Berat is one of Europe’s most well-kept secrets because few travellers know about this UNESCO World Heritage listed Ottoman-era city that’s nestled deep in the Albanian countryside.
For starters, few people ever make it to Albania, at least not in comparison to the neighbouring Balkan destinations such as Montenegro or Croatia. Albania is also notoriously difficult to travel around independently, making this an adventurous destination for the more experienced traveller.
But there are few other cities like Berat left even in Albania, and this is a place like no other in the Balkans. With a mixed history of Roman, Byzantine and then Ottoman colonisation, Berat is a place for history lovers. The superbly well preserved Ottoman-era townhouses and buildings have led to the city being given the moniker ‘The Town of a Thousand Windows’.
Berat is a beautiful place, and to inspire your Albanian adventure, here’s our ultimate travel guide to Berat.
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How to get to Berat
Getting anywhere in Albania is never easy if you’re travelling independently, but that’s all part of the challenge. Berat is off the beaten track in what is already an off the beaten track travel destination.
There’s no international airport in Berat, so if you’re flying into Albania then you’ll need to land in Tirana, the capital. While not the best-connected airport in Europe, an increasing number of budget airlines, such as Wizz Air, for instance, have low-cost flights to other European cities.
You can also arrive in Tirana by bus or share taxis from other Balkan countries such as Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. From Tirana, it’s a two-hour drive south to Berat. There are regular departures from the southern bus terminal in Tirana, however public transport in Albania is infamously inefficient. A Berat bus will most likely leave only when it’s full, even if you can find a supposed schedule, and you can be sure that they will make plenty of stops on the way. With that in mind, leave plenty of time to get to Berat.
If you feel comfortable driving, then a better way to get to Berat is to hire a car – or if you have the budget, a driver, as things are relatively inexpensive in Albania. This will save you a lot of time and effort, and you’ll be able to stop off along the way as you head south.
What to expect in Berat
Berat is one of the most pleasant cities in Albania. It’s more of a town, really, given its small size and population, but the history and the natural setting of the surrounding mountains and the meandering river are guaranteed to astound and alleviate any trouble you might have had reaching Berat in the first instance.
In recognition of both the history and the natural beauty, Berat is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but that doesn’t mean that tourism is a big thing here. It’s pleasantly quiet for most of the year, although it can get busy in summer if there are tour groups passing through.
The local language is Albanian, which is very unlike any other language in Europe, but learn a few words and you’ll quickly endear yourself to the locals. English is becoming increasingly common, at least in the tourist industry, but you might also find that locals speak Italian or German to a good level.
The local currency is the Albanian Lek, and you’ll find a few ATMs and limited places to exchange money. Euros might be accepted at a push in some places.
How to get around Berat
Berat is an incredibly small city to visit, and once you’re in you’ll find that the easiest way to get around is simply to walk. The Old Town of Berat is a maze of stone steps and narrow alleyways, as the houses are built on the hillside. That does mean that you will need to be prepared for a tough day of walking when you visit, and you will need a basic level of fitness.
There is a local bus service connecting the city to the bus station, or you can hail down a local taxi, just be sure to agree on a price beforehand. Local buses also connect Berat to the smaller villages in the nearby countryside and mountains, although these are irregular, and if you are looking to enjoy a few day trips you’re best having your own transport or joining an organised tour. There are lots of hiking routes, which are open in summer, and which can take you into the glorious Albanian outdoors.
The best time to visit Berat
For most of the year, you’ll find that Berat is a relatively quiet place to visit, especially in comparison to other destinations in the Balkans which are resoundingly more on the beaten path – visitor numbers pale in comparison to Dubrovnik, for example!
Summer is when things are busiest and it’s when the city can be unbearably hot, so you will want to try and avoid travelling to Berat between June and August if you can. Winter is cold and often snowy and it can be difficult and potentially dangerous accessing the hiking paths into the mountains this time of the year, between November and February.
Spring and autumn are often the best time of the year to visit Berat, as you’ll often have the place to yourself and you’ll be able to enjoy the best weather. It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold, and if you’re looking to hike then conditions are perfect.
Things to do in Berat
Old Town Footpaths
The Old Town of Berat is full of rustic footpaths that follow the contours of the hills and the beautiful Ottoman-era houses.
Take a stroll to really appreciate the Old Town splendor and to discover the obvious answer to the question, is Berat worth visiting?
You’ll be able to marvel at the heritage listed homes and buildings, hang out in cafes and restaurants with the locals, and enjoy the historic beauty of Berat. You’ll probably get lost, but that’s part of the fun!
Berat Castle is one of the must see sights in the city, and it’s hard to miss, because this historic castle rises high above the Old Town.
The fortress has long dominated Berat, and it dates far back to the 2nd century BC, before even the Romans had first arrived in Albania. The Byzantines used it as a frontier defence and then the Ottomans fortified it even more during their reign.
The castle is constructed against the cliff face, and there’s only one gate leading inside. The views from the ramparts are absolutely stunning, and you’ll have sweeping panoramas over Berat and the mountains and countryside.
The Berat Castle Entrance fee is just 100 Lek, that’s around 1 USD. So there’s really no reason at all not to visit!
The Mangalem district of Berat is where you’ll find the most famous Ottoman houses and the best heritage and history.
Here you’ll soon realize why Berat is called the ‘City of a Thousand Windows’, and you’ll be amazed at how well preserved these centuries old buildings are.
The Gorica Quarter is Berats other district and again you’ll find a glorious array of Ottoman architecture dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
Gorica offers great views over the rest of Berat, but the highlight here is the grand Gorica Bridge, which spans the Osum River.
The bridge is a fine example of an arched Ottoman style bridge and it dates back to the late 1700s when it was originally constructed of wood, then upgraded to the stone you see today.
Holy Trinity Church
The Holy Trinity Church is a must-visit in Berat, because this is not only an important, historic place of worship for the local Christian community, but it’s found in a spectacular, hillside location.
The church was built by the Byzantines in the medieval period, and today it’s one of the best surviving examples of an Orthodox Christian church in Albania.
But Christianity suffered when the Ottomans arrived from the 15th century onwards, and many of the locals converted to Islam.
You’ll see the distinctive Ottoman-esque minarets rising from the ramshackle houses across Berat, and despite several decades of religious oppression by the communists, you’ll once again hear the call to prayer throughout the day. One of the most famous mosques in Berat, is the King’s Mosque, which dates back to the 1500s.
A highlight of any trip to Berat is a visit to the Ethnographic Museum. Berat was long curated by the Communist dictatorship in the 20th century to be a museum city and one of the only positive lasting legacies of the totalitarian regime are the excellent museums they founded.
The Ethnographic Museum will take you on a journey through Albanian history and culture as you see first hand what life was like for locals for centuries in the countryside and the villages.
The Onufri Museum is another great place to learn more about Berat’s unique history. Found inside the Church of St Mary, the museum is also known as the Iconography Museum.
The Byzantine’s were well known for their religious zeal, and they were big fans of paintings, mosaics and frescoes. The museum collected many of the best pieces of Byzantine artwork from around Albania, offering visitors a unique look at the religious past of the country.
The Bulevardi Republika is the main central street in Berat, that connects the newer areas of the city to the Old Town.
The long road is lined with shops and restaurants, and it’s not only a great place for a walk, but a great place to hang out with the locals too.
What to eat in Berat
Berat Albania has a great range of local restaurants serving up a great range of local specialities, and foodies will love spending a few days in the city trying out the delicious dishes on offer. For travellers, the prices are low in Berat and you’ll be able to enjoy gourmet dining for the same cost as a sandwich in Italy or Croatia.
You’ll find Burek for sale everywhere, and this ubiquitous Balkan pastry is perfect for a quick breakfast or to take hiking into the mountains. Layers of filo pastry are stuffed with meat, cheese, spinach or a combination of all three.
Tave Kosi is often seen as Albania’s national dish, and you’ll likely see this on the menu at most restaurants in Berat. Made with lamb, cheese and yoghurt, Tave Kosi is sort of like a quiche, but also sort of not like a quiche!
Albanian food is heavily influenced by Ottoman-Turkish cuisine (just as the city itself is!) and you’ll find kebabs, grills, meatballs and all sorts of great dishes to try too while you are in Berat.
Where to stay in Berat
Budget – Accommodation is cheap in Berat, but if you’re travelling solo then you might still want to stay in a hostel for the social aspects. Berat Backpackers is the best-rated hostel in town, and it’s located in an old Ottoman-style house too.
Mid Range – There are a great range of family-run guesthouses and small hotels in Berat. A great mid-range option is the Hotel Ajka, a 3-star hotel set in the surroundings of a lovely old building in Berat.
Luxury – Luxury doesn’t have to cost much in Berat, although options are limited so book in advance. One of the best hotels in Berat is Hotel Rezidenca Desaret which offers superb rooms in a wonderful setting.
Tours to do in Berat
While you can easily stroll through the streets of Ottoman-era houses on your own, there’s nothing quite like having the company of a local guide to learn more about the city. Take a City Tour of Berat and find out all about the long history of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and learn about the best places to eat and drink like a local.
Berat has some great restaurants and some excellent cuisine, and a great way to really experience the city’s culture is to eat your way through it. Join a food tour to find the best local eats and the best local restaurants.
Albanian wine is surprisingly good, and some of the best can be found in Berat. The countryside around the city provides great conditions for wine cultivation, and a wine tour will take you to the best local wineries in the area.
Day trips from Berat
Tomorri National Park
Tomorri National Park is located just a short journey from Berat, and it’s home to some of the tallest mountains in the Balkans. This spectacular range is wild and rugged and the hiking options abound in the summertime.
Corovoda is a small town that’s found along the Osum River, and it couldn’t be in a more beautiful location. The highlight of a trip here is to carry on along the river, where you’ll find the dramatic scenes of the Osumi Canyon.
The scenery that surrounds Berat is spectacular, and one of the best day trips you can make is to the Bogove Waterfall. At 20 metres tall, the waterfall drops into deep plunge pools. In the scorching hot Albanian summer, you couldn’t ask for a better natural swimming hole.
Recommended tours in Berat
- Hiking in Berat by 1001 Albanian Adventures
- Berat city tour & Wine and Food in Roshnik / by Berat City Tours
- Private Highlights of Berat City Tour
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