Girocaster (Gjirokastër in Albanian) is one of the oldest Albanian cities: built on a hill overlooking a lush valley between the Mali i Gjerë mountains and the Drinos river and its name in Greek means Silver Fortress.
The historic center of Gjirokastra, where Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Turkish and Albanian cultures meet, is included among the World Heritage Sites and, perhaps also for this reason, is one of the Albanian cities best equipped to welcome tourists who often they also choose it as a day trip from nearby Greece.
It was in the city that the dictator Enver Hoxha was born, who with his politics of terror and paranoia contributed to the isolation of Albania from the post-war period until the 90s and Gjirokastër bears the signs of this much more than other Albanian cities.
- What to see in Gjirokastra in one day
- Where sleeping in Gjirokaster
- Books to read to visit Gjirokastra
- Where to eat in Gjirokaster
- How to get to Gjirokaster
What to do in Gjirokastra
Gjirokastër is divided into two: the lower part of the city, new and residential, and the ancient village where you can get lost in the steep cobbled streets, among old houses with stone roofs, museums and the ruins of the now abandoned houses. One of the main activities to do in Gjirokastra is definitely walking – slowly – up and down the steep streets of the city.
If you don’t want to miss anything of this wonderful Albanian village you can also join guided tours of the city, alternatively below you will find some things to do in Gjirokastër.
Gjirokastra Castle and museums
The visit of the Old City can start from the Gjirokastra Castle , there you will still find an alleged American spy plane and an interesting Weapons Museum which with its propaganda images and prisons are a stop not to be missed to try to understand at least a little the Land of Eagles and its past. The museum was in fact inaugurated in 1971 and used during the Regime for propaganda purposes, wanting to show the Albanian people how the superpowers would never be able to conquer the country that resisted multiple invaders over the centuries.
Built in the 12th century, the Gjirokastra Castle owes its current form to the restructuring commissioned in 1490 by Sultan Bayezid. Inside it is possible to visit the defensive towers, the clock tower, the Church and the Cistern. It is also possible to visit the Prisons, used during the Communist Regime to jail opponents.
The Ottoman houses of Gjirokaster
After visiting the castle and its museums, stop and explore the city, the Qafa and Pazarit neighborhoods , the Ottoman houses with their doors full of promise and the small craft shops.
Not to be missed is the Skenduli House , an Ottoman residence from the 1700s located in the Pazari i Vjeter district (i.e. the Old Bazaar) and furnished as if the hosts could return at any moment, including kitchens, bedrooms and lounges to receive guests. Another very interesting house is Casa degli Zekati , built in the shape of a tower in the Palorto district, with its two external courtyards and the beautiful decorated hall. Other Ottoman houses in Gjirokastra are the Angonat house, the Kabilate house and the Babameto house, today transformed into an accommodation facility to preserve it from ruin.
The Ethnographic Museum of Gjirokastër and the Bazaar Mosque
Also in the Palorto district is the Ethnographic Museum of Gjirokastra : four floors of objects, clothing, tools rebuilt as if it were a historic house. The museum is located where the birthplace of the dictator Enver Hoxha stood, burned in 1966: the current building housing the museum was built on its ashes, built as a 19th century Albanian-Ottoman house.
You cannot fail to notice the minaret of the Bazaar Mosque which can be seen from all over the old city of Gjirokastra. The interior is absolutely bare but its external grandeur is worth a visit.
The bunker of Gjirokaster and the story of the dictator
At this point, head towards the pass part of the village to visit the Gjirokastra bunker . Here, with a guided tour, it is possible to enter the vast structure of tunnels and rooms desired by the Dictator fully understanding his obsession.
Where sleeping in Gjirokastra
If you decide to stay in the city for at least one night, try to find accommodation in the historic center of Gjirokastër to enjoy the peace that reigns when the groups of tourists return home. There are several hotels in Gjirokastra that are fascinating because they are built in the old Ottoman houses. We stayed at the Hotel Argjiro which is located right in the center, convenient for visiting the city and with a private parking. The large rooms are equipped with wifi and air conditioning, cleanliness is impeccable, the staff speaks English and the breakfast is abundant with both Albanian and international products. All information can be found by following the link, including prices and availability.
Books to read to visit Gjirokastër
Normally we always recommend a good guide to Albania but in this case the visit of Gjirokastër deserves something more. We therefore recommend two other books, the first is written by the most famous Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare, also a native of this city as the Dictator and is set in Gjirokaster. It’s called ” One too many dinner invitation ” is a novel but it must be read to understand this city. The second instead tells the story of the brave Albanian people, who lived terrible days in Gjirokastra and is called History of Albania and the Albanians .
Where to eat in Gjirokaster
Gjirokastra’s cuisine is influenced by Greek and eating in the city is sure to be an interesting experience. Try the Kujtimi restaurant : well reviewed (and with good reason) where you can taste traditional food at great prices. An alternative is the Rrapi Restaurant also with local cuisine and also frequented by local customers of Gjirokastër.
How to get to Gjirokastër or Gjirokastër
Reaching Girocastro is easy as the coast of Saranda is just over an hour away by car and there are also direct buses leaving from Tirana. The roads are winding and slow, however, so allow for more time than actual kilometers. If you decide to get to Gjirokaster from Saranda make a stop on the way to Syri i Kalter , the Blue Eye of Albania.