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Wondering what to do in Skopje? After a fantastic trip packed with city sights, nature and tasty food and drink, I’m here to tell you!
Skopje was the fourth stop on my Balkan backpacking trip, having arrived in Belgrade (the capital of Serbia) and then visited two places in Kosovo: the capital of Pristina and the charming small city of Prizren. I’d loved everywhere but didn’t have huge expectations of North Macedonia. I’d not heard anything bad but I’d just not heard much… at all.
Having visited, I found North Macedonia totally underrated. Skopje is a lovely capital while Matka Canyon would surely be packed from dawn to dusk if it were in Western Europe.
What is Skopje like?
I had no idea before visiting. Was it modern or historic? Packed with commercial shopping streets? Quirky and hipster?
The main thing that stuck me about Skopje is how clean and grand it is. Macedonia Square is pristine and dotted with impressive statues. Although the city centre dates back centuries, it’s clearly had money poured into it recently, specifically during the 2014 Skopje Project to attract tourism (something not everyone was a big fan of).
What I loved about Skopje was the chance to experience the culture at the Old Bazaar. Although I’ve yet to visit Turkey, it fitted with my imagination of the place. With Middle Eastern desserts, Turkish coffee and mosques, I certainly felt miles from Western Europe… which is basically my goal for travelling!
There’s also a more modern, hipster area of Skopje which I’ll discuss later. Basically, the capital may be small but it’s a pretty and pleasant city with a fair amount of diversity when it comes to things to do in Skopje.
How to get to Skopje
By air: Skopje International Airport is 17km from the city and reached in 30 minutes by rental car, shuttle bus (departing every 2 hours and costing 180 MKD/€3) or taxi. To get the best value flights, I use Skyscanner.
By bus: I arrived from Kosovo by bus which is an easy and affordable option. Although I came from Prizren, a lovely small city close to the North Macedonian border, you can also catch a bus from Pristina (the capital of Kosovo) in 2 hours.
Booking buses online isn’t really a thing in the Balkans so I suggest buying tickets at the station.
Where to stay in Skopje
Anywhere in the city centre is a good location, as is Debar Maalo neighbourhood (although it’s a 20-minute walk from the city centre).
- Hostel – for backpackers, Shanti Hostel has been voted the best in the country. After staying there, I can confirm it’s a great spot with friendly staff, free breakfast and a social outdoor area. Book from €12.
- Budget hotel – stay at Hotel Doa in the heart of town for 4-star amenities including 24-hour front desk, airport transfers, room service, Wi-Fi and an ATM in the lobby. Book from €45.
- Mid-range hotel – Hotel London has beautiful modern rooms and a great breakfast from €60 while Hotel Alexandar has period features and a gym also from €60.
- Splash out – the Solum Hotel & Spa is where to stay for luxurious facilities including an à la carte restaurant, bar with terrace and spa with fitness centre, steam room and more. Book from €90.
- Apartment – for a comfy apartment with all your amenities, Urban Served Apartments start from €36.
- Browse all hostels on Hostelworld and hotels & apartments on Booking.com.
Things to do in Skopje
Now, on to the important stuff! Here’s what to see and do when visiting North Macedonia’s capital.
Wander Macedonia Square
At the centre of Skopje is this vast, grand square characterised by statues, fountains and elaborate street lamps.
The central point of Macedonia Square is a statue of Alexandra the Great on his horse, although it’s simply called ‘Warrior on a Horse’ due to the tense relationship with Greece who block North Macedonia’s entry to the EU and NATO over issues including the name of the country (they had to add ‘North’ in 2019 as Greece have a region they see as the real Macedonia) and elements of the culture they believe are ‘Greek’ AKA theirs, such as Alexander the Great.
On a hot, summer day, there’s little shade so you may wish to begin your Skopje sightseeing here early. Another idea is to visit around sunset when the locals are out enjoying a xhiro (sunset walk) once it’s cooled off. At night, the square is illuminated and feels safe even for solo female travellers like myself.
Eat and shop at the Old Bazaar
The Old Bazaar is exactly what it says on the tin. When you hear ‘market’ you might just think of stalls and, while there are plenty, there are also restaurants, cafes, mosques, jewellers and more. It’s a real maze of treasures waiting to be explored.
It’s the oldest part of the city and was one of the few places in Skopje not destroyed by the devastating earthquake of 1963.
In my book, the Old Bazaar is the number 1 thing to do in Skopje. With a bustling vibe and fantastic food and drink (which is ridiculously affordable, I might add), it’s an atmospheric corner of the city that should not be skipped.
After the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, it’s the largest Ottoman Bazaar in Europe. If you’ve been to Sarajevo or Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina, it may feel familiar. To try dishes like baklava and pide, you’re in for a culinary adventure. Other things to buy and browse include handmade leather shoes, pottery, jewellery, rugs and local delicacies like honey.
The Bazaar is open 24 hours but the shops have varying opening times. Most open at 9am, close around sunset and some take an afternoon lunch break.
Admire filigree, a local craft
For me, the most captivating part of visiting Skopje Old Bazaar was seeing the incredible filigree. I didn’t know anything about this craft before but I was blown away while seeing and learning about it.
This practice of weaving delicate silver wires dates back to the Middle Ages. Pure silver of up to 1000 carats is skillfully manipulated into intricate designs of butterflies, flowers and even mythical animals.
A whole team of skilled tradespeople are required including silversmiths and jewellers since the items commonly have rare stones set into them. Despite modernisation, I hope the trade will continue for years to come.
Learn about Mother Theresa
Born in what’s now North Macedonia to Albanian parents, Mother Teresa is revered in these parts. Surprisingly, she was even more famous in Kosovo and plenty of attractions in Pristina are dedicated to her (although when you consider that 90% of Kosovans identify as ethnically Albanian, perhaps it’s not that surprising).
The best way to learn about her life and work is at the Memorial House of Mother Teresa in central Skopje. The complex is free to visit with a chapel upstairs and a small museum on the first floor holding items including letters written by her. Browse statues in the pleasant grounds (Skopje loves a statue!) and admire the building itself, decorated with pretty patterns and unusual details.
Speaking of statues…
Spot quirky statues
Skopje is the city of statues. The exact count varies but it’s certainly over 100.
Apparently, the Skopje statues date back to the financial crash of 2008 after which the city planned to target tourism. The 2014 Skopje project developed the city centre in innovative ways, including building hundreds of statues celebrating the city’s history and culture.
The statues are thought to have cost up to €500 million (clearly not everyone was having a financial crisis!) and some of the locals complained that the money could have been spent on more useful things.
Still, for tourists, spotting the creative statues is a fun thing to do in Skopje. Try and count them all or find your favourite! I liked the one of divers in the river.
Don’t miss the Woman Warrior Park
Critics of the city’s statues might describe them as a ‘Disneyland’ without real meaning. One place to visit in Skopje where this isn’t the case is Woman Warrior Park where memorial statues to female fighters commemorate those lost in WWII.
It’s a pleasant park to break up your Skopje sightseeing and relax on a bench under shady trees.
Pass through Macedonia Gate
This triumphant arch represents the struggle for independence, gained from Yugoslavia in 1991.
However, it wasn’t well received, built during the Skopje 2014 project that many locals considered a waste of money. Two years later, it was splattered with colourful paint by protestors who felt these new, shiny buildings erased their country’s history and older architecture.
Still, wander through and don’t miss the door inside the arch that leads to the observation deck and gallery.
Watch sunset from Skopje Fortress
There are no finer things to see in Skopje than sunset from the Fortress. After a hot and busy day exploring the city centre and Old Bazaar, this is a relaxing way to unwind and reflect on the day you’ve had.
Skopje Fortress, locally named Kale Fortress, is all that remains of a 6th-century fortress built to protect the city from invaders which, given that it was later conquered by the Ottomans, it failed in doing.
Climbing up to the fortress is easy: simply find the Ascension of Jesus church close to the Old Bazaar and follow the path for a few minutes. Perched on the hilltop, you can hardly miss the fortress! Luckily, the climb isn’t too steep so all levels of fitness should be fine, although I don’t believe there’s any disabled access.
Catch the cable car to Millennium Cross
For a quick excursion Skopje with the best views in town, pay a visit to Millennium Cross on top of Vodno Hill, reached by the world’s cheapest cable car (or at least the cheapest one I’ve found)!
Although it’s a popular thing to do in Skopje for tourists, not all the locals are so sure. Ethnicity and religion are touchy subjects in the Balkans including in North Macedonia where the main groups are Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Catholics. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, different groups competed to leave their mark and it was the Orthodox Church who helped build this cross in 2002.
The Muslim population in particular feel the 66-metre structure excludes them and erases their culture in a similar way to the neo-classical facelift adopted by central Skopje in 2014.
Getting there: From Skopje, you can drive, get a taxi or catch the number 25 bus (from the bus station or the stop on Dimitrie Cupovski street). Tickets cost 35 denar each way. From the parking area, it’s a short, flat walk to the base of the cable car.
A ticket for the Millennium Cross cable car costs 120 denar (€2). Bargain! The ride is fun and there are great views from the cross. However, there’s not much to do at the top so 30 minutes is enough time before catching the return journey.
Important note – the cable car is closed Mondays so don’t plan a visit on this day!
Take a hike around Vodno Hill
For an adventurous thing to do near Skopje, take one of the many Vodno Hill hiking trails (read the article linked for the best routes and trails).
One option is to hike from the base of the mountain to the parking area where the 25 bus drops (the Slovenian trail) or, the more common option, start your hike from the parking lot and reach Millenium Cross without the cable car. The Buran Cvetko Path, Olympic Path, New Year’s Path and Pensioner Path will all take you there.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can even hike from the base of the mountain, combining the Slovenian Path and one of the others.
Another (much easier) option is riding the cable car to the top and hiking back down.
Cross the Stone Bridge
Connecting Macedonia Square and the Old Bazaar is one of the oldest attractions in Skopje (even appearing on the city’s coat of arms), the Stone Bridge.
Although this particular bridge was built by the Ottomans in the 1400s, there’s been a structure in its place crossing the Vardar River since Roman times. In modern days, the Stone Bridge is seen as a link (literally and figuratively) between modern and historic Skopje.
Like the square, it’s a lively place to visit in Skopje for people-watching come late afternoon/early evening.
… Then the Art Bridge
For statue-spotting in Skopje, you can’t beat the Art Bridge. The 29 statues on this grand bridge would make it the bridge in the world with the most statues… But apparently, Prague Bridge has 30! If I were Skopje, I’d get two more up pronto 😉
Cross the river via the Stone Bridge and later return via the Art Bridge.
Befriend street pets
I’ve never been anywhere with as many happy, healthy street pets as the Balkans. Although ‘street dogs’ may sound dangerous or scary, it’s not the case in Skopje. These pups are clearly well-fed and seem clean and groomed. They all wear yellow tags indicating they’ve had their appropriate jabs.
Befriend them. I know I did!
Walk in City Park
City Park is a pleasant place in Skopje to walk, run or aimlessly meander, coffee in hand. There are plenty of paths and walking routes including one alongside the river.
Grab a coffee at Central Park. I would suggest walking from the city to the park then leaving via the exit closest to Debar Maalo, an area of Skopje I’ll mention later…
Take a free walking tour
One of the best things to do in Skopje – and any new city – is take a free walking tour. Especially if it’s your first time in North Macedonia, you’ll gain a better understanding of the history and culture.
Free Skopje Walking Tours begin beside Restaurant Pelister and the Czar Samuel Monument in Macedonia Square and visit several Skopje tourist attractions, ending near the mosque below. It was a great tour with a knowledgeable guide and, better yet, we even got free samples of borek from a famous bakery!
The tours run at 10am and either 3pm (Nov-April) or 5pm (May-Oct). The morning tours don’t need a reservation but, for the afternoon tours, reserve by Whatsapping +389 71 385 939.
As the name suggests, the walking tours are FREE but you should give a contribution if you enjoy it; I’d suggest at least €5.
Appreciate Mustafa Pasha
One of the most famous and beautiful mosques in Skopje is Mustafa Pasha beside the Old Bazaar. With classic architecture dating back to the 15th century and beautiful grounds including a rose garden, it’s a lovely place to stop and soak up the culture.
Relax in Debar Maalo area
The Debar Maalo area is the closest thing Skopje has to a bohemian neighbourhood. Especially near Špajz restaurant, there are plenty of atmospheric taverns with quality food and wine. Nearby are several bars popular with locals and even a speakeasy.
On another pleasant pedestrian street, you’ll find Skopski Merak restaurant and, around the corner, Kantina, a modern cafe/restaurant with great brunches and coffee, plus a spacious courtyard. It’s also a good place to work online from your laptop.
Things to do near Skopje
Once you’ve finished with the city centre, there are a few places not to miss. North Macedonia is a beautiful country with mountains, canyons and lakes. I would suggest…
Take a day trip to Matka Canyon
Matka Canyon (just 15km from the city), is THE most beautiful place to visit near Skopje. With intricate cave mazes and countless endemic plant species not found elsewhere, this 5,000-hectare area is full of scenic gems.
Things to do at the canyon include taking a boat trip (with or without a guided tour of the caves but I highly recommend opting for a trip including this) and kayaking. An hour on the kayak cost me 300 denar (€5) which, for such a beautiful and peaceful experience, was money well spent!
Depending on how long you want to relax and soak up the views, you could spend between half a day and a full day at the canyon. If you’re feeling energetic, hike around its banks or up to St. Nikola Monastery. In case you’re thinking of swimming, I’ll tell you the water is freezing.
Entry is FREE! There are a couple of restaurants onsite but they’re not the cheapest so you may wish to pack a picnic.
Getting to Matka Canyon: a cheap and adventurous way is by local bus. I caught bus 60 (€1.50 for a daily travel card which I believe should include the return ride!) from the main bus station around 7am in the August heatwave in an attempt to see the canyon before it was too hot. This turned out to be a great idea because I had it to myself when I arrived!
The only problem? The bus home never showed. Luckily, two other travellers were waiting at the bus stop so we caught a taxi back together. If there’s a group of you, taxi is a good option. Locals say to pay around 500 denar (each way) but our driver wouldn’t go lower than 900 maybe because we looked like tourists or he knew we were stranded and really needed him!
Another other option is an organised day tour: Viator offer a half-day tour inc Vodno Hill or a full-day city tour visiting the top Skopje attractions in the morning and the canyon in the afternoon. These take away the stress of organising things yourself plus they’re a good way to meet other travellers, however I preferred the idea of visiting independently and taking my time.
Finally, you can also rent a car in Skopje and drive to the canyon in 30 minutes. In the summer months, go early before the parking area fills up.
St. Panteleimon Monastery
This Byzantine church built in 1164 can be found at the base of Vodno Hill not far from Millennium Cross. Dedicated to the patron saint of physicians, it’s known for the impressive frescos inside that have survived 900 years of weathering, war and other events.
Entry is €2 making it an affordable and cultural attraction near Skopje. Arrive on bus 28, drive or pick a tour to Matka Canyon including Vodno Hill and Panteleimon Monastery.
Foodie things to do in Skopje
FOOD IS LIFE. I always make it a big part of any trip especially if I’m visiting a new country and I want to find out what the national dishes are.
Foodies, get ready to experience Skopje through your tastebuds…
Eat a ‘burger’ at Skopski Merak
One of the best places to visit in Skopje to try typical Macedonian food is Skopski Merak restaurant in boho Debar Maalo neighbourhood. Although it’s far from the city centre, this was easily one of the best places I ate in Skopje (and 3,000 reviews on Google seem to agree!) so it’s well worth visiting.
The star dish is the Skopski Merak burger (370 denar) of minced meat inside pastry topped with Balkan soft cheese and tomatoes. Well, at least there’s one portion of veg there!
Take a Macedonian wine tour
Although it may not be known as a wine destination worldwide, North Macedonian wine is fantastic following a new wave of winemaking in the late 1990s after the end of communism. If you like red wine, you’re in luck because it’s the speciality. Vranac is the most popular red indigenous grape, while smederevka is a crisp, fresh white.
Kartal Winery is a fantastic place to sample Macedonian wine and learn about its history and production. Drive there or visit as part of a Viator guided trip for €40.
Chateau Kamnik is another popular winery, just a 12-minute drive from the city.
Eat kebabs with baked beans (kebapcinja and tavce gravce)
As a Brit, I was astonished that sausage and beans are a thing in Macedonia! However, they’re very different to your average English breakfast.
Kebapcinja ground meat sausages are one of the best dishes to try in North Macedonia, although other Balkan countries will also lay claim to them. Served with tavce gravce (beans cooked in a clay pot), you have yourself a hearty lunch or dinner. I ate this portion in the Old Bazaar for €3!
Destan is a great barbeque restaurant in the Old Bazaar while Galerija 7 is a tasty place to eat pide flatbread.
Try Turkish dishes & sweets in the Old Bazaar
Authentic Middle Eastern food is the cuisine missing from my foodie travel adventures so I was thrilled to try delicious sweet and savoury dishes in the Old Bazaar area. Foodies will certainly think that dessert hopping is a fun thing to do in Skopje! Top dishes to try include…
- Pide – this oval-shaped baked bread is topped with meat or veggie ingredients. I had a great one with cheese, mushrooms and olives
- Tulumba – visually resembling a churro but soaked in a syrup like jalebi, this is one VERY sweet dessert!
- Kunefe – kadayif noodles and unsweetened cheese make up this Turkish dessert resembling sweet spaghetti.
- Firin Sutlac – this ancient Ottoman dish comprises baked sugar and milk, slightly burnt on top for its signature crunch.
Drink coffee coconut at Mola Cafe
Easily my favourite cafe in Skopje is this TINY one in the Old Bazaar. Surrounded by historic shops, Mola feels considerably more modern. They serve coffee in regular cups as well as drinks in pineapples and coconuts.
I loved the coconut coffee. They give you freshly brewed black coffee and milk to pour into a coconut full of sweet coconut water. Yum!
There are just two tables outside so visit early or hang around until one frees up.
Where to go after Skopje?
Once you’ve ticked off the top things to do in Skopje, continue your travels around North Macedonia and the Balkans. I would recommend…
If you visit just one place in North Macedonia other than Skopje, it MUST be Lake Ohrid. I was blown away by this spectacular lake with crystal clear waters in shimmering blue and green.
A couple of days in Ohrid town can be spent swimming in the lake, taking boat trips and watching sunset from the Church of Saint John. There are a few other ruins to see like Samuel’s Fortress (with wonderful lake views) but most people will visit to relax and unwind. After visiting several Balkan cities back-to-back, this was exactly what I wanted!
It’s worth noting this is a local holiday spot so, if you prefer tranquillity, visit during the week. I made the mistake of visiting on not just any weekend but a long weekend. The lakeside beaches were PACKED.
After Skopje, I headed to North Macedonia’s second-biggest city. I wasn’t blown away by Bitola as it’s quite small without loads to do. However, historians may be persuaded by Heraclea Lyncestis, the remains of the 4th-century Greek city with well-preserved mosaics and an amphitheatre.
If you have time to spare, a day is enough in Bitola. There’s another (smaller) bazaar if you didn’t have your fill in Skopje.
From Skopje, it couldn’t be easier to reach Kosovo. The journey to Pristina takes just 2 hours and tickets can be purchased at the bus station for under €10.
Pristina is a captivating capital. With a difficult past and hopefully a bright future, it’s not full of must-sees and dos BUT it’s a fantastic place to learn about the history, experience the cafe culture and take a few excursions, such as to Pristina bear rescue sanctuary and the countryside region of Peja.
Kosovo’s second-largest city is closer to the Macedonian border so you could do what I did: visit between Skopje and Pristina.
As I had learnt in North Macedonia, the second biggest city in Balkan countries is usually tiny. However, I much preferred charming Prizren to Bitola. With beautiful mosques, sunset views from the Fortress and a bustling city centre with great food, Prizren is worthy of a visit.
I stayed at Ura Hostel which is a lovely base.
Short of time? Take a Pristina & Prizren day trip from Skopje
Another Balkan country easily accessed from North Macedonia is Bulgaria. The capital of Sofia is a small, pleasant city with a range of religious buildings (including the famous St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral), tasty food, cheap prices and lively nightlife. I really enjoyed my 2 days in Sofia and would highly recommend a visit!
There are great day trips including hiking Rila Lakes and visiting colourful Rila Monastery full of colourful frescos.
From Skopje, catch a bus to Sofia taking 3 hours and costing less than €20.
Now you know what to do in Skopje but I’m sure you still have questions about planning your trip. Hopefully these answers help…
What is the currency of North Macedonia?
The Macedonian denar (MKD). At the time of writing (2023), 100 denar equals €1.60.
North Macedonia, like other Balkan countries, is largely cash-based so don’t expect to use your card much. I would recommend going to the ATM as soon as you arrive.
How expensive is Skopje?
If you’re wondering how much cash to withdraw, I can assure you that Skope is very affordable. Meals in restaurants start from €3 and a daily bus pass (taking you as far as Matka Canyon and back) only costs €1.50!
I withdrew the equivalent of €100 when I arrived and it easily lasted me 3 days in Skopje. I would suggest spending whatever you have left over because you can rarely exchange denar outside of the country.
Is Skope safe (including for solo female travellers)?
in a word, yes. I felt very safe in Skopje as a solo traveller even when walking home in the evenings.
Is Skopje worth visiting?
Absolutely! With a pretty city centre, great food and beautiful day trips, I’d say that Skopje is well worth visiting.
How many days do you need in Skopje?
Although you could whizz around the centre and see the main Skopje attractions in one day, I would suggest spending 2 days in Skopje so you have time for Matka Canyon.
If you’re tired from travelling, it’s a pleasant city to relax while building back your energy. Relaxing things to do in Skopje during a third day include checking out the cafes, spending time in the Debar Maalo area and City Park, and simply eating your way through the Old Bazaar!
Do people in Skopje speak English?
In touristic places, yes. I had no problems getting by with English. Older people working in local shops and restaurants may not speak English but you can always use Google Translate.
North Macedonian is the main language and it’s similar to Bulgarian.
Thanks for reading!
See more Balkan blogs:
- What to do in Belgrade, Serbia
- The top attractions in Pristina, Kosovo
- The ultimate Albania itinerary
- Things to do in Tirana
- 27 things to do in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Things to do and see in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Guide to Kotor, Montenegro
- How to plan an epic Montenegro itinerary
TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING NORTH MACEDONIA
Getting around by air – I use Skyscanner and search by month to see the cheapest dates.
Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in European countries (and all around the world).
For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
Browse tours and Skopje activities on GetYourGuide and Viator.
Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!