Driving in Albania

Driving in Albania: Everything you need to know

Driving in Albania was one of the things we were most concerned about before visiting the country. After all, according to the UK’s Foreign Office: “Deaths from road traffic accidents are amongst the highest in Europe.” We had also heard a few horror stories about the condition of the roads and other people’s driving.

However, I’ll begin by saying that it was not as bad as we feared. Although, having said that, there are definitely a few hazards to watch out for and I would suggest that only confident drivers take to the roads!

Hiring a car in Albania

First things first, in order to hire a car in Albania you must:

  • Be 18 or over
  • Have a full driving license
  • Be confident at driving on the right-hand side of the road

Hiring a car in Albania is straightforward. We booked ours through an online search engine. The only thing we found slightly strange when we arrived was that the office of the company was not on site at Tirana airport. So we were collected by someone from the company, who spent the entire 15 minute journey to the office making calls on his mobile while steering with one hand. A small taster of what was to come.

Once at the office everything ran smoothly. They did have a couple of children’s carseats waiting for us. But to be honest I was glad that we had taken our own as they looked more secure. I would advise taking your own carseats if you are travelling to Albania with kids.

We were asked to sign quite a strict policy agreement, which included a condition not to drive on unpaved roads. This is actually pretty impossible once you get out of Tirana. However, I guess they include this to cover any damage which may be caused.

If you are hiring a car in Albania, make sure that you always carry your driving license and insurance documents with you at all times when driving. The police phone number for emergencies is 129. If you have an accident make sure you call the police, get a reference number and get as many details from the other driver as possible.

We didn’t experience any aggressive driving while we were there. However the Foreign Office has warned that “minor traffic disputes can quickly escalate”.

We booked our car via Abby Car Rentals. Other car hire companies in Albania include: Hertz, Sixt and Europcar.

Is it hard to drive in Albania?

If you are a confident driver, you shouldn’t find it too hard to drive in Albania. However you should be aware that other people’s driving can be quite erratic. Plus, many of the roads are unpaved or not in great condition. So be prepared to negotiate a few difficult routes during your trip.

The places we found the most stressful to drive were in the old historic cities such as Berat and Gjirokaster. This is because the roads in these hilltop towns are very steep and narrow and often cobbled. There were many times that I had to hold my breath as Mr A negotiated his way through tiny gaps. It’s also worth being aware that in these small towns Google maps may not be entirely reliable. At one point it directed us down a flight of steps!

One of the best pieces of advice I could give about driving in Albania is to be prepared for the unexpected from other drivers. These were some of the most common issues we experienced:

  • Frequent overtaking. Don’t be surprised if it’s on narrow, mountain routes or roads with ‘no overtaking’ signs.
  • Indicators appear to be optional. This was one of the hardest things when driving, that it was often unclear that someone was planning to change lanes. The best advice is to keep a good distance from the car in front. Plus, be aware of cars to either side of you.
  • Stopping suddenly at the side of the road. This is extremely common as people slam on their brakes to hop out and buy some watermelon or say hi to a friend. We found this particularly bad in Tirana, where people will double, or even triple, park to pop into a shop.

Potential hazards when driving in Albania

Albania’s motorways are in good condition and we found it easy to drive on the main roads between major towns. The main hazards we experienced were when driving in smaller towns and villages, where roads are often not as well maintained. This is when being a confident driver comes into play, as it was sometimes necessary to avoid large potholes, squeeze through small gaps and keep good clutch control on very steep hills.

Some hazards to be aware of are:

  • Unpaved roads
  • Very steep, narrow, cobbled roads in historical towns such as Berat and Gjirokaster
  • Steep, winding mountain roads, sometimes without safety barriers
Driving in Albania: A steep road in Gjirokaster
A steep, cobbled road in Gjirokaster

One tip I would suggest, particularly if you book AirBnB accommodation, is to look at the route on Google Earth before you arrive. This will help to minimise any surprises. We didn’t do this, and the road to the first AirBnB we stayed in was one of the worst we drove on the whole holiday and almost gave me a heart attack! 

Rules of the road when driving in Albania

It’s important that you follow the rules of the road in Albania when visiting. This is particularly the case when it comes to speed. The speed limit in Albania is measured in km/hour and is clearly signposted on most roads. However you will often find that local drivers surpass these speeds.

Overtaking is also frequent, even on roads where it is forbidden. However we did see lots of cars pulled over by the police. So I would recommend abiding by required speed limits at all times.

One of the things we found quite tricky in Albania, was roundabouts. The rule seems to be the biggest vehicle gets right of way. On particularly busy roundabouts this sometimes meant having to pull out slowly and wait for cars coming towards you to slow down or stop. Again, this is something you need to have strong nerves for.

Driving in Albania: A roundabout in Berat
A roundabout in Berat, depicting its name: ‘the city of a thousand windows’

Driving in Tirana

One of the decisions we made with our itinerary was to end our trip in Tirana, rather than begin there. This was to give ourselves a chance to get used to the roads before driving in Tirana. So by the time we arrived in the capital, after eight days in the country, we felt okay about driving there. While it is busy, as long as you remember all of the potential hazards above, it is again fine.

Something I noticed about Tirana, which I’ve found in other big cities, is that other drivers almost expect people to be making mistakes and getting lost. So people were quite courteous if we needed to change lanes at the last minute or make a U-turn.

Albanians are very friendly people, so we never felt worried about sticking to the speed limit when a car was close behind us or changing lane if we realised we were going the wrong way. Overall, we had a good experience driving in Albania and although there were a few challenges, we wouldn’t hesitate to do so again.

What’s the most difficult country you’ve ever travelled in? I’d love to hear about your experience!