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It was a clear and sunny Saturday morning last September. She was lounging on a picture-perfect beach in Halkidiki, Greece, looking out at the turquoise waters with an ouzo lemonade in hand… but wishing to be back in Albania instead.
Like many Americans, he had long harbored oh mom style fantasies of a young woman’s solo adventure around the pristine coast of Greece. While she didn’t expect throngs of extras pouring out of the windows singing ABBA songs, she did expect…much more than she got.
I was ready for hillsides teeming with cinematic white houses trimmed with blue shutters; by some of the best beaches in the world; for fresh seafood and moussaka; for a quiet getaway from his life.
Instead, I got an overhyped, overdeveloped, overcrowded, influencer-saturated disappointment.
Of course, the trip was not all bad. I met lovely people and learned a lot about Greek history and culture.
In the end, two weeks wandering around Greece culminated in shortening the trip. I found my sweaty self packed inside a ferry of equally red tourists leaving Skopelos with a ticket in my pocket that cost more than a luxury sea-view hotel room in Sarandë, marinated in serious regret that I hadn’t stayed. in Albania.
While I was tempted to blame it on my admittedly romantic expectations, that honestly wasn’t the real problem.
The problem was that Greece simply couldn’t follow Albania.
Here are five reasons why my trip to Albania was so much better than Greece:
The crystal clear waters of the Greek islands just didn’t live up to expectations when the price of a beach chair topped $100 and I couldn’t move two feet without bumping into another American tourist. Give me the Albanian Riviera on that any day.
What Albanian beaches lack in conspicuousness, they make up for in unspoilt beauty.
Of course, the peak summer season, from June to September, brings more locals and tourists to the beaches, but it would still be hard to feel really crowded.
Travelers who prefer an undeveloped beach haven will have no problem going astray here. While Greece has very few secrets left, Albania’s coastline remains a paradise park waiting to be explored.
The most popular beaches are:
- Durres – preferred for its easy 30-minute drive from Tirana and ferry access to Italy.
- The dirt – home to countless music festivals.
- Vlore – loved for its palm-fringed promenade and refreshing pebble beaches.
- Himare – ideal for backpackers, off-road adventurers, and families.
- Saranda – offers something for every type of traveler, up and coming with digital nomads, and serves as the ferry access point to Corfu.
- Ksamili – known for its white sand beaches and affordable luxury, ideal for romantic getaways or meeting friends.
Travelers wanting to venture further afield for pristine beaches and little company can head to some of my favorite hidden gems: Karpen, Llamani, Drimadhe, Buneci, Gjipe, Spille, and Borsh.
I’m not here to offend any Greek, but Albanian hospitality is second to none.
I have been offered free safe travel between cities, meals at grandmas houses, plastic bottles filled with homemade raki, places to stay overnight, tours of locals’ hometowns, and much more. I felt safe every minute of my 10 months in Albania, which I can’t exactly say about Greece.
Part of this is likely due to the exhaustion of the Greek locals from dealing with decades of overtourism and endless waves of (probably irritating) visitors. While I completely understand the sentiment, I didn’t feel as welcome here compared to Albania.
superior coffee culture
I had heard about everything brick, the traditional Ottoman-inspired Greek coffee, before setting off on my journey. Unfortunately, I found that I much prefer its cousins, Turkish and Bosnian coffee.
Anyway, most of the coffees offered on my trip to Greece were frappe style.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, but this is not a Starbucks-style frappuccino.
The frappe is made with instant coffee shaken in cold water (whose brilliant idea was that?) with ice, milk and lots of sugar. The grainy texture wasn’t exactly pleasing, and the low-quality instant coffee reminded me of college nights more than an idyllic vacation.
The only decent cup of coffee I enjoyed in Greece was from an Australian-run cafe in Thessaloniki, and there was nothing Greek about it.
On the other hand, the Albanian coffee culture was perfect for me. I never had a bad cup of coffee in my 10 months in this Balkan country, from the third wave coffee shops of Tirana to the tiny roadside cafes of the Albanian riviera.
You can get solid quality espresso literally anywhere in this country. It’s like some kind of coffee magic spell has been cast inside the borders of Albania, I swear.
No matter how quickly you can finish your black magic, we encourage you to do what the locals do: spend a few hours enjoying life or connecting with friends over a small cup of espresso.
more affordable luxury
Remember mamma mia’s The song “Money Money Money”? I found myself humming as I walked the sun-bleached Greek cobbles after dropping more on a simple meal than I spent on an entire weekend on the Albanian coast.
A simple coffee and pastry in the Sporades cost me twice as much as a full plate of breakfast with coffee and mimosa cost on the beach of Himarë, Albania. The price difference widened as the day progressed. For dinner, I was paying 250% more for the same meal of grilled fish and a glass of wine in a similarly casual restaurant.
Albania’s superior value extends to accommodation and transportation. Here is a breakdown of my costs in Albania vs. Greece:
- hostels – $9-11/night in Albania, $28-35/night in Greece.
- Apartments equipped for nomads – $25/night in Albania, $55/night in Greece.
- 4 star hotel room with sea view – $53/night in Albania, $160/night in Greece.
- 5 Star Resort Suite with Sea View – $100/night in Albania, comparable options were $350 in Greece, which I didn’t take.
Because the Greek islands and coastal cities are much more spread out than the Albanian Riviera, a 3-stop trip in Greece can also cost you a few hundred dollars more in transportation than an Albanian adventure with twice as many stops.
Crowds of tourists? Where?
We all know the iconic Instagram photos of Mykonos and Santorini. But have you seen the reality behind them?
It’s an endless meandering line of blank monochrome vacation outfits, punctuated with some boldly bright ensembles. As the golden hour passes, the increasingly hungry and irritable pseudo-influencers are slowly losing it.
I had a front row seat to the implosion of more relationships and friendships in these jam-packed hot spots than you’d believe.
And don’t even get me started on trying to sit in crowded Greek restaurants and beach clubs as a solo traveler in crowded destinations designed for couples. What a nightmare!
Sure, Albania is booming in popularity, but most of its beaches are still pristine and its incredible UNESCO world heritage sites don’t have a huge crowd in sight. Even the most popular vacation spots in this Balkan gem are affordable and not yet overdeveloped, making it the clear choice for your next European beach vacation.
traveler alert: Don’t forget travel insurance for your next trip!
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com