Vlore is a harbour city that holds special meaning for Albanians, as this is where the country declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire at the start of the 20th century. So you can take a whistle-stop tour of monuments and museums celebrating the statesman Ismail Qemali’s first government, and in doing so get to know a little more about what it means to be Albanian. If you’d like ideas for days trips the wider region is both untamed and beautiful. Relaxing tourist beaches with clear waters are just a handful of kilometres away, and if you follow the coastal road south there’s a string of charming little resorts punctuated by the vast mountainscapes of the Llogora National Park.
Also see our guide on Albania. But let’s get on with our list of things to do in Vlore:
1. Independence Monument
As the centrepiece of Vlore’s Square of the Flag, the Independence Monument marks Albania’s declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912. It was designed by Mumtaz Dhrami, a prolific 20th-centrury sculptor who completed a host of works around Albania in communist times. His Independence Monument is from 1972 and exemplifies the socialist-realist style, so today it memorialises both Albania’s independence and the country’s difficult post-war years. The square is fringed by palm and pine trees, and there are benches where you can sit and watch the city go by.
2. Muradie Mosque
Vlore’s main mosque is a stunning Ottoman building and has been preserved for almost half a millennium, even managing to survive Albania’s post-war communist regime that oversaw the shuttering of many religious buildings. Muradie Mosque is an Albanian National Monument built by Mimar Sinan in 1537. Sinan was among the most vaunted Ottoman architects and remains a Turkish cultural icon to this day. He oversaw countless works throughout the empire and even had a hand in the design of the Taj Mahal in India. Try to get up close to get a look at the building’s ornamental stonework and admire the 18-metre-high minaret.
3. Zvernec Monastery
This majestic slice of Albanian cultural heritage is on an island in the Narta Lagoon, a short trip northwest of the city. You can reach it via a rickety wooden bridge that has seen better days, so you’ll need to take care on the crossing. Once you make it to dry land you can lose yourself in the island’s dense aromatic pine forest and wander around the rocky shoreline to look across the lagoon. At the centre, in a peaceful little clearing, is this monastery is from the 1300s, a lovely example of Byzantine architecture. Relatively few visitors make it to the island so Zvernec is a peaceful place for a picnic on a summer afternoon.
4. Kanine Castle
Southeast of Vlore is a sprawling hilltop fortress that was constructed in the 4th century BC when this region was settled by Ancient Greek tribes. It stands on Shushica Mountain, 380 metres above sea level and covers almost 4,000 hectares, protecting the modern Kanine village. In the year 500 the Byzantine emperor Justinian I rebuilt the settlement and the castle remained in use for at least the next century, serving as a stronghold for the Principality of Valona in medieval times, back when Vlore was a vassal of the Serbian Empire.
5. Museum of Historic Relics
From 1912 the building of this museum contained offices for the earliest Albanian government, a role it held for half a century. In what is now Vlore County there were a host of ancient cities, and the Museum of Historic Relics is where many artefacts discovered at these sites are on display. Vlore also witnessed some momentous events in 20th-century Albanian history and there are displays devoted to this period. Naturally the declaration of independence features prominently, but you can also find out about the Vlore War in 1920 between Italian forces and Albanian nationalists.
6. Museum of National Independence
Set in the southern part of Vlore, not far from the port, the Museum of National Independence was established in 1936 and was Albania’s first ever museum. The aim of the museum is to create an idea of Albanian national identity and commemorate the country’s declaration of independence in 1912. Ismail Qemali, founder of independent Albania and the country’s first head of state, set up his government in this very building for the first six months of Albania’s existence.
7. Vlore’s Cuisine
Vlore has a special location where tall mountains meet the sea, and this blend of terrains gives the city delicious traditional cuisine. Restaurants take pride in their roast lamb, reared on mountain pasture and roasted slowly over charcoal pits. Vlore is also a port, so as you’d guess the seafood is wonderful, particularly the mussels, lobster and shrimp. Cattle farming is an important local industry and this produces yoghurt, which is served with many dishes, particularly as a savoury sauce when combined with garlic and cucumber. For veggies a fine local dish is Byrek: Filo pastry filled with spinach or leek.
8. Llogara National Park
Not far south of Vlore begins the Ceraunian mountain range. You can venture off into Llogara’s wilderness, in a protected area where even European wildcats continue to thrive. If you have an intrepid nature then there’s nothing to stop you taking on the various peaks in the region, like Mount Cika which rises above 2000 metres and has views that stretch as far as Italy. If that sounds like too much trouble then you can content yourselves with a drive along the scenic Llogara Pass, 1000 metres above sea level. Here the strong and swirling winds have twisted the trees into unusual shapes.
9. Ethnographic Museum
This attraction is found in a neo-Renaissance house that was completed in the mid-1800s, making it one of the oldest buildings in Vlore. The Ethnographic Museum presents the traditional culture, crafts and costume of the Vlore region, and is listed as an Albanian Monument of Culture. One of the most valuable pieces here is an original 19th-century waistcoat woven in the local style. In all there are 300 pieces on display, many of which showcase Vlore’s expertise in woodworking, carpet-weaving and ornamental metalwork.
Many Vlore locals get in the car on summer weekends to spend the day at Orikum’s gleaming white beach. It’s only five kilometres to the south and has a pleasing sweep of white pebbles. The sea here is perfectly clean and on a sunny day the seabed reflects the light to give the water an almost crystalline quality. Orikum’s beach is perfectly safe for families as it has a large shallow area for even the littlest swimmers to splash around. The natural backdrop is fabulous too, as the 2000-metre-high Mount Athanasious towers behind the town. Spring or autumn is the time to attempt a climb, and the track to the summit is safe and well-maintained.
A little further south from Orikum is Vuno, a village on a steep mountainside overlooking the sea. A great reason to stop here is to make the quest to get to Gjipe Beach, a remote cove that lies at the end of a deep limestone gorge. The walk down to sea will be like nothing you’ve experienced, as the high walls block out most of the sunlight and you have to clamber down some difficult rocks. In the end your toils will be rewarded by the breathtaking beauty of this near-perfect cove. Also in the area is Jali Beach, also rated as one of Albania’s best. It’s a slightly larger cove with fine pebbles, bookended by rocky outcrops and bathed by transparent blue waters.
12. Local Caves
Two caves close to Vlore have proof of human activity going back 5000 years. Lepenice Cave, 800 metres above the eponymous village, was only discovered in the 1970s. Here there are 19 depictions of humans composed with brown mineral paint, displaying a high degree of sophistication. Another local cave system that was inhabited by humans can be discovered at Velca, the opening of which still features an ancient wall. At Velca you can also see cave paintings, and prehistoric ceramics have also been recovered from the site.
The drive or bus ride north from Vlore to the ancient city of Fier is worthwhile as it cuts through the scenic Vjose-Narte wetlands where the River Aoos enters the Adriatic Sea after meandering though Greece and southern Albania. The undoubted highlight of Fier is the Apollonia archaeological park, which is a Greek colony dating back 2,500 years. Apollonia was loyal to the Roman Empire after the local Illyrians were defeated, and Emperor Augustus studied here in the 1st century BC. Among the architectural fragments are the portico of a temple, an Odeon theatre and a byzantine monastery.
14. Kuzum Baba
This natural terrace is the highest point in Vlore. It stands at 30 metres above the sea and is named after Father Kuzum, a local spiritual leader from the Muslim Bektashi sect. Word is that Quzum Baba is also buried close by, but his grave is unmarked. At the top of the hill is a Bektashi temple or tekke from the 1600s, regarded as one of the finest examples in Albania. For the next two hundred years the Bektashis were highly influential throughout Albania, but their influence waned in the 19th century when they became increasingly persecuted within the Ottoman Empire.
15. Sazan Island
This former military installation made the news in 2015 when it was finally opened to the public after decades of secrecy. Given that Sazan, Albania’s largest island, was a soviet base and perhaps even a chemical weapons facility it’s a daytrip for those who think nothing of a little danger. You can catch a boat to Sazan from the port in Vlore and spend a whole day pottering around tunnels and bunkers that were built to survive a nuclear attack. An interesting side note – Sazan’s location, where the Ionian and Adriatic Seas meet, gives it a sub-tropical climate with different weather conditions to the Albanian mainland despite being so close.