Bitola was one of our favorite stops on our tour of Macedonia. It has a charming, small city vibe with shady parks and a cafe-lined Main Street. Of all of Macedonia’s cities, Bitola feels the most European with its romantic 19th century neo-classical architecture. Known as The City of Consuls, it is home to twelve different consulates. The majority of them are housed in beautifully crafted buildings on the city’s main strip.
This Bitola travel guide will share day-trip ideas, offer budget savvy tips, and provide contact information for locals to help you plan your next holiday to this amazing region.
Bitola Travel Guide
Part of the lure of exploring this city was the opportunity to go slowly through it. We people watched at a cafe, ate ice cream admiring the beautiful Russian Consulate, and drank cheap bottles of Tikveš wine at the local Irish pub. We love exploring cities where there’s enough to keep you busy, yet opportunities to enjoy life at a slower pace.
Logistics & Accommodations
After touring Lake Ohrid, we stayed in Bitola for three nights. We took a 2 hour bus from Ohrid to Bitola which cost about $7 USD per person. From the Bitola Bus Station, we were able to walk about 1 mile to our hotel. We booked accommodations at the Theatre Apartments for about $30 USD night. It was a clean, comfortable place to stay with a kitchenette, washing machine, and a balcony. The apartment is a short 5-10 minute walk from the city center. It offered a quaint, residential feel which we appreciated as the city center can get quite rambunctious at night.
Budget Ways to Spend Your Days
Join us on a photo tour sharing some of the best sights around Bitola.
About one mile (2 km) from the city center, visitors can tour Heraclea. These ruins originate from the 4th century BC. Admission costs 100 dinar per person, or about $2 USD. This ancient city is an amazing piece of preserved history. The highlights include five gorgeous tiled mosaics, an amphitheater, and a museum. The stunning, mountain backdrop accents the experience.
Interesting facts about the Heracela Ruins
- The mosaic floor in the Great Basilica is depicted on the back of the Macedonian 5000 bill.
- The Roman emperor Hadrian constructed the theater.
- The ruins were discovered in 1968.
- In 1931, a small bone was found that was actually ticket for a seat in the 14th row and was the earliest proof of the theater’s existence.
- In the late 4th century AD, the rise of Christianity caused the gladiator flights here to be banned as they were considered to be pagan rituals and entertainment.
- There were three animals cages found when the ruins were excavated.
Širok Sokak Street
Širok Sokak is the lifeblood of the city. There are many café bars along the pedestrian street running from the City Park to Magnolia Square. Café Pajton, with its Parisian cafe vibes, is one of the best in the city. In the summer, consider ordering a Nescafé, which is how the locals order an iced coffee. Those paying close attention to signage will see that the real name of the street is actually Marsal Tito.
Catholic Cathedral on Shirok Sokak Street
Bitola Clock Tower
It is unclear when the Bitola Clock Tower was actually constructed. The clock’s origins are a highly debated mystery. During World War II, the original clock was replaced by the Nazis as a gift to the city for maintaining German graves from WWI.
There’s a rumor that there’s a hidden falcon located somewhere on the tower, but we were never able to spot it.
Church of St. Demetrius
In 1830, near the end of the Ottoman occupation, the church of St. Demetrius was constructed. During Turkish rule, construction of Christian churches was not permitted. However, as the Turkish empire weakened, permission was granted to build churches in order to keep the population happy.
In order to construct the church the builders were required to follow certain rules. For example, the exterior had to be plain without ornate decorations. The church also had to be constructed one meter below ground so it wouldn’t dominate the city’s skyline.
Peek inside and you’ll discover that the interior is ornately beautiful with lavish woodwork. Interestingly enough, the church was featured in two movies; in the opening scenes of The Peacemaker and in Welcome to Sarajevo.
It’s a small zoo, near Heraclea, featuring lions, a Siberian tiger, and bears. Cost for admission is 50 denars, or about $1 US dollar. Weekday admission is free for seniors, kids under 5, and those with special needs. Next to the zoo, visitors will observe a Serbian Military Cemetery located on a nearby sloping hill.
The Old Bazaar
The Old Bazaar in Bitola is cleaner and smaller than the Old Bazaar in Skopje. Many consider it the most beautiful old bazaar in Macedonia.
Angel for the Defenders of Macedonia
Magnolia Square with Russian Consulate
Bitola’s main town square is considered to be Magnolia Square. Located near the Bitola Clock Tower, the square has a central fountain featuring the Vergina Sun fountain in the center. The Vergina Sun is the same shape featured on the Macedonian flag.
Best Restaurant in Bitola
In the evenings, we really enjoyed Pub Bourbon Street. The Irish pub appearance is quite deceiving. Apart from the typical bar food, they serve up local Macedonian cuisine too . One of the specialties is a melted cheese and mushroom pot served with a basket of warm sesame bread. The melted cheese pot is a signature dish in Bitola. The pub offers liters of Tikveš wine, often served in the bottle, at a budget friendly cost at around $4 US dollars.
Bike Rental in Bitola
If you’re looking to rent bikes to explore Bitola, our hotel offered a bicycle rental service. A full day rental cost 8 euros. Renting two bikes at a cost of 16 euros is expensive, but it is an option if you’d like to explore the city by bike. Do you have a reputable bike rental company to share in Bitola? Let us know, and we’ll add it to this post.
Pelister National Park
Many travelers passing through Bitola visit Pelister National Park to enjoy the mountains and hike. Unfortunately, without a car or a local guide this may be difficult. Our guide in Lake Ohrid passed along the contact information Jonce Murat, a professional hiking guide and expert in Pelister National Park. His company is called Pelister Guides and they arrange guided tours of the park.