Visiting the Heart of the Balkans
Some consider Skopje, the present-day capital city of North Macedonia, the heart of the Balkans in Europe.
This landlocked country in the Balkan Peninsula has plenty of allure. And, if you love traveling on a budget, North Macedonia has a lot to offer at affordable prices.
Learn all about the delicious food, fantastic sights, and fun stuff you can try in this metropolis in this Skopje travel guide.
Topics Covered In This Guide
- How To Get Here
- What To Eat
- Where To Stay
- What To See
- Day Trips
- Visiting In Winter
- Visa, Money, Tips, and History
Scroll down, get informed, and create your perfect Skopje itinerary!
How To Get To Skopje
There are four ways to get to Skopje: via a car, bus, train, or plane.
Thanks to the numerous cheap Wizz Air direct flights in Europe to North Macedonia, arriving by airplane is the quickest and easiest way for those that want a quick adventure or a weekend getaway.
The airport is around a 20-minute drive from the City Center. From the airport, you can either take a bus or a taxi.
The bus is around 3-euros per person with a final drop-off by the hotel Holiday Inn near the city square. Taxis have a fixed fee rate of 20-euros, approximately 1200 MKD (Macedonian Denar).
Sofia to Skopje
243km separates the two Balkan capitals. By car from Sofia, you can reach the Macedonian city in three to four hours via interstates A1, A3, or E-871 (the fastest route).
The cheapest way to travel is by bus. Check out the international bus station of Bulgaria MAPTU for timetables and prices. As the website is not in English, use Google Translate.
The bus ride from or to the city is around five hours, not including the border crossing. To return to Sofia, use the international bus station of Skopje SAS for timetables and prices.
Return ticket prices average 30-40 Bulgarian LEV or 900-1000 MKD, which is around 15-euros or 17 US dollars.
There are no passenger trains nor direct flights between Bulgaria and North Macedonia.
If you are visiting Sofia from North Macedonia, check out our Sofia travel guide.
Kosovo to Skopje
A new highway now connects Prishtina and Skopje. It takes less than an hour by car to get from one capital to the other via highway R6 in Kosovo and E-65 in North Macedonia.
Daily buses are connecting the two bordering countries – useful for traveling on a budget. You can get timetables from the previously mentioned international bus station SAS.
You can arrive from Prishtina with a three-hour train ride. Get more information at MZT for a return train from North Macedonia. The web site is in Macedonian only, use Google Translate.
You can purchase train tickets at the train station, which is located right above the international bus station (Жележничка Станица).
There are no direct flights between Kosovo and North Macedonia.
Thessaloniki, Greece to Skopje
You can reach Skopje from Thessaloniki by car or bus. It takes around three hours to reach the city from Thessaloniki via E-75 (A1) highway.
The international bus station in Thessaloniki doesn’t offer bus service to North Macedonia. You will need to use private bus tour companies, like Simeonidis Tours.
There are no direct flights and trains between Thessaloniki and Skopje. There is a train from Skopje to Gevgelija (the last town in North Macedonia before entering Greece). At the Gevgelija bus station, you can take a bus to Thessaloniki.
If you are visiting Thessaloniki, check out our travel guide to Thessaloniki.
No matter from which side you enter the capital, the Millenium Cross on top of Mount Vodno is the first site visitors see. The large and well-lit cross will be sure to catch your attention.
What To Eat In Skopje
If you want to experience the real Macedonian eating and drinking scene, be sure to visit the Debar Maalo neighborhood by the City Park. Debar Maalo is renowned for its Bohemian streets. Here you can find the traditional Macedonian restaurants known as “kafani.”
We recommend getting some traditional Macedonian dishes “gravche tavche,” which is baked beans with sausage, “kebapi” (minced ground meat in the form of sausage), “sharska” a hamburger patty filled with cheese.
To wash the food down, try “rakija” (a traditional hard liquor found on the Balkans), wine from either Tikves or Stobi, or a Skopsko beer.
A typical dinner price range for two, which includes two main courses and drinks, is around 600-700 MKD, around 10 US dollars or Euros.
Some restaurants in Skopje we recommend:
- Skopski Merak in Debar Maalo offers traditional dishes and seafood.
- Kafana Daria in Debar Maalo offers traditional dishes, Macedonian barbeque, and live music.
- Sidro 2 in Leptokarija (between Debar Maalo and City Mall) offers seafood.
- Torros or Irish Pub are both on the river strip in the city square by the Vardar river (Skopski Kej) and offer modern and western food dishes, alongside with Macedonian cuisine.
Where To Stay In Skopje
There is no shortage of accommodation here. Airbnb room and apartment hosting in the city has been on the rise in the last few years. You won’t have any issues find the perfect Airbnb apartment in Skopje.
For those that want to stay in a hotel, here are our recommendations:
- Luxury: Holiday Inn, Marriot Hotel, DoubleTree By Hilton
- Moderate: Hotel London B&B, Hotel Vlaho
- Budget-Friendly: Hostel Inbox, Hostel 42
9 Things to See in Skopje
- Millennium Cross Skopje and Mount Vodno – A Half-Day Trip
Hike to the top or take a bus and a cable car to explore the beautiful nature of Mount Vodno. Once on the top, you can take photos of the Millennium Cross, have a nice cup of coffee or tea, and, naturally, witness epic views of the city below.
- Bohemian Streets
Located in the popular Debar Maalo neighborhood, Bohemian Streets No. 1 and No. 2 are the spots to have fun, enjoy the “kafana” atmosphere, eat delicious and affordable Macedonian food, live music, and spend a generally pleasant day and night.
- Museum of the City of Skopje
The Museum of the City of Skopje is a must for history buffs. The building itself is worth seeing since it is where the old railway station used to be before the disastrous earthquake took place back in 1963. Inside expect to find a dedicated exhibit to the 1963 earthquake disaster that shook North Macedonia and united the Balkan region.
- Skopje Aqueduct
A real historic gem, the Aqueduct, is far from the city center and in a remote area. There is no entrance fee.
- Old Bazaar
Čaršija, or the Skopje Old Town, is an authentic Ottoman site in the capital that anyone must visit. In the Old Bazaar, you can buy souvenirs, enjoy delicious Turkish food and desserts, like baklava, and experience priceless historical and architectural values. You will get to experience the mix of the Macedonian multi-ethnical culture and religious values.
- Stone Bridge
Currently connecting the city center with the Old Town, which are separated by the Vardar River, the Stone Bridge is something that can’t be missed. This 15th-century treasure is possibly one of the most recognizable sights alongside the Kale Fortress in the city, which is next on the list.
- Kale Fortress
Built-in the 6th century, the Tvrdina Kale Fortress is a sight to remember, regardless of whether you will explore it during the day or walk beneath it at night. The entrance is free.
- Skopje 2014 Buildings
A controversial project that was widely opposed by many people in North Macedonia entirely changed the city’s looks. Many of the buildings and statues have now become a recognizable look for the capital from tourists.
For example, the city square holds the “Warrior on a Horse (Alexander the Great)” statue and fountain. The numerous buildings along the Vardar River made in baroque architecture changed the 70-80s socialistic look of the city. The Triumphal Gate – like the one in Paris – is a significant attraction for visitors.
- Mother Theresa Memorial House
Dedicated to Mother Theresa, this modernist building is both a memorial house and a mini-museum worth visiting. It is in the city center, so you won’t need extra time to get to it.
Day Trips From Skopje
1. Matka Canyon
If you have the time, this is a must-see spot. Matka is a popular outdoor attraction for locals and tourists. It’s located 30-minutes west of Skopje, offering beautiful raw sights to see.
Typical activities include hiking, kayaking, and cave exploring. You can find out information in our detailed Matka canyon post, or read more about the deepest cave (possibly) in Europe located in the canyon.
2. Kozjak Lake and Dam
The Kozjak Dam is another famous must-visit spot for adventure lovers for its untapped nature and blue lake. The Treska River from Canyon Matka flows right into the human-made lake of Kozjak. Read our travel to Kozjak for more details.
3. Mavrovo National Park
Go for a full-day trip from Skopje to the national park Mavrovo in northern Macedonia. Expect lots of clean air, mountain sun, and untouched nature to see.
Enjoy lunch by the lake at Mavrovi Anovi, or go biking or hiking on the many trails in the national park. If you are visiting in the winter, plan a ski trip to Mavrovo.
Stobi is a preserved commercial center that was built in the Hellenic period. Its located near Gradsko, 20-minutes from Skopje, on the old Roman road “via Egnatia” that connected present-day Turkey, Greece, North Macedonia, and Albania.
Check out the Stobi Winery for a wine tasting tour of local Macedonian wine.
Visiting Skopje In Winter
Winter is a great time to visit North Macedonia if you don’t mind the cold weather. The decorated streets with lights and ornaments make the metropolis feel very magical in winter.
The main city square and other plazas have Christmas trees, live music, and other festive programs that run all month long in December. Even celebrate New Year’s Eve with thousands of other people at the city square, and welcome the new year in Skopje.
You can enjoy the Winterland Christmas market with live music each night in December at the city square (Ploshtad). Expect to find many wooden houses selling hot red wine, sausages, American donuts (they are not like American donuts, but still tasty), waffle cones, pizza, and candy.
If you love winter sports, plan a ski trip to Mavrovo, Popova Shapka, Kozuf, or Pelister.
Skopje Visa, Money, Tips
Money and Exchanging Currency in Skopje
National Currency – Macedonian Denar
In North Macedonia, the national currency is the Macedonian Denar. The exchange rate for 1 EUR is 61.50 MKD, while 1 USD is 55.10 MKD at the time of writing this.
Most shopping malls like Ramstore Mall, Skopje City Mall, and Vero Jambo Center have exchange offices on their premises. There are exchange offices at the airport and the International Bus Station, too.
Finding one in the central city area is easy as well.
The exchange rates are mostly flat. So, you shouldn’t bother with them too much unless you exchange a large amount of money.
Use ATMs from known banks like Komercijalna Banka, NLB, or Halkbank to take out cash. NLB bank charges 300 MKD for withdrawing money from foreign accounts, while Komercijalna Bank does not.
Most stores, shops, and restaurants accept the following credit cards Visa and Mastercard. Diners Club International and American Express are not as widely accepted as the rest.
To enter North Macedonia, you may or may not needs a visa. Albanians, Serbians, and Kosovans can enter North Macedonia with a personal ID (identification card) or a passport.
American, Australian, and citizens of the European Union as Schengen Visa holders can stay up 90 days in North Macedonia and need a passport to enter the country.
To see if you need a visa to enter North Macedonia, refer to this official table from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in North Macedonia. For complete North Macedonian entry visa information, see the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site.
Emergency Numbers in North Macedonia
The new official emergency number, which acts like 911 in the USA, in North Macedonia is 195.
For the police department, dial 192.
For the fire department, dial 193.
For ambulance, dial 194.
Tips and Tricks to Visiting Skopje
The city is beautiful even though it can use many improvements and more green areas (parks and trees). The recent construction hype in the country has given it cold, gray looks as well as polluted air.
Yet, it has given tourists lots to see – from statues and triumphal gate to baroque buildings and bridges.
Here are our tips to getting around Skopje:
- Parking in the city center is expensive and nearly impossible to find. The entire Center area is limited in parking and covered in parking zones. Payment is available via a mobile text message to the assigned number. Parking may be limited in hours, but parking garages are available around the surrounding area for extended parking time.
- Don’t ignore parking laws. You will be ticketed and towed.
Purchasing of alcohol is limited to 9 p.m. from May 1st – October 14th and 7 p.m. from October 15th – April 30th.As of summer, 2018, the alcohol purchase restriction in North Macedonia has been lifted.
- Popular shopping malls include Ramstore Mall, Skopje City Mall, and GTC (Gradski Trgovski Centar). There are many local shopping areas and stores in each neighborhood in the metropolitan area.
- Biking and walking are a challenge. Regularly parked cars on the bike and pedestrian areas force people to use the streets with ongoing traffic.
- Choose your taxi carefully. There are drivers out there that want to take advantage of tourists by overcharging them. The best thing is to make sure they turn on the meter and pay the exact amount you see on it, as well as get a receipt. If you have an Airbnb host, don’t be ashamed to ask for suggestions of reputable taxi companies.
- Always get a receipt. It’s the law to get a receipt for your purchases in North Macedonia. The customer must have it on hand if stopped by inspection. Keep this in mind when traveling to neighboring countries like Greece or Serbia.
- Beware of the air pollution problem in North Macedonia. If you want to protect yourself, plan on purchasing N99 air filter masks from any pharmacy in Skopje or from Amazon.
Other than that, most tourists seem to enjoy and have fun in Skopje. All travelers have agreed that the cuisine is delicious, while the prices are more than reasonable. You can eat and drink all night long without spending a fortune if you stay away from elite restaurants.
About Skopje History
Skopje is a vibrant historical city that has been influenced by many empires and kingdoms throughout the centuries. It was part of the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman empires. At last, separating from Yugoslavia in 1991.
The city was held captive by the Germans and Bulgarians in World War II. At this point, most of the Jews were captured and transported to Nazi camps in Poland. Very few survived.
November 13th is the day in 1944 that Skopje was liberated from the Bulgarian and German Axis power in World War II. The Yugoslav Partisans (the National Liberation Army) descended from the mountain Vodno onto the heavily guarded streets by the German forces, and after a 24-hour fighting period, the Partisans were able to force the German soldiers out of the city.
Skopje Travel Guide – Bottom Line
This city has a certain charm that cannot be easily found. The streets could be cleaner, and the number of green areas could be improved. Still, Skopje is an excellent destination for travelers all around the world.
With appropriate planning, you’ll have an adventure of a lifetime that won’t cost you a fortune. So, make sure to use our insider trips from this Skopje travel guide, and you’re good to go.
From delicious cuisine to rich history and friendly locals, if you want to feel at home while traveling, you must visit Skopje!