Sarande is a lively and bustling city, which is the perfect starting point for exploring the stunning south of Albania. The city itself offers some interesting sights, great restaurants and is well connected to the transport network. There are also many beautiful beaches and olive groves dotted around the area – making it a fantastic summer holiday destination.
In this guide, we will be sharing our experiences in Sarande and providing you with a list of the best things to do. Before we get started though, allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Marie and Chris, both from Germany but originally from different parts of the country. We met in Cologne, fell deeply in love with each other and shared the urge to explore the world.
We then had the opportunity to put this desire into action and after some smaller trips, we set off on a nine month long journey together through Central America, Mexico and Colombia. This was in 2016 and, in this course, we started our travel blog Worldonabudget. Our goal was to give people hands-on travel tips on how they can experience such a trip themselves, even if they have few financial resources available (as we did at the time).
Over the years we have become more and more professional, and since this March we have been on the road again full-time. On this occasion, however, we are using Marie’s grandpa’s old car and touring through Europe. We are traveling slowly and want to explore places as comprehensively as possible.
A Special Six Week Trip in Albania
Prior to our recent Albania trip, we had been here before in 2018 but only to Tirana. We found the city to be so cool that we always dreamed of coming back to discover more places in the country. This year we decided to revisit and traveled through Albania for a whole six weeks. We crossed from Spain, via Italy, to Durres be ferry and from there we drove south to Sarande. Here, we stayed for two weeks and explored the south of Albania in detail.
Of course we had to check out the beaches, Ksamil, Butrint, Gjirokaster and the Blue Eye. But we also visited other incredible places in the Albanian Riviera like Dhermi and Himare. Then we drove into the center of the country to Berat, the Vjosa River, Vlore, the archeological site of Apollonia, the Osum Gorge and to more unknown spots such as the city of Permet.
We continued to Tirana, which we loved (as we did five years ago), and from there we worked our way further north to Kruje, Shkoder, Komani Lake and the Shala River, into the Albanian Alps to Theth and finally directly to the Montenegrin border to Zogaj. This itinerary provided us with a wonderful combination of exciting cities, cultural wonders and natural gems.
7 Best Things To Do in Sarande
1. Enjoy the Beaches Between Sarande and Ksamil
The stretch of coastline between Sarande and Ksamil boasts some of Albania’s most enchanting beaches. The water here is amazing, and some of our favorite beaches in this area were Shpella e Pellumbave and Edon-Bina Beach. Shpella e Pellumbave is a hidden gem featuring a tranquil cove with crystal-clear waters, making it perfect for swimming or snorkeling.
Edon-Bina Beach, on the other hand, with its soft golden sands and shallow waters, is ideal for families and sunbathers. Furthermore, beaches like Plazhi i Pasqyrave and Gjiri i Hartes offer seclusion for those seeking solitude. These beaches are home to epic backdrops and lush vegetation, creating a paradisiacal experience for the journey from Sarande to Ksamil.
2. Visit the Colorful Blue Eye (Syri i Kalter)
The Blue Eye is one of the most touristy trips from Sarande, but it’s totally worth the hype and the 40-minute drive. This deep blue waterhole is a geological wonder – formed by underwater caves and a karstic spring that pumps water from the depths of the Earth. The water is so clear that it doesn’t seem real and the blue hue is a visual treat. Visitors can explore the surrounding lush forest and take a refreshing dip in the water.
3. Savor the Delicious Local Cuisine of Sarande
Sarande offers a delectable food scene with fresh Mediterranean seafood, typical Balkan cuisine and charming local eateries. Our favorite restaurant was Te Bequa 2 in the south of the city center. They serve traditional food, have a variety of vegetarian dishes and the staff are super sweet.
4. Take a Day Trip to the Small City of Gjirokaster
If you don’t have the time to stay in Gjirokaster itself, you should go on a day trip from Sarande (an hour’s drive). This small UNESCO-listed city is known for its preserved Ottoman-era architecture, with cobblestone streets and stone houses that transport travelers to a bygone era. The city is also the birthplace of Ismail Kadare and his childhood home is a museum.
The Gjirokaster Castle is another must-visit as it’s perched on a hill, offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and provides a glimpse into Albania’s fascinating history. All in all, we found Gjirokaster to be a beautiful place to visit and were surprised by how good the cuisine was.
5. Try the Fresh Fish in Sarande
In Sarande, you can find plenty of restaurants serving fish caught straight from the waters of the Ionian Sea. One of the best options to enjoy delicious freshly caught fish is directly next to the fishing port. We can recommend Taverna Fish Land for their range of finger-licking seafood dishes.
6. Stay at the Family-Run Vila Xhani
Many of the accommodations in Albania are run by local families and in Sarande we had the most amazing experience with hosts who treated us like family. For us, this was the highlight of our visit to Sarande. Our hosts told us so much about the city and its rapid development into a tourism hotspot, constantly slipped us Albanian treats and even helped us when we had a small accident. It felt like a real home away from home.
We recommend choosing an accommodation that is run by a local family. This way, you not only support the Albanian people but also have the chance to learn more about the country. The place we booked was called Vila Xhani. It wasn’t a fancy holiday apartment by any means, yet the warmth and hospitality of the hosts made our stay unforgettable.
7. Watch the Sunset from a Monastery or Castle
All around Sarande are hills which present you with breathtaking views to soak up the sunset, if you are willing to make the climb. The most beautiful golden hour spots are the Monastery of the Forty Saint Martyrs – a ruined Eastern Orthodox monastery – and the hilltop castle of Kalaja e Lekuresit.
Tips for Your Visit to Sarande
- Jump on the Public Transport: Since we were visiting Sarande as part of a road trip, we arrived by car. The traffic in this city is wild, especially during high season, and the parking situation is even wilder. We would only suggest driving in the city if you are an experienced and confident driver. Remember that Sarande is well connected to other larger cities in Albania with buses, so for this reason a car isn’t necessarily required.
- Expect Lots of International and Domestic Visitors: Sarande is a very popular place in the summer months and there is a lot going on. Albanians like to come to Sarande to party and visit the beautiful beaches of the area. If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-track destination, Sarande is not it. For that we would recommend heading to the Vjosa River region.
- Adjust Your Budget Accordingly: Sarande is an expensive place to visit when compared to some other areas of Albania, but still it’s very cheap compared to other European beach destinations. If you know what to expect, and plan your budget accordingly, you will have a great time.
- Explore the Albanian Riviera and Corfu Island Afterwards: Sarande is the perfect starting point to discover the highlights of southern Albania or even take a trip to Corfu in Greece. This captivating Greek island is just 30 minutes away from Sarande by speedboat, believe it or not.