8 Best Things to Do in Gjirokaster
Gjirokaster or the City of Thousand Steps is another UNESCO site in Southern Albania that offers a great range of awesome things to do and see from the mighty Gjirokaster Castle to the beautiful lush green landscape of the surrounding area.
Some may consider Gjirokaster as a twin city to Berat, another UNESCO site that is known for its thousand windows but if someone tells you that you can pick one of the 2 to visit, do not believe them.
Both cities have their charms that can not be substituted. The architectures are different, the things you can do are different, and even the local food is different, so I would recommend you visit both cities when you are in Albania.
Enough about Berat. Today, we are going to explore the beautiful historical city of Gjirokaster and all the city has to offer with this complete backpacking guide on things to do in Gjirokaster. Without further ado, let's begin with Gjirokaster things to do itinerary map:Table of Contents
- Gjirokaster Things To Do Itinerary Map
- Albania Travel Video
- When to Visit Gjirokaster, Albania
- Where to Stay in Gjirokaster, Albania
- How to Get to Gjirokaster, Albania
- How to Get Around Gjirokaster, Albania
- How Many Days to Spend in Gjirokaster, Albania
- How Much Money Do I Need for Gjirokaster, Albania
- Is it Safe in Gjirokaster, Albania?
- Internet in Gjirokaster, Albania
- Travel Insurance
8 Best Things to Do in Gjirokaster, Albania
- Explore Gjirokaster Castle
- Learn About the History of Gjirokaster in Gjirokaster Museum
- Explore Gjirokaster Old Bazaar
- Take a Tour Around Skenduli Traditional House
- Watch the Sunset at Gjirokaster Obelisk
- Hike to See Shepherds Crossing the Old Ali Pasha Bridge
- Go On a Free Walking Tour with Walter from Stone City Hostel
- Explore the Surrounding Landscape of Gjirokaster in a Jeep
- What to Eat and Drink in Gjirokaster
- Other Things to Do in Gjirokaster
- Where to Go After Gjirokaster?
- Further Reading for Albania
Gjirokaster Things To Do Itinerary Map
Albania Travel Video
When to Visit Gjirokaster, Albania
The best time to visit Gjirokaster is from April to October where the weather hovers around 15°C in Spring, 28°C in Summer, and 17°C in Autumn.
The weather can get quite dry and hot in the summer and most of the streets in Gjirokaster are built with white rocks that reflect lights making it even warmer to walk outside. If you are visiting in June - August, make sure you are prepared to be out in the sun.
Gjirokaster is pretty quiet and inactive during winter and it might even snow from December to January making the cobblestone streets a little harder to walk on. Some accommodations and restaurants are closed during this downtime as well so I would recommend you avoid visiting in Winter.
Where to Stay in Gjirokaster, Albania
Budget - Stone City Hostel - 11 USD/Night (Dorm)
The best place to stay in Gjirokaster, hands down. New facilities, lots of bathrooms, the most comfortable bed you will find in Albania, and the owner, Walter is one awesome dude. He organizes a free walking tour as well as day excursions on his jeep to check out the surrounding landscape for any guest so if you are looking to maximize your fun time in Gjirokaster, this is the place to be.
Mid-Range - Stone City Hostel - 27 USD / Night (Double Room with Shared Bathroom)
They also have a private room and but they only have one so be sure to book it in advance. I can not stress how great this hostel is and had to thank them for making my time in Gjirokaster one of the most memorable of all Albania.
How to Get to Gjirokaster, Albania
How to Get to Tirana
To get to Gjirokaster, you will have to first fly into Tirana, the capital city of Albania. Depending on where you are coming from, there are several airlines you can choose from to get to Tirana.
From the US, you can fly into Tirana via Turkish Airlines through Istanbul, KLM Airline through Amsterdam, Alitalia Airlines through Rome, and a few other routes that go through Europe.
From within Europe, you can go with low-cost airlines like WizzAir or RyanAir to get you to Tirana. If you are coming from a place that doesn't have a low-cost direct flight to Tirana, it might be worthwhile to travel by land to a city that has one and fly from there instead of relying on expensive flights.
From Asia, the easiest way is to fly to Tirana is through Istanbul via Turkish Airlines. If you want to minimize cost, you can find a way to Turkey and then from there, you can fly with Pegasus Low-Cost Airline to Tirana. Keep in mind that you might have to change airports if you are switching from a regular carrier to a low-cost carrier in Istanbul.
How to Get to Gjirokaster, Albania
From Tirana, there are 10 buses going daily from Tirana Southward Bus Station from 5:00 AM to 8:30 PM. The bus will cost you 1000 LEK and it will take around 4 hours. See above for the 2019 bus schedule from Tirana to Gjirokaster.
From Berat, there are 2 buses going daily from Berat Bus Terminal, one at 8:00 AM and another at 2:00 PM. The bus will cost you 900 LEK and it will take around 3 hours.
The bus will drop you off at Gjirokaster Bus Stop (more like a gas station) and from there, you have a few options to get to Gjirokaster Old Town.
How to Get from Gjirokaster Bus Terminal to Gjirokaster Old Town
From Gjirokaster Bus Stop, you can walk up to the Old Town. Keep in mind that even though it is a 20-minutes walk, you are going up steep cobblestone road for about 60% of the time and if you have a lot of luggage or it is hot outside, you might want to kill yourself halfway in as my travel friend, TJ almost did 😅.
You can also take a local bus from one of the bus stops along Bulevardi 18 Shtator road. It costs 30 LEK and it will take you from the New Town up to the Old Town.
Keep in mind that the bus will take you to the Old Town on a different road that goes directly to the castle than the one you can walk up through the Old Town and so be sure to stand on the left side of Bulevardi 18 Shtator road.
How to Get Around Gjirokaster, Albania
Once you are in the Old Town, all the tourist attractions in Gjirokaster are all within walking distance and so there is no need to take a bus or taxi.
As mentioned earlier, local buses are also a viable way to get from the New Town to the Old Town and vice versa. The bus costs 30 LEK per way and you can pay to either driver or with a guy who will give you a ticket when you get on.
If you are staying at Stone City Hostel, Walter, the owner of the hostel often does a one-day excursion to see the untouched landscape of Gjirokaster with his jeep, which is the best way to explore the surrounding area that is outside of Gjirokaster.
How Many Days to Spend in Gjirokaster, Albania
Two full-day (3 nights) is recommended if you want to see Gjirokaster as well as all the nature in the surrounding area. Here is a breakdown of the itinerary:
Day 0: On your arrival day, rest at the hostel for a bit and go on a free walking tour at 5 PM with Stone City Hostel and ended your day with local cuisine at Odaja Restaurant.
Day 1: On your first full day, you can go on a day trip with Stone City Hostel if Walter is organizing one.
Day 2: On your second day, you can spend the entire day exploring Gjirokaster itself or you can squeeze in a half-day visit to the Blue Eye in the morning and come back and explore Gjirokaster Castle in the afternoon.
In the evening, you can hike to Ali Pasha Bridge to see the shepherd and his herd crossing this old Ottoman-era bridge just before the sunset and come back and enjoy a nice dinner at Taverna Kuka Restaurant before retiring for the day.
How Much Money Do I Need for Gjirokaster, Albania
Based on the 2-days itinerary above, we can calculate the minimum amount of money you will be spending in Gjirokaster as follows:
Accommodation: 11 USD x 3 nights = 33 USD (3,695 LEK)
Food: A good local meal cost from 300 - 600 LEK and since most accommodation offers free breakfast, you can expect to spend around 1,000 LEK per day. For 2 days and a half, you will spend around 2,500 LEK for food.
Transportation: You don't have to spend any if you walk but in case you want to take the bus to and from the Old Town, you will spend 60 LEK for a roundtrip.
Activities: A day trip excursion with Stone City Hostel is 3,000 LEK. The entrance to Gjirokaster Castle is 200 LEK whereas, for the Gjirokaster museum, you will have to pay another 300 LEK. For a guided tour around Skenduli Traditional House, it is another 200 LEK, so in total, you will pay around 3,700 LEK for activities.
Total Budget for one full day in Gjirokaster: 9,955 LEK (89 USD).
Is it Safe in Gjirokaster, Albania?
Gjirokaster is very safe and we did not encounter anything out of the ordinary except the kindness of the Albanians that kept inviting us in.
We were in front of one house trying to get a photo of the castle at night and the owner saw us and invited us in to check out the view inside. She also fed us her homegrown pears without asking anything back.
Even though we saw a few beggars in Berat, we didn't see any in Gjirokaster and we found the locals that we have encountered to be genuinely friendly here. Not saying it wasn't friendly in Berat or anywhere else in Albania but I found the people of Gjirokaster to be extra friendly.
Internet in Gjirokaster, Albania
You can find reliable Wifi almost anywhere in Gjirokaster from the hostel you are staying to the restaurants in the Old Town. Sweet Cellar is also a great western-style cafe to enjoy a cup of coffee and stay connected while you are taking a break from exploring the city.
A local sim card is also a great option if you want to stay connected all the time. It is especially useful to have a local sim card if you are planning to travel around Albania for a while.
For the local sim card, if you are staying for more than 2 weeks in Albania, I would recommend getting the Vodafone Z package, a one-month validity sim card with 5.5 GB of regular data, 10 GB for social network usage, 400 minutes and SMS which cost 1500 LEK + 100 LEK for a new sim card.
If you are traveling in Albania for 2 weeks, I would recommend you get the 14-days validity Vodafone Tourist sim that gives you 10 GB of data and 500 mins of calls for 1300 LEK.
For more information about Albania local sim card: Albania Prepaid Data Sim Card.
If you are looking for travel insurance to go along with your trip to Albania, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
8 Best Things to Do in Gjirokaster, Albania
Explore Gjirokaster Castle
One of the most iconic landmarks in Gjirokaster is the Gjirokaster Castle, the second largest castle in the Balkans that sits atop a hill overlooking Gjirokaster Old Town.
The citadel exited in some form or another since the 12th Century but the 2 largest expansion and renovation effort to the castle were done during the Ali Pasha and King Zog era in the 19th and 20th Century respectively.
The castle is big and so spare at least 2 - 3 hours to walk around the castle and check out all the structure like the Clock Tower, a church, museums, a captured United States Air Force plane to commemorate the Communist regime's struggle against the imperialist powers and many more.
The castle was also built atop a dominating plateau making it the perfect viewpoint to see Gjirokaster Old and New Town converge among the stunning landscape that surrounds the city.
The castle opens at 9 AM and closes at 7 PM and I would recommend you visit as early or as late as you can to avoid crowds. The entrance fee is 200 LEK and you will have access to all the structures within the Castle's wall except the museums where you will have to pay extra.
There are 2 museums within the Castle Wall, one is the Arms museum which you can skip as they do not have English descriptions, and another is the Gjirokaster Museum which I highly recommend.
Learn About the History of Gjirokaster in Gjirokaster Museum
Gjirokaster Museum is a great place for you to visit if you are interested in the history of Gjirokaster and how it played a row in the conflicts around this region.
The museum dives deep into the legends surrounding the origin of the name, where the city got its "Stone City" name, what was it like under the rule of Ali Pasha, the Ottoman Lord, how the tug of war between empires affected the city and many more facts that will make you appreciate the city and its people even more.
Gjirokaster is also the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, the infamous communist leader that built over 170,000 bunkers across the country during his reign and the museum talks about his rise and fall as well.
The entrance fee to the museum is 300 LEK on top of 200 LEK entrance to get inside the castle. With the content of the museum as well as all the stories written in English, it is definitely worth the cost in my opinion.
Explore Gjirokaster Old Bazaar
Gjirokaster Old Bazaar is the center of commerce in the city ever since the Ottoman-era. Surrounding the area, you will find plenty of beautiful and charming Ottoman-style houses as well as many great restaurants for you to indulge yourself in.
The Old Bazaar is especially lively at night so be sure to spend some time walking around the streets of the Bazaar after sunset. If you are looking for a place to dine in the Old Bazaar, Odaja and Taverna Kuka are highly recommend. For more information about these 2 restaurants, check out our What to Eat and Drink in Gjirokaster section.
Take a Tour Around Skenduli Traditional House
Gjirokaster used to be home to one of the wealthiest families in the area and there are several traditional houses that are still standing today. One of the traditional houses that are open to the public is Skenduli House where you will be able to get have access to all the rooms from the wedding room to the bunker.
The daughter of the family will be able to guide you through each room, explaining all the functions and unique features of the houses. There is a dedicated room for the newlywed and it is definitely the highlight of the Skenduli house visit.
Unfortunately, they have no official opening time as the operation is mostly run by the family themselves but I was there at around 10:30 AM and the daughter was available to guide us through each room.
The entrance fee is 200 LEK which I think was worth it as you will be able to learn what life was like back then. Plus, the view from the houses overlooking the city is pretty epic.
Watch the Sunset at Gjirokaster Obelisk
If you are looking for a great viewpoint for sunset, Gjirokaster Obelisk is a great place to be. It's not too far from the Old Town and you do not have to climb to get to it like other viewpoints in the city.
From Gjirokaster Obelisk, you will get a 180° panoramic view of the mountains around Gjirokaster as well as all the Ottoman-era houses, making it one of the best photo spots in the city.
Hike to See Shepherds Crossing the Old Ali Pasha Bridge
Away from the bustling city of Gjirokaster, there is an old Ottoman-era stone bridge that is used by Shepherds for many generations that you can hike to.
The Ali Pasha Stone Bridge is located only a 30-minutes hike from Gjirokaster Old Town. The trail is marked only when you are already on the outer rim of the Old Town and so I would recommend you follow the route on Maps.me from your hostel to the trailhead.
If you are there at the right time, at around 6 PM every day, you will be able to see a shepherd and his livestock crossing the stone bridge into the city which is not something you see every day.
Go On a Free Walking Tour with Walter from Stone City Hostel
If you are staying at the Stone City Hostel, which I highly recommend, at 5 PM, Walter, the owner of the hostel will take his guests and give a free walking tour around the city.
He will explain to you the significance of all these traditional houses as well as take you to a real hidden nuclear bunker, not the one they made a museum out of, but a real hidden one that you might think twice before walking in.
He will also explain the history and tradition of Gjirokaster that you wouldn't have observed like the tradition of using flat dressed stones to construct the roofs. Some of the roofs of the stone houses can weight as much as an airplane!
The tour is completely free and it will take around an hour to complete. Unfortunately, he doesn't do it every day and only the hostel guests are allowed to join. The more reason to stay at Stone City Hostel!
Explore the Surrounding Landscape of Gjirokaster in a Jeep
Another benefit of staying at Stone City Hostel is that Walter will also do a one-day excursion to explore the untouched landscape of Gjirokaster mountain with his jeep giving you access to many of the hidden gems of Gjirokaster, so hidden not even the locals know, that you normally won't be able to get to.
He also changes up the trip all the time, mixing activities up, so what you experience may differ from what I experienced with them, but one thing is guaranteed, you will surely have an action-packed day.
The tour costs 3,000 LEK per person and it leaves the hostel at 9 AM and you will be back by 6 PM. The day trip includes a delicious family-style lunch at a local restaurant. He can only accept 6 people per tour so be sure to book it in advance.
For my trip, Walter took us first to Hadrianopolis, a recently discovered ancient Greek ruin before taking us into the mountain and explored the Zagori region, northeast of Gjirokaster.
We visited many remote ancient churches, an abandoned communist school, a beautiful stone bridge, and a visit to a hidden watering hole where one can jump off a waterfall.
A lush green forest, high mountains and stunning waterfall that I'd seen on this trip are something I would not have imagined seeing in a place like Gjirokaster.
From the outside, the landscape around Gjirokaster looked so dry and barren but once you hop on a jeep and go behind the facade, you find all these beautiful nature tucked away in the mountains waiting for you to discover.
This day trip with Stone City Hostel is what made it memorable and if you are looking to really go off-the-beaten-path in Gjirokaster, a day excursion with them is a must.
What to Eat and Drink in Gjirokaster
Eat Traditional Food and Try the Rice Pudding at Odaja Restaurant
One of the best local restaurants that I highly recommend is Odaja Restaurant, located in the Old Town of Gjirokaster. They serve delicious Albanian dishes like Musaka as well as Qifqi, an Albanian Rice Ball that originates from here, something you should definitely try when you are in Gjirokaster.
Their traditional stuffed peppers and pies are also recommended but there is one dessert dish that is to die for, the Rice Pudding. The sweet and tasty rice pudding serves at Odaja is one of the best desserts I've tried in all Albania. It was so tasty, that they almost ran out when we were there at the end of a long day, looking to reward ourselves with some delicious dessert.
On top of all those delicious homemade dishes, they are also very affordable with the food costing around 300 - 500 LEK per dish. With such a price and portion, I would recommend you come to the restaurant with people and order several dishes to share with each other, tapas-style.
Dine at Taverna Kuka
Another great restaurant with a stunning view of Gjirokaster is Taverna Kuka. They serve local dishes like Qifqi, Albanian meatballs, and Albanian Pie as well as something heavier like grilled and garnish dishes like Kebabs and grilled lambs, etc.
They are more expensive than Odaja with the price randing from 500 - 1000 LEK but it has a nice vibe to it and a large selection of wine you can pick from. Their outdoor seatings with the view of the city is also a great place to sit at night and drink your night away in Gjirokaster.
Try a Lime Tart at Sweet Cellar
If you are looking for a Western-style cafe with a cozy atmosphere, a friendly owner (Brenna, the Busy Baker, is how I called her 😂), and a pastry that is to die for, Sweet Cellar is a place to be.
Brenna bakes everything herself and she serves many delicious cakes, ice-cream as well as the best lime tart in the biz. Seriously, the tasty, yet not too sweet lime tart is like heaven in your mouth, especially after a long day exploring the city.
The cafe also has WIFI if you are looking for a place to relax a little and stay connected with your friends and families at home. If you are there, said hi to Brenna, the Busy Baker for me 😄.
Other Things to Do in Gjirokaster
Visit the Blue Eye
The Blue Eye is a natural water spring located in between Gjirokaster and Sarande. It is a good place to visit, though a little crowded for my liking if you have an extra day in Gjirokaster.
The clear turquoise water is a popular place for people to go swimming even though there is a clear sign prohibiting it. I personally was not interested in swimming in such a crowded place. The place almost felt like a music festival rather than a natural water spring in my opinion.
There are also restaurants as well as a few disappointingly short walking trails if you do not feel like swimming. Do not expect that there will be any hiking trails here. We thought there would be one but as it turned out, there is not much to do here other than swimming.
That said, the nature around it is still very impressive and if you are looking to get there from Gjirokaster, you can follow these steps:
Getting from Gjirokaster to the Blue Eye
To get to the Blue Eye, you will have to get on an hourly Gjirokaster-Saranda bus that leaves from Gjirokaster Bus Stop and tell the driver to drop you off at the entrance of the Blue Eye. The bus will cost you 400 LEK per way.
From the entrance, you can continue and walk along the dirt track for about 2 km and you will arrive at the Blue Eye. I do not recommend you do this if you have luggage. The road is long, dusty, and in the summer, it can be blazingly hot.
To get back, you will have to walk back the same way and flag down a bus going to Gjirokaster from the same road you were dropped off on your arrival. You can also flag down a bus going to Tirana as they will often pass through Gjirokaster. To be sure, ask the driver before you get on.
Tour Around Zekate Traditional House
Zekate House is another traditional Ottoman-era house that is open to the public and you can visit in case it gets too busy at Skenduli House or it is not open on the day you are there. From what I've heard, they are both quite similar, so one or the other is fine if you do not have a lot of time. The entrance fee is 200 LEK, the same as Skenduli House.
Learn More About Gjirokaster Tradition at Ethnographic Museum
Ethnographic Museum is another great place to visit if you are looking to learn more about the history and the traditions of the people of Gjirokaster. The museum contains traditional dresses, household items, and artifacts showing what life is like for a rich family in the 19th Century Gjirokaster.
I would say, if you have already done the houses I recommended above, you can easily skip this one, otherwise, the entrance fee is 200 LEK as well. Also, if someone claims that this is the actual house of Enver Hoxha, the infamous communist leader, do not believe them. His house was indeed here but it burned down a long time ago and they built a much-larger museum on top of it.
Where to Go After Gjirokaster?
Himara is a great place to use as a base for you to explore the Albanian Riviera. It is located right by the beach and its quiet and less crowded nature of this seaside town makes it a much more attractive destination to be than Sarande.
There is currently no direct bus from Gjirokaster to Himara so you will have to take a bus to Saranda and get a bus from Saranda to Himara. There are only 2 buses from Saranda to Himara (10 AM and 1 PM) so you will have to take the 8 AM - 11 AM bus from Gjirokaster which will take about one hour.
Once you arrive at Saranda Bus Stop, you can then get on the 1 PM bus to Himara which should take around 1.5 hours.
The bus from Gjirokaster to Saranda cost 400 LEK and from Saranda to Himara is another 500 LEK.
Saranda is a big city and it is the main hub for traveling in Southern Albania as well as a place stop before going to Greece. The city is busy with not a whole lot of places to chill in my opinion so I would skip it but if you are planning to travel further to Greece, Saranda is a required stop after Gjirokaster.
There are several buses that go through Gjirokaster and ended at Saranda Bus Stop from 6 AM to 8 PM every hour, so you should have no trouble getting to Saranda by bus.
The bus from Gjirokaster to Saranda is 400 LEK and it will take you one hour for the trip.
And there you have it, a complete backpacking guide to Gjirokaster. Are you excited to visit this UNESCO site? If you have any questions regarding things to do in Gjirokaster, feel free to ask me in the comments below.
Further Reading for Albania
Looking for more information for your trip to Albania? Here is a collection of articles about Albania that will help you with your trip planning:
- Albania, a country once isolated, now opened up to travelers to uncover the beauty that has been hidden for a century. Here is a travel guide to help you uncover it: 2 Weeks Itinerary for Albania.
- Tirana is an excellent place to start your journey in Albania. Here’s a complete guide on things to do in Tirana.
- Berat, the city with a thousand windows, and even more cool things to do. Here are: Top 8 Things to Do in Berat.
- Albanian Riviera, a place you will find hidden beaches pristine coastline, and one of the best places to see the sunset in Albania. Here is a complete 5-days itinerary and travel guide on backpacking the Albanian Riviera.
- "Is this really Albania?" is a question you will ask yourself the moment you step foot into the Albanian Alps. Here is a complete hiking guide on the Theth-Valbona and the Albanian Alps.
- My words are not convincing you about traveling to Albania? How about you see it for yourself with my Albania travel video? Adoralbania, the Albanian Adventure Travel Video
- For all articles about Albania, visit Albania Travel Guide page.
- Looking to travel the Balkans, check out all my articles about the region here: The Balkans Travel Guide page.
- You can see all my Eastern Europe related articles on my Eastern Europe Travel Guide page.
- You can also see all my Europe related articles here: Europe Travel Guide page.
- For more of my travel guides like this, visit my Destinations page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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