small, Albania has much to offer visitors, from breathtaking natural landscapes and historic sites to delicious cuisine and hospitable people. With growing tourism infrastructure, it is easier than ever for you to plan a trip there. We hope this introduction has shown you some of the highlights of this fascinating Balkan nation. Whether you are seeking outdoor adventures, cultural immersion, or just relaxation on a sunny beach, Albania has something for you. As you consider your next European destination, be sure to keep Albania in mind. You are sure to be charmed by the Land of the Eagles.