"Resurgent Tirana" Top 5 Page for this destination Tirana by antistar

Tirana Travel Guide: 379 reviews and 981 photos

I was always going to love Tirana. I'd wanted to come to Albania since I first heard of the country. Places like Skhodra, Gjirokastra and Vlore sounded so exotic, and yet the country was only a couple of hours away by plane. The history of the country was steeped in the curious and the crazy: bizarre and bloody feudal codes, insane leaders, unthinkable isolation and improbable events.

For me Albania is a fascinating country, and Tirana is its capital. For many it will be a socialist nightmare of concrete, peeling paint and cracked pavements. For me it was a delightful city of wide tree lined boulevards and grand squares, populated with unforgettable, and sometimes extremely colourful, brutalist architecture. It also has some great examples of heroic and socialist realism, like the huge mural on the front of the National History Museum.

Tirana was the home to Enver Hoxha, a leader who was the epitome of an evil dictator, and his extreme Stalinist legacy has left its mark on the city and on the soul of the country. After Stalin's death Hoxha found himself in a world with few friends. Kruschev's new USSR just wasn't communist enough for him, and neither was Mao's post-revolutionary China. In fact nobody was communist enough for Hoxha, and so while he cultivated his own cult of personality, he slowly turned the country in on itself.

All flights over Albania were banned. Nobody was allowed to leave the country, and nobody was allowed in. In fact even simply receiving a letter from abroad could result in a jail sentence for the receiving party. And as Hoxha's paranoia peaked, he had nearly a million virtually indestructible concrete bunkers built throughout the country - nearly one for every four Albanians. The bunkers were so tough that they are still with the country today, decades after his death, around the capital, along the borders, on the shore. Everywhere.

Even Hoxha's death didn't bring salvation to the people of Albania. His successors somehow managed to make things worse, bungling an already broken economy. Hope was raised after democratic reforms and a pro-Western orientation, but again they were dashed. Albania's inexperience with the free market caused millions to invest in fraudulent pyramid schemes. And when the people realised that they had been fleeced of their savings, all hell broke loose.

In 1997 it emerged that nearly two thirds of Albanians had invested about half of the country's GDP into fraudulent pyramid schemes that collapsed leaving thousands without money or hope. Believing that the government was profiting from these scams, the people took to the street, with many even raiding army barracks and taking guns. The country fell into chaos and anarchy, and before order was restored, as many as 2000 people lost their lives. Thousands more crowded onto boats trying to escape. A country that once closed in on itself was now collapsing in on itself.

That was ten years ago.

Go to Tirana today and you would never believe that Hoxha and the pyramid schemes ever happened. The streets of Tirana were once empty of traffic: Hoxha restrictions meant only 600 cars existed in the entire country. Today there are thousands, and many, many Mercedes. Once there was no private business, now it thrives, with many well stocked shops, great cafes and restaurants, and busy streets filled with well dressed people, especially around the fashionable Blloku quarter, where Hoxha and his cronies used to hang out.

Tirana is a fascinating city, and capital of a fascinating country. It's very relaxing, with friendly, hospitable people, some great restaurants, and a vibrant street life. You can pretty much see everything the city has to offer in a day or two, but it's a great place to base yourself for exploring nearby places, like Durres and Kruja.

Photo Album on Facebook (better quality).

  • Last visit to Tirana: Apr 2007
  • Intro Updated Oct 21, 2012
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Reviews (30)

Comments (14)

  • HORSCHECK's Profile Photo
    Apr 28, 2011 at 4:16 AM

    Tim, helpful accomodation tips here.

  • yumyum's Profile Photo
    Feb 14, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    We'll go to Tirana before the Euromeet :) Love your train tip!

  • CatherineReichardt's Profile Photo
    Nov 3, 2010 at 6:02 AM

    Utterly fascinating - yet another for the 'Must Do' list! How could you fail to be intrigued by a country that was so obsessed with Norman Wisdom that they adopted him as their own? Wonder how they marked his recent passing? Regards Cathy

  • SWFC_Fan's Profile Photo
    Sep 24, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    Hi Tim. Many thanks for your compliments on my Sheffield and Budapest pages. You've built a wonderful page here on this fascinating country! It was a pleasure to read! I hope to visit Albania at some point in the next couple of years.

  • Jun 12, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    Greatings from Albania, just wanted to let you all know that Vila Ambasador ( bar/restaurant/hotel) in Tirana, is opened again. Search in google or facebook Vila Ambasador, any question you have, just do it there. Wish you a nice trip in Albania

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Dec 16, 2008 at 12:42 AM

    Thanks for enlightening me on the country's turbulent history and developing present!

  • murta's Profile Photo
    Aug 15, 2008 at 4:23 PM

    Very good introduction for Tirana esp. for the ones who are not sure whether to include it in their trip plans or not. It sounds worth the visit!

  • iwys's Profile Photo
    Feb 3, 2008 at 11:25 AM

    Fascinating page. I especially like your Serenata restaurant tip.

  • call_me_rhia's Profile Photo
    Feb 2, 2008 at 12:24 PM

    i have also been fascinated with tirana and albania in general - and like you I did not find vila ambasador. excellent page, thanks

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Nov 17, 2007 at 4:09 PM

    A fantastic page providing an extremely entertaining and infomative look into this 'unusual' country! I've always been fascinated by the place and appreciated your Intro history update. I loved its little quirks and had a number of laughs while enjoying!

antistar

“Treat hosts like your girlfriend, and never tell them how wonderful the last one was.”

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