The Complete Guide To Gjirokastra
Gjirokastra is an ancient town, located about 55 kilometers from Saranda, making it a great option for a day trip. In this guide you can find everything you need to know before visiting Gjirokastra.
Gjirokastra (Gjirokastër in Albanian) is an austere and beautiful city located land inwards on a valley between between the Gjerë mountains and Drino. The city is overlooked by its 13th century castle, from where the town started to develop downhill. Gjirokastras old town is one of the three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Albania. Even though no traditional house is quite like another, many of them have a very distinctive local style. The nickname “City of Stone” comes from these houses covered with flat dressed stones on their roofs.
How To Get To Gjirokastra
From Saranda a direct bus (furgon) to Gjirokastra leaves every hour from 6am to 5pm and takes around 1.5 hours. The bus departs from the central bus stop next to the ruins of the synagogue and will cost you 300 lek. In Gjirokastra the bus can’t drive into the old town, so you will be dropped off at the foot of the hill going up to the old town. By foot it’s a long and very steep climb. For 30 lek you can also take a city bus from the Boulevard 18 Shatori to Sheshi Çerçiz Topulli in the old town.
If you don’t want to take a bus, you can also book a daily tour to Gjirokastra, or rent a car, which gives you the flexibility to make some more stops at nearby sights. Gjirokastra is also a great stop on the way between Saranda and Tirana.
What To See And Do In Gjirokastra
The castle is the second largest in the Balkans and has still been used as a garrison and prison until very recently. The citadel was probably built in the 8th-7th centuries BC (Iron Age) and later fortified in the 5th century BC. Further building and extension happened in the early Ottoman period. Much of what can be seen today is the work of further improvements and architecture under the reign of Ali Pasha in the 19th century.
From the hillside you reach the entrance via a steep cobbled road. Inside after about 50m you find the Bektashi Tomb to the right. To the left from the entrance there is a long artillery gallery with Italian and German pieces from WWII. There’s also an American spy plane on display, that was captured by the communists during the Cold War. The Clock Tower is one of Ali Pasha’s additions during the 19th century. Next to it is the Festival Stage built in the 1980s to host the Albanian National Folk Festival held every 4 years.
Inside you also find two museums. The Armaments Museum displays a collection of armory, photographs, artwork and the former prison. The Gjirokastra Museum shows an extensive overview of the city’s history from the prehistory to the very recent past.
Opening hours: daily 09.00-19.00 (Apr-Sep), 9.00-17.00 (Oct-Mar)
Entrance fee: 200 lek, additional fees for the Armaments Museum (200 lek), prison (200 lek) and Gjirokastra Museum (200 lek)
The Ethnographic Museum is located in the Palorto Quarter, the best preserved district in the old town, in a well restored Ottoman house. It was once the house of communist dictator Enver Hoxha. All four floors are open to the public with each room arranged with items in a way that it has been used in the past. You’ll find many interesting objects featuring traditional Gjirokastran life, like folk costumes, kitchenware and other cultural artifacts.
Opening hours: daily 08.00-12.00 and 16.00-19.00 (Apr-Sep) and 08.00-16.00 (Oct-Mar)
Entrance fee: 200 lek
Although small, the old bazaar (Pazari i Vjetër) still captures a bit of the old days Gjirokastrite life and is the social and commercial center of the old town. Surrounded by the old Ottoman houses you’ll find many souvenir shops. There’s also a mosque that survived the religious ban during communist times.
This 17th century mosque is also located at the Old Bazaar. Despite the destruction of other mosques by the communists, the Old Mosque was spared because of it’s status as a cultural monument
Historic Ottoman Houses
The beautiful 18th, 19th and early 20th century houses in Gjirokastra are based on Ottoman principles, but are quite unique and characterized by their defensively designed lower floors, with narrow entrances and small, highly placed windows. The traditional houses can be found throughout the old town and in particularly in the Partizani, Dunavat and Palorto districts. Many houses are unoccupied and can only be observed from the outside. Some have been converted into hotels and a few that have been restored are open to the public:
- Zekate House on Rruga Mazllëm Shazivari in Palorto is a fortified tower house and is the most visited one. It has been described as “the best surviving example of an Ottoman tower house in Gjirokastra”. Entrance fee: 200 lek
- Ismail Kadare House on Rruga Fato Berberi. Entrance fee: 200 lek
- Skënduli House on Sheshi Çerçiz Topulli. Entrance fee: 200 lek
- Fico House No entrance fee, but donations appreciated
- Babameto House which is now a hostel.
Unfortunately there is not much left of the 17th century Meçite Mosque that was destroyed during the communist ban on religion. What remains are the Seven Springs (7 Krojët) that were used by moslims to purify themselves before their prayer. The springs are still working and a bathhouse (hamam) has also remained.
During the Cold War an extensive labyrinth of tunnels with small offices was built under the castle. This to protect the communist “Executive Committees” and enable them to continue their administration in case of an air raid.
The entrance to the Cold War Tunnels is at Çerçiz Topulli Square where you can find a tourist information cabin where you can buy the tickets. From there you can take the stairs to the entrance.
Opening hours: daily in summer 08.00-20.00 and in winter 09.00-14.00 (Mon-Fri), 09.00-17.00 (Sat) and 09.00-15.00 (Sun).
The Obelisk is a monument located on the higest peak of the city and is named “Motherland ABC” (Mëmëdheu ABC). The monument is a symbol for education and represents the Albanian language. Under Ottoman rule, Albanians were not allowed to use their own language in schools.
Visiting the obelisk offers amazing views over the city, Gjirokastra Castle and the Drinos Valley.
The Saint Sotiri Church is an orthodox church that was built in 1784 on the slope of the hill where Gjirokastra Castle is located.
The Orthodox Cathedral of Gjirokastra was built in recent years, but has become a landmark building along the main road through the town.
Also called the Dunavat Bridge, the Ali Pasha Bridge is one of the few remaining parts of a large aquaduct system from the Ottoman times and used to supply Gjirokastra Castle with water from the mountains. The bridge is now a foot bridge and can be reached via a short hike from the town.
The Zalli Tekke is was built in 1780 and is one of the oldest Tekkes in Albania.
Tours To Gjirokastra
If you want to visit Gjirokastra from Saranda you can easily do so on a day trip with a tour. This way you don’t need to worry about bus times or directions and some tours even combine Gjirokastra with other sights, which is great when you are short for time and want to see a lot.
Where To Eat In Gjirokastra
- Mapo: Located on the corner of Toppuli Square and Rruga Gjin Zenebisi, this restaurant offers amazing traditional food. You can also order a platter with a variety of different dishes so you can get a taste of everything.
- Restaurant Gjoça: This is a tiny family run place with just a few tables. The husband and wife make you amazing traditional food.
- Kerculla Resort: The restaurant is worth the hike up the hill because the views from here are amazing. The food is also highly rated.
- Kodra: This restaurant is part of the hotel in the center of town and also has outdoor seating with great views, but without the need for a hike.
Hotels in Gjirokastra
Gjirokastra is surrounded by mountains and has some amazing spots to view the sunset. Combined with the amazing local cuisine this makes for an amazing evening. So why not stay the night? Search below or follow our recommendations below:
- Hotel Gjirokastra: Hotel Gjirokastra is located in the old town and the building is made of stones and wood. The rooms are also designed in Gjirokastrite style, but are equipped with modern facilities.
- Hotel Kodra: Hotel Kodra is a larger and famous hotel in Gjirokastra. It is centrally located in the middle of the town and has a bar and restaurant with a large outdoor seating area overlooking the town and Gjirokastra Castle. They also provide evening entertainment.
- Konaku Guest House: Konaku Guest House is located in one of the old stone houses in the old town. The rooms are modern equipped and the guesthouse has a nice bar and garden with a view.
- Kore Guest House: Kore Guest House is very centrally located with modern rooms. There is a sundeck terrace which has amazing views over the town and mountains.
Other Practical Info About Gjirokastra
There is two hospitals in Gjirokastra, the public hospital and the privat American Hospital, which are both located in the lower part of town. The police station is located there as well, on Bulevardi 18 Shtatori. For emergencies you can always call the following numbers:
General Emergencies – 112
Ambulance – 127
Fire – 128
Police – 129
You can also read more about staying safe in Albania on our Health & Safety page.
Banks And ATMs
There are several banks in Gjirokastra, which are all located on Bulevardi 18 Shtatori, but there are also ATMs around the town, including in the historic old town.
Shopping In Gjirokastra
The best place for shopping for souvenirs is the Old Bazaar where you can find lots of handcrafted items. There are also some small grocery stores in the old town, but the largest supermarkets are located near the main road SH4.
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