If you’ve already visited Albania’s capital, Tirana, you might want to consider venturing further afield and discovering some of the country’s other, smaller cities, such as Shkoder in the north. While Shkoder is a small city and definitely not a major tourist destination, there are still a few interesting things to do here that make it worth adding to your itinerary.
Visit Rozafa Castle
One must-do while you’re in Shkoder is to visit Rozafa castle. It’s situated on top of a hill overlooking the city and has amazing views of the landscape around – Albania on one side and Montenegro on the other.
It costs 400 Lek (about 4 dollars) per person to visit the castle so it’s cheap and worth the visit. I don’t know if it was because of the season (early October), the fact it’s 2020 (the worst year ever, TM) or because Shkoder isn’t a massive tourist lure, but we had the castle almost entirely to ourselves.
There’s a fairly large area to explore with semi-intact castle ruins and great views.
Have lunch by the lake
Shkoder is located next to the large Shkodra Lake which straddles the border with neighbouring Montenegro. Under normal circumstances you can drive to the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, within about an hour, but unfortunately the border crossing requires a negative covid test at the moment and Montenegro is also on Ukraine’s red list.
In any case the lake is a perfect place to spend a day or afternoon if there’s nice weather. There are lots of really nice traditional restaurants and bars or coffee places all along the side of the lake so you can easily find a suitable place to stop and have lunch while enjoying the view.
If the covid restrictions are eventually lifted, then it would definitely also be a great idea to add Podgorica to your itinerary, since it’s so close you can actually see it over the other side of the lake.
Explore the city centre
Shkoder is fairly small but there are some interesting sights for you to take in when you walk around the compact but charming city centre.
A good portion of the centre is pedestrianised so it’s very easy to just walk around everything of interest on foot in about half a day. Within the pedestrianised area you can see the large Ebu Bekr mosque and at the other end of the zone after walking for around ten minutes, you’ll find the Santo Stefano Cathedral. Albania generally has an interesting mix of Islamic and Christian religious buildings, and here is the perfect example of a mosque and a cathedral coexisting relatively close together.
Walk down Rruga Kole Idromeno
Rruga Kole Idromeno is the main pedestrianised street in the centre of Shkoder and it’s where you’ll find most of the shops, restaurants and bars. There are a few decent restaurants down here, some with roof terraces or outdoor seating, and plenty of places for beer or coffee. Something I noticed in Albania generally is that you’ll find a typical ‘bar’ on every single street, selling basically just (average quality) coffee and beer or other alcoholic drinks. They’re not always very appealing places for foreigners and are usually frequented by local men having their morning coffee and/or beer. They are very popular though and you’ll find several of them wherever you go.
This street has a very Mediterranean vibe, and is a good place to have a walk and maybe sit for a coffee or something outside and watch the locals going about their business. You’ll probably find that not many people speak English, but very often they do speak at least basic Italian, which comes in handy if your grasp of Albanian is as non-existent as mine is.
You’ll probably need a car for this stop, but if you do have one, this is an interesting sight just around 15 minutes drive from the centre. The bridge was built in the 18th century by the local Ottoman pasha in a similar style to the famous bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s a popular tourist site and worth going to see and walk across it to see the view.
It’s worth spending at least a day if not 2 or 3 in Shkoder if you can fit it into your Albania itinerary. What are your favourite spots in Albania? Leave a comment below!