As the eighth-largest city in Macedonia and largest city along Lake Ohrid, Ohrid is one of the most-visited places in the country and often regarded as the “Jerusalem of the Balkans,” for its many churches (365 in total).
Things to do in Ohrid include visiting the most famous of these churches, as well as enjoying the lakefront and seeing several ancient ruins, medieval monuments, and Ottoman constructions in the vicinity.
After spending a few incredible days exploring Ohrid and its surroundings, here is our list of top things to do in Ohrid, Macedonia:
Take a Boat Ride on Lake Ohrid
It would be a shame to travel all the way to Ohrid and not experience the lake by boat. Lake Ohrid is one of Europe’s oldest and largest lakes – about 2-5 million years old with an area of about 138 square miles!
The lake, along with the city of Ohrid, were both declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1980 for their cultural and natural significance. If you’re wondering where to catch a boat for a tour of Lake Ohrid, you can do so at the Ohrid Marina.
If you don’t want to take the round-trip ferry to Sveti Naum, ask around the marina for a local captain to take you on a one-hour lake tour (approximately 5 euros per person). The ferry takes about 2 ½ hours to get there and about 1 ½ to get back.
It costs about 10 euros per person. Check ferry timetables at the marina.
Also check out our article about another of the world’s oldest lakes: Lake Malawi, Africa
Photograph St. Jovan of Kaneo Monastery
St. Jovan of Kaneo was founded at the end of the 13th century and dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Its scenic location and distinctive Byzantine-style architecture make it one of the most photographed places in Macedonia – from Lake Ohrid and from the shore.
St. Jovan of Kaneo Monastery sits perched on a cliff just above the fishing village of Kaneo, overlooking the placid waters of Lake Ohrid. It has become the symbol of Ohrid.
Visit St. Clement Church
The St. Clement Church is located on Plaosnik (Plaošnik) Hill in Ohrid. Originally constructed in the 13th century and known as the St. Panteleimon Church, it housed the relics of St. Clement.
It was converted into a mosque in the 15th century during the Ottoman period before being reconstructed in the 16th century and turned back into a church. A visit to St. Clement Church will reveal medieval frescos, early Christian mosaics, and Byzantine-style architecture that is common throughout the Balkans.
See the Ancient Theatre of Ohrid
Near the Center of Ohrid is the Ancient Theatre – an open-air Hellenistic-style theatre that was built around 200 B.C. with a capacity of 4,000 spectators. During Roman times it was used for gladiatorial battles for executing Christians, leading to its abandonment after the fall of the Roman Empire.
It was eventually unearthed and used for public shows. Most notably, it is used as a stage during the annual Ohrid Summer Festival. Admission to the theatre is free.
Tour the Robevci Family House Museum
Situated in the Old City of Ohrid, the Robevci Family House Museum is a fantastic example of 19th century traditional Macedonian architecture. It was originally built for the wealthy Robevci family, who lived there for 35 years before it burned down. It was eventually completely rebuilt and divided in two parts for brothers Konstantin and Atanas Robev.
Today the house is a cultural and historic museum displaying memorabilia from the Robevci family, and Roman and Greek artifacts from Ohrid. Touring this family home, its old furniture, and wood carvings gives a glimpse into what old world Ohrid was like. For me, it was reminiscent of the 19th century Bulgarian houses in the Old Town of Plovdiv.
See the Frescos of the Church of St. Sophia (Sveti Sofia)
The St. Sophia Church in Ohrid is one of the most important monuments in Macedonia and a classic example of Macedonian medieval art and architecture. It was originally the cathedral church of the Ohrid Archbishop of the Byzantine Empire, giving it religious authority of the region.
The exact date of construction is not known. Like other Macedonian churches, it was converted into a mosque by Ottoman Turks before being eventually being restored back into a church. The real draw to the church is its surviving frescos dating back several years to the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries.
“Of the preserved frescoes in the lower zones of the altar can be recognized portraits of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem patriarchs and archbishops, as well as Mary with Christ, the Apostles, and St. John the Baptist.”
You may recognize the Church of St. Sophia from the back of the 1000 Macedonian Denar banknote.
Admire the View from Tsar Samuil’s (Samuel’s) Fortress
Make your way up from the Roman Theatre or St. Clement Church to admire the view. It is possible to walk around the entire perimeter of the walls.
Tsar Samuil eventually moved the capital of the Empire to Ohrid and built one of the greatest strongholds in the Balkans. Today, Tsar Samuil’s Fortress is a popular vantage point for spectacular views of the city of Ohrid and Ohrid Lake.
The climb to the fortress is steep but you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views. Admission to the fortress is just 30 Macedonian denar.
Shop for Ohrid Pearls
One of the unique things to do in Ohrid is to check out the famous Lake Ohrid pearls at a local workshop. Ohrid pearls are known for their brightness and shine; qualities created by a special emulsion made out of the scales of the local plasica fish, which is a closely guarded secret by the handful of families that have carried on the tradition over the years.
We decided to visit the workshop of the Talev family who’s been creating jewelry with Ohrid pearls since 1924. The Talev family was the first to begin making Ohrid pearls in Macedonia. Their beautiful designs have caught the eye of several celebrities, most notably Queen Elizabeth II of England.
Since Ohrid pearls are not like those harvested from oysters, they are very affordable and make perfect gifts for your friends, mother, wife, daughter, etc. Be sure to check out the Talev family shop in the center of Ohrid near the main post office.
Book a Ohrid half-day city tour of here!
Visit the Monastery of Sveti Naum and Black Drim Springs
The Monastery of Sveti Naum (St. Naum) is located on a rocky outcrop at the southernmost part of Lake Ohrid near the Albanian border, just 18 miles from Ohrid. This is one of the most popular day trips from Ohrid and my #1 “must-do” from this entire list.
St. Naum is a cross-shaped church with a stone façade that enjoys a picturesque view over Lake Ohrid. After his death his 910, St. Naum was buried within the monastery.
Tourists and locals alike press their ears to his tomb to see if the local legend is true – it is said you can still hear his heartbeat. Inside the monastery you will also find 16th and 17th century frescos.
Once you’re finished exploring the Monastery St. Naum, walk back down to the river for a boat ride of the crystal-clear emerald springs of the Drim River. For just a few dollars you can contract a local rowboat for a half-hour tour of this mini natural paradise.
Once you’re back on dry land, stop at Restaurant Ostrovo on the edge of the springs to try the local lake fish specialties.
Get in Touch with Nature in National Park Galičica
National Park Galičica is a mountain that separates Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa. Its pristine setting is what attracts hikers, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts to come and enjoy the breathtaking views.
The air is crisp and clean, and from certain vantage points you’ll get stunning panoramic views of both Ohrid and Prespa lakes, and surrounding towns.
Hiking is a popular pastime here, and there are several routes to choose from. I was told that the meadows are covered in wild flowers and aromatic herbs, providing plenty of wonderful smells along the marked paths. You can also self-drive to reach the viewpoints like we did.
Enjoying the clean air and awesome views from National Park Galičica
So that was my Top 10 list for things to do in Ohrid… If you’ve been before or want to go, please share your thoughts in a comment below!