Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

Backpackers Guide to visiting Gjirokaster, Albania

This is a backpacker’s guide to visiting Gjirocaster in Albania, complete with all the helpful tips, budget accommodation recommendations and a list of all the great things to do in Gjirokaster.


If you are backpacking through Albania, Gjirokaster must end up on your itinerary. The town is absolutely magical and like no other place you will ever see.

Gjirocaster was not what I expected. I genuinely thought I was going to spend a few days in a typical, well-preserved Ottoman old town. I knew it was charming and cute. I knew there were some great things to do in Gjirocaster.

But what I found was a stunning little town straight out of a fantasy movie, landscapes that are out of this world, and a cool travellers’ vibe.

Known as Stone City, Gjirokaster’s old town is perched on a hill with an impressive castle towering over the town and surrounded by incredible nature. You will feel like you have truly travelled back in time or changed reality.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)
Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

Gjirokaster is also one of the best backpacking destinations in Albania. Alongside towns like Berat, Shkoder or Tirana, it has some of the best hostels in the country, is very solo traveller friendly and considering how popular it is, it wasn’t too expensive either!

So without further ado, here is everything you need to know about visiting Gjirocaster. 

Things to Know Before Travelling to Gjirokaster – Helpful Tips!

There are a few things you should definitely know before travelling to Gjirocater. Those tips will help make a few crucial decisions like where to book, how long for and what to consider when planning your Gjirocaster backpacking trip.

  • Gjirocaster is located on the hill. Be prepared for a steep walk-up or reserve some cash for the taxi. You can also opt for a bus – more on this in the ‘How to get to’ section below.
  • There are three areas of Gjirocaster, Manalat, the actual Old Town/Bazaar and the modern part of the town at the foot of the hill. The first two quarters are just 15 15-minute walk from each other, and both are located on the hill. Manalat is quieter and often a bit cheaper. More on this in the ‘Where to stay’ section.
  • If you are wondering if it’s worth exploring the bottom, modern part of the town, wonder no more. There is not much happening there. I went a couple of times hoping I would find some hidden gems. It wasn’t bad, just a regular town. So if you fancy getting some groceries or general shopping, you can definitely wander around.
  • The whole Old Town area is slightly secluded from the modern part of the town. And the rest of the world really 😉 There are hardly any supermarkets (don’t even dream about proper grocery shopping) and you will mostly find restaurants, bars cafes and souvenir shops. If you don’t want to eat out every day, be sure to stock up beforehand.
Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania
Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

  • Pack comfortable shoes. You will walk up and down a lot! Most of the paths and streets are cobbled and can be slippery.
  • Gjirocaster can be a bit pricey especially for those backpackers and travellers not used to eating out every day. For a nice cheap meal stop by Restaurant Muço, Restaurant Tradicional Odaja, or Rrapi Restaurant! There is also Restaurant Bebej Tradicional in Manalat where all the dishes are 200 Lek!
  • Two or three days are enough for Gjirocaster. I stayed for over a week, but I had some work to do on this blog. In hindsight, I should have stayed longer in Berat instead. Gjirocaster is wonderful but really, you can see almost all its attractions in a day and the old town is pretty isolated from the ‘civilization’. And I get it, it’s not always about visiting attractions, maybe you just want to soak in the atmosphere. Again, Berat is better for that, and you can read here why

Is Gjirokaster Worth Visiting?

100%!!!!

Do not skip Gjirocaster thinking it is just another Unesco Ottoman-era city. It cannot be compared to any other town in Albania!

Gjirocaster was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status and described as “a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town”. But there is more to this town. The colourful streets, the Old Bazaar, one-of-a-kind historical buildings, the wonderful backpacker-friendly vibe and the incredible nature surrounding Gjirocaster Hill just cannot be missed!

You will also find what is probably the best hostel in Albania, but also some great restaurants and cool bars.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

How to Get to Gjirokaster?

Getting to Gjirocaster from Berat

I travelled to Gjirocaster from Berat and it was pretty adventurous.

There is only 1 bus a day from Berat to Gjirocaster – around 8:30 am. There is supposed to be another one at 2 pm, but I do not recommend relying on this one. Take the morning bus!

You can not book it in advance, and in high season the buses get filled up pretty quickly.

Luckily, I was made aware of this at my hostel, so I arrived an hour early and was able to secure a seat. You will just have to find the bus driver who will take your luggage and give you the ticket.

Some people arrived closer to the departure time, and some sat on these little portable stools, and others just did not make it at all.

You have to remember that most ‘buses’ in Albania are just the marshrutka type, meaning those are simple minivans. So sitting on a small stool between the seats for 4 hours is not exactly the most comfortable. It was fun to watch and all the travellers, including me, took a photo to remember the moment.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)
Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

Also, situations like this are very bonding as all of us were just relieved to get a seat and were laughing at the same time. 

So if you are travelling from Berat to Gjirocaster, be sure to arrive early!

The ticket costs a whopping 1200 Lek! I was very shocked by this price, but really, you don’t have any other choice when it comes to public transport here. 

Getting to Gjirocaster from Sarande

There are 2 direct buses per day going from Sarande to Berat, at 8:00 am,  and 2:30 pm. The majority of buses in Sarande leave from a makeshift bus station, which is just a street in front of a travel agency.

The bus going to Gjirocaster leaves in front of the Trans Dea or Trans Butrinti agency, the ticket costs 400Lekk.

Are you considering renting a car in Albania? If you are travelling in high season, book early. Prices increase the later you book a car. Of course, you can also rent a car at the airport. There are several car rental agencies outside the arrival terminal. You can also negotiate the price. You can also search for the best prices and pre-book online on Expedia or Discover Cars website. 

Getting to Gjirocaster from Tirane

There are frequent busses between Tirane and Gjirocaster with the first one leaving at 5 am and the last one at 8:30 pm. 

In order to get to the majority of tourist destinations in Albania from Tirana you will have to first get to the intercity bus station (Regional Bus Terminal – North and South Albania).

To get there you will have to catch the city bus from the back of the National History Museum, on the Rruga Dede Gjo Luli.

The bus from Tirana to Gjirocaster costs 1000Lek and the journey lasts around 4 hours. 

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania

How to get From Gjirokaster Bus Station to the Old Town

The Old Town or Gjirocaster is only around 30-minute walks, but it’s a very steep walk up so if you are carrying a backpack, it might be a bit challenging. 

It took me 45 but this is because I was stopping so much for photos because the views were just so incredible!

If you don’t fancy the walk, and I won’t blame you, you can grab a taxi from in front of the bus station. 

Otherwise, you can take a bus that leaves from Bulevardi 18 Shtatori. Those are small local buses that stop very frequently. Keep in mind that the busses go to 2 different parts of Old Town. Manalat and actual Old bazar. Be sure to check where your accommodation is in order to take the right bus!

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)
Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

Where to Stay in Gjirokaster?

If you are a backpacker searching for the best and most iconic hostels in Albania there is only one (and one runner-up) hostel to stay in Gjirocaster – The Stone City Hostel. 

Travellers are raving about this hostel and Walter’s free walking tour! The hostel is gorgeous, boasts a fantastic location, a lovely terrace and delicious breakfast and the vibe is top-notch!

In case this one is booked the Friends’ Guesthouse & Hostel is also an excellent choice. 

If you prefer a private room you can find some great deals in Gjirocaster too! 

In both Tourists Guest House and Room Click Inn you will find private rooms for under 20$.

You should check out Boutique Hotel Musée or The Stone Sky Hotel for a more luxurious and unique stay.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

Best Things to Do in Gjirokaster

Roam Around Gjirokaster Bazaar

Not so much of a bazaar but just a number of cobblestone streets lined up with colourful shops and restaurants – Gjirocaster Bazaar is the city’s showcase and a focal point.

It is super charming by day and by night and a place not to be missed.

For those visiting Gjirocaster only for a day, the bazaar and the castle are a must-see!

Here you will find beautiful Ottoman stone buildings, colourful souvenir stores lined with traditional carpets, as well as fantastic bars and restaurants. This area is probably where you will spend most of your time while visiting Gjirocaster.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)
Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)
Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania

I loved coming here in the evening, snapping photos, wandering around the shops and finding quirky bars to have a glass of wine and people-watch. My favourite was the Bukowski Bar where I randomly met a bunch of people and spent the evening chatting and even dancing after a few glasses of raki were served.

Who said travelling solo is lonely?

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

Explore The Gjirocaster Castle

I am not crazy about castles. Maybe because I come from Europe and I saw a fair share of castles but maybe it’s just not my thing. But this castle was one of the most impressive medieval castle ruins I have ever seen. This one, and the one in Berat, were some of my favourite fortresses I have seen in years!

The Gjirocaster Fortress was built in the 12th century and served as the seat of the Zenebeshi family in the 14th and 15th centuries. Under Ottoman rule, Gjirokastër experienced significant growth that extended far beyond the fortress walls.

During the era of Ali Pasha and King Zog in the 19th and 20th centuries, the castle was extensively renovated and expanded, with elements such as the clock tower being added.

Many legends surround the castle in Gjirocaster, such as the legend of Princess Argjiro, who allegedly jumped from the castle walls with her baby to escape the Ottomans.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

There is so much to see around the castle that you could easily spend a few hours here. The grounds of the fortress are full of hidden paths and secret rooms.

Within the castle, you will also find a museum, which actually consists of two separate museums – the Gjirokastër Museum and the National Arms Museum, all accessible with the same ticket. Entry to the museums costs an additional 200 lek.

A rather odd addition to the castles is a former US Air Force aircraft, a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, which landed near Tirana in 1957. This aircraft was transported to Gjirokastër Castle in the 1970s and caused much controversy.

The Albanian government claimed that it was a captured spy plane, while the Americans claimed that the pilot simply got lost in the fog and made an emergency landing in Albania necessary. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty cool and unusual addition to the landscape.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

Speaking of landscape, the castle of Gjirokastër also houses a stage for cultural events and a famous clock tower offering an incredible view of the city and the surrounding mountains.

I was determined to visit the castle at sunset, and I can tell you, I was not disappointed!

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

Walk Through the Cold War Tunnel

If you enjoyed the bunker museums in Tirana, you will surely enjoy the Cold War Tunner in Gjirocaster, which offers an insight into Albania’s Cold War era.

This extensive underground network of tunnels was built under Gjirokastër Castle during the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania from 1944 to 1985.

Inside the tunnel, you can explore the various chambers, corridors and rooms equipped with communication systems, weapons storage and other facilities necessary for military operations.

The purpose of the tunnel was to protect against potential attacks by foreign invaders, such as NATO and the United States during the Cold War. Since this never happened, none of the facilities were ever used. Nevertheless, it is fascinating.

Visiting the tunnel is only possible with a guide. A guide and an entrance ticket will cost 200 Lek.

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Check Out the Manalat Quarter

My accommodation was at Manalat and I loved it. Just 15 minutes walk to the bazaar yet peaceful and quiet. 

It’s a lovely and very hilly part of Gjirocaster overlooking the Castle where some beautiful old houses are located.

If you decide to hike to Ali Pasha Bridge, you will walk through this area. It is definitely worth checking out! Also, the famous local cuisine restaurant the Taverna Tradicionale is located here.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)
Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

And Hike to Ali Pasha Bridge

The hike to Ali Pasha Bridge is one of the most popular things to do in Gjirocaster, and I also very much enjoyed it!

The Ali Pasha Bridge is not actually a bridge, but a remnant of a larger aqueduct system commissioned by the Ottoman governor Ali Pasha in the 19th century. Most of the aqueducts no longer exist.

The bridge itself is average (it’s much better at sunset), but the walk and the surrounding nature are glorious and a great change from the touristy old town! If you feel like it, you can explore a few more hiking trails towards the town of Lazarat.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania

Visit at Least One of the Gjirocaster Traditional Houses

Over 500 traditional houses have been preserved in Gjirocaster. They combine Ottoman and Albanian architectural styles and were built from local stone, which gives them their characteristic appearance.

These houses often have a cube-shaped, tall shape with several storeys. They were designed for large families, with separate areas for the different generations, and housed some of the wealthiest families in Gjiorocaster.

They are super interesting and worth visiting, even if only to marvel from the outside.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania

A couple of them are open to visitors, and I highly recommend checking them out.

If you only want to visit one of them, I recommend the Skenduli House. It’s a perfect and magnificent example of a traditional house in Gjiraster, and apart from being able to visit it from the inside, a guided tour is also offered. This way you can learn a lot about the history and costumes of these wealthy families.

The entrance ticket costs 200 lek including the guided tour and is worth every penny.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania

The Zekate House, which stands on a hill above the city, is also very much worth a visit.

If you want to visit both, I recommend you visit Skenduli House first, because there is no guide at the Zekate House, so it would be beneficial to learn some interesting facts beforehand.

If you don’t fancy seeing any of the houses from the inside, they’re just as impressive from the outside.
If you venture into this part of the city, you can discover some hidden gems as you stroll through the cobbled streets. For example, the all-yellow Fico House. It’s not open to the public, but it’s an impressive house that definitely stands out as the only yellow house in town! It’s interesting to note that Raul Fico became Minister of the Interior of the newly independent Albania in 1912.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania
Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania

Stop By the Ethnographic Museum

The Ethnographic Museum of Gjirokaster is located inside the family home of Enver Hoxha, the infamous communist dictator of Albania.

It offers a glimpse into Albanian life during the 19th and 20th centuries. You can see the traditional house furnishings as well as household items, costumes, and a collection of local crafts.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania

Watch the Sunset From the Obelisk

It took me a while to find the Gjirocaster Obelisk. To get there you need to step into the Babameto 2 – Cocktail Bar & Restaurant and walk up the stairs. 

It’s a wonderful viewing point and a great place to be at the sunset. 

Known as “Mëmëdheu (Motherland) ABC”, The Obelisk celebrates the Albanian language.  Built near the site of the first Gjirokastra school in 1908, it symbolizes the struggle to preserve the Albanian language and culture under Ottoman rule when the Albanian language was forbidden.

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Take a Half Day Trip to The Blue Eye

The Blue Eye of Sarande is one of the biggest attractions in the whole of Albania and an absolute must-see!

The Blue Eye (Syri i Kaltër) is a natural spring and an incredible natural phenomenon. The crazy thing is that the exact depth of the Blue Eye is not fully known, as divers have dived over 50 metres deep and never reached the bottom!

The water is freezing cold, but many take a swim or a jump, especially in the hot summer months.

You can visit the Blue Eye from either Gjirocaster or Sarande. Many travellers choose to take an early bus on the way to either town, stop there for a bit and then continue on the next bus.

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania (Things to do in Gjirocaster)

Should you Visit Liqeni I Viroit Spring?

I went to see Liqeni I Viroit as I heard this is Gjirocaster’s own version of Blye Eye and that you could swim there. I was intrigued and decided to check it out.

And although it was a nice peaceful place to see, I would not recommend taking hours of your day to visit, especially if you are only staying for a couple of days.

Liqeni I Viroit is a small lake and a park located only 4 km from Gjirocaster. It took me an hour to walk there and I took the bus back. 

It felt abandoned and a little neglected. Maybe a good place for a picnic, but that’s all really. 

Backpackers Guide to Visiting Gjirocaster, Albania

If you fancy a hiking adventure outside of the Gjirocaster old town you could take a walk to Kalaja e Shëndërjadhës, on the other side of the town. Unfortunately, I have not made it there but very much regret it as it seems really picturesque. 

I hope you found this Gjirocaster guide helpful. As always if you have any additional questions leave the comments below, I always answer!

Until then, enjoy Albania and happy travels!

Pati x

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