Albanian Italia

Street food in Tirana isn’t the greatest joy of this city, with borek and not much else at every corner shop. Tirana, however, displays plenty of influence from its Italianate history, and as a consequence there’s some amazing gourmet food to be eaten. Primarily, try Salt Rest, in the trendy Blloku district: it serves highbrow Italian dishes at comfortably low prices. Around the corner from Salt, Cioccolatiitaliani is decadent and high-brow, with an ambience of Central Europe’s glitziest post-millennial hangouts. For all things chocolatey, it’s the place to be.

The House of Leaves

The House of Leaves, located around the corner from Skenderbeg Square, is an essential experience for understanding the cult of former Albania under Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship, a country practically closed to the outside world during the Cold War years. It was the house of the Albanian secret police, and exhibits photography, surveillance equipment and retro propaganda videos amongst much more. Much of the material, thankfully, is also translated into English.

Stick with the Lek

Albania’s currency, the lek, can only in principle be acquired and exchanged within Albania. The euro is widely accepted, and sometimes actively, pushily preferred – but exchange rates are often not favourable. To avoid being squeezed into inflated prices, always ask to pay in lek – even at places which, for tourism purposes, only quote prices in Euro. Doing the maths into lek is a headache, but will save you some money in the long-run.

Bunker Browsing

The other experience essential to grasping recent Albanian history is also a sensory one: the Bunk’Art museums are, as you’d expect, housed quite some metres underground. It’s cold down there, but also expect long tunnels of atmospheric post-WW2 history; it’s also a far more modernised museum experience than others in the city. There are two Bunk’Art museums, but the Skenderbeg Square site, known as Bunk’Art 2, is definitely the most accessible.

Radios and Rakija

Komiteti ought to be recognised as one of the most iconic cafes in the world (although you might have to traverse a few poorly-lit side streets to get there). It’s an idiosyncratic and retro hangout, which both doubles as museum for communist memorabilia and as a treasure mine for rakija enthusiasts. Its huge range of this ubiquitous spirit is sure to leave you with a burning mouth, served up in the cozy ambience of a 1970s Albanian drawing-room.