TIRANA, January 21
Low cost of living and high-quality of life, this is the recipe that makes a place attractive to ex-pats and digital nomads. Over the years the number of people finding their careers bringing them to Albania has increased. On the other hand, many pensioners, looking for a warm place in the Mediterranean, where to enjoy their golden years, pick Albania after a short visit or holidays.
Others choose to make the most out of Albania’s location close to other European countries and invest in real estate as a way to obtain residency. Depending on their budget and interests, some prefer to live in the capital city Tirana, while others opt for coastal or inland cities. Even though Albania is a small country, it offers a variety of attractive lifestyles to choose from. When moving to Albania, finding the right city for you can be stressful. To help you figure out the best place to live in our beautiful country, here’s a list of the best cities in Albania for young professionals, families with children, and retirees.
Overall, Albania is a safe country, driving can be stressful, the language is difficult, but most people are bilingual or multilingual, and the cost of living is the best you can get in the Mediterranean, and people love their coffee.
Unless you live in a remote village, the internet connection is quite good as well. As an example, an 100 Mpbs download connection costs 14.8 EUR a month as of today.
As the capital city, Tirana is a bustling place, even with a global pandemic going on. The population is over 900,000, making it the most densely populated city in Albania.
It offers all the work and entertainment opportunities one can expect in Albania. (Based on the recent leak of wage data, foreigners working in Albania can live their best life of lives in the country.) There is a growing community of ex-pats who live and work in the capital. The cost of living in the city is still lower compared to other European capitals, however, some purchases, such as real estate, are becoming highly expensive. Despite that, Tirana offers some great opportunities for employment and business.
Almost all of the foreign Embassies and international organizations’ offices are located in Tirana, thus the city is popular with diplomats and officials.
Tirana is close to Mother Teresa International Airport, currently, the only and busiest airport serving daily flights to numerous destinations in Europe and a couple of routes to the Middle East.
Tirana offers excellent multilingual education and healthcare facilities, both public and privately owned.
The capital is home to some of the largest shopping centers and best restaurants in the country. On the other hand, for those against fast fashion, Tirana is a thrift paradise. Meanwhile, responsible consumers who want to have a more positive impact on society and the environment can source their food products from local farmers or support local restaurants.
Reading suggestion: These are the Best Farm-to-Table Restaurants in Tirana
Moreover, many restaurants are serving international cuisine. In 2021, Tirana ranked fourth in the list of the top ten European capital cities for food lovers, by uswitch.com. Based on the ranking, Tirana is a great place for brunch for those who love to take the time to socialize, eat well, and still sleep in. Only fine-dining is less available.
For those who don’t mind living in a large bustling city, Tirana can be the best option. It is home to many museums and art galleries, various cinemas, parks, and has close access both to the mountains and the Adriatic coast.
Cons of living in Tirana:
- Ugly urban planning;
- hectic traffic and impatient honking drivers everywhere especially when it’s raining. One has to be careful as most drivers don’t respect pedestrians, while the latter can decide to cross the road whenever and wherever they feel like doing it;
- Tailgating drivers everywhere.
- air pollution when it’s not raining;
- poor public transport;
- accommodation can get very expensive;
- Like in many other countries, queues equal survival of the fittest, prepare to encounter a lot of people who cut in line, can’t wait for their turn, or don’t know how to queue;
- some supermarkets are so pricey you will think you suddenly teleported to Switzerland;
- smelly Lana makes it impossible to ride or jog along the river when the weather gets warmer,
- parcels are mostly shipped to the local postal office and not at the given address. One can track the package and collect it at the postal office, where queues can sometimes become long.
- poor waste management, some private companies offer collection, recycling, and disposal of waste
- Summer in Tirana can be very-very hot
When the average person imagines Albania, they likely imagine a place with gorgeous mountain peaks, alpine rivers, nice beaches, exquisite wines and top-culinary experiences, rich cultural heritage, history, legends and myths, and many hiking and cycling routes. Even though many cities meet this description, Shkodra stands out. The largest city in northwestern Albania is fantastically situated between the Adriatic Sea and the Northern Alps. Shkodra is defined by its waterscape of rivers and lakes.
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The lifestyle in Shkodra is more laid-back compared to Tirana. People enjoy life on two wheels, as the city has a long tradition of using bicycles as the main mean of transport. The living cost is also cheaper, and people can opt for a house with a garden instead of an apartment. The rent for a spacious fully furnished apartment in a good location and with a nice view can be up to €250 per month.
Shkodra borders Montenegro and Podgorica’s Airport is about 1hr 20 minutes away.
Shkodra is the gateway to the Albanian Alps. From the city is possible to travel to Valbona National Park through Komani Lake, to Thethi National Park, and the northernmost part of the country, Vermosh. The city and its surrounding area are home to a considerable number of museums, castles, and other sites of cultural and historical importance. Shkodra is safe and it stands out as a perfect example of religious harmony. People in Shkodra are friendly and know how to enjoy life. Outdoor recreational activities include swimming, cycling, hiking, boating, fishing, birdwatching, road trips, food tours, etc.
Stretched along its 18 km long bay, Durres is one of the best cities to live in Albania. It would be even better if most of its archeological sites weren’t buried under concrete. The city is one of the best options for those who want to live by the sea, yet close to the capital or the airport. Despite the catastrophic damage done to the city’s heritage by poor urban planning and greedy developers, a first-time visitor can still enjoy archeological findings and ruins that are still standing all over the city.
Durres is less pricey than Tirana. The living cost is lower and the quality of life is better thanks to the nice climate, the typical Mediterranean diet, and of course the sea.
The economy of Durresi depends heavily on tourism, services, and manufacturing. The city offers good opportunities for employment while it is one of the top destinations for pensioners who plan to retire to Albania.
Durres is home to the largest seaport in Albania in terms of passenger and freight transport. Ferries serve routes to Italian cities, while plans include a Durres-Dubrovnik route.
Reading suggestion: The Unknown History of Durresi Beach
On the negative side, the city can get overcrowded during summer. It’s important to say that Albania just like other countries such as Italy, Greece, Japan, Turkey, and Mexico, is located in a seismically active area. This points to another downside of Durres, which suffered the most from the earthquake of November 2019. If you move there, make sure to find accommodation in a strong and well-built unit.
The Albanian slice of La Dolce Vita
Regardless of its small size, Albania is a country of surprising contrasts. Far away from the crowds and on the farthest side of the coast, there lies Korca. Despite its location on a plateau between the mountains at an elevation of 850 meters above sea level, Korca is a charming and exciting city. It is like a cocktail shaker full of traditions, culture, and international influences. All these traits, make it a year-round tourist destination, however, the high season in Korca is during the winter months, especially during Christmas time and the end of year festivities. So, Korca is anything but a remote place. It is considered the most romantic city in Albania as well as a cradle of culture. Its nicknames are Little Paris or the city of Serenades. Also, Korca organizes the largest Carnival festival in Albania. The festival always precedes the Orthodox Easter.
Located close to the borders of Greece and North Macedonia, people living in the area have fast access to both nearby countries. Korca is one of the only places in Albania with proper urban planning and the city’s architecture won’t hurt your eyes like let’s say Tirana. Moreover, it’s also one of the few cities with 24-hours a day water supply. Thus, no water tanks in Korca and no need to buy drinking water.
Property prices are way more competitive than in other cities. The average rent for a fully furnished 2-bedroom apartment is Lek 20,000. It can go up to Euro 300 for 3-bedroom modern fully furnished apartments in good areas. Moreover, apartment prices can start at Euro 20,000. Overall, it is possible to find some very well-priced properties.
Korca has a diverse landscape, with rolling hills and mountain peaks. Considering its location, running out of things to do is never an option in Korca. The city and its surrounding villages provide all the adventure, relaxation, and space one needs. Korca is the only one among the other largest cities in Albania that gets abundant snowfalls in winter. Approximately 14km away from Korca, on the road to Dardha village, there are only properly developed skiing slopes in Albania. The ski slopes and the winter resorts in the area are nice for families and kids. Meanwhile, those looking for larger ski areas can travel to Mavrovo, Kopanki, and Popova Shapka (Kodra e Diellit) in North Macedonia or Vigla Pisoderi near Florina in Greece.
The region surrounding the city is popular among adventure-seekers such as paragliders and mountain bikers. Hikers, trekkers, etc.
Moreover, the city is located about 40 km away from Ohrid Lake and 26 km away from Prespa National Park. These are great lakeside destinations to enjoy watersports.
Read more about Prespa
The combination of nature with numerous small churches and religious sites through the countryside makes the Korca region a top spiritual destination too. Various festivals are held year-round in the area namely the Beer Festival, the Lakrori Pie Festival, the Grappa Festival in Boboshtica village, the apple festival, and the villages of Voskopoja, Vithkuqi, and Dardha have their festivals.
Read also: The Best Korca Bike Tours
A city straight out a storybook
Just a couple of hours away from Tirana, lies Berati. The white city would perfectly fit into one of Italo Calvino’s descriptions of his Invisible Cities. It is a nice option for those into tons that look frozen in time. Berati is known for its numerous windows and unique style of architecture, cultural heritage, good wine, and Tomori Mountain. The historic center of the city was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008. “Berat bears witness to a town which was fortified but open and was over a long period inhabited by craftsmen and merchants. Its urban center reflects a vernacular housing tradition of the Balkans, examples of which date mainly from the late 18th and 19th centuries. This tradition has been adapted to suit the town’s lifestyles, with tiered houses on the slopes, which are predominantly horizontal in layout, and make abundant use of the entering daylight,” UNESCO points out on its description.
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Despite the numerous visitors, Berati offers a different pace of life compared to Tirana or Durres. Berati is one of the few cities in Albania with remarkable architecture that offers easy access to a peaceful and serene life. Even though the city receives a considerable number of visitors daily, places, where to leave the crowds behind, are just a short ride away. The surrounding area has many paths and trails that provide a peaceful and refreshing escape from nature.
Housing in Berat is affordable and it is also possible to rent an entire house at a good price. Meanwhile, those interested in long-term investment can look into buying a large house in the old town area. Berat also has a private university. The presence of a student population means that there are several decent drinking and eating places. There’s no shortage of traditional restaurants in the city. Meanwhile, those missing the foods of home can stick to home cooking.
Berat and its surroundings offer history buffs a region rich in culture, famous museums, ancient forts, old churches, mosques, and shrines, and time-honored traditions such as the pilgrimage to Mount Tomorri.
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Berati is known as the best destination in Albania for white water rafting. Groups of people come every day to try rafting in the beautiful Osumi Canyon in Skrapar. This is the largest canyon in Albania and it’s a must-visit place. The local population is welcoming and friendly, however, learning and speaking Albanian can help integrate into the local community. That said, the city is attracting ex-pats, so it wouldn’t be difficult to make foreign friends too.
The city of Vlora is a good option for those looking for a port city, close to Italy and the Albanian Riviera. Its popularity is growing among international citizens who plan to live and work or retire by the sea. Vlora is a tourism, trade, and university city at the same time major economic hub in Southern Albania. With its low cost of living, beautiful villages, and beaches, Vlora doesn’t need much publicity.
The pace of life for ex-pats in Vlora depends on the season and personal interests. One can enjoy a peaceful walk by the sea or a night out during the summer season. Vlora has many beaches along its coast, thus the city doesn’t feel so crowded during peak season. However, it is possible to travel further south or head inland if the city file gets too hectic.
Housing prices in Vlora depend on location and the type of building. However, they are way more competitive compared to the capital Tirana, Durresi, or Saranda. The price range per square meter varies between Euro 800 -1,100 in the city center. The most expensive apartments are those in the Cold Water area (Uji i Ftohte). Prices there start at Euro 1,000 and up to 1,300. Moreover, prices in Radhima vary between Euro 800 and euro 1,100. Orikum has the most affordable housing prices at Euro 500-700 per square meter.
Meanwhile, the rent for a one-bedroom fully furnished apartment varies between Euro 150 to Euro 350.
Food and shopping
The food in Vlora doesn’t disappoint. There are a lot of traditional and seafood restaurants. The latter offer all sorts of Albanian, Italian, and international seafood specialties such as sushi. Meanwhile, fresh vegetables and fruits can be found in all the city markets, small shops, or supermarkets. The products are usually seasonal, fresh, and of good quality. Vlora is one of the top olive oil-producing regions, thus finding good olive oil in Vlora is not a problem. Honey too is widely produced in the nearby villages.
Vlora has a couple of shopping malls and numerous smaller shops where to buy all sorts of articles. Like elsewhere in Albania, secondhand shops are common across the city. Overall, one can find almost everything in Vlora.
Thanks to the warm climate one can engage in outdoor activities all year round. Hiking, paragliding, cultural and spiritual tours are good options for weekend days or when the city gets too overcrowded. Zverneci Island and Vjosa-Narta Protected Landscape are great for birdwatching and wildlife observation. The salt planes of Narta offer a unique landscape that cannot be found anywhere else in the country.
In Vlora there is also the Karaburun – Sazan Marine Park, the only of its type in Albania. There are some good spots for diving and snorkeling in the marine park. Meanwhile, Sazani Island attracts numerous visitors, because it was inaccessible to the public until a couple of years ago. Vlora also has plenty of castles, ruins, ancient sites, settlements, etc.
Read also: Walk the Most Scenic Hike Between the Ionian and Adriatic Seas
Moreover, road tip enthusiasts enjoy the coastal drive through Llogara Pass and the tiny villages along the Riviera. However, one could avoid Dhermi during weekends on peak season when half of Tirana’s youth lands there. Also, even though it’s a beautiful village and coast, Dhermi gets overpriced and crowded in summer. Himara, Qeparo, Borsh, and Lukova are better for those looking for quieter options.
Saranda (or Sarande in local language), is a coastal town and municipality in southern Albania. Stretching along the Ionian Sea in the central Mediterranean it is a historic and hotspot for tourists from the region, but not only. Saranda is some 285 km away from Tirana, 124 km away from Vlora, and 61 km away from Gjirokastra. It is one of the few places in Albania where visitors can find a vibrant city, ancient archeological sites, and beautiful beaches and coastline. Thanks to its warm climate, it is possible to visit the city throughout the year. The best time to visit is from April to late October. The best time to live there, always.
Based on the data provide by the local border authority, about 300 foreign citizens applied for a residence permit in 2021 in Saranda. Most of the new residents come from Poland, the United States, and Norway. There were also applications by citizens from Finland and Japan.
The southern horseshoe-shaped city of Saranda is one of the most visited destinations in Albania. It’s the country’s most sought-after spot for summer and a charming winter gateway for Mediterranean retreats.
Despite the lack of urban planning and dull architecture, Saranda is a modern city that cannot leave visitors indifferent. It is considered an escape for international citizens that are investing in Saranda’s real estate.
The city is well-connected with Greece through land and marine border. The ferry to Corfu, where the closest international airport is found, departs every day, more than once depending on the season.
The traditional cuisine of Saranda, even though has some influence from the Mediterranean region like the Greek, Italian and Turkish cuisine has its very own specialty. The typical cookings are: ‘kukurec’ (lamb intestines in a skewer), mussels, tripe with eggs, pies, roasted lamb, etc. At the same time, besides meat-based cooking, there are fish-based cooking like fish in barbeque, bass, and mullet. The local drink of Saranda, as it is all over the country is ‘rakia’.
Living in Ksamil
Ksamil (or Ksamili) is a village and a new residential center. In Ksamil and the three small islands in front of it, you can find amazing beaches, which you could explore in the late hours of the afternoon with the small boats offering this service. The rocky islands are located beside each other, covered with typical Mediterranean vegetation quite well-developed. There’s rich flora and fauna in the seawater protected from the international conventions, where Albania is part of. It is a unique and quite representative area of the Albanian rocky Ionian coastline. Over there is also a monument that has scientific, touristic, and biological values. To get there you should take the highway Sarande-Ksamil and from Ksamil to the islands by boat.
In July and August, the town gets overcrowded by tourists from all around the world, while in May and September you will have the opportunity to have a rest when nobody has come yet and when all have gone.
Known as the “The Stone City” Gjirokastra lies at about 300 meters above sea level on the eastern side of a mountain (Mali i Gjere). The city is divided into two distinct sections, the old part up in the hills that overlooks the Drino valley and the modern lower section. The old part is the most exclusive part of the city. It has one of the largest castles in the Balkans. Based on UNESCO’s description it ‘features a series of outstanding two-story houses which were developed in the 17th century. The town also retains a bazaar, an 18th-century mosque, and two churches of the same period. This part of the city was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2005. Therefore, Gjirokastra and Berati are the best cultural tourism destinations in Albania.
Traditional quarters are located all around the castle. Those are Cafke, Dunavat, manalat, Palorto, Varosh, Mecite, Hazmurat, Pazari, etc. Meanwhile, the lower part is a big contrast to the old town. It features either buildings in the boring socialist-style or modern structures.
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The city’s economy depends on tourism, manufacturing, and services. The city has a population of 40,000 inhabitants. Currently, it is the largest cultural, academic, economic, and administrative center in the southern region. It is also one of the areas with the highest well-being rate in Albania. There’s a stereotype about the people from Gjirokastra, who are considered stingy with money (kurnac). The truth is that they’re just good with money management.
The city’s university is named after Eqrem Cabej, a prominent linguist, Albanologist, and academic. In terms of personalities, the first thing that most people know about Gjirokastra is that’s the hometown of renowned writer Ismail Kadare and of the worst political figure of all time in Albania, the infamous dictator Enver Hoxha.
Gjirokastra is located a short distance away from Greece. The nearest cross-border point is Kakavija, 30 km away. The city offers good employment opportunities as some of the top manufacturers in the country have their units there. Moreover, almost all the banks have branches in Gjirokastra. Overall, Gjirokastra is an excellent place to live for everyone, young families, digital nomads, pensioners. Just be careful when walking the cobblestone alleys, which can get too slippery.
The city never gets boring or quiet as there are always visitors. Nearby, there are the ancient sites of Antigone and Hadrianopolis, as well as a considerable number of remote churches and monasteries. Remains from an old aqueduct are still possible to visit. Thanks to the city’s location it is possible to access a huge area for outdoor activities. Zagoria and Cajupi are excellent options for hiking and camping. Moreover, a day trip to the thermal springs of Benja would help to relax and destress. Freshwater rafting is possible in Vjosa through the beautiful Gorge of Kelcyra.
The former ‘weed capital’ of Albania, Lazarati is located close to the city, but it’s not a matter of concern anymore.
Read also: Museums Worth-Visiting in Gjirokastra
Albania is a safe, affordable, and good option to consider when planning to relocate. Feel free to contact us if you need support for a business setup, residence permit application, or property purchase.
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