Monstrous mountains? Check. Ancient castles? Check. Cute Insta-worthy alleyways? Hellz yeah. The small village of Berat packs a punch for its small size. I fell in love with Berat immediately, and it’s really no surprise why it is one of Albania’s top destinations. At first, I wasn’t entirely sold on it just based on seeing the pictures and quick Google searches. But truthfully, I didn’t really know what else to do in Albania at the time. I decided to head over for at least a night. Within a minute of checking into my hostel, I extended my stay immediately.
Is Berat Worth Visiting?
Absolutely. I actually considered skipping Berat as soon as I found out that the Albanian Alps existed, but I’m glad I didn’t. As eager as I was to get back to the mountain life, I knew they’d still be there in a couple of days. Berat was way cooler than I expected. Looking up pictures on Google simply does not do this place justice. Berat is much more than just “the city of a thousand windows“. The region is filled with stunning natural scenery and great hiking. The quiet village of Old Berat is a perfect home base to explore what the area has to offer.
How To Get To Berat
Berat was kind of annoying to get to as it required three different forms of transportation, at least for me. It’s a bit more straightforward depending on where you’re coming from. Since I was traveling south to north, it was a bit harder to find a bigger city that made connections to Berat.
Getting to Berat From the South of Albania (Sarande, Gjirokaster, etc.)
I came from Gjirokaster, and it required three different forms of transportation. First, we had to catch a bus to Tirana, but then get off at Lushnje. At the intersection of Lushnje, we had to wait for a bus that was going to Berat. We tried hitchhiking, but then a bus came shortly afterwards anyway. Once we got to Berat’s bus terminal, we had to hop on their local bus to take us to the old village. It was the slowest bus ever and I swear we could’ve walked faster. It may not be the most straightforward journey, but it was relatively easy.
Getting to Berat From Tirana and the North
From Tirana, buses to Berat are very frequent. You should have no issue getting to Berat from Albania’s bustling capital city. Although you’ll find bus schedules online, I reckon just show up to Tirana’s “bus terminal” and look for a bus to Berat. They never leave on time, and operate pretty much based on demand instead of an actual timetable. That’s honestly the type of travel I’ve grown used to after traveling in Latin America for so long, so it worked better for me. I much prefer just showing up and hoping for the best. In Albania, it almost always worked out.
Where To Stay in Berat
I won’t beat around the bush here. There’s really only one place you should stay in Berat and that’s Berat Backpackers.
One of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at was in Berat. A few friends and I decided to snag one of the private rooms at Berat Backpackers and it was incredible value for the 12 euros each that we paid. The location was perfect, nestled on a hill in Old Berat. The view from our room was absolutely breathtaking, giving us an unobstructed view of Berat Castle and all of Old Town. Breakfast was included, and it wasn’t one of those crappy hostel breakfasts where they give you a slice of bread and some cucumber and tomato slices. At Berat Backpackers, you could treat yourself to all the byrek and Greek salad that your heart desired. On our last day, they even sent us off with a tupperware container of food from breakfast to take for the road.
Like in Gjirokaster, the owner of the hostel also really made our time in Berat special. A hostel just has a different vibe when the owner is present and doing everything they can to make sure travelers are having a good time. Just like the road trip we took with Wouter from Stone City Hostel in Gjirokaster, Miri from Berat Backpackers also took us for a little cruise around Berat’s most beautiful attractions, which I’ll cover later. We capped it off with sunset beers at his rooftop bar with a stunning panoramic view.
The Best Things to Do in Berat
Despite being a smaller town, Berat has a surprising variety of activities. Whatever you’re into, you’ll find something in Berat that suits you. Whether you’re more into history and culture, or an adventurous thrill-seeker, Berat is the destination for you.
Albania was filled with more natural beauty than I ever imagined. To go along with the turquoise Mediterranean waters and its majestic Albanian Alps, it also has Osumi Canyon. A little over an hour’s drive outside of Berat, you’ll find a turquoise river winding its way between towering canyons on both sides. While I’ve seen my fair share of canyons, my experience at Osumi was very memorable, and very Albanian. It was the first time that I’ve been glad I got travel insurance before going on a trip, but hey I came out of it alive and that’s all that matters!
Aside from hiking, swimming, and just floating your way down the river, you can also go on a rafting trip. When the water levels are high, there are few better things you can do while you’re in Albania. We came at the wrong time it seems, as the water levels were low and the color was muddy due to recent rains. The waterfalls that sometimes flow from the canyons also were nonexistent. Regardless, it was a good time, and I recommend it to anyone in the area. It’s one of Albania’s top natural wonders.
You’d think I’d be over castles by now, but Berat Castle was one of my favorites in the Balkans. This castle dates back to nearly 2,500 years ago, making it one of the oldest in the entire Balkans. Some of the earliest records of this castle were when it was invaded by the Roman Empire back in 200 BC. Now that’s old. There are two ways to get to Berat Castle. One involves a steep hillside hike, which is how I did it, of course. You can also drive up or take a taxi to the entrance.
There’s a small entrance fee to enter the castle, but it’s super worth it. Aside from the castle, there’s like an actual town within the castle walls. You’ll find restaurants, shops, bars, and old houses with local people still living in them. It’s one of the coolest things you can see in Albania. The panoramic views are absolutely stunning. Just walk along the castle walls and you’ll get a different vantage point. On one side, you’ve got towering peaks and a view of New Berat. Keep walking along, and you’ll catch a view of the vast Osumi river and Old Berat. Then on another side you’ve got the lush rolling hills and endless farmlands. Pick your poison. For sunset, there’s no place quite like it.
Who needs coffee when you can dive right into these waterfalls? These waterfalls pack a punch. After a month of wading in the warm Mediterranean seas, jumping into these ice cold waterfalls was a shock, to say the least. We came here on a little road trip with Miri and Berat Backpackers. It’s about an hour’s drive outside of Berat, and a good stop over point on the way to Osumi Canyon.
Berat Old Town
While some of the best adventures lie outside of Berat, it’s very possible to enjoy Berat without ever leaving the city. It’s one of the most picturesque villages I’ve ever been to. Having an aimless wander through the historic streets can fill your entire day up. You’ve got quite a bit to see and explore, from churches, mosques, museums, and an abundance of old houses to admire or snap photos of.
Museums in Berat
With Berat being as historic of a town as it is, you’ll find plenty in the way of museums and living history. The city itself is as historic as it gets. The Old Town of Berat is one of the best examples of Ottoman architecture. It’s easily one of the coolest looking villages I’ve ever been to. The most popular museum in Berat is the National Ethnographic Museum. I didn’t go, but if you have an hour or two to fill, I’ve heard it’s worth a visit.
Hiking in Berat
Although most of the best hikes lie outside of Berat city, there are some hikes in the area that you can do. One of the best hikes is the trail to Berat Castle, obviously. Across the river from Berat Castle is the other part of Old Town, also nestled on a hill. That’s where I stayed, in Berat Backpackers Hostel. From there, there’s a hike that you can do that goes up the hill opposite of Berat Castle, which will give you a stunning view of Berat and its surrounding landscapes, like the mountains, river, endless fields, and cute villages. If you’re staying at Berat Backpackers, they have a map of the trail and can lead you in the right direction.
Winery Tour in Berat
Another tour offered by Berat Backpackers was a winery tour. We unfortunately only had one full free day, which we dedicated to Osumi Canyon and Bogove Waterfalls. I’m not too sure exactly how good Albanian wine is, but there are definitely some wine aficionados who could hop on this tour and tell you about it better than I ever could. All I know is that once I got to the north where the Italian influence was stronger, I stuck to Italian wine.
Food and Nightlife in Berat
I didn’t love the food in Albania at first, but it did eventually grow me. As a vegetarian in a country with a pretty meat-heavy cuisine, I found it difficult at first. However, Gjirokaster and Berat had some great restaurants with veggie options. Having only spent a couple of days in Berat, I don’t have too many places I can recommend, but I’ll give it a go anyway.
Homemade Food Lili is an experience that you can’t miss out on. 360 Terrace Lounge, ran by the same owner of Berat Backpackers and Maya Hostel, was an amazing vibe for sunset drinks with epic views. If you’re looking for something cheap in a lively location, check out Bar Te Albani. The whole strip of restaurants and bars along the river is great if you just want to scout some dining and nightlife options firsthand. We also ate at the village of Corovoda outside of Berat during one of our day trips. I have no idea what the restaurant itself was called, but there were some great local options there. The fresh tap water straight from the mountains and the raki is meant to be the best in all of Albania.
Berat is a gem of the Balkans, and a highlight of any Albanian travel itinerary. I’d recommend spending at least two days here. Take one day to soak in the history and sights of the Old Town and the castle. Use the other to explore the natural beauty. A day trip to Osumi Canyon and Bogove Waterfalls will take up most of your day, but still have you back in time for a sunset adventure. Whether that sunset adventure is a hike up to a stunning viewpoint or sunset beers from a rooftop bar is all up to you.
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