Travel to North Macedonia

Macedonia Square at night

I had been planning to travel to North Macedonia since 2020, but had to cancel that trip due to the pandemic. Therefore, I was happy to finally visit in June 2022! I spent most of my time in and around Skopje, the capital city. Canyon Matka and Mount Vodno are within easy reach, even by taxi. Additionally, many locals have recommended Lake Ohrid and the wine region, so those are on the list for next time.

In general, I loved my visit to Skopje. People were very nice and helpful in most places- the hotel, restaurants, tourist sites, etc. They seemed genuinely happy to welcome tourists! The weather in June was sunny and warm with occasional short rain storms. I was glad to avoid the intense heat of July and August, as the locals said it can be 40C plus. Food and wine are delicious and affordable. The capital city is pretty and divided by the Vardar River. There is a lot of history and culture that I learned more about through the museums. And the food and wine were excellent and affordable. I hope to travel to North Macedonia again in the autumn to see a bit more of the country!

Also, a separate post to share the various street art as there were too many photos to share in the post.

Night view of the boat hotel and Bridge of Civilizations
Night view of the boat hotel and Bridge of Civilizations
Macedonia Gate
Macedonia Gate
View of Matka Canyon
View of Matka Canyon

Highlights

  • Skopje Fortress and Old City Walls
  • Old City Bazaar and shops
  • Ascension of Jesus Orthodox church – the church patron day is 2nd June; the grave of hero Goce Delchev is in the courtyard
  • Museum of Macedonia– small and interesting to learn about the culture
  • Suli An – 15th century caravanserai which is now a museum
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
  • National Gallery Davut Pasa Hammam and Cifte Hammam- beautiful art in two old Hammams
  • National Opera and Ballet
  • Macedonian Philharmonic Hall
  • Mustafa Pasha and other mosques near the Old Town
  • Macedonia Square
  • Macedonia Gate and Triumphal Arch
  • Monument to Philip II of Macedonia
  • Monument to Alexander the Great
  • Stone Bridge
  • Bridge of Civilizations
  • The Bridge of Art
  • Gotse Delchev bridge with its different styles of lions statues
  • Post office of Macedonia HQ for its architecture
  • Government building of the Republic of North Macedonia
  • Macedonian Holocaust Museum- a sad history of the Jewish population and persecution, focusing mostly on Macedonia
  • Museum of Skopje City– almost done with renovations; the history of the building is very interesting, as it is the remains of the old rail station that mostly collapsed in the 1963 earthquake
  • Memorial House of Mother Teresa, who was born in Skopje
  • Museum of the Macedonian struggle– interesting to learn about the history surrounded by many wax figures
  • Skenderbeu Square
  • Cathedral of St Clement of Ohrid
  • Archaeologic Museum of the Republic of North Macedonia
  • Monopol monument to commemorate the Jewish who were held there before being sent to death camps
  • Bunjakovec Green Farmers’ Market
  • Skopje Zoo and City Park
  • Roman Aqueduct just north of the city- very well-preserved and in pretty surroundings
  • Walk around and appreciate all of the statues around the city. There are so many! It is just a shame many have been defaced with graffiti
  • Vodno Mountain, cable car and Millennium Cross
  • Saint Panteleimon Monastery
  • Canyon Matka- short trip outside of the city to see the gorge and caves

Before you go

  • Macedonia is now known as North Macedonia, though the people here still use “Macedonia” and “Macedonian” language and people. There is also a region in Greece called Macedonia
  • In general, the people in Skopje genuinely seemed to like tourists being around and most were so friendly and helpful
  • No visa is needed for up to 90 days for UK and USA passport holders
  • A lot of people smoke here and there are ashtrays on outdoor or semi-outdoor terrace tables at restaurants
  • Many smaller places do not accept credit cards
  • Tips are not expected but they are appreciated (around 10% or rounding up); it is best to have cash around for tips as you won’t be able to add a tip with credit card
  • If there is more than one queue at the post office, look for the words Pratki Dergesa
  • During the summer, bring sunscreen as the sun is strong. It’s also cheap to buy the local brand Blackup upon arrival
  • The summers are very hot and the winters very cold. I think June was perfect but getting hot, and a bit humid. Next time I will try coming in May or September
  • Macedonia’s second biggest export is wine (after tobacco), so try some of the local varieties while you are here including Vranec
  • Most places have wifi so it is easy to get connected
  • Getting a sim card is very cheap and makes getting around and communicating easy. It cost me 299MKD (less than £5) at A1 for 10GB data for two weeks with pay as you go
  • Sometimes GoogleMaps has the location of places slightly wrong so if you don’t see a place, have a look around and even across the street. The photos are helpful to know what you are looking for
  • Most people speak English. However, it is useful to have a translation app such as GoogleTranslate for when people do not understand you. It is also useful to read signs
  • Some museums are closed on Sundays and/or Mondays so check opening hours. They may also close earlier at the weekends than during the week
  • If you want to find a large supermarket near the centre search for Vero or Ramstore
  • Some of the public toilets, including in museums, did not have toilet paper so carry your own tissues
  • It was safe to drink the tap water and eat salads. I did so in Skopje and never got sick
Cable car up to Mount Vodno
Cable car up to Mount Vodno
Music festival in the car park outside my Hotel Super 8
Music festival in the car park outside my Hotel Super 8
View from Hotel Arka Roof Bar
View from Hotel Arka Roof Bar

Transport

  • Flying from London Heathrow to Skopje involved a stopover in Zagreb, Croatia. For the first leg I flew BA for a two hour flight, and they were two hours late due to staff shortages. Unfortunately I just missed my flight connection, so waited 8 hours in Zagreb airport. Then the flight was easy, just over an hour to Skopje. The airport is small and it is easy to find the exit and taxis. I had pre-booked a taxi and the driver was waiting outside rather than at the exit from customs.
  • The taxi from the airport to the hotel was 1200 MKD (about 20 euros)
  • Walking around Skopje city centre was easy, and it was nice to enjoy the river and bridge views, and Old Town
  • To travel to Pristina, Kosovo, I booked a private taxi via a friend and was pleased with GTS (Global Transfer Services) contact +389 70 862 707
  • For Vodno Mountain and Canyon Matka I booked a half day tour via Skopje Daily Tours and thought they were very organised and fun

Accommodation

  • While in Skopje, I stayed at the Hotel Super 8, which is located very close to the Old City. I found it on Booking.com and it had overall good ratings. The building itself is a little older and some of the things in the room were broken, like the closet doors. However, it was clean and comfortable. The room was large and had a big desk, air conditioning and a mini refrigerator. The wifi reliable and fast. Breakfast is included and includes a nice buffet with a mix of savoury and sweet foods. And all of the staff were friendly and helpful and I rate them a 10+! I enjoyed my stay very much and it was great value for money.
  • Although I didn’t stay there, I also would like to recommend the Hotel Arka. They have a great rooftop bar where I enjoyed a coffee and the view. They were also so friendly and welcoming. The hotel is a bit fancier and more expensive than Super 8, so probably good for those who want a more luxurious room.
Alexander the Great statue
Alexander the Great statue
Millennium Cross on Mount Vodno
Millennium Cross on Mount Vodno
Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon statue

Currency

The official currency of North Macedonia is the Macedonian denar. As of June 2022, one British pound is 72.60 denars.

I recommend to check the currency conversion just before you leave as this fluctuates

Macedonia 500 denars
Macedonia 500 denars
Cave at Matka Canyon
Cave at Matka Canyon
Museum of Contemporary Art, Skopje
Museum of Contemporary Art, Skopje
Saint Panteleimon Monastery
Saint Panteleimon Monastery
Dukat piroshka -long, fried, breaded roll filled with cheese and ham and served with pickle mayonnaise
Dukat piroshka -long, fried, breaded roll filled with cheese and ham and served with pickle mayonnaise
Macedonian Salad at La Terraza
Macedonian Salad at La Terraza
Berry cake from Slatkarnica Ohrid
Berry cake from Slatkarnica Ohrid
Slatkarnica Nasreddin Hoka
Slatkarnica Nasreddin Hoka
Pork stew at Dukat
Pork stew at Dukat
Grilled branzino at Distrikt
Grilled Branzino at Distrikt
Dessert from Krin Bakery
Dessert from Krin Bakery
Borek from Zhito Leb
Borek from Zhito Leb
Wine tasting at Wine Berry with Witek, Joana and Barbara
Wine tasting at Wine Berry with Witek, Joana and Barbara
Wine Tasting at Wine Berry
Wine Tasting at Wine Berry
Kebap dinner with shopska salad at Destan
Kebap dinner with shopska salad at Destan
Delicious fried zucchini and sour cream dish from Kolectiv
Delicious fried zucchini and sour cream dish from Kolectiv
Burger from Fast Food 7, Skopje
Burger filled with fries and sauce from Fast Food 7, Skopje
Tagliatelli Siciliana at Vodenica Mulino
Tagliatelli Siciliana at Vodenica Mulino
Pindjur at Old City House
Pindjur at Old City House (tomato, aubergine, pepper, garlic)
Blueberry ice cream at La Terrazza
Blueberry ice cream at La Terrazza

Food

First of all, let me say that I truly enjoyed the variety of food and wine that I tried in Macedonia. I was not sure what to expect based on the location. Although the traditional diet does contain a lot of meat, there are also a lot of salads, cheeses and amazing desserts. For lunch, I tried to eat light and enjoyed fresh bread, salami, cheese and olives.

Main meals

My first dinner was at Distrikt, which is a classy restaurant located at the Marriott Hotel. I ate out in the terrace area, which was nice except for people smoking. The service was friendly and helpful. They warned me not to leave my bag within reach of the outside as people can come by and grab things. I enjoyed a custom-made chopped salad and a huge portion of grilled branzino and spinach. They also have a nice Macedonian wine selection. It was a delicious and very plentiful meal.

A friend had recommended Dukat Gostilnica for traditional food. They have a nice terrace where the roof can be opened up during nice weather. I was stuffed after eating a piroshka (long, fried, breaded roll filled with cheese and ham and served with pickle mayonnaise), pork stew and a bread roll. The fresh orange juice is naturally sweet and a good alternative to wine!

Yet another delicious traditional restaurant near my hotel was Old City House. The setting is lovely in an old wooden house. I had the pindjur (pureed tomato, pepper, aubergine and garlic), two vine leaves wrapped around meat and rice served with soured cream, and Turli tava. Turli tava is a casserole with veal, chicken, onion, aubergines, carrots, green pepper and tomatoes. It was so tasty, straight out of the oven.

On Sundays, many places are closed in North Macedonia due to a recent government law on Sunday openings. However, many places in the Old Town and centre are open including restaurants such as Destan. Luckily, there are a number of Destan restaurants around the city. They are well-known for their kebabs or kebaps. Don’t be alarmed that the serving portion is 10 kebaps, as these are small pieces of spiced minced meat. These are served with fluffy bread and grilled vegetables. In addition, I had a shopska salad with cucumber, tomato and shredded goat’s cheese.

For a slightly fancier dinner, I ate at La Terrazza near the Macedonia Square. As the name suggests, there is a large outdoor terrace. You can hear the sound of the fountain from the Alexander the Great statue and it’s relaxing. I had the Macedonian salad to start and this had cucumber, pepper, tomato and onion. I think they don’t really use salad dressing here since the vegetables have a lot of flavour. My main course was a huge baked dish of mushroom and cheese-filled cannelloni. And for dessert I had a scoop of blueberry ice cream. Everything was delicious and the staff were excellent!

My last big meal in Skopje was at Voldenica Mulino, a restaurant recommended by many local friends. It is a mix of Macedonian and Italian food. There is a nice big courtyard, service is great and it is a peaceful setting. I had the garlic fish soup which was very flavourful. Then I had tagliatelle with Sicilian sauce, bread and a glass of Tikves red wine. For dessert, the server suggested that I order a half portion of their famous dessert, diced crepes with cream and fruit. It was amazing and I am glad I ordered the half portion as that was large enough!

Drinks and snacks

At some point, I was craving a smoothie and found a delightful health food restaurant called Markt Kitchen- Tiffany. They have a variety of healthy foods and I tried the Green Energy smoothie. It was delicious, fresh and full of fruit.

When I needed a fast lunch, I tried was a burger from a place called Fast Food 7. It is rated high for their burgers which are stuffed with fries and drizzled with ketchup and a flavoured mayonnaise sauce. It is very messy but also tasty. The burger itself it enough for two people! Other quick foods can be purchased from the many bakeries. Personally, I am a big fan of borek, a type of flaky pastry filled with either cheese, spinach, meat, fish or vegetables. La Delicious and Zhito leb had fresh, crispy borek with many different fillings. Those are great as quick snacks on the move.

For wine, my friend recommended her friends’ wine bar called Wine Berry. Jadranka was a very welcoming host and knows a lot about Macedonian wine. I tried three reds and liked them all. I bought a bottle of Vranec from Jakovlevski that was so rich and fruity.
If you are less into wine than beer, then try the Old Town Brewery. There’s also the Rakija Bar Kaldrma if you want to try the local liquor.

The winner for the best drinks with a view was at the Hotel Arka. They have a nice roof top terrace with friendly service. I had an iced coffee while enjoying the sunshine and view at the top.

The hot weather during the summer is perfect for ice cream. There are many options and it is difficult to say which is the best. I enjoyed Gelateria Mony and La Terraza Dolce. For soft serve, I can recommend Sweet Look. They have lots of toppings and friendly service.

Bakeries

Finally for my bakery experience. I love dessert, so I had noted a number of bakeries to try around Skopje. In general, I found that the cakes here usually have a lot of cream or mousse. Ohrid bakery in the old town has some lovely cakes, and I tried their strawberry, cherry and vanilla mousse cake. Very fruity and light. The Senegalese chocolate cake from Krin bakery was tasty but quite dense. CakeMaster had a lovely, light coconut mousse cake and it traveled home well in a box. There is a small window run by an older woman who was widowed and started her own sweets shop called Slatkarnica Nasreddin Hoka. It’s not on GoogleMaps but you will see it if you walk down a street in the Old Town called Bozhidar Adzija. Another wonderful place was Baklava Nexho, a great mixture of crisp and syrupy sweets. For Turkish delight, try Slatkarnica Rigra.

National Gallery Davut Paşa Hammam
National Gallery Davut Paşa Hammam
Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra
Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra with music student soloists
Roman Aqueduct to the north of Skopje
Roman Aqueduct to the north of Skopje

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: No, not in general to see Skopje city centre. However, to visit the rest of Macedonia you may need a tour guide, a taxi or a hired car to get around.

Q: Do people speak English?

A: Yes, almost everyone spoke some English. At times, I had my translation app ready to go but I didn’t need to use it very much.

Q: Can I travel solo?

A: Yes it is safe and easy to walk around on your own. As in any city, be more careful at night and be aware of pickpockets.

Q: How easy is it to send postcards?

A: Finding postcards was not so easy but getting stamps at the Macedonian post was easy. If there is more than one window look for the words Pratki Dergesa. I went to the incorrect queue first and that was for paying bills. See Sending Postcards from Abroad for details on cost and the time it took to reach the USA.

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Lion on Gotse Delchev bridge with Skopje Fortress
Lion on Gotse Delchev bridge with Skopje Fortress
Perija at Offest, Macedonian National Opera and Ballet
Perija at Offest, Macedonian National Opera and Ballet
View of Skopje from Mount Vodno
View of Skopje from Mount Vodno

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