Skopje – the capital of the Republic of North Macedonia – lies in the valley of the mountain river Vardar. It traces its history back to the Roman fortress, which later became the center of the province of Dardania. During the Ottoman Empire, the city flourished, but in 1555 it was destroyed by an earthquake. As part of Yugoslavia, Skopje became a major cultural center, but another catastrophic earthquake in 1963 literally wiped it off the face of the earth. However, the Ottoman-built Old Town survived. Today it is the most colorful part of the Macedonian capital with narrow streets, mosques, hammams and oriental caravanserais.
Note: according to allcitypopulation, the population of Macedonia is 2.065 million (2021).
The new part of Skopje was restored according to the project of the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. Since 2010, another grandiose plan has been implemented to renovate the city center – new pompous buildings and dozens of statues and monuments to generals, kings, saints, revolutionaries and national heroes have appeared. Many Macedonians disapprove of this project, calling it architectural kitsch. However, it was its implementation that significantly increased the influx of tourists to Skopje.
Of particular interest are hotels located in the center. For those who are used to not denying themselves anything, the five-star Stone Bridge and Arka are suitable. Despite the status, they are not distinguished by high prices – at the peak of the season a double room costs 5900 MKD. The greatest demand is for 4 * hotels that combine reasonable prices and quality service. True, few of them can boast of having a swimming pool or a wellness center.
Hotels 2-3 * – the choice of budget tourists who come to Skopje for 1-2 days. As a rule, they are located 15-30 minutes walk from the center and many do not have restaurants. The most budget option is hostels, where a place in a dormitory room for 10 people costs 535 MKD.
Regardless of the number of stars, all hotels have free Wi-Fi and parking.
The largest and most diverse category of housing in the city is apartments. Depending on the location, size and other factors, their price ranges from 1000 to 3000 MKD.
There are three large shopping centers in Skopje with a good selection of clothes, shoes and accessories – City Mall (Jubjanska St., 4) with more expensive brands and a wide range, Ramstore (official site in English), conveniently located in the city center, and Gorodskoy Shopping Center (Key 13 Noemvri St.) with inexpensive quality locally produced clothing.
Shopping centers are open daily from 10:00 to 22:00, shops from 9:00 to 21:00. Sales traditionally take place in December-January and July-August.
The best choice of souvenirs is in the Old Town, which has the reputation of perhaps the largest oriental bazaar in Europe. Among the works of local craftsmen are Balkan chasing on copper, embroidery, ceramic dishes, dolls in national costumes, and even full costumes. Good, but expensive carved wooden icons and paintings. Fans of rummaging through old things will surely find something interesting in the numerous collapses. They are no less impressive than the local fruit and vegetable markets.
In addition to authentic souvenirs, the shops of the Old Town have a large selection of jewelry, including Ohrid pearls, light leather shoes from local manufacturers, Muslim women’s clothing, woven carpets and rugs. On T-shirts, magnets, plates and key chains popular among tourists, in addition to the landscapes of Skopje, you can often see the image of the Vergina Star, the ancient symbol of the Macedonian kings.
Cuisine and restaurants in Skopje
The national Macedonian cuisine is one of the variants of the Balkan cuisine with a strong Turkish influence. It contains all the same kebabs and puff pies-bureks with meat or vegetables. And the soups that are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner: chicken “pileshka soup”, beef “cart of soup” or “shkembe chorba” – a thick tripe soup with rice, potatoes and ground sweet pepper. An unmistakable choice for the second course is a large flat cutlet “pleskavitsa”, roll “pork uviyach”, grilled “skara lamb” or “selsko meso” – a dish of various types of meat stewed with mushrooms and vegetables. “Aivar” is a good garnish – vegetable caviar made from sweet red pepper and baked eggplant. The menu also includes vegetarian dishes, such as baked vegetables “zelenchuk na skara”.
The most popular restaurants and cafes are located in the city center – on Key 13 Noemvri and 11 Oktomvri streets, on Macedonia Square and in the Old Town. Along with Macedonian, Turkish, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisines are served here.
When choosing a restaurant, keep in mind that some establishments in the Muslim Old City do not have alcohol, not even beer.
Authentic Macedonian cuisine and the most delicious meat should be found in restaurants of the middle price segment. The portions here are generous, and the cost of a two-course lunch is well within 250-450 MKD. Expensive restaurants indulge in exquisite interiors, European menus and, accordingly, European prices. Dinner with wine will cost them already 1000-1500 MKD. But a quick snack with pancakes and a cup of coffee in a bakery and pastry shop will ruin a tourist for only 160 MKD.
Entertainment and attractions in Skopje
Most of the historical sights of Skopje that have survived after numerous earthquakes are located on the left bank of the Vardar River in the Old Town, where mostly Muslim Albanians live. Its tight winding streets, built up with houses no higher than two floors, meander from one mosque to another. In fact, the entire Old Town is one big oriental bazaar with shops, hookahs, colorful coffee shops, craft workshops and Turkish baths. The most ancient bath of Daut Pasha houses the National Gallery of Macedonia.
Among the old city buildings, you will not immediately notice the Orthodox Church of the Holy Savior. According to the rules that existed in Muslim Skopje, none of the Christian temples could be higher than even the most inconspicuous mosque. Therefore, the church is half underground. You should definitely come here for the sake of a 6-meter carved walnut iconostasis, made in the style of the Balkan baroque.
To the west, the fortress of Kale rises above the Old City, built by the Byzantines and later fortified by the Ottomans and turned into an important strategic outpost by them.
The medieval Stone Bridge across the Vardar River connects the Old Town with Zarechye, the renovated center of the Macedonian capital with pompous classical-style buildings built as part of the Skopje 2014 project. On the central square of Macedonia, the largest in the city, there is a giant equestrian monument to Alexander the Great, the height of an 8-storey building, and 23 more monuments to various historical figures. Its architectural ensemble looks especially impressive with the onset of darkness, when the night illumination of buildings and musical fountains turns on.
Other iconic buildings of Skopje 2014 include the building of the Archaeological Museum, which looks like an ancient temple, the triumphal arch “Gate of Macedonia” and the pedestrian Bridge of Civilizations with numerous figures of saints and the Bridge of Arts with statues of artists, poets and singers.
3 km from Skopje in the village of Gorno Nezari there is a unique church of St. Panteleimon of the 12th century. Her frescoes were made in the 16th century and in the 2nd half of the 19th century.
5 things to do in Skopje
- Explore Skopje from the top deck of a double-decker tour bus
- Think of the eternal at the Mother Teresa Memorial Museum, built in her hometown on the site of the church where, on August 27, 1910, the future saint and Nobel Peace Prize winner was baptized.
- Find familiar historical figures on the triumphal arch “Gate of Macedonia”.
- Cheer up Turkish coffee with oriental sweets in the coffee house of the Old Town.
- Climb the cable car to the mountain Krtstovar to the Millennium Cross, installed on the anniversary of the adoption of Christianity by the Macedonians.
The weather in Skopje is characterized by not very hot summers and quite comfortable winters. In April, the first buds burst and pale green grass appears. In May, it is already quite warm, roses and pale pink magnolia are blooming. June is saturated with the smells of linden and lilac. July is the hottest month, but the stuffiness is almost not felt. September and October are Indian summer months with warm days, cool nights and almost no rain. The most beautiful month is November, when the mountains surrounding Skopje turn orange-gold and temperatures are conducive to long walks in nature. In winter, when there are almost no tourists, snow-covered Skopje is somewhat reminiscent of a city from a Christmas fairy tale.