If you’ve been following the blog or social medias lately, you would know about our ongoing Macedonia article and episode series. If you’ve ever considered traveling to Macedonia, but just aren’t sure about what there is to do, I suggest you check out some of our other posts. Here, I sum up my top 10 places you must visit in Macedonia to give you an idea about how diverse this Balkan country truly is, and to inspire you to add it to your bucket list if it’s not already there!
Skopje is Macedonia’s capital city and cultural hub – a stopover point that merits a minimum of a couple of days. Here, you’ll get a taste of how the country has embraced a modern European way of life while still paying tribute to its ancient past.
There is perhaps no better example to illustrate this this combination of old and new than Skopje’s Stone Bridge, which links the new side of the city to the old Ottoman quarter. Crossing from a neighborhood of modern office buildings and condos to the Old Bazaar is like traveling back in time.
You must make time to see the city’s main sights: Plostad Makedonija (Skopje Central Square), the 6th century Kale Fortress standing guard over the city, and the Mother Teresa Memorial House commemorating one of Skopje’s most famous citizens and her lifelong dedication to humanitarian work for the world’s poorest people.
Check out our article 10 Things to See and Do in Skopje
Situated just 17 kilometers southwest of Skopje, Canyon Matka is a beautiful day trip from the capital. Visiting Matka Lake surrounded by the steep walls of a dramatic gorge is the perfect outdoorsy experience for those who enjoy being in nature. Most visitors come Canyon Matka to rent a boat to take them around to see the caves then have lunch at the Canyon Matka Hotel and Restaurant.
Canyon Matka boasts 10 caves and several rock formations and crevices. Vrelo Cave is the most impressive one of all – the deepest underwater cave in Europe!
It’s also home to more than 70 species of butterfly, some of which have only recently been discovered. Both Matka Lake and the nearby Treska Lake are popular kayaking spots because of their calm waters and lush scenery.
In addition to the natural offerings, Matka Canyon is home to three churches – the Monastery of St. Andrew, The Monastery of St. Nicholas Shishovski, and the Matka Monastery. Each features beautiful frescos, some of which date back to the 14th century.
Mavrovo National Park
This National Park is Macedonia’s biggest, stretching over 192,000 acres from Lake Mavrovo to the Albanian border. Mavrovo National Park is home to the highest peaks in Macedonia and country’s best skiing. The Mavrovo Ski Resort has three and four-star hotels in and around the town of Mavrovo for those looking to book a ski vacation. The best time for skiing in Mavrovo is from November to April.
In the warmer months, Mavrovo National Park becomes lush and verdant. Lake Mavrovo is the largest artificial lake in the country. In the summer it becomes a popular swimming and boating destination. Many choose to stay in Mavrovo for a couple of days at one of the hotels along the lakeshore. One unusual thing about Lake Mavrovo is the submerged St. Nicholas Church. It was purposely flooded in 1953 when the lake was dug, but has since become partially exposed, creating an unexpected sight.
Saint Jovan Bigorski
Another place to visit in Mavrovo National Park is Sveti Jovan Bigorski (St John the Baptist) Monastery that supposedly contains the forearm relic of St. John the Baptist. This Byzantine monastery is located on the main road from Gostivar to Debar, two kilometers before the village Rostusa.
It is known for its 19th century masterful colossal wood carvings and stone architecture. The wood carving shows a number of biblical scenes from both the Old and New Testament. It was carved by master artists, Petre Filipovski and Makarie Frckovski. If you aren’t planning to spend any time in Mavrovo, you can stop to see the monastery while traveling between Skopje and Ohrid.
The town of Ohrid is the largest town along Lake Ohrid and a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural significance. Ohrid is the perfect place to stay for a few days as you explore the old town sites, Lake Ohrid, and the surrounding monasteries.
Don’t skip out on visiting Tsar Samuil’s Fortress for gorgeous views over the lake and the city. Nearby is the 13th century St. Clement Church and the Ancient Theatre. Other must-do’s in Ohrid include seeing the frescoes of Saint Sofia (Sveti Sofia) Church and photograph St. Jovan of Kaneo Monastery.
Last but not least, a boat ride on Lake Ohrid is something you can’t miss. Just head down to the Ohrid Marina to book a lake tour or ferry ride to St. Naum (see below).
Check out our article Top 10 Things to Do in Ohrid
Monastery of St. Naum
The Monastery of St. Naum (Sveti Naum) sits about 18 miles from Ohrid, located on a rocky cliff near the border with Albania. Its impressive 16th and 17th century frescos make it a popular tourist attraction and great day trip option from Ohrid.
Visitors enjoy panoramic lake views and the chance to visit the nearby Drim River, which flows from Lake Ohrid and into the Adriatic Sea. Take a half-hour rowboat tour through the springs of the Drim River. Afterwards, stop at Restaurant Ostrovo on one of the islands at the edge of the springs to try traditional Macedonian dishes.
Bitola is Macedonia’s second largest city. It is located in southern Macedonia, southeast of Lake Ohrid near the border with Greece. What makes Bitola one of the 10 places you must visit in Macedonia is its wide range of things to see and do. In other words, Bitola has a great all-around sampling of Macedonian culture, dining, and day trip options.
Check out the Top 5 Things to Do in Bitola
Whether you’re staying the night or visiting Bitola on a day trip from Ohrid, definitely begin your sightseeing at Magnolia Square and make your way down Širok Sokak Street (Wide Street) to browse the shops and cafés. Taking a moment to enjoy a coffee and people watch at one of the sidewalk cafés is the perfect way to blend right in. When hunger strikes, we recommend Vino Bar Bure Restaurant in Magnolia Square.
Afterwards, go shopping for souvenirs at Stara Čaršija, or the Old Bazaar of Bitola. There are dozens of shops here selling everything from blankets and rugs, to housewares and clothes.
History lovers shouldn’t skip on seeing the ruins of Heraclea Lyncestis (see below). After you’ve explored the city on foot, you’ve got two great day trip options: Pelister National Park and Villa Dohovo. Pelister is a nature reserve that is popular with hikers, picknickers, and rock climbers. There are nature trails to explore and even a couple of hotels to stay the night or to have lunch.
Villa Dohovo is easier to tackle in an afternoon – this guesthouse and restaurant was voted as one of “Europe’s Secret Places” by Lonely Planet. Here, you pay what you want (the only thing with a fixed price is the alcohol). Even overnight guests are allowed to choose what they pay!
The city we know today as Bitola was known in the ancient world as Heraclea Lyncestis – a city founded in the 4th century B.C. by Phillip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great).
The ruins Heraclea Lyncestis are located 2 kilometers from the city center of Bitola and comprise an archaeological park that holds several buildings dating back to the Roman rule of the city (Roman baths, theatre, basilicas, etc). But perhaps the most notable attractions of the site are the beautiful floor mosaics depicting religious imagery from the Byzantine era.
The ancient city of Stobi is one of Macedonia’s most significant archaeological sites. Stobi was first founded by the Kingdom of Paeonia in the 7th century, then eventually overtaken by the Kingdom of Macedon, and later on by the Romans and Byzantines.
During Roman times, Stobi was the capital city of the province of Macedonia Secunda. Stobi’s importance stems from its strategic position along an old Roman trading route – a road that led from the Danube River (Serbia) all the way down to the Aegean Sea (Greece). Because Stobi was located along this road, it became an important trading hub. During the early Christian period the city had several churches, basilicas, and a baptistery.
Stobi lies an hour’s drive southeast of Skopje near the town of Gradsko. The site is open daily 10 am to 3 pm. Admission is 120 Macedonian Denar.
See our episode: Touring the Ancient City of Stobi
Popova Kula Winery
Popova Kula is one of the wineries you must visit in the Povardarie Wine Region. It is one of Macedonia’s best, boasting accommodations, gourmet dining, cooking lessons, and sightseeing tours.
Popova Kula stands out because of its high-quality Balkan wines like Stanushina, Vranec, Prokupec, Zilavka, and Tamjanika. We were lucky enough to visit during harvest season, which gave us a great opportunity to see how the grapes are picked, sorted and cleaned before being pressed for fermentation. Popova Kula also puts on traditional folk dance shows for its guests.
So, there you have our list of 10 places you must visit in Macedonia. It is our sincere hope your travels bring you to Macedonia someday to experience them for yourself!
Here are the top five tours I recommend in Macedonia!
- Full-Day Tour Best of Skopje
- Skopje: Canyan Matka Half-Day Tour
- Skopje: Half-Day Stobi Wine Tour
- Ohrid Half-Day City Tour
- From Skopje: 6-Hour Private Mavrovo Tour
If you have any suggestions about what to do or see in Macedonia, leave a comment below!