A good place to start is Sheshi Skënderbej, the main square in Tiranë. It’s surrounded by several government buildings, the Muzeu Historik Kombëtar (National Historical Museum), Pallati i Kulturës (Palace of Culture), and the Et’hem Bey Mosque.
In the center of a grassy area in the square sits a large Albanian flag and a monument dedicated to Gjergj Kastrioti, also known as Skënderbej. He led a revolt against Ottoman forces that kept Albania free for 25 years, and is hailed as the “Savior of Christianity” by some because his revolt prevented a full-scale Ottoman attack of Europe. There were once statues of Joseph Stalin and Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, but they were removed after the fall of communism.
On one side of the square, the Muzeu Historik Kombëtar (National Historical Museum) is easily noticed by the giant mosaic on the front, titled “The Albanians”. It’s the largest museum in Albania and opened in 1981. I didn’t visit, but I was told it was worth the time. On another side is the Pallati i Kulturës (Palace of Culture), which holds the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet and the National Library of Albania. The first stone of the building was laid by Nikita Krushchev in 1959 and it was finished in 1963.
A short walk east of the square is the TID Tower, which is the tallest building in the city at 25 stories. In its shadow sits a statue of Sulejman Pashë Ballgjini, the Ottoman general who founded Tiranë in 1618. A few steps away is the Unknown Partisan Monument, dedicated to the Albanians who died fighting fascism. It was erected on the former site of the Sulejman Pasha Mosque, built in 1614.
Across the street is another Ottoman landmark, the tomb of Kapllan Pasha, built in 1817. Kapllan Pasha was the ruler of Tiranë in the early 19th century. The tomb was undergoing restoration during my visit.
The Fortress of Justinian, a Byzantine fortress built in the 6th century when Tiranë was just an outpost, is located a block south of the tomb of Kaplan Pasha. It’s located on a nice pedestrian street lined with a few cafés.
East of the fortress is a small park with views of Kuvendi i Shqipërisë (Albanian Parliament), and the oddly-named George W. Bush Street. Across Bush St. is the former headquarters for the politically persecuted Albanians, Shoqata e ish të Përndjekurve Politikë.
Continuing along the road past the building is the Ura e Tabakëve (Tanner’s Bridge), an Ottoman footbridge built in the 18th century over the Lanë River. It used to be the main connection between Tiranë and the eastern highlands. When the Lanë River was rerouted in the 1930s, the bridge lost its importance.
Between Sheshi Skënderbej and the river is Parku Rinia (Youth Park). It was developed in 1950 during communist times and now has a building full of restaurants and cafés. After the fall of communism, the park was filled with over 130 illegal buildings that were demolished in 2000.
A bit out of the way and perhaps not worth seeking out is a 3rd century Roman mosaic. I ended up getting lost in Tiranë’s back streets trying to find it. When I finally arrived, I was a bit disappointed. The mosaic was not as spectacular as I was expecting, but it was a Roman mosaic nonetheless, and the locals are very proud of it. There are also some ruined foundations on the site.