Eternal Arrival
Albanian riviera gjipe
Albania

The Albanian Riviera: Home to the Best Beaches in the Balkans

The Albanian Riviera very well may be the most underrated summer vacation spot in Europe. From its cheap, delicious seafood to its friendly locals and stunning beaches, I was wondering: why the hell had no one told me about this place (except for my many Albanian coworkers back in NYC, thanks guys!)?

I almost don’t want to spoil the secret of the Albanian Riviera and just how amazing it is… but seeing as my blog readership is so small, I don’t worry about this post imploding the scene. My middling success is your gain. Still, tourism in Albania is growing quickly – go now, before everyone else does and turns it into another Croatia or Montenegro.

Picking Your Home Base on the Albanian Riviera:

You have quite a few choices when it comes to deciding where to stay on the Albanian Riviera, depending on your budget, comfort level, and the amount of amenities you want around you. Himarë (Himara) is the Goldilocks home base: not too big, not too small, not too basic, not too flashy. If you want a little more upscale, try Dhërmi; for more bare bones, try Vuno; to really rough it, you can camp on the beach in Himara, Gjipe, Livadhi, and other amazing Albanian beaches right along the Albanian Riviera.

Albanian riviera gjipe

Blissfully free of cruise ships, fanny packs, and Señor Frog tees… For now

Himara

This sleepy little seaside town is my pick for a base when visiting the Albanian Riviera. It has it all: central location, a fantastic hostel, and delicious food. I’m talking the best pork gyro I’ve had in my life, which is not a crown I bestow lightly, right next to the best gelato I’ve had outside of Italy, where you can get a scoop for a mere 50 lek – about 35 cents. The main beach in Himara can be a bit crowded (for Albania) but for the convenience to beauty ratio it can’t be beat. If you walk along towards the south end of the beach, it gets less and less crowded – but more on that later. Check out accommodation options here – I stayed at (and loved) Himara Downtown Hostel. Note that it’s only open during the summer season!

All this for about 7$ US.

Three kinds of fried seafood, Greek salad, and a potato and pickled veggie side at the best restaurant in town, Taverna Lefteri. All this and an after-lunch espresso for $7 USD!

Vuno

If you really want to get off the beaten path, check out even sleepier Vuno. This village is nestled in the hills, so there’s no easy beach walk, but you’re spoiled for choices  with Jala and Gjipe on each side of you. There’s just one hostel here, and it comes highly recommended by Tomi of SR Backpacker fame, though I didn’t stay at it so I can’t speak for it personally.

Dhërmi

I chose not to stay in Dhërmi because I heard from locals that it’s a little more upscale and expensive than the rest of the Albanian Riviera. But if you’re looking for a touch more comfort, perhaps Dhërmi is your best bet. It has more restaurants and shops and far more choices when it comes to accommodations.

Himara from above - not too shabby.

 Himara from above – not too shabby, right?

Must-Visit Albanian Beaches:

Gjipe

This is easily one of my favorite beaches ever, let alone in Albania. It’s a 3 km hike down to the beach, and it’s worth every bead of sweat. The views going down make the perfectly lukewarm water that much sweeter. Once there, the water is crystal clear – you can see what seems like 30 feet to the bottom. There’s an awesome network of caves you can explore too, on your left if you are facing the beach. You can also camp on the beach – they provide the tents and mattress pads. Friends who did the camping spoke super highly about it, so an overnight here is a must-do when I return to this beautiful part of the world. Just be aware that you’ll have to bring all your stuff up and back the giant hill, which can be rough in the heat.

The hike is worth it with views like this!

The hike is worth it with views like this!

Himara

This is not only a great home base but also just an all-around great beach. The main beach near the town center can get a bit crowded, but walk even just 15 minutes to the south end of the beach and you’ll have it almost all to yourself. If you’re a daredevil with 50 euros burning a hole in your pocket, you can pay a guy to fly you in a boat/plane contraption all along the coast of the Albanian Riviera. It’s just as odd as it sounds, and I’d be curious if any brave souls have taken the journey!

Would you do it?

Would you do it?

Jala

This beach is sometimes called “Glass Beach” for its crystal clear wasters. This was next on my list to visit, but due to misplaced trust in Albanian sunscreen — oh, excuse me, “sun milk” — I had to skip it on this trip as I was burned to a florescent, inhuman shade of pink.

I don't know what I expected from a "sun milk" called Caroten, but I assure you, spend the extra 400 lek for some shit that actually works.

I don’t know what I expected from a “sun milk” called Caroten, but I assure you, spend the extra 400 lek for some shit that actually works.

Hidden beach of Himara

This beach doesn’t appear on any map, but it’s my favorite of all. Getting here is not easy, which is why it’s so amazing. You have two option. One: walk to the southern edge of Himara beach and climb the hill. When you get to the restaurant gates, turn left off the dubious “path” edged with prickly bushes until you reach a rope to help you get down. This is not necessarily safe, so do so at your own risk. Two: hire a boat for about 2000-2500 lek ($15-20). All the boats were busy so, undeterred, I did the former. I managed it and I have the hand-eye coordination of a drunk toddler; your comfort level may vary.

To get to this....

To get to this….

 

You're gonna have to do this.

You’re gonna have to do this.

 

Love the Albanian Riviera

Worth it though, for a virtually private beach

Honorable Mentions (aka Albanian beaches I plan to go to next time): Porto Palermo, Livadhi, Borsh, Vlora, Lukova.

Getting Around:

This is Albania, a country that’s changing so quickly that anything I write is virtually outdated by the time I put a period on a sentence. Take my recommendations as a mere frame of reference, and confirm with your Albanian hosts once you’re here.

You won’t get far in Albania unless you’re willing to ask questions. People make a big deal about how difficult the transit here is; in my three weeks in the country, I found it really quite easy given that I was willing to ask for help. Luckily, Albanians love to help outsiders.

aIf you’re staying in Himara and you want to head north to Jala, Gjipe, Livadhi, or Dhërmi, you can hop on the coastal bus headed towards Vlora or Tirana, which leaves around 11 or 11:30. Again, ask any Albanian because this will have likely changed. A bus in the reverse direction tends to go by around 6; again, ask to confirm. If you want to go south, you’ll have to seek out a bus headed towards Saranda. Buses will pick you up anywhere along the way, even if you’re just on the side of the highway, so don’t worry about trying to find bus stops. As long as you’re on the right road that they pass (which, considering there’s only really one road that constitutes the Albanian Riviera, is pretty easy) and you wave them down, you’ll get picked up.

I do recommend hitchhiking to and from the beaches in Albania. It’s quite safe, extremely easy, and incredibly common. Albanians are really friendly and hospitable people, and even if they don’t speak much English, most will be more than happy to drop you off at your destination. In my time hitching in the Albanian Riviera, I never waited more than five minutes for a ride. I was always traveling with someone from my hostel, which gave me an added sense of security. First-time hitchhiker? Check out these great hitchhiking tips from an experienced solo female hitchhiker.

So there you have it! Go now before the crowds and cruise ships do!

The Albanian Riviera is beautiful and barely known. If you are thinking of traveling the Balkans, you can't miss these beautiful beaches in Albania. Read on to learn the best beaches in Albania - including a secret beach you won't find on any map!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you purchase something using one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no added cost to you. No BS – I only recommend accommodations, services, and products I truly believe in.

 

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Anne Slater-Brooks
    October 11, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    This looks fabulous. May have to change my plans for our trip next year and include some of these destinations.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      October 11, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      I would highly recommend it! I visited the coast of Montenegro and it was totally swarmed with tourists. Logic only says that Albania will be next… Go soon before it changes too much!

  • Reply
    Ryan Biddulph
    October 11, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Hi Allison,

    Stunning! We have Albania on our travel list. Never knew it had a Riviera and hell yeah it’s an undiscovered gem! Amazing. We planned to stop by Albania after a recent trip to Cyprus and Turkey but cut our travels short. Headed back to the US to see the fam. And we landed a cool house sit in the city too, which was neat. Thanks for sharing the eye-popping photos 🙂

    Ryan

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      October 14, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      Hey Ryan! Cyprus and Turkey don’t sound too bad either! I’d love to see both (I’ve only ever been to Istanbul, which I loved, but there’s way more to Turkey than just Istanbul I’m sure). I hope you get to make it to Albania soon, hopefully next summer so you can enjoy the gorgeous beaches! Glad you liked the photos! Thanks for dropping by 🙂
      Allison

  • Reply
    Christina from Happy to Wander
    December 14, 2016 at 2:45 am

    I’ve had a few people tell me how underrated Albania is but this post really sold it for me. How unbelievably gorgeous! Looks similar to Croatia but I’m sure much less crowded and touristy. That photo of Himara from above is pure magic.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 14, 2016 at 3:01 am

      It really is underrated! Honestly, I went to Dubrovnik on a day trip from Bosnia, and the crowds were enough to put me off Croatia for a little bit… I think I’ll go back sometime in the off season or when it’s a bit passé!

  • Reply
    Nadine Rohner
    December 14, 2016 at 3:54 am

    wow I didn’t know albania had such nice beaches! looks very good and I am sorry you got sunburned. I love your pictures

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 14, 2016 at 5:23 am

      The beaches there are beautiful! Unfortunately getting sunburned is just part of the deal of being a melanin-challenged lady like myself. Still have the tanlines from that burn, though! haha

  • Reply
    Stacey
    December 14, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Those beaches look amazing. I have a friend who’s from Albania and her pics are stunning. It’s always sparked my curiosity, clearly I need to go visit!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 14, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      You should! Be sure to ask her for advice — locals give you the best tips!!

  • Reply
    Iza Abao, Two Monkeys Travel Group Writer
    December 14, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    I am impressed by your photos. I would love to go here someday. The beaches do not look crowded which I like very much. I have been to Caribbean countries beaches but they were crowded. I like the food pic too. It looks so fresh and delicious.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 14, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      Yeah, I’m a bit of a beach grouch… I hate it when there are too many people on the beach!! Nice deserted beaches like these are right up my alley <3

  • Reply
    Natalie
    December 14, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    What a beautiful place!!! So sorry about your sunburn. I never leave home – even day to day, without slathering in my favorite. A sunburn can really ruin the fun for travelers, especially kiddos. Adding Albania to the bucket list! We also love the sunscreen materials for shirts and rash guard stuff for swimming.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 14, 2016 at 9:51 pm

      Thanks! You know, I try to be good about sunscreen, but I’m really bad about remembering to reapply after I go into the water. Although this sunburn is 100% to blame on the “sunscreen” as I reapplied it constantly! I’ll have to look into sunscreen materials for shirts… that sounds really useful!

      I hope you enjoy Albania when you go!! Just remember to bring your own sunscreen ;D

  • Reply
    neha
    December 14, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    Your photos, particularly of the beach are stunning. I would love to visit here right away. The sand looks soft and the water such perfect blue

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 14, 2016 at 9:44 pm

      Actually the “sand” is made of pebbles and rocks, so it’s not exactly that soft, but that’s exactly why the water is so turquoise blue and gorgeous. In my book it’s a good trade off since I actually hate getting all sandy!

  • Reply
    Meg Cale
    December 14, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    The water looks so beautiful! That blue is pretty stunning. I haven’t been to Albania yet but it’s definitely on my wish list.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 14, 2016 at 9:43 pm

      The water was so incredible at every beach we went to — hope you can go there soon! Albania is one of my favorite countries I’ve ever been to <3

  • Reply
    The Travel Ninjas
    December 15, 2016 at 4:09 am

    These Albanian beaches are so attractive. Are some more rocky? Are beach loungers needed or is the sand soft enough to lay on?

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 15, 2016 at 4:19 am

      Yes, they’re all rocky. They’re fine to lounge on with a towel but most beaches have beach loungers for rent for cheap (about $3 a day)

  • Reply
    Diana - MVMT Blog
    December 15, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Albania is at the top of my bucket list! And it’s no wonder because I just keep hearing about these great places there. Himara sounds lovely – I’d love to stay there. Thanks for the tip that the hostel there’s only open in the summer. Hopefully these areas stay relatively remote and void of tourists at least until I get a chance to visit 🙂

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 15, 2016 at 9:40 pm

      I would go soon! I think in 3-4 years time it’ll be as crowded as Montenegro (which I found really jam-packed this summer!) Glad you enjoyed the read!

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