17 Things you have to do when visiting Macedonia

Sunset at Ohrid Old Town

Hard to believe, the land of Alexander the Great, has remained relatively unspoiled by mass tourism. But this beautiful Balkan country will surprise you as soon as you put a foot on. If you’re looking for inspiration, Macedonia is your next stop! Keep on reading for a list of essential things to do in Macedonia…and don’t worry, you can thank me later or like locals say… тиблагодарам!

1- Visit Skopje, capital of giants (statues)

Скопје — in Macedonian — is the capital of this Balkan country towering warrior huge statues gaze down on you, making wandering tourists feel very small indeed. I can promise you that you will never see any other city with as many monuments as Skopje. Nobody can deny that, over the time, the capital has become a thoroughly entertaining Balkan metropolis.

Skopje Main Square

Make sure to you visit Kale Fortress, Memorial House of Mother Theresa, Museum of Macedonia, and if you still have energy then take yourself up Vodno Mountain to see the Millennium Cross — one of the biggest crosses in the world!

2- Where to stay in Skopje? Shanti-Hostel is the place

After a long day in Skopje, book a bed in this cosy hostel, which has recently won an Award as “1st Country Winners Macedonia”, according to Hostelworld Country Winners voted by You. For more info go here: bit.ly/2kHbr2B.

Shanti-Hostel, located just 3 minutes walk from the bus and train station and only 5 minutes from the center of Skopje, offers not only an excellent location but comfortable and well-equipped rooms! Dorm rooms from €8. Shanti-Hostel, Rade Jovcevski Korcagin 11, Skopje. Want to book? Go here: bit.ly/2pKTfTu

3- Explore the Grand Bazaar: Ottoman & Byzantine Heritage

Considered for many people the symbol of Skopje, the Stone Bridge — across the Valdar River — connects Macedonian Main Square to the Old Bazaar. As soon as you cross the bridge and enter its Čaršija, the old quarter with the largest bazaar in the Balkans, you will feel back in time surrounded by Ottoman architecture, traditional craft shops, winding lanes filled with tea houses, museums and historical monuments such as churches and mosques — don’t miss the Sveti Spas Church! The Ottomans banned churches from being taller than mosques and that’s the reason for this iconic church — located opposite the Old Town Brewery — to be partially submerged 2m underground.

Old Bazaar

4- Eat like locals do!

Tired now and need a break, eh? Head to the heart of the Grand Bazaar and grab a slice of Burek to go (local pastry) at БУ РЕК.Then head north to Sloga, one of the lovely coffee shops located in front of the National Gallery of Macedonia, and ask for a local Macedonian coffee …and of course don’t forget to eat the pastries right there! PS: owner’s own idea. Sloga Cafe and БУ РЕК are on Arhiepiskop Angelarij Street, Grand Bazaar, Skopje.

Burek — pastry filled with ground meat, cheese or spinach.

5- Go for a drink in the Old Bazaar

If is late and you are still wandering through the streets of the Bazaar and feel like having a drink, finish your day at one of the coolest bars near the Main Square: Menada. This busy bar offers a lovely terrace, great music, yummy food, and unbeatable prices. Menada Bar, Old Bazar, 1000, Skopje.

6- Do outdoor activities at Matka Canyon

Take bus number 60 from Skopje Bus Station and head 15km southwest to find Lake Matka — best spot for hiking lovers — , one of the most beautiful nature spots in the country. This is a great place to spend a day swimming, picnicking and exploring its caves and monasteries. Are you thirsty after all those walks? Recharge your batteries in one of the cafés facing the lake. Lovely coffees, yummy food, and mind blowing views, what else do you need right now? You have it all.

7- Bat lovers? So you have to visit Vrelo Cave

To get to Vrelo Cave in Lake Matka — listed as one of the top 77 natural sites in the world — take a boat trip or if you are strong enough rent a kayak and row on the Treska River until you reach the cave. These Canyon’s caves are home to large populations of bats and this amazing cave isn’t an exception! Due to its acoustic sound effect, the bat sound will increase greatly so get ready!

Lovely bats flying around

8- Fell in love with Ohrid

Words cannot explain the energy and breathtaking views of this unique town. Located 170 km south of Skopje, Ohrid — Macedonia’s most seductive destination — is more than a pretty face; is a mix of pure nature and 365 churches…one per each day of the year as the locals say! It’s perfect location right on the edge of the serene Lake Ohrid is hard to beat. What I like about this sublime town is that you can be sightseeing through historic monuments one minute and laying on a deck chair with your toes in the water the next one! Get ready to see churches, monasteries, a medieval castle, Samuel’s fortress, the ancient theatre and lakeside cafes.

Stunning Lake Ohrid and its Ancient theatre buit in 200 BC

9- Visit the Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo

You cannot leave Ohrid without visiting the Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo. This is a must-see attraction! Located only 15-minute walk west of Ohrid’s port area, this stunning 13th-century church — which construction date remains unknown — is set on the cliff over Kaneo Beach overlooking the Lake Ohrid and is possibly the country’s most photographed structure. Get your camera ready; your eyes will pop out!

10- Take a boat trip around Lake Ohrid

If you fancy a boat trip around this clear blue lake, locals will offer you one for only a €5 (plus a nice chat and picture). Not to be missed!

Friendly Macedonian captain

11 -Macedonian feast at Letna Bavča Restaurant

For a proper Macedonian feast head to Kaneo Beach and stop for a bite to eat at Letna Bavča, which is considered the best “dipping their toes terrace in the water” at Kaneo. Fish lovers should go for local fry-up of plasnica (a diminutive fish eat fried in the Balkans) and of course, veggies can’t go wrong with šopska salata — tomatoes, onions, and cucumber salad topped with flaky sirenje (white cheese). Can’t wait for the food to arrive? So ask for bread and dip it in Ajvar — relish made from red peppers, eggplant, garlic and chili pepper. Letna Bavča, ul. Koco Racin br. 43, Ohrid.

Healthy starter for two at Letna Bavča Restautant

12- Need a bed in Ohrid? Sunny Lake Hostel, please

Hostelworld Country Winner for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 (Woohoo!) does not only offers great location but also amazing lake views…oh! and yummy-yummy traditional fresh local pastries for breakfast on the house!

Located in the old town and super close to the main street, this fantastic hostel offers comfortable dorm rooms from €9 and of course FREE great hostel atmosphere! Gyoko is the greatest host of all times! He was incredibly helpful and always available for us. Thank you so much for having us, we will be back! Sunny Lake Hostel, 11 Oktomvri street, number 15, Ohrid. For bookings go here: bit.ly/2qj1MPr

Gyoko knows how to look after guests

13- Go for a day trip to Bitola

If you are in Ohrid and you are looking for a day trip somewhere close, Bitola is a great choice! Small city but still full of cultural heritage, Bitola is a must-do trip if you are in the south of Macedonia! The city’s pedestrian street, Širok Sokak, is the best example of perfect terraces for the perfect Turkish coffee at anytime! If you are a hiking lover then climb up Baba Mountain for the best hiking trails! 1,2,3 …go!

Coffee time!

14- Drive up to Galičica National Park

If you don’t have much time left, the best way to visit the National Park, which is located 25 km south Ohrid following the calm blue lake, is of course by car. You will have the chance to stop in each spot to take pics of this picturesque park that links Macedonia, Albania and Greece borders. Lake Ohrid is separated from its sister lake, Prespa, by the National Park and a road crosses the mountain ridge of the park, linking the two. At some places is possible to see both lakes from the same location! So drive high and have your camera ready!

The higher the better!

15- Go see unique frescos in Sveti Naum Monastery

Located within the National Park, this must-see monastery will welcome you with lovely views of the Ohrid Lake and free-roaming peacocks.

Mind these guardians peacocks–they’re grumpy all day long!

Inside this monastery, which was destroyed by the Ottomans in the 15th century, you will find unique 16th- and 19th-century frescos that will make your jaw drop! It is said by locals that you can still hear the Saint’s heartbeat by pressing an ear to his stone coffin inside the church — go for it if you dare! Is well worth paying the fee to enter, but if you are lucky like us, you will enter for free. As you can see Macedonians really love tourists…or maybe pretty girls lol.

Frescos in Sveti Naum Monastery

I recommend spending half a day here and enjoying the site, as there are still a lot of things to see around the monastery like magical springs of the Black Drim River and little churches like below.

As a wish-maker fan, of course, I couldn’t help it this time! So light a candle at Sveti Naum Monastery and make a wish to the national Saint! I’m 100% sure he will make it happen so be careful what to wish for. Sveti Naum Monastery, Р501, 6320, Ohrid.

Sveti Naum Saint — make a wish now!

16- Want to cook like locals do?

So stop for lunch at the restaurant just outside the complex of Sveti Naum Monastery, where the parking is. Don’t eat inside the complex, as is a total rip-off! This place serves yummy local food and also provides lovely service! Ask for traditional Macedonian dishes like the one I’m cooking below!

Preparing Kolbas with lovely Marian

Go for a Kolbas sandwich — grilled local sausage with onions and peppers. This is to die for! Have it with a cold local beer. If you are brave enogh, specially on summer time, ask for tauče grafče — fresh baked bean… and bon appetit! Restaurant Sveti Naum, National Park Galichica, St. Naum, Ohrid.

Macedonian tipycal dish: Tauče grafče and Kolbas

17- Have an ice-cream with the locals

Walking down St Clement of Ohrid street, the main road in Ohrid, we stopped for a coffee at a lovely busy terrace. As soon as we sat down, next to us, was being served a huge full “plate” of ice-cream…and only one person staring at it. I kindly approached this ice-cream lover for a picture and of course for a spoonful and this was the outcome!

Ice-cream fight!

As you can see, Macedonia has it all! Friendly people, yummy food, amazing places to visit that will blow you away and good fun guaranteed!

Thank you, Macedonia! You are amazing! Xx

About the author: Marianela is a working traveller from Argentina who moved to Ireland at the age of 23 to study English and travel around Europe. After 10 years of that big decision, she has visited more than 35 countries and 120 cities. She lived in Lisbon and Granada, where she completed her studies in Translation and Interpreting. Now she is based in Dublin, works for Hostelworld and in her free time writes her own blog based on her own experiences around the globe: FlylikeButterFly. Follow her on Facebook & Instagram. Website: www.flylikebutterfly.com