Sometimes when you’re travelling you get a really useful tip or suggestion from a local or a fellow traveler. This was the case during our recent trip to Albania. After spending a few days in Tirana we were starting to feel like we’d seen all the best sights already and were wondering what to do with the day. Luckily for us, the receptionist at our hotel had studied tourism management and was very keen to practice his skills on us by creating an itinerary for our day. Always up for seeing new places, we gladly took his suggestions for a day out in Kruje, and we were definitely not disappointed by our decision.
Kruje is a small, ancient city located up in the mountains about 1 hour drive north of Tirana. We rented a car for the duration of our stay and therefore drove to Kruje, which is probably by far the easiest way to get to this destination as it is a little way outside Tirana.
As it’s a small city you can easily see everything by just walking around on your own for day or a half-day, however the itinerary recommended by our guide was a great way to make sure you get the best out of the day, so I definitely suggest that you use it as an idea to help you plan your visit.
Stop 1: Coffee at the Panorama Hotel
It’s a good idea to start your trip in the morning and arrive in Kruje in time for an energising morning coffee. Luckily we were recommended the best spot not just for some tasty caffeine but also for an absolutely amazing view of the mountain city and surroundings.
When you arrive in Kruje you’ll probably realise, as we did, that parking is a bit of a problem. Hopefully you’ll find a spot somewhere along the road, or you can do as we did and park in the parking lot from the restaurant/bar opposite the Panorama Hotel. But do be aware that this is their private parking so don’t park there unless you have the intention to at least have a coffee or beer at the bar before you leave.
Anyway, once you’ve somehow found a spot to park you can stroll to the Panorama Hotel, which seems to be the biggest and most popular hotel in the city, and take advantage of its unsurprisingly panoramic location to enjoy a drink of some kind and marvel at the beautiful scenery.
Once you’re appropriately caffeinated you can move on to the next stop.
Stop 2: The old bazaar
The old bazaar is located right underneath the hotel and you’re sure to see it. You can take one of the sets of steps down from the main road to the pedestrianised area below and have a wander around this picturesque old market and maybe also buy some souvenirs if you want.
We almost always buy a magnet in each destination to remember our travels so we bought one here and also got an Albanian flag face mask – a special souvenir of travels in the time of covid. There’s loads of hand-crafted stuff to look at and potentially buy if you want, or you can just stroll through the very picturesque market and on towards the next area of interest.
Stop 3: Kruja Castle
At the top of the hill, once you pass through the bazaar, you’ll find the city’s famous castle. When you enter through the archway you’ll find that there are several different things to see within the area of the old castle walls. There isn’t really much left to see of the castle itself other than a crumbling tower at the top. The ‘castle’ structure that can be seen there is actually a recreation built in the 80s, which hosts the Skanderbeg museum. If you don’t know who Skanderbeg is when you arrive in Albania that situation will be quickly rectified by locals who are only too keen to educate you on their national hero who led a rebellion against the Ottomans in the 1400s. This museum is dedicated to him and the area’s history. I didn’t enter, but if you want to spend a longer time in the city and learn more you might want to.
If not, you can walk up the hill and see the tower, and get another amazing view of the surroundings.
Stop 4: The Ethnographic Museum
We were recommended to visit the Ethnographic museum next. In fact we decided not to enter it as there were a lot of other things to see around the area, but I have heard that it’s really worth visiting. Inside is a well-preserved Ottoman house with a lot of historical artifacts and hand-crafted objects to see, so if you do like museums this is a must-do.
Step 5: Loop back around through the cobbled streets to head back to your starting place!
From the Ethnographic museum you can continue down the cobbled streets and see several other sights including an old Turkish hammam, a mosque (which was under reconstruction during our visit, unfortunately), several large olive trees including one that was planted on the occasion of Skanderbeg’s wedding some 500 years ago. There are also several viewpoints where you can stop and admire the view from the high-up vantage point. When your exploring instincts are satisfied, you can return to the castle’s entrance and head down the hill via the small mosque which is hidden inside a cave on the way down, and finally return back to where you started.
This little loop will allow you to see almost all of the interesting spots in Kruje. You should also bring an appetite with you if possible because there are several really nice traditional restaurants at the top of the hill with amazing views. Unfortunately I didn’t eat anywhere as we had brought some leftovers with us to eat, but there are definitely some really appealing places to stop for food or a drink.
I hope this has given you a few ideas for an interesting day trip from Tirana. I really recommend making time for this destination if possible.
Let me know your favourite places in Albania in the comments!