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By Julia Van Peer
"Equivalent with unspoilt sandy beaches, trendy bars and delicious seafood restaurants right next to the water, and remote hills covered in citrus trees, Sarande and the Albanian Riviera in a whole make for a wonderful destination."

Haven’t you always wanted to visit beaches that match those in Hawaii or the Philippines, but lacked the time and money to travel such distances? Well then you’re in luck! Albania is dotted with beaches that are not only equally beautiful but much more affordable and, when visiting in the off-season, much less crowded. There are ample reasons to visit Albania’s rugged coastline, where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet. Everything north of Dhermi is part of the Adriatic coast, while everything south is known as the Albanian Riviera, touching the Ionian Sea. 


One seashore follows the other swiftly, ranging from desolate pebble shores to exotic white sandy beaches sprinkled with palm trees. They all have one thing in common: the beautiful azure blue waters compete with the cloudless sky to see who is the most dazzling. In fact, the water is so clear that you can distinguish the shadows of sea birds flying overhead on the bottom of the sea. It’s not just me who rates the Albanian Riviera highly: The area was named Top Value Destination of 2012 by Frommer.


A deserted beach in December.

The Albanian Riviera, also known as Bregu among locals, has a little bit for everyone. A beautiful coastline embraces ancient villages with a rich cultural history, embedded in remote bays. Filled with trendy bars and cosy restaurants, offering the tastiest seafood you’ve eaten, these small fishermen dwellings are very inviting. Coastal towns alternate with UNESCO World Heritage sites, remote nature, and some of the most incredible vistas you’ll ever behold. 


From peak to shore, the Albanian Riviera is unquestionably one of the greatest and most worthwhile destinations in the country. Whether you’re starting your Albania trip here, or you want to keep the best for last, it is worth it anyway! If blessed with enough time, I would recommend calculating several days per area. If not, I have listed some of the most incredible beaches below. In no particular order, here are some of the most beautiful places to visit. 



Keep in mind that to be able to see the most isolated beaches (and take your time everywhere) it is best to rent a car. On the plus side, the scenery driving up Albania’s coast is absolutely breathtaking. The views get better and better with every turn.


View from the van on one of the beaches in the Albanian Riviera. 


I know I just said ‘no particular order’, but if I had to choose the most beautiful place in the Albanian Riviera, it would be the exotic town of Ksamil. Situated halfway between Sarande and the border with Greece, Ksamil is an ideal place to base yourself for a couple of days when exploring the Riviera’s southern part. It’s far less touristy than Sarande, yet still very charming with its cute beach bars. Although officially the Albanian Riviera stretches from Dhërmi in the north to Sarande in the south, Ksamil is almost always mentioned as part of it. 


The ‘Ionian Pearl’ is surrounded by thick groves of olive trees and is home to both sandy and pebbly beaches. With some of the most turquoise waters in the world, Ksamil is popular among locals and tourists alike. The most famous, thus the most visited beach is unquestionably Spiaggia Di Ksamil, with its wonderful white sandy beach, perfectly transparent waters, and thatched umbrellas. If however, you walk a little bit further you’ll reach much more secluded spots, where you can enjoy a quiet time, including Monastery Beach and Plazhi i Pasqyrave.


The sky and the waters compete for who is the most blue.

Home to three idyllic islands, enclosed in the dazzling blue bay in front of the town, Ksamil makes for an enticing destination. The islets are within swimming distance, or can be reached by boat. And where Ksamil is less crowded than the rest of the Albanian coastline, the beaches of the three island are even less touristy. Once on the islands you have a perfectly clear view of Corfu, looming across the channel in the distance.


The town of Ksamil is not only authentic, charming, and rustic, it is also the perfect base for exploring nearby cultural and historical sights inland, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint. This way you can alternate your relaxing days with cultural sights. 


The sunsets in the Riviera are of the most beautiful I have come by on my travels so far.



The best pastries and coffees in town are to be found in Bakery & Pastry Memaj. The owner, Daisy will make you feel right at home with his far-reaching outlook on life. 

When looking for a camping to base yourself for a couple of days, Linda’s Ksamil Caravan Camping is the place to be. She is an incredible woman who fills your every need.


Equivalent with unspoilt sandy beaches, trendy bars and delicious seafood restaurants right next to the water, and remote hills covered in citrus trees, Sarande and the Albanian Riviera in a whole make for a wonderful destination. 


Both the ‘official’ southern border and ‘unofficial’ capital of the Albanian Riviera, Sarande is more popular with tourists than its neighbour Ksamil. Yet despite the Riviera’s recent transformation Sarande is one of the top beach destinations in Albania. With sandy beaches and aquamarine waters, rivalling those in Greece, there are a number of breathtaking spots along the coastline. And after a lazy day on the enchanting coastline, the bustling city offers a myriad of bars where you can enjoy a refreshing glass of wine. 


If you find yourself visiting Sarande in the warmer months, you will be yearning for a swim/dip in the water to cool down from the burning sun. Several beaches in and around the small town are perfect for the situation, including Saranda Beach and Mango Beach.


Where mountains touch the sea.



Just like Ksamil, Sarande is perfectly located to explore the surrounding landmarks. Butrint, about which I have listed some more information below, is only 18 kilometres away. While the Blue Eye, one of the most iconic sights in Albania, is about 20 kilometres away.


Catchwords of a true hiker’s paradise, the Riviera and its rugged coastline is home to several smaller and remote villages. Borsh, being one of the leastvisited areas, has barely been touched by tourism, despite being the largest unbroken coastline on the Ionian Sea. With its 7 kilometres of vast beaches, at times it feels like you are the only ones there.


Yet with both a fascinating culture, a rich history, and astonishing nature, it’s no wonder this hidden gem is gaining in popularity. In the last years Albania’s untouched paradise has been slowly transforming. But who’s to blame, with beaches golden as the sun, lapped by turquoise waters.


A significant olive-oil production, lush green mountains, and a dramatic coastal road characterise Borsch. Here the Ceraunian Mountains literally touch the sea. And seeing the beach is sprinkled with only a handful of makeshift bars, now is still a very good time to explore this untouched paradise.


Palm trees galore on the beaches.



Hills covered with olive trees line the shores of Dhërmi, and the Albanian Riviera in a whole. In fact, these trees are so important there was once a rule prohibiting to cut them down. Nowadays the Albanians are still very proud of their olive oil production. As a tourist you can do tastings in various places, mostly with local farmers.


It’s everything authentic, alluring, and eye-catching you seek. This little charmer of a coast is often overlooked by sightseers darting towards the better-known seasides. Himare however is peaceful and, in my eyes, even more beautiful than the favoured hustle and bustle of Sarande. With a white pebbly beach it’s not very alluring for tourists seeking the ultimate sandy coast and whose only goal is bronzing. In other words, if unspoilt is what you are looking for, Himare Beach is the utmost destination. 


The sunset here is gorgeous, as there are almost no beach bars blocking your view of the open sea. Occasionally a fishermen boat will pass, making the views even more spectacular. The hills touching the sea are overgrown with olive and citrus trees, and separate the coast from the hinterland. Apart from that, there’s nothing but the silence and the waves. 


A lonely fisherman's boat returning home after a day of work.



Once known as ‘Chimaira’, the town was founded by the Greek tribe of the Chaonians. This is the reason why you will still encounter many Greek influences in Himare. Various bars and restaurants present both an Albanian and a Greek menu (i.e. ‘To Steki’).


The stunning beach of Dhërmi is known as one of the best beaches in the whole of Albania, and with good reason. Clinging lovingly to the mountainside of the Ceraunian Mountains, Dhërmi has it all. With rolling lush green hills on one side, and azure blue water on the other, incredible vistas come into sight. This is the place where postcard pictures are made. 


Stretching for several kilometres, the stripe of white sand reveals smaller bays and coves. It is here during the peak months you can also find a place away from the swarm of tourists, while still enjoying all that an idyllic beach has to offer. During the day you have charming beach bars and restaurants where families look for refreshments, and at night these turn into the hottest clubs. It goes without saying that a location like this attracts both vacationing families and lively youth.


Located halfway between Vlora and Saranda, Dhërmi is a top destination amongst locals and tourists. While its gorgeous blue waters are perfect for snorkelling or taking a refreshing dip, the sandy beach invites you for taking a romantic evening walk side by side with the setting sun.


In December you won't encounter a lot of tourists along the shores of the Riviera. 



On a more alternative note, the English painter and illustrator Edward Lear put Dhërmi on the artistic map. He created a number of aquarelle tableaus of the stunning shores and neighbouring villages. They are now on display at Harvard University.


With an incredible canyon, crystal clear waters, and awing caves it’s no wonder that Gjipe Beach is the highlight of your vacation. Once the best kept secret in the Albanian Riviera, nowadays Gjipe is gaining in popularity. Although it is a pebbly beach, nothing compares to the peace and serenityyou’ll find here. And with such impressive surrounding nature you won’t have a lot of time to relax on the beach anyway. 


Gjipe Beach is special in that it is located in the middle of a canyon, formed by extraordinary ochre cliffs on both sides. These unique geographic formations, reaching 70 metres, are well worth exploring. The first 2 kilometres inland are fairly easy, after which the trail becomes more demanding with ropes helping you to conquer the steep boulders and rock faces. At the very top you will be treated to sweeping picturesque views. Note that the canyon can only be reached by hiking from the Monastery of St. Theodore.


The sleepy town of Gjipe is a well-established stop on the Albanian Riviera. Local tourists may know the secret spots, but most foreign tourists do not yet. If you choose not to rent a car, other possibilities of reaching Gjipe are by public transport, hitch hiking, or boat. 


Just sit, relax and let all of your worries flow away.



The shore is formed by a creek with on your right an extraordinary network of nooks and caves waiting to be explored. Be wary of the tides, as high tide can be very dangerous with thundering waves. Nonetheless at low tide the caves, carved in the rock face, can be reached by swimming or kayaking.


In addition to the many bays and beaches, there are also some other gems to be found along the coastline, including The Blue Eye, the village of Butrint, and Gjirokaster. All this is embedded in secluded canyons, incredible coves, and citrus and olive groves.

  • The Blue Eye (‘Syri I Kalter’) – A marvellous natural phenomenon. Imagine a deep blue water spring in the centre, with turquoise water surrounding it, creating the optical illusion of an eye. Once thought to have magical powers, the spring is still enchanting in that you can’t take your eyes off the sparkling lucent water. The site is easily accessible by rented car, or public transport, where you still have 2 kilometres to walk. Note: There is another Blue Eye in the north of the country, just off the most isolated town of Theth.

  • Butrint National Park – Home to fascinating ruins and ancient dwellings, the UNESCO World Heritage Site unravels stories from Greek and Roman times. The Venetian Castle will teach you about ancient civilisations and the everyday way of life. Besides the very impressive age-old site, you can notice other things in the area, including freshwater lakes, lush green plains, island, and more. Located a 30-minute drive from Sarande, it is reachable by car and public transport.

  • Gjirokaster – Another well preserved antique village, Gjirokaster was also added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. The Ottoman Old Town is a perfect destination for culture and history buffs, with charming cobblestone streets and alluring Ottoman designs. Situated in the valley between the Gjere Mountains and the Drino river, the village is set in a beautiful scenery. Either take your car up to the town, or catch a bus in Sarande.


A unique natural phenomenon.


As there is no international airport, the first important step is how to get to the Albanian Riviera. If you plan on starting your journey in Sarande or Ksamil, it’s far more straightforward to land in Corfu Airport, Greece. From here take the 30 minute boat ride to Sarande, possibly followed by a 30minute bus drive south (when starting in Ksamil). In total, the public transport will cost you no more than 20 euros. Depending on whether you want to explore other parts of the country, or stay solely in the Riviera, you can also fly to Tirana and drive south in 5 hours.


The next issue is how to get around in the Riviera itself. The only two viable options are renting a car (or driving around with your own car), or by public transport. The former will give you much more freedom and opportunities to discover the full beauty of this rugged coastline. Areas that are normally not easily accessible by public transport suddenly become much more reachable. You choose your own daily schedule and are not dependent on bus hours. On top of that public transport isn’t always the most reliable as strict timetables don’t really exist. Fortunately, renting a car in Albania is fairly inexpensive. Fortunately I have my own self-constructed van, but for those of you who don’t have their own transportation, this can be a very helpful website:


TIP: Almost all the dirt roads have been turned into asphalt, making it much easier to drive from one town to the other. I have never felt more safe on the Albanian roads.}


If you have travelled in the Balkans for a while, you’ll notice some distinct differences between the countries. Before I visited, I never could have foreseen that I would be so impressed by Albanian cuisine, however some of the best meals I ate on my Balkan trip were here. Few examples are burek (pastry filled with cheese, meat or spinach), ayran (salty yoghurt drink), mussels from Butrint, petulla (pastry with honey, cinnamon, feta, cream, or sugar), and many more! Unique for the Albanian Riviera is unquestionably the fresh seafood, available in every town along the coastline. Here are some of my favourite restaurants and bars: 


  • Ksamil: Guvat – Apart from a delicious fresh fish dish, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the sea and accompanying islands. They serve a delicious traditional Guvat salad that you must try.

  • Ksamil: Bakery & Pastry Memaj – For the best morning coffee and pastries this is the place to be. Located on the main street of town, you’ll have a chance to glance at early, well-packed vacationers on their way to the beach.

  • Himare: Maistro – Here you’ll get the best combination of delicious seafood and a view of the beautiful sunset ehind the cliffs.

  • Dhërmi: Harmonia – This cute little restaurant serves both international and traditional Balkan food. The service here is great, and if you have a chance ask for a table on the first floor from where the views are even better.

  • Sarande: La Petite – A small but very charming restaurant. Make sure you’ve had a taste of their mix grill.

  • Sarande: Mango – Although a little further from the centre, this is the most popular bar among outgoing tourists. If you are not here in summer, try Space Bar (‘Rei Bar’), the perfect bar to enjoy a few cocktails with some friends.


Various affordable accommodations are to be found in the Albanian Riviera. According to your own preference you can go a little bit more luxurious or when traveling on a budget there are some very charming campsites. Sites like, and make your search much easier. These are few of many options:


  • KsamilGuesthouse Meta – Mid-Range

  • KsamilPoseidon Hotel – Luxury 

  • HimareGeo & Art Boutique Hotel – Mid-range

  • HimareCastle Hotel Himare – Mid-range

  • DhërmiDrymades Resort – Mid-Range

  • Dhërmi: Elysium Hotel – Luxury

  • SarandeSun N Blue Hotel – Mid-range

  • SarandeBuze Boutique Hotel – Luxury


According to any magazine or article you will read, the months of July and August are the best months to visit the Albanian Riviera. This is unquestionably the hottest period of the year, with temperatures rising above 30 degrees Celsius. Fortunately all bars and restaurants are open and you can find refreshments around every corner. However, keep in mind that this is the time when a large part of Albania and surrounding countries are in search for cooling beaches, making it very crowded at times. It also follows that accommodation and restaurant prices will increase, yet are still very reasonable compared to other European destinations.


My personal favourite period is undoubtedly the months before and after the peak season. I don’t have to convince you that that a lot less tourists will be present, while the weather is still fantastic. Ideally you come in May, June or September, October. But even in December I still had the opportunity to take a dip in the ocean. 


An extra note is that in the popular destinations such as Sarande and Dhërmi crowds tend to come together en mass. Outside of these spots there’s likely to be fewer tourists around. 


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Hi there!

I'm Julia, a Belgian native who loves to travel and explore off the beaten places all over the world. Discover more on how to fill your travels with adventure, warmth, and colour. Learn more about me here.

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