With our 90 day visa about to end in Croatia, we decided to explore Macedonia for the summer. Travelers have described Skopje as quirky, unique, and unlike any other place they’ve ever visited, so we were intrigued to explore it for ourselves. We were also excited to cross Macedonia off our list as one of the last Balkan countries we had left to explore. It was important for us to share a detailed Skopje travel guide with our followers as there is so much more complexity to the city than just quirky architecture.
Skopje Travel Guide
Coming from Croatia, it took us a solid week to come to the realization that we were really going to enjoy Macedonia. Sure, many travelers acknowledge the strange, mismatched architecture that has cost the taxpayers close to a billion dollars. They lightly touch on the political issues that have plagued Skopje, such as the remnants of paint that cover statues, bridges, and buildings. However, they fail to talk about the grittiness, the polluted areas, and the gypsy children that roam the streets begging day and night.
As we slowly settled into our apartment, we found ourselves enjoying the kind people and the neighborhoods reminiscent of the glory days of my past. Growing up in Chicago, I fondly recall the strong sense of community in the neighborhoods where in spent my childhood.
Neighbors would gather on front porches, sharing a beer or a chat. Older folks would be outside watering lawns and tending to tiny gardens. Kids rode bikes on sidewalks along city streets and played tag. During summer, everyone in the neighborhood would come out at dusk emulating a strong sense of togetherness.
In all our travels, Macedonia would be the country where I rediscovered the familiar roots of what Chicagoans now refer to as The Old Neighborhood.
Given enough time, we believe other travelers will discover the same warm feelings we experienced when living in the capital of Macedonia. Our guide will offer some insider tips to use when exploring the city and show you some of our favorite parts of Skopje.
Best Local Hangouts in Skopje
Inside the city park is a small cafe bar called Central Park. Head to the back to enjoy a few beers or a coffee while enjoying a cabin on the lake type feeling. We enjoyed the cozy backyard atmosphere on a warm summer night.
This bakery is Skopje’s best local fast food joint. Day or night, it’s always busy. It has sweet treats, sandwiches, and warm cheese and meat pastries. The spicy cornbread slices are delicious. It was the halfway stop from our neighborhood Airbnb to the downtown area and a great place for a cheap lunch. They offer coffee, drinks, and outdoor seating.
Yes, this stationary ship is a tourist trap, but we decided to check it out on a date night and had a great time. The service was great, the wine pours were heavy, and they offer really nice FREE snacks with your drink order like chips and nice cheeses! This was a great place to chill on the river.
We asked many locals where the best restaurant was for local Macedonian food and everyone kept suggesting Skopski Merak. The restaurant is located on what we’d call Restaurant Row, a cobblestone street with nice restaurants that feature live music and outdoor seating. Truth be told, we weren’t impressed with the food that much and the language barrier caused us to get some incorrect items. However, the ambiance is very charming and the outdoor dining while enjoying live music felt like a great, local experience.
Dukat is widely known for the best chorba in Skopje. Chorba is a stew that is served in mornings and early afternoons. We came for dinner and the restaurant was lively, romantic, and had great outdoor seating. We ordered two dishes of meat and cheese patties, served with glazed carrots and roasted potatoes. It was hearty, nicely prepared dinner, and cost around $7 US dollars.
Dojrana is a local restaurant outside the city center. It has outdoor seating and a traditional Macedonian menu. We came here for lunch seeking out chorba, but it was already gone! Instead we had traditional cheese-filled grilled meats, salad, and bread. It was a decent lunch for under $10 US dollars.
Best Place to Cool Off in Skopje
In the summer, Skopje can get uncomfortably hot and touring the city isn’t enjoyable until later in the day. We always like to include a great place to cool off during summer travel. On a walk, we discovered that Aqua Park Skopje was about a ten minute walk from our apartment. We went with very low expectations and enjoyed the day. A day pass costs about $6 US dollars a person. The use of lockers is included in the price.
This is the only aqueduct in Macedonia. It is one of three largest and best preserved in the Balkans, including Diocletian’s Aqueduct near Split, Croatia and Bar Aqueduct in Montenegro. It’s a long, seven mile walk from the center (round-trip), but it’s a cool photo opportunity. A taxi will cost about $5-7, including waiting time. There isn’t signage or information, so do your research beforehand.
Millennium Cross and Vodno Mountain
A day trip to Millennium Cross and Vodno Mountain was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. From the main bus terminal take bus #25. The signage on the front of the bus reads Millennium Cross. The ride takes about 30 minutes and will drop you off at the picnic area near the gondola ticket office. The gondola runs every other 30 minutes and is closed on Mondays. Take note, there are suggestions that walking trails lead up to the top. However, the way up is extremely steep, often unmarked, and by no means a proper hiking trail. Unless, you’re looking for a challenge, take the $1 US dollar, seven minute gondola ride up. It’s worth it!
At the Skopje Zoo, visitors can get up close and personal with the animals. Admission is 60 dinars, or about $1 US dollar. We wish the zoo would increase the price (slightly) to help continue their effort to improving the conditions and exhibits for all the animals. We’re all about the sustainable tourism! The bears and lions were a highlight. For the price, it’s the best zoo we’ve ever visited.
Skopje’s fortress is definitely more impressive from the outside than it is from the inside. The interior looks like an abandoned excavation site. Admission is free, but there isn’t any information available to learn more about its history. Once again, do your research beforehand before visiting.
St. Teresa House
Born in Skopje, the St. Teresa House pays homage to the Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and missionary. Throughout the city, there are bronze plaques celebrating her quotes teaching love and compassion. Afterwards, head over to the square, near the Coca-Cola sign to visit the site where her home once stood.
The Stone Bridge is considered a symbol of the city. It connects Macedonia Square to the Old Bazaar. Historically, it has been the site of numerous executions. Walking across the bridge is like walking through time. Just enjoy it!
Skopje Art Bridge
This pedestrian bridge features 29 sculptures of Macedonian musicians and artists. It was estimated that the construction cost 2.5 million euros. If Liberace built a bridge it would look like this.
Macedonia Square is the biggest public square in Macedonia. This is the place for evening strolls and cultural events, such as the Christmas markets. On hot days, you’ll see kids enjoying the splash pad style fountains in front of the Alexander the Great Statue. Take a seat at the fountain or grab one one of the benches surrounding the square to soak the atmosphere all in.
The Old Railway Station (Museum of the City of Skopje)
The clock on The Old Railway Station is a reminder of the earthquake that occurred in 1963 and destroyed 80 percent of the city. It still reads 5:17 which is the time the 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit. Kinda creepy, right?
Vasil Chekalarov Monument
The Vasil Chekalarov Monument pays tribute to the cruel but competent Macedonian general, leader, and revolutionary figure. It’s our top pick for the most bad-ass monument in Skopje. The monument actually graces the cover of one of the country’s tourism brochures. “You’ve got to ask yourself a question: ‘do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
The Old Bazaar
Founded some time around the 12th century, the Old Bazaar is a major tourist attraction in Skopje and is found in the Albanian side of the city. Folks enjoy wandering the narrow cobblestones paths and window shopping among all the unique stores. Audrey enjoyed browsing all of the gown shops showcasing the beautifully beaded dresses.
During our time in Skopje, we stayed in four different Airbnb units. Most tourists like to stay near the city center in walking distance to the main attractions. However, as slow travelers, we enjoyed staying in the residential areas to experience more of a local experience. On average we paid around $25 US dollars per night. If you’d like recommendations for some great stays and hosts, please inquire within!
General Travel Tips
Alcohol must be purchased at the grocery stores before 9 p.m. in the summer and 7 p.m. in the winter. Of course, alcohol is always available at any open cafe bar!
Skopje has a fabulous grocery store chain called Tinex. It has excellent produce, fresh meats, and a wide selection of items.
Almost everyone we encountered spoke English extremely well. Very impressive!
The water throughout Macedonia tastes great and is safe to drink.
Checkout THREE BALKAN COUNTRIES IN ONE DAY – ROAD TRIP ITINERARY to see what else the area has to offer.