Saranda is fast becoming one of Albania's most sought-after destinations and with good reason. But like any travel spot, it comes with its own set of quirks and must-knows. From finding the ideal place to stay to understanding the budget needed for your trip, this guide lays out everything you need to know about Saranda, ensuring your visit is smooth, enjoyable, and memorable.
I spent the whole month of October in Saranda so there are a lot of things I want to share with you that you should be aware of before traveling to Saranda!
I will cover:
Where to stay
Weather and what to pack
When to visit
Is Saranda really that cheap?
Things to watch out from
Best food and cocktail places
How to get to Saranda
Things to do in Saranda
Where to stay in Saranda?
I would like to start with the accommodations and more importantly where exactly to book one! As I feel this can really influence your trip.
Although from a quick glance, it looks like the mountain is not that steep, wrong - it is! I wouldn't book anything higher than the second line!
(in my amateur picture in green I have highlighted the first row and the orange is the second row. I wouldn't book higher than that)
Also, I would try to stay close to the port, or at least the promenade as that is where all the best restaurants are and the public beach. Also, the promenade is the nicest part of the city where you can enjoy walks, have lunch and dinner, and also have coffee breaks with amazing views.
The green circle includes the port, promenade, and 'city center'. I believe staying within the green circle is the best option. Orange is also good enough but will require 10 to 15 minutes to get to most places. The orange circle starts at the end of the promenade.
Pass the red line are only hotels, beach bars, and restaurants. It gets very quiet there after the peak season.
Said this, if you do prefer staying in the hotel and have direct private access to the beach then you might want to book more to the right because you still get restaurants and shops around there just there might be fewer options or you need to walk more to get to some places.
I have compiled a list of the best hotels in Saranda starting from the ones with direct access to a private beach to those close to the city center in my Saranda Hotel Guide!
Saranda, as a tourist city, is fairly safe. I was walking alone during the evening and I felt safe the whole time. So safety-wise all areas are alright. There are no specific ones I would highlight.
Weather in Saranda
You might be wondering, "When's the ideal time to visit?" While summer is a popular choice, I'd personally vouch for late September to early October. Why? Summer temperatures can soar to 34°C, and the sun is extremely strong. Contrast that with October's pleasant 24°C, and you get a comfortable climate without the intense heat. Plus, with most kids back in school by September, there are fewer tourists around. I was in Saranda throughout October and had just one rainy day and three overcast ones— a refreshing chnage after enjoying warm beach days for the rest of the month.
Saranda boasts over 300 sunny days a year, making it a preferred destination even during the shoulder seasons.
What to pack for Saranda?
Please learn from my mistake and do not pack warm clothes! I am always cold so I got a few jumpers and jackets just so I am warm and cozy in the evening. Wrong! The whole of October I spent in a T-shirt and shorts! The climate here ensures it is warm all day long and in the evening too. it doesn't really get cold during the nights. The humidity is quite high and the whole time I have been here there has been no cold wind. So I wish I had packed more beach stuff and fewer autumn ones. All my jumpers didn't exit the closet the whole time I was in Saranda!
So definitely add to your list swimwear, towel, hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen! I was applying sunscreen even if I just went for a coffee because the sun in this area is very strong! I used SPF 30 and that was completely enough for October. For August I probably would use SPF 50.
Also, If you are into snorkeling I recommend taking your goggles and underwater camera aka GoPro because the water around the area is crystal clear and you can do snorkeling around the coast.
When to visit Saranda?
I genuinely believe the latter part of September and early October is the optimal time to visit. However, a heads-up: when I arrived on the 1st of October, the city was still quite lively, but some establishments had already wrapped up for the season. It seems some cafes cater primarily to the summer crowd. Yet, a solid 80% remained operational. Naturally, numerous local spots stay open year-round. As October wore on, a few more places started closing. Whilst the port and promenade area still stayed fairly lively, the hotel part had gone very quiet by the end of October. So I believe the later you visit, the closer to the port and promenade you would prefer to stay.
Is Saranda that cheap?
Saranda has been hyped up as this affordable travel destination in Europe. I agree and I disagree. Let's dive into why!
Initially, while flights to Tirana, the capital, tend to be affordable, direct routes from many countries are limited. Often, the most cost-effective tickets are from Milan or the UK. This typically requires travelers to book two separate flights, and if you're carrying hand luggage or larger bags, you might find yourself paying extra fees for both segments! So cheap to fly there, but no really.
Yes, apartments and hotels are cheaper but food is still the same prices as in Europe. This goes to groceries in the shop and prices for dishes in restaurants. So while you might spend a bit less on the accommodation you will still pay the average Europen price for food. This also goes for tours, the prices I checked were not that cheap. They are not expensive also. So I believe this is very 50/50. If you really research and go only to local tavernas and do budget your tours etc, then yes you can do a budget trip but if you just coming for a holiday and want to enjoy yourself then it will be pretty standard European prices.
As we touched upon the money, I have to highlight that this place is CASH ONLY. And by only I mean only only. The only places in the whole of Saranda that will accept the card are the grocery stores and even then only if you reach a certain amount. If it is anything less than 10 Euros, you can only pay with cash. I ate at a few different restaurants, had coffee at several cafes, and non of them accepted a card. Which is a bit shocking to me. Even street vendors in South America had a little card machine! And now I am back in Europe and can't pay with a card. And the most bizarre thing was that I took a 30-minute boat to Corfu and I could pay with a card everywhere!
Said that, they do have ATMs on each corner, that offer to withdraw Albanian Leks and Euros. Also, everyone everywhere will accept Euros but the rate will be horrible. Euro value currently is very bad and 1800 Leks are around 17 Euros, but in the restaurant, if the bill comes as 1800 Leks and you only have Euros they will say 18 Euros. Not a big loss if you are hungry and you do not care on the first night but paying with Euros on a daily basis will not be a smart idea.
So to summarize, ideally you get Leks beforehand but also if you arrive and you only have Euros, no worries, for the first night Euros will be enough. You can easily sort out Leks upon your arrival. There are many exchange points.
Best food places in Saranda
I have to say, in general, I am not impressed with what Saranda had to offer food-wise, but of course, I did manage to find 2 amazing places that had great value for money, and most importantly the food was actually excellent!
One place is on the promenade and has the best Greek salad in Saranda, oven-baked pizza, and some traditional goodies, all for really good prices. It is called Nasto and I highly recommend it!
The other one is a veggie place called Green Life that offers amazing vegetarian dishes, only you will need to hike up the mountain. It is the only vegan restaurant in Albania!
Another place despite prices not being too cheap, that I can recommend is La Petit. Wonderful ambiance in the evening for dinner and during the day you can rent the sunbeds by the little private beach. Not too far from the promenade. Only, they were one of the places that did close down in mid-October. But this just confirms my theory - the further out in the hotel zone you are the sooner places close down.
As per cocktails, I have to mention Jericho Bar because it is supposedly the oldest standing bar in Saranda. They have a great selection of cocktails and wonderful views of the promenade. Great sunset-watching spot!
If you want to eat on a budget, make sure you visit restaurants that have the word 'Taverna' before the name. Those tend to be the most budget-friendly places.
How to get to Saranda?
As I mentioned before one way is to fly into Tirana, the capital, and then either get a bus or rent a car and make your way down to Saranda.
Another way how you can get directly to Saranda is by boat from Corfu. You have to fly into Corfu, take a taxi or bus to the Port (10-minute ride), and get a boat to Saranda. There are 2 companies that do that: Finikas Lines and Ionian Seaways. Both are very similar but I preferred Ionian Seaways. They offer a speed boat that takes 30 minutes to get to Saranda. For the timetable please check their web pages as the schedule changes depending on the season.
Upon arrival, you will need to go through the passport control. So make sure you have your documents with you!
Things to do in Saranda
My top recommendation would be a stroll along the promenade. It's a relatively short walk, but thoroughly delightful as you observe the lively atmosphere and watch the locals go about their day.
I would also recommend having a coffee at the embankment in the middle of the promenade. From there you will get amazing views of Saranda and will be at the heart of the city!
Enjoy the crystal clear water at the public beach or pick on the beach bars where you can not only lie by the shore on the beach beds but have lunch and cocktails too.
Enjoy of the many boat rides to different beaches. All the boat tours you will find every day by the embankment. They offer daily departures so an easy one to sort out the night before or in the morning. But
Last but not least is the Lekuresi Castle at the top of Saranda Hill. You either make a hike out of it and hike up or include it as a stop on a day when you have rented a car. The ideal time to visit this castle will be just before the sun goes down as the top of the hill is a great sunset spot!
Those would be my best recommendations for the things to do in Saranda but if you have time, make sure to include some of these day trips:
The Blue Eye