Skopje is the capital of Northern Macedonia, a small country located in the Balkan peninsula. The country used to be called Macedonia but had to change its name in 2018 after a lengthy dispute with Greece. Most of the attractions and places to visit in Skopje are within walking distance, making it easy to navigate.
This capital city is an obvious stop to learn more about Northern Macedonia in my Balkans adventure and as a base to visit Kosovo. Here are some of the interesting things to do in Skopje.
Top Things To Do In Skopje City Center
Enjoy The Architecture
Skopje’s city center architecture will leave you speechless. You either will love it or hate it. The architecture is a cacophony of different architectural styles. Based on the buildings and bridges in the city center, you will be forgiven to think that they have a rich treasure trove stashed somewhere.
Here is the story behind these architectural wonders. The city was almost completely destroyed in the 1963 earthquake and was rebuild in brutalist architecture style. That means a lot of concrete, strange-looking buildings.
But around 2005, the government undertook a significant restructuring project to renew the city center by making it look more classic ancient.
They have redone the building facades, added columns like in ancient Greece, details from the renaissance… you name it, they have it. Some locals are disgusted by the amount of money spent in building these nice-looking but probably irrelevant structures.
Nonetheless, the city center is where you can literally do sightseeing in Skopje. Highlights include a copy of the American Capitol Hill, columns like in ancient Greece, and even a Triumphant Gate.
If you think that’s not enough, there are huge monuments of Alexander the Great and his father, stationary Victorian ships in the shallow river, hundreds of statues of people who had shaped Northern Macedonia’s state, culture, church, etc.
There is not enough room to list all of the architectural attractions in Skopje; you just have to see it yourself. The good thing is that they are all located in the city center, so you don’t have to go across the city to see them.
Skopje City Museum
The city museum is just 5 minutes walk from the Mother Teresa Memorial House. The building is fascinating, mainly because it’s an old railway station which was partially destroyed in the 1963 earthquake.
It’s a monument of Skopje’s recent history and one of the most important things to do in Skopje if you want to understand the city’s history better.
Despite all the fancy architecture in the city center, the city did not rebuild this building. You can see what it was like after the earthquake. The clock on the building’s facade always shows 6.17 – the precise time the quake hit Skopje.
The entrance fee is about €0.50, and the opening hours are (double-check this) :
- 9 am-5 pm Tuesday to Saturday and
- 9 am-1 pm Sunday.
Note that the museums are generally closed on Mondays.
Cheap And Free Things To Do In Skopje
Mother Teresa Memorial House
Mother Teresa is the most famous person from Northen Macedonia. Her commitment and contribution to charity work is admirable and she is essentially an icon of kindness.
The memorial house is in the city center, and near all the other prominent buildings. You can find many objects that belonged to Mother Teresa, letters, photos, and on the top floor, there is a church ceremonial space, so dress appropriately.
The entrance to this Skopje tourist attraction and guided tours are free. Make sure to check when they run the guided tours. The opening hours are:
- Monday – Friday 09:00 – 20:00
- Saturday – Sunday 09:00 – 14:00
It’s a 10-minute walk from City Museum via Macedonia Square. The Ottomans built the stone bridge in 1451, which now connects the city’s new and old parts. It’s a beautiful example of traditional architecture and craftsmanship and one of the most inspiring places to visit in Skopje.
Daut Pasha Hamam
Daut Pasha Hamam a 15th-century Ottoman bathhouse near the Stone bridge. It is now converted to an art gallery with exhibits from different local and international artists. You can also enjoy the architecture.
The admission fee is around €1, and the opening hours are:
10 am-6 pm Tuesday to Sunday, closed on Mondays.
You can find this tall and impressive monumental structure right next to the Bazaar. It’s the first thing you will notice when you enter the central area during your Skopje sightseeing tour.
The Kale Fortress was built by the Byzantine Empire and later expanded by the Ottomans. Located on the tallest hill in Skopje, it provides breathtaking views of the city and the Vardar river. The entrance is free, and it’s open from 8 am to 7 pm daily.
It’s a beautiful area for a walk but does not have much tourist infrastructure. There are no toilets, tourist info points, or tour guides. You should read up on the fortress online before visiting if you like to experience it better.
Cultural Things To Do In Skopje
Skopje Bazaar (Bit Pazar)
The Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the Balkans. It is also one of the most colorful and lively places to visit in Skopje. This protected national landmark holds many shops with artisan products –jewelry, pottery, carpets, traditional costumes, and so much more.
If you want to take a break and soak in on the atmosphere, there are plenty of traditional restaurants, tea shops, bakeries, and traditional sweet makers.
You can enjoy a cup of strong Turkish coffee under the 200-year-old plane tree and taste traditional sweets that will leave you smacking your lips.
Debar Maalo is Skopje’s bohemian neighborhood. It is about 2 km from the Stone Bridge and near the city park. Visiting Debar Maalo is probably one of the most enjoyable things to do in Skopje for people who appreciate good traditional food. There are many bistros and restaurants where you can enjoy superb local specialties.
Staro Skupi is one of the most popular restaurants and is known for its traditional North Macedonian breakfast. It’s a Simit-pogacha (a soft bread flavored with lemon and sprinkled with dried fruits), or zelnik – a stuffed pie with spinach and cheese. Another popular dish is Pastrmajlija – a pie with sliced meat cubes on top of it.
Try Local Food And Wine
Macedonia is a small country, but it’s located between the East and the West and has a great mix of cultures from both. Immigrants brought their customs, food, and food preparation techniques. Some of the most important were dairy and wine-making processes.
Wines from this region were Alexander the Great’s favorite. One of the top things to do in Skopje is tasting white and hard cheeses made from sheep and goat milk and try some of the autochthonous vines like Temjanika, Zilavka, Vranac, and Kratosija.
Chill At The Skopje City Park
I am a big fan of parks, especially when the season or weather is nice and sunny. Skopje City Park is not too far from the city center. The lush greenery takes up a vast area and houses sports facilities, a stadium, and the Skopje Zoo. My favorite part is that it runs alongside the Vardar River, making it an excellent place for me to slot in a good run by the water.
Places To Visit Around Skopje City
There are also a few lovely nature places to visit in Skopje just outside the city area. These are good as day trips from Skopje, and you can probably squeeze some of them in as half-day trips.
Vodno Mountain is an excellent place to escape the city rush and enjoy nature. It’s very close to the city center and is a favorite picnic spot for Skopje’s residents. Most locals also come here for some outdoor cycling and sports during weekends.
There is a large metal construction called the Millennium Cross on the top of the mountain, and you can get there by cable car from the foot of the hill. Views are amazing from both the cable car and at the top. It’s the climax of any Skopje sightseeing tour.
You can take a red double-decker bus in the city center to get to the cable car base; keep an eye out for the one with the “Millennium Cross” sign on it. The ticket will cost you around €0.60.
The cable car ride will cost you around €2 for a round trip, and the working hours are:
- November – March: 10am – 5pm,
- May – September: 10am – 8pm
Note: The credit card terminal is often out of order, so it is better to have some cash on you. Don’t wait for the last ride down because you might miss the last bus to the city center, and illegal taxi drivers are just waiting for the opportunity to rip you off. Their fairs increase dramatically in these circumstances. (the usual fee is around €5)
One of the most famous Skopje tourist attractions is outside Skopje. Matka Canyon is situated west of the city, about a 30-minute ride by bus or car.
Besides enjoying the beautiful views and untouched nature, you can visit several monasteries, hiking paths, climbing routes, and caves. The cheapest option to get there is by bus. A ticket costs around €3. If you want to take a taxi, the usual fare is around €10.
There is no entrance fee at Matka Canyon. One of the most popular activities there is taking a boat ride through the canyon. They take about 30 minutes and cost about €3,30 per person. You also have the option of kayaking in the canyon.
Tip: In the tourist season, the parking can be overcrowded, so if you are going to Matka by car, go early. Wear comfortable shoes, and If you’re visiting in summer, don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, and water. If you are planning to visit a monastery, dress appropriately.
Kokino – Prehistoric Megalithic Observatory
This ancient observatory, popularly called the Macedonian Stonehenge, is located about 70 km (50 miles) from Skopje. I did not get to visit it, but you should certainly add it to your list of the things to do in Skopje if you have enough time.
There is no direct bus line from Skopje to Kokino. You will have to take a bus from the Skopje central bus station to Kumanovo, a city nearby. Minibusses that take tourists to Kokino start from the Kumanovo central bus station, but there are only two or three departures per day, so you have to plan well.
The prices for busses are:
- Skopje to Kumanovo- €1.5
- Kumanovo to Kokino -€1
The fastest way to reach Kokino is by car or taxi. It’s a one-hour drive, and the taxi fare from Skopje will be around €40.
Skopje to Ohrid
One advantage of visiting a smaller country is that things are not too far from each other. Northern Macedonia has about 2 million residents. Wherever you are, you are always within a 2-3 hour drive from the furthest point in the country.
Ohrid is a common destination for travelers before or after Skopje. The lakeside town is arguably the most popular tourist destination in Northern Macedonia for locals and foreigners alike.
It’s not too far away from Skopje. The bus from Ohrid to Skopje or vice versa takes around two hours and costs about €7.
Tip: if you are visiting in the summer or around major holidays, expect it to be crowded. The water in the lake is crystal-clear but also cold. If you want to swim, the best month to visit is August, when the water is the warmest.
Skopje To Sofia, Bulgaria
Sofia, Bulgaria, is one of the closest European capitols to Skopje. Traveling to/from Bulgaria via Skopje is a common route for travelers visiting the Balkans. It’s about a three-hour drive to get to the Bulgarian capital. A Skopje to Sofia bus ticket costs €13-18, and there are generally buses every four hours from the central bus station.
Skopje To Pristina, Kosovo
Kosovo is not a usual tourist destination, but it is certainly worth visiting. It is not overwhelmed with tourists, so you do get a very local vibe. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, making Pristina one of Europe’s youngest capitals. However, this city has thousands of years of history.
Skopje to Pristina bus tickets cost €4-6, and the journey takes around two hours. The buses start from the Skopje Central Bus Station.
Due to Kosovo’s unresolved status and unstable political relations with Serbia, foreign travelers may have problems entering Serbia from Kosovo. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo as an independent state or its customs stamps. If you try to enter Serbia From Kosovo, this might cause some complications. It is not always the case, but it’s best to be safe than sorry.
One potential workaround when crossing to Kosovo is to ask the customs officers not to stamp the passport because you are going to Serbia later.
I hate dealing with this stuff because you are at the mercy of whatever will happen at the customs. If you want to play it completely safe – visit Serbia first before going to Kosovo later.
Discovering The Best Things To Do In Skopje
Northern Macedonia is a beautiful country with a rich history, culture, great food, and vines. People are friendly, and most youths speak English, so you shouldn’t have a lot of problems getting around.
The country is considerably cheap when compared to Western Europe. It is an excellent time to visit before they get into the EU. Prices will undoubtedly get higher then.