Welcome to my travel diary, fellow wanderers! Today, I’m taking you on a journey to the captivating city of Shkodër, nestled in the heart of Albania. Often overshadowed by its more famous counterparts, this hidden gem offers a blend of history, culture, and natural beauty that will leave you enchanted.
Shkodër ended up on my travel list completely by coincidence when I was planning a visit to the Albanian Alps. Shkodër popped up as a great starting point to visit the Alps. This is also one of the main reasons why many people visit the city of Shkodra.
It is worth to stay at least 1 night there. There are some interesting things to do there and you can also make a day trip to the Skadar lake. Skadar Lake offers some great activities and it’s a great place to visit, especially during summer. I’ve spent a few days there before heading to Theth, so I had the chance to do a day trip to Komani Lake & Shala River.
A glimpse of Shkodër’s History
Our adventure begins with a step back in time. Shkodër boasts a rich historical heritage, influenced by various civilizations like the Illyrians, Romans, Ottomans, and more. A visit to the Rozafa Castle is a must; perched atop a hill, it offers panoramic views of the city and Lake Shkodër. Legend has it that the castle’s foundations were laid with the sacrifice of a woman named Rozafa, echoing the city’s enduring spirit.
Shkodër is not only one of the oldest towns in Albania, but one of the oldest in Europe. The city of Shkodër dates back to the 4th Century BC. It was settled by Ancient Illyrian tribes. Today it is the 5th most populated city in Albania. Its unique geographical location made it perfectly positioned to become an important trading town in the past and its tradition of religious (and ethnic) tolerance still visibly apparent in the center with mosques, a Catholic Church, and Orthodox Cathedral all within a stone’s throw.
Shkodër is charming, cheap and has a lively café and bar scene. There’s a range of good and cheap accommodation. If you have the time it’s worth spending a day or two seeing the sights of this chilled little lakeside city.
Here are my tips on what to see, what to do and what to eat when you are in Shkodër.
The buses from Tirana are departing from the Regional bus station and take about 2 hours to Shkodër. The price is around 400 ALL (you pay on the bus). From Shkodra to Tirana there are frequent buses running from early morning until the last bus at 17:00. If you come from Tirana, the bus will stop in front of the Rozafa hotel. The bus departs from the bus staion in Square Democracia (in front of Radio Shkodra).
Taking the bus is the cheapest option. If you want to, you can also take a taxi, book a tour or rent a car. Renting a car has its advantages, but there are some disadvantages too – driving in Albania can be very stressfull and chaotic. Also, be careful when taking a taxi, because taxi journeys in Albania are very pricey.
If you are coming from elsewhere in Albania, you will likely have to make a stopover in Tirana and transfer there. All roads basically pass through Tirana.
The closest airport is the international airport in Podgorica, Montenegro, but most likely you will fly into Tirana, which is located about 80km from the city of Shkodra. Shkodra links to Montenegro through Ulcinj & Podgorica. There is a regular bus line between Shkodra & Ulcinj – the bus station is in front of the Rozafa hotel. The journey takes about 1 hour and the fare is 5 EUR. To Podgorica there are 2 daily lines and the journey takes about 2 hours.
WHAT TO DO IN SHKODËR
Rozafa Castle is the biggest tourist attraction in Shkodër. It costs 400 ALL to enter the castle.
There is a 30 minute walk uphill from the city centre to the castle. You should give yourself at least an hour to explore inside. The best time to visit is during the sunset as the city is bathed in a golden glow.
Rozafa really has some amazing views to offer. Views of mountains, views of rivers, views of the city – all the views that you could hope for. Being on top of a rocky cliff, surrounded by two rivers — Buna and Drini, it is an ideal place to take some nice pictures.
Wander around Shkodër
Shkodër is pretty walkable city. Pretty much everything that could be interesting in Shkodër is located within a narrow area around its center. These include the Ebu Bekr Mosque, the Franciscan Cathedral, an Orthodox Church and the Kole Idromeno pedestrian street with nice cafes and restaurant. The Kole Idromeno and Rroga 28 Nentori form the lively centre of Shkodër. Strolling down Rruga Kole Idromeno, I felt like I could be in any of Europe’s cultural capitals.
The walking streets get really lively at night. Treat yourself to a nice dinner before going for a walk and keeping an eye and ear out for where the party is at. No matter what your music taste is, Shkodër has something for you.
One of the greatest (and also the most popular ones) things to do in Shkodër is to rent a bike to see the city and sights in the area. Cycling was very popular during the communist era of Albania and so it remains today. That means it won’t be difficult to rent a bike. You can expect to pay around 5-6€/day. What you will notice immediately when you arrive in Shkodra, is the number of people riding bicycles. People on bikes going about their daily business are a common sight everywhere.
Marubi – National Museum of Photography
This is Albania’s only museum dedicated entirely to photography. It houses a vast collection of 500,294 photographs dating back from 1858 when the first images in Albania were recorded. The design for the Marubi Museum promotes a rich dialogue between tradition and modernity. The legacy of the tradition is underlined by placing the museum in the historical building designed by the Albanian architect born in Shkodër, Kolë Idromeno.
This huge lake crosses the border to Montenegro (called Skadar Lake there) and in fact only 1/3 of it is in Albania. The lake is the largest in the Balkans and is an important source of biodiversity in the region. The lake has rich flora and fauna. Lake Shkodra and its connected delta of Buna is one of Europe’s five sites for wintering birds. Home to the rare Dalmatian pelican and the world’s second largest colony of pygmy cormorant – come here at any time of the year and you will have the chance to see wetland life in all its glory. Lake Shkodra is within easy reach of the city. There are a few towns and beaches along the lake so just find the right place and enjoy your day on the lake.
A day trip to Komani Lake & Shala River
If you have enough time, you can also make a day trip from Shkodër. This city is the gateway to the stunning region known as the Albanian Alps. Try to spend as much time as possible there so you can really get the most of those beautiful mountains. Besides visiting Theth for a few days, which is a must in my opinion, I suggest you to take the Komani Lake ferry to Valbone or do a day trip to Shala River.
When I saw the stunning photos of a crystal clear waters of river Shala (Lumi i Shalës), I knew that I have to visit this place. I’ve booked a trip in advance and paid 33 EUR for a transport to Koman ferry port and a trip to river Shala. The boat ride on Komani Lake is one of the highlights of a journey through Albania.
Shiroka & Zogaj neighborhood
Walking from Shkodra through Molo pedestrian street across the old Buna bridge and to the right towards the lake, you can reach Shiroka neighborhood. It is about 5km from the centre. The promenade runs parallel the shoreline at the foot of the Taraboshi Mountain. Shiroka offers numerous small bays for swimming. If you plan to spend a night in peace and calmness alongside the lake, feel free to do so. In 6km from Shiroka, you will reach Zogaj, a tranquil fishing neighborhood, very similar to Shiroka in character. This small village is more isolated with characteristic stone houses up to three stories high. The families here live of fishing and olive oil production. Being a place bordering Montenegro, during the communism, it was a forbidden area and people were not allowed to visit it.
Both Shiroka & Zogaj are very attractive places with picturesque views of the lake. Restaurants by the shore offer a lot of fresh delicious fish. You will be able to taste or buy fresh organic products such as honey, dried anchovies and olive oil.
The food in Shkodër was just as delicious as in the other parts of Albania I visited. When it comes to cuisine, it is quite diverse. There is a lot of Western European influence in the cuisine, especially Italian. Talking about Italian influence in culinary… if you like the Italian food, you should visit the Pasta e Vino restaurant. They make homemade pasta and they are delicious!
Here are some of my recommendations on food & drinks:
- Pasta e Vino: for fresh pasta and meat
- Gelateria Bell Italia: for delicious pastry or ice cream
- Kultura pub & Bistro: for hanging out in the evening
- Nur n’Gjuhadol: also for going for a glass of beer in the evening
The culture of cafes and bars is notable overall Albania. The locals love to spend time in bars, watching people around and having coffee with friends. When an Albanian says “let’s go for a coffee”, this does not necessarily mean that you are expected to drink only coffee. It is just a saying to invite you for a drink. As a Slovenian, I can totally identify with this – we do exactly the same! 🙂
You can easily find traditional Albanian food throughout the city. There are some traditional dishes to seek out in Shkodra’s restaurants – byrek, eel in spicy sauce, veal Jahni, veal chops with baked potatoes, stuffed peppers, lamb with spring onions and fresh mint, egg and lemon soup, sweet noodle pudding, etc.
And yeah, don’t forget to try raki (very strong aniseed-flavoured liqueur).
YOU MIGHT BE ALSO INTERESTED IN READING:
- The Ultimate Theth Guide
- Is Kruja worth visiting?
- Exploring Tirana, Albania’s vibrant capital
- Day trip to Koman Lake & Shala River
Founded in 4 B.C.
approx. 115.000 inhabitants
Language: Gegh dialect of Albanian
Foreign spoken languages: mostly English & Italian, also German and French
Religion: Shkodra is the symbol of religion harmony – three religions coexist side by side (it is the centre of Roman Catholicism of Albania, the seat of a Grand Mufti of the Muslims & the Orthodox Christian, who are much less in number
Rivers: Drini River (the longest river in the country), Buna River (the only navigable river in Albania), Kiri River, Shala River (springs from Albanian Alps)
The coastal line: 14 km long and 200m wide with sandy beaches
Shkoder has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. In the higlands snow can fall from November until March, so mountain areas are very cold at this time of year. Due to lots of sunny days (approx. 250/year), Shkoder can be visited during all seasons depending on type of activities you are interested in.
If you find yourself in Albania, do not miss out on Shkodër. Some people may skip it and go straight to the Alps, but Shkodër has a great vibe and it is worth the visit. Albania in general is such an underrated country! I hope you will fall in love with this country just like I did.
As we wrap up our journey through Shkodër, it’s clear that this city has more to offer than meets the eye. From its historical sites and cultural treasures to its natural wonders and warm-hearted people, Shkodër is a destination that deserves a spot on every traveler’s bucket list. So, my fellow explorers, let’s keep wandering, discovering, and embracing the hidden gems that make our world so beautifully diverse. Until next time, happy travels!
Have you ever visit Shkodër or any other place in Albania? How did you like it? Would you like go back?