Colourful mosque, Tetovo, Macedonia

What To See and Do in Tetovo, Macedonia – 1 Day Travel Guide

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I knew nothing about Tetovo before heading to North Macedonia. It wasn’t somewhere I had ever heard of, let alone could tell you information about it.

But as I like to go to lesser visited places, I headed to Tetovo after visiting Skopje as it seemed like a thing I had to do.

It’s easy to get to, easy to get around and has some unique characteristics that sets it apart from other places in the country. It is a place that can easily be visited as part of a day trip from Skopje, or its possible to stay for one night like I did, if you prefer to take your time.

There isn’t a lot of info on Tetovo but this guide will tell you what you can see and do in Tetovo on your next visit to this fascinating corner of Macedonia.

Background on Tetovo

Tetovo feels very different to anywhere else in Macedonia. The signs are more commonly in Albanian than Macedonian. The religion is predominantly Muslim. And it has that slowness that mountain towns seem to have.

With over 65% of the population ethnically Albanian, you’re more likely to see Albanian flags flying than the yellow sun of the Macedonian flag. It is also a lot more predominantly muslim compared to other parts of the country where Islam is a minority religion. I was there during Ramadam and many restaurants weren’t serving food during the day or only had a limited menu.

Albania flags, Tetovo, Macedonia
Albania flags for sale in Tetovo

The city has been influenced by Ottoman architecture, Albanian customs and Yugoslavian isolation with the city changing hands many times over the centuries. With the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, the city wanted to become a part of Albania but was shut down by the Macedonian government and locals boycotted the vote on Macedonian independence.

Although there is no outright conflict, Tetovo receives little government funding from the Skopje and noticeably feels poorer with roads and houses feeling slightly neglected compared to other areas of the country. Despite this, tourism is important to the city and has a popular ski resort in winter.

How to get to Tetovo

Buses run frequently to Tetovo from Skopje, up to every 30 minutes on weekdays, from the central bus station in Skopje to the bus station in Tetovo, on the edge of the city. The bus will often stop at the first roundabout into city, close to the Mercure hotel, where it is possible to get off to shorten your walk into the main city by 5-10 minutes.

Buses from Skopje to Tetovo as of April 2024 cost 200 den and run between 5.00am with the last one at 9.30pm. A full timetable can be found HERE. The journey takes about one hour.

There are also buses from Prilep, Ohrid, Gostivar and Tirana although much less frequently. The Ohrid to Tetovo bus is actually and Ohrid to Skopje but and will leave you on the main highway and not directly to the bus station, which may not be ideal so heading into Skopje and back out to Tetovo might be more desirable.

View of Tetovo, Macedonia

What to do in Tetovo in one day

Tetovo is not a big place, and almost everything of note can be seen in one day. A day trip from Skopje would give plenty of time to explore everything the city has to offer.

The best thing to see in Tetovo is undoubtedly the Colourful Mosque (or Painted Mosque) which can be found along the main street. After spending a lot of time in the Middle East, I have seen a lot of mosques, however I thought this was such a contrast to what I have seen before and almost felt like I was inside a medieval church.

Colourful mosque, Tetovo, Macedonia

The mosque is unique in its style of not having a domed roof, and the fact that it is the only one in this part of the world that has images of Mecca. With many mosques being relatively plain, this was a colourful surprise.

It is free to enter although there is a donation box inside the mosque. Be sure to spend some time in the gardens outside the mosque as there are a few signs explaining the history of the building.

Colourful mosque, Tetovo, Macedonia
The intricate details inside the mosque
Colourful mosque, Tetovo, Macedonia
A spectacular sight inside the mosque

Colourful mosque, Tetovo, Macedonia

Next to the mosque is a large park which is great for people watching and hearing the Pena River rush past. On the other side of the river to the mosque is the old hammam, also built in the 14th Century, although today is an art museum.

Old hammam, Tetovo, Macedonia
The old hammam is now an art museum

I strolled upstream of the river and made my way to the Church of The Holy Virgin, a beautiful church high on the hill with locals coming in to pray throughout the day, a few walking through the iron gates as I sat on a bench in the grounds. I wound my way down old streets, taking in the scenes of old ladies with their heads covered in the traditional way and kids running around playing football.

Church of the Holy Virgin, Tetovo, Macedonia

Another highlight of Tetovo is the Arabati Baba Tekke. The tekke is home to a branch of Bektashi Order, a form of sufi Islam and originally built in 1538. Currently the grounds are free to roam around and the lodge, home to the Dervish (religious leader) has information written in Albanian on posters on the walls. The Dervish invited me to drink tea with some of his friends who helped me understand some more information in English. The Dervish only speaks a few words of English but my understanding is that he speaks a bit of French, German and Turkish and is extremely hospitable to guests.

Arabati Baba Tekke, Tetovo, Macedonia
The Arabati Baba Tekke

Opposite the tekke is a muslim cemetery with rows upon rows of white tombstones, making a striking juxtaposition against the green mountains surrounding.

Further up the hill is a lookout that can be reached on foot which gives incredible views over the city. The exact location is HERE.

Back in the main town, grab an espresso and a burek and sit in the main square and watch the world go by whilst Albanian flags fly from some of the buildings. Fans of brutalist architecture will enjoy looking at the buildings around the square built in a similar style to the brutalism in Skopje.

Cultural centre and brutalism, Tetovo, Macedonia
More brutalist architecture in Macedonia

If you’re only on a day trip to Tetovo, finishing in the main square means it is only a 10-15 minute walk back to the bus station for your journey back to Skopje.

A few things I didn’t get to do in Tetovo but I would have wanted to if I had more time is to visit the Tetovo Fortress in the hills and see the Tetovo Region Museum but is only open 8.30-4.30 Monday to Friday.

Tetovo Square, Tetovo, Macedonia

Where to stay and eat in Tetovo

If you’re looking to spend a night in Tetovo, there are limited options in the city centre itself. The cheapest and most central is the Lirak Hotel located above a casino/ betting shop right on the corner of the main square. Close to the bus station is the newly built Mercure hotel, the only hotel with a western brand in the city with rooms clean and modern rooms with breakfast starting from €60.

I visited Tetovo during Ramadam and although many restaurants I tried to visit were open, they weren’t serving food until later in the evening. Bocata is highly rated as is Tivoli where I ended up eating. From my previous trips to Albania, I know they make excellent pasta so had the spaghetti bolognaise and wasn’t disappointed. The bolognaise cost just 350 den.

Arabati Baba Tekke, Tetovo, Macedonia
Arabati Baba Tekke

Summing up Tetovo

Tetovo is a small city with a lot of charm that provides a different side of Macedonia to what most see when they visit the country. It has enough to keep you occupied for a few hours on a day trip but could also end up being a one night stop on a tour around the country.

Tetovo can make a very budget friendly day trip with bus tickets costing just 200 den each way with both the mosque and tekke free of charge to enter and explore.

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