The Bazaar in Gjirokaster

24 hours in Gjirokaster, Albania

Spending 24 hours in Gjirokaster, Albania, is a must-do if you have an interest in the history of the country. Like Berat, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the traditional mountain town is instantly recognisable by the Ottoman houses on its hillsides.  Known as the Stone City, on account of the material of many of its buildings are made from, Gjirokaster is also home to one of the biggest fortresses in the Balkans. Be aware that if you are planning on driving in Albania, its cobbled streets are very steep and narrow. I definitely had to hold my breath a few times as Mr A negotiated some tight corners!

Is Gjirokaster in Albania worth visiting?

Gjirokaster in Albania is definitely worth visiting, for its historical importance, breath-taking views and fantastic food scene. 

Gjirokastra is famous for its castle, which was built in the IV century AD. You can walk around its walls to take in the view and see the Clock Tower. If you are visiting Albania with kids they will love exploring the US Air Force jet which stands abandoned in the castle grounds. Various rumours abound about how it actually ended up here, including that it was downed during the Cold War (1957).

A quick warning though: there’s very little health and safety at ancient monuments in Albania. So keep a close eye on small children.

We also found Gjirokaster a lovely place to wander around. We especially enjoyed seeing the different traditional crafts being sold in the Bazaar. Like everywhere in Albania, all of the people we met are so friendly.

If you are visiting Gjirokastra with kids, be prepared for shop owners to shout and wave from their stores.

Visiting Gjirokaster, Albania

If you’re planning on visiting Gjirokaster in Albania you can definitely see the highlights in a day. We actually just stopped there for the afternoon as part of our 10 day itinerary in Albania. However, I imagine it must be really lovely to stroll around the Old Town in the evening, once all of the day trippers have gone. If you don’t have much time during your holiday in Albania, you could also consider a day trip from Tirana. These tours pick you up direct from your hotel and have highly rated reviews from other travellers:

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How to spend 24 hours in Gjirokaster, Albania

24 hours in Gjirokaster – Morning – Gjirokaster Castle

Start your 24 hours in Gjirokaster at the city’s main attraction. Gjirokaster Castle up in the Old Town is one of the biggest in the Balkans. According to archaeologists, the place had been inhabited since the IV century. However the first walls of this citadel were built between 12th -13th centuries, by some rich families who wanted to protect themselves from war.

It’s an interesting place to explore and also provides stunning views of the surrounding area. There is a museum within the grounds and an old US Air Force jet, which you are free to poke around in.

24 hours in Gjirokaster – Afternoon – Explore the Bazaar and visit the Ethnographic Museum

After lunch head down to the Bazaar known as Qafa e Pazarit. Here you can buy lace, wooden carvings and traditional Albanian outfits. The stall holders are all very friendly and will, of course, be keen to show you their wares. Although we never felt any pressure to buy anything we didn’t want to.

If you’re in Gjirokaster with kids, our little adventurers were also fascinated in one shop to see an old well, which was discovered when the foundations were being built. (The owner proudly advertises this on a board outside his shop.) When you squeeze into the tiny building, you can look down through a plastic cover to see it. However, the shopkeeper is a bit strict and will only switch on the light for people to look down if they buy something!

If you have time you can also check out the Ethnographic Museum in Gjirokaster. One of the most notable things about this is that it is located in the house where the country’s former communist dictator Enver Hoxha was born.

24 hours in Gjirokaster – Evening – Sample some of the region’s specialities at dinner

Gjirokaster has a really interesting food scene and has some of its own specialities. So it’s definitely worth trying some while you’re there. 

Close to the castle, there are a number of restaurants with terraces overlooking the valley and mountains beyond. We found this a great place to sit and enjoy a meal. 

Make sure you try the famous speciality of qifqi. The rice balls, made with fresh mint, are really light and refreshing. 

Gjirokaster qifqi (rice balls)

After dinner wander through the cobbled streets and it really does feel as though you are stepping back in time.

How do I get to Gjirokaster, Albania?

To get to Gjirokaster, Albania you can travel by car from Tirana. It is 233km from the capital and takes about 3.5 hours. Alternatively, you can drive there from Berat which takes 2.5 hours and is 180km. The route is pretty straightforward. However, you should be prepared for driving in Albania, as it may be different to what you are used to at home.

However, once you reach the city and drive up to the Old Town, be prepared for the narrow cobbled streets. They are very steep and if you meet something coming down you may be required to reverse back or negotiate narrow passing places. Also, don’t just blindly follow your sat nav – as ours tried to direct us down a flight of steps! 

24 hours in Gjirokaster

If you don’t have time to make it to Gjirokaster, another historically important town is Kruja, which is just an hour from Tirana.

What is the temperature like in Gjirokaster, Albania?

The temperature in Gjirokaster varies greatly and is definitely dependent on the time of year you visit. If you’re wondering when is the best time to visit Albania, don’t forget that the summer can get very hot. In the summertime temperatures in Gjirokaster tend to range from 24C-28C. However in winter temperatures can get as low as 5C-6C. So the best months to go if you like a more comfortable temperature are the shoulder months of May and September.

We spent our 24 hours in Gjirokaster at the end of June and it was starting to get hot, especially up at the castle. So be prepared to take plenty of breaks, especially if you are visiting Gjirokaster with kids.

Is Gjirokaster in Albania safe?

We felt very safe during our time in Gjirokaster in Albania. Like everywhere we visited during our holiday, we found the locals to be very welcoming. They especially love children and our little adventurers always got VIP treatment wherever we went. 

According to the UK government, more than 120,000 British nationals visit Albania every year. Most visits are trouble-free. However, as when you’re visiting any new place, it is always worth being aware of your surroundings. Trust your gut if somewhere doesn’t feel comfortable to be walking alone. Plus, keep an eye out for pickpockets in busy areas. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my recommendations for how to spend 24 hours in Gjirokaster. As always, let me know if you have any questions! Plus, I’ve added lots more useful information about the country in general here: travelling in Albania: Everything you need to know before you go.