As popular lore holds true, Instagram worthy shots can put a hole in your pocket. A captivating destination, that’ll have your cameras snapping pictures left and right, arrives with a huge price tag.
Macedonia, however, is a bird of another feather. Mixing affordable prices with breathtaking scenery, this Balkan gem is waiting to be discovered. Mediterranean climate, cultural heritage, unforgettable food and Balkan hospitality all come together to create one of the most underrated traveling destinations in the world.
The adventure takes you places you never knew existed, dwarfing in significance even the most popular traveling destination you’ve heard of. Writing this, partially for myself, I aim to give Macedonia the extended treatment it deserves.
Arriving in Skopje
The capitol city is where 40% of the population resides. An economic, cultural and administrative hub, Skopje is closer to Western Europe than any other Macedonian region.
Arriving at the airport, you can take a shuttle bus to the city, and then a taxi ride to your destination. With hotels and hostels all around, it is easy to find accommodation even if you failed to book upfront. And this is where it usually hits people – prices in Macedonia are ridiculously low!
Transport, dining, supermarkets, the experience and service industries… It takes a day to figure it out, and people usually re-arrange their accommodation plans. To completely wrap your head around this, feel free to check the cost of living in Macedonia.
Skopje, as the rest of Macedonia, gets to enjoy around 300 sunny days within a year. Reflecting on this fact, you can book your visit regardless of the season. My recommendation, however, is to arrive in either spring or summer. And you’ll see why in just a minute.
The full-scope Macedonian outdoor experience will have you leave Skopje, but it’s not only limited to the periphery. If you know where to look, Skopje can provide a lot of outdoor fun, even for the most adventurous outdoor aficionado.
Although under-promoted, this natural attraction can rank easily within the top 50 outdoor destinations on entire European continent. A natural wonder, this Canyon stretches for miles on end, with tall and picturesque cliffs on each side, and crystal green water in between.
A hiking trail follows the lake below, giving you breathtaking views from above. But should you, however, decide to take a closer look, renting a kayak will be an experience of a lifetime.
My wife and I took two of our friends from Singapore on a kayak ride, and they were left speechless.
Near the canyon there is a really old monastery, and a nice restaurant with an unprecedented panoramic view of the lake. But what takes away the show is the cave complex nearby. Home to some of the deepest caves ever to be discovered, Matka is a regular spot for recreational divers and explorers alike.
Vodno is a green and lush mountain that towers above the capitol. Its proximity to the city, however, is what makes it so special. From the center of Skopje to its foothills, it’ll take you just a 15-minute walk.
Once there, surprising scenery unfolds.
Vodno has a number of hiking trails, suitable for every level of fitness. It’s also a training ground for many mountain biking aficionados, so if you are confident in your skills of handling a bike make sure rent one and give it a spin.
The cable car, on the other hand, is an excellent option for enjoying the panoramic view of the city without breaking a sweat. A reminder of low prices, the two-way ride will cost you $2 only.
Once at the top, there is a gigantic metal construction of a cross built to overlook the city. You’ll love it.
The Old Bazar
If you are a fan of cultural heritage, do make sure to visit the Old Bazar. With Ottoman influence evident up to this day, it’s a reminder of a distant past. Family workshops, small storefronts, traditional restaurants, and Ottoman architecture, the Old Bazar is one of the most captivating places in Skopje.
At night, however, tradition blends with the modern, transforming this place into one of the most popular nightlife destinations.
The Kale Fortress is just a minute away, so if medieval themes are tempting enough go and take a look.
Skopje is also home to some of the best Macedonian restaurants, and the food is both affordable and unforgettable. But we’ll get there in a minute.
As for orthodox culture, you won’t want to miss some of the magnificent churches. Scattered around the city, they really do make Skopje unique and recognizable. But let’s go south and visit one of the cradles of the orthodox religion.
The town of Ohrid
Ohrid, unlike Skopje, takes you on a more traditional vacation. The lake, protected by UNESCO, is enough of a reason to book a ticket and visit Macedonia. Crystal blue during the summer, it’ll have you reconsidering your travel arrangements.
The cultural aspect of visiting Ohrid is also worthy of a mention. With 365 churches, one for every day of the year, Ohrid was a religious center back in the day. Now, only dozens of churches remain, and many serve as art galleries or classical recital podiums.
You’ll love to visit the church of Kaneo, as well as Plaoshnik, and the unprecedented Saint Naum Monastery.
Booking a guide and going to the lake springs is also recommended, as well as arranging a dinner for two on a raft at evening, while the town is glowing, reflecting on the water.
If you happen to arrive while cultural events take place, make sure to pay a visit. From classical music to handmade jewelry exhibits, much can happen in Ohrid and often does. If you are interested, follow the link for a full guide to visiting Ohrid.
Traveling around Macedonia
Depending on your departure arrangements, you might want to visit Mavrovo. Halfway between Ohrid and Skopje, it is one of the most popular destinations for locals.
With high altitude and a picturesque lake, Mavrovo can offer outdoor enthusiasts some unforgettable moments. The nicely paved road around the lake offers a pleasant bike ride regardless of your skill and fitness level. From there, you’ll be able to see the submerged church found on many Macedonian postcards.
If the water from the lake is back, you’ll be able to enter inside as well.
North of Mavrovo you’ll find the village of Galicnik where homemade cheese is being made in metric tons. The landscape and views in between are both rich and colourful.
You can arrange horseback ride, visiting one village after another, tasting delicious Macedonian pies, cheese and grill. It is one of the most exciting adventures you’ll ever have. Here is to the price-talk we had a minute ago – the whole experience will cost you around $24.
Make sure to pay Macedonia a visit
Folding up this letter, I hope it gave you a glimpse of this travel paradise. There are so many other places to visit, and if I included them all I’d have to make this guide longer by at least few pages.
Take for example the small town of Berovo where breathtaking scenery will knock you off your feet, or the town of Krushevo where paragliding contests are held throughout the year, fueled by some of the most delicious Macedonian food.
Parting ways, I’d like to leave you with a single takeaway – this is one of the most colorful traveling destinations you’ll ever come across, where many different experience opportunities blend together, without burning a hole in your pocket.
Wine and food
Keeping this chapter short, for I will otherwise have to close my laptop and go out for a bite, I’ll just list the most delicious Macedonian dishes.
Try Tavce Gravce, Stuffed Peppers, Selsko Meso, and Shopska Salad. Don’t leave Macedonia before tasting Ajvar as well – it is considered the caviar of the Balkans. A red pepper mash so tasty you’ll definitely search for the recipe left and right.
You can also order Musaka, Chevapi, Burek, and any Pie they have on the menu.
The cultural influence from both the Otoman period as well as neighboring countries is quite evident. That’s probably one reason why the food is so tasty and diverse. Macedonian soil is known for providing top quality organic produce, so make sure to try as many vegetables as possible.
As for wine and beverage, you’ll be surprised by the quality.
Macedonian vineyards are all around the place, and they resemble the Old Italian vineyard in both scenery and taste. Tours are easy to arrange, and you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.
The beer is extra strong and extra cheap, and you’ll definitely want to try Turkish coffee as well.
Here is to your next adventure waiting ahead!