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Even though the country just officially became the Republic of North Macedonia in 2019, there are thousands of years of history and culture within.
Skopje, the dynamic capital city, offers visitors an intriguing and memorable stay. From untapped wine regions to all the statues and monuments (there are so many!) scattered about the city, it quickly became one of our favourite stops in the Balkans.
We’ll tell you how to get there, how to get around and some cool things to check out (and eat)!
How to Get to Skopje?
Before we jump into some places to eat and things to see, we need to talk about some practical (very helpful!) info.
Getting to Skopje is a straightforward affair, but depending on where you’re journeying from, there can be a drastic difference in experience.
Of course, planes are an obvious mode of travel, but to Skopje? We’ve never found a deal when scouring cheap flights in Europe. Never say never, though.
When exploring the Balkans, you’ll find buses are the most affordable and most common means of travel. Our own adventure through this region involved bus after bus after bus. From Sofia to Skopje to Tirana to Split, it was the bus life for us.
If you’re already in Europe (Skopje is great to mix with other capital cities in this region), buses will be wallet-friendly and readily available. Finding a direct route may be tough, but you’ll find Skopje listed on many bus routes!
Already in the Balkans? We’ve found it’s simpler to go to the bus station to buy tickets than do so online. It depends on where you are!
There’s always a car rental. This is a popular way to travel the Balkans, and we met some fellow travellers in Skopje doing just that. Their journey began in Croatia, and they were making their way to Bulgaria.
If we could go back and visit Skopje for the first time again, renting a car and seeing North Macedonia by way of the open road would be our top priority. Its mountains and vineyards are breathtaking!
What About Getting Around Skopje?
Getting to Skopje is pretty simple but getting around? That’s another story.
Visitors in Skopje will have to put in a little more effort than usual to make public transport work. Most bus stops don’t have any information posted, so we often wondered how locals knew what bus was coming and when.
Regardless of our confusion, the most important thing to know about using the bus system in Skopje is the bus card.
You cannot buy bus tickets from the driver. You have to buy a bus card in advance and prepay for rides.
Where can you get these bus cards? Apparently, there are multiple ticket booths scattered about the city that sell bus cards, but the one location that we’ve confirmed exists is the main bus station.
It’s difficult to realize this because it’s not in the main station! Boy, this is getting confusing. You have to exit the main station, head towards the city bus parking lot (under an overpass) and look for a parked, yellow bus.
This yellow bus has been converted into an office, and there should be someone inside who will sell you a card. Rides are super cheap, only 40 MKD (around $.70 cents USD). We bought 10 rides for our cards. Have cash!
Ok, so that’s how you buy a bus card. But getting around by bus is a little tricky. Luckily, Google Maps did an accurate job for us. The bus stop near our Airbnb didn’t have any info posted so using Google Maps was mandatory if we wanted a ride.
More popular bus stops, like the main bus station or the city center, will have some info listed.
If the bus sounds like a nightmare, then there’s always a taxi. In most cities, we’d refrain from using a taxi because they’re more expensive. Not in Skopje!
We visited a winery on the outskirts of Skopje (grape details below) and the taxi ride from our Airbnb was just around $5 USD! Tips don’t seem to be expected, but we tipped the drivers anyway.
We have to mention the most obvious of all ways to get around town: walking. Walking allows you to see a different side of the city, especially if you’re outside of the center. Stumble upon a delightful dessert shop or wander through a local park. Skopje is a safe city, like many cities in Europe, but always have your street smarts about you.
Top Skopje Sights
Now that you’ve (hopefully) got an idea of transportation in Skopje, let’s talk about some highlights of the city and a couple of day trips to some of the prettiest places in the country!
Free Walking Tour.
Like any other capital city in Europe, a free walking tour is in order! Get your local-guided tour of the popular spots but some local tips as well! Your tour will also provide some great information on why you see so many statues!
We used Free Skopje Walking Tours and spent an engaging two hours discovering Skopje! Don’t forget to tip your guide!
Day Trip to Lake Ohrid.
For the best day trip out of Skopje, head to Lake Ohrid. While you’ll find this to be a popular spot, especially in summer, it never felt touristy. That’s probably due to the fact that so many of the visitors are citizens.
Take a boat out on the lake and gaze at the tall mountains of Albania (another must-visit country in the Balkans) across the water. You’ll also get a close look at the most famous site in town: the Church of St. John. We paid 10 euros for 30 minutes on the lake; it was just the two of us!
The church is situated near the edge of a cliff, overlooking the blue giant that is Lake Ohrid. You can pay a small entry fee or admire the church and perfect backdrop from above via a dirt path.
You can find buses to Ohrid, leaving everyday from the main bus station in Skopje; it takes almost 3 hours to get there. That seems like a lot of travel time for one day, but it’s worth it! The ride is very scenic!
There are several companies within the main bus station selling tickets. You’ll find some English speakers there as well! Check out the bus schedule for future dates. Two roundtrip tickets cost us $25 USD in total.
Shop and Eat in the Old Bazaar.
Nowadays, when we reminisce about Skopje, we always talk about the kebap. It was the best. Period.
You’ll find this simple but delicious speciality in almost every restaurant that lines the Old Bazaar. Besides the fact you’re walking down streets that have been in use for centuries, the Old Bazaar houses some amazing eats.
Try kebap at Restaurant Merkez. We had two helpings, bread and two beers for under $20 USD. Not only is it delicious, but it’s cheap too!
There is a wide range of shops that are fun to browse but be sure to walk along Gold Street. You’ll find plenty of gold (bet you didn’t expect that) and it’s the only street in the bazaar that has kept its original purpose. Gold has been sold here for centuries!
Another day trip from Skopje, picturesque Matka Canyon is only a short bus ride away. Public transport will get you there.
Take bus 60 from the main bus station. This is the cheapest option. However, you can find some tours as well as rent a car. Taxis are an option too.
You’ll find the warmer months are the best time to visit. Whether hiking, swimming or kayaking, there is plenty of adventure to make an entire day out of it!
Eat in Debar Maalo.
If you’re into seeing the more local side of things when you travel then head to Debar Maalo. It’s a hip neighbourhood teeming with some of Skopje’s best restaurants.
Debar Maalo isn’t far from the city center, but it feels that way. The noise and busyness are distant, and you can indulge in peace.
Mother Theresa Memorial.
The Mother Theresa Memorial is dedicated to the amazing human being who was born in Skopje. Her original house no longer stands, but you can find plaques of her quotes and inspiration dotted throughout the city center.
The memorial is free to enter and has great English explanations.
Check Out All the Monuments and Statues.
As we’ve touched on, there are a lot of statues hanging around Skopje. You’ll especially notice Alexander the Great (Warrior on a Horse) in the center of the main spot in town. Walk over the old stone bridge (dating back to the 14th century) and find Alexander’s parents.
What about all the other statues? That’s a great question and one that was explained to us in detail by our walking tour guide. There has been some heavy debate in Skopje over whether these statues and monuments, which cost millions in taxpayer money, are actually worth it.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, travellers should take some time to explore these controversial works.
Lastly, we’d like to mention one of the best experiences in Skopje. We had never heard of North Macedonia’s wine before. It turns out this region is the perfect climate for their unique grape: Vranec.
For an absolutely fantastic wine tasting experience that is warm, welcoming, and yummy, please check out Kartal Winery. It’s a smaller operation, owned by two brothers who are some of the most hospitable hosts ever.
For an evening of great conversation and learning all about Macedonian wine, be sure to visit!
About Where Food Takes Us
We’re Darah and Garrett from Where Food Takes Us, two mistake-prone wanderers, with a mad love for food. We quit the 9-5 life to move abroad. Now, unexpectedly, we’re digital nomads who teach English online. Life is full of surprises!
We believe in sharing budget-friendly advice, and we hope you find our information and tips useful as you make your own adventures around the world!