Sonte bridge, Skopje, Macedonia

What To See and Do in Skopje, Macedonia

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Skopje was just meant to be a small side trip to the time I spent in Ohrid.

But within an hour of getting off my bus, I had fallen in love with the city from just a short walk. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such variety in such a short space of time just from walking through a place.

The bus into Skopje drove through river valleys with views of snow capped peaks. Then the outskirts of the city loomed and before I knew it, I was in a city that felt like other eastern European cities I have been in. Wide straight roads leading to the centre.

I got off a stop before the bus station and walked to my hotel, rounded a corner to see magnificent statues, I checked in and headed out walking through what felt like eastern Europe’s Soviet times, grand buildings I’d associate with German or Habsburg eras and then what felt like a mini Istanbul.

To say that Skopje has something for everyone would be an understatement. It won’t take you long to explore and enjoy what it has to offer, but it will leave you amazed and intrigued in equal measure as it is like no other city in Eastern Europe. In fact, it is a little bit of all of them in one.

Before I arrived in the city, I wondered what to see and do in Skopje as it was a place I didn’t know too much about. But after exploring extensively, I’ve put together this guide for future travellers.

15 Great Things to See and Do in Skopje

Macedonia Square

This main square is majorly impressive and a place you will pass through more than once when you are visiting Skopje.

The square was totally revamped as part of the Skopje 2014 project and now houses beautiful buildings built in the neoclassical style, a large square with pop up stalls, cafes and bars around the outside and a large statue of Alexander the Great standing proudly at 22m high.

It will be a meeting point for anybody wanting to explore around Skopje as it is right in the centre of the city with so much to see and do right around it.

Alexander the Great Statue in Macedonia Square, Skopje, Macedonia

Stone Bridge

If you stay in Skopje for more than 10 minutes and need to cross the River Vardar, you will cross the Stone Bridge connecting two parts of the city.

The bridge itself has been here in some form since Roman times but the current iteration was built under Ottoman rule in the 1400’s.

The bridge rises in the middle, and if you can get there without anyone else walking across (such as very early in the morning), you can get amazing an amazing perspective and photos of both squares as of the bridge is rising out from them.

Nowadays, it connects the more modern south side of Skopje to the more traditional northern side of the river that contains the fortress and Old Bazaar…

Philip II Statue, Skopje, Macedonia and stone bridge

Sign on bridge, Skopje, Macedonia
The sign on the Stone Bridge

The Old Bazaar

After walking through here for just a few minutes, I felt like I was transported back to Turkey. With gold and jewellery shops lining the narrow streets, the call to prayer coming from minarets and tea and kebab shops on every corner.

The Old Bazaar has been around since the days when Skopje was ruled by the Ottomans and it doesn’t feel as if it has changed a bit since then. If you think you’ll end up walking around a few shops for an hour, you’ll be mistaken.

The Old Bazaar has so much more than that including art galleries, mosques and even a bar street. The food available has a more Ottoman feel with kebabs and grilled meat available from some of the restaurants close to the traditional caravanserai.

It’s fascinating to see the difference in the people as well, being home to a majority muslim population of ethic Albanians, with many women covering their head. The Old Bazaar has a totally different feel to the rest of Skopje.

Old Bazaar, Skopje, Macedonia

Skopje Fortress

Skope Fortress (or Tvrdina Kale) overlooks the city with its large walls and even bigger flag standing over Skopje.

Dating from the 6th Century and expanded in the 10th and 11th century, unfortunately the fortress now feels slightly abandoned, like an ancient relic with overgrown weeds and abandoned hopes instead of the major tourist attraction it deserves to be.

The entrance to the fortress is via the car park at the top of the hill and can easily be reached from the bars in the Old Bazaar.

The walls are still worth walking around and go for sunset to watch the red and yellow Macedonian flags flutter in the light, but with no signage, no set path to visit and many areas looking unsafe, don’t get your hopes up too high. I spent around 30 minutes walking around the walls and enjoying the view.

Entrance is free and is open daily from 7am to 5pm

Fort kale, Skopje, Macedonia

Fort, Skopje, Macedonia
Skopje Fortress

Triumphal Arch

Much like Paris (and Pyongyang), Skopje has a Triumphal Arch close to Macedonia Square. However this wasn’t for any large battles, but another structure built as part of the Skopje 2014 porject at a cost of over €25 million.

Officially it was built to celebrate 20 years of Macedonian independence when it opened in 2012 but has been blasted as part of the colour revolution in 2016. Now, it stands as an arch into the main Macedonia Square.

Triumphal arch, Skopje, Macedonia
Triumphal arch

Head out to Debar Maalo

This street is the place to be if you want to experience the hipster or bohemian side of Skopje. From hearing recommendations from others, I spent a bit of time exploring the bars and restaurants that dot Orce Nikolov, the main tree lined street.

With much of Skopje having the typical Eastern European 5-9 story apartment block as the primary structure, it was refreshing to see that modern apartment buildings have sprung up along with this street. It is a place devoid of tourists but with young locals enjoying coffee, good food and great drinks.

I stopped in Chillin Bar for a quick beer, which is opposite DM, a place known for good food. Further down, Lobby is the place to go if you want to enjoy a cocktail in a nice atmosphere. I ate at Nadžak, a traditional Macedonian restaurant and can highly recommend the hearty goulash I ate there.

With ample other bars and restaurants around, it would be the place I would want to stay if I were to stay in Skopje long term.

Debar maalo, Skopje, Macedonia
Debar Maalo has a totally different vibe than the rest of Skopje, especially after dark

Admire/ endure the brutalist architecture

Skopje has a lot going on architecture wise. From ancient churches and mosques, to modern creations  from the Skopje 2014 plan and also the brutalism that is dotted around the city after a rebuild after the 1963 earthquake flattened the city.

One thing Skopje is famous for is the brutalist architechure that sprund up in the city after the earthquake. With more than 80% of the buildings flattened, a lot of the city needed rebuilding and the task was give to Japanese architect Kenzo Tange who settled on the brutalism design that was popular at the time.

The large grey concrete buildings haven’t aged well and, in my opinion, look horrendous. But there are fans of it out there who travel to regions like this to admire this style of building.

Some of the most popular buildings built in this style are the post office and shopping centre in the heart of the city.

For me, it isn’t something that is pleasing on the eye, but it is still important to look at the understand the history of Skopje.

Brutalist Post Office, Skopje, Macedonia
The Post Office of Skopje

Look for evidence of the 1963 Earthquake

In the early hours of 26th July 1963, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake devastated the city of Skopje. Since then, many of the old buildings that were destroyed have since been replaced in a brutalism style.

But at the old train station, there is still evidence of the earthquake on display.

The building was never fully demolished, with only one wing missing and the rest of it housing the Museum of the City of Skopje. The clock on the outside of the old train station shows the time of 5.17am, the time when the earthquake struck.

Open 9am-5pm Tuesday to Saturday, 9am-1pm Sunday, Closed Mondays

Matka Canyon

Matka Canyon is not only a must see in Skopje, but probably one of the best things to see in all of Macedonia. It can be tricky to visit on public transport in peak season as the road to the canyon gets taken up by cars parking along its narrow road.

The large lake in the canyon was formed when it was damned in 1938. Now it is an outdoor hub and a place of recreation for locals and foreign visitors alike. I was shocked by how many foreign number plates I saw in the car park, from Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo and even as far away as Germany.

To get to the canyon you need to catch the number 60 bus from either the bus station, or if you are staying closer to the western edge of town, from this bus stop HERE. The timings are erratic and don’t show up on many of the apps that travellers usually use e.g. Google Maps.

Timings can be found on the JSP website (which is pretty bad, especially if you don’t speak Macedonian) or look to Kami’s blog post here which gives an excellent guide of how to get to Matka.

I got the first bus of the day on a Saturday, had time for a short hike, had a coffee from the restaurant with amazing views and took a boat tour down the lake on the blue water to Vrelo Caves.

Caves Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia
Inside Vrelo Caves

Be aware that there are two boats companies that offer trips on the lake, but only the one near the restaurant offers tours to the cave. Tickets cost 500Den per person and solo travellers will have to wait until the boat is full for the tour to run. On weekends and summer, it shouldn’t be more than 15-20 minutes.

A boat tour without a visit to the cave costs 200Den and kayaks are available to hire with prices starting at 200Den for 30 minutes for a single kayak.

Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia

Canyon boat Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia

Millenium Cross

The Millenium cross was built in 2002 to commemorate 2000 years of Christianity. Despite the controversy it caused to other religions in Macedonia, the cross now stands over Skopje and can be seen for miles around.

It is easy to get to with either a short taxi ride from the city centre, taking bus number 25 (runs at 20 past the hour between 9am and 4pm from this bus stop) or can even be walked to if you don’t mind a two hour hike.

View of Skopje, Macedonia
The cable car to the Millennium Cross

From the car park where the bus wil drop you, its possible to walk to the cross or take the cable car for just 100Den return. Timings of the cable car are different throughout the year, with the last journey at 4.45pm in winter, but up to 7.45pm in summer so check times before you go.

The at the top are beautiful, my favourite views were to the south, away from the city of Skopje with a stunning vista across mountains and hills, some capped with snow. There is a small cafe at the top and a play area for kids.

Millenium Cross, Skopje, Macedonia

Enjoy the coffee culture

Skopje, like the rest of Macedonia, has a fantastic coffee and bar culture that has to be enjoyed when visiting the capital.

Take a seat in one of the many coffee shops that are around and a waiter or waitress will be over within seconds to take your order. An espresso will normally cost around 70Den and a macchiato (most similar to a flat white which is my favourite), closer to 100Den.

The seating normally spills out onto the streets which can be used to enjoy the glorious sunshine that Skopje almost always has to offer, with almost 300 sunny days per year.

Alongside Debar Maalo, Maceodonia Street in the city centre has an abundance of streetside coffee shops to enjoy as does Macedonia Square.

City, Skopje, Macedonia

Discover the mountains with some hikes

Up on Mount Vodno, the mountain with the Millenium Cross, lies a criss cross of hiking trails that vary from 30 minutes up to multiple hours. Hikers will enjoy the abundance of hikes available and the views they give over the city.

It is even possible to hike to Matka Canyon from Vodno, a route that takes 4.5 hours over 13km.

Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia Hiking routes, Skopje, Macedonia

Explore the museums

Skopje has a wide variety of museums that can be enjoyed to learn about the history of this new country. With a varied history including Byzantine, Ottoman and Yugoslavian rulers in the past, Macedonians are proud of their current identity.

I only went to a few museums when I was in Skopje as I was pushed for time. The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence takes you through the identity of Macedonians and the key figures that played their part in keeping their culture and language alive until independence.

The museum inside the old train station, the Museum of the City of Skopje has great explanations on the 1963 earthquake including a sign with a donation from Ruislip and Northwood, close to where I’m from in London!

Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence Museum, Skopje, Macedonia
Inside the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence Museum

Visit the home of Mother Theresa

Mother Theresa was born in Skopje in 1910. Ethnically Albanian, she moved around a lot including famously to India where she became the heroine she is now regarded as.

The home where she was born has been destroyed over time and a tree that was planted to commemorate her birthplace has blown down in a storm.

Close by, however, is the Mother Theresa Memorial House, built on the location where she was baptised and where Pope Francis visited in 2019 after her canonisation.

The house has some interesting information on her history and artefacts from her life including her famous white and blue sari.

Free to enter, open from 9am-8pm weekdays, 9am-2pm on weekends.

Mother theresa hosue, Skopje, Macedonia
Mother Theresa Memorial House

Count the statues

After walking around Skopje for just a short period of time, you’ll notice something not seen on a scale in other major cities.

As part of Skopje 2014, it is estimated that over 150 statues have popped up across the city from the main square, to Woman Warrior Park and on many of the bridges that cross the River Vardar.

The largest is the statue of Alexander the Great in Macedonia Square but I also enjoyed the Monument of Philip II that looks at his son across the stone bridge.

Statue in river, Skopje, Macedonia Statues, Skopje, Macedonia Philip II Statue, Skopje, Macedonia

Any other info on Skopje

Where to stay in Skopje

In my opinion, I would recommend staying close to Macedonia Square for your first visit to Skopje. It ensures that you are close to all the action and within walking distance to most of the major sites. I stayed at the Hotel Solun, a spa hotel in the city centre as a bit of a treat. A Marriot is also close by for those with larger budgets.

If travelling on a budget, Hi Skopje Hostel has dorms starting from €12 and Hotel Centar would be my midrange option or those wanting to be slightly closer to the bus and train station.

If I were to stay long term in Skopje as a digital nomad, I would want to stay in the Debar Maalo district.

Alexander the Great Statue in Macedonia Square, Skopje, Macedonia

How to get to Skopje

Skopje airport is located 16km away from the city centre. Wizz Air is the major airline flying to the airport with flights from many European countries. Turkish Airlines also have regular flights as well Lufthansa and LOT.

Bus travel is still the most common in the Balkans and buses depart regularly all around Macedonia as well as to Kosovo, Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia from the main bus station.

Check out my guide on how to get to Skopje from Ohrid.

Macedonia has a limited train network but Skopje can be reached from Bitola, Veles and Kichevo amongst others.

Flag, Skopje, Macedonia

Getting around Skopje

Skopje is a very small city and it is perfectly fine to walk around the entire city within a day or so. You could see most of the city without getting on any public transport at all.

However, there are buses available that run frequently around the city and into the suburbs.

There are also taxis available on seemingly every street corner with the drivers having and espresso and cigarette next to their car at all hours of the day.

Is Skopje safe

I never once felt unsafe in Skopje. I walked around during the day and night and didn’t feel any more out of place or unsafe than I have in any other city. There were occasions when local Roma children asked for money but this was during the day and after a polite “no” they walked on.

There are also plenty of street dogs in Skopje. But in recent years almost all of them have been tagged and given their vaccinations meaning that they don’t carry or spread diseases. They are also some of the most chilled animals I’ve come across with them happy sleeping in the middle of the pavement and not attacking tourists.

City centre view from fortress, Skopje, Macedonia

What language do they speak in Skopje?

The official language is Macedonia which uses the Cyrrilic script. It is well worth learning some cyrillic before you travel to Skopje to make your life a bit easier reading road signs and signs on buildings and restaurants. I’ve found it quite easy to learn form English. There is also a minority that speak Albanian but almost everyone that I have come across, especially in tourist areas, speaks very good English.

Some words of note in Macedonian:

Hello – Zdravo

Thank you – Falla

Please – Ve molam

Goodbye – Ciao

Philip II Statue, Skopje, MacedoniaSumming up what to do in Skopje

Skopje is a city that I fell in love with immediately. It’s a fascinating place with so much history that is not visited frequently by tourists.

It is one of those cities that has a little bit of something for everyone, from ancient history, to outdoor adventure, to stunning views, to a good bar and restaurant scene. Mix in the fascinating cultural mix and modern politics and history and a short break in Skopje has all the ingredients for an amazing travel destination.

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