I’m going to convince you about the magic of this town with just one sentence: Sparkling blue beaches, the freshest seafood, and $2 wines. Name something better.
While most tourists visiting the Albanian Riviera tend to head to Sarandë, it’s definitely worth heading further north for a day or two. About an hour north of Sarandë, you’ll find Himarë (pronounced Himara), a smaller, quieter town with some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen in your life.
While Sarande has clubs, bars, and restaurants galore, Himare is more laid-back, family-friendly, with a super-chill vibe. The main promenade is lined with cafes and eateries, and at night it’s busy without feeling overcrowded or almost trashy, like some parts of Sarande.
Dhermi and Gjipe Beach
These two beaches practically brought me to Albania. When I saw photos of them a couple of years ago this country zoomed to the top of my bucket list. But visiting them isn’t easy – especially without a car. Plus, they’ve been getting more popular over the last couple of years so they’re not quite as unspoiled and empty as some photos might lead you to believe.
So I decided to splurge on getting a boat tour up the coast to visit some small beaches nearby. Well, I thought I was going to splurge – but it only cost 16 Euros. For a four-hour trip, that’s a damn good deal.
We boated past Gjipe and Dhermi, which weren’t as busy as the Himarë beaches but still had beach club umbrellas and chairs, and a fair few people. We didn’t stop there, but instead got out to swim at some smaller, unnamed beaches just north and south of these main ones. Here, we had it to ourselves. I can’t even describe how amazing the water here was: crystal clear and the most amazing bright shade of blue. Almost the exact colour of a bottle of blue Gatorade.
The boat tour we did was with Great Chimera, who I cannot recommend enough. The captain was super friendly, and gave us great recommendations for Himare and where to travel next. Just go out on the pier at the main beach, you’ll see a red boat and a sign with info.
What Else To Do
The town’s two main beaches are a perfect place to chill, with umbrellas and beach chairs, as well as space to lay out your towel. It does get busy, but you’ll still be able to find space to yourself both in and out of the water.
If you’re bored of sitting on the beach, you can rent a kayak (we couldn’t find an actual shopfront to do this, but rather just found kayaks lying on the beach near a bar who rented them to us). You can paddle around the cove to the south, where you’ll find a beautiful stretch of deserted beach. It can only be reached by boat, or by climbing down very steep rocks, so you’ll almost certainly have it to yourself. Grab some cherries from a street vendor or even a beer or two and have a little picnic. It’s a pretty easy paddle, should take no longer than 30 minutes each way.
Himarë Castle is sitting atop the hill overlooking the city. You can walk up there in less than an hour but beware it’s very uphill and sweaty. A taxi will cost you 400 Lek or it’s super easy to hitchhike. It’s DEFINITELY worth it though. Rather than a standard European castle, it’s like a little neighbourhood. Many residents still live within the city walls; we actually spent a few nights staying in a B&B within the castle for a really good price.
You can walk through the cute stone streets, with structures built in the 1200s still standing. Make your way through to the corner where the crumbling fortress walls stand with amazing views over the valley and coastline. If you see a sign saying “coffee” with an arrow – follow it. It’ll lead to a lovely woman who serves drinks on her balcony and was very keen to show off her beautiful view to us.
What To Eat
For a small town, Himarë has some pretty good food options.
If you like seafood, you can’t miss Merluc. The owner goes out on a boat every day to catch fish, then brings it back where it’s cooked for you. You can’t get much fresher than that, and its absolutely delicious. The owners are amazingly friendly as well.
Lefteri’s Tavern has a great menu of Albanian and Greek food, and has pretty great prices for a sit-down restaurant. Restaurant Maistro is a little pricer but has incredible views out over the beaches, especially at sunset. There’s a bar right underneath it, River Down Town, with unbelievably cheap drinks that has the same view, if you’re on a budget.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, visit the woman at Pasticeri Delight who makes all kinds of cakes, cookies, and desserts that are great for eating on the beach after dinner. We went here three nights in a row so I can recommend the baklava, tiramisu, kadaif, and the cookies.
How To Get There
People complain about Albania’s transport system but it’s not as bad as everyone says. Instead of big coaches you might be used to in other European countries, the buses here are just big minivans with signs at the front indicating where they’re going. There are a couple of buses every day to Himarë from Sarandë and Vlore, and I think theres one in the early morning from Tirana. It’s near-impossible to find out bus info online, but hostels and most locals all know the timetables and will be more than happy to help you out.