Read Caption
The Pyramid of Tirana, a powerful and controversial symbol of Albania’s communist past, has been at the center of a debate concerning its future. (Photograph by Elie Gardner/Redux)

Matilda’s Tirana, Albania

Though born in the coastal town of Vlorë, Albania, Matilda Karçanaj has lived in Tirana on and off since 2010. Having returned to the Albanian capital after completing advanced studies abroad, she now works for English-language newspaper Tirana Times and shares her insider intel about the city with the world as a blogger for Spotted by Locals.

A passionate traveler, Matilda lives for exploring new countries, especially those of which aren’t on the regular tourist track. “Through traveling, I have learned that the world is a mosaic of different cultures and [that] a single perspective cannot apply,” she says.

But no matter how far Matilda roams, she’s always happy to be back in Tirana. Here are a few of her favorite things about the city she’s proud to call home.

Tirana Is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is to the Pyramid of Tirana, which was built as a shrine to communist leader Enver Hoxha, and the upmarket area of Blloku (“the Block”).

Spring is the best time to visit my city because the weather is warming up, but you can still see snow on Dajti Mountain just east of Tirana.

You can see my city best from Dajti Mountain or the Panoramic Bar and Restaurant on the top floor of the Sky Hotel.

Locals know to skip expensive, fancy places like Pepper Lounge and Tao Lounge Tirana and check out cool places like Nouvelle Vague, Unlimited Soul Cafè, and Radio Bar instead.

The Corona shop is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs such as traditional Albanian clothes, Skanderbeg brandy, ceramics, and crafts.

In the past, notable people like opera singer Inva Mula, writer Ismail Kadare, and Albanian Prime Minister (and beloved former mayor of Tirana) Edi Rama have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is the National Historical Museum of Tirana at Skanderbeg Square because it represents the history of the country.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s to avoid the bus and explore Tirana on foot. Recently, the city has made efforts to become bicycle-friendly, too.

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is the “Big Park of Tirana,” built around one of the city’s four artificial lakes, or on Dajti Mountain. Consider visiting Preza Castle, too.

My city really knows how to celebrate Dita e Verës (Summer Day), an event that takes place on March 14 in which locals say goodbye to the cold winter and welcome the warm days of spring. Tirana also knows how to celebrate Nata e Bardhë (White Night), which marks the day Albania was liberated from Nazi occupation.

For a fancy night out, head to Folie Terrace, a night club on Murat Toptani Street. For a nice meal, I’d also suggest Il GustoYamato, and Serendiville—and La Vita e Bella, if you’re a fan of great seafood.

Just outside my city, you can visit the Adriatic coast.

My city is known for being predominantly Muslim, but it’s really very welcoming of people of every religion. During his one-day visit to Tirana, Pope Francis praised the mutual respect and trust among Albania’s Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians as a “precious gift” and a powerful symbol of hope in the modern world.

The best outdoor markets in my city are Pazari i Ri (New Bazaar), Tregu i Medresesë, and Tregu I Çamëve (Cham’s Market).

Sophie Caffe is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and Big Bite Albania is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Spotted by Locals: Tirana.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I grab a cheap cup of take-away coffee and soak up the lake views in the Big Park of Tirana.

The dish that represents my city best is fërgesa e Tiranës and Birra Tirana, Albania’s most popular beer, is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at Oda Restaurant and Sofra e Ariut, respectively. Both places offer local dishes with a nice touch of traditional interior design and warm Tirana hospitality.

Charl’s Bistro, located in the Blloku neighborhood, is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out night clubs such as Folie Terrace, Crazy Calvin Live, or Lollipop.

In the spring you should take advantage of the sunny weather and warmer temps with a picnic in the Big Park of Tirana.

In the summer you should never turn off the air conditioning. Tirana is hot, sometimes extremely hot (in the summer of 2015, temperatures reached 113° F (45° C)). Beat the heat by taking a dip in the pool at the Aquadrom or the Fari Club.

In the fall you should explore Tirana by foot and admire the falling leaves.

In the winter you should play in the snow on Dajti Mountain.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss 7 Xhuxhat Park on Elbasan Street.