Formally, the ancient Greek city of Epidamnus before becoming the Roman city of Dyrrachium. Durres, Albania has a lot of history. Things to see in Durres include;
- Roman Amphitheater
- Royal Villa of Durres
- Beaches, Promenade, Restaurants and Cocktails
- Archaeological Museum
- Forum and Roman Baths
- Durres Castle (Venetian Tower)
- Fatih Mosque
- Port of Durres
- Day trip to Tirana
I was staying at Amfiteatri Boutique Hotel which offers 24 hour views over the Roman Amphitheater. Most importantly, it’s within walking distance of all the points of interest of the city including the beaches.
In the center of Durres is a huge Roman Amphitheater. An interesting fact about this amphitheater is that is was lost. You may be thinking, how do you lose a huge Roman Amphitheater? During the Ottoman period in Albania, the amphitheater had no importance. Additionally, it had already been badly damaged by several earthquakes. As a result it had been buried and built over. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that a man digging in his garden discovered it. Read more about the Roman Amphitheater of Durres on my travel blog.
Beaches, Promenade, Restaurants and Cocktails
Durres is famous for its beaches and there are several options. As well as the beaches, there’s a pedestrianized promenade walk which connects them. Of course this promenade walk is full of restaurants selling fresh seafood. More importantly, Durres has become a famous city for low cost, high quality cocktails. For this reason, there are several beach bars and a good nightlife.
If you’re looking for a sunset location in Durres, I recommend the Sfinksi. The Sfinksi is a man made viewing platform over the Adriatic sea. As a matter of fact it resembles a theater with it’s seating. An interesting fact is that in this water lies the remains of a sunken steamboat called the Albano.
Royal Villa of Durres
From 1928 to 1939 Albania had a royal family. In this short period, they constructed a royal villa in Durres. As you would expect from a royal villa, the sea views are majestic. After the fall of the Albanian royal family, the villa was used by the communist party. As a result, Enver Hoxha has visited here several times. Former US president, Jimmy Carter visited the Royal Villa of Durres in 1992, he was in this part of the world to discuss the unrest in neighboring Kosovo. During the brief Albanian civil war of 1997 the building was looted. Today, it remains a derelict building. It reminded me of the former residence of Pablo Escobar in Hacienda Napoles near Medellin.
Why is there an archaeological museum in the port city of Durres? You would expect such an important museum to be located in the capital, Tirana. It’s located in Durres because of the fact it’s built on the ancient Greek city of Epidamnus which later transformed into the Roman city of Dyrrachium. For this reason, the majority of pieces on display in the archaeological museum are from the Greek and Roman periods.
Forum and Roman Baths
In the center of Durres is an archaeological site. This site is off limits but you can view it 24 hours a day. As I mentioned, Durres used to be the Greek city of Epidamnus before becoming the Roman city of Dyrrachium. The Roman forum and baths are part of this original city. It’s a unique site to see, Roman structures alongside buildings from the communist period of Albania.
Durres Castle (Venetian Tower)
The castle and city walls were built at the end of the 5th century. They were built to fortify the ancient Roman city of Dyrrachium. In the 13th century the walls were severely damaged, as was the adjacent Roman amphitheater. Why is the castle also known as the Venetian Tower? The Republic of Venice used to be a country, a country so powerful that it ruled this part of the world. It was during the Venetian period in Albania that the castle was reinforced. If you arrive on the boat from Italy, this castle is one of the first things you will see.
I’ve mentioned the Greek, Roman and Venetian history of Durres. There is another huge part to the history of Albania, that is the Ottoman Empire. Of course, the Ottomans brought Islam to Albania and it remains the main religion here today. The Fatih mosque was built at the start of the 16th century. Have you ever seen a yellow mosque before? In front of the mosque is a large city square with fountains and palm trees. On a rainy day, the plaza shines, as a result you can take a wonderful reflection shot of the mosque.
Port of Durres
As I mentioned before, Durres is a port city. How does this affect tourists in the city? The main advantage for tourists is that there are several ferry services which leave from here. The most popular route is the Durres to Bari, Italy and vice versa. If you’re in southern Italy or plan to visit, you should check out the ferry schedule. Another popular route is to Ancona in Northern Italy.
Day Trip to Tirana
With the capital just a 45 minute bus ride away, a day trip to Tirana is a popular activity from Durres. Tirana is home to the impressive Skanderbeg Square, a huge pyramid, communist era buildings as well as a secret nuclear bunker. A day trip to Tirana can be a very rewarding experience.
Hidden Underground Tunnel
There is a hidden underground tunnel in Durres. If you’re reading this, you’ll be one of the few people who know about it. It’s located in the underground floor of the Amfiteatri Boutique Hotel. If you’re staying with them, they’ll be more than happy to show you the hidden entrance. You could even explore it!
How to get from Durres to Ohrid
When I visited the bus station, there was only one bus which left to Struga, Macedonia daily. It left at around 5 pm each evening, arriving quite late in Struga. The information I found on the internet is completely different to reality with regard to this route. For this reason, I recommend you buy your ticket from the bus station a day or two in advance. Checkpoints at both borders were quite strict, although they were concentrating on checking the locals crossing. Their attitude towards foreigners is very friendly. Once you arrive in Struga, you must take a taxi to Ohrid which is less than €10.