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Tirana is the capital of Albania.
Sulejman Pasha Bargjini, a native feudal lord from Mullet, established the city in 1614. His first constructions were a mosque, a bakery and a hamam (Turkish bath). On February 8, 1920 Tirana was made the temporary capital by the Congress of Lushnje, and it was proclaimed the permanent capital on December 31, 1925.
Albania spent the majority of the last 60 years under a strict and isolationist Dictator, Enver Hoxha. Upon his death, the country moved towards a free market economic model, with mixed results. Presently, Tirana is where the old and new Albania meet. Unpaved streets host brand new Land Rovers, iPhone-toting youngsters rub shoulders with street vendors peddling all manners of items, and gleaming glass towers look down on abandoned construction projects.
Tourists usually find Tirana a beautiful and charming city, where cosmopolitan and small town feelings are intertwined with a lively night life. However, Tirana suffers from pollution problems mainly due to the rapid increase in cars in the city and continuous construction. Long gone are the days when Tirana used to be subject to power outages almost daily and this made Tirana a noisy city as the lack of power and lack of traffic lights had cars navigating by honking their horns.
Today the situation has dramatically improved regarding power outages. Tirana is undergoing a major renovation from its communist days. Many of the ugly dull buildings have been repainted, but a lot of work still needs to be done. English is rapidly gaining steam as the second language of the city with the youth but many older residents also speak Italian.
Albanians are very hospitable towards foreigners, despite media frequently portraying them as thieves and mobsters. Tirana itself is very approachable if you're the adventurous type - crime is rare, if ever directed towards foreigners and the costs are very low by regional standards. The worst experience you may have is with erratic driving style of Albanians.
The main business and entertainment area (not by coincidence) has become "The Block" (Blloku) which is the area where in the past, the communist leaders used to live under strict protection. Locals prefer to hang out at the many cafes and main parks. Tirana is a youthful and lively town resonating constant energy. A popular retreat is by cable car to Mount Dajti where one can get a panoramic view of the city from above.
A new tourist information office has recently opened on Rruga Ded Gjo Luli, just north of Skanderbeg Square (behind the National Historic Museum). The English-speaking staff are very helpful and can provide maps and directions to hostels/hotels etc. Also free copies of "Tirana in your pocket" guide, which includes vital information about bus and furgon schedules.
Tirana is served by Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (Rinas International Airport) (IATA: TIA)  17 km from the centre of town.
The following airlines offer service to/from Tirana:
Adria Airways (Ljubljana), Air Serbia (Belgrade), Austrian Tyrolean Airways (Vienna), Cuneo, Florence, Forli, Genoa, Heraklion, Milan-Malpensa, Milan-Orio al Serio, Parma, Perugia, Pisa, Pristina, Rhodes, Rimini, Rome-Fiumicino, Trieste, Venice-Treviso, Verona, Zurich), British Airways (London-Gatwick), Lufthansa (Munich), Olympic Air (Athens, Thessaloniki), Turkish Airlines (Istanbul-Atatürk).
There is no rail connection to Tirana as of September 2013, due to planned relocation of the city's only railroad station and redevelopment of the existing site. This makes Kashar, about 10 kilometers from central Tirana, the closest railroad station to the capital. It was completely renovated together with some rolling stock and opened in May 2015. From there, you can reach Durrës, Shkodra, Elbasan, Vlorë (twice daily in the summer), and Librazhd (line to Pogradec discontinued since 2012 due to mud slides along Ohrid Lake track). Even though train services are very poor, when compared to West Balkan standards, they may be more frequent, cheaper, and more scenic than taking the bus. Taking the train to Elbasan is not recommended: the four hour trip makes a large detour via Durrës (not very scenic) while Elbasan is only 35 km away from Tirana.
Tirana does not have a central bus station, so you may be dropped at various locations in the city. Buses can be used to reach Tirana from other cities in Albania and internationally. There is daily bus service from Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, Serbia,Greece (Patras, Athens) and Turkey and multiple services per day to Pristina, Kosovo and other cities in Albania. Buses with international destinations leave from under the trees behind the National Museum on Skenderberg Square. Schedules change frequently so check the latest info in your place of departure.
What to do in Tirana
Go for a walk in the evening along the main streets or at one of the several parks and sit for a coffee or drink. Take part in the vibrant nightlife by visiting one of the numerous nightclubs. If you are adventurous and brave enough, try the peculiar experience of driving in the city's streets by renting a car, or rent a bicycle from an Ecovolis station. You can also cruise the city with a limousine or venture out in the picturesque suburbs either south or northeast/west of Tirana. Below are
Sky Tower Rotating Bar. (Rr. Ibrahim Rugova) This is a must! The rotation is a bit jerky and may leave you slightly seasick.
Murat Toptani Street. Murat Toptani Street is a recently opened pedestrian only street east of Rinia Park constructed with stone and located nearby Tirana Castle walls. Traditional houses, cafes, Hotel Millennium, an Italian B&B and a local park are found here.
Sheshi Skënderbej (Skanderbeg Square). Tirana's city centre. A statue of Albanian hero Skanderbeg stands in the square with the Albanian flag on the side. Renovations have made the square pedestrians and public transportation friendly. Government buildings featuring Italian architecture and some structures outlined below are all right off this square.
Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard (Bulevardi Dëshmorët e Kombit (Nation's Martyrs Boulevard)). A panoramic boulevard built by the Italians in the 1930s similar to the Champs de Elysee extending south from Skanderbeg Square. The boulevard features Fascist, Communist, and modern architecture of government buildings, business centers and hotels. Many local parks are found here.
Taiwan Complex (Kompleksi Tajvani). This beautiful place in the heart of downtown Tirana. It includes restaurants, casinos, bars, a club, etc. It is surrounded by a huge lit water fountain with a glowing bridge that reaches to the restaurant, and is an ideal place for all ages. Children enjoy gourmet ice cream and iced European soft drinks, whilst adults and teens can enjoy fun casinos. This is an excellent tourist attraction, and many Albanian celebrities can be found in the area. There is a bowling alley in the basement of the building, however the overall condition leaves something to be desired if you have bowled anywhere else.
Mother Teresa Square. Located at the southern side of Deshmoret e Kombit Boulevard, this square features typical Fascist architecture. Buildings include the University of Tirana, Archaeological Institute, Academy of Arts and the National Stadium.
Mount Dajti (Mount Dajti National Park), Dajt Commune. 1,612m high. Offers great views of Tirana. A very relaxing area, mount Dajti can be reached through an Austrian-built express cable car (800 lek round trip). Take a city bus (30 lek) from beside the mosque at Skanderbeg Square (20 min). The view along the route is worth the cost even if you don't get on top of the mountain (there is a military zone there). The tourism complex offers a few hotels and restaurants, but it is great for taking a breath of fresh air and activities like mountain sports, horse riding, trekking, skiing etc. Bikes are allowed on the cable car free of charge and the ride down the rough mountain road is an adventure which offers great panoramas. The Pellumba Cave in the area is worth a visit. Unfortunately, litter is becoming a problem on Mount Dajti. This detracts from the experience somewhat, but the beautiful scenery still makes the trip worthwhile. 700 lek return.
Grand Park along the Artificial Lake (Parku i Madh), (southern part of the city). People have picnics and have fun, and the natural beauty allows it because of the huge trees, open spaces, and mountains surrounding them. An artificial lake lies in the middle of the Park. It is popular with locals and tourists as a place to walk around and enjoy a lunch or coffee at one of the restaurants or cafés. Over 120 types of plants. A popular swimming pool complex is located nearby.
Ali Demi Skate Park, (Go north-east on the Bulevardi-Bajram-Curri, and then take a right on the Ruga-Ali-Demi. You should go about half a mile on that road. Then the skate park will be directly on your right. You can’t miss it; its right next to a park with a fountain in the middle of it and a café with a jungle-gym, there are many green ramps.). The Ali-Demi skate park is a great place to go with your family because there is a nice park on one of the sides next to the skate park, there are markets, and a beautiful café shop with a playground for small children with typical swings and benches and soccer fields in the back. The skate park is full of people on bikes, roller skates, and skate boarders. The Skate Park is very good for beginners, the ramps are all cement (there is coping on the ramps). The ramps have a good variety—there are small ramps along with big ones. Almost all the ramps are shaped like a plateau they are good for caching air. There are many places to do ollies and 180s off of and other places to grind if you are an experienced skate boarder. The skate park is slightly below the rest of the park so you shouldn’t go when it’s raining because it fills up with water. There are quarter pipes along the sides of the skate park. This skate park is very fun for skaters, bikers, and roller skaters.
Bunkart, Prane Rruges Rexhepi, Rruga Teki Selenica. This is a bunker realization of an art gallery, with many corridors full of art works to admire. The most famous works of Albanian art are available here to witness and observe.
CinePlexx, (You can get the specific TEG bus near Kulla E Sahatit.). 3D cinema with many of the latest movies at the biggest Tirana commercial centre.
Imperial, (You can get a bus to Qendra Kristal or Sheraton near the center.). 3D cinemas with many of the latest movies at one of the greatest commercial centres and hotels in Tirana .
Petrela Castle. This is one of Albania's best preserved castles, found a short distance south of Tirana. It is known as an ancient settlement 2000 years old and was commanded by princess Mamica, the sister of the national hero, Skanderbeg. A restaurant has been built on the castle where local delicacies can be tasted.
Preze Castle. This 15th century castle is located on the picturesque hills of Preze village west of Rinas Airport. Visit the local artisan studio of Drita Gordi where you can find her traditional sewing equipment and handmade local souvenirs.
Brar Canyon and Bridge (Northeast of Tirana inside Mount Dajti National Park), Brar village (Follow Myslym Keta Street (SH61)). A panoramic canyon and Ottoman bridge just steps from the capital. Spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and Tirana. A cave and a beautiful waterfall is found near Shengjergj village.
Southeast of Tirana (Tirana's Garden (Bahcja e Tiranes)), Rruga e Elbasanit (South-East of Tirana follow SH3). Berzhita and Farka greenbelt areas feature many small restaurants and resorts in the outskirts of the city along Rruga e Elbasanit. One can find shooting range facilities, a modest golf club, horse riding, or wooden villa accommodation equipped with swimming pools. The area also includes some gated communities with luxury villas. Additionally, you can visit Farka Artificial Lake Park in Farka where you can enjoy a splendid view of the Tirana Mountain Range.
Cave of Pellumbas. Very close to Tirana, Pellumbas village opens spectacular rural landscapes. After walking a 2 km long trail you get to the wonderful archaeological site of Albania. Outdoor Albania organizes guided trips to Cave of Pellumbas. Don't forget to visit the spectacular Erzeni Canyon along the Erzeni River south of the park near the dam.
Being victim of a crime is not a major concern in Tirana. Petty thefts or scams do exist, but in no larger scale than in many other cities. Beggars will approach people in the central areas, but simply ignoring them is usually enough to make them go away. In suburban areas, groups of stray dogs may intimidate foreigners. The best advice is to simply ignore them and keep walking.
You should take some precautions when walking around the city. The main advice is to simply watch your step. Although many parts of the city are maintained, there remain holes and worn-down street parts. Cars also seem to drive more recklessly than in most European cities, and assume a right-of-way, so care is needed in crossing the street. Not even a green light is always a guarantee of safety! Try to see when the locals cross the street and cross with them.