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Which Albanian Riviera Beach Town Is the Best to Visit? (Comparing Saranda, Vlora, Himara, Ksamil, and Borsh)

Albania is quickly becoming one of the best places to take a beach vacation in Europe, but how do you choose which town to stay in?

A small girl in a pink dress walks barefoot in the shallow sandy water of Lori Beach in Ksamil
Lori Beach – Ksamil, Albania

Here we will talk about the best parts of Saranda, Vlora, Himara, Ksamil, and Borsh, to help you choose the perfect vacation spot.

Which Town has the Best Beaches? (Saranda, Vlora, Himara, Ksamil or Borsh)

There are two major things to consider when choosing a beach:

  • What is the beach actually made of (sand vs pebbles)
  • How much free beach there is

Sand vs Pebble Beaches in Southern Albania

Out of all of these options, Ksamil has the most picturesque white sand beaches. If all you care about is bum in sand, Ksamil is the place to be!

A blue boat floats by on the turquoise waters of Ksamil Beach - Plazhi i Ksamilit

In terms of sand vs pebbles, Himara comes in second place. It has a large sandy beach with just a little bit of pebbles, but it isn’t the white sand of Ksamil.

The beach at Himara on a cloudy day. A wide stretch of sand with turquoise waters

Vlora also has a mix of sand and pebbles. It’s about half and half, depending on where you are.

Half sand and half pebbly beach of Vlora at sunset

Saranda and Borsh both have pebbly beaches. The pebbles of Borsh are bigger but smoother, so it’s maybe a fraction nicer on your feet than Saranda.

The pebbly beach of Borsh with bright colored waters and hills in the background

Saranda has a better shallow swimming area that is calmer than Borsh. Out of all of these towns, Saranda has the least pleasant beach in terms of materials. (We still love it though!)

Spectacular pink sunset over Saranda's pebble beach

Where to Find Free Public Beaches in Southern Albania

Saranda, Vlora, Himara, and Borsh all have large stretches of free public beach.

In terms of the number of visitors, Borsh probably has the most un-claimed beach space, and Himara second. Saranda and Vlora have good sized public beaches, but they both get many more visitors.

The beach and turquoise waters far below the hills of Borsh

Ksamil has a number of small beaches, but many are private. This isn’t an issue if you don’t mind splurging on a sun lounger, or if your hotel has a private beach.

Which Riviera Town in Albania has the Most Things to Do?

Vlora is the biggest of these Albanian beach towns by a lot, so naturally it has more things to do. There is a long promenade and carnival area, as well as many restaurants near the beach.

Saranda also has a good-sized promenade, carnival area, and many beach side restaurants. It is on a smaller scale than Vlora, but more than adequate for a sunny vacation.

A girl looks out a window far above the bay of Saranda

Himara is similar to Saranda and Vlora, but on an even smaller scale. There are fewer things to do, but there is still a nice pedestrian area and beach side restaurants. There is also Himara castle.

Ksamil does not have a central promenade or walking area like the bigger beach towns do. The roads are in poor condition and not really meant for taking a pleasant stroll. It ranks ahead of Borsh for things to do, only because it caters to a larger amount of tourists, so there are more seasonal restaurants and things to do. (Boat rentals, tours, etc.)

Borsh is a sleepy little seaside town. Most of the village is actually up the hill, but neither the beach front or the hillside are big on activities. There are restaurants with a great view, a small castle you can hike to, and a famous waterfall restaurant: Ujvara.

Which Town in the Albanian Riviera is the Best for Day Trips and Activities?

Saranda is probably the best place to base yourself in order to see the famous things in Southern Albania. It is a short trip to Blue Eye, Gjirokaster, Butrint, and even the other beach towns on this list.

A blue spring bubbling up into a river. Green plants are growing in the water.
Blue Eye (Syri i Kalter)

Ksamil has to take second place for location if Saranda is first, if only because it is a short 20 minute bus ride away. Therefore Gjirokaster and Blue Eye are still very easy to see, and Butrint is actually a little closer.

A man and his daughter walk through a narrow street in Gjirokaster.

Vlora takes the next spot when it comes to overall location, because it is a better point to explore the rest of Albania. (Including the ancient city of Apollonia!) It is slightly more central than Saranda/Ksamil, which are closer to Greece.

Borsh and Himara aren’t too far from the rest of the things that you might want to visit in Albania, but they are a little out of the way. This is especially true if you don’t have a car.

Which Southern Albanian Beach Town is the Easiest to Get To?

Saranda is the easiest beach town to get to, in my opinion, because the closest airport is just a 25 minute ferry ride away, in Corfu.

I suggest flying to Corfu in order to visit any of these beach towns, because Tirana is the next closest airport and the drive is very long and boring.

Map of the Albanian Riviera shows Vlor, Himara, Saranda, Ksamil, Borsh and Corfu.

Vlora/Ksamil tie for second place for ease of arrival. If you arrive via Corfu, Ksamil is a very short cab or bus ride from Saranda. If you do fly to Tirana, Vlora is the easiest on this list to get to. (Approx 3hrs.)

Borsh and Himara are tied for last place in terms of “easy to get to.” Neither is super far from either Saranda or Vlora, but both are pretty much impossible to get to from an airport in just one day, unless you rent a car immediately or pay for a taxi.

Which Beach Town in Southern Albania is Best to Visit in High Season vs Low Season

Where to Go in High Season

This is very much a matter of opinion. Personally I hate crowds and like quiet places. You would not catch me in either Saranda or Ksamil during high season (July/August). The towns are flooded with tourists, and they aren’t big to begin with.

A pirate ship on the calm seas decked out with fluorescent lights
A party boat in Saranda

Borsh is very likely to be the quietest during high season. The beach around Borsh still has lots of undeveloped areas, but in the summer there are enough places to get a meal and something to drink.

Himara will be busier than Borsh as it is bigger and more tourist centered, but it won’t be as chaotic and crazy as Saranda/Ksamil. This is probably a good compromise if you like activities.

I have actually never been to Vlora during high season. I tend to think it is similar to Saranda and Ksamil because it gets ferries from Italy in the summer. It is bigger though, so it may be better able to handle the influx.

Where to Go in Low Season

In the winter, Saranda is our town of choice. We love it here and call it home for part of the year. If you do visit in the off season, make sure you stay somewhere close to the promenade. The sprawling streets down the coast will be very much a dead zone. (I have more specific tips in my post: Your Guide to Visiting Saranda Albania)

Vlora remains mostly open in the winter time, with a good sized year round population. Most people actually prefer Vlora in the winter, because Saranda is still too dead for them.

The empty promenade of Vlora in December
Vlora in December

Himara will likely be too quiet for most people in the winter time. It is emptier than Saranda, but does still have year round restaurants and residents.

You will likely struggle to find accommodation in Borsh between October and April. Most hotels, apartments, and restaurants are closed during these months.

Ksamil is dead last for places to stay in the off season. The beaches will be empty, but you can easily visit them from nearby Saranda. Even the atm machines were empty when we visited Ksamil in the winter.

Which Albanian Riviera Town Has the Most Charm?

We love Saranda, and happily remain totally biased. We love the palms, the promenade, and the little marina. We also love the views of Corfu Island and the surrounding hills.

Jason poses on the beach in Saranda as the sun sets. Our first week in Albania for our gap year

Vlora has basically all the same charms as Saranda, but on a larger scale. It isn’t small and charming, but it’s still very nice, and the surrounding hills are beautiful.

The hills of Vlora at sunset with candy floss clouds over the sea

Himara is small and charming, but feels slightly more impersonal than Vlora or Saranda where there is a larger local population. The views over the beach are very pretty, and the restaurants are in closer proximity to the beach than any of the other towns.

Borsh is the place to be in terms of nature’s charm. The hills around the beach are truly wild and stunning. This is the best place for the campers and hikers out there.

A wide angle shot of Ujvara restaurant patio where a waterfall cascades through a multi terraced dining area.
Ujvara Restaurant in Borsh

Ksamil is just not that charming. If your goal is to make people jealous, Ksamil looks the best.

Saranda vs Vlora vs Ksamil vs Himara vs Borsh

If you are after a beach vacation in the shoulder or high season where you do not leave the beach or hotel: Ksamil is probably the choice for you. The beaches can’t be beat.

Palms line a walkway to the beach in Ksamil

If you are taking a summer beach vacation and want to see and do lots of things in the area: Saranda is the best choice. It will be crowded, but you can take lots of day trips. The beaches are pebbly, but free and have a good swimming area.

If you want a town with a sandy beach and lots of year round amenities, Vlora is the place to be.

If you want to visit the Albanian Riviera in the summer and enjoy a sandy beach without insane crowds: Himare will be busy, but is the best choice.

A view down a small alleyway on the walk up to Himara castle
The walk to Himara Castle

If you want crazy beautiful nature near the sea without the crush of summer tourists: Borsh is best!

Plazhi i Borshit (beach of Borsh) close to sunset with the hills in the background
Beautiful Borsh

If you want an off-season paradise where you can still see other humans and go out to eat: Vlora or Saranda is the answer.

I hope this post helps with your decision making!