Official Name

Kukës. As with most other place names in Albania, a second version is also frequently used: Kukësi (which would translate as "The Kukës" so to say). Outside Albania, the umlaut is often ignored, so it's also often referred to as "Kukes". The name itself probably derives from the name Kukufic.


Location of Kukes
Location of Kukes

Kukës is the centre of the province with the same name in the Northeast of Albania - right in the middle of the mountains. The town settles on a bleak plateau on a large peninsula in the long reservoir Liqeni i Fierzës. Southeast of the town lies the Gjalica e Lumës (Gjalica Mountain range at the Lumës) with some mountains almost reaching 2,500 m. The border crossing Morin in the Northeast is only 18 km away. To →Prizren in Kosovo it's another 18 km from the border. The Albanian capital →Tiranë in the Southwest is around 215 km away (on the street - bee-line is significantly shorter). 215 km doesn't sound much, but the trip takes almost half a day. The area around Kukes has some usable ore deposits, which means that Kukes might see better times in the near future.


Around 18,000 people. This makes Kukës the by far largest settlement in the Northeast of Albania.


Panorama of Kukës
Panorama of New Kukës

Kukës as it is today is a very new town - the old, historic centre of town now lies on the ground of the above-mentioned reservoir. Nothing from the old town can be seen today, unless you bring special diving equipment (but I'm not sure if the town was left as is when the reservoir was filled). The new town occupies a peninsula, but from the top of the plateau on the peninsula it's several hundred metres down to the water. New Kukës was planned systematically - the town has two large squares on both sides, connected by two parallel main roads. The main square with the city hall can be found at the northern tip and can be called a drab place - no one is really going there if not really necessary. The most vibrant place - though this might be an exaggaration - is the main road called Blvd Kryesor with a couple of stores, cafes and the main bus stop. From the northern main square, a road runs Northwest to the former Hotel Albtourist. Now, the hotel seemed to have closed for good and the road is sealed with

In Kukës, two to three storey buildings made with precast concrete slabs (those can be found everywhere throughout Eastern Europe) dominate the townscape. And most of those buildings haven't seen any paint since the 1970ies or so. The Southern square is partially used as a street market and partially also as a rubbish dump. The same square is decorated with a fading monument, surrounded by car wrecks.


Kukës was probably mentioned for the first time in 1571 - then known as Kukufic and consisting of a couple of houses lining up on the bottom of a deep river valley. Because of its location - far away from big cities and the sea - it never gained much significance. From 1912 to 1921, the town changed hands many times - Serbs, Bulgarians, Austrians etc took over alternately. In 1925, Kukes was declared the main town of the Province of Kukes. On 18 Nov 1944, partisans managed to take over the town on their own from the German occupants. In 1962, the government started to build Kukësi i Ri (New Town, also: Kukesit te Ri) on a plateau high above the river. The ultimate goal was to resettle all citizens from Kukesit te vjeter (Old Kukes) to the new town. In 1978, the reservoir was flooded and Old Kukes drowned forever in the liqenit te Fierzës (Lake Fierzë), which is more then 100 km long and mainly used for energy generation.

The town shortly hit the news in 1999, when thousands of refugees from the near →Kosovo crossed the border and flooded the town. Large refugee camps were erected and many aid organisations as well as reporters etc. settled in Kukes temporarily. All are gone now. What is left is a dusty, dilapidating provincial town with an unusually high volume of Mercedes Benz vehicles.

Getting there / transportation

Almost all buses from the Kosovo to Albania cross Kukës. The one-way fare from →Prizren is € 10, but this requires some haggling - at least in my case, they first demanded € 15, which is the full fare from Prizren to Tirana. There are three buses a day. It's also possible to hitchhike (although I can't really recommend hitchhiking in this area) - I finally headed for this option and needed an hour only, but this requires some luck I guess.

There is one bus a day to →Tiranë (the above-mentioned bus from Prizren to Tirana usually doesn't stop in Kukes). The bus leaves at 9 am and seems to take some 10 hrs (which I guess is realistic). Furthermore, there are occasional microbusses. It's also possible - and a popular option among locals too - to organize shared transport. In my case, I shared a regular car with 3 Albanians, which cost me 1,500 Leke (€ 12.5). As far as I could find out, a taxi ride would have set me back 4,000. With a good driver and short breaks only the trip takes around 6 hours. To →Shkodër it takes around 4½ hours only by private transport.



There is not so much to write about the town itself. As already mentioned above, the old town fell victim to the newly erected reservoir, and the new town itself is rather drab. However, it's drab in a fascinating way. The two squares are somehow interesting: The Northern square is a generously planned large square with some administration buildings and a bank - but that's it, and no one is really going there. From there, it's a short walk only to the oppulent, modern Hotel Albtourist - probably the largest building in town - but it's not possible to get to the building unless you bring a scissor to fight your way through the barbed wire.

Kukes: The vibrant main square in the centre...
Kukes: The vibrant main square in the centre...

The Southern square doesn't look very exciting either. Some street merchants try hard to sell their stuff. A monument, built during the communist reign, is now used as a parking lot for all kinds of car wrecks. Talking about cars: At least three quarters of all vehicles in Kukes seem to be Mercedes Benz. All with a Kukes number plate. Sure, some of them are more then 20 years old, but many are relatively new. They form a sharp contrast to what else can be seen in the town.

Kukes: A forgotten monument
Kukes: A forgotten monument

Apart from that, Kukes is simply a sleepy provincial town with a handful of shops and some bored citizens hanging around in more or less modern cafés enjoying their espresso. And it looks like things won't change so quickly (unless the ore deposits in the area are exploited), since traffic between Kosovo and Albania is rather marginal or just skipping Kukes. It might be interesting to measure the Albanian progress after 10 years or so by visiting this place again.

Kukes: Typical view in Kukes (incl. the Mercedes)
Typical view in Kukes (incl. the Mercedes)



Mountains, mountains, mountains. And meandering through them the not very wide, but extremely long reservoir. Especially the mountain range south of the town (see pictures above) looks very interesting. But it was only at home when I noticed while examining my pictures (taken with a 300 mm lens) that there seems to be a trail to the summit. But no maps are available and the terrain is rough, so I assume it takes several hours and much appetite for a real adventure to walk up the way to the summit (keep in mind that UCK rebels and bandits use the area as a hideout). The trip from →Prizren to Kukes is a real experience, too (see picture to the right). The closer you get to the border to Ex-Yugoslavia, the more bunkers line up along the road (for more information, see →History of Albania). A ride from Kukes to the West, towards the coast, is also highly recommended - the landscape is simply breathtaking, and so are the driving skills of the locals...

Surroundings of Kukes
Surroundings of Kukes


When looking for accommodation, I found three options. The "Hotel Europa" seemed to have closed for good, although the sign was still there. At the main street, there is another hotel called Hotel Ghallicia, which got a facelift very recently. A single room costs € 30.

Hidden in a residential area and only around 100 m south of the main square I coincidentally found option #3: Hotel Bar Restorant Amerika. I was astouned when I walked in: Spacious double rooms with air conditioning, a fridge (I should mention that it was empty), satellite TV, clean tiled bath room with BD and shower - everything was spotless clean and brandnew. The ground floor is used as a (recommendable) restaurant, decorated with tons of pretentious kitsch (way too much if you ask me). There was even a computer with internet access in the corridor, which could be used for free. The price for a night in a single was the same as in Ghallicia: € 30, including breakfast, but considering the facilities the price was more then ok. The owner Musli Lleshi is a very gentle person and can speak English. He helped me organising transportation and more. Address & Tel.: Lagjja 5, Kukës, Tel/Fax: +355-0-242-3278, Mobile: +355-0-68-2037 874.


  • Official website of Kukës and its inhabitants. Nice website with beautiful pictures, but unfortunately in Albanian only.

Do you have or do you know a good website about Kukës? Don't hesitate, let me know! After checking it, I would love to add it to the link list. You can submit a link by using the →contact form. Note that commercial websites will be treated differently.



Ermal-Domi wrote:

You are building up the history of kukes just like an egg comining out of a chicken. You stated that Serbs and Bulgarians took over kukes but this is totally shambolic claim as Serbs only left their bones in Luma Valley in the attempt of 18 serb divisions to invade
Albania. The Serbs lost big time on a three days battle in Kolosian valley, Domaj in Tejdrine,and throughout the both sides of black river or so called today as Drini i Zi. Serbs in this three days batlle lost 12 thousands soldiers inluding the head of the serbian prince cut off in order to selebrate the victory. You mistaken complete that serbs and bulgarians took over kukes and probably by your visit you might have seen some slavic speakers in kukes who have no conection with serbia or bulgaria but they are Gorani or Gollobordasi who speak serbo-croatian language who came to albania during the communist regime fearing yougoslavian repression, and phisical elimination and other prosecutions. The Gorani and Gollobordasi are muslim which they are more close to Bosnians.

Posted by Ermal-Domi on October 5, 2009 18:52

elvis spahiu wrote:

i'm elvis spahiu from kukes.Kukes is not a town like you prescribe in these pictures.Kukes is a very clean city(exept some zones)but i think that kukes should treate with respect.thanks

Posted by elvis spahiu on January 9, 2010 06:29



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