The best view of Tirana, Albania’s capital city, is at the top of a jagged mountain. That’ll come as no surprise to those familiar with the small, quiet country in the Balkans of southeastern Europe.
But here’s the thing: Not many people, especially Americans, are familiar with Albania. History buffs know it’s been in political turmoil since the 1600s. Some recall it being under harsh communist rule until the early 1990s. To others, though, the country is a complete mystery – we’ve even heard people say they didn’t know it existed at all.
At just 16 square miles, Tirana is easy to get to know in a couple of days. We visited during the spring and enjoyed a mix of blue skies, cool air and rain showers. It was on a clear day that we decided to ride the Dajti Exspres, a cable car located just outside the city, to see things from a bird’s eye view.
We started by walking from our Airbnb to the clock tower (Sahati) near Skanderbeg Square, Tirana’s main plaza. We boarded the blue Porcelan bus, confirmed “Dajti Exspres” with the driver, and sat down. During the ride, an attendant came by and collected our bus fare – 40 lek (less than $0.30 USD).
For the next 20 minutes, we cruised through the city and toward Dajti Mountain. As we neared the mountain, we took some turns and the road started to curve. As it started to curve back toward the city, the driver told us to get off and board the bus in front of us. We rode that bus another five minutes before hopping off near Bunk’Art 1, a communist bunker museum, with the driver’s assurance.
From there, we walked about 10 minutes, mostly uphill, to the Dajti Exspres. The paved walk was easy for us, but a taxi may be a better option for those with limited mobility.
When we reached the cable car station, we purchased two round-trip tickets. We had hoped to purchase combined tickets to the cable car and Bunk’Art 1 to save a little money, but were told that offer wasn’t available at the time.
When we got to the platform, on a weekday around 10:30 a.m., we were the only ones there. The cable car is busiest in the winter, when Tirana is blanketed in glistening snow. We were disappointed to see that the windows of the cars were covered in scratches and graffiti, but once inside, some spots offered a clear view.
For the next 15 minutes, the cable car ascended to the peak of Dajti Mountain. The earth fell and Tirana opened up below us. We noticed that the bowl-shaped city was lush and airy, with small lakes and plenty of room to spread out. We tried to point out the city center’s few skyscrapers and high-rises.
When we reached the top, we got off the cable car and walked through the ground floor of the Dajti Tower Belvedere Hotel, a 24-room hotel, restaurant and conference center with a rotating cafe up top. While the hotel is a bit unremarkable, its 360-degree views are amazing.
We sat down at a table at the cafe/bar and realized the platform was moving, ever so slowly. The large, circular space was empty, likely due to the time and day of the week. We ordered cappuccinos and sipped them as our view shifted from the city to the mountainside.
Then, we took a short walk around the tourist complex. We noticed an adventure park, a newer tourist attraction that’s open during the warm months. We also saw signs for hiking, mountain biking and paragliding.
After taking a few pictures of the view, we re-boarded the cable car and headed back down the mountain. The descent was an especially good opportunity to capture video, as the city of Tirana grew closer and closer.
Dajti Exspres: What to Know Before You Go
- The cable car is closed on Tuesdays. It operates Wednesday-Monday only.
- Summer hours (May 1-October 31) are 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
- Winter hours (November 1-April 30) are 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
- Tickets are 6 euros (about $7 USD) each way, but the price is offset by the fact that the rest of Albania is pretty cheap (especially for Europe), and there isn’t a ton of other stuff to do.
- You can take bicycles onto the cable car for free.
- You can bring dogs onto the cable car for 4 euros (about $4.65 USD; round trip).
- It’s colder at the top of the mountain, so make sure to bring layers.
- The cable car is free for hotel guests – so consider making a night of it. Spend the day hiking, eat dinner at the award-winning restaurant and wind down in the rotating bar.