Tourists do not frequently travel to Albania, and little is known about its habits and customs. Therefore, it is interesting to find out in advance to avoid any surprises once there.
Albania, which is not yet a member of the EU, is a little-known nation that is becoming a tourist hotspot.
Here, I’ve gathered some crucial and practical (I hope) facts regarding this nation that I have noticed during my trip to Albania. I will discuss things like culture, customs, road systems, and the environment.
Once there, the objective is for things to go as smoothly as possible. With this, I hope to have prepared you for the journey.
Things to know before heading to Albania
1. In Albania, cash is often used
Stores that take credit cards are quite uncommon in Albania. Even at restaurants and petrol stations, cash is used for all transactions.
You must genuinely visit large supermarkets, large restaurant chains or large petrol stations in order to use a credit card to make a purchase. For the latter, you must pay attention to the petrol price signs. Usually, here is where it says if the station accepts credit cards or not.
The Visa/Mastercard logo on the panel will make it obvious to you, but the price of petrol, which is higher at stations with a terminal for card transactions, also reflects it. A price disparity that can be explained by the seller’s excessive bank fees.
Therefore, if you visit Albania, you must bring cash or consider withdrawing money from a “real” bank (often located in a large city). When I use the term “real” bank, I refer to ATMs that are physically affixed to a bank rather than “floating” distributors that may be located in a different place..
On one instance, I had to withdraw money from one of these, and the withdrawal costs came to about £8. It’s simply enormous. I had no costs when I later withdrew money from the Credit Bank of Albania during my stay.
Therefore, be cautious to plan ahead for your withdrawals to avoid having to use one of the many “floating” ATMs, which charge excessive fees, to withdraw money. As a guidance, I suggest budgeting for about 10 euros a day if you want to know how much to withdraw. It should cover your 3 meals in a town like Berat. If you plan to do activities, aim for a higher amount.
2. A very impoverished nation with high demands
I rapidly came to the conclusion that Albania was a very impoverished country during my tour. A plus for me in terms of my ability to spend. I promised myself that I would be successful in being frugal while enjoying myself.
But what a mistake. There, You can dine for less than £5 per person per meal, and cigarettes cost less than 2€ a packet. On the other hand, a drink can cost up to 5 euros, and the price is comparable to or even more than in Western Europe.
In summer months, prices are similar to those at home in the UK, in a nation that unquestionably does not pay as well as England. The cost of living there is significantly more than the average monthly earnings of an Albanian, which is £350 in 2022 (as per the study made by Numbeo).
The situation is good for us visitors, but we genuinely wonder how Albanians manage to have a descent standard of living.
3. Local currency and language
Albania has its own currency, the “lek” (or “lekes” in the plural), which is also spelled “ALL,” as it is not yet a member of the European Union (accession discussions began in July 2022) or the euro zone. 1 Euro is equal to 100 ALL at the time of writing.
Albanians have their own language in addition to their own currency. Obviously, it’s. Albanian. Because it is a Latin language (unlike its Slavic neighbours, who derive their language from the Cyrillic alphabet), you can read and comprehend the signs even if you don’t understand the language.
To be clear, Albanians do not speak English particularly well, but we are still able to communicate.
4. No to say Yes and Yes to say NO
After interacting with an Albanian, I have learned something very alarming. Here, they nod their heads to indicate disagreement and do a head shake to indicate agreement.
It’s entirely the reverse of what I’m accustomed to, which makes it occasionally challenging to comprehend. Occasionally, we repeated a question to be sure we understood the response.
Additionally, this has been observed in Bulgaria. It is quite practical to know it beforehand so that you are not upset by these contradicting gestures.
5. Islam as the religion of the majority of Albanians
Albania is a secular nation with no official faiths; yet, 70% of Albanians are Muslims, while 20% are Orthodox and 10% are Catholic.
As a result, there are numerous mosques in Albania, and the residents’ days are punctuated by the 5 canonical prayers. It’s not at all uncomfortable.
6 - Not well maintained road network
As for the roads in Albania, I cannot say that they are in good condition. The road network is chaotic, with many holes and roads that need repairs. You have to be careful on the road and hang on too, at times .
7- The country has only 1 international airport
You have to be aware of the fact that Albania has only 1 international airport in Tirana. They are building a second one in Vlora and it is scheduled to open sometime in 2024.
Therefore, you have only two options when visiting Albania, fly to Tirana or Fly to Corfu international airport and get on a ferry to Saranda if you are more interested in the southern part of Albania like Ksamil, Saranda or Himara.
8 - Dangling electrical cables
Electric wires are frequently seen all over the streets. Therefore, one may also see the electric lines outdoors in other countries, although the situation is different there.
They can occasionally be hung incorrectly, in the roadway, or even a touch too low. It somehow reminds me of the images I’ve seen of India.
I repeatedly ran into it while driving my scooter, so it’s risky. Thankfully, I had noticed them, and they just lightly hit my helmet without causing any harm.
9 - An old fashioned country
I had the feeling that Albania a fairly filthy nation. Waste is everywhere, and they naturally do not sort it. It’s a pity since the sceneries are destroyed.
Beyond that, I saw that the nation was considerably behind in terms of industrial development: There aren’t many chain stores or department stores for food, apparel, or even fast food (there isn’t a McDonald’s, for instance).
The traditional method used by farmers to labour in their fields is by hand, without the use of equipment, or with extremely ancient tractor models.
Along the roadways, there are several fruit and vegetable stands run by farmers looking to make a few cents. You can clearly see the country’s economic, industrial, and social differences from the rest of Europe there.
10 - A Mediterranean climate
The weather in Albania is Mediterranean. Around 10°C in the winter, and quite hot and dry in the summer.
To give you some idea, when I visited Albania at the beginning of August in 2023 as part of my European vacation, the temperature was already between 35°C and 42°C. I don’t know if that’s typical, but given global warming, it may be.
Albania also features a hilly area in the north, where temperatures are often milder than they are along the coast or in Tirana, the country’s capital.
11 - Albanian alps
I have to admit that I wasn’t thrilled by Albania. This is not a barbarous country, but in comparison to what I had been able to witness earlier on my journey, I can say that I was not subjugated .
There are several lovely beaches, but Tirana, the capital, is not as attractive as it is commonly believed. But on the way to Montenegro, I have stopped in the Albanian Alps, which are really beautiful.
This mountainous area with its lakes, waterfalls, and rivers is well worth the trip. Nobody expects to see such amazing landscapes in Albania. It’s a very lovely discovery, and yet I haven’t seen all.
I had only planned one hike in the area, which I wasn’t even able to complete due to the weather.
However, after asking around, I discovered that there were many other stunning hikes to take, including one that is quite well-known: a loop of a few days that combines hiking, bus travel, and boat travel in the valleys of Koman and Valbona. I leave it up to your imagination to visualise the kind of scenery you can encounter.
12 - 1 Leke coins are not accepted by a majority of shops
When in Albania, I had a hard time paying for things using 1 Leke coins as the shop-owners see no value in storing them.
You can only use them in open food markets, and a tiny minority of shops. I advice you to refuse if any shop-owner tries to give you some.
13 - During the summer months holidays (July and August), there’s an inflation of prices
If you plan to visit Albania, I highly recommend to visit outside the summer months of July and August. I visited the country in the month of August, and the accommodation cost went up as the demand was going up.
Same applies to food and drinks costs. So I advice you to visit (if you can) during the months of June or September, to avoid crowded beached and pricy accomodation.
14 - Local buses are packed with passengers
Another thing to be aware of is that if you take a local bus in Albania, is the fact that bus drivers won’t leave before using every space available inside.
I have taken a local bus from Berat to Saranda, and I was surprised to see the use of plastic chairs to add more passengers between the seats.
Also, some bus drivers collect and drop parcels in small vilages. This is something I’ve not seen in any other third world country I have visited.
15 - Driving in Albania is relatively dangerous
Driving in Albania may be an interesting experience, but you must take specific safety measures to protect both your safety and the safety of other road users.
It is crucial to consider Albanians’ occasionally risky behaviour if you are a foreign driver because they don’t always abide by the traffic laws. When driving on twisting mountain roads, one must pay more attention because right-hand priority are not usually observed.
I have rented a scooter to commute from Sarandë to Gjirokaster, and the only thing I can say is that it was risky on the road, and I quickly regretted my decision. I did it to avoid getting on local buses and spend most of the day hopping on and off buses.
Ultimately, I highly recommend to exercise caution and accept cultural differences when driving in order to fully appreciate Albania’s breathtaking environment and undiscovered gems.
16 - Belino croissant for Breakfast is a must
One thing I have noticed is the popularity of the Belino croissants in Albania. They come in multiple flavours, and are sold almost everywhere in shops and supermarkets. They cost from 60 LEK to 120 LEK depending on the location of the shop.
Additional interesting facts about Albania
- Although mother Theresa of Calcutta grew up in Macedonia, her family and origins are truly Albanian. This has generated many differences between Albanians and Macedonians.
- The Albanians call their country Shqiperia instead of Albania, because Shqipe is an Albanian term which means eagle, an animal associated with this country.
- Albanians consider themselves a race and not a nation per se, and for the most part they live outside their country.
- In this European country, there are Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox, but above all there are many atheists.
- An interesting fact is that in Albania there are more Mercedes Benz per capita than in any other part of the world.
Here, I’ve provided you with my list of the top facts about Albania. I sincerely hope you took something away from this and, more importantly, that it will help you plan your trip and stay there.
Please feel free to share your insights and suggestions for other travellers in the comments section.