I have materialised from one month of living, mingling, drinking and curiously asking those questions you ‘shouldn’t do’ to locals in Skopje (скопје), the capital of North Macedonia. My plan, one week before I left to visit North Macedonia (landlocked between Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece) was to explore all of it. Yet on the flight over from London, I was so burnt out from travelling that I just decided to stay put in Skopje for my North Macedonia trip. It was an awesome decision.
The most honest guide to things to do in Skopje
*Updated June 2019 for Macedonia’s new name: North Macedonia
Not only was I given the chance to discover the things to do in Skopje, North Macedonia, that most visitors don’t see, but to also start to get under its fascinating cultural and political fabric.
That fabric is, to say the least, ‘complicated’ but made for very eye-opening and real experiences with the lovely North Macedonian people. When deciding what to see in Skopje, there’s way more than those wacky tacky statues you’ve probably heard about. Read on to discover my North Macedonia facts and insider Skopje info. It’s jam packed and full of goodies.
Talk about politics whether you want to or not
Travel advice online told me not to discuss politics with the North Macedonians. Travel safety and all that. But I quickly learnt that every North Macedonian is going to talk about politics with you whether you’re trying to avoid it or not. The two biggest topics that came up were 1) the inner workings of the Government 2) ethnic minorities and 2) the feud with neighbouring Greece.
Everyone has a different view compared to the last – which makes for highly interesting listening. You can’t dodge it. And quite frankly why should you? If you want to hang out with the locals and know about North Macedonian culture; politics is going to be a very big part of it.
North Macedonia and Greece
*Post updated May 2019 to reflect the new name: North Macedonia
When I arrived at Skopje airport in March, the airport had just changed its name from ‘Alexander the Great Airport’ to ‘Skopje International Airport’. This was the end of a 27 year-long dispute. Why?
The Republic of North Macedonia gained its independence in 1991 after being a former province of Yugoslavia. The Greeks’ problem with all of this? The name ‘Macedonia’. Because Macedonia is also the name of a historic adjacent region in Greece. The Greeks are pissed. Especially the Greeks in northern Greece who identify themselves as Macedonians but as Macedonians from Greece – not Macedonia.
Macedonia is also getting extra ‘stick’ because the Greeks believe they are ‘stealing’ famous Greek figures and symbols and placing it in their country, particularly in the capital of Skopje. Never have I seen so much energy, passion, hate and love thrown into one single statue in the centre of Skopje: Alexander the Great (more on this in a minute).
Out of pure chance (fate?), the taxi driver who drove me to the airport to fly to North Macedonia was Greek. With his country’s flag hanging and swaying underneath his rearview mirror, he looked into it and peered back at me.
Him: ‘Where are you flying to?’
Me: ‘To the Balkans’ (please don’t ask)
Him: ‘Which country?’
Me: ‘It’s above Greece’
Him: ‘You mean Macedonia? You want to hear the real story about them?’
And for the rest of that ride, we drove a lot faster than we should have, and he told me exactly what he thought of the Macedonians and the Greek government for ‘letting’ Macedonia have that name in the first place. There are two sides to every coin.
Ethnic Minorities and Macedonians
North Macedonia also has many sides to its nation. Some parts of the country are Macedonian, yet other parts are Albanian, or Turkish or Roma. And when you are in those different areas, you really do feel like you’re in a different country. And I’m just going to outright say it: these different groups do not get along very well, have had serious conflict in the past and generally keep to themselves.
Take the capital of Skopje as a prime example: on one side of the river is the main city centre of North Macedonia, yet walk just 214 metres across the Stone Bridge, and you’re suddenly very much in the ‘Old Town’ – nicknamed Little Albania. The Albanians are on this side. The North Macedonians are on the other.
It’s a complicated and heated situation – one that I’m carefully typing about because it is so heated, and one discussed discreetly. Ethnic minorities feel like second class citizens in North Macedonia – whilst some North Macedonians voice their opinion of ‘one nation, one language’.
Stand below Alexander the Great
This gigantic 40 tonne bronze statue, smack bang in the middle of Skopje city center is officially called ‘Warrior on a Horse’. But North Macedonians and tourists know that name’s not the truth. Standing 22 metres tall on a 10 metre base, it’s meant to depict no-one else but the figure of Alexander the Great. Of all the Skopje attractions, this is what people come to see.
Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was a military genius and the King of the Macedonians, who conquered an empire stretching from the Balkans to modern-day Pakistan. North Macedonians claim to be the descendants of Alexander the Great and the ancient North Macedonians. Did his legacy start in Greece? They say ‘Nope…it started right here in North Macedonia’.
And what do the Greeks have to say about this statue? They’re not happy. And yes, they’re currently building their own statue of Alexander the Great, a couple of inches taller than Skopje’s.
…and eat Krofnichki whilst you’re at it
In the early evening and well into the night, Krofnichki stalls will start to pop up around the square. They are the cheapest and most delicious dessert I came across in the Skopje capital, and are essentially doughnuts with optional sugar and chocolate sauce on top (get both!). Eat this on the street instead of opting for dessert in the best restaurants in Skopje. It’s the perfect opportunity to sit in the square and watch the world go by.
See the other hundreds of statues
The Alexander the Great statue cost 9 million euros by the way. That’s 13 million dollars! And that’s just one statue. It is all part of the ongoing Skopje 2014 project to 1) Bring in more tourists and 2) reclaim its history from Greece. The government states 80 million euros in total will go into this project, but unofficial reports say 560 million euros have already been spent. Oh yes, the locals are definitely wagging their tongues about that!
‘Skopje is Las Vegas and Disneyland combined on crack’ says Miha – my unapologetic and incredibly open tour guide from Skopje Walks. If anyone says it like it is, it’s Miha. ‘You see this?!’ he says as he points to the Triumphal Arch on the edge of the square. ‘We don’t even have enough war history to justify this thing being here. It’s ridiculous. What a waste of money!’
It does make you wonder whether Skopje’s government has gone mad in their patriotism. Recreating Greek symbols and figures I get…but some buildings and statues are just nuts. Pirate ships, a big bull outside a shoe shop and recreations that look like they’re from Paris…it’s all a bit OTT.
Love it or hate it, everyone’s talking about the Skopje 2014 project
If North Macedonian tourism wants tourists like me to be here; it’s working. Ask anyone what they know about Skopje and the statues will come up in conversation. For better or worse, Skopje tourism is starting to pick up because of Skopje 2014.
The number of statues in Skopje is debatable. I asked Miha how many there are and he couldn’t tell me. I think both the locals and the government have lost count at this point – and the placement of statues isn’t stopping. Who knows when it’s going to finish?
Should all this money be spent?
I’m not sure if they’re going to make it back through tourism. North Macedonia is one of Europe’s poorest countries with one-third of the population reportedly living under the poverty line. 30% statistically are unemployed. YET…I will tell you this. Whilst the government is cheating its country, the locals are very much cheating the government too. They’re clever, resourceful and do a lot of dealings under the table.
Tax. What tax?
Say hello to the stray dogs
For all the dog lovers out there, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to make a friend whilst you’re out and about. Skopje has many dogs wandering around the town, with most of them hanging out in Skopje’s main square. The government have been good about picking up, neutering and tagging the pooches and I saw plenty of locals looking after them. Fingers crossed there’s going to be a better solution and a decent shelter for them all soon because there’s a LOT of them…and back in 2017, some locals were poisoning them.
Hang out in the Old Bazaar
By far one of my most favourite places in Skopje, this is your chance to get away from the kitsch statues and restore yourself with some traditional architecture. Dating back to around the 12th century, the Old Bazaar was a major Ottoman trading centre and it is still very much a place to buy some wonderful wares (even if some of them are tacky Chinese-made).
This is Albania-town and you’ll definitely see the difference in the people you meet here. It’s a fantastic mishmash of beautiful mosques, covered markets, yummy restaurants, really weird shops and happening bars – all joined by twisting and turning streets without any traffic. Get lost and enjoy.
Eat shopska salad
I’ve never eaten a salad which has brought me to the point of acting like a drug addict, but my word there’s something in shopska salad which makes me craaaaaave it. I need it. Desperately. Comprised of chopped and salted tomatoes and cucumber – sometimes with onion, olives and red pepper – it is coated in this dressing which is to die for. And on top of it all, the real crack…sirene: a salty white brine cheese. Eat it. Yas!
Visit the old train station hit by an earthquake
What was reportedly the most beautiful train station in the whole of the Balkans, was tragically pummeled to the ground in 1963 when Skopje’s disastrous earthquake struck. This earthquake is really serious business. It destroyed 80% of Skopje city, killed over 1070 of the Skopje population, injured around 4000, and left 200,000 homeless.
Over 78 nations came to Skopje’s assistance (and this is why you can see London buses in the city centre today!). London donated them, Skopje city liked them…so they kept the design. The truth is that the buses are made in China and shipped over now though!
A couple of years back, you could do some abandoned urban exploration at the old Skopje Railway Station and see the crumbling walls for yourself. It has since been renovated, where you can go in to look at different art collections. It’s definitely the weirdest art gallery I’ve been in however, mainly because of its upkeep. It’s not clean, there’s rubbish on the floor and it looks like it’s one week before opening night.
Regardless, it’s an experience to take a look at the clock outside the entrance, whose hands are permanently stuck at 5:17am, the minute the earthquake struck.
Climb up to Skopje Fortress
For a jolly bit of Skopje sightseeing, stride up to the hill above the Old Bazaar where Skopje Fortress is. The Ottomans used this fortress between the 14th and 20th century as a military barracks but there’s not many towers left unfortunately (only 3 of the 70 remain).
Skopje’s devastating earthquake in 1963 flattened a hell of a lot of Skopje, and the fortress didn’t escape this fate either. Skopje is busy restoring the fortress and they’re unearthing exciting finds in the process! In 2010 they found the largest collection of Byzantine-era coins in North Macedonia. Nice!
…and go on the Skopje Free Walking Tour
I do recommend coming up here when you’re with Skopje’s free walking tour. The tour starts outside Mother Theresa’s house on Macedonia Street, everyday at 10am, come rain or shine. It lasts 3 hours to take in the Skopje sights and will provide you with a wealth of information outside of this article. Tips are very much welcomed.
Drink brandy (or Skopsko!)
The first thing my AirBNB host showed me when I entered the apartment? The full bottle of complimentary rakija waiting for me in the fridge huzzah! He also made a good point of showing me the cocktail bar directly across the road from the apartment too, which serves the cheapest and best cocktails in the whole of Skopje (look for Drinkers Paradise on Hristo Smirnenski!).
Rakija is a very alcoholic fruit brandy drink, made from grapes or plums and at every meal I sat down to, it was there. It’s drank as an aperitif, usually with that shopska salad I’m raving about. Be like a Balkan warrior and do your best!
Be a real North Macedonian local and choose their beer too. Skopsko is available almost everywhere and is a good choice. They make a rare dark beer too!
…and make sure to buy your alcohol on time
You can’t buy alcohol from the general store after 7pm. So if you want to pre-game, make sure you pay to play before 7pm mmmkay?
Hike up Mount Vodno to the Millennium Cross
At night you’ll see Skopje’s humongous 66 metre cross shining down upon the city, and during the day, you can go up and stand under it for yourself. Some people think it looks ugly, but I kinda like it…and the views from here are one of the best things to see in Skopje.
You can hike up the mountain if you wish, or you may prefer to take the Millenium Cross double-decker bus to the cable car station at Sredno Vodno, and ride from there. Buses leave Skopje bus station every 30 minutes between 8:20am and 3:20pm. A one-way tickets costs just 35 den, which you can buy from the driver. The cable car costs 100 den for a return journey, and as long as you don’t mind heights, it’s a lot of fun!
Once you’re at the top, make the most of being there and venture further than just under the cross. Turn right and walk along the top of the mountain through the forest. If you’re really going for it, you can walk to Matka Canyon from here! If not, enjoy the views then turn back.
…then paraglide down the mountain
I really tried to arrange this the whole month I was in Skopje, but the weather was having none of it! There is the possibility to paraglide down from Vodno Mountain and I hope I get to do it the next time I’m here. Try your luck and see if you can do it! Contact 2Glide here.
Be a hipster in Debar Maalo
Out of all the neighbourhoods in Skopje, Debar Maalo is my absolute favourite. This is where my AirBNB was, and where I had a lot of fun exploring the neighbourhood to unravel the many bars and coffee shops going on here. The feel is local and that’s its charm. You have many houses, apartments and little corner shops; but amongst it all, hole in the wall drinking establishments and cafe gems.
I recommend coming to the area and walking around to scope it out for yourself. But to give you a helping hand and save you time, I do recommend the following bars: Konak, Van Gogh and Sindikat. Ooh and the best takeaway pizza (made in a wood oven!) is at Mamma Italiana.
Discover Matka Canyon on a boat
15km southwest of the city, do not leave Skopje without making the effort to come here. Admittedly, in March it wasn’t looking so great as the pictures I saw online, but catch it in Spring and it’s going to look glorious. This is your chance to glide along calm waters in the mountains whilst enjoying the wildlife and a very psychedelic cave midway through your experience.
Vrelo Cave: the deepest underwater cave in the world
On the boat, you’ll also be shown the entry point along the river where the deepest underwater cave begins! Seriously for professionals only, divers are continuing to explore this site and venture deeper and deeper to unearth the cave’s actual depth. The Italian cave diver Luigi Casati estimates it to be 500 metres deep. So far, he’s managed to get down as far as 280 metres with his team. I’m excited to see how far they manage to get in years to come!
Eat tavče gravče beans
Possibly North Macedonia’s no.1 dish, tavče gravče is comfort food done to the best of the Balkans ability. Translating to mean ‘beans in a skillet’, it certainly helps British chicks like me get their baked beans hit.
This dish can be eaten on its own with a side salad and bread, or as an accompaniment to Macedonian sausages, vegetables and in my case, anything else which is near you.
Korner Baba Cana
I was fortunate enough to have this dish especially made for me by a Macedonian Grandma in the countryside through a friend. If you don’t manage to track a Macedonian Grandma down, I recommend eating at Korner Baba Cana.
My favourite places to eat in Skopje are coming up soon in another article!
Use Tinder (at your own risk)
Being a lovely single youngish lady, I do like to dabble in Tinder whilst I’m gallivanting around the globe. It’s a chance to yes, date – but also a brilliant chance to ask a ton of questions to locals to get their perspective.
Tinder in North Macedonia is a little bit too much for me though personally…but this could be because I’m quite easy to find online. I was getting messages on my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts asking me why I hadn’t swiped right on them! Yep…that’s scary stuff right? I give them 10 points for persistence, 0 points for their obvious creep level.
And unfortunately, local ladies told me that North Macedonian men sometimes do not know the meaning of no. If you’re ‘playing hard to get’ in their eyes, when you’re actually outright telling them to get lost, then they think you want more. The feminist in me is raging. Just try to pick out the frogs from the princes eh? Because I’m sure there are way more North Macedonian princes than frogs.
Drink (a lot of) coffee
The coffee shop is THE place to go and hang out. At all times of the day, you’ll find the coffee shops are packed. At night, they’re heaving just as much – but with louder music. I enjoyed hanging out in a ton of coffee shops whilst I was in Skopje – because the locals love it just as much.
One word of warning for people who hate smoking though. North Macedonians smoke and will do inside. There are definitely Skopje coffee shops with non-smoking areas, but sometimes the coffee shop is free for all. Be prepared to passive smoke.
It’s hard to name my favourite place, but one of the best places I found with the best presentation and service was Broz Cafe.
See Jesus’ face in St. Clement of Ohrid Cathedral
The most common religion practiced by ethnic North Macedonians in North Macedonia is Orthodox Christianity. This means there are plenty of opportunities to step inside a very impressive church (or 10). My favourite is just west of the city centre on Blvd Partizanski Odredi. It’s a modern building, built in 1972, but it’s got some seriously cool domes and arches inside of it. It also has a spectacular chandelier. Most of all though, enjoy a very big Jesus looking down at you from above.
Party in hidden rock bars and clubs
‘Are you sure you’re not going to rob me here?’ says my friend. We’re currently feeling the sides of the wall in a downtown concrete mall, venturing up unlit stairs. ‘Trust me’ I say. ‘It’s definitely here somewhere’. And I’m luckily right. The last time I was here, a local showed me towards the bar when I was very drunk. You’d honestly never know it was here. Everything else is locked up, dead quiet and eerily deserted.
Yet Skopje has quite a few of these bars where the rebel local rockers and metal heads hang out. Open the door and you’re suddenly in a very exciting and underground world. I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of Skopje nightlife. Ask around for these three places (they’re on Google Maps!) and you’ll be well on your way to copious amounts of beer and live bands: Bravo Cafe, Balet and Marakana.
Are cocktails and classy establishments more your thing for Skopje night clubs and bars? I recommend Kino Karpos, Panoramic Bar and Intermezzo.
Eat burek and drink Bitolski yoghurt 24/7
Ah burek. I can’t decide if it beats tavče gravče beans or not! A baked pastry made of thin flaky dough, it comes filled with so many different yummy choices, that I happily worked my way through all of them in Skopje. Top tip: the modern-day pizza filling is a hit! It’s acceptable as a breakfast, lunch, dinner or after-party meal; so let’s just say the 24/7 bakery Silbo got to know my face real well. Silbo is popular round the clock, which means fresh and hot burek whatever time you come. Woohoo! And to be a real local, wash it down with a Bitolski yoghurt drink.
Gain peace at Mother Teresa’s Memorial House
One of the weirdest things about Mother Teresa’s House is that there is a wall and a gate at the entrance, but once you step through, you realise that there are no walls on the sides…and you could have just come round that way instead. I can only take it as a message that she’s a woman worth treasuring, with open arms to all.
Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, her actual house just being off Skopje City Centre’s main square. But absolutely nothing remains in that spot now: it’s all just concrete. Instead, at the Mother Teresa Memorial House, is the spot of the original church where she was baptised.
Step inside and you’ll find memorabilia, photographs of her with lots of celebrities and personal effects. At the top of the house is the most beautiful shrine with impressive glass windows and the time and space to reflect. Take a break from the bustle outside and try to find the doves and fish hidden in the windows’ design.
Get your work done at Public Room
If you’re working whilst travelling, or just want to take a break from North Macedonian food and eat really yummy salads and pasta, Public Room is the coolest place to be. It’s modern, funky and the best co-working space I found in my month here. South of the city centre at the bottom of Vodno mountain, not only is it a cafe and coffee shop (open from 8am to midnight!) but also an art gallery, performance space and place to attend really cool workshops. Make friends in here and you’ll discover even more awesome stuff in Skopje! Highly recommended.
Drink in North Macedonia’s first microbrewery
If you’re seeking some top-notch craft beer, weave your way through the narrow alleyways and steep streets of the Old Bazaar to work your way up to North Macedonia’s first microbrewery. It’s a family-run business and the decor is rad. You’ll find yourself drinking in a cosy wooden pub with some good food on the menu and some kickass bands to listen to in the evening. It’s open from 8am till midnight, so you’ll never be short of the opportunity to have a pint if you’re in this area.
Travel to Tetovo to see the Painted Mosque
Are you looking for day trips from Skopje? 40km west, I urge you to jump on a bus at Skopje bus station to visit Tetovo. This is urban Albanian culture in full swing, and an honest representation of who else lives in this country. Here, they wave the Albania flag. Apart from just soaking up the atmosphere, the biggest reason tourists come here is to see the Painted Mosque. Originally constructed in 1438 and rebuilt 4 centuries later, what awaits you inside is pure magic. Rumour has it that it took 30,000 eggs to prepare the paint. It was worth it.
…and go wedding dress shopping
It’s a crazy mix between Barbie and My Bit Fat Gypsy Wedding, but getting married is serious business here and shopping for the dress of your dreams just as serious. Personally, you wouldn’t catch me dead in any of these gaudy gowns, but that didn’t stop me walking along ‘Wedding Street’ and seeing the creations for myself. They’re something else to say the least.
Go skiing at Popova Shapka
I’ve only ever skiied once in my life and that was in Poland. All I had was a 20 minute lesson (in Polish) and then I was throwing myself down the slopes. So it’s only right that I tried to throw myself down the slopes in North Macedonia. If you can’t make it to Mavrovo (which I’ve heard is glorious for skiing) then you should head to Popova Shapka from Tetovo to get your snow kicks.
It quickly becomes apparent that not many people know how to ski here, and no one knows any skiing etiquette whatsoever, which makes it one of the best days ever. You can rent all of the gear, depending on your bargaining skills, for around 300-500 den and a day pass costs 800. The slopes open at 9am and close at 3pm – so ski to your heart’s content and do not be afraid to make mistakes as everyone else is. For lunch and dinner, make use of the many places to eat, drink and be merry!
If unlike me, you actually know how to ski, head up to the higher runs where there’s fewer people, or venture further afield to Mavrovo.
For anyone who has drunk a pint of Guinness outside of Ireland…but then gone on to Dublin and actually drank a pint from the source: you’ll understand what I’m about to say. I had never truly tasted tomatoes until I ate them in North Macedonia. Tomatoes in North Macedonia taste like what I can only imagine the apple did to Eve in the garden of Eden.
Tomatoes are so lusted after here, that my AirBNB host even has a tomato dealer that he will drive miles and miles to see to get his tomato hit. I was in ecstasy eating tomatoes from the fruitseller around the corner from him, so I can only imagine how even more amazing they must taste if you know the right tomato man. I need to get in on that deal.
But don’t be forced to pick your tomatoes…
Standing in the grocery store I spot two piles of tomatoes. One hanging out on the left and one across the floor on the right.
‘What’s the difference?’ I ask the shopkeeper.
‘Those are from North Macedonia. The others from Greece. What will you pick?’
How to get to Skopje, North Macedonia
Where is Skopje? You’ll find the capital of North Macedonia in the top north of the country, centrally placed. Getting here is easy, and there are plenty of North Macedonia travel options to choose from.
There are many flights to Skopje everyday. Within Europe, many visitors choose to fly with Wizz Air. It’s budget-friendly, reliable and I’m in love with their WIZZ Priority Pass. For just around £10/€11/$13 more, you can board first, your bag is guaranteed in cabin (55 x 40 x 23cm) and you can take on an extra small bag (40 x 30 x 18cm). For a blogger like me with equipment, that’s perfect!
Use Skyscanner to find your best flight (with any airline!). Enter your search details below.
From the airport to the city centre
Skopje International Airport is 22km east of Skopje center. Before you leave the airport, there are some ATMs, a booth to get your North Macedonian SIM card if you so require it, and some shops for water and coffee etc. From the airport you can take a taxi for around 900 den (£10/€11/$17). It takes about 30 minutes.
Or do what I did and take the Vardar Express shuttle bus into the city centre. It’s on the right as you exit the airport and leaves around 8 times a day (synching with the times the planes arrive so you won’t be caught out). It costs 180 den (£2.60/€3/$3.50) and stops at Capital Mall, the bus/train station and the Holiday Inn Hotel in the city centre.
You can also arrive in Skopje by bus internationally and within North Macedonia. Skopje International Bus Station is east of the city centre, south of the river. Inside you’ll find ATMs, places to buy snacks and ticket booths to travel elsewhere in the country if you suddenly change your mind. From the bus station, it’s a 15 minute walk into town. You can take bus 23, or grab a taxi (should cost around 100 den).
You can find the cheapest prices and quickest international routes with Go Euro.
Balkans driving is the best (can you hear my sarcasm?) but if you love the crazy like me, renting a car may be the right choice for you. Please note that it is going to help you considerably if you can read Cyrillic and Latin. Ensure the rental company has put a sat nav in your car and that you have cash in your pocket for highway tolls (foreign currency and credit cards aren’t accepted).
p.s. If you’re interested in doing a Balkans road trip, check out this Balkans Road Trip Itinerary!
Skopje has one train station and it looks like the apocalypse: i.e. nothing is there. You’ll have to go to the bus station connected to it to get whatever you need. From the bus station, you can walk, get a connecting bus into town, or grab a taxi. Check out my bus instructions above for further information.
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Where to stay in Skopje
There’s plenty of excellent Skopje accommodation, depending on your budget and location preference. The hostels and Skopje hotels I stayed in were clean, safe and very helpful. Here’s my pick of the best.
Hi Skopje Hostel is definitely in the top 3 hostels I’ve ever stayed in, and that’s saying something because I’ve stayed in a lot! The secret to their success? They feel like family. The hostel is essentially a house with a lovely living room that you immediately see to your right as you enter. There’s cushions, inspirational travel photos and just lovely items around the room…which makes it look lived in, and lived in it is. People hang out here all the time, and everyone is warmly welcomed with open arms.
Hi Skopje Hostel is a family-run business taken care of by Marina and her lovely father. They’re the most helpful, caring and relaxed hostel owners I’ve met. Most of all (sorry Marina – the dog wins) I’m in love with their golden retriever Zhile. Even if you don’t like dogs, you must give Zhile a chance – this pooch will treat you with nothing but love, respect and gooey-eyed looks.
As far as facilities go, they have a kitchen too, which has an oven, stove and all the coffee and tea you need. It’s clean, cute, filled with good people and there’s generally something cooking in there when you walk in. And yes, if you’re there at the right moment, the rakija will certainly come out too! Breakfast is ready and waiting for you every morning – and it changes every day. It’s not flimsy rubbish white bread. It’s traditional, hot North Macedonian baked goodness.
I opted to stay in one of their private rooms so that I could get some work done. It was very clean and the bed made for a great night’s sleep. No crazy noise. It’s all in a sweet neighbourhood. Happy days!
You’re at the bottom of Vodno mountain here, so this is a great place to hike from. One of my most favourite Skopje restaurants to eat at, Baba Cana, is just down the road. And the awesome co-working space, Public Room, is just around the corner.
If you’re looking to be in the centre of Skopje, just 1 minute away from the ‘Warrior on a Horse’ and those delicious 50 den doughnuts, I highly recommend Ibis Skopje City Center Hotel. Out of my whole month in Skopje, this was the easiest and most convenient location I stayed in. It’s in the centre of the action, but also conveniently tucked away in a leafy green street.
From here, you have access to so many things to do in Skopje. I was able to easily walk to the Old Bazaar, the main square, the old train station and St. Clement of Ohrid Cathedral. To catch up with new friends in Debar Maalo was only a 15 minute walk too.
The reception is open 24/7, which always ticks my box when I’m considering solo female travel safety. The staff were very kind and helpful and always asked how I was doing. There’s also a 24/7 bar downstairs if you need an early morning coffee or late night drink – along with some yummy food options to keep you stocked up.
One of the main reasons I chose this hotel though is because of the way it looks! I love hotels that bring funky designs into their living spaces, and Ibis Skopje City Center certainly does that. It’s bright, vibrant, creative and different. We need more of that in this world!
I stayed in a double room for three nights and it had everything I needed. Excellent speedy WiFi, a clean bathroom and a very cosy bed! I also opted for the buffet breakfast and could choose from a lovely variety of foods; continental and traditional.
I also purposely chose Ibis Skopje City Center to be the last place I stayed at. I had a super early morning flight and wanted a seamless airport transfer. Ibis called the taxi and the driver was waiting for me in reception at 3.30am: perfect!
I didn’t stay here myself, so I can only recommend this to you from the other reviews I have read. What I can tell you is that the Skopje Marriott is IN the main square, so you’ll be looking down at Alexander the Great rather than being under him if you get the right room. They have the whole hot tub/steamroom/sauna going on, and boast one of the finest restaurants in North Macedonia. With beautiful views from your room, and reportedly very magical suites, this is the crème de la crème when it comes to the best hotels in Skopje.
I also stayed in an AirBNB in Debar Maalo whilst I was here to hang out with the hipsters for a while. If you’re new to AirBNB, click here to sign up and get £28/$37 in travel credit!
*A big thank you to Hi Skopje Hostel and Ibis Skopje City Center for the complimentary stays. Opinions as always, completely remain my own*
What is the best time to visit Skopje?
The beautiful thing about North Macedonia is its three distinct climates going on at the same time: it can be Mediterranean, mountainous and kind of continental! Summers are generally long and hot, whilst winters can be mild and wet.
If you’re coming to the city and wondering about Skopje weather, the city should be avoided in July and August as the temperature gets really hot! May is a great time to visit overall as the temperature is comfortable and Spring is having a party. I visited for all of March and just caught the end of the ski season which was great. If you wanna ski, from December to March is the best time to visit!
Is North Macedonia safe?
I really do believe so. I’ve been travelling the world for nearly 8 years and found Skopje a fantastic city to be in as a solo female traveller. The most common crime is pickpocketing, so keep a good eye on your valuables and check out my top security travel products to help you out. As a solo female, I wouldn’t walk along the river at night by yourself away from the main bridge. I haven’t heard any crazy reports, but it can be poorly lit around there. Be safe and enjoy!
A quick North Macedonian crash course
What language do they speak in Macedonia? It’s Macedonian! It’s a South Slavic language and I quickly found that knowing Russian helped my immensely in reading signs and recognising similar words. If you’re coming here only armed with English, you will be OK. Skopje is the capital city and there are enough locals to help you out and make sure you’re OK. Regardless, here are some key phrases to make an effort and make Northern Macedonian grandmas love you even more!
Hello: Zdravo (Здраво)
Thank you in Macedonian: Vi blagodaram (Ви благодарам)
Cheers (good health!): Nazdravye (Наздравје)
I love you in Macedonian: Te sakam (Те сакам)
How to pronounce Skopje: Go for a hearty and enthusiastic ‘SKOPE-yey’!
Have you been to Skopje? What are your highlights of what to do in Skopje? Anything you want to say in response to my ramblings? Comment below.
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