For expats, Albania is a hidden gem. The country offers everything from modern urban living to small towns seemingly frozen in time.
If you are considering moving to Albania, where should you choose to live?
The country has many intriguing locations for expats, but these seven options stand out.
1. Tirana – the capital city
Tirana is one of Europe’s most enigmatic capitals and one of its most up-and-coming markets. It’s a perfect urban setting for families, singles, and retirees and is Albania’s most LGBTQ-friendly city.
Tirana is not only the heart of Albania’s urban landscape but also the nation’s social, educational, medical, and economic epicenter. The city can be as fast-paced or as laid-back as you desire.
With the singular exception of a beach, Tirana provides a bit of everything Albania offers. But even the beach is not a problem. The Adriatic coastline is only 30 minutes west.
Tirana is well-connected and great for travelers. Albania’s main international airport lies just on Tirana’s outskirts, and the international bus station is conveniently located near the city center.
Tirana is the best option for families with nearly ten international schools, including Christian, Montessori, German, and French.
These institutions carry US or EU accreditations such as the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS), Council of International Schools (CoIS), and Quality Schools International (QSI).
Tirana is also the hub of Albania’s private medical sector. Nearly ten full-service options exist, the largest, American Hospital, is accredited by the American Hospital Association, with 3 Tirana locations.
Want to take a rest from the city noise? No problem. Half an hour away is Dajti Mountain National Park. Take a 30-minute cable car ride to the peak, and you will find the most amazing views, activities, wildlife, cafes and restaurants.
Tirana has five large shopping malls. Tirana East Gate (TEG) offers nearly 200 stores, including high-end brands, a Cineplex, a food court, restaurants, a game zone, and an outdoor children’s area. City Park Mall has an Expo Center and water park.
TEG is conveniently located near two of Tirana’s private luxury residential communities, where villas can exceed a million euros.
Tirana is anchored by Skanderbeg Square, around which you will find the full panoply of Albania’s Arts and Culture scene, including the National Opera and Ballet, Art Gallery, National Museum, the Friendship Monument, and Bunk’Art 2.
The city’s southern edge is the Grand Park of Tirana. A large lake and wooded park, a boardwalk of cafes, restaurants, and activities, and within walking distance to the Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
Between the Grand Park and the central square is the Blloku district, the Balkans’ preeminent dining and social scene, offering virtually every cuisine.
For daily all-you-can-eat sushi, Amo Sushi, or if you’re in the mood for one of the best steaks in the city, El Gaucho, an Argentinian Steakhouse, is the place.
While there aren’t any LGBTQ bars, there are a few spots, such as Radio Bar, that are welcoming.
Simply stated, Tirana is an all-in-one option.
2. Shkodra – the city of bicycles
Just 2-hours north of Tirana is the urban retreat of Shkodra. Dating back to the 4th century BC, the city is rich in history, tradition and nature.
An amazing confluence of Albania’s natural side and urbanization, Shkodra’s lakeside location offers modern development in a vastly more green and blue setting.
Shkodra is nestled in the Albanian Alps. There are sandy beaches on the southern edge of Skadar Lake National Park and Albania’s Buna River-Velipoja Protected Landscape 30 minutes north. Living in the Albanian Alps also means experiencing real winter with skiing, snowboarding, or sledding.
It’s a great choice for a seasonal beach, the outdoors, and city living. A small and flat city, Shkodra is easy to navigate and is perfect for hiking and walking. The city is the unofficial biking capital of the Balkans.
The cost of living is far more affordable than in Tirana. In Shkodra, a 2-bedroom apt can be found for approximately $300/250€ a month.
The downside is that Shkodra lacks international schools and the private medical sector, relying upon Tirana’s options.
Shkodra provides unparalleled glamping options, such as Camping Legjenda and Lake Shkodra Resort.
However, if you prefer a 5-star hotel, there are few. Hotel Colosseo & Spa, with its contemporary fine dining and a 5th-floor terrace bar with panoramic views, is the Saturday night spot for locals, guests, and expats.
Dining in Shkodra is dominated by Mediterranean and traditional cuisines. The San Francisco restaurant is centrally located and a favorite of locals, expats, and tourists.
Shkodra is within arm’s reach of Albania’s rugged landscape. Theth and Valbona mountains are to the west. To the east is the Adriatic coastline, the agrotourism of Velopoja, and the annual UNUM Music Festival on a remote beach in Lezhe.
Shkodra is a border city, sharing Lake Skadar with Montenegro. Intriguingly, Shkodra has Venetian heritage, and its Old Town exudes a unique Italian vibe with pastel-colored facades and street markets.
On its southern corner lies Rozafa Castle, a Venetian artifact. The city center is home to the famous Venice Art Mask Factory (open to visitors), which supplies hand-made masquerade masks for Venice’s Carnival.
Shkodra is for those who love the outdoors without being stranded in the middle of nowhere.
3. Durrës – the coastal city
Albania’s second-largest city, and largest port, Durrës, is all about city living with the Adriatic as your backyard.
The entire western edge is a beautiful coastline that can be walked and enjoyed, with a few exceptions, such as the international ferry port.
Durrës is a hub for summer tourism, so there are areas within the city that only operate during the summer. Thus, in the off-season, you will need to rely upon the city center for shopping.
Still, Durrës is a great option to consider for families, singles, and retirees.
There is one international K-12 school, Albanian College, and one private medical hospital, American Hospital, both satellites of Tirana institutions.
During the summer, Durrës has a very lively nightlife. Cinco Cavalli Summer Club offers concerts all summer long by Albanian and European artists.
In the city’s Plepa neighborhood, along the coast, is Rigels Shisha Lounge and Sushi restaurant. It’s owned by European recording artist Albanian Rapper Noizy, who frequents the place and is very approachable.
While most European cities have a central plaza, Durrës has the Vollga Promenade, an Adriatic boardwalk, and a park. During the summer, it’s filled with amusement rides and a fair. In the off-season, it’s a delightful stretch to walk, have a coffee, and enjoy a meal with an Adriatic sunset.
From the Promenade and reaching out into the Adriatic is Ventus Harbor complex, offering a year-round restaurant with Italian, Greek, and French cuisine, a fully equipped gym, and an indoor pool, jacuzzi, and spa.
Durrës is home to many of Albania’s archaeological sites, including remains of a Roman amphitheater, Venetian tower, and Byzantine market, with much more on display at the Archaeological Museum of Durrës.
Simply stated, if you need history, beach vibes, and city life, Durrës fits the bill.
4. Vlora – an Adriatic Riviera
Albania’s southeastern corner is the Bay of Vlora and the city of Vlora, Albania’s third most populated city. Vlora has a small urban city center, but its genuine heart lies 20 minutes into the outskirts where the beach dictates life.
Vlora is sandwiched between the Ceraunian Mountains and the convergence of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. While Vlora is known as a summer beach getaway, it also offers incredible untamed green space.
Vlora is home to Albania’s newest international airport, and the Port of Vlora has a ferry service to both Italy and Greece.
During the summer, prices are high on virtually everything close to the beach or tourist areas. Restaurants have been known to charge $5/4€ for bottled water (1L) and $14/12€ for a 2-egg omelet.
Italian cuisine dominates Vlora, as it’s a favorite holiday spot for Italians.
If you choose to live in Vlora, you’re not going to mingle with many locals, but near exclusively with tourists and Albania’s upper class from Tirana.
For true luxury, the coastline is studded with high-end resorts, such as the Diamond Hill Resort & Spa, complete with a water park. The nearby Maritim Marina Bay Luxury Resort and Spa offers the Illyrian SteakHouse for one of the best steaks you can get in the Balkans.
Most of what is on offer outside Vlora’s center closes in the off-season. However, the off-season does allow the region’s natural beauty and true peaceful ambiance to emerge, and it is the best time to explore Vlora’s natural side.
There are no international schools, and Vlora relies upon Fier, the main regional city 40 min drive away, for private medical services.
To the south is Himara, one of Albania’s immaculate coastal paradises. Himara is a bilingual city, with Greek as the unofficial language.
For young expats or retirees for whom beach life is a priority and a quiet and slow off-season is not an issue, Vlora is an option to consider.
5. Saranda – Bezos’ Balkan stop
The southernmost corner of Albania is the Ionian oasis of Saranda.
Compared to Vlora, Saranda has more to do, is more expensive, has no real urban center, and can be walked in length, partially on its promenade running along the coast.
The promenade is the nightly gathering spot for quite a big crowd, which will be predominantly successful Eastern Europeans and Tirana’s wealthiest. Like Vlora, Saranda offers the ability to network and connect, a significant benefit for the expat entrepreneur.
Saranda is directly across from the Greek island of Corfu, with a daily ferry service from Saranda’s international port.
The port is very modern, and Jeff Bezos’ Flying Fox yacht makes a stop every summer to refuel and floats along the Bay for a few days before departing. He’s even been seen ashore.
Saranda relies upon Vlora’s airport and the private medical institutions in Fier. There are no international schools. The off-season is very quiet, and its location provides a very moderate winter for enjoyable walks along the beach.
During the summer, Saranda is alive 24 hours a day, with a very dynamic nightlife. For the remainder of the year, Saranda reverts to its prior life as a quaint fishing village along the coast.
Directly south are the pristine beaches of Ksamil, the Pearl of the Adriatic, nestled within the UNESCO site of Butrint National Park.
An hour inland is Gjirokaster, the ‘city of stone’. A UNESCO World Heritage Site: the city has not changed in centuries. Greek is widely spoken due to its large Greek community.
Saranda best fits retirees and young expat professionals whose work-life balance is a coastal paradise saturated with as much professional networking as sunshine.
6. Berat – the city of a thousand windows
The small southern city of Berat overflows with nature, culture, and history. A UNESCO World Heritage site and inhabited since the 6th century BC, the current city dates to the 16th century AD.
Berat and Gjirokaster are considered living museums.
Berat is centrally located, only a couple of hours from the coast to the west, Tirana to the north, and North Macedonia to the east. All are accessible by minibus.
The city cascades down the side of a mountain with Berat Castle still on the peak. Looking up, you gaze into the glare of thousands of antique windows that have looked down at centuries of history.
One of Berat’s main streets, Bulevardi Republika, is perfect for people-watching and relaxing. It has a lively café scene frequented by locals, tourists, and expats. The other, Rruga Antipratea, is home to the best traditional food in Albania.
The Wildor Restaurant is a required stop, and Homemade Food Lili, not a conventional restaurant but a large family meal you’re invited to join, is an absolute must if you can get a reservation.
Berat can have very extreme seasons, but due to its history, picturesque landscape, and adventure tourism sector, it’s open and active year-round.
The city’s Albania Rafting Group offers river rafting, cave exploration, hiking, snowshoeing, and more.
There are no international schools, and Berat also relies upon Fier’s private medical services.
Long-term accommodations are available but limited. You may want to contact a small hotel to inquire about long-term rates.
For most, Berat is only a day trip, but for those who love to be a part of living history, Berat is perfect.
7. Korca – the city of serenades
Korca is one of Albania’s most important small economies. It’s industrial, cultural, and historical, with a suburban ambiance. It’s a great base for singles and couples.
Korca is famous for three main reasons:
- It is the nation’s brewery hub, with its prized label, Birra Korca.
- It’s a city of festivals, with an annual Beer Fest, Spring Fair, Lakror Fest, Apple Fest, and a Carnival prior to Orthodox Easter, a Balkan Mardi Gras.
- And the music, locally known as serenata – traditional love ballads harmonized with guitars and mandolins.
The city relies upon Fier’s private medical services, and there are no international schools.
Korca is a tourist destination and an expat community, and many have called it one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
The city’s cobblestoned St. George Boulevard and Bulevardi Fan Noli are epicenters for locals, tourists, and expats, with a very vibrant café scene.
Dining in Korca runs the full span from traditional to gourmet. For gourmet and luxury service, Montrelux Resort is the spot, along with incredible skiing, an indoor pool, and recreational services.
Korca is very green, sitting atop a plateau. Its largest park, Rinia Park, is reminiscent of Germany, filled with beer gardens, arts, family recreation, and tons of youth, as the local university gives Korca the feel of a large school campus.
Greece is an hour west, and North Macedonia is 45 minutes north, with the city of Pogradec sitting on the amazing Lake Ohrid as the border and a day trip for lakeside fun.
Between Pogradec and Korca is Prespa National Park. Halfway towards Berat lies Osum Canyon. One of Albania’s most grandiose displays of nature and a must for those who love waterfalls and adventure.
Korca is infused with nature, tradition, culture, and adventure and is a perfect base for expats looking for the same.
The best places to live in Albania – summary
Albania is Europe’s heritage, and the EU’s future, and the country’s expat community grows yearly. Living in Albania, even briefly, is a great experience, but for more and more expats the country becomes a permanent home.
Regardless of your lifestyle, budget, and adventure level, you can find an amazing home in Albania.
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