In this guide you will discover the ancient city of Shkoder, Albania and its wonderful attractions. I will convince you (I am sure) to stay more than one day and I will lay out for you all the awesome things to do in Shkoder.
I spent a month in Shkoder and you can trust me when I say that Shkoder is one of the must-visit places in Albania.
I chose Shkoder for my hostel volunteering quite strategically. I wanted to stay in a town with plenty of things to do, and great outdoor opportunities but also a place where I wouldn’t be bored after a month. I made an excellent choice! Shkoder was surprisingly wonderful!
If you are considering a visit to Shkoder, you are probably doing so because you are planning to visit Theth or hike the Theth-Valbona trail. Most travellers visit Shkoder for one night and consider it to be more of a gateway to the Albanian Alps, thinking that there are not many things to do in Shkoder.
Shkoder is a beautiful city, but for some reason doesn’t get enough recognition among travellers to Albania. But there are many incredible attractions in Shkoder, plenty of outdoor activities and a nightlife that will catch you off guard.
Ancient, picturesque, rich in culture and very diverse – Shkoder is a place where you should spend more than one day. You will not regret it!
Table of Contents
Where is Shkoder?
Shkoder is one of the oldest cities in Albania, located in the north of the country, often referred to as a gateway to the Albanian Alps. Only an hour’s drive from Ulcinj in Montenegro, Shkoder is often the first Albanian town visited by travellers who travel from north to south of the Balkans.
Shkoder lies at the southeastern end of Lake Scutari (also called Lake Skadar or Lake Shkodër), which is shared with Montenegro and forms a natural border between the two countries. Lake Skadar is the largest lake in southern Europe. Shkoder is also enclosed on three sides by rivers Kir, Drin and Buna, which makes it a complete package of nature, culture, history and fun.
Is Shkoder worth visiting
If you plan to visit the Albanian Alps or hike from Theth to Valbona, you will inevitably spend a night or two in Shkoder. But Shkoder is a surprising town boasting many attractions and a wonderful atmosphere, so you should consider visiting Shkoder nonetheless.
Shkoder is one of the oldest cities in Albania with a rich culinary scene, eclectic culture and incredible natural surroundings. It is a city that will surprise you with its colours, sounds and tastes, so Shkoder is definitely worth visiting.
Shkoder is also a paradise for backpackers and budget travellers. With many wonderful social hostels (and some of the cheapest in Albania), very affordable prices and plenty of cheap or free activities in Shkoder, any traveller should consider spending a few days in this great city.
How many days for visiting Schkoder
I recommend staying at least 3 nights in Shkoder if you really want to explore the city.
Given there are a few amazing day, or-half-day trips, you could take, like one to Shala River or Shiroke village, as well as many great things to do in Shkoder itself, a sweet spot would be staying 3 nights in Shkoder before going to Theth or Valbone.
Where to stay in Shkoder
The first one is my personal favourite, as this is where I stayed for a month, and believe me when I say that it’s a very special place that attracts great travellers and you will not want to leave. At Mi Casa es Tu Casa you can buy transport tickets for Theth and Valbona and for the Shala River Tour.
Wanderers Hostel is the most popular and recommended hostel in Shkoder, especially for those planning to hike in the Albanian Alps.
It is a great social hostel and offers a complete package for hiking Theth Valbona trail. Basically, they can book everything for you, including accommodation in Theth and Valbona, which is very convenient for many travellers.
I however think it can be much cheaper if book it all yourself. You can head to my post about Theth where I provide more information.
How to get to Shkoder
The two most popular ways to get to Shkoder are by bus from Tirane or Montenegro.
There are daily buses from Montenegro to Shkoder, departing from cities such as Ulicnij, Kotor, Budva or Podgorica. You can check the bus schedule on the busticket4.me website where you can often buy the ticket as well.
To get from Tirana to Shkoder, you first need to go to the Tirana regional bus station. From there, take the direct bus to Shkoder. The ticket costs 400Lek.
The journey should take 1.5 to 1.45 hours, but expect more like 3 hours. I took this route twice, the first time it took 2.5 hours, and the second time it was 3 hours. Buses leave every hour, and the last bus leaves at 5 p.m.
There is a direct bus between Vlore and Shkoder that leaves at 1 p.m. There is only one bus per day in both directions.
If you are travelling from Shkoder to Durres, there are 2 buses a day, at 7 am and 1 pm. There are also direct buses from Shkoder to Elbasan, Korce and Pogradec.
To get from Shkoder to other cities such as Berat, Himare or Gjirokaster, it is best to first go to the regional bus station in Tirana and catch your onward bus there.
You can also check all bus schedules across the country on this website.
Awesome Things to Do in Shkoder Albania
Wander the pedestrian streets of Shkoder
Shkoder is wonderful to walk around. One of my favourite things to do in Shkoder was just to stroll through the pedestrian streets, which would fill with people as the hot day turned into a cooler evening.
The most famous pedestrian street in Shkoder is Rruga Kolë Idromeno, where you will find many restaurants, bars, some shops and a photography museum.
As you stroll along Rruga Kolë Idromeno you will pass the Ebu Bekr Mosque, Gelateria Bell Italia (the best ice cream in town) and the very popular and affordable Sofra restaurant (recommended!)
At the crossroads, turn right and walk towards Rruga G’juhadol, a street that is very picturesque and colourful during the day and becomes a kind of “party street’ at night.
On the other side of Rruga Kolë Idromeno, you will find another walking street that comes alive in the evening: Rruga 28 Nëntori.
This is where you must stop by for a coffee at my favourite café in Shkoder, the Eco Club! You just can’t miss it! At the end of this street, you will find a lovely little park with a fountain and the Anticomusism Monument.
But don’t stop there. If you have time, wander around the other streets of Shkoder. The city is very safe to walk around and full of little surprises.
As you walk around the town you will also come across a few interesting buildings in Shkodra such as the English Clock Tower opposite the Rozafa Hotel, the City Hall Building inherited from the Ottoman Era or an Orthodox Church built in 2000.
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Rent a Bike and visit Shiroke / Best things to do in Shkoder
One of the best things to do in Shkoder is to rent a bicycle.
Shkoder is called the city of bikes and it will become apparent very quickly the moment you arrive.
Although surrounded by mountains, Shkoder is a very flat town – great to cycle around. Don’t be put off by the crazy traffic. Drivers are used to bicycles, but of course, be careful as you cycle around. There are even a few cycling lanes in Shkoder.
Once you’ve got your bike take a 30-minute ride to Shiroke, a wonderful village set on the banks of Shkoder Lake. There you can take a swim in the lake, enjoy kayaking or paddle boarding or just eat the freshest fish in one of the lake-side restaurants! The sunset in Shiroke is unreal!
Take a boat tour on the lake Skadar
You can also take a scenic boat trip and explore Shkoder’s biggest attraction, Lake Skadar.
Along the way, between Shkoder and Shiroke you will find a couple of boat trip agencies including Trageti “Scutari” Venezia which is located here.
You can also rent a kayak or SUP in Shiroke and tour the lake at sunset. Spectacular!
Visit Rozafa Castle / Best things to do in Shkoder
Whenever you hear recommendations for the best things to do in Shkoder, a visit to Rozafa Castle is at the top of the list.
Rozafa Castle is one of the most iconic landmarks of Shkoder. It rises imposingly on a hill overlooking the city and at the confluence of the Buna and Drin rivers.
I have found different information about how old the castle actually is. Some sources say that the original citadel was built as early as the 9th century BC by the Illyrians, the ancient tribes of the northwestern Balkans, but since then it has been conquered and rebuilt.
The actual Rozafa Castle as we know it was built in the 15th century AD during the rule of the Republic of Venice.
There is also a dark legend that tells the story of three brothers who were responsible for the construction of the castle. They built the castle during the day, but to their despair, the structure kept collapsing at night. Finally, they asked a wise old man for advice, who told them that they would have to sacrifice one of their wives by building her alive into the walls so that the construction could be completed
Rozafa, the wife of the youngest of the brothers, was built alive into the wall but asked that half of her right breast, right hand and right eye be left free so that she could continue to nurse her newborn son, feed herself and watch her child grow up.
The Castle is located 3km away from the centre of Shkoder but you can cycle to the foot of the hill, walk or take a taxi. The entrance to the castle costs 400Lek.
Discover the Lead Mosque at the Old Bazaar area of Shkoder
After visiting the Rozafa castle head to where the old bazaar of Shkoder used to be and marvel over The Lead Mosque, also known as the Buşatlı Mehmet Pasha Mosque. Built in 1773, it was inspired by the great Sultan Ahmed mosque in Istanbul.
The bazaar itself used to be the economic hub of Shkoder, and one of the most important trade hubs in the Western Balkans. Yet during the communist era, it became a camp for refugees and finally, it was demolished and replaced with a park.
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Walk Shëtitorja e Molos Street towards Buna’s Bridge
If you decide to cycle to Shiroke, you will inevitably pass this road and bridge, but if you skip it, you should stop by when you visit Rozafa Castle.
It is a very interesting pedestrian street. With its beautiful view of the lake and a few nice restaurants, it seems a little less ‘affluent’ yet very charming. In the afternoon you will find many stalls selling second-hand clothes, villagers selling vegetables, as well as regular walkers and cyclists.
Walk towards the Buna’s Bridge, for an even better view!
Cycle to the Mesi Bridge
Another great attraction in Shkoder is the Mesi Bridge, located about 8 km from the city. The best way to reach the Mesi Bridge is by bike. The ride takes about 40 minutes. If you don’t feel like it, you can of course drive or take a taxi.
The Mesi Bridge is a stone bridge that spans the Kir River and is the largest bridge in Albania that dates back to the Ottoman era. It is beautifully situated and the ride towards the bridge was one of the highlights of my stay in Shkoder.
During the hot summer months, the river dries up and when I arrived there wasn’t much of it left. But if you come in the wetter months like spring or autumn, the river is truly beautiful.
Stop at the Venetian Mask Factory
On your way back from the Mesi Bridge, be sure to stop at the Venetian Mask Factory. It is a combination of a factory, museum and shop and when I entered it, I felt like I was in Alice in Wonderland reality.
I had no intention of visiting at first, but as I drove by I noticed this beautiful building and stopped to find out what it was. This way, I found myself in a magical place that I could not leave.
Shop at the Flea Market for Bargain Second-hand Clothes
If you’re into second-hand or vintage clothing, Shkoder is a paradise. I haven’t seen so many second-hand clothes shops anywhere else and there is a huge flea market in Shkoder full of second-hand clothes. You will have to dedicate some time to browse around but for sure you will find something great!
We have sent many visitors from the hostel to the market and every single one came back with some treasures. You can get a dress, a pair of trousers or a shirt for as little as 200Lek! Go early in the morning because the market closes before noon.
Here is the location of the second-hand market in Shkoder.
Visit a Museum in Shkoder
I have a confession to make. I am not a museum person. If I choose to visit a museum, it’s because it’s very interesting, highly recommended, unusual, or would teach me (or make me feel) something I couldn’t learn otherwise. I much prefer to walk around the town and visit off-the-beaten-path places, spend time hiking or cycling and discover the real life of the city.
But If you like visiting museums, there are a few in Shkoder that are worth considering.
I wanted to see the Marubi National Museum of Photography. It is said to be a very interesting photo exhibition of the Italian photographer Pietro Marubi, who lived in Shkoder in the 19th century. Yet I found the 700Lek entrance fee a bit steep for a photography exhibition. But feel free to visit it and let me know what you think!
A friend of mine visited the Site of Witness and Memory, which he liked very much. If you can say that about a museum housed in an old prison and showcasing the horrors of communist terror.
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Enjoy Shkoder nightlife at Rruga G'juhadol
I loved walking down this street in the evenings and watching Albanians gather in the numerous bars and enjoy the evening. There are a few hostels located along that street like Wonderers Hostel and Kultura Hostel, so of course you will see a lot of travellers having fun too.
During the summer there is live music on the street, DJs and singers. It gets a bit noisy, but if you walk a bit further you will find some nice bars and restaurants where you can have a glass of wine in a quieter atmosphere, yet still close enough to enjoy the vibe. Pop into Arti Zanave for dinner and then enjoy an Aperol in the small bar across the street.
Be aware if you want to book a room on the Rruga G’juhadol in the summer. It is loud and very busy until around 11 in the evening.
Take a trip to Theth (and Hike the Famous Valbona Pass Trail)
Hiking in the Albanian Alps or simply visiting the Theth National Park is one of the most incredible things to do in Shkoder.
Most travellers opt for the iconic Theth to Valbona hike. This is one of the most popular things to do in Albania and the reason why most travellers visit Shkoder.
But you can also just go to Theth for 2 or 3 days and recharge your batteries in beautiful surroundings. There are a few smaller but equally picturesque hikes like the one to the Blue Eye or the Grunas Waterfall and the Albanian Alps are some of the most spectacular mountains I have ever seen.
If you want to know all about visiting the Albanian Alps from Shkoder and learn more about the Theth Valbona hike, read all about it in my Theth Guide.
Heading to the beach next?
Here is a complete guide to all the best beaches in and near Himare, Albania!
Are you wondering if Ksamil is worth the hype? Oh well, I have an opinion on that, so read my Truth about Ksamil Beaches post!
Take a day tour to the Shala River
If hiking is not your thing but you want to experience the true beauty of Northern Albania including Lake Komani, a day trip to the Shala River is a must!
The Shala River is a branch of Lake Komani and a day trip to Lumi i Shales Bay is a great way to see both.
You can spend a night at the Shala River, but there are also many day trips you can take. It’s a wonderful day out in nature as you take a ferry across the stunning Komani Lake and arrive at a small river beach where the water is crystal clear and the surroundings are out of this world.
I have a separate post about how you can visit the Shala river here.
Lately, this Shkoder attraction has become more popular so you will have to share it with many other travellers but it is still worth it.
If you take a day trip, you have about 5 hours at the Shala to swim, kayak, sunbathe and relax. There are a few guesthouses, restaurants and bars at Shala and the price for a sunbed, if you are inclined to rent one, is around 1000Lek. There is even a small zip line!
Stay on the Komani Lake
If you choose to hike from Theth to Valbona, you will return to Shkodra by ferry from Valbona and inevitably experience the magnificent Komani Lake. Often referred to as Thailand of Europe, Komani Lake is not to be missed when visiting Shkoder!
However, there are no excursions or tours aimed at someone who just wants to visit the Komani Lake. You will see it on the way to or from Valbone or partially during the Shala River Tour. Another way is to book a bus to Koman and then a ferry from Koman to Fierza which will take you along the lake. You can then return the same way an hour later.
But the best way to visit the Komani Lake is to spend one or a few days in one of the guesthouses on the shore of the lake. The guesthouse will arrange for a ferry to drop you off at their guesthouse, or they will let you know the best way to get to the guesthouse. Always check with them for instructions as they are located in different areas of the lake.
You can then spend one or more nights in one of the most spectacular locations in Albania. Spend the day swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, sunbathing, eating fresh local food and just taking in the surroundings.
Take a Day Trip to Experience Sand Dunes at Rana e Hedhun Beach
You can visit the small town of Shengjin ( bus between Shkoder and Tirana) and take a walk to the unique wild beach, where you can slide down the sand dunes from a high hill directly into the water.
Rana e Hedhun is still very much out of the beaten path for foreign travellers, but neighbouring Shengjin is a popular summer resort for locals. Shengjin’s beach is not the best, and if you are visiting Albania for its beaches, you should head south towards Himare, Dhermi or Sarande. However, if you are looking for natural curiosities and an interesting day trip from Shkoder, the sand dunes of Rana e Hedhun are definitely an interesting thing to do!
Enjoy the Freshest Food Ever at Mrizi i Zanave Agrotourism
I only learnt about this place 2 days before I left and was gutted I wasn’t able to visit but if you get a chance please do! I definitely will on my return to Shkoder.
The farm is located in Fishte, a wonderful Albanian countryside. You can just visit a restaurant (be sure to book as they are very popular!) and try meals produced using Albanian organic products, fresh meat and wild fish prepared on-site every day or even stay for the night!
They make everything on-site and if you wish you can also buy their produce like cheese or vegetables.
As you can see, there are many great things to do in Shkoder and many incredible day and half-day trips you can take while there. It is still a mystery to me why Shkoder itself is not a traveller’s destination in itself.
If you have any questions or you think I missed some important information in this Shkoder travel guide, let me know in the comments and I will be very happy to answer any of your questions.
Until then, happy travels!
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