Butrint National Park: Tips for Visiting Albania’s Ancient City

Albania is just waiting for you to discover its treasures, and one of them is a National Park with ancient ruins.  While planning our trip, my youngest requested to visit an archeological site in Albania.  Being so close to the Greek border, I didn’t think this would be too difficult to find.  Upon my research, I stumbled upon a photo of a Roman-era ancient theater in Albania, which piqued my interest. Located in Butrint National Park, it came highly recommended for Southern Albania. 

During our visit, I was pleasantly surprised to see more than one archeological ruin surrounded by Albania’s lush Mediterranean green vegetation and the aqua-green waters on the property. We felt like we were on a treasure hunt for ruins in the forest, and I could see why this park is highly spoken of in Albania.  Here are our tips for visiting Butrint National Park, Albania’s Ancient Port City.

About Butrint National Park

This 2,500+-year-old ancient port city of Butrint National Park is Southern Albania’s first UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992.  It is one of Albania’s most important historical and archeological sites and is also the largest in the Balkans, with an area of 9,000 + Hectares, including its lake.  It is a protected ancient settlement as old as the 8th century B.C. with a history that pre-dates the Roman Empire.

The history of Butrint is amazing to learn.  Legend states Butrint was founded after the Fall of Troy. A Trojan refugee sacrifices a bull in Corfu that ends up escaping and fleeing to where Butrint is currently located. The people of Troy saw that this was a sign from the gods to settle here and decided to call this place Buthrotum (Latin) or Bue Ferito which means wounded bull.

Helenus, the son of the King and Queen of Troy, founded the city. The Greek Chaonian tribe settled here, with Butrint becoming a port and trading hub during the Hellenistic and Roman times. It grew and developed in different eras, from the ancient Greeks to the ancient Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and the Ottoman era, before it was eventually abandoned during the Middle Ages.  It’s why Butrint is so rich in archeological history.  Today, visitors are able to enjoy the remnants of the ruins and marvel at the fascinating city that still remains.  

Additionally, Butrint National Park has a total of 94 square kilometers of forest with Mediterranean vegetation, trails, open plains, salt marshes, and wetlands.  The park is home to 1200 species of animals, including the endangered Hermann’s tortoise. It is also home to16 endangered species of flora. Therefore, the National Park is considered a protected area due to its archeological history and its important ecosystem.

Where is Butrint National Park?

Butrint National Park is located in Southern Albanian, near the coast, about 17 km south of Sarandë, making it an easy day trip from the Albanian Riviera.  It is only about a 15-minute drive from Ksamil, about a 30-minute drive from Sarandë, and less than a 2-hour ferry ride from Corfu (of course, you’ll have to either rent a car to get there or take public transportation from the ferry).  

Renting a car is your best option if you want the flexibility to travel.  However, you can take a taxi there; or, if you prefer public transportation, this is a good site to read on taking the bus from Sarandë to Butrint.

How to Visit Butrint National Park

After entering the park and paying for your entry, more information below, you can grab a free brochure (available in different languages) with a map of 15 historical monuments and sites you can hike to.  It’s a large area and an easy hike, doable for a family, even with small children.  I’ve attached a photo of the brochure we picked up during our visit.  I’ll talk about some of the ancient structures we visited on our route. 

Credit: National Park of Butrint brochure

Additionally, there are informational boards throughout the park to help explain the ruins and exhibits. You’ll want to give yourself about 2-3 hours to explore Butrint.  Not only will you find yourself immersed in the hunt for these ruins, but you’ll also enjoy admiring the beautiful Albanian countryside and marshland.  

Venetian Tower

This was the first ancient structure we passed at the entrance of the park; you can’t miss it.  Built in the 15th and 16th centuries, it is a prime example of a Blockhouse built by the Venetians.  It was used to protect the fishing industry and also used to withstand any incoming attacks on the city. It appeared to not be open at the time of our visit, so no one is allowed to enter the tower. 

The Chapel of the God Asclepius

Just directly next to the Ancient Theater is the Chapel of Asclepius, the Greek god of Medicine, built in the 4th century B.C.  There’s not much to see here but admire the church. My girls were, however, excited to check out the turtles in the water.  

The Ancient Theater

The Ancient Theater is what drew me to visit Butrint, it is also the best-known attraction at Butrint.  As mentioned above, my youngest wanted to visit an archeological site, and a photo of Butrint’s Roman-era theater piqued my interest in wanting to visit this park.  Built-in the 3rd century, the semi-circular Theater is still fairly well preserved with a central stage where the main presentation would have happened back then.

The Roman Baths

Also known as the Therme, this became a part of the city during the 2nd century A.D.

Agora/the Forum

This city center of Butrint, this is the commercial aspect of the city, where all the markets (agora) and public businesses took place.


This was the city’s gymnasium, but also a pagan shrine that was later transformed into a church.

Trikonk Palace

As a settlement, Butrint had several townhouses and villas surrounding the city. One in particular that has been researched extensively is the Trikonk Palace. This was once a Roman villa and was transformed into a palace after AD 400. The palace was known for its triangular dining room and its riverside access. However, it’s location next to the river would lead to rising water; the owner had to leave the palace and it was then used for fishermen and craftsmen until the late 6th century.

Walk Along the Waterside

After Trikonk Palace, on our way to the Baptistry Mosaic Floor ruin, we took the waterside route to admire the aqua-green water and stunning views by the water. We came upon local fishermen, a fisherman possibly farming for oysters, and a tranquil area to rest and admire the water and wildlife (birds, huge spiders, etc). It’s the perfect way to appreciate Albania’s ecosystem and why the National Park is revered for its natural surroundings.


The Baptistry exemplifies one of the most impressive early Byzantine monuments in the Mediterranean. Additionally, it features a mosaic floor that is still well-preserved. To maintain its preservation, the mosaics are covered. However, every few years the park will allow public access to view the still well-preserved floors (according to the informational panel on site). There is also more information regarding the mosaics at the Museum.

Great Basilica

Perhaps my favorite ruin in the park, besides the ancient Theater, is the Great Basilica. This massive church was built in the 6th century. It established the early influences of Christianity.

The Tower/Water Gate

A structure exemplifying one of the entry gates for Butrint built in the 13th century.

Fountain of the Nymphs

We missed this ruin as we were on a time crunch. The Fountain dedicated to the Nymphs was built around the 2nd century A.D.

The Lake Gate

Another entry gate is also known as Scaean Gate after the poem Aeneid.

The Lion’s Gate

Another impressive gate is the Lion’s Gate. The name obviously comes from what you can see on the wall entry of this gate, a lion biting a bull’s head. This gate was not part of the original wall as it was added in the 5th century for defense purposes. Beyond the gate is a spring that is dedicated to the Nymphs.

Dea Art Bar & Gallery

There is an art gallery and cafe/bar near the Castle and we did see people eating and drinking there. However, the gallery was closed when we visited and I’m not sure what was served at the bar/cafe.

The Venetian Acropolis Castle

Built in the 14th and 16th centuries, this castle is a semblance of the differences of ruins of Butrint throughout the centuries. This obviously shows newer construction; it was reconstructed in the 1930s.

Because Venice dominated most of the Mediterranean from the 11th and 18th centuries and controlled shipping and trading along the Adriatic Coast, the Venetian Castle was built to protect the area. You’ll also find an essential symbol of the country of Albania, a head statue of the goddess of Butrint. Also, find the stairs to the castle to get a beautiful, scenic view of the Albanian roadside and stunning surroundings.

The Museum

Finally, not to miss, is the museum featuring impressive collections of sculptures and mosaics from the archeological findings. You’ll also be able to discover the history of Butrint from when it was first discovered to the Middle Ages.

Tips for Visiting Butrint National Park

  • Visit early, as soon as they open to beat the tour bus crowds and the heat.  We arrived about 11:30 AM on a Monday and the bus tour crowds came as soon as we arrived.
  • Have LEK (Albanian currency) available to pay for entry.  They do not accept credit cards or Euros.  Also, there is a mini market as soon as you enter the park for local, handmade souvenirs which I’m sure only accepts cash in LEK.  
  • Pick up a free brochure by the entrance (available in several languages), this gives you a map of the park and where the ancient ruins are located.
  • Give yourself at least 2-3 hours to tour the park.

  • Bring sunblock, hat, and bug spray.  There are several mosquitos and bugs, but honestly, they weren’t bothersome when we visited in early July.  We went around 1130 AM and it was already getting hot; however, the trail pathway is mostly shaded by the trees, so it was nice to have the shade when we needed it.

  • Bring lunch, snacks, and water.  There are several areas by the water that made for a perfect picnic/rest stop during our hike.  There is a restaurant on site near the Castle, but I’m not sure what they offer. 

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes.  The path is all dirt, fairly flat, and easy to hike, with a few hilly moments and steps.  But it’s overall a very easy, pleasant walk around the park.  
  • There is a bathroom available near the Castle.

  • Be respectful of the park and its rules, and please, don’t leave trash lying around.  
  • Enjoy the hike around the park and the beautiful views of Albania.

Practical Information

Butrint National Park website: https://butrint.al/

Location: SH81, Butrint, Albania

Google Coordinates: https://goo.gl/maps/JWA8dp1Fuuj55QW4A

Ticket Prices: 

Adult: 1,000 LEK (approximately $11.02 USD)

12-18 years old: 500 LEK (approximately $5.00)

Children 12 and under: FREE

More Pricing information can be found here. You can also obtain online tickets at https://www.myticket.al/event-detail.php?cit=8&lang=sq.

Opening Hours:

1 January-14 May/ 1 October- 31 December: Monday-Sunday 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM

15 May- 30 September: 9:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Taking Public Transportation: Here is a good site to read about what bus to take from Sarandë.  Taxis are also available. 

Parking is free for those with their own vehicles or rental car.

Final Thoughts

Butrint surprised me in so many ways. Because I only expected an Ancient Theater (having not done much of my research before the visit), I didn’t expect to be pleasantly surprised to find an entire archeological city to explore. It is worth the visit. It’s a wonderful day trip from Ksamil, Sarandë, or Corfu and doesn’t require an entire day’s visit. So, if you’re looking for something different from the Albanian Riviera, take a quick pit stop to Butrint. I promise, it really is a treasure to find in Albania. Until next time friends! Deri herën tjetër miq!

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