Saranda is the place in Albania that we call home! If you’re planning a vacation, you can’t go wrong with Saranda. Here we will talk about things to do, the best beaches, and of course, where to get brunch!
Is Saranda Worth Visiting?
Saranda is arguably the best town in the Albanian Riviera to visit. It has more of a small town feel than it’s neighbor Vlora, but much more to do than Ksamil.
Saranda was supposed to be the first stop on our world tour, but now we will probably spend half the year here.
Things to Know About Saranda
An important thing to know about Saranda, is that the town sprawls down the coastline for a good distance. You will want to stay near the northern-most part of the map.
This is Saranda proper. You can walk everywhere, there is a nice pedestrian area, and the “downtown” shopping is close.
You will find that a lot of the newer vacation apartments are in south Saranda, which is probably fine during high season. In the off-season (October through May), nearly nothing will be open down there. Ignore what it says on Google, the restaurants, grocery stores, etc are closed.
Saranda’s downtown with nail salons, barbers, and bigger supermarkets, is the area called “Kodrra.”
Like most of Albania, Saranda is “all cash, all the time.” You can skip the ATM fees by making withdrawls at Credins Bank.
Where to Stay in Saranda
No matter what time of year you visit, the area around the bay is a safe bet. Everything is walkable here and you will not need a car.
You will find vacation apartments with breathtaking views two or three roads up from the beach, but note that the view is incredible because the hill is very steep.
That may not be a problem for you, but if you are traveling with small kids or anyone with mobility issues, it’s probably too much of a hike. I recommend taking a virtual walk to your apartment via Google streetview to check out the hills.
When in doubt, stick to the first or second road. The town flattens out as you get closer to Kodrra, so you can stay a little further from the beach and still have an easy walk, but most likely without the views.
Beaches in Saranda
Saranda’s beaches are not quite as nice as neighboring Ksamil’s. They are pebbley beaches and not the white sand you may have seen in photos. They are fairly big however, crystal clear, swimmable, and super convenient to access from the town.
The main beach that comes up on the map is Saranda Beach. There are actually two big public beaches in Saranda, and the point on the map is the smaller of the two. There is another stretch of beach on the opposite side of the pier.
Saranda Beach and Saranda Beach 2.0 are impossible to miss if you are staying in the town.
If you find yourself staying way down in Saranda south, Mango Beach might be more convenient for you. If it has been raining a lot, the water may not be as clear by Mango Beach, because the river enters the sea very nearby. This is another pebbley beach, but a nice big one with lots of room and a beautiful view of Saranda town.
Beaches Near Kodrra
The beaches on the tip of Kodrra are a little rockier, and provide another unique viewpoint of the city and nearby Corfu Island. Parts of the beach here may be private in high season.
When we visited they were public and some of the beach clubs didn’t look like they would be open this season, so it may be free year round (for the moment at least!).
Private Beaches in Saranda
The area between Saranda Beach 2.0 and Mango Beach is dominated by hotels and beach clubs. You can rent an umbrella for the day and enjoy a slightly quieter experience with cappuccinos and beer at the ready.
Last we checked an umbrella for the day was usually about 1000 Lek, or $10 USD/Euro.
Best Restaurants in Saranda
One thing you should know about us, is that we like what we like! We have dabbled in Saranda restaurants, but at the end of the day we have a few that we visit over and over.
Best Overall – Marini
Marini is probably our favorite restaurant of any country. We spend most mornings in Marini, and sometimes make it back for dinner. We even had one day that was a three-peat.
Despite telling us that we need to get out more, the owners here are lovely. Chef Robert is an actual chef, which is somewhat rare in the area. Marini offers a variety of seafood and other meat options, as well as vegetarian dishes. They are also very accommodating with creating vegan options.
Marini is the best overall because they have the best brunch menu in addition to delicious lunch and dinner options. They serve breakfast daily until about 12. I have proudly eaten my way through the entire breakfast menu.
Breakfast Favorites: Eggs Benedict, Albanian Breakfast, Pancakes.
Lunch/Dinner Favorites: Chicken Filet, Veggie Linguine, Pork Chops, Sea Bass.
(I had to stop somewhere, but we love everything.)
Most Interesting Atmosphere – Haxhi
If you are looking for an interesting vibe and a view, Haxhi has it! (Never fear, they also deliver on delicious food.)
Haxhi has the typical Saranda seafood options, in addition to daily specials (usually a slow-cooked meat), and a few other home-cooked staples.
The restaurant is decorated in knick knacks from all over the world, and has cozy pallet lighting. This is another family run restaurant and the hospitality is 10 out of 10.
Lunch/Dinner Favorites: Garlic Sauce and French Fries, Seafood Pasta, Pork in the Oven (special)
Be prepared to finish your meal with a shot of raki!
Best View – Polonia Coffee House
Polonia Coffee House is a great place to have a snack and watch the boats go by. They offer a variety of espresso drinks, crepes, and homemade deserts.
Menu Favorites: Cappuccino and Nutella Banana Crepe.
Best Gyros – Fast Food Cuci
If you haven’t visited this part of the world before, you won’t know that every fast food place serves not burgers, but delicious messy gyros and kebabs with fries. These places seem to be on every corner, but we can with confidence say that Fast Food Cuci is “the one.”
The quality of meat is what makes Fast Food Cuci so much better than the other options. I’m not saying it’s healthy, but the meat isn’t fatty or gristley like some other places.
The gyros comes with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and french fries, wrapped with meat inside a soft pita. Amazing! (And cheap.)
Best for Meeting People – The Dick & Devil’s Pub
This one is for the nomads and solo travelers out there! The Dick & Devil’s pub is a local hangout for English speakers. You can meet other travelers here and enjoy a beer. They also do a lot of social events and potlucks.
Lunch Favorites: Taco! (A rarity in this part of the world!)
Tips for eating out in Albania:
Unless otherwise stated (haven’t seen it yet) you are expected to seat yourself in Albania. When you are ready for the bill, head to the nearest counter to pay. Unless the place is quite touristy, they do not bring the bill to the table.
Things to Do in Saranda
Go To the Beach
But you didn’t need me to tell you that one!
Cruise Around on a Party Boat
These themed pirate ships cruise out into the bay at night for drinks and partying. They also offer longer day cruises to a few nearby bays.
While the party boats were moored in Saranda all winter, they were not running, so my info is limited. They depart from the boardwalk near Limani only during high season. For special events you can usually purchase tickets at Jericho Bar, so you might be able to get them there all the time.
On at least one boat kids are actually allowed, and at half price!
Cocomelon Kids Club
Cocomelon is a small indoor playground with free wifi and cafe seating. You can enjoy a coffee or cold beverage here while the kids play.
The lady who runs Cocomelon appears to run a daycare, so there are always other kids here. Most of the kids speak English, which was a surprise and a nice bonus!
The fee is a small 300 Lek to play.
Visit Lekursi Castle
Lekursi Castle sits on the hill above Saranda. It is a rebuilt ruin where you can now enjoy a coffee overlooking the city.
If you are a big ruin enthusiast you can also hike the area to look at more of the ruined walls and check out some of the remaining Communist bunkers.
On a sunny day you might also be able to see the shipwreck that sits at the bottom of the bay in Saranda.
You can hike to the castle but it is quite steep. A taxi ride cost us 1000 Lek round trip, and you can ask your driver to come back at a specific time.
Watch the Sunset
Saranda is known for it’s spectacular sunsets! Head down to the promenade and watch the sun go down from one of the colorful benches. The best colors usually come out after the sun has just disappeared.
Visiting the Greater Saranda Area
To be honest Saranda itself is a very relaxed beach vacation kind of place. It’s not massive on things to do in the city itself. If you do want to do some exploring, there is lots to do in the surrounding area!
Day Trip to Ksamil
When you were choosing a beach town to stay at in Albania, Ksamil was probably very much in the running! Luckily you can either drive or take the bus to Ksamil very easily.
Ksamil is where you can find all the faux-Maldive white sandy beaches. Like the private beach clubs in Saranda, most you can rent an umbrella for the day. Several of the beaches are public, but you will just need to be far enough away from the private area.
The buses depart from the bus shelter across from the ruin in Saranda. (Diagonally across the street from Friendship Park.) A collector will come around and take your bus fare after you get on. The bus takes about 20 – 30 minutes to get to Ksamil and costs only 150 Lek. (If memory serves.)
There is very little in the town of Ksamil itself. There is no pedestrian area like in Saranda, so if you go to Ksamil for the day, it is a beach day!
Read all about this town in my post: Your Guide to Visiting Ksamil Albania in 2023
Butrint National Park
The same bus that will take you to Ksamil eventually terminates at Butrint Archaeological Park.
Butrint is well worth the somewhat-pricey entrance fee of 1000 Lek each. It’s not so much that the fee is expensive, but it is high for Albania. Inside the park you can spend 3 hours or more exploring an ancient city. There is what remains of several houses, an amphitheatre, castle, basilica, and more.
In the castle there is also a small museum with several statues and other finds that were excavated on the site.
We’ve seen a lot of ancient ruins, but this city is very impressive!
For a pricier day trip, or possibly an over-nighter, you can take the ferry from Saranda to Corfu. The city itself deserves a bit more time, but if you don’t have a lot, it’s still a beautiful day out.
Corfu is a city built in the Venetian style, and it’s still in excellent condition. Just don’t forget your passport! Corfu is in Greece.
The ferry takes just 35 minutes, but it will cost about 45 Euros per person (round trip). Alternatively you can take the slow ferry (1.5 hrs) to Corfu for just 30 Euros (round trip), and think of it as a cruise.
Drive to Himara
Himara is another small coastal city in the Albanian Riviera, but this activity is more about the drive than the destination!
Rent a car and drive through mountains and olive groves high above the Albanian coastline. This road will give you breathtaking views of oh-so Italian landscapes, but in Albania!
Just watch out for cows, sheep, and goats!
Day Trip to Blue Eye
There is no way that you spend your entire vacation in Saranda without hearing about Syri I Kalter or “The Blue Eye.”
Blue Eye is a crystal blue spring that bubbles up into a river and feeds a small reservoir in the forest not far from Saranda. You can take a bus to Blue Eye by hopping on one that goes to Gjirokaster. VERY IMPORTANT – Ask your driver if they will be going past Blue Eye.
There are two routes to Gjirokaster now, and several of the buses will be going the shorter way via the new highway. There is a bus ticket office behind the ruin in Saranda, and you can ask there which times the bus will be going to Blue Eye.
This is all very new, so I would not be surprised if they start running a bus specifically to Blue Eye during high season.
Head to Gjirokaster
Gjirokaster is also worth a visit from Saranda, but I would recommend spending at least one night. We went for one and decided to stay for two!
Gjirokaster is a historic town built in the Ottoman style. It boasts a huge castle with a war museum and regional history museum.
Also in Gjirokaster you can visit a few of the big family homes that are preserved in traditional style to this day.
Something that has been closed each time we visited was the Cold War Tunnel. You need a tour to visit and they don’t seem to run in the off season, but it looks very interesting. It’s a big tunnel preserved from Cold War times, and still has equipment in it.
Best Time to Visit Saranda
Arguably the best time to visit Saranda is in high season. That is the only time that everything is open and running. Unfortunately that also means that there is a crush of tourists, and the city is insanely busy.
The best time to visit Saranda with most open activities and restaurants but not packed with tourists, is early June or Mid-September. The weather will be nice and most things will be running.
August is the absolute busiest time in Saranda and should be avoided. Most of Europe gets annual leave in August.
Getting Around in Saranda
Unless you are way down in Saranda south, you do not need a car to get around. In fact Saranda is not very car friendly because parking is in short supply.
You are better off renting a car only on the days that you need one.
All of Saranda proper can be reached on foot, and taxis are affordable if you do need one, or find yourself very far up hill.
Buses to nearby towns and attractions run regularly, but they can be very full, so be prepared to stand.
How to get to Saranda
Coming to Saranda? The best way to get here is via Corfu.
Getting to Saranda From Corfu
Except for during deep winter months, you should be able to get a low cost flight to Corfu from most major European cities.
From Corfu the ferry is a very short 35 minute ride. It actually changes time zones, so you gain a few minutes when you land.
From the Corfu airport, the ferry terminal is on the opposite side of town. In the summer you can likely catch a boat the same day, but in winter you should plan to spend the night in Corfu.
We were staying in Corfu, so we walked from the airport to the town and then to the ferry terminal the next day.
There are buses outside of the airport that can also take you to the town, and probably in the summer you can catch a bus directly to the terminal, but we haven’t done it. You may find a taxi to be the simplest.
If walking, make sure you head to “Corfu Port Authority Company” on Google maps. When you are walking you will pass other ferry terminals, but these are for regional ferries.
It is a fairly long 25 minute walk, so don’t let it fool you that the town appears to be on the port. The terminal you need is the peachy building beside a long dock on the far side of the harbor.
Buy your tickets online in advance from Finikas Lines, or stop by their office on the road to the ferry. You will see many tour operators on the left side of the road as you head to the terminal. Stop at “Ionian Cruises” where they have stickers advertising Finikas Lines.
Buying online is the easiest, but if you have a baby under 1 year, you will need to buy the ticket in person. It’s a strange glitch.
Tickets are not sold at the ferry terminal. This is very important. It’s possible that this is different in the summer, but definitely from October to March there is no way to get a ticket at the terminal. You need to get it online or from the office in advance.
How to Get From Tirana to Saranda
From Tirana you can catch a bus to Saranda daily. The regional bus station is a little bit out of town. Search “Terminali i Autobusëve të Jugut & Veriut” to find the right location.
We stayed across the street at Doanesia Premium Hotel, which was just the perfect location. A short walk from both the hotel and bus station is CasaItalia Shopping Mall. (A great place to visit some bigger stores before you end up in Saranda!)
The bus takes about 5.5 hours from Tirana. Personally, I would fly to Corfu if you have the choice.
How to Go From Ksamil to Saranda
If you find yourself in Ksamil, you probably already had to go through Saranda! There is an hourly bus that runs from Ksamil to Saranda. (Probably more frequent in the summer.) It is the reverse of the bus that will take you from Saranda to Ksamil and Butrint National Park.
Saranda Albania Summarized
Saranda is a beautiful city that is almost too comfy. I like to moan and complain that I did too well picking out our first long term destination because now we can’t keep traveling!
You should definitely go, and I really hope you like it, even if you can only visit in August!
If you want to know more about our journey to full time travel, here are a couple of posts where you can read about it: