In the heart of Sarande, near the port and bus "station", you will find the ruins of Sarande's fifth-century synegogue. You can walk through the ruins freely without any need for a ticket. There are- apparently- a number of mosaics here as well, though I did not see them in my brief stroll. A sign is on site with information about the original buildings.
Sarande has developed a lovely promenade running along the waterfront in the city center. It is lined with hotels, restaurants and shops, and features a number of platforms that can be used to dive right into the sea. The only thing this promenade lacks is shade, so wear your hat in the summer!
If you have a free day in Sarande, consider a day trip to Gjirokastra. This town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is famous for its houses with stone roofs. There is regular (slow) bus service (without air conditioning) between Sarande and Gjirokastra's new town (from there it's a quick and cheap taxi ride up to the Old Town). Travelers looking for peace and quiet might consider staying overnight, while those who just want to check out the famous architecture can easily explore the town in a day.
Sarande is a popular beach destination for Albanian tourists, and it's also a popular place to celebrate special occasions. Be on the lookout for wedding receptions, birthday parties and other special events around town. Even if you don't see a party you'll probably hear the sounds of traditional Albanian folk music, not to mention Albanian techno beats, pumping into the early hours of the morning each weekend as families and friends celebrate together.
I actually preferred the beaches in Sarande to many others I encountered this summer. The beach near the Hairy Lemon hostel was extremely clean, and while the water was cold there were two well-placed diving platforms that made it easy to dive right in and adjust to the water temperature immediately. You'll also find diving platforms all along the main promenade, with local boys leaping, tumbling and diving into the sea.
Beach chairs, and umbrellas, come cheap in Sarande- usually free with the purchase of a cheap drink from a beachside bar. Be nice and leave your server a tip to say "thank you" for putting the chairs out and taking them down!
If you enter the water from the beach, especially in a rocky area, be cautious of sea urchins and consider wearing some kind of water shoe for protection.
Although Sarande is an urban center, you may be surprised by the number- and variety- of animals you see within city limits. While walking near the Hairy Lemon hostel I found a BEAR chained to a pole in someone's front yard (looking rather sad, I admit), and later I encountered a cow blocking the sidewalk between two apartment blocks! Be careful around these "wild" animals.
Butrint is home to an ancient roman city located on the outskirts of Sarande. Once inside the park, you will find it cool, and peaceful while admiring the ancient city remains. I recommend it if you are up for both a relaxing, and educational day trip.
Be sure as you exit to stop at the souvenir stand make a purchase. They are all handcrafted by local Albanian citizens and in my opinion they were beautiful works of art. Most were replicas of the ancient basilicas you will find within the walls of Butrint. The prices were also reasonable for such a unique piece. Benefits go toward historical restoration and upkeep of the park, and a percentage also goes toward the people (artists) - Most of which are living in poor standards.
Between Saranda and the Llogara pass (1027 m elevation) the coastal road is a wonder. The Albanian Riviera was in 1988 completely unspoiled and there has been only limited equipment since then, which is a good thing. Let us hope that it will not be exploited by big investors and that the villages of Lukove, Borsh, Dhërmi, will remain true villages. For more on the Albanian Riviera and the coastal road, visit my Dhërmi page
Albanians are immensely proud of Sarandë because it is rapidly being built up as a tourist resort to lure Western tourists and their hard currency. My driver didn't quite understand why I was more impressed by bunkers and Gjirokastër and our haphazard "discussions" about how there were many places like Sarandë in Southern Europe but only one Gjirokastër didn't quite convince him. Nevertheless, the waterfront in Sarandë is very beautiful and the beaches, which are stony rather than sandy, are very attractive (providing they've been cleaned up). The southern portion of the waterfront in the direction of Butrint seems to be where more of the Western-style installations are, while the north-western part is solidly Albanian and features many Albanian restaurants and shops. Don't expect there to be a lot of the usual comforts of beaches on Corfu or across the Adriatic on the Italian coast: no freshwater showers or lifeguards. Still, the water is a spectacular colour and the views across to Corfu or of the fishing boats are very pretty.
Lekursi Castle is not actually in Sarandë, but it overlooks the city on the road between Sarandë and Butrint. If you're near the five-star hotel (I imagine there is only one on the waterfront in Sarandë) the signs will point the way to the Castle. My driver told me that Lekursi is where Berlusconi came to have coffee when he was visiting Albania, so it is a source of pride for many Albanians and is one of the better maintained tourist sites. The castle itself has some breathtaking views both of the coast (you can see Corfu) and the countryside inland. Outside of the main gate there are some old icons that are not quite as well maintained, although you can make out the saints and some of the other objects. The interior of the castle is a café/restaurant frequented by more well-to-do Albanians. I assume that is more expensive than most places (judging from the look on my driver's face when he had to pay) as it was 360 lekë for a frappé and a cappucino.
We were trying to get to the islands a few kilometers south of Sarande so we bought a postcard with them on and showed them to a taxi driver, Jordi, who spoke no English. We settled a price, boarded his Mercedes (all the cars in Albania are Mercedes) and he began heading inland. Being English we didn't quibble until we arrived in the middle of a forest about 18km later. Here we discovered a fantastic natural spring, definately the most colourful and clear these eyes have seen. After half an hour we got back in the cab and showed the taxi driver the islands, he began to head back to Sarande.
We had been well and truly had, but after seeing the 'Blue Eye' spring who cared?
When in Saranda why not take a day trip to Corfu(GR). The boat is a very short trip taking less than an hour(so i am told i have not done this). You will arrive in Corfu town and can enjoy something a bit different and add another country to your list!
The best thing to do while you are in Sarande is take a day-trip to Butrint. It should be fairly easy to reach by car or bus, a roughly half an hour drive, and is well worth it if you enjoy seeing ancient ruins, as the site contains buildings from many periods of settlement, including Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Venetian.
See my Butrint tips for more details on the individual features of Butrint and further transport information.
If you have time you should go to the magical "Blue Eye" spring ("Syri i Kalter" in Albanian). You follow the track along the side of a lake (the one in the first picture) towards wooded hills, past the slightly derelict tanks which are the remains of fish farms (I believe these were run there during the communist period). Eventually you will find yourself walking beside numerous streams of bluey green water, which split and rejoin each other, with the tangled roots of the tall trees growing in between dipping into them. The water is very cold, and the eye itself a luminous turquoise - the spring is supposed to be exceptionally deep, and so strong that it is said you cannot drown in it, as the force of the water will keep bringing you to the surface.
When you visit Sarand?, Butrint is an absolute must see. It is only 18 km south from Sarand?. Not only are there the remains of the old Roman city of Buthrotum but also remains from other periods, Illyrian as well as Byzantines. For more, visit my Butrint page.