- Take a stroll around the Old Bazaar in Skopje.
- Spend an afternoon hiking around Matka Canyon.
- Get yourself to Lake Ohrid!
- Walk up to Samuel's Fortress for beautiful views of Lake Ohrid.
- Have a seat in the Ancient Theatre of Ohrid.
- Spend more than a couple of days in Skopje.
- Wait too long to book a bus to Lake Ohrid during summer months. Bus tickets are known to sell out fast especially on weekends.
- Forget to print out your boarding pass if you're flying Wizz Air. They'll charge you 35€ at the airport.
Let me just start by saying, I’ve never encountered a country where the people are so friendly. Macedonians go above and beyond to help others. From informative and passionate hostel owners to generous greengrocers, random acts of kindness are plentiful here.
Now, how did I come up with the idea to go to Macedonia you ask? Well, checking Skyscanner has become a daily routine. Healthy or not, this is how I get the best deals on flights. One week I found a flight to Skopje (the capital) for 60€ return and had remembered a good friend telling me about his enchanting travels through the country. That's when I impulsively purchased the flight. I didn't know exactly what I would find in this tiny Balkan country, but I left pleasantly surprised.
As I left the airport and struck up a conversation with a Macedonian guy, he offered to give me a ride to the city center. First I was hesitant, with images from the movie Taken running through my mind. Then I saw the boy's father walk over, barely able to stand up, yet, cute as can be and thought, "Yeah I'll take the ride." When I was dropped off near my hostel I didn't know what I had gotten myself into. It seemed like a shanti town. As I searched for my hostel, I thought the name Shanti Hostel was beginning to make sense. Expecting the worst, Shanti ended up being a lovely oasis in the middle of it all. Peter (the owner) will make you feel right at home and tell you all you want/need to know about Macedonia let alone Skopje!
Walking around Skopje was interesting to say the least. The city has been recovering from a large earthquake in 1963, but it seems like the government has put way too much money into statues and not so much into rebuilding homes. There are two bridges dedicated solely to statues. Plus, they're all imported from Verona!! $$$. Why so many?? The most over the top one is definitely the gigantic Alexander the Great statue in the center of Skopje's main square.
Personally, my favourite part of the city was the Old Bazaar. There are heaps of markets, mosques and cool shops where you can pick up some interesting souvenirs or knick-knacks. Definitely have a Turkish tea at a cafe or treat yourself to dinner at one of the many authentic restaurants. If you're looking for nightlife, look no further as this seems to be a popular hangout for party goers. Walk to the Galerija 8 where there's a cute alleyway of bars.
If you have some time in Skopje, make sure to take a few hours from your morning or afternoon to check out the man-made Matka Canyon. Buses run to the canyon frequently and are about .50 cents each way. The bus journey is around 45 minutes. There is a trail you can follow along the canyon for a few kilometers, or if you're an avid hiker, check out trekking from Skopje to Matka on LivinPuraVida.
Ultimately, if you're in Macedonia, the main attraction should be Lake Ohrid, no questions asked. Backpacking? Stay at Sunny Lake Hostel. Welcome to lake paradise:
Grab a spot on a dock, lounge around on the beaches, hike along the hills, check out the cool architecture of the many monasteries and churches, take a seat in the old amphitheater, or just get lost wandering around the narrow pathways all over town. You'll feel as if you've taken a random turn to Italy when wandering through the cobblestone streets (and it's half the price!).
Don't forget to make a pit stop at the food market for some delicious plums and cheap produce.
I could have easily spent weeks lounging on a dock in Ohrid, but if you're feeling restless, Albania is just across the pond! Happy travels!