*Updated April 2018
Located in the southern part of the Albanian Riveria lies the coastal city of Saranda/Sarandë. During the summer months Saranda is buzzing with people, in fact, apparently the usual population is around 30,000, but during the summer that figure can spiral up to 300,000.
Great restaurants, a beautiful coastline and the perfect base to explore other breath-taking places nearby, is the main reasons tourists flock here during the summer. It’s very affordable so if you’re a backpacker this place is heaven. The crystal clear turquoise water and affordability make this the perfect holiday destination for solo travellers, couples, and families. I have spent most of my time in Albania solely located in Saranda, and I am even renting an apartment here as I write this.
As September rolls around the crowds slowly go back to their original countries and the tourist numbers drop, but this shouldn’t stop you from coming here. In fact, Saranda, in my eyes, is a different city during those times. There are fewer beach chairs, a lot less partying as the clubs close, and the prices drop, even when you thought Albania was affordable enough just wait until the winter. Saranda turns into a sleepy coastal city as most of the summer season workers head back to their own cities or villages, most move to Tirana to study or find work there and then it’s Tirana’s turn for the partying scene.
Here is my complete guide on what to do, eat and where to stay in this thriving coastal city.
Note: Some of the restaurants and accommodation options close in the winter months so for reference (W) is winter and (S) is summer.
What to do
Walk the boulevard: During the summer months, and especially as the cruise ships start to port in Saranda, the boulevard is pumping with people. Take some time to wander through the boulevard day or night and enjoy the scenery. During the summer there are markets, which are a great place to get some souvenirs. Also, you may notice in the distance in the water there is even an obstacle course (S) set up if you’re up for a bit of fun. Yes, you can go on as an adult and yes, your whole body will hurt in the morning, trust me from experience.
Lëkurësi Castle: Nestled at the top of the hill and overlooking Saranda is Lëkurësi Castle. Although the castle is not that impressive as it has now been turned into a restaurant, the views overlooking Saranda and even into the farmland nearby, are stunning and well worth the trip. You can hike up which takes about 45 minutes to an hour. I took a taxi, just remember to haggle for the price as I was overcharged on the way there. A lot of travellers even hitchhike back to the city centre.
Butrint: Butrint is a site full of ancient ruins located not far from Ksamil. It was habited before the Greeks came and settled and after that the Romans took over. It will take 2 or 3 hours to explore and costs 700 Lek entry. You will want to visit in the morning or late afternoon as the sun can be overbearing in the summer, and you will appreciate it a lot more in the cooler weather. The bus to Butrint cost 100 Lek. It’s the same bus that stops off at Ksamil beforehand.
Visit blue eye (Syri i kaltër): The blue eye is a natural phenomenon. Divers have tried to discover how deep the spring is but have only gone down 50 deep and still to this day cannot find the source or how far down the spring goes. Usually people spend an hour or two. There is nothing else to do other than look at the spring or you can go swimming if you’re brave. The water year-round is 10 degrees!
Mirror Beach: Just before Ksamil is Mirror beach. It’s a more secluded affair with just as beautiful beaches as Ksamil.
Visit Ksamil: Ksamil is the most popular destination along the Albanian Riveria. It is hugely popular during the summer months; the beaches are full of beach chairs and all of the bars and restaurants are thriving. You can spend the day relaxing, eating and even swimming to the two nearby islands.
Explore the seafood scene: As Saranda is a coastal city, seafood is prominent in just about every restaurant and damn is it good. The fish restaurants on the other side of town are where the fishing boats land. You can come down here at around 6 pm and buy fresh seafood off the boats or try it at one of the two restaurants – Fishland or Taverna Peshkatari. These are the restaurants who receive the seafood first and then it filters down to the restaurants right in the city.
Discover ancient Saranda: Right in the centre believe it or not, are ancient ruins of a synagogue that used to be there 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. These ruins were discovered in 1984.
Where to eat
Taverna Laberia: This is one of my favourite restaurants in Saranda. This family-run restaurant serves quality food and generous portions. My favourite is the open souvlaki and the Greek salad. The family are Albanian/Greek and know how to cook a fantastic meal for a very reasonable price
Limani: Located right on the water is a restaurant called Limani. They serve mouth-watering pizza – I can highly recommend the carbonara one (yes that’s carbonara on pizza!), and the caesar salad (600 Lek) too. They also, of course, serve seafood and traditional meals. Their menu is huge so you will definitely find something you like here.
Anchor Bar & Restaurant: When I arrived into Saranda in March, this place was just a bar but now they have turned it into a restaurant here serving their speciality, seafood. This is a fabulous family run restaurant. What I love about this place is the view over the boulevard and their beer prices are the most reasonable that I have come across throughout the city. I would highly recommend checking out this humble gem if you are walking down the boulevard.
Fishland: This is one of the restaurants that are right where the fishermen come to dock, so expect super fresh seafood here! I can recommend the seafood risotto, it’s delicious.
Cocktail Dreams (S only): Located right on my front doorstep is Cocktail Dreams. This is not only a good place for a cocktail but their food is good too. I enjoy the carbonara, 4 cheese ravioli and the grilled chicken with mushroom sauce (mmmmm).
Maria Magdalena (S only): If you’re a pizza lover like me then you will love Maria Magdalena. They do the best pizzas I have ever tasted. One of the reasons I really love it in Albania is they have a big Italian influence which means they absolutely nail Italian food right on the head! I can recommend the 4-cheese (700 Lek), margarita (400 Lek) and special pizza (750 Lek) although I am confident every single pizza on that menu is delicious.
All day Grill: This restaurant does great souvlakis, sqepasti, pite arabe and lots more. It’s located right in the heart of the city along the boulevard.
Like Creperie: This little café serves great coffee, delicious crepes, and amazing sandwiches. My personal favourite is the paninis, they are seriously delicious and perfect if you’re craving a different food that’s not Albanian, Greek or Italian.
Kasandro (S Only): Again, great for takeaway souvlakis (180 Lek) and if you’re staying at the Hairy Lemon Hostel then this is just across the road.
Sunset: Here they do great pizzas, perfect for a takeaway and they are open all year round.
Te Beau: If you’re looking for traditional Albanian food then this is your place!
Where to drink and party
Mango (S only): This is the most popular club located just out of the city centre. You will need to catch a taxi or hitchhike as its quite a walk, especially if you’re staying on the other side of the city. There is usually an entry fee (500 Lek) but sometimes you don’t have to pay, don’t ask why. The whole city just about forms at mango on any given night during the summer. This is closed during the winter but usually opens back up on the 1st of April to celebrate the opening of the season.
Factory (S Only): This club is even further out of the city. It’s essentially a huge warehouse with music.
Orange (S Only): This is located just a walk away from the boulevard. It’s right on the beach, has good music and an easy option if you don’t want to trek all the way to mango.
Block: Located not far from orange is another bar called Block. Note that Albanians don’t really dance compared to other countries like the UK and New Zealand. This is present throughout the Balkans though. People usually just stand around, listening to super loud music at a table rather than having an actual dancefloor. It’s an experience!
Jericho: Right on the boulevard is Jericho which is famous for their cocktails. It serves a great view over the avenue.
REI: This bar is nestled looking over the boulevard. There’s a cool atmosphere, the drinks are good and it’s a great place to come to chill out for a few drinks.
Lerbi: A new favourite of mine! Has a great view of the boulevard, good raki and lots of cocktails to choose from
21 Bar: This is a popular intimate hangout in the centre. Trendy bar with a cool ambience!
Where to stay
Hostel: Hairy Lemon Hostel – Hands down the best place to stay if you’re a backpacker! This hostel is fun, intimate and relaxed. If you make your way to the Apollo Hotel then head up the vertical like street, it is the first building on the right. Catch the elevator to the 8th floor, turn left as you leave the elevator, and you will find the Hairy Lemon. It serves an incredible view and the beach below is only a 1-minute walk. Although it’s not right in the city it’s a good place to locate yourself because you have one of the best beaches not far and good local restaurants within a 5 or 10-minute walk such as Fishland and Laberia. With the bed, you get a free pancake breakfast and free shot of homemade Baileys (it’s the best!) on arrival. The Hairy Lemon closes on the 24th of October and opens back up in April 2018.
Hotel: Dream Hotel – A small intimate hotel located right on the beach, about a 15-minute walk from the heart of the city. If you’re looking for pure relaxation then choose this hotel. Not only do you have the beach on your doorstep but also the cocktail bar and restaurant! Closes in winter.
Luxury Hotel: Vila Kalcuni – Located right on the beachfront this beautiful hotel is the perfect pick if you’re looking for some luxury. Comes with a free buffet breakfast too, what more could you ask for!
Where to from Saranda
(note the times and frequency vary from winter to summer. These are the summer times unless otherwise stated.)
Bus to Tirana (1300 Lek)– 5am, 6.30am, 8.30am, 9.30am, 10.30am, 2pm, 10pm (night bus)
Bus to Himare – 2 pm
Bus to Gijrokastёr – 6am, 8am, 11.30am,12pm, 1pm
Bus to Butrint & Ksamil (100 Lek) – Every hour on the half hour. The last bus coming back is at 5.30pm
Bus to Berat – 8 am, 10.15am, 2.30pm
Bus to Vlore – 11.30am, 1 pm
Bus to Borsh – 10 am
Ferry to Corfu (€19 but it’s cheaper in the winter) – 10.30am and 4 pm (In the winter there is just one leaving at 1 pm)
Bus to Athens – 6.30am and 6.30pm
Hitchhiking in Albania
It is extremely popular and normal to hitchhike from city to city. I used to always hitchhike to the clubs and have never had a problem or felt unsafe. Albanians are very trustworthy and they are usually happy to help you to get somewhere.
Winter vs Summer in Ksamil
Saranda in the winter
Although a lot of the businesses shut up shop for the winter all the restaurants right in the city will still be open. As you can imagine the city is comparably quiet when the tourist season is over, but that shouldn’t stop you from coming here at that time. The prices drop even further, the beaches are empty and it never gets colder than 8 degrees. There is plenty of sunshine still making it the perfect place to escape a wet and cold winter if you’re from the UK or other northern European countries. Saranda typically has 300 days of sunshine a year. Everything is half price – food, beer and hotels! If you’re looking for a more relaxing holiday then maybe Saranda might be for you. You can experience the country with little to no tourists.
That’s it! There’s your HUGE guide and things to do in Saranda with hopefully all the information you will need to enjoy a holiday here. Don’t be afraid to ask questions below if there’s something else you would like to know. I am currently living in Saranda so ask away!
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