Albania has a lot of history and also historical attractions to show. The main towns are trying to get into modernity, but Shkodra, on a lovely lake is a real pearl. It is a jewel, especially for traditional architecture. On a small mountain looking over the lake, there is the Rozafa Castle. It is not so much conserved inside, but with visible walls to be visited to know the history and as well to see the panorama.
In the town, there are a couple of museums that tell through stories and objects the local history. Then it has to be seen also the Saint Steven Cathedral, an interesting example of religious art and architecture. Going around the downtown you see a superb structure with nice buildings, even if not all of them properly restored, and peaceful pedestrian avenues. I had a daily tour in Shkodra during one of my trips to Albania. I briefly describe to you the town with my impressions.
I didn’t have the chance to see everything. But writing down this post is the chance to take note of the main elements to plan my next visit. My short tour started in a nice place to have a coffee and a snack. So I will give you first some tips about accommodation and a place where to eat. Shkodra requires a stay of some days because the town and the area are suggestive.
Where to sleep and eat
I had a break for late morning breakfast in the five stars Grand Hotel Europa. It is a tall building in the center of the town. On the top floor, there is a very elegant restaurant and bar. There wooden and iron tables and chairs are offering a very nice setting. It is a popular place for inhabitants but as well for tourists, especially because of the luxury accommodation. The amazing view and the good service are for sure justifying the choice. From there you can have an overview of the town and decide from where to start to visit Shkodra.
Outside Shkodra, following the river, it is possible to see the ancient Mes Bridge. On the way, there is a perfect location for lunch. The place is called Bar Restaurant Illyria Shkoder. It was built on a hill overlooking the river and it is a multilevel building, with terraces spread around. In wintertime, it is better to stay inside, but thanks to the windows guests can enjoy the amazing view.
From the setting to the service
Everything is recently made, but the style recalls the Illyrian origins. You can see big and opulent statues, but it is pleasant to see this setting. Inside the restaurant, the elegance is all around. The service, combined with the popular friendly approach of Albanians, is very good. Since inside the complex, there are three different restaurants divided in a very particular way. The menu is for sure full of a good variety of local and Mediterranean recipes. They can suggest to guests some food more typical in Shkodra.
The ingredients are well selected by quality. Even the quite simple dishes are cooked with great ability by the chef. There is as well a good selection of wines. If you like the fish, choose the traditional “tave krapi”, a recipe invented and made in Shkodra. The prices are more expensive than usual considering Albanian standards. But when you choose luxury and a very particular setting it is just normal. For those who are going to visit the town and surroundings, Bar Restorant Illyria Shkoder is a must, but also a pleasant taste experience.
What to see in Shkodra
I can give you a list with a few lines of the main places I could say spending an entire day in Shkodra. It is a post to inspire you, so get the information and then plan your tour.
Saint Stephen Cathedral
This religious building is not so old, Catholics ordinated it in 1867 and it is catholic, but also Orthodox frequented the church. Albania is the best country to see how Muslims and Christians are living together without any problem. It is interesting the architecture, even if I can’t say, according to my personal opinion, that is beautiful for art and architecture. Anyway, this church welcomed Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, Albanian born in Skopje. You can dedicate a few minutes to the cathedral of Shkodra.
Ebu Bekr Mosque
After the cathedral, you should see the mosque, a very good example of religious architecture. In the past, there was a connected school for young Muslims and they were going there from all the regions. This place is considered a symbol of the town also thanks to the minaret. It is very tall so visible from everywhere. The mosque was built in Ottoman times, but it appears quite modern. It worths a visit if you are in Shkodra.
Shkodra Historical Museum
It is located on a hill and hosted in a traditional house. In the beginning, the building was the residence of a Venetian merchant, and its architecture worth already a visit. Inside the collection is cool because made of items coming from the different populations who passed and lived in the area. Through the objects, you can do a journey in Shkodra’s history. Byzantines, Ottomans, Romand, Venetians find are giving an overview of life in the past. Art, practicalities, culture become part of a very interesting story told room after room. In the garden, you can see a Roman tomb and a few other finds.
The photo collection of Pietro Marubi
Do you like photography? Would you love to see how was the Albanian society between the 19th and the 20th centuries? In the heart of Shkodra, you can visit the collection of Pietro Marubi. The Italian photographer supported Giuseppe Garibaldi and he left Italy after the failed siege of Rome in 1849. He established himself in the town and took pictures of people. Now you can see part of his huge work. There are pictures of dresses and typical scenes of that period. It is a journey into the past to know better Albanians.
Who said that you have to go to Venice to buy papier-mache masks? Thanks to the Venetians’ presence in the past the traditions are going on in Shkodra. An Albanian artisan had experience in Italy and now he leads a laboratory and a museum in the town. You can buy nice artworks realized by him. Then visit the great collection that tells the history of Venetian art.
Just a bit out of Shkodra there is a lovely hill, not so big, but on the top, on the grass and in the middle of rocks there is a castle. Well, there was a fortress, now you can see especially the walls. But the view of the town and the rivers is marvelous. You are exactly over the confluence of two rivers: Drin and Bojana. The history of the castle is long. It started 2,500 years ago with Illyrians.
Then the Romans arrived but the ruin that you can see now is from the Venetian period. In 1478 Ottomans sacked it after a siege. Then Rozafa Fortress was again under attack in a fight at the beginning of the 20th century with Ottomans on one side and Serbian and Montenegrins on the other. If you want to walk around the walls and enjoy the panorama it is the proper place.
The largest lake in the Balkans that embraces Albania and Montenegro is Lake Shkodra. It is a bit out of the town, but anyway easy to reach also by bicycle. There are buses, but they are not arriving on the lake, they stop a few kilometers from it. It is beautiful and if you want you can sleep there camping or in a chalet. It is a tourist place, so it is equipped.
Around the lake there are some peaks, so the landscapes are superb. If you go to the town dedicate some time to the lake, if not for swimming, at least for a walk. There is another small lake with an island. You can find it following the Drim river, but I didn’t have time to stop. Lakes in the area are common. Don’t forget to hike the mountains, if you like to walk in nature is nice.
Shkodra is a lovely and historic town, one of the most beautiful in Albania. Of course, this is my opinion. Attractions aren’t only in the center but all around. If you go to North following the Khir River you see an Ottoman bridge. It appears superb in its ancient architecture surrounded by an idyllic landscape. The hills around are part of Maranai Nature Park. At some points, you can swim in the river before or after hiking the mountains and the hills full of evergreen trees. Keep in mind that it is not far from the border with Kosovo on the way to Pristina. Maybe you can cross it and visit the country.
Planning the trip
I feel lucky because I visited Albania more times and I can go there quite often. Despite the business reasons I can plan to do some tourism. There are beautiful places left like in the past or with uncontaminated nature, but for the architecture, Shkodra is one of my favorite. Maybe because I love history and art. If you are staying in Tirana you can plan a day trip. The distance is about 100 kilometers. But I suggest you find accommodation there to see more of the area.
Let me give you some other tips. If you want to find a plane, a bus, or a train to go to Albania or directly to Shkodra I suggest you use the platforms with the best deals: Infobus and Kiwi. You can compare rates and combine connections. Also, if you want to save money for your journey check out the guide that reveals all the hints. An expert travel agent wrote it and it allows you to follow the same steps as travel agencies. Click here to know more.
Now I can only wish you to enjoy your holiday in Shkodra. Read my other posts about Albania to get more tips and information. Subscribe to my newsletter to be updated. I will also be happy to answer your comments or email. If you have questions or you want some specific hints from my experience, don’t be shy.
Enjoy the travel.