Lately, we’ve been exploring countries that seem a lot more untouched than we are used to. Discovering places with few to no other tourists around which has made our experiences feel special, as if they were just for us even. We’ve been finding ourselves saying “this place is beautiful!” a lot and have been adding more and more countries to our list of favourites. One of those places was Macedonia – it has a confusing and mixed up history, but is getting itself into a great place now. In a few years, they are expecting to welcome up to 1 million tourists per year, which is a great feat for a developing country with a population of only 2 million people.
Basing ourselves in Skopje (the capital of Macedonia), we actually managed to cover much more ground than we thought possible with a 2 night stay. There isn’t a whole lot of information out there around what to do in Macedonia and how to get around, so figuring out how to get to the awesome places outside of Skopje centre was a bit of a challenge. We got there in the end, and did all the hard work so you don’t have to! Consider this your complete guide for what to do in Skopje and beyond;
Stay – Use Airbnb, there are lots of interesting places to stay that are super cheap. We stayed in this unique duplex apartment and felt like royalty!
Eat/Drink – Serdarot for cheap, authentic Macedonian food, Old Town Brewery for a good selection of local and craft beer & baklava for a delicious treat. You’ll find them all in the old bazaar
Do – Millennium Cross, Ohrid Day/Overnight Trip, Free Walking Tour, Old Bazaar, Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, Mother Teresa Memorial House
What to do in Skopje
As always, we recommend taking the free walking tour first to get a good orientation of the city and a brief history of the place. During the warmer months, there are tours running at 5:00pm which is great for a few reasons; 1) The sun is lower and the temperature cools down to a more comfortable heat, 2) It’s dinner time right after you finish and you’ll be in the perfect place for some food and drink. That would be the Old Bazaar, which was our favourite spot in Skopje. You can find delicious traditional food for cheap, try homemade baklava for dessert and sink a few craft beer pints while listening to live music and looking back over the city’s fortress
Be sure to stop by the Bridge Of Civilisations in Macedonia (what a mouthful!) to get a postcard view of the new Archaeological Museum, the fountain in the middle of the bridge and all the statues which line each side. You’ll also find the Stone and Art bridges in this area – all very photogenic. There are hundreds of monuments to see in the new town area, the most impressive being the towering Alexander the Great and Phillip the Second statues and the fountains that surround them. The Mother Teresa Memorial House is a must and entry is free, a visit to the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle will also help with understanding the history of the country (or make you even more confused!), entry is 300 MKD, or about £4.00
How to get to the Millennium Cross from Skopje
This one is super easy – you just have to know the right bus to catch! The number 25 bus leaves from the central bus station every 20 minutes and goes most of the way to the Millennium Cross. It drives through the new town centre, so you can catch it from the Rekord Centar bus stop if that is closer to where you are. Tickets are purchased on board (about £1.50), but if the driver has no ticket cards, they will let you ride free! Be sure to ask though, as there are ticket controllers operating. At the end of the line, you take the cable car the rest of the way to the top (about £1.50 again). Everything is clearly marked, but be aware, the cable car only runs for half of each hour – so it will run from 10:00am – 10:30am and then stop until 11:00am for example. Make sure you time it right for getting back down as we ended up having to wait the full half an hour break and missed our bus back to town!
Luckily for us, taxi’s are also an option for getting to and from the cross, and there are always a few around. It should be about 300 MKD each way from the central bus station. If you’re really keen, you can make the 2 hour hike up from town – there were actually lots of people doing this and the trails seemed to be very clearly marked. You can take it even further by continuing the hike down to Skopje’s famous Matka Canyon which will be another 4 hours.
How to get to Lake Ohrid from Skopje
Ohrid is not to be missed when visiting Macedonia – it is a UNESCO town with a lot of history and a beautiful lake too. We loved the place so much, we would seriously consider moving there. Most people spend the night, but it is possible to do a day trip if you’re up for the 2x 3.5 hour bus rides! The scenery is nice and the roads aren’t as bad as you might think, so it was completely fine for us
Galeb bus company runs services from the central bus station in Skopje to Ohrid a few times a day. We took the 8:00am bus there and the 3:00pm bus back. With the time in between we visited the lake, had a picnic lunch, and explored about half of the old town on the hill – including the Saint Pantelejmon Church, Early Christian Basilica and ancient amphitheatre. There is also a 5:45pm bus back to Skopje, with the extra time you would be able to visit the fortress and rest of the old town, take a boat tour on the lake, and/or visit the popular Saint Naum of Ohrid Monastery set dramatically on a cliff over the lake and gorgeous on all accounts (you will need to take a car or boat taxi here)
Book your bus tickets one or two days in advance if you can, and a return ticket will be cheaper than two singles. If you have a valid student ID, your ticket will be even cheaper. Head to any of the issuing desks in the central bus station to book. You will be allocated a seat for the trip there and charged the small Skopje station tax with your purchase. When you get to Ohrid station, head across the road to the Galeb office and book in your return seat allocation there. The busses fill up quickly, so it’s best to do this right away. You will need to pay the Ohrid station tax separately – just ask a staff member and they will point you to the desk. It’s a very small charge, but must be paid before the ticket controllers will let you through and on to the bus
There is a lot more of Macedonia left for us to discover, but this was an excellent taster of a beautiful country. If you need us, we will be looking into the real estate available in Ohrid!
For more travel inspirations and short break guides, check this out