Saranda is the most beautiful city to visit in Albania, no questions asked. There are lots of historical sites as well as the beautiful beaches of the Albania Riviera and some of the most delicious seafood that you will try in Albania. In the summer months (July and August) the city is full, and the nightlife is the best in the country. Spring and autumn are the best months to visit in my opinion as the city slows down and the prices lower because it’s out of season.
As an expat who lives in Saranda, Albania I will tell you the best things to do in Saranda and nearby. This is not your usual travel guide, I recommend many things which are not on the usual lists of the things to do and many of them only the locals know about! Here are the best things to do in Saranda, Albania!
1. Ruins in the center
Located in the centre right next to the little park, are ancient ruins of a synagogue dating back to the 5th century. In the 6th century, these buildings were converted into a basilica but later were destroyed due to an earthquake. Amazingly, these ruins were only discovered in 1984. You could visit these ruins within 15 minutes, there’s nothing too exciting about them unless you are really interested in ancient history but nevertheless they are still something you should look at while you’re in the city. You will also see other signs of ancient Saranda throughout the city. On the boulevard, you will discover a part of the ancient city walls.
2. Lëkurësi Castle
Overlooking the city of Saranda is Lëkurësi Castle. Unfortunately, the castle has been turned into a restaurant these days but it’s worth the trip because the view is really amazing, especially at sunset. The castle itself was built in 1537. You can easily walk from the centre to the castle if you’re up for a bit of a hike, it takes around 45 minutes to reach the top.
Only a 20km from the city of Saranda is the UNESCO site of Butrint. It will take 2 or 3 hours to explore and costs 700 Lek entry. In the summer I recommend visiting early in the morning or late afternoon as the sun can be overbearing, and you will appreciate it a lot more in the cooler weather. Also, when the cruise ships come into Saranda they take a trio to Butrint and it can become very full. The bus to Butrint cost 100 Lek and is the same bus that stops off at Ksamil beforehand.
4. Ali Pasha Castle
This is my personal favourite castle near Saranda. Ali Pasha castle is hidden and most tourist completely miss it when visiting the nearby site of Butrint. About 1 minute before Butrint on the same road there is a turnoff with a carpark and a viewing deck. From the viewing deck, you can see the castle, but I recommend taking the road down to see the castle from close by!
The road is not in the best condition and is only made for 1 car at a time so if you’re not a confident driver then you can park at the carpark and walk down. It’s only a 2km walk from the carpark. The castle is surrounded by water in the most beautiful setting. If you get there early you will be in complete quietness along with the local fisherman. To get to the castle you will have to ask a local fisherman to take you over there.
The castle dates back to the 17th century and was Ali Pasha’s castle. There is virtually no information on this site so don’t expect to find an information board! You can read this post that I wrote specifically on the destination here if you would like more details on the history and how to get there. This is one of the most stunning places near Saranda for sure! I’m sure you will fall in love with it as I did.
5. The archaeological site of Finiq
This site is not usually recommended on usual lists because not a lot of tourists know about it, even I didn’t know about until a month ago! Finiq is an archaeological site which sits on the best vantage point overlooking the nearby region and the city of Saranda. This park dates back to the 5th century BC. You can see remains of an ancient theatre, a small prostyles temple, Hellenistic houses, Byzantine church and other important relics and monuments. This place is very unspoiled and amazingly they are still evacuating it today and finding new information. I would highly recommend a trip here. Bring your lunch and spend a few hours walking around and taking in the history because it’s truly amazing and very peaceful up there. Tickets cost 200 lek. You can get here by either driving, taking a taxi or hitchhiking.
6. The monastery of the 40 saints
The monastery of the 40 saints is my top recommendation of things to do in Saranda. Many miss the opportunity to visit this historic site and beautiful vantage point. This monastery is a special place, it was built between the 4-6th century and houses 40 rooms within. It was dedicated to the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste who refused to give up their Christian faith during the early stages of the Roman empire in Armenia, so they were locked in the building to die.
The monastery was in good condition up until 1944 when it was bombed by British soldiers who believed there was a German garrison hiding inside.
Saranda got its name from the monastery as Saranda means 40 in Greek. I love the view from up there, it’s my favourite viewpoint in Saranda by far!
7. St Marys Monastery (Kostar)
If you have access to a car I highly recommend taking a trip here. This is another site I didn’t know existed up until recently. The monastery of St Mary is special because it is built within the cliff face! It’s only around a 30-minute drive from Saranda and is in a village called Kostar. The road is good enough to drive right to the top. The view is absolutely stunning as you can imagine and so is the building! You will not see this place recommended to tourists as most locals don’t even know it exists.
8. Monastery of Saint George (Manastiri i Shën Gjergjit)
This is another one of my favourite places not far from the city of Saranda, on the way to Ksamil. This 14th-century monastery sits on top of a hill and has a spectacular view. It’s also in great condition and if you’re lucky there will be a man there who can open the grounds for you so you can look inside. The path to the monastery is not in great condition so beware if you are a little older because the surface isn’t the best to walk on. I highly recommend after looking at the monastery to go and relax at the beach near. More on the beach below!
9. Kodrra Beaches
If you’re looking or beaches within the city of Saranda I recommend walking west of the city (past the ferry docks). There two different beaches that I recommend, one is called Era beach and the other doesn’t officially have a name but its where cocktail dreams (beach bar) is situated. I personally don’t like the beaches in the centre as they can be a little dirty, but these beaches are nice and easy to get to, only max 20 minutes’ walk from the centre!
10. Plazhi Bardenesh
Not far from the centre is a quiet little beach spot. Great for a sunset viewing or just to chill out. The beach is quite small but there are lots of places to swim not far from the beach too.
11. Monastery beach
After looking at St Georges monastery you should then take the road down to monastery each. It’s a small beach and really beautiful as its quite enclosed. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches near Saranda.
12. Mirror Beach
After Monastery beach there is a beach call Mirror (or Plazhi i Pasqyrave in Albanian). This is another stunning beach and, in the afternoon, has some big waves which are always fun. Beware that the road for this beach is quite bad. In the summer the beach is packed and the road to it is only really made for 1 car. There are a lot of potholes so just be aware that you look at the road before making your way down, so you’re not stuck halfway. The struggle of the road is worth it though because the colour of the water is crazy beautiful!
13. Pulëbardha Beach
Situated after Mirror Beach there is Pulëbardha which is a small yet just as beautiful beach. There’s one restaurant here which serves great food.
14. Ksamil Beaches
Ksamil is known as the gem of the Albanian Riviera and for good reason. This was my first introduction to the Albanian Riviera and it’s fair to say it blew me away. Sand beaches and the clearest water you may have ever seen! Make sure you make a trip to Ksamil or even stay here for a few days. From Saranda, there’s a bus that goes to Ksamil regularly and costs 100 lek. It’s only about a 20-30-minute bus ride away.
I have one major note for Ksamil though. I do not come here in July and August anymore. During those times the beaches are PACKED with people and sunbeds which is a real shame. I usually wait until the season is over to enjoy these beautiful beaches.
There’s also several different coves and beaches in Ksamil. The main ones are sand and then if you walk either way and you will find some other bays to chill out in.
15. Beaches with no name north of the city
North of the city are some beautiful coves and bays that are not regularly visited at all. There are no sand, no restaurants, no sunbeds just beautiful rough beaches and great places to get away from the city. To get here you can walk (which might take about an hour). Don’t get discouraged as you will have to walk through an old rubbish dump road but once you passed it you will be rewarded with the most beautiful untouched bays.
16. Shpella, Lukove
Right on the edge of the Saranda district is one of the most beautiful beaches and areas in the Albanian Riviera! Shpella which is located in the village of Lukove is a pristine beach and a great way to escape the city. There are a few restaurants and sunbeds you can hire here. There’s also lots of space for camping here too. Shpella is a 40-minute drive from Saranda. The drive is undeniably beautiful, so you are bound to stop multiple times on the way!
17. Borsh Beach
Borsh beach is the longest beach in Albania which means there’s plenty of space for you to relax on your own with no interruptions of seafront restaurants and sunbeds. It’s about an hour drive from Saranda but the drive is totally worth it.
Other things to do
18. Blue eye
Blue eye is a natural phenomenon only 25 minutes from Saranda. Divers have tried to discover how deep the spring is but have only gone down 50 meters deep and still to this day cannot find how far down the spring goes because the current is so strong! Usually, people spend an hour or two here. The water year-round is 10 degrees! There is a little camping spot right in front of it as well as a couple of souvenir shops. There are also a few restaurants. I highly recommend having a drink at the restaurant with the platforms over the water for a beautiful view! (UPDATE: As of Nov 2018 these businesses have been destroyed as they were illegally built).
19. Take an Xhiro at sunset
Throughout the year the locals participate in an Xhiro which is when the locals around sunset come out of their houses and walk, meet and socialise. During the summer months, the main boulevard is packed with people and it’s a great way to get out and see the lively city! During the other months, the city is quiet (my favourite time is spring and autumn!) and the Xhiro is basically only locals. It’s a great time to people watch!
20. Discover the seafood scene
Saranda has incredible seafood. To prove it, I didn’t eat or like seafood at all and it’s only since I moved to Albania that I started to eat it! There are quite a few great places to try. If you want the ‘real’ seafood experience, then I highly recommend heading straight down to the fishing docks (about a 25 minute from the centre). There are a couple of good seafood restaurants right where the boats come in.
If you’re looking for a good restaurant in the centre, then head straight to Anchor Bar which prides themselves on providing quality fresh seafood. Note that the kitchen is open from June-September.
21. Eat an abundance of delicious Italian and Greek food
If seafood is not your thing then you have no excuses to try Italian or Greek food. As Saranda is close to Greece you can find many souvlaki shops for a quick bite to eat and man they are good! The three I recommend are Bulla Fast food Corner (Corner of Rruga Flamurit and Rruga Qazim Pali), Fast Food Clasic (near the port) and Taverna Laberia (in Kodra district).
Now, Italian food. You may underestimate Albania’s Italian food, actually, you will underestimate it until you try it that is. I have had the best Italian food in my life in…Albania (not Italy – Sorry Italians!). There are a few good places you must try here in Saranda. The first is Italian Mattarello (near the boulevard), Maria Magdelena for pizza (just past the port), and finally, Casa Mia does incredible pizzas too (Opposite the club Mango). One of my favourite things to do in Saranda is eating!
Day trip destinations
Gjirokastër is a UNESCO city about an hour and a half bus ride from Saranda. I highly recommend taking a day trip here. Make sure you check out the castle, it’s one of the best in Albania! If you fancy staying a night in the quaint old town then I highly recommend staying at Stone City Hostel – it’s so beautiful and located right in the old town.
23. Upper Qeparo
If you’re looking for an incredible day trip destination with a traditional twist, then you need to visit the upper village of Qeparo. This charming village is situated on top of the mountains overlooking the beautiful beach below. The village itself is incredibly old, the buildings are traditional stone houses with cobbled pavements which wind throughout the village. This place should not be missed! Click here for the latest prices and availability of accommodation in upper Qeparo.
Himare is a sleepy coastal town which has amazing views, some of the most beautiful beaches near and just an all-around great place for a day trip or to stay for a few days if you’re looking for true relaxation! My recommendation is to head up the mountain behind in the town to the old castle. The views are incredible, and the buildings and village are so quaint. Click here for the latest prices and availability of accommodation in Himare.
You won’t find hordes of tourists in Delvine! Only a 20-minute drive is a town surrounded by picturesque mountains and a ruined castle overlooking the city. In the past Delvine was an important city and the centre of trade until it was moved to Saranda. Nowadays you can take a visit to the small city, visit the ruins of the castle and hang out between the mountains and enjoy the landscape!
26. Corfu, Greece
The Greek island of Corfu is only a 20-minute ferry ride away! It’s a great option for a day trip in the summer months as you can grab an early ferry, spend the day exploring the island and then come back in the evening. During the off-season, there is only one ferry per day so you will have to stay in Corfu for the night. If you want to stay the night, then check out — or Airbnb as there are some great rentals on there (Get your $35 free Airbnb credit here).
There’s my GIGANTIC list of great things to do in Saranda, Albania. Let me know if you found this helpful. For accommodation suggestions and other recommendations within Saranda, check out my full guide to the city here. Make sure you follow along on my Instagram to see a more in-depth look into my life in Albania and if you would like to see more of Albania from the sky, then you need to go follow my other Instagram ‘A Daily Odyssey’. We make videos on the beauty of Albania!
Love this post? Pin it on Pinterest to save it for later!