Albania’s Well-Kept Secret: 8 Things To Do In Ksamil and Butrint 2024

Albania’s Well-Kept Secret: 8 Things To Do In Ksamil and Butrint 2024


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On our epic road trip through the Balkan countries, my friend Lovisa and I saved one of the best spots for last – Ksamil. Amongst my group of well-traveled friends, the name of this seaside town on Albania’s Riviera was frequently passed around as one of those incredible, but still cheap and off-the-radar destination.

Our arrival coincided perfectly with the end of the shoulder season, a time when the crowds have departed and the town unwinds as locals wrap up their working year. We had just left the enchanting town of Gjirokaster, a cold spell in the mountains, amidst an otherwise long stretch of perfect September weather. Before flying home, we wanted to savor one last dip in the warm waters of the Ionian Sea.

Ksamil from drone

October is when things in Ksamil start closing, but the beaches and islands are still warm – and we get them all to ourselves.

I know this place won’t stay a hidden gem for long, so now is the time to visit. Here’s my curated itinerary and list of must-do things in Ksamil for the perfect getaway adventure.

Is Ksamil Worth Visiting?

Ksamil reminds me so much of my favorite seaside town on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast – Kas. Warm, crystal-clear waters, a laid-back atmosphere, amazing food, and completely explorable by foot. Sort of a goldilocks of beach destinations.

Coincidentally, both are conveniently located next to ancient ruins. Kas, next to the underwater Lycian city of Kekova and Ksamil, near the ancient ruins of Butrint.

You’re getting a perfect blend of natural beauty and cultural richness, with none of the crowds of the Italy or Greece’s beaches. I really can’t ask for more.

When people tell me they are going to Albania, my first question is whether they are planning to go to Ksamil. Most are unaware of this town, but know of Sarande. I always get a kick out of telling them about this magical place.

So yes, it’s worth it, especially if you’re already close by in Gjirokaster, which is only 1.5 hours away.

Ksamil Beach Resort

Top Things To Do In Ksamil

1. Sunbathe At The Best Beaches In Ksamil

Ksamil Beach

You’ll find plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs to park down along the clear, turquoise water and soft sand. Even in October, the water was invitingly warm. We spent our first afternoon here after lunch. Choose a restaurant to eat and you can use their chairs.

My favorite spot was right at the tip of looking out at the Ksamil islands. I mean, look at this.

Bora Bora Beach

On the other side of Ksamil Beach is Bora Bora Beach with its lively beach bars and water sports. Lovisa and I rented kayaks and spent a couple of hours exploring the coastline and islands from here.

Lori Beach

Lori Beach is less crowded and was pretty close to one of the places where we stayed. We packed up part of our breakfast and had a bit of a picnic here, reading and relaxing on this more secluded stretch of sand.

Neasden Lane Beach

This was another empty beach for us. I think, even during the high season, its tucked away location will still offer a more serene and intimate spot to sunbathe. The shallow waters was great for just floating around or dipping in to cool off.

2. Kayaking to Ksamil Islands

Rent a kayak and paddle out to the nearby uninhabited islands. The first one is actually you can easily swim to from the main beach. Isole Gemelle di Ksamil was my favorite spot. From above, the two adjoining islands look like wings.

Ksamil Islands from a drone

One of the highlights was discovering a secluded cove where we swam and sunbathed undisturbed. We spent a few hours island hopping and did a full loop around the big Ksamil Island. If you’re not sure about navigating the waters by yourself, you can do a guided sunrise or sunset paddle-boarding trip.

3. Explore Butrint National Park

A 15-minute drive from Ksamil, Butrint National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with ancient ruins. We spent a few hours wandering through the remains of this ancient city, which features Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Venetian influences. The ancient theater, Roman baptistery, and Venetian castle were particularly impressive. Walking through history in such a picturesque setting was a surreal experience.

See my in-depth guide to Butrint below.

Aerial view of the Amphitheater at Butrint

4. Ride the Floating “Cable Ferry”

On the way out from Butrint, you have to cross the unique floating pull ferry over the Butrint Vivari Channel. The manually operated ferry is basically a giant platform on floating buoys, connected by a dual-pulley system. It’s a quirky, fun way to cross the channel to continue your exploration. It’s large enough for cars to be transported across.

There’s a man that operates the bridge from the other side and one who sits on the platform itself and collects the money. We paid 100 LEK for the roundtrip. You won’t have to wait long as it goes back and forth quite frequently whenever there’s someone waiting.

5. Explore The Nearby Beaches and Coves

Shpella e Pellubave

Also known as the Cave of Doves, this spot is a short hike from Ksamil and offers stunning views of the coastline. The cave itself is a fascinating place to explore, and the surrounding area is perfect for a secluded picnic.

Pulebardha Beach

A hidden gem that offers a more peaceful beach experience. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon here, snorkeling and basking in the sun.

Pulebardha Beach near Ksamil

Plazhi I Pasqyrave

Known for its stunning cliffs and crystal-clear waters. We took a short boat ride to this beach and were blown away by the dramatic landscape. It felt like a secret hideaway.

Plazhi I Manastirit

Located near an old monastery, this beach is another tranquil spot. The combination of historical ruins and beautiful scenery makes it a unique place to visit. We spent a peaceful afternoon exploring the ruins and enjoying the serene beach.

6. Enjoy The Local Cuisine And Seafood

Traditional Albanian Cuisine: Try dishes like Fërgesë (peppers, tomatoes, and cheese) or Tave Kosi (baked lamb with yogurt and rice) at one of the quaint tavernas in town. One evening, we dined at Family Restaurant & Grill and just let the owner order for us. Everything turned was so good for such a reasonable price too.

Guvat Restaurant: This place had great food and the most stunning view of the sea. We had an incredible lunch here, with the grilled octopus, prompting a return for an early sunset dinner the next night. Trust me on this one.

Mussels House: We had mussels everyday in Ksamil, and couldn’t get enough of how plump and fresh they are down here. Not only is this the spot to have mussels, but the restaurant is on an open platform next to the water. Try the muscles in the different sauces, and save room for the risotto. The flavors were rich and the portion sizes generous. It’s a bit out of town on the way to the other beaches.

7. Get Underwater and Go Scuba Diving or Snorkeling

Explore the underwater world of the Ionian Sea with a scuba diving excursion. If you like wreck, Ksamil is the spot for you. There are six sunken military ships intentionally sunk by the Albanian government to create an underwear park. They range from 16 meters to 30 meters. The water here is around 17°C (62°F), so it’s a bit colder than what I’m used to in the tropics, but worth it if you like an atmospheric dive.

Beginners can learn in the shallows around the mussel farms and see where all the delicious mussels come from.

8. Take An Albanian Cooking Class

If you’re a foodie or just want to learn how to cook the amazing and traditional Albanian dishes you’ve been eating, take a local cooking class. My friend and I love to cook. She’s more of a beginner, so we opted for this fantastic course with a local grandmother where we learned to make a Lakror pie, Fërgesë starter, and stuffed Dolmas.

It was a fun couple of hours when the weather was a bit gloomy and we enjoyed our creations afterwards.

Exploring Butrint National Park: Albania’s Ancient Marvel

A Brief History of Butrint

The Butrint ruins are an incredibly well-preserved Greek settlement and UNESCO World Heritage site. The site spans several epochs, from the Bronze Age through to the Ottoman period. Founded by the Greeks in the 8th century BC, Butrint was originally a settlement due to its strategic location on the Vivari Channel, which links Lake Butrint to the Ionian Sea. This position made it an important hub and port for trade and military activities.

What Makes Butrint Special

Butrint is a unique archaeological site because it encapsulates the layering of civilizations. Over the centuries, it has been influenced by Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman cultures. This blend of historical periods is evident in the diverse ruins that dot the site, making it a compelling destination for history buffs and casual tourists alike. Its setting within a lush national park adds to the allure, providing a serene backdrop to the ancient ruins.

The Original Purpose of Butrint

Originally, Butrint served as a Greek colony, primarily for trading purposes. Its location allowed for control over maritime routes and offered protection against invasions. As it grew in significance, Butrint developed into a fortified city-state, boasting impressive structures like theaters, temples, and public baths. During the Roman era, it flourished as a colony, further expanding its infrastructure with aqueducts, forums, and villas.

Rediscovery of Butrint

Butrint fell into decline during the Middle Ages and was eventually abandoned. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that European explorers began to rediscover its significance. The first major excavations were carried out in the 1920s by Italian archaeologists, who unearthed many of the site’s key structures. Subsequent excavations and restorations have continued, revealing more about its storied past.

Visiting Butrint: Admission and Access

Admission Price: The entrance fee to Butrint National Park is 1000 LEK. The park is open from 8 am until sunset, and the museum is open from 9 am until 4 pm.

Ksamil To Butrint By Bus: Local buses run frequently between Saranda and Butrint, with stops in Ksamil. The fare from Ksamil to Butrint is usually around 100 LEK and takes about 15 minutes.

Main Things to See Inside Butrint

It would take hours to properly explore everything at Butrint, but you can visit the most impressive sites within 1.5 hours. While they are impressive on their own, it is so much better with a guide who can give the history the place. Stories will give context to the things you’re seeing so they aren’t just old ruins.

The Roman Theater

One of the highlights of Butrint is its ancient theater, which dates back to the 3rd century BC. Built into the side of a hill, the theater could accommodate around 2,500 spectators. It was used for various performances and public meetings. The structure is remarkably well-preserved, and visitors can still see the original seating tiers and the stage area.

The Amphitheater at Butrint National Park

The Roman Forum

The forum was the center of public life in Roman Butrint. Here, you’ll find the remains of administrative buildings and temples. The area is an excellent spot to understand the layout of the city and its significance during the Roman period.

Roman forum at Butrint National Park

The Roman Bath

The Roman Bath in Butrint is characterized by its well-preserved layout and impressive masonry. Visitors can observe the remains of the heating system known as the hypocaust, which was used to heat the floors and walls of the baths. This system involved a network of underground channels and stacks of tiles that allowed hot air to circulate, creating a warm and comfortable environment for bathers.

The bath complex also includes remnants of the changing rooms (apodyterium) and exercise areas (palaestra). The layout and design of the baths illustrate the Romans’ meticulous attention to detail and their commitment to hygiene and leisure.

The Baptistery at Butrint National Park

The Baptistery

The baptistery is one of the most impressive structures in Butrint, known for its large circular mosaic floor, which dates back to the 6th century AD. The mosaics feature intricate designs of animals and plants, representing early Christian iconography. While the mosaics are often covered for preservation, they are sometimes revealed for visitors to admire.

The Venetian Castle

Perched on top of a hill overlooking the site, the Venetian castle was built in the 16th century. It offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including Lake Butrint and the Vivari Channel. The castle now houses a small museum displaying artifacts from the site’s various archaeological periods.

The Great Basilica

This large basilica was constructed in the 6th century AD and served as the main place of worship in Butrint. Its grand size and the remnants of its columns and arches give visitors a sense of the building’s former grandeur.

Great Basilica at Butrint National Park

The Lion Gate

The Lion Gate is one of the original entrances to the city, dating back to the 4th century BC. It is named after the carved relief of a lion attacking a bull, symbolizing strength and power. The gate is an iconic part of Butrint and provides a dramatic entry point into the ancient city.

The Acropolis

Situated on the highest point of the site, the acropolis was the original fortified settlement. From here, visitors can enjoy stunning views of the entire archaeological park and the surrounding natural beauty. The acropolis also contains the remains of a Byzantine church.

Where to Stay in Ksamil

Let’s talk about the layout of Ksamil first. There is one main road that runs parallel to the coastline. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from one end of Ksamil to the other. Most places are walkable, so whether you choose to stay in the main area or away, you won’t need a car once you’re in town.

Near the Main Beach

Staying near the main beach of Ksamil is the clear choice. You get convenience and ease of movement between the popular spots. This area is where you want to be if you want to visit be around the restaurants, kayak the islands, and be in the heart of the action. Considering that the prices are not all that different from spots 10-15 minutes away, this is where I decided to stay.

1. Azura Ksamil

Azura Ksamil has an unbeatable location just a short walk from the stunning beaches of Ksamil. Rooms are spacious and modern with balconies that overlook the Ionian Sea. It’s also got a nice pool if you want to take a fresh water dip.

2. EMAAR

EMAAR Hotel is almost next door to Azura and has the same stunning views with a lighter price-tag. The hotel’s rooms feature private balconies with breathtaking sea views.

3. Summer Gate

Summer Gate Hotel is another budget option located just a few minutes’ walk from the shores of Ksamil’s main beaches. Considering the location, the price and the private balconies overlooking the waters, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option

Near Lori Beach

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a bit more seclusion, I would stay closer to Lori Beach. Located slightly away from the main hub, this area offers a more relaxed atmosphere while still being about a 15 minute walk to the main part of town. What you get as a trade-off are stunning views of the Ionian Sea and are typically surrounded by lush greenery, creating a serene environment.

1. Ventus Hotel

Ventus Hotel is a my pick if you want to be right near the water by Lori Beach. The rooms are clean and simple and close to some of the tavernas in town that I liked. It’s a good halfway point here you can get away from the main beaches that can get quite crowded during the summer. We chose this place for the price point and proximity to the beach.

2. Nobbu Hotel

Nobbu Hotel stands out in the area near Lori Beach. The hotel’s rooms are spacious and elegantly furnished, with balconies that offer stunning sea views.

Best Time To Visit Ksamil

The best time to visit Ksamil is during the shoulder seasons of late spring (May to June) and early fall (September to October), when the weather is warm and pleasant. The average temperatures ranges from 18°C to 30°C (64°F to 86°F), so you can easily comfortably swim and explore without the summer crowds.

Summer (July to August)

If you can only travel during the summer, at least you know the place will be lively and everything is opened. The average temperature hovers around 30°C (86°F), and the sea is warm, but refreshing. However, this is the peak tourist season, so expect more crowds and higher prices for accommodation and services. You’ll want to book in advance.

Fall (September to October)

My favorite time to travel to popular beach destinations. The weather remains warm, with temperatures ranging from 18°C to 25°C (64°F to 77°F), and the sea is still comfortable for swimming. Most of the places will still be open, while some will start shuttering in mid-October. Prices will drop more and more as you get to the the tail end of this shoulder season.

Spring (May to June)

Late spring will be similar to the Fall shoulder season, but a bit cooler, with temperatures between 20°C and 27°C (68°F to 81°F). This is a great time to explore the natural beauty of Ksamil when things start to warm up. The water is still swimmable, but it usually warms up in June.

Winter (November to April)

The winter in Ksamil is mild so if you just want a quiet escape without the beach activities, go wild. The average temperature ranges from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F). A lot of restaurants and hotels will be closed, as the locals go back to their homes elsewhere, but it can be a peaceful time to explore places like Butrint.

Getting to Ksamil

From Tirana

By Car: The drive from Tirana to Ksamil takes approximately 4.5 hours. The route is scenic, passing through the Albanian countryside and along the coast. We enjoyed the drive, stopping at various viewpoints along the way.

By Bus: Buses from Tirana South and North Bus Terminal to Saranda run regularly, costing around €15-20.

From Saranda, you can take a short taxi ride to Ksamil, which costs approximately €10-15.

From Gjirokaster

By Car: The drive from Gjirokaster to Ksamil takes about 1.5 hours. The road is well-maintained and the views are stunning.

By Bus: Buses are available from Gjirokaster bus station to Saranda, costing around €5-7, with connections to Ksamil.

The taxi from Saranda to Ksamil is approximately €10-15.

Closest Airport

The closest airport to Ksamil is Corfu International Airport (CFU) in Greece. From Corfu, you can take a ferry to Saranda, which is about 15 kilometers (approximately 9 miles) from Ksamil. See Ferry information below regarding passport control.

Ferry Schedule and Prices from Corfu to Saranda

High-Speed Ferry (Ionian Seaways and Finikas Lines)

Duration: Approximately 30 minutes

Cost: €23-€30 one way

8:00 AM (Ionian Seaways)

9:00 AM (Finikas Lines)

12:00 PM (Ionian Seaways)

3:00 PM (Finikas Lines)

Regular Ferry (Joy Lines and Finikas Lines)

Duration: Approximately 70 minutes

Cost: €20-€25 one way

7:30 AM (Joy Lines)

8:30 AM (Finikas Lines)

1:00 PM (Joy Lines)

5:00 PM (Finikas Lines)

Booking Tickets

Tickets can be booked in advance online through the ferry operators’ websites or purchased at the port. Booking in advance is recommended during the peak season to ensure availability.

Additional Tips

Check schedules closer to your travel date as they can vary depending on the season. Arrive at the port at least 30 minutes before departure to allow time for ticketing and boarding procedures. Since you are traveling between Greece (Schengen Zone)  and Albania, you will need to go through passport control, so have your travel documents ready.

Ksamil Or Sarande: Which Town Is Better?

Sarande is the well known and larger of the two towns. There are more hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, and amenities as well as it being the stopping point for public transports to and from other cities in Albania. Ksamil feels more like a small seaside town. Sarande is about 20 minutes by car from Ksamil, so if you’re undecided, you stay at one and visit both.

Prices: Ksamil tends to be cheaper in terms of accommodation and dining. You can enjoy a meal in Ksamil for around 1000-1500 LEK, whereas in Sarande it might cost slightly more.

Crowds: Ksamil is less crowded, especially in the shoulder seasons. This means more beach space and a quieter, relaxing experience.

Beaches: The beaches in Ksamil are generally less crowded and the water is clearer. Sarande has more urban beaches which can get quite busy and a bit rough.

Atmosphere: Ksamil offers a laid-back, village-like atmosphere, while Sarande is more bustling and city-like with a vibrant nightlife.

For me, Ksamil is the way to go, but if you’re looking to party and have access to a bigger city, you can always stay in Sarande and take day trips to Ksamil and Butrint.

Ksamil Beach seaside view from Guvat restaurant

I hope that helps with your planning. If you’re looking for other travel inspirations, scroll through some of the 450+ experiences on my bucket list. Maybe you’ll find your next adventure on there.

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Updated on July 3, 2024

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