Republic of Albania

This overview outlines key details and statistics on Albania’s geography, demographics, economy, politics, infrastructure, attractions, etc.

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Key Facts

  • Currency: Albanian lek
  • Capital City: Tirana
  • Region: Southern Europe
  • Continent: Europe
  • Demonym: Albanian
  • Land Area: 27,400 km²
  • Population: 2,777,689
  • Political Leader: Edi Rama (Prime Minister)

Geography and Environment

  • Located in the Balkans region with a total land area of 27,400 km2
  • It has both a Mediterranean climate along coasts and an alpine interior
  • 11,363 km2 used as agricultural land area (2021)
  • 7,889 km2 covered by forests (2021)
  • The majority of energy comes from renewable (44.58%) and hydroelectric sources (100%)

Population and Cities

  • Total population of 2.8 million (2022), comprised of 1.4M females and 1.4M males
  • 1 million rural inhabitants, 1.8 million in urban areas like the capital Tirana
  • The population increased over time from 1.6M in 1960
  • 66 major cities documented across Albania
  • It is estimated around 7 million Albanians reside across Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere abroad

Economy and Industry

  • GDP has grown to $18.9B (2022) from $1.9B in 1984
  • Government debt now over 80% of GDP
  • 53% self-employed, 50% in vulnerable jobs (2021)
  • Top companies: Albtelecom, Raiffeisen Bank, Banka Kombëtare Tregtare
  • 374 companies founded between 1912-2017 in database

Health, Education, and Standard of Living

  • Life expectancy improved from 54 to 76 years (1960-2021)
  • Fertility rate dropped from 6.5 to 1.4 births per woman
  • 100% electricity access and 82.61% internet penetration (2022)
  • Higher education: Universiteti Aleksandër Moisiu, Universiteti Polis
  • The average wage in Albania is around $400, making it one of the poorest countries in Europe

Politics and Government

  • Democratization score of 5.98; labeled a “hybrid regime”
  • Women hold 35.7% of parliamentary seats (2022)
  • Military spending has declined to 1.6% of GDP (2022)
  • Notable current figures include PM Edi Rama

Safety and Security

  • Albania has a level 2 travel advisory, according to the U.S. Department of State, indicating tourists should exercise increased caution due to the potential for civil unrest and petty crime
  • Most visits are trouble-free, but tourists are advised to secure passports and wallet carefully
  • Some rural roads may be hazardous due to lacked maintenance

Tourism Infrastructure

  • Tourism is an emerging industry, so travelers will find an authentic experience
  • Hotel infrastructure is developing, with pockets of high quality lodging in Tirana and coastal resort areas
  • Public transportation options are still maturing, so driving or hiring a car is common
  • Getting around involves significant mountainous terrain
  • Popular attractions may get crowded during peak season (July – August)
  • Still off-the-beaten-path compared to more mainstream European destinations
  • Prices remain very affordable relative to the Mediterranean
  • The English language is not widely spoken outside of the main cities

Entry Requirements and Visas

  • Citizens of the European Union, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, do not need a visa for stays up to 90 days within 180 days
  • Passports must be valid for at least three months beyond the intended departure date from Albania
  • Proof of sufficient funds and/or credit cards should be carried
  • Visas can be obtained on arrival at Tirana International Airport or Albanian land border control points
  • Visitors may need to provide documents showing the purpose and means of support for their planned stay
  • Extensions for up to 90 additional days are possible. Overstays result in fines and can lead to entry bans.
  • Travelers staying longer than 90 days within six months require obtaining longer-term D-visas before arrival

The visa application involves completing a form, submitting a valid passport, two passport photos, proof of accommodation arrangements, and paying a 10 Euro fee.

Currency

  • The Albanian Lek (ALL) is the official currency
  • 1 ALL is equal to about 0.0092 EUR or 0.010 USD (as of 2024)
  • ATMs are widely available, but many rural areas still use cash predominantly
  • Credit cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants in cities but carry some cash

Major Airports

Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA)

  • Located 17 km from the capital Tirana
  • Receives flights from over 45 major airlines
  • Serves over 2.5 million passengers per year
  • Features duty-free shops, exchange offices, eateries
  • Offers PCR and antigen COVID testing facilities

Kukës International Airport Zayed (KUK)

  • Located 15 km from Kukës in northeast Albania
  • Smaller regional airport with more limited flights

Corfu Airport (CFU)

  • Located on the Greek Island of Corfu
  • 45-minute ferry to Saranda in southern Albania
  • A popular option when visiting the Albanian Riviera

Airlines Flying to Albania

  • Air Albania
  • Alitalia
  • Austrian Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Lufthansa
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Vueling
  • Wizz Air

Many low-cost European carriers offer flights to Tirana International. Travel between Albania and Italy or Greece is most common. TIA Airport has recently undergone modernization to handle increased traffic. Transportation like taxis, buses, and rental cars are available for onward travel.

Public Transportation

  • Buses and furgons (private vans/minibusses) connect most cities for low fares
  • Most bus stations lack clear arrival/departure information
  • Taxis prevalent in Tirana and other major cities
  • Local municipal buses are limited mostly to the capital Tirana
  • Trains are outdated and not recommended for visiting tourists
  • Rental cars provide the most flexibility for tourists

Driving

  • Driving is on the right side
  • Drive defensively for other cars, pedestrians, animals
  • Adhere to speed limits indicated
  • Validate parking via SMS in some urban areas
  • Carry an international driving permit and vehicle registration
  • Be alert on narrow mountain roads lacking guardrails
  • Gas stations may not accept credit cards

Ferries

  • Public ferries active between Sarandë and Corfu (Greece) as well as Vlora or Durrës and Italy
  • Private boat charters are available for coastal trips
  • Major port cities include Durres, Vlore, and Shëngjin

Accommodation

  • Wide range from hostels to high-end hotels, especially in Tirana
  • Major port and resort cities also have solid options
  • Boutique hotels and villas are available, often with traditional design elements
  • Lodging outside big cities may be basic guesthouses
  • Campgrounds and glamping spots are growing in popularity
  • Airbnbs gaining prevalence in Tirana, Sarandë and Vlorë
  • Peak season from May to September drives rates up slightly
  • Good value is still found relative to other European destinations
  • Amenities may be lacking in rural areas – budget accordingly
  • Confirm cancellation policy, room type, and fees when booking
  • $50-100 per night gets a quality hotel stay in main cities

Regional Differences

Coastal: Contemporary resort-style properties on the Albanian Riviera
Central/Tirana: Modern city business hotels and furnished apartments
Mountain Areas: Quaint village guesthouses and mountain lodges

Consider the type of Albania experience you seek when choosing a lodging area. Overall, the country offers quality lodging options comparable to neighboring Balkan countries but at more affordable prices.

Language & Greetings

  • Albanian is the official language, with Gheg and Tosk dialects
  • Standard greetings: “Mirëdita” (Good day)
    “Si jeni” (How are you) “Faleminderit” (Thank you)
  • English speakers are limited outside of big cities
  • Having local language basics gestures goes a long way

Cultural Traditions & Values

  • Legendary hospitality and pride in guest welcome
  • Toasting is customary during meals and gatherings
  • Elders are highly respected
  • Most identify with a religious affiliation
  • Great respect is placed on family and friendship bonds

Social Etiquette

  • Use titles before names until invited otherwise
  • Arriving late can occur for social gatherings
  • Ask before photographing people
  • Albania has a distinct coffee culture. Try signature coffee traditions like Turkish coffee or espresso

Best Times to Visit

  • April-June and September-October for pleasant weather
  • July-August for beach-going but very crowded
  • December-February for skiing, lower prices, fewer tourists

Food and Drink

  • Cuisine features Mediterranean influences with local crops like olive oil, vegetables, seafood
  • Outdoor café culture is prevalent, especially in cities like Tirana
  • Traditional dishes include roast lamb, salads, burek pastries, kebabs
  • Raki is a popular alcoholic drink, wine options are expanding, and local beers like Birra Korça
  • Tap water is generally not potable

Shopping and Souvenirs

  • Best buys include handicrafts like carpets, ceramics, leather and wood goods
  • Antique shops feature Ottoman-era weapons, wardrobe items
  • Traditional folk costume pieces like embroidered waistcoats for men, vests for women
  • Local artist paintings, socialist realism posters
  • Specialty foodstuffs like wine, raki, olive oil, spices

Events and Festivals

  • Annual Tirana International Film Festival in October
  • Gjirokastër National Folk Festival in October
  • Carnival Fest in Korça (February) and Vlorë (June)
  • Historic reenactments in Berat (April) and Gjirokastër (November)
  • Summer beach music festivals like Unum in Shengjin (July)

Sites and tourist destinations

Although I was born in Albania, I've spent my adult life traveling there as a tourist. Being a native who visits frequently, I can give you an insider's view of Europe's best-kept secret.
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