The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera (The good the amazing and the ugly)

The Honest Truth About Albanian Riviera (The Good the Amazing And the Ugly)

Everything you need to know about Albanian Riviera – without sugarcoating. An honest travel guide to all the amazing and not-so-great aspects of the Albanian coast.


So let me guess? You read some posts or watched videos portraying Albania as this off-the-beaten-path, still very much affordable, kind of last frontier of not-overtouristed (I know this word doesn’t exist hehe) beach spots in Europe and you are packing your bags as we speak?

Then you definitely need to read this post! 

I loved my time travelling across Albania and I spent a total of 2 months in this beautiful country. There is a lot to love about Albania!

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera (The good the amazing and the ugly)

It is a truly stunning country of incredible mountains, turquoise lakes, some of the most charming historical towns and super delicious food!

Albania also has a massive coastline boasting crystal-clear waters and many awesome beach towns! 

I was very much looking forward to chilling on many Albanian Riviera beaches after travelling mostly inland across Bosnia and Herzegovina and spending a month in Shkoder.

Luckily my first stop was Himare, which until now is my favourite beach town in Albania. After that, I travelled along the coast and ended up with very mixed feelings. I loved some parts of the Albanian coast but some aspects of how popular and simultaneously non-regulated it became – left a bad taste in my mouth.

So if you are planning your trip to Albania and looking forward to a tranquil and affordable beach vacation, I will give it to you straight. With no sugarcoating. Not to stop you from going, oh no! You have to go!

But so you can choose the destination wisely to avoid disappointment and choose what suits your travel style best.

So Let’s go!

The Truth About Albania Riviera

Disclaimer: In no way do I want to say that Albanian Riviera is not stunning. I just think a lot of things said about it are no longer true. Things like empty beaches and affordable prices no longer exist. You can and you will definitely have a blast. I just want to set your expectations right.

What is Albanian Riviera

The Albanian Riviera stretches along the south-west coast of Albania, overlooking the Ionian Sea. It is famous for its beautiful beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters and rugged coastline dotted with picturesque villages and numerous beach towns. The Riviera stretches for over 100 kilometres (62 miles) starting from the town of Vlorë in the north to Ksamil in the south.

It is known for being an equally beautiful yet more affordable alternative to the beaches in Croatia or Greece.

But the Albanian Riviera has more to offer than just beaches. The region also offers opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking at the Llogara National Park, exploring ancient ruins such as the archaeological site of Butrint or exploring natural wonders such as the Narta Lagoon near Vlore.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

It is worth mentioning that the Albanian Riviera does not cover the entire Albanian coast, but only the region where the coast meets the Ionian Sea. In the north, the coast overlooks the Adriatic Sea and beaches are sandy with more shallow waters but not as turquoise as in the south. In the south, along the Riviera waters are clearer, and warmer yet the beaches are often rocky or covered by coarse pebbles.

The Great Things About Albanian Riviera

The Mediterranean climate and the Ionian Sea make the water warm and crystal clear. The coast is surrounded by dramatic mountains, picturesque seaside villages and beach towns and offers a lively vibe with plenty of beach bars, restaurants and decent nightlife. It is the ultimate holiday destination.

It is still quite affordable, especially when compared to countries like Greece or Croatia especially if you come from countries like the USA or from Western Europe. But the affordability factor is changing fast these days, more on that later.

There is no doubt that the beaches on the Albanian Riviera are stunning!

Albania is still an up-and-coming destination, so you can find some hidden gems here. The great thing about the Albanian Riviera is also that everyone can find a beach for themselves. From party beach towns to secluded beaches that are only accessible by boat or family-friendly beach resorts, there are plenty of beaches to choose from.

The Disappointing Aspects of Albanian Riviera

I would name two main things if you asked me what are the most disappointing aspects of the Albanian Riviera – overpriced private beaches and Ksamil. Let me elaborate.

Overpriced Private Beaches:

The Albanian coast is gorgeous boasting crystal clear waters, and cute beach towns often feature stunning mountain backdrops. Pair this with low travel costs in comparison to other European destinations and you will have a rapidly growing tourism.

Now, add to the equation one of the least developed countries in Europe and as a result, you will have people trying to take the most out of the situation by growing business on… everything. Including beaches, car parks, beach loungers and every single free spot in a bar or restaurant.

I totally get it. People want to make money, grow businesses and support their families and tourists are spending money. You can see where it leads to if you travel to Croatia or Montenegro in the summer. A dorm bed in a hostel in Dubrovnik can cost a whopping 80 Euros per night!

Public beaches slowly disappear in Albania. There are still some, but those most spectacular, became privately owned and you will have to pay to enter.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

As of 2024 80% of beaches in Albania are privately owned. And what is most sad about it is that the actual Albanians cannot afford to enjoy their own beaches because of this. I will not be going into why is that and local regulations – it is not my place to do this.

Many of the most spectacular beaches can be only accessed by car. There are no public buses going to places like Gjipe or Jale Beach for example. So next to all of those beaches, you will find private car parking spaces. Prices are around €10 for a day, so it is not tragic. But then you will also spend money to enjoy the beach, so it all adds up.

Let’s say you decided to enjoy the private beach. You will have to rent a sun bed. Those often, if not always go in pairs. So for 2 beds and an umbrella, you will be paying from €20 to €30 In some places like Ksamil, it can go up to €60 for a luxurious overwater hammock. There is no option to rent just one bed and no umbrella. So if you are a solo traveller who tries to save money – it’s tough.

Also If you read about empty dreamlike beaches, those will be hard to find in Albania. The beaches are stunning, but hardly ever empty. Even those that are hard to get to.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera
The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

I would say that if you are going to Albania on a beach vacation and don’t mind spending some money and renting a car – you are good and you will have a great time! But if you are a solo budget traveller and want to enjoy some beach time, you might want to choose wisely.

I have a separate article which will help you backpack across Albania on a budget and have a blast!

Are you a Digital Nomad or Long Term Traveller looking for the best  Travel Insurance? 

 Or are you just someone who is looking for flexible and reliable insurance that can be purchased and cancelled at any time?

As a slow-travelling nomad, I use and recommend SafetyWing Insurance. 

I love the nomad-friendly features they offer. There is no need to specify the destination or the duration of travel. I personally love this feature as I never know how long I’m going to stay in a given country. 

From your chosen start date, your insurance automatically extends every 28 days until you pick an end date. Just like a subscription. And you can cancel at any time. 

Get a Quote Here

Where Can You Find Free Public Beaches Along the Albanian Riviera?

The most public beaches that are free to enter you will find near towns like Vlore, Dhermi, Himare, Porto Palermo, Qeparo, Borsh and Sarande.

The most beautiful free beaches you will find are around Dhermi, Himare and Borsh. Sarande also has nice beaches and a good mixture of paid beach bar resorts and small public beaches. My least favourite beaches are around the Vlore town centre. For beautiful beaches near Vlore, you will have to venture towards Radhimë or Orikum.


Ksamil – Most Disappointing Part of Albanian Riviera

What attracts people to Ksamil is the white sand, turquoise waters and endless social media posts promoting a dream-like beach destination.

It truly makes me laugh when I see titles: Your perfect dream beach destination is Ksamil.

It started very innocently. Ksamil is indeed paradise-like. The beaches and water are like a dream. Some even call Ksamil the ‘Maldives of Europe’. Ksamil is the only place in Albania where the beaches are covered in truly white sand.

Yet as the town grew in popularity, it was destroyed by tourism.

There are no free public beaches in Ksamil. All beaches are connected to beach bars and resorts therefore to enter you need to rent a bed, reserve a spot, stay in a hotel or eat in a restaurant.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

Now, yes the sea is free. And in some places, they will not ask you to pay to swim in the water. But you will not be allowed to put a towel on the ground and you will have to pay to use the lounger. In some cases, you will not be able to enter the area altogether.

Ksamil is totally invaded by tourists and is the most expensive town on the Albanian Riviera. In the summer months be prepared to see very crowded beaches and an equally crowded town.

There is also nothing charming about the Ksamil town itself. Everything in the town is geared towards tourists. Including prices.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera
The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

But.

If what you want is renting a chair at one of the trendy beach bars, in fact, a pretty awesome luxurious beach bed, overlooking turquoise waters and taking Insta photos and TikToks with a cocktail in your hand after the staff of the bar approved you as a guest – then Ksamil is perfect for you! If you want a typical beach resort, where everything is catered for tourists, it’s overpriced and far from authentic – Ksamil is for you!

And you know, I don’t judge you! And I mean it. Some people just want to get away from a rat race for a few days, stay on the beach and be catered for. I get it! Then, by all means, go to Ksamil!

If you are looking for an authentic beach town, where actual people live, where you can enjoy public beaches, reasonable prices, and regular amenities geared towards normal people like supermarkets, local restaurants and public beaches, then don’t go to Ksamil. You will be disappointed.

Can You Visit Ksamil on a Cheap?

If you want to see Ksamil on a cheap, the only way to do that is on a day trip from Sarande, like I did. You can get to Ksamil by public bus which goes all the way to Butrint National Park – so do both and make it a whole day adventure!

If you want to stay in Ksamil you need to be prepared to pay a minimum €30 per night if you book early or outside of peak season. Hotels and resorts can be as much as €100 and more per night.

Book early! Prices go significantly higher if you leave it till 2 or 3 weeks before arrival, especially during summer months.

What you will spend most money on, however, will be beach beds, food and drinks. If you are a budget traveller, there are plenty of great more affordable alternatives in Albania!

Enough of rant! Let me give you some practical tips!

Are you wondering what are the best tourist SIM cards in Albania? Head over to this post, where I compare all the sim card providers in Albania and their plans and will tell you what was my favourite sim card provider in Albania and why.

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 and you can also negotiate the price.

You can also search for the best prices and pre-book online on Expedia or Discover Cars website

You can also search for the best prices and pre-book online on Expedia or Discover Cars website

Are you wondering what are the best tourist SIM cards in Albania? Head over to this post, where I compare all the sim card providers in Albania and their plans and will tell you what was my favourite sim card provider in Albania and why.

Where to Stay on the Albanian Riviera (Which Town is for You?)

So, you want to go to the Albanian Riviera but are not sure where to go. You are confused as to where to go so you love it, it suits your budget and travelling style. I am here to the rescue. Below you will find a list of most of the beach towns along the coast of Albania with a short description, pros and cons and who I recommend it to!

Vlore

Vlore is officially known as the starting point of the Albanian Riviera and is where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet. 

Very popular among Italian tourists, Vlore is in fact the third biggest town in Albania. But mostly, it is a vacation resort town and it shows. 

There is everything you might need in Vlore. Plenty of beaches, hotels for all budgets, shops, restaurants, supermarkets and incredible surrounding landscapes including Logara Pass and Narta Lagoon. Vlore is also a pretty affordable and very family-friendly beach destination in Albania.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera
The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

But Vlore, in my opinion, is just not very beautiful. But it is pretty entertaining with plenty to do. 

The beaches in the town centre were disappointing. The sand was dark and the water murky. On the upside, there are plenty of free public beaches in town. If you are looking for stunning beaches you will have to move slightly to the south. 

Who is Vlore for: 

  • If you are looking for an affordable family vacation where the beaches are safe, the waters shallow and there’s plenty of entertainment, Vlore is a great choice. 
  • Those who want to stay in a larger town with all the amenities while still having access to the beach and a great day trip. If you are a digital nomad, for example, Vlore could be a great choice. 

Radhimë and Orikum

Just south of Vlore, you will find two small towns Radhimë and Oricum where the beaches are glorious! I went to visit on a bike trip from Vlore and it was a beach trip to remember. This is in my opinion where Albanian Riviera truly starts!

Towns have a very resort feel without being too expensive and both are quite chilled and sleepy.

This is the area where you will mostly find hotels and resorts so it is a typical vacation destination.

Dhërmi

Dhermi is a village located between Vlore and Himare. and the village itself is situated on a hillside and offers an incredible view. The place is considered a nightlife destination among Albanians, but do not worry. With its whitewashed houses and cobbled streets, it still looks and feels pretty dreamy.

Dhermi Beach is one of the best beaches in Albania and is located south of the village. It is a long, wide beach that offers plenty of space even in the peak summer months. You can choose between renting a sun lounger or bringing your own towel or parasol.

There are numerous bars and restaurants on the beach, but given the size of the beach, you will also find more secluded spots. It’s a truly mesmerising beach with stunning views and a dramatic mountain backdrop.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera
The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

Having said that, in the summer months, there are plenty of parties happening on the beach so if you want to experience it in its natural glory, exclude July and August. Dhermi hosts a music festival – Kala Festival in the summer and is indeed a beach party destination.

Who is Dhermi for: 

  • Dhermi is great for couples but could be great for solo travellers who are willing to spend a bit more money.
  • Those looking for a beach party in the summer

Himare

Himare is my favourite town on the Albanian Riviera.

What makes Himare special is that there are not only great beaches within the town but if you are willing to drive or rent a scooter or quad, you can experience some of the most beautiful beaches not only in Albania but in the entire Balkans!

The town of Himare is pretty charming as well. Although, like many other towns in Albania, it has turned into a busy, bustling resort town (especially in the summer), it is a lovely town to stay in, relax and enjoy a whole range of great restaurants, bars and cafes. I totally didn’t mind how busy it was in August and I found the town pretty charming.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera
The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

Given its popularity, Himare is still quite affordable. I believe that this is because Himare is a very popular summer beach destination among Albanians. You can find pretty affordable accommodation, very good and inexpensive food and a free public beach.

Himare is also a surprisingly great town for solo travellers. you will find a couple of great hostels in Himare and quite a few backpackers make their way here.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera
The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

Who is Himare for: 

  • Himare is great for any traveller and suits many budgets. You will find beach resorts, affordable hostels and plenty of Airbnb’s so whether you are travelling solo, with family or as a couple, Himare is a great choice!

Qeparo

Qeparo is one town on this list I have not visited but very much want to!

Qeparo is a sleepy, dreamy Albanian village between the towns of Himarë and Borsh consisting of main Qeparo and Upper Queparo which is home to the old historical village. Qeparoin the past, was famous for being home to both Greeks and Albanians cultivating some of the best olives and olive oil in Albania.

One of the highlights of Queparo is its picturesque setting amidst olive groves and citrus orchards, with panoramic views of the Ionian Sea and the surrounding mountains. The very much village retained a traditional Albanian atmosphere, with stone houses, narrow cobblestone streets, and a relaxed atmosphere.

Let me know if you visited Qeparo, and what you think!

Borsh

Located right next to Qeparo, Borsh Beach is the largest (longest) beach on the Albanian Riviera and one of the most beautiful beaches in Albania. Surrounded by mountains and olive trees, it is very popular with locals, tourists and camping enthusiasts. There are even a few official campsites on the beach.

Don’t be discouraged if you find the beach crowded near the entrance. The beach is 7 km long, so just keep walking and you’re sure to find a quiet spot. Although there are bars, restaurants and hotels along the beach, it never feels overwhelming due to its size.

Borsh is a nearby town and only small, so you should stay here mainly for the beach. Apart from that, Borsh Beach is one of the best places in Albania to simply unplug.

Borsh is also a great destination if you want to enjoy nature and do some scenic hikes, such as the one to Borsh Castle or the abandoned monastery ruins.

Who is Borsh for: 

  • Those looking to unplug and spend chilled days on the beach far away from too many tourists
  • Camping enthusiasts

Sarande

Sarande is nice. For the lack of a better word, but it’s the best way to describe the town. It has nice beaches – some public and some private, and plenty of them. The town is pretty big and has everything you might need including supermarkets and a fantastic choice of hotels, restaurants, shops and all that jazz. It is pretty hilly so if you get an accommodation higher up, you will be rewarded with pretty spectacular views and sunsets!

Town centre beaches are nicer than those in Vlore but not sandy. It’s a great family or couples beach destination in Albania.

It is also a great base for exploring the rest of the Albanian Riviera with places like Blue Eye, Ksamil and Butrint easily accessible by bus or car.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera
The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

Sarande is also a very popular town among digital nomads and I can see why. You have great beaches, and a relaxed lifestyle but enough town amenities for you to enjoy a longer and a comfortable stay.

For a solo traveller, it is a hit-and-miss though. Although there are few great hostels in town, it felt like it was more of a resort than a backpacking destination. I was even refused a table in a bar once because I was on my own and all tables were for 2 or 4 people. But I stayed in Sarande for a week and I enjoyed my stay. I would maybe even come back 🙂

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera
The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

Who is Sarande for?

  • Sarande is a great beach destination in Albania for families and couples. There is an infinitive amount of bars, restaurants, cafes and a very nice beachside promenade to enjoy evening walks.
  • Sarande can be a great destination for digital nomads who are looking for a more relaxed resort experience while having access to all the amenities and pretty decent wifi.

Ksamil

I have extensively covered Ksamil at the top of this post so will not be going into detail here. Although overhyped, overcrowded and expensive, Ksamil is still a great beach destination and some travellers who visited, had a really great time.

I just couldn’t talk about Ksamil and not mention how it really is perceived not only by me but by many travellers I spoke to. I couldn’t send you to a place without telling you how it is.

The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera
The Honest Truth about Albanian Riviera

Who is Ksamil for?

  • Travellers who don’t mind spending a bit more money and don’t mind crowds in the summer.
  • Those looking for a more luxurious stay, spend days in comfortable sun chairs, take boat trips and have a good time in the evening.

So If you are planning your summer vacation or travels in Albania in 2024 and want to choose the best beach town, I hope this post helps you.

Things have changed and Albanian Riviera isn’t what it used to be 3 or 4 years ago. It is still gloriously beautiful with some of the best beaches and crystal clear sea I have seen anywhere in Europe.

If you read a post saying that Albania isn’t too touristy, those days are gone. Many of those articles were written a few years ago and things have dramatically changed in 2023 and will change even more in 2024 and beyond.

But please don’t be discouraged. Albania is absolutely wonderful and its beaches are some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments and until then

Happy travels!

Pati x

This post may contain affiliate links which means that if you purchase the product or make a booking via one of my links, I will receive a small commission. Please know that I will never recommend or promote a product I don’t believe in or haven’t used. This way, you are supporting this blog at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

Exploring more of Albania?

If you are planning a visit to Theth and hiking the Albanian Alps I have you covered hereIn this post, I listed all the surprising things to do in Shkoder” Are you dreaming of visiting the Shala River and Komani Lake? In this post, you will find all the information you need!

Here, you will find a complete guide and a full list of wonderful things to do in Tirana.

There are two towns you just need to add to your Albania itinerary – both Berat and Gjirocaster are wonderful UNESCO sites equally worth visiting!

Finally, if you are wondering where to stay, here is the list of the most iconic hostels in Albania!