Skopje is a quaint and unusual city that is well worth either being added to your Balkans trip or as an individual trip. I have pulled together a list of things to do in Skopje as well as providing a complete guide of how to get to Skopje, where to stay and local cuisine you should try whilst you are in Macedonia.
Is Skopje Worth Visiting?
Skopje is certainly worth visiting! It is fascinating as the city seems to be in the process of finding its identity. The government has invested massively in making the city centre look impressive. Most of the development was along the riverside promenades with grand new buildings, squares and hundreds of statues.
A few other reasons why you should visit Macedonia….
The incredible nature!
Macedonia has beautiful lakes, big national parks and mountains; some only 30 minutes outside of Skopje. All of these can be enjoyed without having to share with hundreds of other tourists at the same time. There is a with a wide range of outdoor activities keeping you outdoorsy travellers busy.
Macedonia won’t break the bank whilst you are travelling around. You will find that the price levels are way cheaper than other destinations in Europe. Not only is it affordable but you feel that you get great value for the money you spent. To give an example we had a what I thought was an extravagant dinner (5-6 dishes) that only came to £20! The wine was 50% of the total bill.
We budgeted £50 a day for 2 people.
You can find double rooms for under £20 night and meals rarely cost more than £10 in a restaurant including drinks.
Friendliness of the Macedonians!
It might not seem like it on the first impression of meeting a Macedonian but they are warm and welcoming people. Most younger people can speak English without a problem, and many of the older generations understand and can speak a little English.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Skopje?
I recommend spending two days in the city of Skopje. If you are an outdoor person or love nature you could add another two to three days on your trip. Near Skopje is some of Macedonia beautiful nature which can be an easy day trip from Skopje to Matka Canyon or Vodno (mountain). More on how to get to them below!
How to get to Skopje?
Skopje can be reached by all popular modes of transport and is aiming to be an important flight centre of Eastern Europe and into the Balkans.
Skopje has two airports with the most frequent flights arriving at Alexander the Great Airport of Skopje. The easiest routes by air can be reached from the following cities:
London, Malmo, Eindhoven, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Munich, Zurich, Basel, Milan, Venice, Ljubljana, Vienna Zagreb, Rome, Belgrade, Istanbul, Izmir and Dubai.
Ohrid Airport is the smaller airport which is used for small to medium-large aircraft.
The Skopje railway station is a 15-minute walk from the main square called Makedonija. The railway station has connections to Belgrade, Thessaloniki, Athens and Ljubljana. The express route Vienna-Thessaloniki passes through Skopje twice daily, once going to Thessaloniki and a second time returning to Vienna, passing through Belgrade and Ljubljana.
There are numerous bus lines connecting Macedonia with all neighbouring countries and other European cities. Buses are frequent and offer relatively inexpensive fares compared to other modes of transport. You can look at the SAS website for timetables and ticket prices.
There is only one main international bus station in Skopje which is located next to the Railway Station. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the Alexander the Great Statue in Skopje City Centre. The bus station offers connections to all around the Balkans including Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Kosovo.
Where to stay in Skopje?
We stayed at the Urban Hostel in Skopje during our time in Skopje. When we arrived we got upgraded to an apartment that the hostel had and didn’t get to see much of the vibe of the hostel as it was in another complex.
The hostel common areas were nice, clean and had utilities available. The staff were friendly and helpful. It was a 15-minute walk to the city centre and nearby cafes, restaurants and bars. Click more here to find out about Urban Hostel.
When I was travelling the Balkans, I learned about two associations of hostels that offer 10% off if you use their flyers with the hostels when booking directly. One is the Balkan Backpacker (website) and the other is I Travel Balkans (Facebook Page). By using these associations and booking directly you could get 10% off the following hostels in Skopje:
Get in Hostel (alternatively, use Booking.com to book here)
Hi Skopje (alternatively use Booking.com to book here)
Unity Hostel (alternatively use Booking.com to book here).
Do I need a visa for Macedonia?
Macedonia does have visa requirements unless you are from one of these countries; Argentina, America, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Botswana, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cuba, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, European Union Citizen, Malta, Monaco, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Turkey, Russia, Peru, Serbia, Uruguay, New Zealand, Kosovo, Peru, Panama, Montenegro and Venezuela. If you from one of the countries listed this means that you can stay in the country for up to 90 days.
Things to do in Skopje
Free Walking Tour Skopje
I recommend going on Skopje Walks whilst you are in Skopje. Miha was a great tour guide, he explained in a funny and witty way the reasons for building huge old/new buildings and monuments in Skopje. My favourite line of the tour was that the mayor had “copy and paste” syndrome. Around the city you can see a lot of elements around the world for example, the bull that is in front of the stock market but instead here it is in front of a shoe shop.
You’ll also be joined by a pack of stray dogs during the walking tour. The dogs are really protective of Miha tour groups and quite entertaining, just as long as you are not driving a car or riding a bike. All the homeless dogs in Skopje are vaccinated, feed and de-sexed as a part of a programme. The dogs will have these yellow tags on their ears showing that they have been seen and not carrying any harmful diseases.
See the Monuments in Plostad Makedonija and Around the City Centre (free)
I didn’t think anywhere could have so many statues in one place but I think Skopje has won the prize. There are over 200 statues around Skopje. You could play “where is the statue” all day and still not find them all! They even started to run out of space so you will find the statue on the tops of buildings displaying Macedonian famous figures.
Visit the Mother Teresa Memorial House (free)
Mother Teresa (Teresa of Calcutta) was born in Skopje on August 26, 1910. Her original house was lost in the earthquake so in 2009, two years after her death, the Mother Teresa Memorial House was built in her honour. The museum displays photos, memorabilia and documents of Mother Teresa’s life and religious work. Above the museum there is a small chapel which you can visit.
The museum is free and opens Monday through to Friday between 9 am an 8 pm and Saturday and Sunday between 9am and 2pm.
Modern style church
Have a quick look around Church of St. Clement of Ohrid and its modern style. It is the largest cathedral of the Macedonian Orthodox Church today.
Wander through the Old Bazaar (free)
Skopje’s is the second biggest bazaar in Europe to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Start your walk through the bazaar at the Stone Bridge and continue your way through to the Kale Fortress. Around the area you will see active mosques, türbes (mausoleum tombs), converted hammams (bathhouses), churches, the Museum of Macedonia, the Museum of Modern Art, and several inns.
Pick up some handcrafted gifts from copperware to traditional Macedonian folk costumes. With the Ottoman and Turkish influence traditional restaurants and coffee houses throughout selling kebab, lahmajun (meat pie), and Turkish delight.
It is also the number one place in Skopje to enjoy cheap eats or enjoy some drinks whilst you people watch. During the 16th and 17th century, the Old Town was one of the most famous and largest open bazaars in the Balkans with a mix of eastern and western culture.
Visit the Old Railway Station (free)
In 1963 Skopje had an earthquake that brought down most of the city and now the Old Railway Station stands as a reminder of that day. It is one of the few parts of the city that stood to remain after the earthquake. Interestingly The clock on the railway station still points out the time when the earthquake happened, 05:17 am.
Since 1970 it has become the Museum of the City of Skopje and hosts permanent exhibitions representing the history of Skopje. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday between 09:00-15:00 and entry is free. You can still walk around the outside any time and see the damage from the earthquake.
Walk the Bridges (free)
The Vardar River runs through Skopje and as you’d expect there are several bridges that link you to the other side. The most famous bridge is the Stone Bridge which was originally built under the Roman Emperor Justinian’s era when Skopje was known as a colony known as Skupi. The bridge was destroyed and then rebuilt under the Ottoman empire in the 15th Century then damaged again during the earthquake.
Nearby the Stone Bridge will by the Art Bridge another pedestrian bridge lined with statues of notable Macedonian artists and musicians which leads you to the National Archaeology Museum.
National Archaeological Museum of the Republic Of Macedonia
Explore the archaeological relics from ancient Macedonian times, including coins & statues from the Paleolithic Period 10.000 BC to the 14th c. A.D; settling of the Slavs, 6th c. A.D to 1945.
Hike to the Kale Fortress (free)
Since the 6th century during the rule of Roman Emperor Justinian I the Kale Fortress has stood and watched over Skopje. The fortress was partially destroyed during the Ottoman occupation and today only 121 meters of the wall remains with three watchtowers.
Kale Fortress is only 10-minute easy walk away from the city square. It also offers great views over the city! There are no information boards currently around the fortress.
Take the Cable Car to the Millennium Cross
On top of Vodno Mountain you will find the 66m tall Millennium Cross. On a clear day you can see the cross gleaming down from the mountain. It was built to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity in Macedonia with donations from the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
The easiest (i.e. less effort) way to get to the Millennium Cross is to take the bus and cable car to the top. Catch bus number 25 from main bus station in Skopje to the mountain which will be about 15 minutes from the station. There is the cable-car station in “Middle Vodno” which will take you to the cross costing about 100 MKD (£1.42).
The harder way is to climb up Vodno Mountain to the Millennium Cross. The climb to the top will take 2-4 hours depending on the speed and the need for breaks and the track is about 5kms long. The entire trail passes through dense forest with mostly pine and chestnut.
Visit Matka Canyon
Matka Canyon is the ideal day trip from Skopje for anyone who loves nature, cool rocks and hiking. It’s hard to believe that this incredible canyon is just 15km away from the busy urban streets of Macedonia’s capital city.
From the Skopje main bus station take bus number 60 to Matka Canyon. The bus stop is outside the main station next to the petrol station. Bus tickets can be bought on the bus and will take about 45 to 60 minutes.
Eat the Local Food
Skopje is the perfect place for meat lovers with hearty portions but there are also a few specialities for vegetarians to try like their famous bean casseroles, fresh salads (most likely covered with cheese) or deep-fried cheese-stuffed peppers.
Fast food options in Skopje are like those in the rest of the Balkans: Burek (flaky, meat- or cheese-filled rolled pastries) and kebapi (minced-meat sausages). Sweet shops and bakeries selling syrupy tulumba are found throughout the city. Regional and international fare can also be found in the city center; particularly Turkish fare in the Old Bazaar.
What Macedonia food should I try?
Tavce gravce (literally meaning beans cooked in a skillet) and is widely considered as Macedonia national dish. Fresh beans are boiled, combined with onion, peppers, tomato, oil, flour and spices, and then baked slowly in an earthenware pot. Perfect dish for the vegetarians out there! And probably the only vegan dish on the menu (Macedonians love their cheese!)
Burek is a flaky rolled pastry normally filled with meat, cheese, potato or spinach. A great breakfast on the go, maybe not the healthiest.😉 Burek can be found across the Balkans.
Kebapi is grilled minced meat composed into the shape of a sausage normally with onions, vegeta (which is a very popular mixture of Macedonian herbs) and paprika. Kabapi is served with freshly baked flatbread and kajmak, which is similar to sour cream or cream cheese.
Kacamak (also known as pura or bakrdan) is a very popular dish in Macedonia, is a thick and creamy mixture of cornmeal that is usually topped with crumbled feta cheese and yogurt.
Another Balkan favourite and a staple in Macedonia. It is a relish made from red bell peppers, eggplant, garlic and chili. Ajvar is commonly used in sandwiches and as a side salad. The relish can be super orange but don’t let the colour put you off as it is always delicious.
Love your meat lovers pizza? Well, Macedonia has it’s very own called Pastrmajlija. It is a long oval-shaped pizza topped with diced pork (or lamb), and often fried egg.
Rakija (Macedonian Brandy)
Rakija is an alcoholic drink made from the distillation of fermented fruit like plums, apricots, cherries and other fruits. Generally, Rakija is homemade and can have high alcohol range (40% to 65%). You will be offered Rakija constantly during your trip! So be prepared for lots of shots.
As I am a lover of wine it was fantastic to discover the that Macedonia produces great wines. The country is the 25th largest producer of wine in the world and has over 24,000 hectares of vineyards.
Macedonia specialises in, produces full-bodied, fruity red wines made mostly with dark-skinned Vranec and Smederevka grape varieties.
Try the Vranec when you are eating some of the famous local dishes like Tavche Gravche (baked beans) or Selsko Meso (a classic meat dish). If you’re trying the local goats cheese, make sure you wash it down with a glass of Stanushina.
Places to eat in Skopje
DM TP Kjebapcilnica
The food is delicious Tavche Gravche, the bread with cheese, meat dishes salads and side dishes. They all come with an affordable price tag. The space itself can be a bit tight during winter, so be sure to book a table if visiting on a weekend.
Our walking tour took us here for some Rakija shots before we ended up eating here. It’s a small place in the Old Bazar that serves tasty local food at good prices. The staff were friendly as well.
Old City Bar
Located in the Old Bazar is the Old City Bar it’s a small bar where you can stop for a few drinks. The bartender was super friendly, offered us lots of suggestions for dinner and local food we should try.
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Let me know in the comments below how your trip to Skopje was!