From the blog

Skopje and the surrounds

The capital and largest city of North Macedonia, Skopje is one place which I find hard to describe. Lonely Planet terms it “a quirky cocktail of styles”, and that’s just about right. A mixture of surviving Ottoman and Byzantine-style architecture with the newly erected buildings, monuments and countless statues in neo-classical and baroque styles as part of the controversial Skopje 2014 project, the city is a particular and unique sight. North Macedonia’s real beauty, however, lies further out in its striking nature. A weekend break in the capital is ideal for a taste of city life and some of the surrounding nature. If you have more time on your hands, venture further south for more of what the country has to offer.

The waterfront promenade is not only the ideal place for an early morning stroll in the city, but the main area affected by the Skopje 2014 project, housing the recently-built huge government and civic buildings as well as statues as far as the eye can see. Right off Macedonia Square with its imposing Alexander the Great statue, the Stone Bridge links the new city centre with the Old Bazaar across the Vardar River, a stone’s throw from the the Eye Bridge leading up to the imposing Archeological Museum of Macedonia. Take your time strolling along the riverfront before exploring the winding roads of the Old Bazaar for a more authentic feel.

There’s plenty of eateries in the new city centre and along the promenade, although I’d be lying if I said that the food I had in Skopje was particularly memorable. Breakfast options in or just off Macedonia Square include the modern Distrikt Bar & Kitchen at the Marriott, the traditional Pelister (where I enjoyed gorgeous crepes), the quirky and homey Kolektiv, and on the decks of the Senigallia boat hotel.

While shopping might be the main activity to do in the city, there are some notable points of interest. Firstly, the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia is a first-rate and very moving museum for the poor local souls who faced a terrible fate at Treblinka, and should be your number one stop in the city, with just a small entry fee. Another popular site is the Memorial House of Mother Theresa, an exhibit of some of the humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s personal effects in her home town; entrance here is free. You can also take a free walk along the ramparts of the Skopje fortress, built back in the 6th century, for views over the Old Town and Vardar River.

For a traditional dinner with plenty of character in Skopje, dine at Stara Kuka (the Old City House), found inside a traditional merchant’s konak house dating from 1838 which they claim to be the oldest traditional house in Macedonia (unfortunately, my photos of the food did not turn out in the dim lighting). The large, kitschy Ristorante da Gino, the first Italian restaurant to open in Skopje, remains highly popular with the locals, and I enjoyed a surprisingly lovely plate of fresh seafood. Serving a variety of European food, including a variety of meat, Carpe Diem is a stylish spot on the promenade allowing you to take in the lights of Skopje by night. Amigos is a popular Mexican joint serving good cocktails, although our food was hit and miss.

One must-do while in Skopje is a visit to the Millennium Cross, the 66-metre tall cross situated on the top of Vodno Mountain just outside the capital, one of the tallest crosses in the world. Visit less for the cross and more for the sweeping views from the mountain, which you get to via funicular. There’s plenty of hiking and biking trails if you’re up for some physical activity and have some time. If you’re not spending long on Vodno, you can combine this with a trip to the gorgeous Lake Matka, the oldest artificial lake in the country. After a walk into the canyon, you can enjoy a boat ride on the lake and lunch at the most picturesque restaurant, serving surprisingly good local food, at an expectedly steep price (if you want one of the coveted outside tables, it seems that a small tip (read bribe) is likely to secure one). The best way to go about these two trips, if you’re not driving, is to hire a driver for the day. This day was undoubtedly the highlight of our short trip to Skopje, aided by the perfect weather we were blessed with.

For those staying longer than 2 or 3 days, it would be ideal to venture out of Skopje and the surrounds to visit other areas of North Macedonia. A favourite amongst visitors is Ohrid and its sublime lake, with Bitola and perhaps even a day trip to the Republic of Kosovo being other options.

Until the next adventure!

K x