Albania is certainly not high on the list of many travellers in Europe – like the whole of the Balkans.
And completely wrong, in my opinion. In this region, there are still many hidden gems to discover, exciting cities and sights off the beaten tourist track.
One of these cities is Berat, which you shouldn’t miss while travelling in the Balkans.
You can find a suggested route for an amazing Balkan road trip with all the highlights on JOURNICATION.
You have never heard of Berat? To be honest, I actually didn’t have one before the road trip through Albania. Then it is high time to get to know the city better.
After all, the old town has been adorned with the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. But what exactly is it that makes Berat so special?
Berat is a medium-sized city with around 65,000 inhabitants and is located in central Albania.
How to get to Berat?
You can especially reach the city by bus from Tirana (approx. 2-3 hours) or Gjirokaster (approx. 3 hours), both of which are also popular tourist destinations in Albania.
Don’t be alarmed: the bus station is a bit outside the historic city centre. From there, you can simply continue your journey with a local bus.
The journey takes only 10 minutes. A good place to get off is at the intersection of the pedestrian boulevard.
If you are planning to travel down the coast of Albania and heading to Sarande for a beach holiday
Depending on how long the bus ride was, you will also find many opportunities to have a small meal and enjoy the cheap, delicious food in Albania.
Berat is best known for its “Thousand Windows” in the historic Mangalem district. In this part on the eastern side of the river Ishull in the past, mainly the Muslim part of the population lived.
The opposite is the Gorica district with the originally mostly Christian population.
You can easily explore the historical centre of Berat on foot. It is therefore advisable to book accommodation here as well.
Whether in Mangalem or Gorica it doesn’t make a big difference, Mangalem is a bit easier to reach by public buses. There is certainly enough choice, from simple Albanian guest houses with their friendly landlords to large holiday apartments and comfortable hotels.
Top Things To See In Berat.
Start your circular route by crossing the Ishull River over the pedestrian bridge near the city centre over to Gorica.
Here you can stroll through the old streets for as long as you like or enjoy the view of Mangalem with its thousand windows in daylight. It is also advisable to secure a good table for dinner at this time.
The places with a view of the thousand windows, which are lit up in the evening, are very popular. The many terraces are recommended for warm summer temperatures.
From Gorica, you also have a very good view of Berat Castle (Kalaja e Beratit) on the steep cliff opposite – and St. Michael’s Church, located on a cliff and only accessible via a narrow path, not necessarily a destination for everyone.
Cross the old stone bridge of Gorica (Ura e Goricës) on the other side of the river back towards the city centre.
Now take a look around Mangalem. Here you will find many restaurants, shops and also some craftsmen. If you are looking for souvenirs, you are sure to find it here. If you want to learn more about the history of the region and Ottoman way of life and culture, you can visit the Ethnographic Museum.
Under no circumstances should you miss the view from Berat Castle, which has towered over the Mangalem district for many centuries. The climb may seem a bit steep at first, but it is really worth it. You have three alternatives for the way up:
– Walk up the long driveway with a steady incline to the gate tower
– A shortcut through the slope to the left up to the walls, faster but steeper (you may save yourself the entrance to the castle here)
– Comfortably get up in a taxi or hitchhike
Some parts of the castle are crossed by residential houses that are still inhabited today. Thus, the castle is also an official district of Berat.
Walk along the wall to the lookout tower. From here you have a great view of Berat and especially Gorica, but also of the surrounding mountains, sometimes even covered by snow.
You can buy a little something to eat or drink from local traders here; nuts and fruits from the region are particularly popular.
A staircase takes you to the upper part of the castle. Unfortunately, only ruins are left of most of the historical buildings.
A special photo spot is the Church of the Holy Trinity, against the backdrop of the Albanian mountains. Only here does it become clear how big the castle of Berat actually is.
In the front part of the castle, there are some restaurants where you can take another breather before going back down to town.
Back in Mangalem, you can visit the magnificent mosques. These still shape the cityscape today. Inside, in particular, they hold true treasures with paintings and architecture. We recommend a visit to the lead mosque with its distinctive dome, the sultan’s mosque and the bachelor mosque.
Would you like a little evening stroll? A local peculiarity in Albania is the xhiro, which should not be missing in any daily routine: In the evening, the men mostly take a short walk, often without a specific destination. You stroll through the streets, start a conversation, then sit down for a drink.
After a long day and certainly a few kilometres run, you have earned yourself an extensive dinner in a typical Albanian restaurant. The restaurants in Gorica are particularly suitable here, from where you have a great view of the illuminated “thousand windows” – hopefully, you have been able to reserve a good table in the afternoon!
Local cheese specialities are particularly popular in Berat, along with local wine and, finally, a typical rakija of the region.
You see, the rather unknown Berat and the whole region in central Albania has a lot to offer and is definitely worth a visit – just like the Balkans in general.
Phil is a passionate world traveller with 99 countries visited so far on all continents.
Based on his longtime experience, on his new blog JOURNICATION where he gives valuable travel tips and inspiration for off the beaten track destinations.