Best Things to Do in Shkodër, Albania

Located on the stunning shores of the largest lake in the Balkans and nestled at the foot of the Albanian Alps, Shkodër is one of the most beautifully situated cities in Albania. While Shkodër may not be known as the most sight-filled city in Albania, it certainly offers plenty to do. From the famous Rozafa Castle to the bustling pedestrian Kole Idromeno Street, and from the historic Mesi Bridge to the ancient Lead Mosque, there’s a wealth of attractions to explore.

We’ve gathered the most interesting sights in Shkodër for you. Read on in this blog about the exciting things you can do here before heading straight to the breathtaking Albanian Alps. You might even want to add an extra day to your itinerary to fully experience Shkodër.

Rozafa Castle Shkoder

Where is Shkodër located in Albania?

Shkodër is in the northwest of Albania, near the Montenegro border. The city rests along the shores of Lake Shkodër, the largest lake in the Balkans, shared with Montenegro. Shkodër is also surrounded by the rivers Drin, Buna, and Kir, making it historically a key strategic location. Additionally, it lies at the base of the Albanian Alps, offering stunning mountain scenery.

Shkodër is easily accessible from the capital, Tirana, about 100 kilometers to the south. The travel time by bus or car is approximately one and a half hours, though traffic can be unpredictable.

Rozafa Castle Shkoder

Why Shkodër is Worth Visiting

Shkodër might not be as filled with tourist sites as other Albanian cities like Berat or Gjirokastër, but it has its own charm, especially if you enjoy a laid-back backpacker vibe. It’s often used as a starting point for visits to the impressive Rozafa Castle, Lake Shkodër, and the Albanian Alps.

Shkodër is known as a backpacker’s haven and the ‘City of Bicycles’. It has a relaxed atmosphere with plenty of hostels ranging from lively party places to quieter ones offering private rooms. The city also has a unique biking culture with 1 out of 3 locals using their bike for everyday needs. The pedestrian zone Rruga Kole Idromeno, at the city center’s heart, is lined with trendy cafes and shops and offers a lively Western vibe.

A key attraction in Shkodër is Rozafa Castle, perched on a hill on the city’s south side. The castle is a must-visit for its breathtaking panoramic views of the city and beyond, including Lake Shkodër. Shkodër also gives its name to Lake Shkodër, easily accessible from the city. However, for a more dramatic view of the lake, visiting from Montenegro is recommended, where it’s known as Skadar Lake.

For those who love nature and hiking, Shkodër is the gateway to the Albanian Alps, an incredibly beautiful mountain range perfect for trekking and exploring the rugged landscapes of northern Albania. Organized tours and transport options are available from Shkodër to the Albanian Alps, including the popular hiking trail between Valbona and Theth and the boat trip across Koman Lake.

Rozafa Castle Shkoder

Where to Stay in Shkodër

Looking for a great place to stay in Shkodër? The Albanian town is celebrated for its laid-back backpacker vibe, offering a wide range of accommodations from lively hostels to tranquil retreats with private rooms. If hostels aren’t your thing, don’t worry—Shkodër also boasts many delightful hotels. We uncovered several gems during our research trip that we’re eager to share.

The top hotels in Shkodër:

#1 Çoçja Boutique Hotel is nestled in a pastel blue building with a chic interior. This hotel earns rave reviews for its spacious and stylish rooms, prime location, welcoming atmosphere, and delicious à la carte breakfast.

#2 Hotel Loredano is positioned right in the heart of Shkodër. This hotel features stylish rooms, a luxurious breakfast, friendly staff, and its own restaurant and bar. The dining room, in particular, is stunning—an ideal spot to kick off your morning!

#3 The Red Bricks Hotel, a favorite among visitors, offers extremely spacious rooms with a contemporary design. Guests are greeted with complimentary water and fresh fruit in the fridge, a thoughtful touch that stands out. Reviews often highlight the friendly staff.

The top hostels in Shkodër:

#6 The Wanderers Hostel is extremely popular in Shkodër. This hostel truly captures the city’s backpacker spirit. It offers a variety of social activities, a beautifully decorated courtyard, and staff that are always ready to help with travel tips and organizing activities, hikes, or transfers.

#7 Mi Casa es Tu Casa – Shkodra Backpackers Hostel is loved for its friendly, home-like, and social atmosphere. This hostel provides bicycles for rent, allowing guests to easily explore Shkodër. Its garden, complete with benches and a hammock, is the perfect place to relax after a day of adventure.

Rozafa Castle Shkoder

Shkodër Tourist Map

The Top Things to Do in Shkodër

#1 Rozafa Castle

Rozafa Castle stands majestically on a strategic hill, 130 meters high, on the southern edge of Shkodër. It is a vital cultural and historical site in Albania, but for visitors, the panoramic views are just as important. From the top of the castle hill, you can enjoy a breathtaking view over the confluence of the Buna and Drin rivers and the city of Shkodër itself.

Originally an Illyrian fortification, the site is now a castle ruin with remnants from the Venetian era. The complex includes the ruins of a 13th-century Venetian cathedral, which was later transformed into the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Mosque after the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century. Rozafa Castle has been a significant site in the battles and sieges of Albania for centuries.

The legend of Rozafa is perhaps the most intriguing part of the castle. According to the tale, a woman named Rozafa was walled alive into the castle’s walls to ensure its stability. When the castle walls kept collapsing during construction, a wise man advised the three brothers building the castle that the woman bringing food the next day should be walled in. Two of the brothers warned their wives, but the third did not warn his wife Rozafa and she showed up the next day with their food. Rozafa agreed to this sacrifice on the condition that spaces be left open for her eye, hand, foot, and breast so she could continue to care for her young son. A statue of Rozafa stands at the castle’s entrance.

Rozafa Castle Shkoder

#2 Lake Shkodër

Lake Shkodër—known locally as Liqeni i Shkodrës and as Lake Skadar in Montenegro—is one of the most scenic sights in Albania. As the largest lake in the Balkans, it is among the region’s most spectacular landscapes.

The lake is a vast, beautiful water area that attracts many unique birds. It is celebrated for its rich biodiversity and serves as a crucial breeding ground for about 270 bird species, nearly 80% of all bird species in Albania. Among these, the rare Dalmatian pelican can be spotted.

About one-third of the lake is in Albania, but the largest and most stunning part is in neighboring Montenegro. On the Albanian side, the lake offers pebble beaches and excellent restaurants near Shiroka, close to Shkodër. Here, you can also enjoy boat tours, kayaking, and bird watching. In Montenegro, it forms part of a national park, offering boat tours to explore its beauty further.

Lake Skadar Montenegro

#3 Kole Idromeno Street

Kole Idromeno Street is the lively pedestrian heart of Shkodër. This main street has the highest concentration of restaurants and other amenities in the city. You can also admire Shkodër’s most beautiful buildings here, many of which date back to Ottoman times or reflect Italian influences from Venetian rule.

The pedestrian promenade is named after the famous Albanian painter and architect Kole Idromeno. Take a stroll along the colorful facades of historic buildings and discover a variety of cozy cafes, traditional restaurants, and boutiques offering local art and crafts.

#4 The Lead Mosque

The Lead Mosque, officially known as the Buşatlı Mehmet Pasha Mosque, is located near Rozafa Castle. Built in 1773, this mosque is an outstanding example of Ottoman architecture, characterized by its numerous domed roofs clad in lead, hence its name.

The mosque has undergone several restorations over the years, including after the theft of its lead cladding during the Austrian occupation in 1916 and a lightning strike in 1967 that destroyed the minaret.

During the atheistic campaign of the communist regime under dictator Enver Hoxha, the mosque was closed. Fortunately, the Lead Mosque survived the widespread destruction of religious buildings during this period. After the fall of communism, it reopened in 1990 as the first mosque in Albania to do so. It underwent another restoration in 2021.

Lead Mosque Shkoder

#5 Museums of Shköder

The Historical Museum of Shkodër is a standout, exploring the region’s history from prehistoric times to the present day. It provides a comprehensive look at the pivotal events and figures that have shaped Shkodër, showcased through a wide array of artifacts and exhibits.

Another cultural highlight is the Marubi National Museum of Photography. This museum houses an impressive collection of over 150,000 photographic images dating back to the 19th century, offering visitors a unique glimpse into Albania’s visual history through the lenses of several generations of photographers.

The Venice Art Mask Factory is another unique spot worth visiting. This workshop specializes in Venetian masks, where visitors can observe the detailed craftsmanship involved in mask-making and purchase a handmade mask as a distinctive souvenir.

#6 The Ebu Bekr Mosque

The Ebu Bekr Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque or the New Fushë Çela Mosque, is a striking landmark in Shkodër. Constructed between 1994 and 1995 on the site of the old Fushë Çela Mosque, which was destroyed during the communist era, this mosque was funded by a Saudi entrepreneur and named after Abu Bakr, the first caliph of the Rashidun.

Designed by ARC Architectural Consultants, the mosque occupies an area of 622.72 m² and can accommodate 1300 worshippers. Its towering minaret, over 40 meters high, and a 24-meter dome ensure the mosque’s dominant presence in the city’s skyline.

Shkoder Ebu Bekr Mosque

#7 The Historic Mesi Bridge

The Mesi Bridge, found in the quaint village of Mes just north of Shkodër, stands as one of the country’s longest and best-preserved Ottoman arch bridges.

Built around 1770 by the local Pasha Kara Mahmud Bushati, this historic bridge forms a link between Shkodër and the northern village of Drisht. Locally known as Ura e Mesit, which means “The Bridge in the Middle,” it crosses the Kir River. This bridge showcases an impressive display of Ottoman engineering with its 13 arches, stretching a length of 108 meters and reaching a height of 12.5 meters.

Originally constructed to improve the trade routes that connected Shkodër with Kosovo and other regions, the bridge today has lost its functional role but remains a significant piece of historical heritage. It has become an interesting site for visitors, offering a glimpse into the architectural skills of the past. Adjacent to it, a modern bridge has been built to accommodate today’s traffic. From this new structure, visitors have a perfect view of the old bridge, allowing them to appreciate its historical importance and architectural grandeur fully.

Mesi Bridge Shkoder

#8 Site of Witness and Memory

In the heart of Shkodër, the Site of Witness and Memory stands as a museum dedicated to the victims of Albania’s former communist regime. The museum is housed in a building that once served as the headquarters for the Ministry of Interior during the communist era, a place of brutal interrogations and imprisonments.

The exhibits include original cells, interrogation rooms, photos of victims, personal stories from survivors, and artifacts used by prisoners. This museum offers a deep dive into a somber chapter of Albanian history and provides context for understanding modern Albania.

#9 The Statue of Mother Theresa

In the center of Shkodër, close to the Ebu Bekr Mosque and along the pedestrian-friendly Kole Idromeno Street, stands the statue of Mother Teresa. While simple in design, the monument’s connection to Albania is profound.

The statue is not only a tribute to her humanitarian work but also a symbol of national pride for many Albanians who regard Mother Teresa as one of their most notable figures due to her Albanian ethnic background. Born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910 in Skopje, then part of the Ottoman Empire and now North Macedonia, her family was of Albanian descent from the Kosovo Albanian community.

Though she spent much of her life and work in India, the recognition of her Albanian roots is deeply entrenched in Albania’s national identity. Mother Teresa herself always remembered her Albanian heritage, famously describing herself as “Albanian by blood”. As such, statues of this revered figure can be found throughout predominantly Muslim Albania.

#10 Multi-Day Trip to the Albanian Alps

Finally, we highly recommend planning a four or five-day trip to the stunning Albanian Alps from Shkodër. The Albanian Alps are Albania’s most breathtaking mountain area and were a highlight of our trip, showcasing incredible natural beauty. The best-known way to explore the mountains is the Theth-Valbona hike, a 17-kilometer trail, with Shkodër serving as the ideal starting point.

Begin your adventure with a shuttle to the picturesque village of Theth, where you can spend several days exploring local attractions like the kullë (a traditional tower used for protection from blood feuds), the Instagram-famous Church of Theth, and the Grunas Waterfall. You can also hike to the Blue Eye spring.

Then, embark on the challenging hike to Valbona, known for its breathtaking views and rugged terrain. Often described as one of Europe’s most beautiful day hikes, this trek offers unforgettable panoramas.

Finish your journey with a day of relaxation in Valbona before returning to Shkodër via the spectacular boat ride on Koman Lake, completing a remarkable exploration of Albania’s natural wonders.

Valbone Valley National Park Albania