The Most Beautiful Sights in Skopje, North Macedonia
Unless you personally know someone who has travelled here, or have travelled here yourself, you likely have not heard about Skopje ─ the capital city of North Macedonia. This quirky city is a well-kept secret of North Macedonia. There is so much to do in this city that travellers make a point of keeping this location hush-hush in order to prevent it from becoming a bustling tourist stop. If the fascinating locations in Skopje aren’t enough to pique your interest, it’s also an incredibly affordable travel location. A coffee typically costs €1, a beer €1.30, and a proper meal will cost you €3-5.
The age of Skopje will leave you fascinated. The first settlements date back as far as 400 BC. The city has experienced much since then that has caused it to change and evolve. Over the years, Skopje has had a variety of ethnic groups and rulers ─ from the Romans, Dardanians, and Byzantines to the Turks and the Serbs. When you look at the city’s layout, it’s no wonder it has been able to house so many people. The Vardar river ─ which was once the most important trade routes between the North and South of the Balkans ─ divides the city.
Skopje represents a mixture of people, cultures, and time periods ─ a melting pot of both modernity and traditional styles. You can delve into the oriental atmosphere of the Old Bazaar, discover the city’s communist history, or enjoy a smoothie in the happening hipster neighbourhood of Debar Maalo.
North Macedonia’s capital city combines everything you’d want a city to have. And if you’re looking for a getaway from the city, worry not. Less than an hour’s drive will bring you to beautiful natural landscapes. The convenience of travel is relatively universal throughout North Macedonia, seeing as the country only has a surface area of 25,713 km². Something else you should keep in mind is that the country is not a member of the EU or Eurozone, so the Macedonian denar is the currency you’ll have to use. Macedonian is the national language, but many of the locals speak English as well as Albanian, French, and German.
We’re sure that you’ll love this incredible city as much as we did. If you need more convincing, this article has all the information you’ll need before visiting Skopje.
If you happen to be in one of the neighbouring Balkan countries, the bus is the best and cheapest option. From the bus station in Skopje, you can travel to Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria and more.
If you’re travelling from another European country, it’s best to fly. Plenty of airports offer regular flights to and from Skopje, since there are only two international airports in North Macedonia ─ Skopje and Ohrid. After arriving at the airport, you can visit the information centre in the terminal and take a bus or spend the extra money on a taxi ride for convenience.
Best Time to Visit Skopje
In theory, it’s possible to visit Skopje all year round. However, it can get very cold in winter, despite its southern location. On the flip side, the temperatures during the summer months easily exceed 30 degrees Celsius. For this reason, we recommend that you visit the capital in spring or autumn.
Just like in any other city, you can choose between staying in a hostel, holiday apartment, or hotel. Seeing as the majority of travelling expenses in North Macedonia are relatively cheap, why not treat yourself to nice accommodation? But staying in a hostel is also a valid and practical, budget-friendly option.
While visiting Skopje, you will not need to worry about transportation, seeing as everything is within walking distance. Therefore, we suggest choosing accommodation no further than 15 minutes from the city centre. Use Google Maps to help. You can use the large statue of Alexander the Great as reference.
Things to Do in Skopje
Whether you’re a foodie, historian, or casual sightseer, the city has something to offer you. All the main attractions are reachable on foot. The travel time for trips outside walking distance does not typically exceed 60 minutes.
If you want to get to know the city and its history, we recommend one of the city tours.
View Skopje from above
The Vardar river divides the city into two parts ─ the old and the new. The large, 6th-century stone bridge allows you to cross the river easily. If you start at the main square, you will find the Kale Fortress waiting for you on the other side.
On foot, you can reach the fortress in around 10 minutes and entry is free! Walk alongside the ancient walls and enjoy an incredible view of Skopje. This is also the perfect place to check out the quirky melting pot of architectural styles Skopje is famous for.
Count the statues of Skopje
If you think other cities have a lot of statues, wait until you visit Skopje. We found that the city has an almost absurd number of statues. On every corner, and at every square, you’ll find different statues of varying sizes.
Surprisingly, these statues are relatively recent additions to the city. After the financial crisis of 2008, the city launched the “Skopje 2014” project. The goal was to attract tourists by making the capital city look more beautiful. The many sculptures definitely contribute to the attraction of the eclectic city. Many of the locals do not appreciate the wealth of statues, believing the money spent on them to be wasteful. Many consider the quantity of statues to be excessive.
Visit the old bazaar
If you’d like to dive into a completely new world, we suggest visiting the bazaar in the old part of Skopje. Here, you will feel like as though you’ve been transported to the Middle East. Why not witness a call to prayer in the local mosque? Or try out some of the mouth-watering local pastries such as baklava and crispy burek?
Here, many small cobblestone alleys are just waiting for you to explore them. And in the small stores you’ll find everything from wedding dresses and antiques to cheap electronic devices and handcrafted souvenirs. The bazaar is sure to fascinate each and every visitor.
Enjoy the view from Mount Vodno
From almost all points in Skopje, you’ll be able to spot the Millennium Cross ─ the turn-of-the-century cross atop Mount Vodno. The mountain is well worth visiting, seeing as its highest point offers the best possible view of the city.
Depending on your fitness level, there are three ways to get to the top. The first is to walk from the city centre. If you do so, follow the signs for the Saint Clement of Ohrid boulevard and continue in the direction of the cross. You’ll need to turn right when you reach the Vodno police station, and from there you can follow the signs. The hike to the cross will take approximately two and a half hours.
Alternatively, you can take the taxi or bus to the Sredno Vodno car park and then hop on the cable car. The journey takes around eight minutes and costs approximately €2. Or, you can start your hike at the car park, either by taking the tarmac road or by following the more demanding path. Following this route, it should take you around an hour to an hour and a half to reach the top.
Take a trip to the Matka Canyon
One of the most spectacular places in North Macedonia ─ and maybe even in the Balkans as a whole ─ is the Matka Canyon. The journey from Skopje to the Canyon takes around an hour. You can either get there by bus or taxi, although we found that taxi, while more expensive, is significantly more peaceful.
The canyon is breathtakingly beautiful, but is particularly stunning in summer, when the slopes are a striking shade of green that evokes an almost exotic feeling. The canyon offers many different ways to enjoy and appreciate the natural beauty of Matka. You can rent a kayak and explore River Treska yourself, or join a guided boat tour that will take you to the Vrelo Cave. If boats aren’t your thing, you can also walk along the side of the canyon and explore your surroundings that way.
While there are areas of the cave that can be explored while staying dry, a large portion of the cave is completely underwater. It is thought to be one of the deepest caves in the world, although this has not been confirmed, seeing as it is not possible to dive right to the bottom; however, the depth is estimated to be approximately 200 m.
Things to Know
If you choose to visit North Macedonia, you should be aware that the locals simply call their country “Macedonia”. The name was officially changed to North Macedonia as a result of a political disagreement that stems from the fact that there is a region in Greece which Greeks refer to as “Macedonia”. To date, the topic remains a bit sensitive, and in our experience it’s best to simply call the country Macedonia.
If you’ve visited other countries in the Balkans before, this won’t surprise you, but in North Macedonia you can smoke indoors almost everywhere, including restaurants and cafés.
Skopje has many beautiful and interesting spots, but the hipster neighbourhood Debar Maalo was our personal favourite. The atmosphere is cool, open-minded, and creative. Both locals and travellers come here to grab a coffee, party, or try out some of the stylish restaurants. Debar Maalo is also a wonderful place to make some long-lasting connections.
If you’re looking for a cheap and eclectic travel destination that is not very well known, look no further than Skopje. The capital city of North Macedonia has a lot to offer, from culture and history to a wide range of quirky architecture.
Whether you’d like to see some statues, explore the history of former Yugoslavia, or delve into the oriental world of the Old Bazaar, Skopje offers options for everyone while being suitable for every budget. Up until now, the city has remained a well-kept secret among travellers. That said, we’re pretty sure that this hidden gem in the Balkans will continue to gain popularity. So, we suggest you book your trip to this extraordinary capital city as soon as possible!