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Skopje: Complete Guide to The North Macedonia Capital

 

Skopje Macedonia’s capital city, isn’t anything like I expected. 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was picturing in my head. Maybe something with a more Mediterranean flare – because of its proximity to Greece. 

Maybe I expected something more rustic, or a city less geared toward tourism. Whatever my expectations, Skopje Macedonia blew them away!

It’s hard to find the descriptive words for Skopje. Skopje isn’t your typical European city. It is an odd melting pot of cultures. 

The city’s biggest influence is Eastern European, followed closely by middle-eastern and with a little bit of Mediterranean thrown in for good measure.

This gives it a different vibe compared to the hundreds of other cities I have visited, including some of the best cities in Greece, backpacking Europe over the years.

Reasons to Visit Skopje

  • Not Overly Crowded With Tourist
  • Awesome Food
  • Cheap
  • Great Local Food
  • Fun Day Trips
  • Hundreds of Statues
  • Iconic City

Skopje Macedonia:  The 2023 City Guide

What to Expect When Visiting Skopje

Skopje is a strange mix. Part of the capital is clearly Eastern European with just a touch of Mediterranean thrown in for flavor, while other sections are slightly middle eastern. Eastern orthodox and catholic churches are minute walking distance to mosques and Bazaars.

Skopje is packed, almost to the point of being covered, with statues that look like they are remnants left over a time long past. Like the seven wonders of the ancient world. . It makes the entire city a strangely beautiful place.

On the surface, the city looks and feels old. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover that most of the statues and buildings are newly reconstructed, yet made to look like they have been aging for hundreds of years. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it is just a little deceiving at first.

The major reason for all the reconstruction is due to the massive earthquake that hit Skopje in 1963, which destroyed 80% of the buildings.

The locals in Skopje are also friendly. As I mentioned above, the city wants more tourism. They are happy to help you, give you directions, share about their city, and suggest local foods to try.

Getting to Skopje

Skopje is the capital and largest city of North Macedonia. It is a vibrant city and a popular tourist destination. The easiest way to get to Skopje is by train or plane. The Skopje International Airport is the primary airport for the region and is located just outside the city. From there, travelers can catch a train to the city center, the rebuilt railway station. Drawn by the Kenzo Tange. Kenzo Tange is a Japanese architect. The journey takes about half an hour and tickets can be purchased online. For those who prefer to travel by train, regular services run from both Belgrade and Sofia to the city. The journey takes around 3 to 4 hours, depending on the route chosen. Both train and plane are easy and convenient ways to get to Skopje.
If you are already traveling through Europe, you can also take a train to Skopje railway station from other countries in Europe. However, it can be tricky for some countries. For example, from Athens to Skopje Railway station isn’t an easy route. And involves a bus at certain points. But it can be done.

Currency in Northern Macedonia

The Macedonian Denar (MDK / ден) is the currency of Northern Macedonia. 1 USD equals ден52 – ден58 Denar depending on the current exchange rate.

A word of warning, I made the mistake of drawing out too much MDK. I usually avoid currency exchanges like they are a country music concert, but had no choice.

Unfortunately, I was thwarted as there is no currency exchange at Skopje Airport. And once leaving Macedonia, no currency exchanges will take the Denar.

End result: I have $50 worth of Denars parked in my wallet. So make sure you spend, or exchange, all the MDK you have before heading to the airport.

Here is the current exchange rate:

 Current Exchange Rate USD to MDK

Architectural Style in Skopje

Skopje is the capital of North Macedonia and is known for its unique and diverse architectural style. The city is home to a multitude of influences from Ottoman, Byzantine, and Yugoslavian architecture, as well as more contemporary styles. Visitors will find a wide variety of colors and textures as they wander the city. Skopje’s architecture is a unique blend of styles, as the city has seen an influx of modern buildings and renovations to its historic sites.

One of the most famous examples of Skopje’s architectural style is the Stone Bridge, which dates back to the 15th century and is an iconic symbol of the city. The Kale Fortress, another historic landmark, is a great example of Ottoman-style architecture. Additionally, visitors will find many modern buildings, such as the Millennium Cross and Skopje City Mall, that make Skopje an interesting and diverse city to explore. North Macedonia is a substantial area of Europe to visit. And a great international destination full of beautiful concert halls and fun entertainment.

Skopje Earthquake and Reconstruction.

A 6.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked Skopje, Macedonia, in July 1963 left the city in ruins. The quake caused over 1,000 fatalities, injured over 3,000 people and destroyed over 80% of the city’s buildings. And the magnitude of the destruction led to a massive reconstruction effort that lasted for almost a decade.

The project focused on rebuilding residential buildings, schools, and other public facilities, as well as developing infrastructure such as roads to connect the city. The international community, including the United Nations and the World Bank, provided aid and resources to Skopje to help with the reconstruction. Today, the city is a vibrant, modern European capital with a mix of old and new architecture, a testament to the resilience of the city and its people.

Best Time to Visit Skopje

Peak Season (Skopje in June – November)

Skopje gets its highest number of travelers from June – August. With the busiest month being July. The evenings are comfortable, but the days are hot — temperatures reach almost 100°F during the day and 60°F at night.

Accommodation is in high demand due to the sheer number of tourists, which means that the cost of hostels and hotels rise during the summer months. But at no point during the year would I say that accommodation in Skopje is unaffordable.

The fall is the second busiest time of the year for tourism in Skopje. What draws visitors to the city in the fall are the mild temperatures. This makes September – November the second busiest time for tourism in Skopje.

Note: Temperatures drop rapidly in November, and there is a good chance you will see a little snow

Shoulder Season (Skopje in March – May)

Spring is the mid-tourist time in Skopje. Shoulder season is a combination of low and high tourist season. Tourists take over the city in March, but April and May are slow months for tourism.

At night, the high humidity and mild temperatures make it feel chilly. The springtime also gets a fair amount of rain, with May being the rainiest month of the year.

Off Season (Skopje Macedonia in December – February)

The winters in Skopje get chilly with temperatures dipping down into the low 30°F, and sometimes drops as low as 25 °F.

The city also receives a fair amount of rain and snow during winter, which slows down tourism drastically. Prices fall with the temperatures making it the cheapest time of the year to visit, like the best time to visit Copenhagen..

Average Temperatures in Skopje

SPRING

 79°F (26°C) – 51°F (10°C)

SUMMER

90-100°F (37°C) – 51°F (16°C)

FALL

84°F (29°C) and 50°F (10°C)

WINTER

48°F (7°C) – 28°F (-2°C)

Cool Things to do in Skopje

Skopje! The city of statues, mosque, a mini Arch De Triumph knockoff, and English Double Decker Buses.

Sightseeing in Skopje might make you fill like you are going on a little tour around the world.

One of the recent leaders of Macedonia – I can’t remember which one, sorry – spent a lot of his time in office abroad. He would see things he liked on his travels and come back to Skopje and commission them to be built.

A common joke among the locals goes like this, “Soon, no one will travel the world; instead, they will just come to Skopje.”

“Why,” I asked.

“Because we will have copied all the good things,” the locals reply, “ why would you need to go anywhere else.”(I never said it was a funny joke)

That being said, Skopje does have a lot to see and do. And while the sites, statues, and buildings aren’t as old as they look, they are still worth checking out.

One thing to note, as you go through this next section, is that many of the museums and churches are closed on Mondays.

Museum of Macedonia

I know what you are thinking, “ Come on, Stephen! Why are you starting this list with a museum.”

I feel your pain, on my travels I’ve literally been to hundreds of museums. After a while, they all the sights in museums tend to run together. Oh, look! Another crumbling statue that I know little to nothing about….wonderful – he said sarcastically.

But the Museum of Macedonia is different, it’s special. You’ll notice this just from looking at the building, which looks like someone picked it up from Ancient Rome and sat it down in Skopje.

From the outside, I can’t recall ever seeing a more beautiful museum, (apart from the Vatican, of course)

What to See At the Museum of Macedonia

Stepping into the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia is time travel to the far past of Macedonia. It houses relics, artifacts, and pieces from different areas of the country.

Some notable things to see are the ancient artifacts, the treasures from the Byzantine era, and the 3d reconstructions of faces from early Macedonia (Which they made using skulls).

There are 3 floors worth of awesome things to see. It is one of the best places in Macedonia to visit.

Top Things to See

  • Coin Collections
  • Prehistoric Artifacts
  • Neolithic Artifacts
  • Old Remains
  • 3d Reconstructions

Ticket Price

The Museum of Macedonia is cheap. The ticket price is only 100 MKD (1.5 Euro).

Getting to There

The museum is located just on the other side of the Vardar from Macedonia Square. 

If you cross the river via the Bridge of Civilizations, you cannot miss it.

Statue of the Warrior

When wandering around Skopje, Macedonia it is impossible to miss this 8-story high monument sitting in the middle of Macedonia Square. It’s fairly obvious that this statue is of Alexander the Great. But due to Northern Macedonia, and Greece, both trying to claim the larger than life conqueror as their own, they can’t “officially” name it after the hero it’s based on.

The statue is an intricately designed tower standing high over the square. Sitting on top is Alexander. His sword is pulled out, his horse is rearing as if he is about to charge into battle. 

At the bottom of the tower is a pool of water lined with lions and soldiers. Water sprays into the at varying speeds and colors.

Green Market

Skopje is home to the vibrant Green Market, a wonderful place where you can find a fascinating array of fresh fruits and vegetables, colorful textiles, traditional handicrafts, and local specialties. Established in the early 20th century, the market has been a central hub of trade in Skopje ever since. With stands full of vivid produce displays, the Green Market is sure to delight even the most inquisitive minds. Take your time browsing through all it offers—you won’t regret it!

 skopska crna gora

Skopje Skopska Crna Gora is a mountain range in north Macedonia. It encompasses an area of around 50 kilometers and is the highest mountain range in the country. Vodno Mountain is the highest peak at 2,609 meters. The mountain range is renowned for its biodiversity and its many diverse ecosystems, ranging from alpine to subalpine and montane. And the area is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including many endemic species. It’s a popular destination for outdoor recreation and nature viewing because of the protected areas and national parks. Hiking, biking, and camping are some activities that the mountain range offers. The area is also home to several ski resorts and is a great place to enjoy winter activities.

Stone Bridge

Being the sly you, that you are means you’ve probably already guessed that stone bridge is… made out of stones. Give yourself a pat on the back.

Over 550 years old Stone bridge is one of the oldest parts that remain of Skopje Macedonia. (And it is much older if you count the roman foundations that it was built on).

The bridge spans over 700 feet and is supported by stone columns and semicircle archways. It runs across the Vardar River, which isn’t much of a river (at least in the summer months).

Stone Bridge acts as an invisible dividing line between two distinct sections of the city. 

The side of the bridge that houses Macedonia Square feels more eastern European, but wander across the bridge, and soon you’ll find yourself sitting in a middle-eastern style cafe sipping hot tea, looking at towering minarets, and listening to the call to prayer.

Skopje Aqueduct 

The Aqueduct in Skopje, Macedonia is exceptionally well preserved with over 55 arches remaining. The Aqueduct spans over 1,200 ft. (386 meters).

When this aqueduct was built is unclear, but the best guesses are either during the Roman Era, the Byzantine Empire, or the Ottoman Empire.

This aqueduct is a little off the beaten path is around a mile northwest of the center of Skopje.

Getting to the Skopje Aqueduct 

The best way to get to Skopje Aqueduct is by cab. But if you are looking for a budget option and don’t mind 40 minutes of walking (each way), you can take bus 19. Or bus 57 and change to bus 9 at Јајапашина Џамија.

Macedonia Gate

If you’ve always wanted to see the Arch De Triumph, but have never been to Paris, then you can head to Macedonia Gate, which is a mini version of the famous french site. Most Arches tributes to grand military victories.

This is where Macedonia Gate differs. Northern Macedonia is a passive country, and so they don’t have any significant military achievements to showcase. Instead, the reliefs on the gate depict scenes of Macedonia history.

My guide told me that it is the only Arch in the world that doesn’t have military victories. Though I’m not sure if that is true.

Mother Teresa’s House

Ok, there isn’t much to see here. But since it is close to Macedonia Gate, why not stop? Heading back to Macedonia Square from Macedonia Gate, you will see a small golden square on the street.

This is the location of the house where Mother Teresa was born and grew up. Nothing remains of the house. All you can really do here is take a photo, stand inside the square, or say a prayer – if that’s your cup of tea.

Millennium Cross

If you ask anyone local in Skopje what’s the one thing to do in Skopje that you shouldn’t miss, they are most likely to say the Millennium Cross.

The Millennium Cross is at the highest point on Vodno Mountain and sits at 3,497 feet (1,066). And if you are assuming that this means that you get some great views of Skopje, well, then you are right.

The Millennium Cross has become an icon, and one of the first things you’ll notice when entering the city.

The cross is built out of a metal grid. (Think of the style of the Eiffel Tower). Saying it is massive is a bit of an understatement for a monument like this. The Millennium Cross stands at 217 feet tall compared to Christ the Redeemer in Rio, which stands at 98 feet.

Getting to the Millennium Cross

This might seem a little confusing. But the best way to get there is head to the international bus station. Ask for a ticket on the Millennium Cross Line. This line runs every 30 minutes and cost less than 1 Euro (35 MDK).

Ride the bus for around 30 minutes, depending on how many stops it makes, and get off the bus off at the cable car. Next, take the cable car to the top of Vodno mountain. The cable car ticket is around 2 Euro (120 MDK). The cable car shuts down at 4 p.m.

You can get update prices and bus times here

Skopje Fortress

Skopje Fortress, also called Kale Fort, sits at the highest point in the city and has sweeping views of Skopje in every direction. This fortress is believed to have been built in the 6th century. The walls of the fort and some of the towers remain.

One point of interest is the neolithic remains found up here. These archeological digs are 6,000 years.

Make sure to check out this free thing to do in Skopje.

From the outside, I can’t recall ever seeing a more beautiful museum, (apart from the Vatican, of course)

The Bridge of Civilizations

The Bridge of Civilizations in Macedonia is a little deceiving as it’s lined with old looking statues. I was a bit disappointing to discover that these statues aren’t actually ancient, just made to look that way. But even though that is the case, the bridge is still gorgeous looking.

It overlooks Stone Bridge and walking across the bridge leads you right to the front door on the Museum of Macedonia (Archaeological Museum of Macedonia).

The statues on the bridge are of all key historical characters throughout Northern Macedonia’s history.

My personal favorite statue on the bridge is the woman in the center of the fountain. This woman is based off what they know about the neolithic remains that they have found on top of Kale Fortress. It has a unique art style that I found intriguing.

Old Bazaar Skopje

The Old Bazaar offers some unique atmosphere and food. The Old Bazaar Skopje; the second-largest bazaar in Europe.

The area is stuffed full of shoe stalls, knock-off electronics, middle eastern clothing for children and women, a few guys clothing shops, and restaurants. The actual market area of the bazaar does have a lot of local produce (Like many of the markets in Mexico), which is good if you are cooking your own meals.

The area is known for shopping, but I wasn’t impressed. The prices are over-inflated for tourists, and even though it is a middle eastern style Bazaar, no one seemed willing to haggle.

With that said, if you are looking for some new shoes, then this market is the place to go. I’ve never seen so many shoes in my entire life. And they cost a little over half of what I would pay in the US.

While I wouldn’t recommend going on a shopping spree in the Old Bazaar, I would urge you to visit for the food as some great restaurants serve local dishes. (More on local dishes and Old Bazaar Restaurants down below)

Monument of Karposh

This monument might not seem too impressive when looking at it. ( I mean the gigantic statues of both Alexander and Phillip are visible from the memorial and are much more spectacular). However, this monument has a deep and disturbing history. 

Karposh, depicted in the statue, lead a short-lived rebellion against the Ottomans in 1689. This uprising was spurred by the burning of the city. His rebellion lasted only two weeks before it was defeated and he was captured.

After captured, he was put to death on the spot where his monument lies. His death is one of the most horrific ways I’ve ever heard of someone dying – it is to messed up to write here. 

He is known as a national hero because he was the first to rise up. Karposh is basically Northern Macedonia’s William Wallace, and you can hear the full story on this Skopje Free Walking Tour.

Olympias Monument

This is really a monument to Alexander’s mother, but guess who doesn’t want them to call it that. Yep, Greece. So because of this, it is called Olympias Monument, or sometimes the Statue of the Mother.

This statue shows a mother raising a child through 4 different stages of his life. It isn’t as big as the Statue of Alexander. Err… I mean Statue of the Warrior – sorry Greece. But the artwork is exquisite, and since it is right by Stone Bridge, there is no reason not to stop and take a look.

Macedonia Sqaure

Macedonia Square acts as a central point of the Skopje. And almost everything on this list is walkable from the square. There is a little mall near the square with dozens of restaurants and shops. At the center of the square is the Statue of the Warrior. 

Both Mother Teresa’s birth home (the golden square) and Macedonia Gate are just outside the square.

It is a grand city square. However, being the center, the restaurants are more expensive. For those of you that need to satisfy your western food craving, there is a lot of international restaurants nearby.

From the square head down Macedonia Street (Which is likely going to change its name to Northern Macedonia Street soon). and you will find restaurants from all over the world.

Philip II of Macedonia Monument

On the far side of the Olympias Monument is Philip II of Macedon Monument. This monument is slightly smaller than the Statue of the warrior but in the same style.

This is a monument to Phillip II, Alexander’s father, who was a strong leader and paved the way for his son. Phillip II died tragically as he was assassinated.

Memorial House of Mother Teresa

Even though there might not be anything left of Mother Teresa’s house, there is still ways to pay homage and learn more about her, by visiting the Memorial House of Mother Teresa.

The memorial house is free to enter but runs on donations. Inside the house, you will see a lot of documents, a mini replica of her home, and a lot of items associated with the Saint. At the top of the Memorial House is a small, surprisingly modern, designed chapel, which the pope visited a couple of years ago.

The Memorial House of Mother Teresa is on Macedonia Street.

Museum of the City of Skopje (Old Train Station)

The Museum of the City of Skopje is located inside the Old Train Station. This badly damaged building was a casualty of the earthquake of 1963. You can still see the destruction on the side of the building.

The clock on the front is still set to 5:17, stopped at the exact moment the 6.1 magnitude earthquake tore through Skopje. This museum has over 20,000 objects that cover the archeology, ethnology, art, and history of the city.

The main exhibit of the museum is “Walk through the Past”. Which takes you on a journey that starts with artifacts from 3,500 B.C. and takes you through the early 20th century.

It is closed on Mondays and was free entry on the day I visited. (Although, I am not sure if I just came on a free museum day.)

Skopje Free Walking Tour

One last thing I want to recommend, when looking for things to do in Skopje, is to hop on the free walking tour. The tour lasts around 3 hours and takes you to many of the sites around history.

The guide, Vasko, is knowledgeable, friendly, and has a deep passion for his city. During the walking tour, you will also get some free shots, coupons for the city, and more in-depth knowledge of Skopje Macedonia. 

Something unique about this tour are the couple of stray dogs that follow Vasko around and joined us for the entirety of the tour.

Of course, these tours are run for free, but tips are appreciated.

5 Awesome Day Trips from Skopje

Matka Canyon

I almost included Matka Canyon in the things to do in Skopje section, because practically every tourist in Skopje visits Matka Canyon.

But seeing as the canyon is 45 minutes each way it’s more appropriate in day trips.

Matka canyon is a beautiful area outside the city. There are beautiful lakes with boat tours, a monastery of St. Nikola, kayaking, cave tours; heck, you can even rent a houseboat for the day.

One of the best things about Matka Canyon is that it is cheap. Entrance to the Canyon is free, and all the activities (even the boat ride) will cost you a few dollars.

Getting to the Museum of Macedonia.

There are 3 main ways to get to Matka Canyon: bus, cab, or drive yourself.

Bus

By bus, it takes around 45 minutes to get to Matka Canyon. From the main bus station take bus 60. A round trip ticket to Matka and back only cost $3.30 (157 MDK).

Cab

Reaching the canyon by cab will also take you around 30 minutes. The typical rate for a cab is $11 one way.

Drive Yourself

If you are driving, then it only takes around 30 minutes to get from downtown Skopje to Matka Canyon.

And you get there easily via google maps. It’s a good idea to get there early in the summer months are there is limited parking.

Top Things to do at Matka Canyon

  • Monastery of St. Nikola
  • Kayaking
  • Cave Tours, like the cave tours at Waitomo Glowworm Caves,
  • Eat At a Scenic Restaurant
  • HIking
  • Boat Tours

Kokino Ancient Observatory

In the beautiful Macedonian countryside, nestled in the mountain slopes of Tatichevo Village lies Kokino Ancient Observatory, a cleverly designed astronomical observatory with some artifacts said to date as far back as 4,000 years ago. One of the world’s oldest observatories, it is believed to predate Stonehenge by 1,000 years and has been designated as a National Park by the Republic of Macedonia.

The observatory was built in four stages over time and contains two key observation points. Stage one consisted of several monolithic rock structures which allowed observation during the summer months. Stages two and three added benches, terraced walls and additional stone circles for observing the winter solstice sunrises and emerging stars during sunset intervals. Finally in stage four more structures were added between 2000-1000 BCE providing an even more precise view of cosmic events.

Kokino Ancient Observatory is said to have provided astronomers insight into a variety of phenomena including eclipses and meteor showers while also helping them measure celestial movements accurately. A trip to Kokino is highly recommended for anyone interested in ancient rocks and astronomy in general!

Stone Dolls of Kuklica

The Stone Dolls of Kuklica are 120 volcanic-formed stone pillars near the village of Kuklica – around 100 km from Skopje. The stones look like larger boulders stacked on one another. (Imagine snowmen created out of rocks)

There are legends of how these were formed. One famous myth is that soldiers passing through this area turned to stone. Another is that it is a wedding story gone wrong. A man was planning on marrying two wives.

The second wife found out about it and prayed to God to help her. And the man and his first bride and the people at the wedding all turned to stone.

The Stone Dolls of Kuklica are a little over an hour from Skopje. You can get to them via bus or car.

National Park Mavrovo

Hiking addicts and outdoor enthusiasts listen up. You will want to head to Mavrovo National Park as soon as you can.

This mountainous area has some great hiking trails, villages, and monasteries. The landscape is all rolling hills and steep mountains. And it is one of the best places to hike in Northern Macedonia.

Note: that if you are busing, then some walking is required to reach the park

Getting to Mavrovo National Park.

The Park is an hour and a half away from Skopje. You can get there via bus or by driving yourself. With the most straightforward way being the latter. 

If a coach is your only option, then you want to take the bus from Skopje to Mavrovo town which runs from Monday to Saturday at 9.30 am and 2.45 pm. The bus will cost 350MDK ($6.40). 

Lake Ohrid

Many people refer to Lake Ohrid as Northern Macedonia’s natural wonder.

Is this possible because Northern Macedonia is landlocked and there isn’t an abundance of water in the country?

Is it because this is one of the oldest (and deepest) lakes in all of Europe?

Or is it because of all the fun things that let you take in all the beauty of Northern Macedonia?

My guess, is it’s a mix of all three. Some things to check out when visiting Lake Orchid are the Eastern Orthodox Monastery of St. Naum, the Church of St. Sophia, traditional homes, and the ancient theatre.

Maksim Gorki Street

Maksim Gorki Street runs through the center of Skopje, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital city. Stretching for nearly nine kilometers, it is a vibrant and bustling thoroughfare lined with cafes, shops, restaurants, and numerous places of interest. This is the perfect place to take a stroll, shop for souvenirs or immerse oneself in the hustle and bustle of city life. Whether you’re looking for luxurious boutiques or delicious street food – Maksim Gorki Street has something to offer everyone!

Cost of Traveling to Skopje

While Skopje is in southern Europe, it doesn’t carry the price tag of its neighbors like Backpacking Greece.

Yes, budget travelers, you will be right at home in Skopje. I can already see you celebrating as you save money on everything from food, hostels, and local transportation.

Savvy travelers who are staying in hostel dorms and cooking most of their meals should plan on spending $20 -$25 (ден1,093 -ден1,366) per day. This also includes sightseeing, but as we will soon discover a lot of the sights in Skopje are cheap – if not free.

For you flashpackers that want to spend a little more on accommodation – aka staying in a smaller 4 to 6-bed dorm room – and eat out a couple times a day. Then plan on a daily budget of $28 – $35 (ден1,530 – (ден1,912).

Luxury travelers gather around, you will need to plan on spending a lot more since you’ll want a 3 to 5-star hotel room or private room in a hostel. But you can easily find a comfortable hotel in Skopje.

Plan on spending $50 a night on accommodation – that price is still a bargain for Europe. Plan on having a budget of $65-$80 (ден 3,552 – ден 4,372) a day.

Surprisingly, shopping isn’t as cheap as I expected – Old Bazaar I’m looking at you  and everything, apart from shoes (for some unknown reason) seemed overpriced.

But putting shopping aside you can save a lot of money visiting Skopje.

And Skopje stacks up as one of the cheapest cities I’ve visited when backpacking Southern Europe.

Budget For Skopje Macedonia

BACKPACKERS $20-$25

HostelsSightseeingTransportFood
$8-11$3-$5 $1-$3$6+

Flashpackers $28-$35

HostelsSightseeingTransportFood
$12-$15$3-$5 $5 – $7$6 – $10

Luxury $65-$80

HostelsSightseeingTransportFood
$50+$9+$10-$20$15-$20+

Hotels in Skopje

Hotels in Skopje provide all the luxuries at a fraction of the price. 

Where else in Europe can you get a 4-star hotel for $50 a night during peak season? The summer months are when the majority of tourists arrive in the city, so it is wise to book your accommodation ahead of time.

If you prefer walking rather than public transportation, then you will want to stay towards the city center or on the other side of the Vardar river from Macedonia Square.

Where to Stay in Skopje



Booking.com

Hostels in Skopje

For budget backpackers, like myself, you will be in heaven as hostel dorms are cheap. And if you are traveling to Skopje in the shoulder or low season, there is a good chance you’ll have the dorm all to yourself (which is nice sometimes).

I spent the majority of my time in Skopje during May and June, and I only saw a couple of other travelers in the dorms, so there weren’t a lot of potential friends to make in the hostels.

My favorite hostel in Skopje is Urban Hostel. The dorms are excellent; each bed has a privacy curtain, the hostel has fast wifi, and there is a kitchen.

Plus, free coffee all day!! You get all of this for under $15 a night (which is basically the cost of my daily coffee habit).

The downside is that it is a little bit of a walk to the city center. But hey, we have to hit 10,000 steps a day right?

There are other hostels as well, that has friendly staff and good accommodation. Like Shanti Hostel. Shanti Hostel is a great option and is closer to the city center. 

There is also a Holiday Inn Skopje is right downtown, and also known for its friendly staff. The Holiday Inn might be the most central accommodation in downtown Skopje. So you are close to the food market, so every night you can try new, great Balkan Food.

Best Hostels in Skopje

With trains, planes, and buses entering Northern Macedonia it makes getting to Skopje easy. Skopje airport is around 30 minutes from downtown. While the train station is just outside the center of the city.

So you might be asking, “If it is so easy to get to Skopje, then why even include this section?”.

Valid question. And while it is easy to get to Northern Macedonia from almost anywhere in Europe, it is a little tricky traveling from Greece to Skopje.

The relationship between Greece and Northern Macedonia is strained, to say the least.

If you are not traveling to Skopje from Greece, then feel free to skip this section.

However, if you just got done hopping around the best islands in Greece, and want to head to Macedonia then this section is vital. 

If you do a google search for how to get from Greece to Skopje – or Northern Macedonia in general – you will find form after form saying there is no way to do it as trains going between the two countries are shut down.

Which is partly true. However, it is possible. I know, because I left all the interesting facts about Athens. And traveled from Athens to Skopje in a day.

How to Get from From Thessaloniki to Skopje

The internet forms are right; no trains are running between the countries. But it is still possible to get from Greece to Skopje for a €16 ticket from Thessaloniki. 

This newly opened route is a bus/train combo. You bus over the border of Macedonia and then hop on a train. Both the bus and train are included in the price of one ticket which you can buy from the train ticket counter.

Note: That at the time of writing this post, there are only two buses/trains from Thessaloniki to Skopje each day, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. Even finding the bus over the border is a pain.

It is not right outside the station where the other buses and taxis are. Instead, get your ticket and head out the front door, keep the train station at your back and make a left. Follow the building to the corner.

This is where the bus will pick you up. (If you are looking at the front of the building go to the far right corner)

Train from Athens to Skopje

You can buy the entire ticket from Athens to Skopje (via Thessaloniki) from the train station in Athens. You will first have to train to Thessaloniki in the morning and catch the bus/train combo to Skopje in the afternoon.

This entire journey will cost around €60. This route from Greece to Skopje is newly reopened, and theoretically could be shut down anytime (depending on the tension between the two countries), so it is smart to double-check at the nearest Greek train station a couple of days before you plan on leaving.

Pro Tip: Don’t be nervous about how long customs takes – for my bus it took around an hour. The train to Skopje waits for the bus to arrive before it departs.

Skopje Packing List

Your packing list with change depending on the season you are visiting Skopje. The heat starts to pick up in May, and the dry climate makes it feel warmer than the thermometer says. If you are traveling in the summer, you will want to make sure you pack light clothes.

One thing I noticed is that even on the hottest days that most people still wear pants. This could be because of the middle eastern influence, but I don’t know for sure.

But as a tourist, you won’t have a problem wearing shorts. You will need shorts, if only for day trips when you’ll be in the sun all day.

In the winter it gets chilly in the evenings, so make sure your gear is heavy enough to keep you warm.

Of course, one thing you always want to pack is Travel Insurance. Nothing is more important than protecting yourself while on the road. After all, no one wants a hefty hospital bill to dig into their travel budget.

For Insurance I Use WorldNomads. They are the best!

Summer Packing List for Skopje

  • Osprey Farpoint
  • 2 Pair of Shorts
  • 4 T-Shirts
  • 4-5 Pairs of Underwear
  • 1 Pair of Light Travel Pants
  • 1 Pair of Jeans
  • Camera
  • All necessary toiletries

Is Macedonia Safe?

Skopje is safe. But, like any city, you need to watch your belongings. Keep an eye out for pickpockets.

If your hotel or hostel has a safe or locker, like some of the best hostels in Amsterdam, keep everything you don’t need locked up.

You don’t need to carry your passport, laptop, jewelry, etc.

A smart traveler is a prepared traveler, and one good piece of advice is lock up at least one backup debit or credit card.

So if the worst should happen and you get pickpocketed you aren’t cut off from your cash flow.

You should also watch out for basic scams. This is important during your first 24 hours in the city as you are getting on your feet. Scams happen, and you shouldn’t get discouraged if you fall victim to one. It is all part of the learning curve.

Even after years of travel experience I still get tricked sometimes….. I did in Skopje.

I arrived late at night. After exiting the train station, I struck a deal with a cab for a ride to my hostel for 5 Euro ($5.60) which I had on me. I also had Denar on me. 

Upon arrival, I handed him the 1,000 MDK ($19). He took it looked at it and said he couldn’t break it. Going through my wallet, I pulled out the 5 Euro bill I had. 

He wasn’t happy about taking Euro but handed me back the Denar and took the Euro. The light in his car didn’t “work,” so the entire transaction was done in the dark. It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast that I realized he didn’t hand me back 1,000 MDK. He handed me back 100 MDK ($1.83)

He must have switched it while I was grabbing the 5 Euro from my wallet. (Slap hand against forehead)

Other than this experience, I had a pleasant time in Skopje. I never felt in danger or unsafe. People are genuinely friendly and respectful, but you should always be on the lookout for scams. 

I never got an uneasy feeling, even when walking alone at night. It is easy to navigate as the major sights are all within walking distance from the city center.

Overall, Skopje Macedonia safe.

  • Zip up Your Phone in Your Purse
  • Blend In
  • Watch Out for Beggars 
  • Lock Up Valuables
  • Have a Backup Credit or Debit Card
  • Watch Out for Scams (Especially, the children. They often distract you while someone else pickpockets you)

Macedonia Food

If I were you, then I would stick to traditional food. It is delicious (one of the best descriptive adjectives) and cheap. You can get an appetizer, large beer, and main dish for around $5 – $6 (300 MDK).

The traditional dishes have Mediterranean, eastern European, and middle east influence that fuses together to make some tasty cuisine.

I ate traditional food every day and never grew tired of it. My favorite dishes are uvijac (rolled meat stuffed with cheese), the nafora (crispy bread covered in cheese), the ajvar (a dip made from paprika, red bell peppers, and garlic).

The most famous traditional dish in Skopje is Tavce Gravce, which is beans cooked in a clay pot of a skillet.

For those looking for a quick snack at a bakery, then you have to try a Pastrmajlija, a long piece of fried dough topped with cheese and meat.

Must Try Foods in Macedonia

  • Nafora
  • Uvijac
  • Tavce Gravce
  • Polneti Piperki
  • Turli Tava
  • Pindjur
  • Shopska Salata
  • Sarma
  • Pastrmajlija

5 Cool Kafanas in Skopje

  • Debar Maalo
  • Kalabalak Park
  • Destan
  • Turist
  • Lyra

Best Restaurants in Skopje

If you are looking for local cuisine, then the Old Bazaar is your best bet. Kaj Serdarot is a quaint and small restaurant that serves local dishes.

Another good option is BBQ Pchela and Turist GrillSilbo is the best bakery, although it is a bit of a walk from the city center and there is usually a line, but it is worth it.

Looking to take a break from traditional foods, and instead opt for something more western then head to La Terrazza? This restaurant which serves everything from waffles to steaks, and Amigos Restaurant & Bar.

If you are looking for more eastern food, there is Pekin Garden for Chinese food and Karma for Indian.

The Best Places to Eat in Skopje

  • Turist Grill ($)
  • BBQ Pchela ($)
  • Kaj Serdarot ($)
  • Silbo ( Bakery) ($)
  • Distrikt Bar & Kitchen ($$)
  • Kolektiv ($$)
  • Pelister ($$)
  • Skopski Merak ($$)

Must Try Drinks

Skopsko – The beer of Macedonia. It is light, delicious, and cheap.

Rakija – a strong fruit brandy (usually around 40%) that is popular in the Balkans.

Wine – Northern Macedonia has hundreds of years of winemaking culture. The wines are so tasty that even Roman Emperors loved them, speaking of Emperors check out these Marcus Aurelius’ stoic quotes.

Boza – This low alcohol drink, made from corn and wheat, comes from the Ottoman influence in Skopje. It is a tasty dessert drink, especially with pastries and cakes.

Turkish Coffee and Teas – There are a vast variety of teas to choose from, and you should have at least one Turkish coffee.

Drinks you Have to Try

  • Skopsko
  • Rakija
  • Wine
  • Boza
  • Turkish Coffee and Teas 

Tipping in Skopje

Light tipping in Macedonia is common. At restaurants, most people round up the bill.

Say you spend 360 MDK on a meal, then leave 400 MDK. If your service was out of this world, then feel free to tip 10% – 15%.

Tipping cabs is not required unless they help you with your bags.

Skopje Nightlife

If I were you, then I would stick to the traditional food. It is delicious and cheap. You can get an appetizer, large beer, and main dish for around $5 – $6 (300 MDK).

The traditional dishes have the Mediterranean, eastern European, and middle east influence that fuses together to make some tasty cuisine.

I ate traditional food every day and never grew tired of it. My personal favorite dishes are uvijac (rolled meat stuffed with cheese), the nafora (crispy bread literally covered in cheese), the ajvar (a dip made from paprika, red bell peppers, and garlic).

The most famous traditional dish in Skopje is Tavce Gravce which are beans cooked in a clay pot of skillet.

For those looking for a quick snack at a bakery then you have to try a Pastrmajlija, a long piece of fried dough topped with cheese and meat.

Shopping in Skopje

Shopping in Skopje was the biggest disappoint for me, due to the Old Bazaar.

The Old Bazaar of Skopje is one of the biggest in Europe, second only to the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul.

Knowing this, I expected the shopping to be better.

But the Old Bazaar is mainly shoes, outdated electronics, overpriced jewelry, a handful of clothing stores, and souvenirs.

The two things that bothered me most were the high prices, and that none of the stalls seemed willing to bargain.

Which is a typical trait of a Bazaar, especially one with a lot of middle eastern influence. I even brought this up to the reception, and they agreed and said that the mall is the best place to go for cheaper clothes.

I only went to one small mall so I cannot confirm this 100%, but the mall I went to seemed much better for clothes shopping.

The Bazaar isn’t a complete loss. In fact, I visited that part of town every day.

It is a great place to buy local produce, as well as shop for some things. There are literally thousands of every type of shoes you can imagine.

Some of the shoes were styles and designs I haven’t seen anywhere else.

The prices on shoes were reasonable and expect to pay about half the amount you would in the US, UK, and Europe.

A Brief History of Skopje

Earthquakes

Another big part of Skopje’s history is earthquakes–sad but true. This region has been the victim of massive tremors for thousands of years. 

In the ancient world, they even moved the city over a little after a massive earthquake. In 518 AD, there was an earthquake that almost destroyed the city.

In recent history, the most tragic earthquake that hit Skopje was in 1963. This 6.1 magnitude earthquake devastated the area. 

Over 80% of the city was left in ruins which left 200,000 people homeless. Over 1,000 people lost their lives, and over 3,000 were injured. Therefore so much of the city is new, yet they built it to look old.

Great Fire of Skopje

Another tragic event is the fire of Skopje. This fire was set by the Piccolomini, an Austro-Hungarian general, sent to who was sent to capture the city.

The fire lasted for two days, left the city in ashes, and killed over 50,000 people(remember when I was talking about Karposh, well, this is the fire that started his rebellion).

While Skopje might seem tragic and the events left many dead, and much of their history destroyed, you don’t see it on the streets. The people remain optimistic about the city’s future and seem happy.

History of the City

Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, has a rich history that dates back thousands of years. The city became the capital in the 14th century. But it was originally founded in the late 3rd century BC as an Illyrian settlement, before being taken over by the Romans in the 2nd century AD. During this period it prospered as a trading post on the major route from Constantinople to Western Europe. So the city’s history predates the 13th Century by a lot. And it is the biggest Macedonian city.

For much of its early history, Skopje was ruled by various empires and civilizations that used it for military and strategic purposes because of its key geographical position at the intersection of multiple roads. In the 14th century, Skopje became the capital of the Empire of Serbia, which was one of the largest and strongest countries in Europe during that period. At the very end of that century, however, Skopje succumbed to an Ottoman conquest and remained under Ottoman rule until 1912, when it became part of Serbia again. After World War II, Skopje became part of Yugoslavia until its independence from Serbia in 1992. Today, it is a bustling metropolis with a diverse population representing its many historical influences.

Skopje; Macedonia has a strange and tragic history. Humans have called Skopje and the surrounding area home for over 6,000 years. We know this because of the remains of Neolithic settlements that have been discovered.

Most people believe these settlements are the Paionians–an ancient matriarchal society.

A statue dedicated to a matriarchal priestess from the Paionians is on The Bridge of Civilizations.

Throughout its long history, a lot of kingdoms and Empires have wanted Macedonia. Skopje Macedonia has changed hands between powerful nations throughout the centuries.

Scupi, the ancient name for Skopje, was part of the Roman Empire in 148 BC. As well as The Kingdom of Tzar Samuil. Then it traded hands between the Byzantines, in 395 AD, and the Serbian Empire.

Next, Skopje was part of the Ottoman and Austro- Hungarian Empires.

Finally, it was part of Yugoslavia before the republic fell apart. Today it stands tall as the Capital of Northern Macedonia.

Today we know the city as Skopje, but the Macedonian capital has changed names four times in the last 2,000 years. The most well-known name is Skupi (Or Scupi), which is the ancient name of the city. But it was also known as Ushkup. We have also come to know this area as the Republic of Macedonia. But because Greece doesn’t like it, they have changed their name from the Republic of Macedonia to North Macedonia. 

City Population

Skopje is the capital and largest city of North Macedonia, with a city population of around 556,000 people in 2019. It has long been regarded as an important crossroads between East and West Europe, leading to a rich cultural heritage that continues today. The city was founded in the 4th century BCE by the ancient Macedonians, who named it Skupi. Through the centuries, it grew to become one of the largest cities in Eastern Europe. And while the city population is small compared to other cities. It is a modern city compared to many others in eastern Europe. 

 

Skopje in the 17th Century, 18th Century, and 19th Century

The city of Skopje, in the Republic of North Macedonia, has a rich and ancient history. From its founding during the 7th century BCE to its modern-day incarnations, the city’s reputation as a political and economic hub, cultural epicenter and population center has been deeply intertwined with the story of Europe itself.

To trace Skopje’s notable historical moments chronologically, one must venture all our way back to the 17th century, when it was initially conquered by Ottoman sultans and experienced periods of rule under many empires before eventually becoming part of Yugoslavia following World War II.

During this time between the 17th Century, 18th Century, and 19th Century, Skopje witnessed changes in government regime multiple times while being invaded by various armies and influenced by many ideologies; over the course of those two centuries, its population also flourished. During the 19th Century, Skopje underwent some massive changes.

By the beginning of the 20th century, over 26,000 people were living in Skopje — a far cry from its current estimated population of nearly half a million people living across metropolitan areas.

Skopje is more than thousands of statues, iconic bridges, and shopping bazaars. Once you look deeper and you’ll find exceptional hospitality and history.

We should also mention the Utrinski vesnik. Which is a daily newspaper published in North Macedonia. It is owned by the country’s ruling party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM). The paper was founded in the 19th century and has had a stable influence on domestic political life since then. Its editorial line supports SDSM Politics, and it mainly focuses on current events within North Macedonia and international news. The paper also features sections devoted to culture, music and movies, sports, opinion articles and much more. Utrinski Vesnik has some of the most respected journalists in the country writing for them, which ensures that they remain at the forefront of responsible journalism.

And a city that is striving to make a name for itself. And while I don’t think Skopje is the next European “hotspot”, that doesn’t mean it is not worth visiting.

It’s easy to judge Skopje. Yes, many of the statues and buildings aren’t as old as they look.

And it’s not the best city for nightlife in Europe.

Yet, the charming atmosphere, friendly people, and distinct neighborhoods make Skopje an awesome place to visit. The sights are still great – Museum of Macedonia I’m looking at you – and the clash of cultures gives the city a rare vibe unlike anywhere else in Europe.

What do you think? Did reading this guide put Skopje Macedonia on your bucket list?

If you are looking for local cuisine, then the Old Bazaar is your best bet. Kaj Serdarot is a quaint and small restaurant that serves local dishes. 

Another good option is BBQ Pchela and Turist Grill. Silbo is the best bakery, although it is a bit of a walk from the city center and there is usually a line, but it is worth it.

Looking to take a break from traditional foods, and instead opt for something more western then head to La Terrazza? This restaurant which serves everything from waffles to steaks, and Amigos Restaurant & Bar.

If you are looking for more eastern food, there is Pekin Garden for Chinese food and Karma for Indian.

1 thought on “Skopje: Complete Guide to The North Macedonia Capital”

  1. Yes, there is a currency exchange at the Skopje airport.

    Sorry you missed the Sveti Spas church in the bazaar (Stara Charishiya). And you should spend more than a day trip in Ohrid!

    In all these places … slow down and LOOK ..

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