10 Crazy things you can only do in Tirana
1. Climb the Pyramid of Tirana
The Pyramid of Tirana, once supposedly one of Albania's most expensive structures, used to be home to the Enver Hoxha Museum. It was built three years after the former Communist leader of Albania had died, on October 14th 1988. In 1991, when Albania finally broke free from the Communist regime, the Pyramid was transformed from a museum into a conference centre and exhibition venue. During the Kosovo War of 1999, a military was based there, and later a major Albanian TV channel installed itself in part of the building. There has been much discussion between government and citizens about whether the Pyramid should be demolished. Since it lost its original intention as a propagandist museum, the building has been neglected in between its different functions. Today the Pyramid is partly vandalised and covered in graffiti, making it a curious piece of architecture in the heart of the city. Many young people come together here to climb the Pyramid, quite literally moving up and forward despite their country's dark history. A beautiful symbolic gesture - and a lot of fun.
2. Take the Dajti Ekspres cable car up Dajti mountain
At the edge of Tirana lies the Dajti mountain, also called "The Balcony of Tirana" because from here you get the most incredible view of the city. And the best thing is: you don't even have to work for it. Just take the Dajti Ekspres, which will take you 1050 meters high in about 15 minutes. If you do want to get active, there's the brand new Dajti adventure park in the middle of the forest where you can practice your survival skills. Think you already got what it takes? Go crazy mountain climbing, paragliding, or mountain biking down the mountain - adrenaline rush guaranteed.
Prices: return ticket €6 (students €5), one-way ticket €4, children €4.
Getting there: from the center, take the bus next to the Skënderbej Square, at Rruga e Kavajës, to "Kinostudio" and get out at the last stop (15 minutes). Bus tickets are 40 LEK and should be paid in cash (no big notes). From here it's about 20 minutes walking to the cable car.
3. Bunk'Art: Get inside a 5-floor anti-nuclear bunker
On the outskirts of Tirana lies an immense bunker that was built in the 1970's under Enver Hoxha's communist regime - the paranoid dictator who was always afraid of attacks that never happened. The bunker was built to keep Albania's elite safe, and was kept a secret for most of its existence. Today, it has been transformed into Bunk'Art 1: a history museum and contemporary art space. It's already a crazy experience to arrive at the bunker, as you have to walk through a long tunnel, and then follow a path through the forest towards the entrance. Inside the bunker are 106 rooms, including those of Hoxha and former prime minister Mehmet Sheshu - all still intact. Walking through the rather cold rooms, with a stable temperature of around 15 degrees Celsius, you learn a lot about Albania's history through archival material, documents, photographs, and video. There are various artistic installations, and there's an impressive assembly hall. A truly unique experience that you shouldn't miss in Tirana.
Price: 500 LEK
Getting there: Bunk'Art 1 is about 10 minutes walking from Dajti Ekspres, so it makes sense to combine the two.
4. Attend an epic bunker party
Albania is full of more than 173.000 (!) bunkers. These were all built during Hoxha's communist government, from 1960 until 1980. Most of them are derelict, but some have been transformed into cafés and bars. One of them is Bunker 1944 in Tirana, an underground bar filled with furniture from the communist era and cool vintage stuff. Even without getting drunk, you're in a different world here. A world full of raki that is.
5. Get drunk on Raki in Blloku
So why not to get drunk - that is the question. Head over to Blloku, Tirana's most lively neighbourhood filled with countless cafés, bars, and restaurants. But it didn't always look like that. Up until the fall of communism, Blloku was the exclusive territory of the Albanian political elite. No ordinary people were allowed in. After the elections in 1992, the district changed dramatically. The grey communist buildings were paint in all colours of the rainbow, and today it is almost impossible to imagine what it would have been like to walk around here only 30 years ago. Enjoy the atmosphere and don't forget to get a cocktail at Colonial Café, one of my favourite places around here.
6. Dress up in Vendi Sekret
Vendi Sekret is the smallest, wickedest, and only vintage clothing store in Tirana. Vintage is not really a "thing" in Albania, and the street-style in Tirana is quite neat and polished. But Vendi Sekret stands out. They sell awesome quirky clothes you won't find anywhere else - for very cheap prices. Buy that crazy outfit and go for it - you won't run into anyone you know now that Albania is still the best kept secret of Europe. Must take advantage of that.
7. Eat KFC in front of Enver Hoxha’s former residence
In theory, that is. It's kind of ironic that this is the location where the first and only international fast food chain opened. Indeed, we can do better in Tirana. That's why you should:
8. Visit the new Pazari I Ri
Instead, visit the colorful Pazari I Ri market. Here you can buy all things fresh: fruit and vegetables but also a great variety of fish. The perfect ingredients for a home cooked meal, or sit back and relax in one of the restaurants around the square.
9. Get overdosed on coffee
Tirana is packed with coffee places. But really, I have never seen a city with that many coffee spots. And all of them are full with people sipping on their cappuccinos on the sunny terraces. Yep, I could do this all day long.
10. Check out all the crazy streetart
Just to get a taste:
What do you love most about Tirana? What's the craziest thing you've done? Dare to share your stories in the comments below!