We have prepared this Guide to Berat to tell you what to see and do in one of our favourite towns of Albania.
Berat is a small town located 2 hours south of Tirana and is famous for being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is due to its rich history and Ottoman architecture, a style that is only found in some places in the Balkans and in Turkey. Berat was called the city of a thousand windows and was famous in Albania because at night the neighbours illuminated the windows with candles offering a unique view.
In our guide to Berat we want to tell you everything you need to know not to miss anything in this Albanian jewel. We recommend you to stay in Berat for 3 days. The level of culture that you can explore at really low prices is second to none. The town is also perfect for couples, as it is very romantic.
How to Get to Berat
Most tourists arrive from the north, from Tirana or Durrës, or from the south, from Saranda or Vlorë:
- From Tirana or Durrës: Take the SH72 road, the continuation of the road that connects Tirana to Durrës. It is new, faster and safer.
- From the South: Go to Vlorë if you come from Saranda and go up the A2 road through Fier.
With Google Maps and following these two roads you will not have problems finding the way. We do not recommend taking secondary roads, as some of them have uneven surface.
Main Attractions of Berat
First, I will present you the main monuments and attractions of Berat, and then suggest the best itineraries.
Berat is a “divided” city: half of the city is Orthodox and the other half is Muslim, each of them on the other side of the town. This division is a reflection of the traditional Albanian society (before the dictatorship) when the Greek and Turkish influences were well visible in the country.
It is dominated by the mountain with a citadel, with the other half built on the opposite hillm and crossed by a river.
1. The Castle (Citadel) of Berat
The castle of Berat (Kala e Beratit in Albanian) is the main attraction of the city. Located at the top of the mountain, it contains 8 medieval churches (in the past it had more than 30 churches!) and two of the oldest mosques in the country. Today people still live here, within the citadel! It is the soul of the city for its rich history that dates back to the 4th century BC.
Within the citadel, you will find winding streets, Ottoman houses, numerous monuments, attractive restaurants and artisan souvenir shops.
It is a pleasure to get lost in its streets and enjoy the spectacular views of the mountains. The food in the restaurants is delicious and traditional, as well as very economical.
To get to the castle you have to climb a steep slope for about 15 minutes. We don’t recommend to arrive by car, unless you have a jeep: the streets are uneven and very narrow. Many people stop on the way to rest, in summer it can get very hot.
Below we present some pictures of the castle of Berat: since it is immense, it cannot be captured on a single photo.
2. Byzantine Church of the Holy Trinity in Berat
Beautifully located on the side of a steep hill, just outside the city walls, this small church is really remarkable. The Holy Trinity church was built around the 13th century. Its characteristic Byzantine structure is harmonious and proportionate from every side. It is a very photogenic spot.
3. Church of St. George in Berat
The history of the church of San George reflects to perfection the hardness of the past communist regime on the freedom of belief. The second floor of this church was reconverted during the 80s into a tourist apartment for party members. That transformation destroyed the original architecture. Nowadays the first floor of the church is conserved with some interesting objects as shown in the image.
4. Cathedral of the Dormition of Santa Maria and the National Iconographic Museum Onufri
The Cathedral of the Dormition of Santa Maria is a must-see. It is just amazing, surprising, completely different from any other church. Its art is mesmerizing.
The museum is named after Onufri, the best painter of a group of artists from the 16th century who worked in the Balkans. Most of his finest works are kept in Berat. His art is based on the Byzantine style of classical icons and is famous for the colour of his works, called “Onufri red”.
You will find more than 100 works and religious objects of Berat goldsmiths dating from the 14th century, divided into two floors. Many works are anonymous, since before the 15th-16th century the sole purpose of creating them was to revere God. For that reason the author’s name was not mentioned.
The museum is truly fascinating, as the Albanian art is so unusual and in many respects like nothing you have ever seen before.
5. Ethnographic Museum of Berat
The Ethnographic Museum was a house inhabited until recently and converted into a museum. It dates from the end of the 18th century. Here, you can see the style of Ottoman architecture typical for Berat and the traditional lifestyle in the town. It is located in the Mangalemi neighbourhood, right next to the slope that leads to the Castle.
6. Bachelors’ Mosque, King’s Mosque and Lead Mosque
Apart from that, what to see in Berat? After all the churches, it’s time to see the mosques, too, to get a glimpse of this part of the Albanian culture.
The Bachelors’ Mosque is the newest one, set in a prominent place at the end of the main bridge of the town. Curiously, it was built in 1827 for single shop assistants! It stands out for the paintings that are on the outside.
The King’s Mosque, on the other hand, is the oldest mosque in entire Albania. It is located on the street that leads to the castle. Its great highlight are the paintings and skillful woodwork of its interior as you can see in the image below.
Finally it is also interesting to mention the Lead Mosque, built in 1555, with its dome covered with lead.
7. Neighbourhoods of Gorica and Mangalemi
The neighbourhoods of Gorica and Mangalemi are located below and in front of the castle. They are the most picturesque parts of the town – the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In them you will find the main monuments, the most unique hotels and restaurants, as well as the authentic identity of Berat.
The fabulous landscape of traditional houses that surround the mountain, the narrow streets without apparent order and the constant sight of nature make it worthwhile to walk around and explore them.
Now let me show you what to see in Berat and its area day by day.
First Day in Berat: The Castle and the Main Monuments
The first day, try to arrive in the morning, check-in and go out to see the city. We recommend you to:
- Go directly to the castle, to walk and enjoy the multiple churches that are open to the public in the citadel (sometimes you have to ask the locals to enter).
- Visit the Onufri museum (between 1 and 2 hours).
- Eat in one of the restaurants in the castle: they serve authentic local cuisine of excellent quality and the prices are very affordable. One that we particularly liked is Klea restaurant – great location and superb traditional Albanian food.
- At the end, head downhill out of the castle and stop at the Ethnographic Museum (the visit lasts between 1 and 2 hours).
- After the museum, explore the streets of Mangalemi neighbourhood (the one that is closer to the castle), stopping in the multiple artisan shops and the pretty bars and cafes.
- To finish, when it’s getting dark, go to the Gorica neighbourhood and have dinner in a restaurant overlooking the castle (for instance: Ajka restaurant), you will not regret it.
Second Day in Berat: Excursions to Vineyards or the Osumi Canyon / Bogova Waterfalls
The second day, we suggest you explore the surroundings of Berat. The town is located in a beautiful natural enclave. Therefore, you should not miss the opportunity to explore the region to better understand its culture. With this purpose we propose you several plans:
- Visit the gorgeous Osumi canyon and go rafting there. You can buy a guided tour here.
- An alternative is to go to the lovely Bogova waterfalls, in the Skrapar region. Do not forget to buy Raki here, it is well-known for its quality.
- Go to the Çobo winery on the Tomorri mountain to taste its 5 varieties of wine and see the production methods.
In any case, the trips usually last half a day and around 4 o’clock in the afternoon you will be back in Berat. That is the perfect time to visit the King’s Mosque and go to the castle when it gets dark (it remains open for the night), for a memorable dinner in one of the great typical restaurants.
Third Day in Berat: Breakfast and Farewell
After visiting Berat you will continue the itinerary of your trip to Albania, but before you leave this charming town, make sure you have given yourself enough time to enjoy it. In our case, we decided to stay one day longer, as we liked Berat so much!
We recommend you to have breakfast with a view, walk through the Gorica neighbourhood, and visit some of its churches. There are several historical churches in the area. Some are closed, you must ask the locals to open them, but it is worth the effort, as these churches are truly unique.
Euroviajar’s Tip: In summer the heat can become unbearable and you cannot take a frenetic pace. Consider staying one more day if you prefer to relax and enjoy fully the atmosphere of the beautiful streets and hidden treasures of Berat.
Interesting Facts about Berat
One of the most picturesque images of the city is that of the Gorica bridge (traditional Ottoman bridge). It had to be rebuilt several times to withstand the water. The openings that you see in the pillars of the bridge serve to prevent it from falling due to the force of the water when it rains.
But even more striking element of the image is the word NEVER engraved in capital letters on the mountain range. The local story says that in the past, the first name of the dictator: ENVER (Hoxha) was written here. One day, a farmer fed up with the dictatorship decided to blur the first letters and changed them as a form of protest. And for that reason now it reads NEVER.
Anything More to Add to the Guide to Berat?
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