Saranda is called the unofficial capital of the Albanian Riviera for many reasons. It’s the largest and most vibrant town in the south of Albania and has a port that makes it easy to reach from Corfu. Because of its strategic location and facilities, many visitors stay in Saranda as a hub to discover the Albanian Riviera. We have therefore created the ultimate bucket list of things to do when you’re staying in Saranda, so you don’t have to miss out on anything when planning your trip.
Discover The Town Of Saranda
Let’s start with the town of Saranda itself, which is built around a bay and up the hills, like the seats in a theater. Depending on where you’re staying or going, you might need to walk up some stairs or a steep road, but other than that, the entire town is not very big with most of the highlights at a walkable distance.
1. Saranda’s Boulevard & Beaches
Being a beach town, the beaches are obviously the first thing that catches the eye. In the center of the town there is a public beach, but on both sides are many smaller and beautiful private beaches that are also open to the public. A pedestrian promenade stretches along the entire public beach right in the center and is full of nice bars and restaurants.
2. Visit The Ancient Ruins In The Center Of Saranda
In the center of Saranda you can find the archaeological remains of a 5th century synagogue complex and basilica. The site is open 24/7 and there’s no admission fee.
3. Enjoy The Views From Lekursi Castle
Lekursi Castle is located on the hill just behind the town of Saranda and is very popular for its views and romantic sunset dinners.
4. Discover The Ruins & Legend Of The Monastery Of 40 Saints
The Monastery of the 40 Saints is located on another hill behind the town and offers an even better view. The monastery had 40 rooms in honor of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste. According to the legend they were killed because they refused to give up their religion. Next to the partly ruined monastery you can also find some bunkers and tunnels from the Cold War.
5. Visit The Museums In Saranda
Saranda has three tiny museums that are well worth a visit if you like to discover more about the history and culture of Saranda. The Museum of Archaeology preserves a mosaic floor, the Museum of Traditions has a collection of historical artefacts and photos and Galeria Art Saranda has a collection of paintings and sculptures by talented local artists. The three museums are conveniently located next to each other at the boulevard and can all be visited with the same ticket.
Other Nearby Things To See
The town of Saranda itself might be only relatively small, but there are plenty of things to see and do nearby. Getting out of town also gives you the opportunity to see more of the beautiful nature surrounding Saranda. If you don’t have your own transportation, we would recommend renting a car or motorbike, or booking a tour that visits these highlights.
6. Visit Saint George’s Monastery & Beach
The Saint George’s Monastery is located on the Hill of Dema, just south of Saranda, and offers stunning views over the Ionian Sea and Lake Butrint. Just down from the hill is Monastery Beach, one of the best beaches in the area.
7. Visit The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Butrint
Butrint was an important Greek and Roman city and the archaeological site is now the most visited UNESCO World Heritage site of Albania, so it’s definitely a must see when you’re in Saranda. Among the highlights are an amphitheater, a basilica and a castle which also hosts a museum.
8. Don’t Miss Out On Ali Pasha’s Castle
Often overlooked on the way to Butrint, but well worth a visit is Ali Pasha’s Castle. Since the castle is located on an island in the mouth of the Vivari Channel you need a boat to get there, but there are usually some boatsmen offering the trip at the entrance of the Butrint heritage site.
9. Take The Cable Ferry To The Venetian Triangular Castle
The Venetian Triangular Castle is located just outside the Butrint heritage site, on the other side of the Vivari Channel. A small cable ferry, which is a fun experience in itself, will bring you to the other side. If you bring your car across the water, you might as well drive a bit further to see more of the beautiful environment, including some mandarine plantations.
10. Visit The Natural Phenomenon Of The Blue Eye
The Blue Eye is a natural water spring of the Bistricë river, which ends up in the Ionian Sea in Saranda. The source is a beautiful natural phenomenon with little bubbles popping up to the surface from at least 50 meters deep. Be careful though when jumping in, as the spring water is only around 10 degrees Celsius, even in the summer!
11. Discover The Ancient Heritage Of Phoenice
In the Phoenice Archaeological Park you can visit the excavations of the ancient city of Phoenice, once the capital of the Greek tribe of the Chaonians. The site is located on a hill next to the current village of Finiq and offers some breathtaking views in all directions.
12. Visit The St. Nicholas Monastery Church in Mesopotam
Just outside the village of Mesopotam you can find the Saint Nicholas Monastery Church, an 11th century church which was built on the site of an earlier orthodox monastery complex.
13. Get Off The Beaten Path To Kostar’s Unique Cliff Monastery
The Monastery of Saint Mary in Kostar is defenitely off the beaten path: the 14th century church is built in a cave at the face of a steep cliff.
Make A Day Trip From Saranda
Some nearby sights can easily be combined into a daytrip, but it can also be nice to spend an entire day, or even longer somewhere. Simply because it’s a bit further away, or because theres so much to see there or on the way. So here are our suggestions for full day trips.
Gjirokastra is a beautiful ancient city about 55 kilometers from Saranda, so perfectly doable on a day trip, but you can easily spend more time here as well. The City of Stones, as Gjirokastra is nicknamed, is a UNESCO Wold Heritage Site with a distinctive style of old houses. Some of the houses have been renovated and opened their doors for visitors. Another highlight of the city is the impressive Gjirokastra Castle, which overlooks the city and beautiful Drino valley.
Delvina is often overlooked but this also makes it a less touristic hidden gem if you want to have a real Albanian village experience. The town has several sights including Delvina Castle and the King Mosque, and the nearby Gjin Aleksi Mosque in Rusan is also worth a visit.
16. Take A Boat Trip To The Beaches Of Kakome And Krorëza
If you have a stroll on Saranda’s boulevard you see many boats offering trips to some beautiful virgin beaches, including Kakome Beach and Krorëza Beach. Some of these beaches can only be reached by boat, so a boat trip is very much recommended.
Borsh is less than an hour drive from Saranda and the town has the longest beach in the south of Albania. The unspoiled area has lots of green and on the hill behind the town are the remains of Borsh Castle, which is absolutely worth visiting.
Qeparo is located just north of Borsh and can be divided up in two parts. The old town located up on the hill, which was once completely abandoned, is slowly starting to relive its old days. It’s well worth strolling around the old cobbled streets and if you hike down the old shepherd’s path you can also visit the ancient Settlement of Karos.
The new part of Qeparo is located down at the sea, with a nice beach and promenade with bars and restaurants.
20. Porto Palermo Castle
Porto Palermo Castle is located on a peninsula in the Porto Palermo Bay, betweeen Qeparo and Himara. Although a visit is best combined with other stops along the riviera coast, the castle deserves it’s own place on this list, as it’s a popular attraction in the region.
Himara is one of the larger towns in the Albanian Riviera and can be reached in about 70 minutes from Saranda. It’s a lively town with several beaches and many bars and restaurants. Similar to Qeparo, the new part of the town is also located at the beach, while the old part is a few kilometers up the hill. If you’re in Himara, you should definitely visit the old town where you can find Himara Castle and some amazing historic churches.
Vuno is a small and lesser-known village between Himara and Dhermi. The picturesque village with white houses is built on the slopes of a hill and has a few beautiful churches and some spectacular views.
Dhermi is also one of the larger towns in the Albanian Riviera and can be reached from Saranda in about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The town itself is built on the slopes of the hills and more and more of the old buildings are being restored in its original state. The town has several beautiful churches including the amazing Monastery of Saint Mary on the top of the hill. Down at the seaside are several popular beaches, some of which have become the decor of some yearly returning music festivals.
24. Drive All The Way Up The Llogara Pass
Right after Dhermi the coastal road towards Vlora goes off the coast and up into the ceraunian mountains, via the Llogara Pass. If you drive up the zigzagging road you have some spectacular views and you can make a stop at the panoramic viewpoint. If you’re lucky you can see some paragliders taking off from there, or maybe you have the nerves to get this off your bucket list yourself.
25. Take The Ferry To The Old Town of Corfu
Did you know you can see the Greek island of Corfu from Saranda? It’s so close, that a ferry can take you from Saranda to Corfu Port in Corfu Old Town in only 30 minutes. During the summer season there are even many daily departures, so you can easily visit Corfu’s beautiful Old Town on a same-day return.
Check out our full guide: How To Get From Corfu To Saranda By Ferry?
Enjoy Some Of The Best Beaches Nearby
Off course this list is not complete without mentioning the best beaches along the riviera coast.
26. Ksamil Beach & Islands
Ksamil is a resort town just 12 kilometers south of Saranda. Although it can get very busy here in summer, it does have some of the best sand beaches of Albania. Combine this with the amazing clear blue water and some small islands so close, that you can swim there, and we’re talking about a true paradise.
27. Pema e Thatë Beach
Pema e Thatë Beach is one of the southernmost beaches of Albania, located just after Ksamil in a nice green forestry area.
28. Pulëbardha Beach
Pulëbardha Beach is a narrow strip of beach between Saranda and Ksamil. It’s squeezed in between the rocky hills and the turquoise water and has a restaurant vith an amazing viewing deck.
29. Mirror Beach
Mirror Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the region and was named after the magical effect of the sun reflecting on the water like a mirror.
30. Gjipe Beach
Gjipe Beach is considered one of the best beaches of Albania for a reason: it’s completely secluded by the Gjipe Canyon and therefore unspoiled. It can only be reached by boat or via a hiking trail (unless you have a 4×4).
Off course there’s much more to a holiday than sightseeing so we’ve also listed some other activities to undertake during your stay in Saranda.
31. Have A Xhiro
Xhiro is Albanian for walk and depicts something you’ll see many of the locals do: they go for a stroll and socialize outside of the house, typically in the evening. Saranda’s boulevard is a great example where you see many people hang out and stretch their legs at night, although it can also get pretty crowded in the summer as many tourists get off the beach and start looking for food.
32. Have A Night Cruise On One Of The Enlightened Party Boats
In the summer evenings, some of the boats docked at the boulevard turn into floating bars. They turn on the party lights, pump up some music and serve drinks while they go out for a short cruise along the bay of Saranda.
33. Dance The Night Away On One Of The Beach Parties
Saranda definitely has the best nightlife of the Albanian Riviera so why not get your feet off the ground at one of the beach parties? For more recommendations, check out our Nightlife page and our post about the 7 Top Picks For A Great Night Out In Saranda.
34. Scuba Dive To Some Underwater Treasures
The area around Saranda has some interesting underwater treasures so if you’re into scuba diving, you should definitely consider making a dive to some of the shipwrecks at the bottom of the Ionian Sea.
35. Get Active With Some Water Sports
There’s lots of beach fun to be found in and around Saranda so you don’t have to get bored at the beach. You can rent a jet ski or peddle boat almost anywhere or go peddleboarding. Kids can challenge themselves at the Splash Water Park.
Finally, don’t forget to seize the day. It’s your holiday so enjoy it! We totally get it if you just want to relax and enjoy doing nothing at all so here are our recommendations for chilling out.
36. Enjoy Some Delicious Traditional Albanian Food
When you’re in Albania anyway, why not try some of the local food? We get it if you don’t know where to start so make sure to check our list of 26 Delicious Albanian Foods To Try.
37. Have Some Amazingly Fresh Seafood
Being located by the sea, Saranda has some of the freshest seafood you can imagine. So why not try the catch of the day? You will find a wide variety of fish and seafood anywhere, from guilthead, sea bream and octopus, to mussels farmed at the Butrint Lake.
38. Watch The Sunset
Saranda has many amazing places with a view and with a coastline facing to the west, you can actually see the sun setting into the sea.
39. Taste Some Local Wine With One Of The Best Views
Albania has one of the best climates for growing grapes, and besides making raki, there’s also a long tradition of wine making. So why not try some local wine while enjoying one of the best views at the same time? Make sure to check out Wine Bar Kristiano, which is also an amazing place to watch the sunset.
40. Enjoy A Cocktail At The Beach
Last but not least, don’t forget to chill out at the beach. Have a cocktail and enjoy!