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Cycling Albania

Cycling Albania.

I have been cycling through Albania 3 times over the past 11 years and here is some tips and advice about cycling in Albania as a tour cyclist.

The roads in Albania.

Typical albanian road scene.

Typical albanian road scene.

The roads in Albania are quite good these days and they are nicely paved in most of the country these days. This is a big change from when I first came 11 years ago, when most of the roads were dirt roads full of potholes, but you will find that it’s only on the very small roads that things are not paved these days and you can easily go tour cycling in Albania on a road bike these days, if this is the kinda bicycle you prefer.

 

Road safety when cycling in Albania.

Quiet albanian country road.

Quiet albanian country road.

The traffic on albanian roads can be quite chaotic, but I have never felt in any danger when navigating through traffic on my bicycle in Albania. The cars are used to soft traffic as there are still many albanians who walk along the main roads with their cows, donkeys, mules, etc.  Getting in and out of the bigger towns and cities requires a bit of attention, but it’s not worse than any average big city around the globe. Apart from some far flung villages in the northeast of the country, close to the Kosovo border, you do not need to worry about safety. In the far northeast of the country, there are still some pretty outlawed towns, where you should only go if you have talked to some local about the situation in advance, but this is a very very small part of the country and Albania is generally speaking one of the safest countries in Europe to cycle around and people will often stop in their cars and ask you if you need help or offer you food and drink and you should not worry when this happens. This is just traditional albanian hospitality and one of the nice aspects of cycling Albania.

 

Albania is both steep and flat to cycle.

Cycling in the mountains of Albania.

Cycling in the mountains of Albania.

Some parts of Albania is quite flat, like the western and north western part of the country, but other parts are mountainous, especially the eastern part of the country, but also the southwestern part bordering Greece. These parts of the country are also the most scenic in my opinion and if you are not afraid to climb some long hills, then you are really up for some of the most spectacular landscape you will see in all Europe.

Bicycle station in Tirana.

Bicycle station in Tirana.

Tirana has a growing bicycle culture.

Tirana has a growing bicycle culture.

Where to sleep when cycling Albania.

When you are cycling around rural Albania it’s generally ok to wild camp if you like that. It’s very accepted in Albania and the only thing that is likely to happen to you is that locals will come and ask if you want to sleep in their house, or have dinner with them. these days there are also many little camp sites around Albania where you can get access to showers, toilets and so, for a very small amount of money. I kinda like using these, as I like to have a shower after a day of cycling. Albania is also very well equipped with roadside hotels that are generally fairly cheap.

I have come across a few bicycle friendly hostels that has both hostel beds as well as camping offered and I think they are very ideal for tour cyclists as you get all the facilities of a hostel, with good showers, kitchen, social life, wifi and such without having to pay much for it. The places I mention here are also run by people who like tour cycling themselvesand they are really good for getting some advice about cycling Albania and they are truely friendly folks. The links to the websites of these 3 hostels/campsites are:

In Tirana: tiranahostel

In Peshkopia in east Albania: Peshkopihostel

 

In the small village Vuno on the albanian south coast:

vunohostel

Country hostel in Vuno.

Country hostel in Vuno.

Mountain hostel in Peshkopia.

Mountain hostel in Peshkopia.

My conclusion about tour cycling in Albania.

Beautiful Albania

Beautiful Albania.

As a tour cycling country, I really like Albania as it still offers some real adventure and some little visited places that can be very hard to find in western Europe these days. It’s not the easiest country in Europe to be a tour cyclist, but it’s certainly not the worst either. It’s probably a good idea to have a little experience in tour cycling before going there as the traffic can be a little chaotic, but if you have some general knowledge about tour cycling then you should be really fine there and it’s one of the few places left in Europe where you can easily find some real adventure and the albanian people are the most hospitable I have met anywhere in Europe in my +25 years of roaming the globe.

And traveling a country by bicycle is simply the best way to experience a country at a speed where you have time to meet the locals, while you are getting fit too while being on the road.

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67 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this write up on Albania. We’re in Montenegro now about to head across the border and I’m guzzling all the information I can about the country. This was quite helpful. I’ve heard about the nightmare traffic and drivers, but indicate that it is safe, which is nice to read.

    If you have recommendations on some of your favorite towns and places to visit by bike, we’d love to hear them (we’re not afraid of hills, but traveling with our dog, who hitches a ride in a trailer).

    • I would recommend that you travel inland if you do not mind mountains. That part of Albania has little traffic and is very scenic. The road going from Kukes via Peshkopi to Ohrid is very scenic and has little traffic.

  2. I’m on Croatia coast now having cycled from Manchester England on way around globe .. I want to keep south and on coast with regard to temperatures , but still undecided about Albania or Bosnia then Serbia towards turkey , your comments would be greatefully received
    Howard – Facebook/howardsmith64

    • Hi’ Howard. I would strongly suggest that you stick to the coast this time of year as you can get some really cold temperatures if you start heading inland in Serbia and Bosnia. I would suggest that you head down the coast of Croatia and Montenegro and then in to Albania and then make a left turn in Tirana and head up to Lake Ohrid and cross in to Macedonia and then head south. Doing that you should have reasonably good temperatures all the way and it’s a nice cycling route I have taken twice myself and had a good time both times.

  3. I am going to cycle from Dubrovnik to Greece along the coast. I have a road bike. I started in late June in Tallinn Estonia and have been following the Baltic, the Elbe, and the Danube. Now I want to ride some of the Adriatic. Any suggestions of towns along the way that I should be sure to ride to? Roads that are especially pretty? Anything that might help would be great. Thanks so much!

    • I have taken the Adriatic road twice by bicycle and I would really recommend the bay of Kotor in Montenegro. This is one of the most scenic coastlines in the world and good for cycling. In Croatia I would recommend to do a little island hopping as you move south. You can often take ferries from island to island and the roads there are often preferable to the coastal road, which is quite narrow in Croatia. Albania is a good cycling country too, with good shoulders on the roads that keep you safe. And the Albanian are extremely hospitable.

  4. Thanks for the great post, I am starting to plan for a two month trip in albania and macedonia from end of september to end of november. Do you have any recommendations on must see routes? I don’t have any set plans, just looking forward to biking and scenery. Thanks!

    • Hi’ Liam.
      If you are going between Albania and Macedonia, then the border crossing at lake Ohrid will be the obvious one. And that lake is very pretty too.
      There is a really good road for cycling between Lake Ohrid and Kukes.
      And if you don’t mind some steep climbs, then the road between Vlore and Saranda is really really scenic.

  5. Yo great post! heard some gnarly things about the cycling in Albania, its nice to see its more like i imagined!

    I am planning a 2 month trip from the start of july to the start of september. Begining in corfu then up through Albania, Montenegro and ending in Croatia. I would ideally want to stay near to coast and will be wild camping, is there a route or any advice you could recommend ?

    thanks ever so much!

    • Hi’ mate. Thank you for commenting. Wild camping is generally quite accepted in Albania and it’s quite safe. You also have quite a few small basic campsites where you can pitch your tent for a very small fee. I would recommend that you take the coastal road from Saranda to Vlore. As long as you don’t mind some serious climbing, then we are really talking about one of the most scenic coastal roads in Europe. The road is most of the time quite a bit above the sea, so you have some fantastic views on that stretch.

  6. Thanks for the very useful summary post Claus. I’m thinking of bicycling from Albania to Turkey, across Macedonia and Greece this summary. I was wondering if you’d have any advise on what kind of maps to get for cycling in the area. Is it best to just get a good (paper) roadmap once you arrive to the area? Good GPS maps useful for bicycling? I’m to mostly on the road tour biking but info on whether roads are paved etc. is always useful. Thanks!

    • Hi’ Sini. I have never toured with a GPS, so I do not really know what brands are good. I mostly combine an old fashioned paper map with with a good study on Google maps every morning before I take off. For good maps in Tirana, you have a very good english bookstore right on the main square in Tirana, next to the Opera.The name of the bookstore is Adrion.

  7. Hi – Really great read. Very helpful. I’m cycling from Croatia to Greece in a month or so. We have a rough route planned – are there any towns in Albania in particular that you would recommend staying in/ avoiding?

    Thanks!

    • I would recommend you to avoid staying in Vlore and Sarande on the coast and try to opt for some of the smaller places instead to stay overnight. Berat is a scenic town top stop by too on the way down south. And I highly recommend the coastal road between Vlore and Sarande. It’s a really scenic road to cycle. Have a fantastic trip.

      • Hi Claus – thanks for the tips. I’ll make sure I take your advice. Can I ask what you think of cycling along the busier roads? I am a little anxious to cycle on the busy dual carriageways but have been told that they are safe. Is this correct?

        • Hi’ Charlie. I found that most busy roads have a fairly large shoulder and is therefor quite ok to cycle on. There are parts of the road between Tirana and Skhoder that can be a little busy, but even that road is ok most of the way in my opinion.

          • Hi Claud – That is good to hear thanks! This is what I’ve heard from reading other blogs but good to hear it from you.

  8. hi Claus, do you know if it’s possible to take a bike and panniers on the buses in Albania. I’m hoping to cycle South through the mountains to Lake Ohrid but then, due to time limitations, take a bus to Sarande and head north. Think this would be possible? Any advice much appreciated, thanks, Paul

    • Hi’ Paul. If the bus is big enough to have the bike in the luggage compartment, then it will be possible. You might have to pay a small fee for it. But be ware that many bus routes in Albania are served by mini busses that do not have space for a bike, so try and find out if the bus route you plan to use is served by big busses. Have a fantastic trip.

  9. Thanks for that, I’ll continue the research and may come back with further questions!

  10. Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing all your insight! We are currently in Croatia and cycling south to Greece. Do you recommend staying along the coast or cycling inland? We are also open to Kosovo and Macedonia if you have any experience with those countries. Thank you!

    • Hi’ Katy. I would say that both the coastal route and the inland roads are fine. It’s really just a matter of what you prefer. I have cycled through Macedonia and that is fine too, Just remember that it’s a big climb when going over the mountain range between two countries. I have not cycled on Kosovo yet, so I better not say too much about that. But you could both cycle from the border via Skhodra and Lezhe to Tirana, or you could cycle up towards the Kosovo/Macedonia border from Skhodra. The eastern part of Albania around Peshkopi and mount Korab is really untouched and very nice too. Have a fantastic trip.

  11. Hi again Claus, in Albania now, in kukes and trying to decide which road to take to Peshkopia tomorrow, the old one or the new one. Do you have any advice? Have you ridden the old route and do you know how bad/slow it might be. I don’t have any problem with the hills but not a big fan of the unpaved/sandy/Rocky routes, thanks

    • Hi’ Paul. I would take the new one. It’s nicely paved and the traffic is not heavy at all. I do not know the old one, but I am almost sure that it will be unpaved. Good luck and have a fantastic trip.

  12. HI Claus. A brilliant post! I am planning on bicycle touring through albania sometime in april this year. Do you have any information on bike rentals in albania and how much they cost? Or is that not an option and i have to bring in my own bike? I am from malaysia by the way. Your two cents are deeply appreciated. Cheers!

    • Hi’ Kuljeet. Bicycle rental is not that common in Albania yet. You have free city bikes in Tirana that you ca use within the Tirana city limit. But apart from that, I have not noticed that much bicycle rental yet. I think bringing your own bike will be the best thing. Have a fantastic trip.

  13. Hi Claus, We are in Ksamil (love it!!) And are headed to Gjirokaster and them making or way to Dubrovnik and beyond. We were thinking of cycling back down to Fier to take the coastal road north but we have heard that SH4 from Fier to Durres is a superhighway and pretty nasty. Any suggestions?

    Steve

    • I have cycled that road and did not think it was that bad. and you have little alternative if you want to go to Durres. But if you do not need to go to Durres, then it will be easy to head inland for some more quiet roads.

      • Hi, Claus, we are planning to bike from Split to Vlora. we would like to go from durres to vlora at the end. As i see the SH4 is the quickest way. So you think it is possibole to bike this way? Is it safe? Is it really allowed to bike? thanks a lot!

        Enikő

        • I have biked on the SH4 in the past myself and had no problems. There is a fair bit of traffic, sp you gotta be ready for that. But I felt perfectly safe biking there. When I look at the map, then there seems to be a small stretch of road near Vlore that has become quite motorway like recently. And I am not totally sure if you can bike there. But from Durres until Lavan should be no problem.

          • Thanks Claus! ( i am sorry i wrote my comment two times…) Thanks for the information, it is really usefull, if we can make it to Lavan, than wont be a problem! 🙂 THANKS!

  14. Hi Claus,

    That’s an informative and interesting read!
    We’re planning a cycle from Glasgow to Gaziantep this August, roughly 3000miles.
    We were a little concerned about cycling through eastern Europe.
    We done it in 2014, cycled to Ancona, ferry to patras, cycle to Athens then ferry to izmir.
    But this time round would like to cycle more. Maybe cycle to bari, ferry to Albania then cycle across Macedonia ( apparently unsafe) through Greece/Bulgaria? Into Istanbul.
    What’s your thoughts?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Hi’ Ahmad. I have cycled through Albania, Macedonia, Greece to Istanbul. And from there continued to Georgia. And I did not have a single moment when I felt unsafe on my journey. And I was cycling alone.

      • Any tips on the route?

        • When crossing the border between Greece and Turkey, then be ware that you have some long climbs in the first stretch through Turkey. Also be ware that there are quite a few aggressive stray dogs in that part of Turkey. And when leaving Istanbul, then I would suggest that you take one of the ferries that crosses the Marmara sea. You can take a ferry to Yalova for instance. It’s a nice journey and you avoid the heavy traffic that you will encounter if you leave Istanbul by road.

  15. Hi Claus,
    I’m planning on living along the coast in Croatia or Albania next year as I train for a 36 Km swim in Italy. A big portion of my conditioning is alpine cycling After reading your article, it sounds like southwestern Albania has the hills and open water I’m looking for. Am I correct? Is there a comparable place in Croatia?
    Thanks,
    Matt

    • Hi’ Matt. The southwestern part of Albania is mountainous and has lovely hidden beaches.Traffic there is also not that heavy. Northwest Albania is not as good, as traffic is more heavy. But from Vlore and south, you really have some serious climbs and some spectacular views. That coastline is also better than the Croatian coastline for cycling if you ask me. The coastal road in Croatia has a lot of traffic and is a little too narrow for my liking. Hope you will enjoy your trip mate.

      • thanks a lot, I’m really looking forward to next spring. The southwest of Albania sounds perfect to me, big climbs and swimming too.

  16. Hey Claus!
    Thank you for this very nice post. Currently me and my boyfriend are cycling from Zakynthos back home to the Netherlands. We are in Bitola and meeting a friend in Ohrid. After that we either want to go via Mavrovo park to Peshkopi or decide to see more of Macedonia and cycle up to Tetovo and enter Kosovo. We know you havent cycled there but could you tell us about the border of Kosovo and Albania (we want to take the road from Prizren to Kükes). Hope you can help! Cheers.

    • Hi’ Giselle. The border between Kosovo and Albania is open and easy to cross, as the two countries are on very good terms. I would suggest that you take the route up to Peshkopi. It’s a really nice ride on a road that has very little traffic. Just be ready for some climbing. I have cycled there and I consider it one of the nicest rides I have taken in Europe.

  17. Thank you for the great Post Claus.
    I am planning a cycling trip to Albania and am wondering what are the best routes and cities that you found are worth seeing? Thanks!

    • Hi’ Tim.

      From a cycling perspective, I would recommend the east and the south of Albania. These parts of Albanaia has the best combination of cycle friendly roads and places to see.

  18. Mélanie Le Febvre

    Hi Claus !
    Thanks for the great article! I just reached Albania, spending the night in Shkoder and I am uncertain about which ways to take then (heading off to Greece). Mostly I am hesitating for the southern part: the riviera or through Gjirokaster (which might be a lil less steep).
    I have been cycling with my partner from Paris, so we have done some serious hills. that being said it’s getting really hot and we have been on the road for some time (tired!).
    I’d really appreciate your advice, if you have any, for that southern part as well as before. I guess up to Fier would be pretty flat so then it’s an exploration between straight and bigger roads or smaller ones.
    If you (or anyone for that matter) also have tips for Greece, we are happy to read! We flight out from Athens in a bit more than 3 weeks so we should have plenty of time to wander in Greece.

    Best,
    Melanie

    • Hi’ Melanie. You are right that things are fairly flat until Fier. The coastal road from Vlore is very very scenic, but also very very steep at some points. I really recommend it, but you must be ready for some climbing there. Going inland via Gjirokaster should be a little less steep and it’s also an interesting road. There is a little village called Lazarat, next to Gjirokaster, where you should not attempt to stay. It’s a city that produces massive amounts of marihuana and the locals are known to not really like visits from outside. But otherwise you should be fine with all other towns and villages in southern Albania. Have a fantastic trip.

  19. Hi Claus,

    This is great! Thanks for sharing all this info.

    We are cycling from Dubrovnik to Saranda/Corfu.

    Would you recommend cycling by the coast (past Vlore) or inland (most direct route) from Tirana to Saranda?Conscious of road surfaces.

    Cheers!

    • Hi’ Caroline. After Vlore the road surface is good and the road does not have that much traffic. And it’s also a very scenic road with fantastic views. Most of the road runs above the sea and you have some really cool mountain scenery, even if it’s the coastal road. Just be ready for a couple of serious climbs 🙂

  20. Simonetta Pagani

    Hi Claus, thanks for sharing your experience!
    I’m planning a tour in Albania by bike with my husband. Do you know if the road HS3 from Tirana to the Ohrid lake has too much traffic and and if it is dangerous for bikers?
    Thank you!

    • Hi’ Simonetta. I have cycled that road twice and the traffic is not too bad there. The road is winding at times, but I really enjoyed cycling it. Only road in Albania that I think is sometimes a little too much in terms of traffic is the main road between Ohrid and Tirana. But I have still biked that road 3 times anyway and quite enjoyed it. If biking from Tirana to Ohrid, be ware that there is a very steep climb, just before you reach the Macedonian border.

      • Simonetta Pagani

        Thank you Claus!
        What do you think about the road from Shkoder to Kukes, via Puke, through mountains? Did you cycled it?
        Thank you!

        • I have not cycled that road yet, but I have driven it by car. The road surface is good, but be ware that there are some tunnels on that route. Since I have not cycled the route, I am not exactly sure how to deal with these tunnels. But I think they might pose a bit of a problem.

  21. Hi. We are planning on cycling to Ohrid from Skhodar. Hope to take ferry to Fierza then cycle onto Kukesi. Which route would you recommend from Frieza to Kukesi? Bill

    • Hi’ Bill. This is one of the few areas of Albania that I have not been cycling yet. So I’m afraid that I am now able to help you much with this one unfortunately. Have a fantastic trip anyway.

  22. Hi Claus, thank you for this great post and for your extensive answers. This has already been highly valuable. I will be arriving in Tirana next Thursday, and plan for a 4-5 days round trip by bicycle up the coast, inland towards Kukes, along your recommended route to Ohrid, and back to Tirana. Do you know any of the streets from the coast towards Kukes? Your advice would be much appreciated. Best, Rune

    • Hi’ Rune. If you are going to Kukes, then be ware that there are a couple of tunnels on the main road between Tirana and Kukes, that might be problematic with a bicycle. The road from Tirana to Ohrid is fine. And the road between Ohrid and Kukes, via Peshkopi and mount Korab is really a good cycling road. Hope this helps a bit.

  23. Hey Rune!

    Thank you for your notes on cycling in Albania. I am on my first ever bicycle tour, cycling from Sweden towards India. I was rather doubtful whether I would cycle through Albania but your account made me decide to go.

    I was wondering if you could give me recommendations for route. I am currently on the Croatian coast, going towards Montenegro and then into Albania. I am quite interested in a route that leads to lake Ohrid, and then into the Republic of North Macedonia, and on to Greece. I am okay with hilly bits and I am looking forward to some scenic views, but I don’t much like gravel roads. I always prefer (good) asphalt roads. And, if there is a route that is not too hilly, meaning I will walk upwards the entire day, or for days, I also prefer that. But, I am counting on some hilly parts, there is no avoiding it.

    Any tips or recommendations would be helpful.

    Thanks in advance!

    Felix Fernebring
    WheelsAgainstCancer

    • Hi’ Felix. I would recommend the route from Tirana, Via Elbasan and then up to Ohrid. Everything has been paved in recent years, so you are fine now. You have one very steep climb just before the Albanian/Macedonian border. But apart from that it’s pretty ok. There is also a bit of a climb when leaving Tirana to Elbasan, now that I think of it. But you can not avoid climbs in this part of the world. And I really think that this is a decent route. I took it myself twice and really enjoyed it.

  24. Felix Fernebring

    Sorry Claus, got name names mixed up…

  25. Kerry Heywood

    Hi Claus
    In Durras and heading to Shkoder after riding up the coast from Greece. Truely magnificent riding until Vlore and from then very frantic, ok but just not any fun.
    Would you just ride the main roads from here or try and find something smaller. Bypassing Tirana so heading toward Lezhe. Any suggestions appreciated
    Cheers Kerry

    • Hi’ Kerry. The main road between Durres and Shkoder has quite a lot of traffic. If you are not keen on quite a few cars, then I would suggest that you try to find some smaller alternative roads, as it is rather busy between Tirana and Shkoder.

  26. Hi Claus. I have from the 1st September to 8th October to cycle. Im camping as well. My thoughts are to fly to Corfu and take the ferry to Albania. I was then thinking of visiting Albania and Macedonia and then catching a place home from Greece Thessaloniki. Do you think this is realistic in the time i have? Where would you recommend to go. I’m not happy with heavy traffic.

    • Hi’ Karen. I think you will do fine time wise. In order to avoid too much traffic, then you should head inland in Albania before reaching Vlore, where traffic up towards Tirana is really busy. But theinland part of southern Albania has little traffic and is great for cycling. Only place where you might encounter quite a bit of traffic is if you decide to drive by Gjirokaster, where you have many tour busses taking tourists to the ancient ruins. But the rest should be just fine.

  27. Hi Claus, thanks so much for the great tips and all of the comments I have read also! Just wondering about the water situation? I read a few places about people having a bad stomach from drinking the tap water etc. Would you recommend to take some kind of filter? Do you know much about gravel roads there? I’m wanting to get to Dhermi (I think) from Tirana as I will fly there so will cycle there and back from the airport. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!

    • Hi’ Dani. I would recommend that you drink bottled water in the cities. But out on the countryside, the water mostly comes from wells in peoples backyard. And the water quality there tend to be very good. For gravel roads, they are mostly in agricultural areas. Most of Albania has nicely paved roads these days. But if you want to go off road, then that should be quite easy as well.

  28. Hi Claud. Great post and lots of really useful tips. I’ve read through them all and nobody seems to have asked you about the route which I am hoping to take, which might tell me something!, but hoping you could offer your thoughts. We are starting in Corfu and planning on cycling across the south of Albania, before crossing southern macedonia in the Bulgaria to pick up the EuroVelo 14 route to turkey. Do you have any experience of traversing the southern part of Albania and which route might be best? Thanks Joe

    • Hi’ Joe.

      I have not cycled that route yet myself. But I have driven on the road and it looks good for cycling. It does not have a lot of heavy traffic and mostly goes through quiet countryside. So I see no serious challenges in that route, once you are away from the heavy traffic in Sarande.

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