Macedonia Travel Guide
🗝️ Key Facts
💶Currency: Macedonian Denar (MKD)
🕙Time Zone: +1 GMT
📞Phone Code: +389
🌐Language: Macedonian (+ Albanian is widely understood and spoken)
✈️Best time to visit: May-October
🍴Eat: Shopska salata
🍷Drink: Sweet Turkish Coffee
🗺️Don't miss: The old Bazaar in Skopje
🗺 Menu of Contents:
Macedonia is an ancient country in search of a modern identity. Since the end of the civil war in 1991, Macedonia can claim to be the most peaceful republic to emerge from the former Yugoslavia, and visitors here get to experience one of the safest and most captivating countries in Europe.
Macedonia is a paradise for hikers, bikers, skiers and climbers, as over 80 percent of the land is mountainous and forested. Its abundant lakes and unpolluted rivers also attract fishermen, while Roman ruins and religious art invite culture buffs looking to see a different, fresher face to ancient Europe. Macedonia's prime attraction is Lake Ohrid, on the south-east border with Albania. This is Europe's deepest lake and one of the oldest in the world. Between mid-July and late August the Ohrid Summer Festival takes place, and this is the best time to experience Macedonian music, food and people in all their glory.
The capital is Skopje, a really enjoyable microcosm of Macedonia's many charms. There are plenty of historical relics, medieval fortresses and a bustling Ottoman-style bazaar. After dark, Skopje's celebrated nightlife comes into its own with great live music and clubs. Mavrovo, 60 km east of Skopje, is an excellent though hugely underrated ski resort in a wonderfully scenic mountain location. Bitoli, the country's second largest city, is known for its café culture and Ottoman heritage.
Getting around in Macedonia is relatively easy, with fairly well maintained roads, frequent public buses, and reasonably good value car hire available. The trains are clean, cheap but slow, which can be a good thing as the scenery en route to destinations can be magnificent.
For the moment Macedonia is still an off-the-beaten-track travel destination, but with its unbeatable mix of wilderness, culture, and famously friendly people, this destination is primed to become the next big thing on the European visitor's map. For those who like to explore countries relatively 'undiscovered' by tourists Macedonia is ideal.
Travelling to Macedonia is not as simple as it may seem if you coming from far away. It's currently not yet in the European Union, this making it more difficult to establish transport connections. There are a number of direct flights from neighbouring countries and recently also some low cost airlines have started flying there from UK, Germany, and Scandinavia. Popular airlines to travel by air to Macedonia are Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and Swiss. Best prices to get there can be found with low cost airline Wizzair.
There is no need for a visa for Macedonia, and immigration doesn't even stamp passports for Europeans. Getting a flight from Europe is the best option. But if you coming from far away, you will need at least one stop and make a connection flight.
There is only one airport operating in Macedonia, therefore there are no domestic flights. Also there is no national airline.
Once in the country transportation relies mainly on road infrastructure. Busses are more popular to travel to other cities and also other countries. Only in the main capital, is public transport more reliable.
Macedonia is subject to harsh winters and hot summers. It has a moderate warm autumn and cool spring. It's very continental, so you may experience varied weather factors. However, a lot of the time it can be cloudy as it's around mountains and high above sea level. Temperatures can be around high 30's °C in the summer but below freezing in the winter. Visiting Macedonia, (Skopje), is best during the Autumn or the summer, when warmer weather can be enjoyed.
Macedonian cuisine is a mixed style, blending Balkan and Mediterranean flavours.Turkish influences inherited from centuries of Ottoman rule are also evident.During summer, markets are well-stocked with fresh produce, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and onions as well as watermelons, apricots and peaches. All the excess is then jarred and made into spreads. You will find at a traditional dinner table, Meze, a selection of small, creamy vegetable spreads, is usually served with bread to start and is often followed by a main dish of grilled chicken or pork, freshwater fish, stuffed pastry or stew.
You can find the following specialities in Macedonia: Pindžur, a spicy roast pepper and aubergine relish. Kifli, a half-moon-shaped bread roll filled with feta cheese and topped with sesame seeds. Gravce tavce, a chunky bean stew cooked in a skillet and flavoured with spices including paprika. Shopska salata, a mixed salad made by combining tomato, peppers, cucumbers, onions and crumbled feta cheese. Kebapči, minced meat sausages typically served with flatbread, kajmak (a type of clotted cream) and onions. Ajvar, a ubiquitous relish made from roasted red bell peppers, paprika and garlic. Burek, a flaky pie filled with combinations of ham, cheese, spinach and ground beef. Selsko meso, a thick stew of meat, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and carrots cooked in a clay pot. Kačamak, a porridge-esque cornmeal mixture often sprinkled with feta cheese. For dessert you can find Tulumbi, fried dough rolls covered in honey and nuts.
As for drinks: When it comes to drink, sugared Turkish coffee is the order of the day, though milky, Italian-style coffees, such as cappuccino and lattes are becoming increasingly popular. For drinking you can find Rakija, a potent fruit brandy made from grapes.
Travelling to Skopje, was an interesting experience to discover a more remote area of Europe, not as popular as other countries. It brought me many memories and similarities with other countries, like Turkey. It's markets, way of dressing of the people, Mosque towers, etc. It also had an old feel to it, many areas needing restoration. I was impressed however by its governmental buildings which were huge and all statues and monuments where of an increased size. Reminding me of its past and influenced by communism.
It's perhaps not a city for fun, but for culture and also a step back in time. Still an interesting city to explore and walk around.
Skopje Tourism Information Guide
The capital of Macedonia was invaded several times, first by the Ottoman Turks in 1392, then with the Balkan Wars in 1913 it became part of the Yugoslavian Kingdom and finally in 1991 Macedonia gained its independence. Unfortunately in 1963, Macedonia suffered a terrible earthquake which destroyed 80% of the city and brought it to rubble.
During it's history, it was ruled under Communist Parties, which is represented, specially by its huge governmental buildings and monuments which were erected after the earthquake to show the strength and determination of survival of its people. Currently Skopje is undergoing a lot of restoration and development, little by little the city is growing and becoming more international with many Hotels, restaurants, and shops surrounding the centre now. So rain or shine, you should find something to do in Skopje. Not forgetting to stop by the famous Turkish Old Bazaar!
❗Attention: Skopje is safe, however it's advised on the street not to expose valuables and not to overdress. Try to blend in with the locals, by dressing in darker clothes and don't wear any excessive jewellery, bags or accessories.
Skopje weather is generally characterized by long and dry summers but fresh and rainy winters, with occasional heavy snowfall in the mountains, also reaching the capital.
It can get surprisingly hot in summer, between May and August, with temperatures reaching as high as 37°C. The hottest month is July.
In the Winter, the coldest month is January, with an average temperature of just over 0°C. Rainfall is abundant, particularly in the short spring and autumn, with October being the wettest month, and August the driest.
The best time to visit would be April to May or late September to early November.
Arriving to Skopje by air is the best way, after you clear immigration, the arrivals process is quite simple. There are busses which take you into the city centre.The bus is operated by Vardar Ekspres and it costs 175 Denars. (£2.50) one way trip.
Once in the city, you will soon identify the public busses, as they look a lot like the double decker busses in London. You need to get tickets in advance before you board or can also pay the driver as you get on, this being slightly more expensive. Each ticket costs 30 Denars bought at a kiosk.
If you stay within the city centre there is no need to get the public transport as everything can be found in walking distance.
At a first glance, there might not seem much to see and do in Skopje, but as you start exploring you will find plenty to occupy tour time with. From culture and museums, to art, shopping and entertainment.Not forgetting the Old Bazaar located within walking from the centre.
The main attractions in the city are:
- Macedonia Square,is the main square of Skopje.It is located in the central part of the city, and it crosses the Vardar River.
- Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Sovereignty and Independence, Museum of VMRO, is a museum of the Victims of the Communist Regime.
- The Stone Bridge, which connects the old and the new part of the city, it's of importance as it was destroyed several times over history. It's a symbol of the unification of the city and independence of Macedonia.
- The Millennium Cross, located on the top of Vodno Mountain. Good views are observed from here to the city and the surroundings. To get there you need to go by bus from the Bus Station (next to the main international bus station) and take a bus with direction to Millennium Cross, which leaves every 30 min from 8.30 to 15h. Once you get to the the top there is a cable car which takes you to the cross. Be aware the last cable car goes down at 16h and soon after the bus back to the city.
- Museum of the City of Skopje, Founded in 1949, it is located in a former railway station that was partly destroyed in the 1963 earthquake.
- The Macedonian Orthodox Church. Porta Macedonia is a triumphal arch located on Pella Square in Skopje, completed in January 2012.
Although far from being a nightlife hotspot, Skopje offers plenty of excitement after dark options for everyone. However, it seems to happen, it's not easy to enlist the location of the best venues, since they change quite often. The best clubs appear out of nowhere and open their doors to the masses for the short summer period only.
If you’re in Debar Maalo late on a Friday or Saturday night, keep an eye out for the bars where the locals literally dance on the tables.
What probably sets Skopje apart from other capitals is the relative proximity from one place to the next. Most locals would start their night out at one place, be that a bar or kafana, only to heat up the atmosphere and move the party to the next bar or club across the street.
Majority of summer nightclubs are located in the city park, whilst bars reside in general proximity to one another in areas such as Debar Maalo, Leninova Street, The old bazar, Karpos, and the city center.
The best idea for shopping and spending a nice afternoon is to go to the The Old Bazaar, situated on the eastern bank of the Vardar River, stretching from the Stone Bridge to the Bit-Pazar and from the Skopje Fortress to the Serava river.You will all kind of curious shops, souvenirs and cafes.
Nearby you will find points of interest like the Mustafa Pasha Mosque and the Tvrdina Kale Fortress, easy to reach, offering great views over the city and river. Inside the ruins, there are two mini museum. Also nearby the Museum of Macedonia is a national institution and one of the oldest museums in the country.
In Skopje it's not a problem to find reasonable.Hotels, apartments and also Airbnb. Prices are more competitive, due to the low currency. However quality is not as good as other European countries, therefore it's important to compare and look at reviews online. A 3 star hotel in Macedonia could be a 1 star in Europe. You can find Hotels for €25 per night in the city centre area.
Staying closer to the city centre is also recommended , as transportation can be difficult to understand at the beginning.
❗Attention: Skopje is safe, however always lock your luggage after leaving your accommodation.
Essentially the city centre and its surroundings can be seen in one day. However if you prefer to learn a bit more about the culture, visit museums and walk around then 3 nights would be ideal. As part of travelling through Macedonia many people make it a transit stop, so connecting to other capitals might be a good idea, and stay in Skopje a couple of nights.