When visiting Southern Albania you will no doubt be blown away by the beaches of Ksamil, and the colorful shores of Saranda. However, there’s one more very important place that should be on your list! Butrint is one of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Albania, and it’s easy to see how well deserved that recognition is. Butrint National Park in Albania may be off the international radar, but it holds just as much historical importance as anywhere in the Mediterranean. Join us as we take you through all the best parts of Butrint, from the Lake to the ancient Roman Theatre!
Albania Travel Inspiration
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Guide to Butrint National Park Albania
Cost: 700 Lek
Time Needed: 2 Hours
Location: SH81, Butrint, Butrint
Greek Origins and the God of Medicine in Butrint Albania
The early beginnings of Butrint Albania can be traced back to the nearby island of Corfu Greece. The Greeks came from just across the Ionian Sea in 6th century BC to create a settlement, but the area has been inhabited since pre-historic times.
It’s this movement and Asclepius, the God of Medicine, to which Butrint owes its growth too. The first section of ruins was the site of the temple in Asclepius’s name where people would seek refuge for hundreds of years. The following was so powerful a “Cult of Asclepius” even later emerged in Greece, Italy, and many of its colonies.
Roman Theatre at Butrint National Park
After passing the former site of the temple, you’ll walk over a bridge leading towards the 4th Century BC Roman Theatre. To our surprise, there were dozens of turtles in the water under the bridge! Entering the ancient theatre was the first moment when we realized not only the gravity of where we were, but that we were literally all alone in Lake Butrint!
As we sat and gazed at the well-preserved Roman architecture, we started to wonder… How could something so legendary and special not be swarmed with tourists? After all, these 2,000+ year old artifacts are just as impressive as ones from the same time period in Greece and Italy.
The theatre at Butrint National Park is said to have been able to seat a mind-blowing 2,500 people in its heyday! This would be just the beginning of the Roman influence we’d see at this Albania UNESCO site. In the surrounding area were ruins of a public bathhouse, gymnasium, and even traces of an aqueduct that brought fresh water into the old city.
Plush Roman Villas of Butrint Albania
The next sign of wealth and success in ancient Butrint was the many villas that once surrounded the main town. You will come across them randomly throughout your Butrint Albania tour, and they always had us awestruck.
If you can, stop and use your imagination and picture how elegant these private homes must have been! Although just pieces of them are still intact, it’s another reminder of the greatness that once passed through this region many ages ago.
Lake Butrint and its Tasty Mussells
Surrounding Butrint National Park Albania is a beautiful lake. This multi-colored body of water has been a source of both food and transportation in Butrint for as long as its existed. In our opinion, the greatest contribution from Lake Butrint to today’s Albanian society is the delicious mussels!
We first discovered them in Saranda at a local restaurant. The owner told us they came from a “special lake” and that they were the best in all of the Balkans. Well after eating them every day of the Southern Albanian portion of our trip we can definitely confirm this to be true!
The Butrint Albania Baptistery
As you get deeper into this Albania UNESCO site you’ll see an abundance of cultures, religions, empires, and how well it showcases Mediterranean civilization. The Baptistery is one of the earliest Byzantine monuments in all of Europe. Its intricate water filtration system leads many to believe it was originally a Roman bathhouse.
Half-built pillars still standing from the 6th century surround where these rituals took place over 1,500 years ago! The most remarkable part of the Butrint Baptistery is the mosaic floor designs. Although not as popular, Butrint’s mosaics are on par with other famous works around the world. Can you believe archeologists only dug this up back in 1928? Amazing!
The Great Basilica
This was our favorite piece of history in Butrint National Park in Albania, and the most interesting architecture inside the ruins. Like the Baptistery, the Great Basilica also dates back to 6th Century AD and features one of a kind mosaic flooring.
This was clearly a special period in this region where religions like Christianity had room to flourish. As we walked through the large gate-like structure and to the inside it was such a wild feeling. The now unfinished walls have you slightly enclosed, but still provide windows into the nature of Butrint.
Butrint National Park Castle and Museum
As you follow the Albania UNESCO site route you’ll cross under a stone tunnel with the imprint of a lion biting a bull’s throat. This was meant to symbolize the strong defense of the city and leads up to the former site of the acropolis.
As much as we had hoped the castle was as old as the other monuments of Butrint Albania, it’s actually a reconstruction of the medieval architecture built in 1930. Either way, you’ll have a glorious view from the top of the castle of Lake Butrint and beyond! There’s also a very nice museum inside the castle that gives you more of an in-depth look at the history of this ancient city.
Have any questions on Butrint National Park Albania, or want to share your own tips for visiting this country’s UNESCO sites? Please comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
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Where To Stay In Ksamil Albania
Ultra Luxury – Hotel Luxury – While there aren’t a ton of resort options yet in Ksamil, you can’t go wrong with a stay at Hotel Luxury! Located just 150 m from Paradise beach, this will be a great option at any time of year.
Fun Vacation – Hotel Mira Mare – Small but beautiful boutique hotel with amazing views of the Ksamil islands. Easy walk from beach, the town, and all the great seafood restaurants.
Budget Travel – VISI Apartments – Our home in Ksamil beach! VISI is right in the main town and just a 5 minute walk to the Ksamil beaches. Nice and affordable place to stay.
For more places to stay in Ksamil you can explore the latest prices here!
Albania Travel Planning
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide for hundreds of activities around the country. You can book a private hike through the Gamti Mountain, jump on a Tirana Walking Tour, or day trip to the beautiful village of Berat Albania.
Rental Car: We use Discover Cars to explore when traveling. Consider renting a car in one city and dropping it off in another for an epic road trip!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered! We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.