Tirana is a city with an eventful history. The city has been a part of the Roman, Byzantium and Ottoman Empire, struggled through World War II, witnessed communist rule, and worked through the turmoil of the 1990s after the collapse of communism.
In a relative short distance you can see the landmarks of Tirana which reflect these turbulent times. From the mosaics of a Roman Villa, an elegant Ottoman bridge, monument of the unknown partisan, to ‘distictive’ communist architecture and the former residence of communist leader Enver Hoxha and more…
Start the walk in Skanderbeg Square, the main plaza of Tirana, at the Equestrian statue of Skanderbeg.
Flanked by Italian-style architecture, the vast central plaza is so-called after Albania’s national hero, George Castriot known as Skanderbeg, an Albanian nobleman and military commander who fought against the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.Read more about the Skanderbeg Square
National History Museum of Albania
Walk around the square in an anti clockwise direction.
You will pass the Bank of Albania and it’s Museum. The museum talks about the monetary systems that have existed in Albania, since fifth Century B.C. The second floor of the Museum holds temporary exhibitions. This is mainly aimed at school children and university students so feel free to ignore this!
Before anything else you will see the large mural above the entrance of the History Museum as you approach which dominates the square.
The museum opened in 1981 and the mural is a good representation of the triumphalist art of that time. It shows victorious Albanians through the ages protecting their country’s territory from foreign invaders. Skanderbeg-led opposition to Turkish control, World War Two partisan soldiers, and Enver Hoxha’s communist era. The only change made since the end of the Communist era is the removal of a red star from the flag.Read more about the Albanian National History Museum
Mosaic of Tirana
There is an optional detour at this point to see the Tirana’s only visible Roman remains.
The route would take you along Rruga e Durrësit, a busy road but does have some trees to provide shade. Turn left at the large roundabout. The walk there should only take you 20 minutes.
The remains of the Roman villa really consist of the mosaic floor protected with a metal roof. If you prefer to see mosaic floors in situ then this is for you, but there are better mosaics in the national museum. If your hotel is close or you would like the walk, then this is good but it’s not worth going out of your way to see.
Afterwards, you could head south until you get to Kavja Street then back to head back to Skanderbeg Square.Read more about the Mosaic of Tirana
Palace of Culture
Walk to the east of Skanderbeg Square to see the Palace of Culture. If you are not sure where you are heading look for the gigantic white stone building, with large columns, and the words ‘OPERA’ at the top of in gold letters.
The palace complex is made up of shops, art galleries, a library, and the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet of Albania.
It may be worth popping in to see if you can buy tickets for an event that evening.
The Bar Opera Cafe is a great place to sit and look out over the square and watch the world go by. The external tables are situated beneath the imposing colonnade of the opera building. Considering that you are in one of the major tourist areas in the city the drinks are reasonably priced and served by very friendly and English-speaking waiters.Read more about the Palace of Culture
Et’hem Bey Mosque
To the south of the Palace of Culture is the Et’hem Bey Mosque. TheEt’hem Bey mosque is one of the oldest and beautiful mosques in Albania. The mosque is somewhat unusual for its rich frescos both inside and outside of the building.
If it is covered in scaffolding (possible until late 2020) then head straight behind it to the Clock Tower.
The mosque is the old Ottoman mosque of Tirana, and one of the few surviving original building in the square. It is an an icon of the city. The mosque is somewhat unusual for its intensely rich frescoes inside and out, covering almost every part of the interior.Read more about the Et’hem Bey Mosque
Clock Tower of Tirana
Behind the et’hem Bej Mosque lies the Clock Tower of Tirana. It is easily visible from Skanderbeg Square.
The Clock Tower was built in the early 19 Century by the Ottoman rulers and extended in the 20th Century.
It only costs 200 Lek to climb the stairs and you can pay in a small office at the bottom of the tower. The stairs are new and easy to climb and what a view from the top. It is probably one of the best things to do in Tirana.Read more about the Clock Tower In Tirana
Kapllan Pasha Tomb
Head east alongside Rruga 28 Nëntori, avoid the road and walk through the park.
Towards the end you should see the Friendship Monument, which symbolizes the 50 years of friendship between Albania and Kuwait. The monument is a great place the sit under, red, white, black and green pebbles or circles give shade – they are also the colors of the Kuwait flag.
Kapllan Pasha Tomb is the only remaining part of the Sylejman Pasha Mosque, built in 1614 and stood just to the north of this site (we will go on to see this next). The structure is a is a Muslim Türbe or Tomb, which held Kapllan Pasha, the Ottoman administrator of Tirana, who died in 1819. Originally there were six similar tyrbes at the mosque.
The tomb is attractively nestled under one corner of the Plaza Hotel.Read more about the Kapllan Pasha Tomb
Statue of the Unknown Partisan & site of Sylejman Pasha Mosque
Just across the road from the Kapllan Pasha Tomb is the Statue of the Unknown Partisan.
This is also the original site of the Sylejman Pasha Mosque which was built in 1614. Damaged during World War II, and its remnants of minaret were destroyed in 1967 to make room for the statue.
This communist era statue appears as a man who has a raised fist and holding a gun, aiming his weapons down the road to the Parliament building. Take a quick photo and move on…Read more about the Statue of the Unknown Partisan
The New Bazaar
Head across Rruga George W. Bush and down Rruga Luigj Gurakuqi, when you get to the roundabout then turn north to walk around the New Bazaar.
When George Bush visited Tirana in 2007, the capital, was festooned with giant American flags and the president was greeted by Albanians wearing red-white-and-blue and waving American flags. He traveled down this road, which had been named after him for his visit!
If you wish to skip the New Bazaar, at this point head south until you pass the Toptani Shopping Center and then turn left into Shëtitorja Murat Toptani to reach the Fortress of Justinian.
The New Bazaar was originally built built in 1931, and then renovated again in 2016, and it also is the site of the historic Old Bazaar.
The New Bazaar is a traditional farmers market, offering a variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, seafood and meat, which has had a face lift.
The New bazaar is already turned into a major attraction of the city due to the unique facades that have preserved the Italian architectural style. Surrounding the market are café and open bars.
It is a nice place for people to spend time with their family or friends. During weekends there can be activities such as fairs, concerts and open theaters for children.Read more about the New Bazaar, Tirana
Fortress of Justinian
head back to the roundabout and head down Rruga Xhorxhi Martini 4. At the and of the road cross over Rruga George W. Bush again and go clockwise around the new Toptani Shopping Center. The Toptani Shopping Center is new, opened in 2017, Western style shopping Center. Head down the pedestrianized Murat Toptani and you will see the Justinian Fortress Wall on your left.
The history of the Fortress of Justinian dates back to the 13th century and is another remnant from the Byzantine-era Tirana. You will have walked along the 6-meter high Ottoman-era wall before entering through the impressive doorway to the castle. Unfortunately there was not much of the castle left so the interior of the castle’s was converted into the “Old Bazaar” – more shops!Read more about the Fortress of Justinian
Leaving the Fortress of Justinian head back up pedestrianized Murat Toptani. Walk through Fan Stilian Noli park. Theofan Stilian Noli was one of Albania’s most revered historical figures. He was educated at Harvard, was a writer, scholar, politician and founder of the Orthodox Church of Albania. He served as Prime Minister and regent of Albania in 1924 during the June Revolution.
There is a statue of him in the park. At the bottom of the park head straight across Rruga George W. Bush onto the pedestrianized road with no name before getting to Tanners’ Bridge.
Tanner’s Bridge is a newly restored, 18th century Ottoman period stone footbridge. It is one of the few remaining pieces of Ottoman architecture left in the city. The bridge was the main route for cattle and goats to enter the city. It is names after the nearby Tanners’ Mosque, which can be seen across the river. Also across the river yo can see examples of the painted buildings of Tirana.Read more about the Tanners' Bridge
Pyramid of Tirana
Leaving Tanners’ Bridge cross the river and turn right. Walk along the river until you see the large park square on your left (hopefully with the giant pyramid in it!).
This was to be a mausoleum for the deceased Enver Hoxha, the one time communist dictator of Albania, but as he fell out of favor then so did the building and it has fallen into disrepair. The building is still impressive and covered in graffiti, it looks like a triangle laying on is side. A popular sport seems to be climbing to the top and sliding down the smooth sides. Obviously it can be slippery when wet so be warned – its a long way down!
Near to the entrance of the Pyramid is the ‘Peace Bell‘ which was created in 1999 as a memorial to peace. It was made from spent bullet casings, collected by Albanian children after the 1997 uprising.Read more about the Pyramid of Tirana
Palace of Congress
Go to the southwest of the square you are in and continue to walk down the Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard.
As you pass over Rruga Ismail Qemali on the other side of the road is a small park. There is a small memorial here Postbllok (Checkpoint), to the political prisoners who suffered under the Hoxha regime. It is made up of three elements: a brightly painted section of the Berlin Wall from Postdamer Platz, one of the small concrete defensive bunkers, that litter the country, and several concrete supports from the mine at the Spaç labour camp where thousands of political prisoners suffered between 1968 and 1990.
Carrying on down the road you pass the ‘Palace of Congress’ on the left hand side of the street.
The Palace of Congress (Pallati i Kongreseve) was built in the 1982 and 1986 as a symbol of communist ideology. When it was built it was considered state-of-the-art and the pride and joy of the regime in terms of its design and architecture.
Today, the facility is used as a venue for hosting conferences, festivals, exhibitions, ceremonies, concerts and more.Read more about the Palace of Congress
Mother Terasa Square
Continue down Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard to reach Mother Terasa Square.
On the right side if the street you will pass the Presidential Office Building, originally commissioned by King Zog 1, and in 1941, post war it became the Embassy of the Soviet Union and now is a government building.
This large square is dedicated to Mother Terasa, the Albanian Catholic nun who moved to Calcutta at the age of 18 and spent her life devoted to looking after the poor.
This is the second largest square in Tirana. As you look clockwise around the square you will see in the north east the National Archaeological Museum, in the east the Academy of ‘Albanological’ Studies, in the south the Polytechnic University of Tirana, and in the west the University of Arts.Read more about the Mother Teresa Square, Tirana
National Archaeological Museum
This building is located in the north west of Mother Terasa Square.
There are 2,100 archaeological objects inside the museum from Illyrian, Roman, Byzantium to Ottoman – which is great if you are a history buff. However, the layout of the artifacts is not brilliant and there are not many written explanations of them. Also there are no tours available in English.Read more about the Tirana National Museum of Archaeology
Grand Park of Tirana
Behind the Polytechnic in the Square is the Grand Park of Tirana. Head to the south west corner and enter the park.
The Grand Park is a 289 hectare public park. The park is a great place relax after the bustle and crowded city center. Many locals use the park to watch the sunset, go for a walk, jog or exercise. There is a small ruined amphitheater where many of the young people hang out and the park also holds the Saint Procopius Church, an artificial lake and the Presidential Palace. The Palace is in the east of the park and is open on weekends.Read more about the Tirana Grand Park
Colorful Buildings of Tirana
Head to the Artificial Lake and turn right to walk along its shores. When you get to the promenade along the top of the dam then head north up Rruga Sami Frashëri until you get to a roundabout.
You will probably have seen these colorfully painted buildings on your walk already.
The mayor of Tirana in the 90’s have a desire to change Tirana but little budget to do so. So he started a campaign to paint away the old communist style buildings with bright bold colors and shapes.
At this roundabout you will see and example of this with the famous rainbow building.
The statue in the center of the roundabout is to Woodrow Wilson, who after the end of the first world war in 1919, when breaking up the Ottoman Empire argued that ‘Albania ought to be independent’.Read more about the Colorful Buildings of Tirana
Enver Hoxha's Former Residence
Walk north another 2 blocks and turn left onto Rruga Ismail Qemali. Just before you get to the park
When you left the roundabout you entered the upmarket area in Tirana called ‘Blloku’. Today it is a trendy area with boutique shops, bars and cafes. During the communist period it was a restricted area, only for the members of the Albanian politburo.
Enver Hoxha’s Former Residence is a simple three story villa painted with pastel colors. It is not are luxurious as many had though certainly not compared to other eastern Block communist leaders. The house is not open to the public.Read more about the Former Residence of Enver Hoxha
Turn left onto Rruga Ibrahim Rugova and walk up the street. When you cross the river, enter Park Rinia or Youth Park and head to the north east corner.
The park was built in 1950 during the communist era. As it was situated directly opposite the communist ‘Blloku’ the park was ironically called Taiwan.
In the south corner of the park is the Taiwan center which is a fairly modern restaurant complex, with a bowling alley , casinos and a water fountain.
Cross the road to see the ‘Cloud’.
The art installation was designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto in 2013. It was made originally sited in the Serpentine Galleries at Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park in London. It was relocated to Tirana in 2016.Read more about the REJA - The Cloud
National Art Gallery of Albania
Behind the Reja is the National Art Gallery of Albania.
This gallery shows Albanian painting’s from the early 19th century to the present day, they also host temporary exhibits displayed in the building so it is worth popping in to see what they have.Read more about the Albanian National Art Gallery
Head north from the National art Gallery to Bunk’Art 2. The Bunk’Art 2 museum is housed in a communist era bunker so make sure you do not miss it.
Bunk’art 2 shows the history of the Albanian Ministry of Internal Affairs starting from 1912 up until 1991. It reveals the the secrets of ‘Sigurimi’, who were the ruling parties political police. The museum is the first of its kind to dedicated to the victims of communist terror.Read more about the Bunk'Art 2
House of Leaves
From Bunk’art 2 you can return to Skanderbeg Square or continue to see the final Museum, the House of Leaves.
Return to cross Park Rinia and turn north up Rruga Ibrahim Rugova. On your left is the House Of Leaves or Museum of Secret Surveillance.
The “House of Leaves” is an inconspicuous, building near Skanderbeg Square. Originally called so due to the dense layer of trees and leaves which covered the front of the house.
During the days of the communist regime it was the headquarters of the Communist Secret Police or Sigurimi. Sigurimi spied on hundreds of thousands of people and it is said that, tens of thousands were imprisoned and killed in secret prisons. With about 20% of the population collaborating with the regime.
The museum is a well-made exhibition that houses a large collection of surveillance equipment, sound recordings, movies and original documents.Read more about the House of Leaves