If you are a traveller who likes visiting off the beaten pathan places you might be wondering if Elbasan in Albania is worth visiting. I was wondering the same so I went to visit Elbasan. And in this post, I will tell you why I left after just 2 days.
The first time I told someone I was heading to Elbasan, they asked with puzzled face: Why?
Then the bus driver was in such disbelieve I was going to Elbasan that he asked someone to translate what I was saying just to be sure that this was where I was heading.
This should have given me a hint.
But I practice what I preach, and I always say: Don’t believe what they say, go see! So I went to visit Elbasan.
So If you are reading this post it is probably because you are wondering if it’s worth visiting Elbasan. Maybe you are planning to visit Elbasan and wondering what are any things to do in this strange town. I will answer all your questions.
It might be controversial and slightly negative. But anyone who has been on those pages before and read any of my posts knows that I love most of the places I visit. I am easily excitable and it’s hard for me to hate any location.
So if you are intrigued let me tell you why you really, don’t have to visit Elbasan.
Table of Contents
Where is Elbasan
Elbasan is the fourth biggest city of Albania and lies between the Skanderbeg Mountains and the Myzeqe Plain in central Albania. Elbasan is located in central Albania halfway (ish) between Tirana and Lake Ohrid. If you travel on the bus from Tirana to Ohrid or Skopje, you will pass Elbasan.
It takes only around an hour to get to Elbasan from Tirana.
What is Elbasan Known For?
Elbasan, an actually ancient city. In August 2010, Illyrian tombs were discovered near the castle. In the 2nd century BC, near Elbasan was located the trading post of Mansio Scampa, at an important crossroads of the Via Egnatia, a vital Roman road that connected the Adriatic coast with Byzantium. This road was of crucial importance for the Roman Empire.
Elbasan is also known for being a thriving city during the Ottoman era, and some of the architectural gems can still be seen today.
The Elbasan castle was built in the 15th century. There are also several museums in Elbasan as well as numerous historical religious monuments like the King Mosque or St. Mary’s Church. Among Albanians, Elbasan is known to be one of Albania’s cultural and intellectual capitals.
So as you can see, there seem to be a lot of interesting things about Elbasan …
Why I left (run away from) Elbasan
There were many towns and cities around the world that grew on me over time, and I even started really enjoying them after a few day’s stay. So although I didn’t make much of Elbasan as I got off my bus from Sarande, I wasn’t faced by the initial impression.
I decided to book a few days in Elbasan as I was very much behind in my work and needed a place to stay put and mostly work.
My accommodation was located within the Elbasan Old Town and I was pretty excited given its incredibly low price. I booked a private room with a private bathroom and a kitchenette for 10€!
As I walked into the Old Town, I felt very much underwhelmed but I was still optimistic.
The room was small which for me normally isn’t a problem given that I normally stay in hostel dorm rooms anyway.
So After I unpacked a bit I ventured into the Old Town.
I have no idea what happened there.
Was it not taken care of and just became neglected or it was never really restored and brought to the glory it could have possessed? I don’t know.
But the place felt depressing. Run down, neglected, grey and sad. Buildings are not taken care of and there is hardly any life along its streets. I have noticed a few gems that once restored could be stunning, but this was not done. What a shame!
I also decided to walk along the main street running along a castle but this also gave me a slightly depressing feel.
So after a disappointing stroll, I went back to my room to work for a bit.
I left again in the evening and was pleasantly surprised to see the main street being turned into a pedestrian-only street and now filled with locals strolling along and filling multiple bars and cafes that somehow I didn’t even notice were there. A small seed of hope was planted in my soul.
I decided to give Elbasan a chance and after a quick meal in town, I went to sleep.
The next day I decided to work from a cafe as the tiny table in my room was impossible. As I walked to Mon Cheri (which is a great cafe known among digital nomads) I felt stared at. I was the only tourist in town. Almost.
But it wasn’t the first time I was stared at as a traveller so again, I didn’t make much of it.
On my way back from the cafe I went to discover more of Elbasan trying really hard to like it. But I just couldn’t.
The town feels sad. Even those few Elbasan attractions that are mentioned in travel guides were not what I expected. The castle turned into a rooftop cafe, the historical part of town that was well forgotten and the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre were surrounded by rubbish and hard to find tucked between a busy road and city square.
I know, not all towns are glorious. I wasn’t expecting a glorious travel experience in Elbasan. I wanted an authentic experience. But I just found Elbasan grey, dusty and unwelcoming.
A restaurant was recommended to me by a friend. The only pretty spot in all of the old town so I decided to head there for the evening meal.
I couldn’t believe it when the owner refused me a table because I was a solo traveller.
Mind you, there was only one table occupied and 3 others empty with no one waiting.
The restaurant owner was pretty rude as well. I got upset at first but then thought to myself: ‘First world problems’, as I tried to shake it off.
I grabbed a quick kabab meal in town and returned to my room. Which after the second day started depressing me as well. With not much natural light, the bathroom was so small that someone bigger than me wouldn’t fit in, and the lack of ventilation made it so hot I had to keep the fan on at all times.
I had enough. I knew that if I stayed here any longer I would not only get super depressed but also start hating Albania. I wanted to end my stay on a high note.
I informed my accommodation owner that I had an emergency and had to leave earlier and booked my accommodation for the next day in Tirana.
I was gone the next day in the morning.
Is Elbasan worth visiting?
If you are passing through, perhaps on your way to northern Macedonia, it may be worthwhile to make a stop and form your own opinion about Elbasan. But if you are thinking of planning a separate trip and rerouting to Elbasan or stay more than a few hours, Elbasan is not with your time.
I don’t think I have ever said that about any other city, ever. But I found Elbasan to be sad, gloomy and pretty unwelcoming. It is not worth visiting Elbasan when you have such wonderful places in Albania as Berat, Girokaster or the Albanian Riviera.
And please don’t get me wrong. I travelled to different places around the world that were meant to be unsafe, unwelcoming or difficult to travel to. And I found them all interesting, for different reasons. Elbasan is just just… sad.
Things to do in Elbasan
If you decide not to believe me and visit Elbasan anyway, I get it. I like to check places out for myself as well. So I will help you, and tell you what are some of the things to do in Elbasan.
Check out the Castle of Elbasan and the Historical Town
Dating back to the 15th century, the Elbasan Castle was originally built by the Ottoman Empire to protect the town and the nearby trade routes and played a strategic role in the defense of the region.
The castle is now incorporated within the Elbasan historic town. Within the historical walls, you can visit the Clock Tower, King Mosque, the Orthodox St Mary Church and Hammam as well as a few interesting buildings, some souvenir shops and a couple of restaurants.
As much as it sounds pretty awesome on paper, and The mosque and Orthodox church are indeed beautiful, the remains of the castle grounds are kind of disappointing. This is mostly because of how neglected the streets of the citadel seem.
Enjoy evening Xhiro in Elbasan
In the evening, the main road alongside the castle is closed to cars and becomes pedestrian-only where Albanians enjoy their favourite evening activity – xhiro. An evening walk along the main town promenade.
The whole of Bulevardi Qemal Stafa Road is lined with cafes, bars and restaurants totally filled with locals no matter the day of the week. This is probably the best thing to do in Elbasan and the only thing that I truly enjoyed.
Find ruins of Basilica of Bezistan in Elbasan
Basilica of Bezistan is a ruined Early Christian basilica which was built during the Byzantine period in the 5th century AD. It is a Paleo-Christian type basilica discovered quite recently in 2007.
I passed it twice before I actually noticed it as it is tucked in the city park between the swings, park paths and the main road. Right next to the ruins, you will find a historical water fountain too.
I tried to find out where the artefacts found in the basilica were displayed but didnt find any information.
Visit Elbasan Ethnographic Museum
The Ethnographic Musem in Elbasan is based inside one of Elbasan’s traditional houses, formerly owned by the Sedjin family, portraying the culture and lifestyle of the city. This 200-year-old house, located in the heart of Elbasan, represents a typical post-medieval Albanian dwelling. The museum meticulously showcases Middle Albanian culture, historical craftsmanship, daily life in the city and its outskirts, and the tools of Elbasan’s trade over the years.
Head over to Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park
The opportunity to visit Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park is probably one of the best things to do in Elbasan, if not the only reason to visit. Given my earlier departure from the city, I missed this opportunity but if you drive via this area, you should definitely visit this national park.
How to get to Elbasan
To get to Elbasan from Tirana you will have to head to Terminali i Autobusëve Juglindje – Southeastern Albania Regional Bus Terminal which is not where other buses depart from (like the Berat or Sarande bus). This is the exact location.
Busses leave frequently every hour or so and the ticket cost 200Lek.
How to get from Elbasan to Ohrid or Skopje
It is a bit tricky to get to Ohrid or Skopje from Elbasan as there is no dedicated bus stop for this route. In order to catch the bus to Ohrid you will have to stand on the street called Rruga Aleks Vini in Elbasan and wave the Tirana Ohrid bus. It’s recommended to stay near the gas station in this area.
This was another reason why I decided not to stay in Elbasan as I was heading to Ohrid next and found this way of travel a bit risky.
Where to stay in Elbasan / Visit Elbasan
There are a few recommended accommodation options in case you decide to stay in Elbasan for a night.
If you want to stay in a historical house with a story, then consider CastleHouse and budget travellers should choose Elbasan Backpacker Hostel which I should have chosen instead.
That’s all my friends. I know many might not agree with my opinion about Elbasan and you, just like me might want to visit Elbasan and make your own up. Please let me know what your thoughts are!
Nevertheless, I hope you found this Elbasan guide (even if quite unusual) and a list of things to do in Elbasan useful.
Enjoy your travels!
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