The southeastern Albanian city of Korçë doesn’t appear on a lot of people’s itineraries. And to be fair, other than the Museum of Medieval Art, the city has few must-see attractions. But what a visit to Korçë, long regarded as Albania’s intellectual center, is really about is soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the traditional architecture. In the following Korçë guide, we’ll be covering the top things to do and see in Albania’s most charming city.
The Resurrection Cathedral
While Korçë may be centuries old, its most iconic landmark is also one of its newest – though most would never guess it at first glance.
The Resurrection Cathedral, known locally as Ngjallja e Krishtit, is an Orthodox cathedral completed as recently as 1995, a project which was largely funded by Greece.
Previously, an older Orthodox cathedral had existed at the same spot, but it was destroyed by the Communist government in 1968.
Flanked by two towers on either side, its central nave is topped with a brown dome that’s surrounded by multiple half domes at the lower levels. Visible from all over the city, it’s a beautiful addition to the Korçë skyline.
Its interior, meanwhile, is covered in vivid frescoes while the nave features an ornate wooden iconostasis.
Mirahori Mosque & The Old Bazaar
The Mirahori Mosque is Korçë’s oldest structure and one that’s deeply tied with the history of the city itself. It was founded by Ilias Bey Mirahori, an Albanian who was involved in the conquest of Constantinople.
Later, when serving as a teacher to Sultan Bayezid II, he was rewarded several villages in the area around modern-day Korçë, the area in which he was born.
With the region under Mirahori’s control, the town of Korçë would eventually form in the late 15th century. And in 1495, he would build this mosque.
The Old Bazaar was later established nearby, and it’s now one of Korçë’s trendiest areas. Many of the old shops have been converted into modern cafes and restaurants. But local craftsmen and artisans do indeed still sell their wares here.
The bazaar, with its well-preserved buildings and cobblestone streets, is a fun place to walk around. And as you explore, you’ll discover that it’s a lot more extensive than first meets the eye.
Gjon Mili Photography Museum
Situated along Korçë’s main pedestrian street is a beautiful yellow building that’s home to one of the city’s most interesting museums.
It’s dedicated to Korçë-born Gjon Mili, who’d go on to become a world-renowned photographer. Born in 1904, his family later emigrated to Romania in 1908.
Mili would then later move to the United States, where he studied electrical engineering at MIT. After that, he started a career as a lighting research engineer.
He would then combine his technical skills with his passion for photography, experimenting with things like stroboscopic and stop-action photographs. His unique style quickly garnered lots of attention, and he’d work as a freelance photographer for LIFE magazine throughout his entire career.
While at the museum, you can sit down to watch a documentary on Mili, while the second floor displays his most notable photographs.
He’s perhaps best known for his light painting photographs of Pablo Picasso, in addition to stroboscopic photos of various musicians and dancers. Even today, his photos stand out as completely unique.
Also during your visit, you can take your own strobe painting photo in a special room. It costs an additional 500 lek on top of the standard entrance fee, which at the time of writing is 200 lek.
The guide speaks excellent English and will be happy to answer any questions you may have about Mili or the museum in general. Note that the museum is closed on Mondays.
For even larger prints of some of Mili’s famous work, check out the staircase of the Panoramic Tower (more below). At the time of my visit, I took the elevator up and then tried walking down.
Getting to the bottom, however, the door was locked, and I had to walk back up to the top! But getting to see these large prints made the hassle worth it.
The Panoramic Tower
If you’re looking for overhead views of the city, look no further than the Panoramic Tower, situated right at the other end of the main pedestrian street. While not the prettiest structure from the outside, for only 50 lek you can ride an elevator to the top for 360° views.
Korçë, a city of only 75,000, doesn’t have the most thrilling skyline, but the views are nonetheless worth the price of entry.
Though empty at the time of my visit, there was some kind of bar at the top, indicating that they plan to do more with the observation deck in the future.
As we’ll go over below, if you’re looking for even more overhead views of the city, be sure to check out the Martyr’s Cemetery, a relatively easy walk from the city center.
Coming down from the tower, you’ll find yourself in front of the Andon Zako Çajupi Theatre. Constructed in 1950 and then refurbished in 2016, it’s easily recognizable thanks to the massive masks which adorn the entrance.
Museum of Medieval Art
Korçë’s main attraction is undoubtedly the Museum of Medieval Art. This excellent museum is arguably Albania’s premier destination for viewing ancient Christian icons.
With an entry fee of 700 lek, it’s one of Albania’s most expensive museums. But you’re unlikely to leave disappointed.
Also note that photography isn’t officially allowed. But after asking the staff, I was kindly given permission to take around five photos. With so many eye-catching works on display, choosing what to capture was no easy task!
The museum, which is dedicated to classical religious art, is organized in a rather modern way. But somehow it all works. Rather than chronologically or geographically, the icons are arranged based on their predominant color.
Visitors start off in the yellow/gold room, while other featured colors include white, black and orange. Another room, meanwhile, features a stunning large wooden iconostasis, similar to that of the Onufri Museum of Berat.
And speaking of legendary icon painter Onufri, there are plenty of his works on display here, along with those of his contemporaries and students.
One of the most peculiar pieces at the museum – which I regret not photographing – is that of St. Christopher with, for whatever reason, the face of a dog!
At the time of writing, the museum is open daily from 9:00-19:00.
Korçë Archaeological Museum
While housed in a beautiful 19th-century mansion, Korçë’s archaeological museum isn’t much to get excited about – even for archaeology lovers.
The museum houses numerous artifacts from the Neolithic period up through the Middle Ages, but the lighting is poor and information is rather lacking.
I’d read that the museum costs 300 lek to enter, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t asked to pay anything upon arrival.
One of the best activities to do in Korçë is simply wander around and admire the city’s architecture. There are plenty of interesting houses to spot during a walk through the city’s quiet backstreets.
Also be sure to take a stroll down Republika Boulevard, a trendy street lined with countless restaurants and cafes. It’s also full of numerous Neoclassical gems, including the Life Gallery Hotel.
A big part of Korçë’s appeal is taking things slow and soaking up the atmosphere. Therefore, after a walk down Republika Boulevard, you can head over to the city’s biggest park, Parku Rinia, to rest your legs.
It’s much bigger than most public parks you’ll find in Albania, featuring several fountains surrounded by lots of benches. And this being Albania, it’s also home to a bunker or two!
The Martyr's Cemetery
Based on advice from my guest house’s manager, I took a walk up to the Martyr’s Cemetery. It’s situated about halfway up the mountain to the east of town and is easily accessible from Republika Boulevard.
While most visitors probably aren’t too interested in seeing a random World War II cemetery, the main reason to come here is for the views. The vantage point allows one to see the entire city, while you’ll likely have the whole place to yourself. It’s also supposed to be a great place for sunsets.
More in Korçë
Throughout Albania, Korçë is known for being home to the Birra Korça brewing company. And a popular activity for beer lovers is visiting the beer garden just out front, where they also serve food.
Further down the same street, which is also home to the Museum of Medieval Art, is the Bratko Oriental Museum. But despite having walked past it on three separate days – all during the posted opening hours – it was closed each time!
The easiest way to get to Korçë is from Tirana, with frequent minibuses departing from the main terminal. The ride only lasts around 2.5 hours.
I visited Korçë from Përmet. And despite the two cities appearing relatively close on the map, the ride lasts over 4 hours! This is because the journey mostly takes place through mountain roads. But it was easily the most scenic and impressive ride I experienced in Albania.
Korçë is also a short ride to the lakeside city of Pogradec.
For those moving onward to North Macedonia, there are surprisingly no direct buses from Korçë. You’ll first have to go to Pogradec, transfer to a van to the border, walk across it yourself, and then find either a minibus or taxi on the other side.
If you’re hoping for a direct journey to North Macedonia without all the transfers and walking, you can take a bus from Korçë to Elbasan and then get a direct bus from there to Struga or Ohrid. Be sure to research bus companies and times before your journey.
As of 2021, Korçë has finally opened its new bus terminal. The old terminal is no longer in use, and a lot of the info currently online or in GPS apps is outdated. The terminal is a large physical building in the north part of town that you can see properly marked on the map above. It’s about a 15-20-minute walk between the new terminal and the city center.
Korçë is a relatively small city and very walkable, so you don’t have to be too picky when it comes to location. I stayed in a place simply called ‘Guest House in Center‘ that was right by the Resurrection Cathedral.
Situated in a three-story family home, the second and third floors are being rented out. I had a spacious private room with a view of the church from my balcony. The bathroom was shared, but I was the only guest there during my stay.
The place also features a shared kitchen. And the host, who speaks fluent English (but doesn’t live at the property) was kind enough to give me a little walking tour of town upon my arrival.