Tirana makes a great choice for a city break for several reasons: it is just the right size to discover in a weekend, it is one of the least explored capital cities in Europe and, most importantly, it is a unique, colourful, vibrant and fascinating chain of beautiful sights strung together by a common thread, the soul of the city: its friendly inhabitants.
The main city square, with its imposing statue of national hero Skanderbeg, who halted the advance of the Ottoman Empire towards Europe, is the true heart of the city. The blend of history and modernity in this recently redesigned square with its more than 100 fountains makes an entrancing and stirring sight. It is surrounded by notable buildings: the National Museum of History with the colourful mosaic on its façade, the National Opera, the wonderful Et’hem Bey Mosque, and the Clock Tower, whose spiral stairs you can climb free of charge to enjoy the view of the city from the top or, at night, admire the dance of light and shade on the floodlit walls.
Witnesses of history
Tirana has undergone many upheavals over the course of its turbulent history, to which ancient and more recent buildings throughout the city offer mute testimony. The Pyramid, an unusual structure in the European context, attracts many curious visitors, some of whom even use it as a slide. BunkArt, a museum housed in a five-storey underground bunker containing more a hundred rooms, is a unique monument to past times. The upmarket Ish-Blloku district, which in the period following the Second World War was reserved exclusively for the privileged representatives of authority, is today a social hub with lively bars, cafés, restaurants, clubs and shops.
Tirana is notorious for its busy traffic, but there are always peaceful green oases within reach of the big-city bustle. The Murat Toptani pedestrian area lies between the Parliament building and the National Gallery. It is lined by an avenue of trees that provide cool shade on warmer days, while along the way you can see the remains of the city's old fortifications. The city park with its large artificial lake offers various sports and activities including fishing and, in summer, swimming, and is also a place to simply socialise and enjoy nature. There are few places in Europe where you will find a national park on the doorstep of the capital city, but Tirana is one of them. A cable car will carry you up Mount Dajti – and the view is well worth the 15-minute trip.