A walk through Skopje

I remember my mother telling me about the earthquake in Skopje. She was young, very young, and stayed there for the summer in what was a student exchange trip. The city, as she recalls, was devastated. Aid came from around the globe, but it was a slow and rather painful process to watch such beautiful of a city to be reduced to starting-over-again. Nowadays, a seven or so decades later, Skopje has exceeded expectations. It is a city so urban and modern that rarely can someone recognize it from half a century ago.

Young women walking through outdoor bars and restaurants at Carsija district-Old Bazaar in Skopje, Macedonia

My first visit to Macedonia was a decade prior. Now partially changed, a lot more urbanized, and with a face shifting project on the way, Skopje is taking a new shape entirely.

A controversy at first, the project Skopje 2014 is slowly finding place in citizen’s hearts and approvals. It gives the city a new baroque look, through raising a handful of monumental buildings around the city center, and more than a few dozen monuments of all shapes and sizes. Depicting history, both ancient and more recent, the aesthetics of Skopje is changed entirely.

A city with great infrastructure

Apart from traffic jams that usually occur during rush hour (round 4 PM), the city has an excellent infrastructure. The transportation, public one, is always on time, with lines running throughout the entire city. Taxi cab, cheaper than in most other metropolis, is an even better way to get around.

What is fairly disconcerting is the fact that cycling lines, though in the process of being placed, are still a long way from actually taking a meaningful dent from the traffic jam. If you are on a bike, chances are that you will quickly get frustrated, especially when you decide to exit the city center or go anywhere in its close proximity.

Skopje has room to breathe

Unlike other crowded cities, Skopje enjoys a lot of freedom and spaciousness. Parks are almost at every corner, and if you stay during the summer chances are that you will fall in love right away.

Another interesting thing about a city this size is its close proximity to a forest park, the mountain Vodno. Starting right at the edge of the city, and very close to the center if you know your way around, it is less than a ten minute drive to your first lookout.

Especially spacious is the river bed of Vardar, the river cutting through the hearth of Skopje, where there is lots of space for sport and recreation. Recent efforts show a nice trend of urbanizing this area while keeping to its natural look.

A city of culture and entertainment

Being the capitol of Macedonia, Skopje enjoys a lot of perks. Not only does it have together the most of the economic and educational centers, but it includes all the major institutions of the state. Travelers and tourists couldn’t care less, but it adds context to why this city is so urban and carefully planned.

Being the capitol, it means that almost all the major cultural centers and events are held there as well. So you have a number of museums, galleries, the opera and the symphony houses, as well as dozens of breathtaking churches dating back, some, centuries ago.

The fortress Kale is overlooking the city, and along with the old bazar is a true testament to ottoman times.

Culture being mentioned in this context, it is important to note that the Ottoman Empire was settled in this region for what was nearly five centuries. Taking its toll on development, it still managed to provide Skopje with some rather interesting cultural marks.

Nowadays, the old is mixed with the modern, and you can enjoy the urban lifestyle in even the most traditional and historical parts of town. The nightlife, at least as I can have a say, is abundantly rich and vibrant. It only highlights the mix of traditional and modern, making Skopje a true urban tale of the twenty-first century.

As far as dining goes, consider yourself in gourmet’s paradise. Cheap prices, accompanied by some of the most unique specialties and meals, you won’t find elsewhere. Traditional Macedonian food, recipes that go back a century or so, and some of the best Macedonian wine; strong drinks, appetizers, music… This is a city that knows how to tilt back towards hedonism, and slow down the pace of modern hectic life.

Exploring Skopje’s Attractions

Skopje is the capital of Macedonia and a city that has a long history. This city has become a real tourist hotspot in the past few years and there is more than one reason for that. Skopje is known for its old structures, but also for the new monuments and buildings that are built mostly in the central part of this incredible city. This is the place where you will see dozens of people taking pictures every day.

rain

What does Skopje look like?

Skopje is a beautiful city with an interesting architecture from different periods. Unfortunately this city was partially destroyed in 1963 by a strong earthquake and this is the period when the modern look of Skopje was adopted. This city represents the entire country on a micro level because about 1/3 of the population of Macedonia lives there. Since this is a big city with over 700.000 inhabitants you can expect to see different things in different parts of the city and what is interesting is that you can walk from busy streets into quite areas in a matter of minutes. Macedonian cuisine is famous worldwide and tourists from all over the world enjoy in some of the many restaurants in and around Skopje.

What to do in Skopje

Vodno is a mountain located right above Skopje. You can easily notice it because on the top of this mountain there is a huge cross called Millennium Cross built in honor of 2.000 of Christianity. This place is very popular among the citizens of Skopje and they visit it for recreational purposes (hiking) or to enjoy the view on Skopje by using the cableway. The cableway works every day. The mountain has rich flora and fauna and you can take some amazing photos there. There are also few restaurants and souvenir shop, so this is an excellent excursion and you can easily get there.

There are many other places worth visiting in and around Skopje. For example, you can visit the Old Bazaar a place where you can see how Ottoman architecture looks like and a place with many cafes and restaurants. It is close to the main square and you can get there on foot.

Matka canyon is another popular place where the citizens of Skopje and hundreds of tourists enjoy their visits each year. Matka is really close to Skopje and you can get there with a bus or a taxi. This is an area where you can often see alpine hikers and kayakers. During the summer period it is not unusual to see people swimming there. Matka is also known for the old monasteries. There are few medieval monasteries and churches and St. Andrew’s Monastery is the most famous one.

Things to remember

Just like anywhere else in the world there are pickpockets in Skopje too. So, find a good hotel (a hotel with positive reviews) and when you go outside don’t take all of the money with you. It is also a good idea to find accommodation in the center of the city because this is the place that can serve as a basis for your exploration.

Vineyards in Macedonia

Staying in the capitol Skopje, no matter how much it has to offer, is not enough for the adventure seekers; especially when Macedonia has so much more to offer. So, if you are having your stay in Skopje, and are determined to stay a while longer, taking a trip around the Macedonian countryside is something that can enrich you experience tenfold.

While true dining and wine aficionados are always impressed from the menu in almost every restaurant in Skopje, rarely there is someone among them who can refuse a trip to the countryside for wine tasting. Few people know this, but Macedonia once was Yugoslavia’s major producer of wine. Even before that, the royal winery of the Yugoslavian kingdom was placed in the southern region of Macedonia. The trip, though it will take you dozens of miles away from Skopje, is one that is worth taking.

Macedonian wines

For someone who is quite knowledgeable, and has info about the wine market, it is easy to recognize Macedonia as a quality wine producer. Especially if you take the price into consideration- price quality ratio, and you have a serious contester on the world market.

However, lack of marketing, management, and socialist governing that ended but twenty years ago, it is hard for Macedonian wine to seriously make a move on the world’s stage.

Some would tell you that Macedonian wine is being exported in Italy and packed there, to be sold for higher prices. Rumors or not, it speaks volumes about quality.

But what is even more intriguing than tasting Macedonian wine, is visiting Macedonian vineries that predate the world wars.

A trip through the Macedonian countryside

Many traveling agencies operating in Skopje would offer you a wine tour. The prices are affordable, and the offer is very rich. It usually includes transport to a couple of Macedonian vineries, tasting some aged and high quality wines, appetizers and tour of the property, including getting familiar with wine making machinery.

A decent trip should include Vineries Stobi, Bovin, Tikvesh, Popova Kula, Dudin. Located, most of them, near the region of the river Vardar, called Povardarie.

Mediterranean looking, resembling Californian wine houses, these properties take you back to ancient times and make you feel like you are in roman ages back somewhere in Italy.

You can even stay there for a longer visit, for some, example Popova Kula, offer accommodation as well.

Quality wines in Skopje

And while the trip alone can familiarize you with the best that Macedonia has to offer in terms of wine production, you can still enjoy some quality wine back in Skopje as well.

Places like the Temov wine house, located near the center of the city, right in the middle of the old bazar is perfect for wine tasting along with some traditional Macedonian food.

Ask for red varieties, especially Vranec, and enjoy some of the best wine you’ve ever tasted for a price that is surprisingly low. Zilavka and Temjanika are the white varieties that are very popular in this region too.

While many restaurants will offer you other beverages, like for example rakija (which you better taste as well), wine comes as a default supplement to food.

Skopje is a city of culture, but cuisine as well; along with quality wine, you should try Macedonian specialties as well, most of them inviting eastern influence into the mix. Ottoman dishes are not a rare thing to have in Skopje, and so is some food that has Serbian origin as well- Skopje, being proud for the cultural mix that took place centuries ago, has a lot of diversity to offer. As in culture, as well as in food.

Planning a trip to Skopje, Macedonia

If you are planning to visit Skopje then there are few things that you should take into consideration. If you have a good plan for your trip you will certainly have a great time in one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Europe. First of all, you need to figure out how you will get there, where will you stay, what you can see there and more. By preparing a good plan for a trip you will get back home with some unforgettable memories.

Plostad-Makedonija-Skopje-Central-Square

How to get to Skopje?

There are few days in which you can get to the capital of Macedonia. Most foreign tourists use the only airport in Skopje – Alexander the Great airport. You can use a taxi or a bus to get to Skopje. The airport is located about 25 kilometers from the center f the city. Some tourists take a longer route and use the St. Paul airport in Ohrid – another incredible place in Macedonia.

Transportation in Skopje

People who are not familiar with the types of transportation in Skopje should know that there are several options available. Public transportation options offered in Skopje include taxis and buses. The buses are new and there are special buses for tourists that operate during the weekends. They operate for 24 hours. If you want to try another method of transportation you can use a taxi. Make sure to enter a taxi where the price is metered. You should not negotiate the fee. You can also ask the taxi driver about some of the places you should visit in Skopje. If you want to check only the center of Skopje you can use a carriage located on the Macedonia square in the city center. There are also few electric vehicles designed for tourists and you can always rent a bike which is actually free.

Accommodation in Skopje

Skopje is a big city and you can find many hotels there. Of course, there is no average price when it comes to accommodation, since the prices depend on the offer and location. Those who want to save money can stay out of the center. It is really easy to get to the center and sometimes you can find cheap hotels that are very close to the center and get there on foot. There are few international hotel brands present in Skopje.

What to do in Skopje

Skopje has rich history and if you want to visit some places that have a historical value you should definitely check the Skopje Fortress, the Aqueduct, the church of St. Panteleimon, the church of St. Spas, the Old Bazaar etc. Skopje is home to dozens of interesting museums too and since this is the capital city of Macedonia it is quite natural that there are cultural events on a daily basis.

People who enjoy nightlife will be satisfied with the things Skopje has to offer because there are dozens of bars, pubs, restaurants and nightclubs that work till morning.

4 things to do in Skopje

Skopje is an excellent place to visit. Most people who are planning to take a tour to the Balkans will visit Skopje. From ancient structures and modern buildings to recreation and sport, there is always something to see and do in Skopje. Although there are structures in Skopje that are more than 2000 years old, the city in general is a modern city and if you take a well-planned tour you will surely experience all the beauties of this city.

macedonians_capital_city_skopje._old_stone_bridge

So, what exactly should you do when in Skopje? This is a shortlist of 4 interesting things to see and do in Skopje.

  1. The Skopje fortress (commonly known as Kale among natives) is one of the most famous landmarks of the capital city of Macedonia. This fortress is situated on a hill right above the center of Skopje. There is evidence of human presence in this area since 4.000 BC. The fortress in this form was built for the first time in the 6th century by the Byzantine forces. This structure was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. It is close to the Old City and during the summer period people can enjoy in many music and art performances. The Skopje fortress is present on the city’s coat of arms too.
  2. The Old Bazaar is located just under the fortress. People have used this place as a marketplace since 12th century, but it was the Ottoman rulers that made the Old Bazaar look this way. This is a fine example of Ottoman architecture although the presence of Byzantine architecture can be seen on certain places too. Most of the places that were once used as lodges by merchants are transformed into areas that serve as areas where many cultural and art events are performed. This is the place where you can find few mosques and churches too. The Museum of Macedonia and the Museum of contemporary art are part of the Old Bazaar too.
  3. Macedonia square is the main square in Skopje. It was built in 1930 and back then there were several important buildings in this area, but the devastating earthquake in 1963 destroyed most of them. In the past 5 years the square was renovated and many monuments and fountains were placed in this area including the “A warrior on a horse” fountain and monument that represents Alexander the Great on his horse. There are few other buildings that are currently being built there including rebuilding of some structures that existed before the earthquake.
  4. Those looking for a place where they can relax and a place that’s not far from the center of the city should visit the city park. This 486.000 m2 public park is the largest park in Macedonia. The park was built in the late 19th It has rich flora and fauna – there are about 90 different species of birds, few different species of mammals and fish.

These are only some of the many things that you can see and do in this amazing city.