Saranda’s recorded history goes back to Ancient Epirus, which was a Greek state between roughly the 4th and 2nd centuries B.C. In antiquity, the town was known as Onchesmus (or Onchesmos). It was an important port town in the time of Cicero. Later, it fell under the control of the Byzantine and subsequently the Ottoman Empire. It was later occupied by Italy and Greece as well.
Stroll The Hasan Tahsini Boulevard
One of the first things you should do in Saranda is going for a stroll on the Hasan Tahsini Boulevard. This beautiful pedestrian seaside walkway lies on the north shore of the little bay of Saranda.
The boulevard offers beach access, while many bars and cafes serve a variety of drinks and snacks. There are fun markets to explore in summer, too, which are exceptional places to find souvenirs. This makes for a top-notch first impression of the city.
Explore The Ancient Synagogue Complex
Historically, a rather large Jewish community has called Saranda and southern Albania home for many centuries. One of the best places to visit in Saranda to explore this fascinating heritage is the old Synagogue Complex near the City Hall.
This ancient building complex dates from the 5th century and once included a school and community center, along with various religious structures. After being destroyed by an earthquake, the synagogue was rebuilt as a basilica in the 6th century.
Enjoy The Views From The 40 Saints Monastery
Arguably the most significant Saranda tourism highlights are the 40 Saints Monastery. This 6th-century monastery is literally how the city got its name—Saranda means 40 in Greek. It was modified extensively over the next centuries, though. According to the legend, the monastery was built in honor of forty Roman martyrs who wouldn’t renounce their Christian faith and were banished.
Because of the remaining war damage, the monastery isn’t in a particularly great state, but just because of its historical importance and wonderful views of Saranda, it’s still worth visiting. If you ask permission from Saranda’s city hall, you can enter the surviving crypt.
Feel Like You’re In Paradise In Ksamil
One of the most popular destinations in the Albanian Riviera, Ksamil lies just south of Saranda. It’s home to one of the best beaches in Saranda, which are filled with beach chairs and lined with bustling bars and restaurants.
It’s a super-busy spot in summer, yet there are still pockets where you can find some more peace and quiet. Known as the “Ionian Pearl,” Ksamil is also famous for its crystal-clear water and a handful of islands, a couple of which you can even swim to. If you’re looking for a great Saranda beach, you’ll find a seashore paradise right here. Getting from Saranda to Ksamil is a piece of cake. You could either rent a car in Saranda yourself—giving you the freedom to do some more exploring in the region—or hop on a direct bus between the two towns.
Sunbathe On Mirror Beach
Located just before Ksamil, Mirror Beach is a relatively secluded beach that offers great snorkeling opportunities and is pretty quiet. However, the question is how long that will remain this way since this beach is continuously mentioned in overviews of the best beaches in Saranda, Albania. Yes, that includes this post, too!
That being said, Mirror Beach does get crowded in summer, though. And because the road in and out is small and bumpy, you’re advised to leave early.
Visit Dhermi Village and Dhermi Beach
Just north of Saranda, you’ll find the village of Dhermi, built on the seaward slopes of the Ceraunian Mountains. This small town is home to one of the greatest beaches in the Albanian Riviera.
Additionally, experiencing its nightlife is regarded as one of the top things to do in Albania by the youth of Albania. Even though it’s home to a glorious Saranda beach, this is a small village, though, so it will never be too overwhelmingly busy.
Get Stuffed On Fresh Fish And Seafood
A real Saranda travel experience is not complete without indulging in the city’s delicious fish and seafood. After all, this is a rather large coastal city, and its fleet of fishing boats brings in loads of freshly caught fish every day.
You can head over to the fishing harbor and directly buy all kinds of fish and seafood from the fishermen. Alternatively, you can find an abundance of different fish dishes adorn Saranda restaurant menus.
Drive Llogara Pass
If you like to visit Albania’s national parks, there are a couple of great options near Saranda. Llogara National Park is an incredible coastal mountain park about two hours’ drive north of the city. This scenic park lies just north of Dhermi, by the way, so it makes for an enjoyable combination for a day trip from Saranda.
Llogara National Park features gorgeous mountain and forest scenery, but its most famous feature is the Llogara Pass. This scenic drive actually retraces—more or less—the route taken by none other than Julius Caesar himself when he chased General Pompey in 48 B.C. It’s a beautiful little drive up from Dhermi and offers spectacular views of the Albanian Riviera below.
Swim At The Longest Beach On The Ionian Sea Coast
Seven kilometers long, Borsh Beach, is the longest beach on the Ionia Sea coast. It’s considered one of Albania’s best places for sunbathers and beach-goers, surrounded by beautiful hills and trees.
Because it’s so long, you’ll find stretches where there are plenty of people, but also sections that offer ultimate privacy so, whether you’re feeling like being part of a crowd or basking in solitude, this fantastic beach as it all.
Visit Lekuresi Castle
Located on a strategic hilltop overlooking Saranda, the Ksamil Islands, the Albanian Riviera, and Corfu, Lekuresi Castle is a major tourist attraction in the Saranda area.
Dating from the mid-16th century, it’s the perfect destination if you’d like to get out of town for a couple of hours. Nowadays, the castle houses a restaurant. You can get there by either hiking up for 30-45 minutes or getting a taxi from the city.
Spend The Afternoon In Butrint National Park
It’s fair to say that when you visit Saranda, you simply have to visit Butrint National Park as well. One of the dozen-plus national parks in Albania, Butrint is actually one of Albania’s absolute must-see places. Designated as World Heritage by UNESCO, it features a wide range of highlights.
Its main claim to fame is the ancient city of Butrint, which is situated within the park. This marvelous collection of ruins represents human history in the region better than anything else. It includes sites that date from the 4th century B.C. all the way through 19th-century Ottoman fortifications.
In addition to this superb historical significance, Butrint National Park is also home to lots of wildlife. It’s the only place in the country where you can see tortoises and Balkan wall lizards. Dolphins frolic in the waters while wolves roam the hillsides.
A visit to Butrint, a highlight of both Saranda and Albania tourism, should absolutely be on your itinerary if you’re spending time in the Albanian Riviera. It’s one of the top Albania tourist attractions.
Don’t Miss Ali Pasha Castle
This is a beautiful site that’s sometimes overlooked by tourists visiting Butrint National Park from Saranda. Don’t make that mistake! About a minute before you reach Butrint, you’ll see a turnout with a parking lot and viewing platform. From here, there’s a view of Ali Pasha Castle in the distance, sitting on its own small island. It’s not the most imposing castle, but its location, surrounded by water, is what sets it apart from other Albania attractions.
This fine castle dates from either the 15th or 16th century. Built by the Venetians on Corfu, it later became one of Ali Pasha’s residences of Tepelenë until 1820.
See Syri I Kalter – The Blue Eye
One of Albania’s most popular tourist attractions, Syri I Kalter, is a famous freshwater spring about 22 kilometers inland from downtown Saranda. This stunning natural phenomenon is extraordinary because its crystal-clear blue water bubbles up from a spring at the bottom of a karst pool more than 50 meters deep (no one really knows how deep it actually is).
Known in English as the “Blue Eye”—its bright blue water and round shape does make it look like a huge iris—this is unquestionably one of the greatest Saranda tourism attractions and a fabulous place to visit with kids.