When I moved to Europe, wanted to take advantage of the close proximity of many countries, and the low-cost airlines that fly between them all. My recent trip to Northern Macedonia was no exception.
In 2018 the country was renamed, from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. This was partly to ease Northern Macedonia’s accession to NATO and the EU. This makes Northern Macedonia the most recent country to change its name out of all 193 UN countries.
Like most of my weekend trips, I travel very light to avoid extra airline costs. It takes just over three hours from London to the capital, Skopje. Being in the Balkan region, the cost of living is quite low, which can make for a really cheap trip.
Upon arrival, I caught a bus into the center of the city, which came to 180 Macedonian Denar (roughly €3). Stronger currencies like the Euro and the Pound can also be used in Northern Macedonia – but always check the rates to make sure you don’t get ripped off.
My hotel was based in the center of Skopje, right by Macedonia Square, which is where you’ll find the famous Alexander the Great statue. It is also a water fountain, but unfortunately every water fountain across the city had covers over them. I guess 30 degrees wasn’t hot enough to break them out yet.
Alexander the Great was a Macedon king during the ancient Greek period and has a little bit of controversy surrounding him. If you ask someone from Northern Macedonia they would say he was Macedonian, if you ask someone from Greece, they would say he was Greek. It is one of the many things the two neighbouring countries disagree on – but I won’t delve into that here. Safe to say though, the statue in Macedonia square was quite grand and a great feature in Skopje.
Macedonia square is also known for its many old-looking monuments scattered across the square, depicting different important individuals and moments in the country’s history.
They are actually all relatively new, even though they look old – which is one way the government is trying to rebuild its infrastructure and attract tourists.
As I was leaving the square I walked passed the memorial site where Mother Teresa’s house used to be located (she was born in Skopje).
Right by this is the Porta Macedonia (Triumphal Arch), which is a grand archway that leads into Macedonia square and is supposed to match the similar size and grandness of the Alexander the Great statue.
The walk through the Porta Macedonia led me to a park known as ‘Park Women Warrior’.
This park is filled with more sculptures and statues, and even though the name might make you think it’s filled with statues of famous female Macedonians, you would be very wrong.
The park was lovely, the sculptures are well maintained and it is a great place to sit in the sun and soak up the surroundings, however I found the name to be very misleading.
I walked back through Macedonia square, and crossed over the Stone Bridge. Originally built in the 1400s, it is an iconic symbol of the city, so much so it appears on the city flag.
One the northern side of Skopje there were again more sculptures (there seems to be a theme here) and water fountains (sadly also covered), along with the Church of the Ascension of Jesus.
Just north of this you will find the Old Bazaar. Developed around the 12th century, it is the second biggest open-air bazaar in Europe, behind the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
It contained a variety of different restaurants and shops for locals and tourists alike, including tailors, tanners, souvenir stores and stores selling fake knock offs of high end brands.
Skopje was the main cultural hub of the region during the Ottoman Empire, and walking through the old streets you also come across a number of mosques, as the Ottomans brought Islam to the country when they ruled here.
One of my favorite sights in the small streets was seeing older men gathered outside shops, drinking tea in their traditional outfits.
My walk led me to the largest Mosque in Skopje, Mustafa Pasha’s Mosque, which opened in 1492 and contains some beautiful Islamic architecture.
After this I walked to the Kale Fortress, which is said to have been built in the 6th century, however there isn’t much left of the actual fortress due to natural disasters and time.
It did, however, give me a great view of the city and Mt Vodno, where you could see the Millennium Cross perching over the city. I was also very lucky with my timing as the call to prayer began, so it was great just standing there looking out over the city listening to the beautiful sounds of the Muezzin calling out the Adhan.
It was now the end of the afternoon, and I wanted to hit up some museums before they closed. Unfortunately, I was too late to see the Museum of Macedonian Struggle, which I’ve heard offers a great insight into the country’s history and independence.
I did, however, get the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum, which gave a great detailed history of the Jewish population in the Balkans throughout history, and then of course their devastating experiences during World War II. I certainly recommend everyone to give this museum a visit to learn more about the Jewish experience and treatment from Yugoslavia during WWII.
To lighten the mood, I decided to keep exploring as being the end of April, it was spring and days were starting to get longer.
Saint Clement of Ohrid was next on my list, which is a Macedonian Orthodox church built in the early 90s that has a unique and interesting structure. It is very different from all the other Orthodox and Christian churches I have seen across Europe, which was quite refreshing.
I then crossed over the Art Bridge and the Bridge of Civilization, which contains statues of individuals that contributed to the arts and the culture of Macedonia throughout history.
Within this area are also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Archaeological Museum of Macedonia, Independent Macedonia Colonnade, Macedonia Philharmony, Macedonia Opera house and Mother Teresa Square.
There were hardly any tourists around, so it was easy to get some great shots of these brand new yet old-looking buildings. I didn’t mind that this, as the approach the government is taking does add character to the city. As a traveler, it makes me want to go around and see everything as it all catches your eye.
My final stop for the day took me south of the river, where I walked down the main shopping strip, Macedonia Street, where I visited the Memorial House of Mother Teresa.
There are so many sights in memory of her within the city as she was one of the most influential, caring individuals who did so much for mankind.
It was finally dinner time, and I was keen to head to the Old Bazaar to try some traditional food at a local recommended restaurant known as Destan. Sitting outside with some Kepapi, Burek and a Skopsko Beer really was a perfect way to end my first day in Skopje.
Now my second day in Skopje wasn’t actually the next day. I had taken a bus up to Kosovo for a couple of days and eventually returned to Skopje to finish off exploring the city (Check out my blog next week to read about my adventures in Pristina and Prizren in Kosovo).
When I returned the weather had turned for the worst. Rain was pelting down heavily and there was a lightning storm right over the city. My little umbrella stood no chance, so I literally had to wait under a bus shelter for a break in the storm so I could get back to my new hotel (Hotel Elsa, one of the best hotels I have stayed in and I only paid £30 for a night).
I was completely soaked as my useless small umbrella did nothing, so I dried off and hoped the weather would improve so I could get back out to see the final couple of sights in the city.
By late afternoon the skies had cleared and I took a taxi up mount Vodno. For 100 Denar, you can get a return cable car ticket to the very top of Vodno, which is 1,066 meters in elevation.
There you will find the Millennium Cross, which represents over 2,000 years of Christianity within Macedonia and is one of the biggest crosses in the world.
The views on top of Vodno are beautiful.
Even though it was cloudy I was able to get some great views of the city of Skopje and the surrounding mountains.
I also did get a good laugh out of the guys in the cable cars who loved a good selfie together, as well as taking some highly candid photos (normally this is me when I travel with others)!
One of the bizarre things I found in Skopje were the prevalence of London buses – they are everywhere!
I have tried to look up how and why they are in Skopje but haven’t been able to find any information – so if any of my readers want to educate me on this, please do!
Skopje was a great city to visit in Northern Macedonia. There is so much culture and history and many sites to see for all travelers. I certainly would love to go back and visit to city of Ohrid, as I have heard wonderful things.
I hope you enjoyed this adventure and please like, share and subscribe to my blog to hopefully get some inspiration to add new places to your travel bucket list.