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5 Reasons Why My Trip To Albania Was Way Better Than Greece

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It was a clear, sunny Saturday morning last September. I was lounging on a picture perfect beach in Halkidiki, Greece, looking out on turquoise waters with an ouzo lemonade in hand… but wishing that I was back in Albania instead.   

Ksamil Albania beach with blue water and umbrellas

Like many Americans, I had long harbored Mamma Mia style fantasies of a young woman’s solo adventure around Greece’s pristine coastline. While I didn’t expect crowds of extras to pop out of windows singing ABBA songs, I did expect… a lot more than what I got.

I was ready for hillsides overflowing with cinematic white houses adorned with blue shutters; for some of the best beaches in the world; for fresh seafood and moussaka; for a peaceful getaway of a lifetime.

Instead, I got overpriced, overdeveloped, overcrowded, and influencer-saturated disappointment. 

crowds at sunset in santorini greece

Of course, the trip wasn’t all bad. I met some lovely people and learned alot about Greek history and culture. 

In the end, two weeks bopping about Greece culminated in cutting the trip short. I found my sweaty self packed inside a ferry of similarly red-faced tourists leaving Skopelos with a ticket in my pocket that cost more than a luxury sea view hotel room in Sarandë, marinating in serious regret that I hadn’t just stayed in Albania.

While I was tempted to blame my admittedly romanticized expectations, that honestly wasn’t the real issue. 

The problem was that Greece simply couldn’t follow Albania.

Here are five reasons why my trip to Albania was way better than Greece:

Albanian beach with clear blue water

Untouched Beaches

The crystal clear waters of the Greek islands just didn’t live up to the hype when the price tag on a beach chair was over $100 and I couldn’t move two feet without bumping into another American tourist. Give me the Albanian Riviera over that anyday.

What Albanian beaches lack in notoriety, they make up for in untouched beauty. 

Of course, the peak summer season from June to September draws more locals and tourists to the beaches, but you’d still be hard-pressed to feel genuinely crowded. 

Travelers who prefer undeveloped beach paradise won’t have any trouble getting off path here. While Greece has very few secrets left, Albania’s coast is still a paradise playground waiting to be explored. 

The most popular beaches are:

  • Durrës – preferred for its easy 30-minute drive from Tirana and ferry access to Italy.
  • Dhërmi – home to countless music festivals.
  • Vlorë – beloved for its palm tree-lined boardwalk and refreshing pebble beaches.
  • Himarë – great for backpackers, off path adventurers, and families.
  • Sarandë – offers something for every kind of traveler, up and coming with digital nomads, and serves as the ferry access point to Corfu.
  • Ksamil – known for its white sandy beaches and affordable luxury, great for romantic getaways or getting your friends together.

Travelers willing to venture further off path for undeveloped beaches and minimal company can head to some of my favorite hidden gems: Karpen, Llamani, Drimadhe, Buneci, Gjipe, Spille, and Borsh.

tourist in tirana albania

Friendlier Locals

I’m not out here to offend any Greeks, but Albanian hospitality has no competition. 

I’ve been offered free safe rides between cities, meals at grandmothers’ homes, refilled plastic bottles of homemade raki, places to stay the night, tours of local’s hometowns, and so much more. I felt safe every waking minute of my 10 months in Albania, which I can’t exactly say about Greece. 

Some of this likely comes from Greek local’s exhaustion at dealing with decades of overtourism and neverending waves of (likely irritating) visitors. While I completely understand the sentiment, I just didn’t feel as welcome here compared to in Albania.

Luxury beach vacation for couple in Turkey. Two cups of Turkish coffee, female legs, sand and Mediterranean sea in background. Romantic holiday getaway for two. Summer day or morning at Antalya coast

Superior Coffee Culture 

I had heard all about briki, the traditional Ottoman-inspired Greek coffee, before heading off on my trip. Unfortunately, I found that I much prefer its cousins, Turkish and Bosnian coffee. 

Most of the coffees offered on my Greece trip were actually frappé style anyway. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking – but this is not a Starbucks-style frappuccino. 

The frappé is made with instant coffee shaken in cold water (whose genius idea was that?) with ice, milk, and loads of sugar. The grainy texture wasn’t exactly pleasant, and the low quality instant coffee reminded me of college all-nighters rather than an idyllic vacation. 

The only decent cup of joe I enjoyed in Greece was from an Aussie-run café in Thessaloniki, and there was nothing Greek about it.

On the other hand, Albanian coffee culture was the perfect fit for me. I never had a bad cup of coffee in my 10 months in this Balkan country, from the third wave coffee shops of Tirana to the tiny roadside cafes of the Albanian riviera. 

You can get a solid quality espresso literally anywhere in this country. It’s like some sort of magical coffee spell was cast inside Albania’s borders, I swear. 

No matter how quickly you can finish your black magic, you’re encouraged to do as the locals do: spend a few hours enjoying life or connecting with friends over one little espresso cup. 

ksamil albania beach

More Affordable Luxury

Remember Mamma Mia’s “Money Money Money” song? I found myself humming along to it walking along sunbleached Greek cobblestones after dropping more on one simple meal than I spent in an entire weekend on the Albanian coast.

A simple coffee and pastry in the Sporades islands set me back double what a full breakfast plate with java and mimosa cost on the beach in Himarë, Albania. The price difference widened as the day went on. By dinner, I was paying 250% more for the same meal of grilled fish and a glass of wine at a similarly casual restaurant.

Albania’s superior value extends to accommodation and transportation. Here’s a breakdown of my costs in Albania vs. Greece:

  • Hostels – $9-11/night in Albania, $28-35/night in Greece.
  • Nomad-equipped Apartments – $25/night in Albania, $55/night in Greece.
  • 4-star Sea View Hotel Room – $53/night in Albania, $160/night in Greece.
  • 5-star Sea View Resort Suite – $100/night in Albania, comparable options were $350 in Greece, which I didn’t take.

Because the Greek islands and coastal towns are a lot more spread out than the Albanian Riviera, a 3-stop trip in Greece can also easily run you a few hundred dollars more in transportation than an Albanian adventure with double the amount of stops.  

Modern Port Of Durres, Albania, South Eastern Europe, Balkan Peninsula

Crowds Of Tourists? Where?

We all know the iconic Instagram shots of Mykonos and Santorini. But have you seen the reality behind them? 

It’s a never-ending serpentine line of monochrome white vacation ‘fits, sprinkled with a few daringly bright ensembles. As the golden hour slips away, increasingly hangry and irritable pseudo-influencers slowly lose it. 

I had a front row seat to the implosion of more relationships and friendships in these jam-packed hotspots than you would believe. 

And don’t even get me started on trying to get seated in crowded Greek restaurants and beach clubs as a solo traveler in overcrowded destinations tailored to couples. What a nightmare!

Sure, Albania is booming in popularity, but most of its beaches still remain pristine and its amazing UNESCO world heritage sites don’t have a large crowd in sight. Even the most popular vacation spots in this Balkan gem are affordable and not yet overdeveloped, making it the clear choice for your next European beach vacation.

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


Andie

Wednesday 20th of March 2024

Thank you, we went to Greece last year and even trying to avoid the crowds (and not in the summer!) it was hard. Greece was wonderful, but that wonderful-ness is well known. :) This year we are going to Albania and this article is helpful.

Kashlee Kucheran

Wednesday 20th of March 2024

You are going to LOVE Albania - it's one of my fav countries in the world

What.Ever.

Saturday 23rd of September 2023

Having said that. I found this site because I'm planning to go travel to Albania because it sounds lovely. No need to $@#@ on another country because you made your own mistakes in Greece.

Greg

Sunday 23rd of July 2023

Albania got 500 km of cost. Greece got 150000 km of coast. Durres is one of the most packed beaches in the world. The likely to find a lonely beach in Greece is much higher. Of course if you choose the main tourist spots in Greece it will be crowded. But then you got 149500 km of Greek coast line that is not very crowded.

Eisai Otinanai

Sunday 25th of June 2023

It’s funny how the page is called travel off path, when there’s little evidence to suggest you did much else than go to tourist traps in Santorini or Mikonos. Otherwise, you’re just a lousy traveler. Greece is filled with hundreds of inhabited islands with tons of less visited beaches and beautiful coves. The major islands are also surrounded by uninhabited islands and islets which make for great day trips by boat (can be booked online or at the ports), away from the crowds. As long as you do a little bit of research you can find more affordable food and nightlife options in almost every island besides the above mentioned. Same goes for rooms. I rented an entire apartment with a huge balcony, next to the port, for less than 30 euros a night in Skopelo. If you chose to ignore the immense beauty Skopelos has to offer, and chose instead to go to an expensive hotel, and chase the Mama Mia gimmick crowds, that’s on you. Also, with regards to more hospitality from Albanians, half of the places you named (Especially Saranta and Himara) are populated by ethnic Greeks. You spent 10 months there and didn’t pick up on that? If you want a cheap experience just say it, In which case the best bang for your buck is an all inclusive in the Caribbean. Greece is for those who are genuinely curious.

Argeta

Wednesday 26th of July 2023

@Eisai Otinanai, Spoken like a true Greek Fascist. So, to wrap up your idiotic comment, the only places where hospitality is high are Greece and Greek inhabited areas? Wow, even serb mindset does not do justice to this naci-chauvinistic way of thinking.

Jeton Shehu

Monday 17th of July 2023

@Eisai Otinanai, Your name is telling us that you are for real @Eisai Otinanai gia na min pw @Anistoristos Malakas . You are referring to greek Islands that are with Albanian ethics people known as Arvanites. Most of them . I am from Saranda , born in Borsh close to Himara and grown up in Ksamil. For many years rezident emigrant in Greece. Here in South Albania ,of course are many greek ethnic people and they are really good people but still they are minority. Now the Albanian Hospitality hasn't competition. The greek people also are known about their Hospitality but some of them like you are like you. In my country is very difficult to find your kind . They exist of course, but they are idos pros exafanisi. In my country,we say: Our house belong to God and the guest. By the guest we meant every one how knocks our doors 🚪 and need place for the night for as long he needs. Greetings from Albania and every word in this article is the Truth

John Doe

Sunday 18th of June 2023

This is exactly the type of tourist we don't want in Greece, thank you for choosing Albania!