The undiscovered guide to Shkodër, Albania
View of Shkodër, Albania from Rozafa Castle

Shkodër is a North Albanian city beside Lake Shkodra, Southern Europe’s largest lake which Albania shares with Montenegro (where it’s called Skadar). It’s around two hours’ drive from Tirana and considered the gateway to the Albanian Alps. Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best things to do in Shkodër, including a couple of hidden gems of our own – we are, after all, Undiscovered Balkans.

And Shkodër (aka Shkodra) is certainly “undiscovered” as most travellers pass through it on their way to hike the Valbona pass or to visit Komani Lake. So, what can you expect from a stay in Shkodër? Once the ancient Illyrian capital, Shkodër is Albania’s fifth most populated city with a history spanning 2,200 years. Compared to Tirana, it’s very laid back and it has a somewhat Adriatic vibe, particularly in the pedestrianised old town along Kole Idromeno which is flanked by boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops.

The beauty of Shkodër is you can tick off most of its top sights by foot as they’re concentrated around the old town. It’s equally a great city to explore by bike, earning it the title of Albania’s cycling city.


Read our other Balkan city guides and find more travel tips and inspiration on the blog.


Things to do in Shkodër

Rozafa Castle

Rozafa Castle, Shkodër, Albania

Rozafa Castle – aka Shkodër Castle – is a must do when visiting the area and with it towering over the city from 130m above, it’s hard to miss. A limestone fortress built in stages since the 3rd century BC, it’s remarkably preserved. Rozafa Castle offers an unbeatable view over Shkodër and from the back of the fortress, you can see the Drini, Kir and Buna rivers converging and feeding into Lake Shkodra.

Be sure to visit the statue of Rozafa which is said to leak breast milk. Legend has it three men built the castle and each night, the walls fell down. They were advised to sacrifice one of their wives and put her in the walls to keep it from falling and the men decided whichever wife brought them lunch the following day would be the one. Breaking the pact, two men warned their wives not to come the next day so Rozafa, the youngest man’s wife, turned up. Rozafa agreed to the sacrifice on one condition: they leave half of her body out so she could still breastfeed her baby. To this day, the statue and castle walls are said to leak milk (really, it’s rainwater mixing with the limestone).

Venetian mask factory

Guest Laura holds one of the Venetian masks up to her face at the workshop in Rozafa Castle, Shkodër, Albania.

We bet you didn’t know that Shkodër is home to Europe’s largest supplier of Venetian carnival masks? A post-communism success story, the Venice Art Mask factory is a family business established by Edmond Angoni. Since childhood, he had loved to paint and for many years, he worked in Italy painting intricate designs on buildings.

After moving back to Albania, Angoni set up the mask workshop in 1996 and by 2004, he had seven shops across the world. Each mask is meticulously handmade and painted. If you’re on tour with us, we’ll won’t let you leave Shkoder without a visit, but you can also visit the workshop independently. Find it in the industrial area of Rruga Inxh Gjovalin Gjadrand and learn about the process with live demonstrations before stepping inside their mask emporium where we challenge you not to walk out with a mask of your own (because they’re too beautiful to resist). If you want to take home a souvenir, they offer international postage so you needn’t worry about fitting it in your suitcase.

Artizanat

Artizanat shop front in Shkodër, Albania

Another inspiring local story, Kristina Mjeda is one of the few remaining artisans in Albania still producing traditional weaving and embroidery and she’s working hard to get it officially listed as UNESCO intangible heritage. During communism, Mjeda’s family had to take the business underground as the regime tried to stamp out the tradition and her uncle was caught and arrested for doing so.

Many hotels around the country contract her to design traditional pieces for the rooms and she ships out a lot of her work to the Albanian diaspora too. Pop along to Kristina’s shop Artizanat and browse her beautiful collection for a truly authentic souvenir. Kristina doesn’t speak much English, so if you want to find out more about her workshop and living under the communist regime, you will need somebody who can translate with you.

Marubi Museum

Marubi National Museum of Photography, Shkodër, Albania
Marubi Museum, Shkodër, Albania. Credit: Marubi Museum (www.marubi.gov.al)

Located at the heart of Shkodër’s old town is another one of Albania’s ties to Italy. The Marubi National Museum of Photography was founded in 1856 by Italian painter and photographer Pietro Marubbi who settled in Shkodër at the time. At the centre of the museum, you’ll find an exhibit dedicated to him. After sauntering around the displays, step out onto Kole Idromeno Street and stroll past colourful Ottoman and Venetian buildings which now house coffee shops, restaurants and bakeries; it’s a beautiful, buzzing spot to sit and enjoy a leisurely coffee or nibble while you people watch.

St Stephen’s Cathedral

St Stephen's Cathedral, Shkodër, Albania

Constructed in 1867, St Stephen’s Cathedral – or Shkodër Cathedral – is dedicated to Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. It’s not as ornate as Belgrade’s Temple of Saint Sava, but it’s still worth stepping inside to admire its interior and deepen your understanding of Albania as you learn about the persecution Albania’s religious leaders including Catholics experienced during communism. Notice the painting of Albanian nun Mother Teresa in pride of place near the high altar. Just make sure you carry a scarf with you to cover your legs and shoulders before entering.

Ebu Bekër Mosque

Shkodër Great Mosque, Shkodër, Albania

Another beautiful piece of religious architecture in Shkodër is Ebu Bekër Mosque or “the Great Mosque” to locals. It was built in 1996 in place of the older mosque (Fushë Çela), a legacy of the Ottomans which was destroyed by the communists. The original mosque was highly important in terms of scholarly learning for the city and originally had its own madrasa (Islamic school). Occupying 623 m² (6,702.9 ft²), it can accommodate 1,300 worshippers at once. You can visit the mosque outside of prayer times. Legs and shoulders must be covered and women must also cover their heads.

Site of Witness and Memory

The Site of Witness and Memory, Shkodër, Albania
Credit: Site of Witness and Memory (www.vdkshkoder.com)

If you’re interested in learning about what life was like under communism in Albania, this is the place to go in Shkodër. The Site of Witness and Memory is an old prison turned memorial to those who lost their lives under the regime as well as a museum with photos, videos and documents from the time on display. It isn’t on the scale of Bunk’ART 1 and 2 in Tirana, but you will still find disturbing accounts of people’s experiences. For this reason, it’s not a place we would recommend visiting with children.

Lake Shkodra

A yellow tourist boat pictured at Shkoder Lake in Albania, pulled in at a shingle beach with fishing boats, on a sunny day with calm water and the Accursed mountains in the background

Of course, you can’t visit Shkodër and skip Lake Shkodra, Southern Europe’s largest lake and a protected nature reserve. Boat tours depart from Shiroka Village, where you can also grab a spot of lunch on the lakeside. Before communism, this was a holiday hotspot and lots of Albanian people had villas here including the former Albanian King Zog. Make it a full day trip by renting a bike and cycling there, and be sure to admire water birds such as White Egret, Pygmy Cormorant, Whiskered Tern and even Dalmatian Pelican. Alternatively, join our North Albania holiday and we’ll take you SUP-boarding for a proper nature immersion, and to visit traditional weavers based at an idyllic fishing village with views across the water and on to the dramatic peaks of the Accursed Mountains.

Feeling inspired? Browse our Albania adventure holidays and find more Albania travel tips, guides and inspiration on the blog.