Ohrid is an ancient city in the southwest of North Macedonia. The main feature of this city is of course Lake Ohrid, but there are other things that make this place quite famous. Ohrid is a famous resort town with many nice beaches around the lake, ancient churches, and a beautiful old town. I was in Ohrid for an entire week to work on this complete guide to Ohrid, so I hope it is extremely helpful with planning your next trip!
The best time to visit the city of Ohrid will be during the shoulder season (middle to end of Spring and the beginning middle of Fall). If you are coming to Ohrid in summer it will most likely be really crowded with both local and international tourists, as well as being much more expensive. I was actually in Ohrid from the end of January to the beginning of February and even though I had to skip out of beach and lake activities, the peacefulness was a great trade off.
Ohrid is one of the biggest “towns” in North Macedonia with a population around 42,000. It is also the biggest tourist destination in the country, so naturally that there is an international airport that you can use.
For those of you who went first to the capital of North Macedonia – Skopje, there is an easy and cheap way to get to Ohrid. Since the country no longer services a rail line to Ohrid the only option is to take a bus. And luckily, the buses from Skopje to Ohrid leave almost every hour. The ride will take roughly 3 hours and the cost of a round trip is about $15.
Note: North Macedonia is a mountainous country, therefore the bus to Ohrid will drive through the mountains and the road, as you can imagine, is going to be very windy. For people like me who suffer from car sickness or vertigo, it is not going to be an easy 3 hours. My advice: eat something before getting on the bus (on an empty stomach car sickness feels way worse) and get a big bottle of cold water.
The best place to stay in Ohrid city is within Ohrid Old Town. This is the most charming area of the city and the most convenient for those who want to visit historical sites and be close to plenty of good restaurants.
Here is my suggestions for cool places to stay in Ohrid:
Luanov apartment is a great budget option that is located on the eastern side of the old town of Ohrid, right next to the church of St. Sophia. The building is located up a small hill, therefore the view from the rooms is unbelievable.
Price: 22 Euros (this is winter price, in summer prices might go up)
Location: Boro Sain 9
Villa Varosh is located in the same spot as Lukanov apartment, and has almost the same view, but the rooms are way more comfortable and modern.
Price: 45 Euros (this is winter price, in summer prices might go up)
Location: MK, Boro Shain 15a, Ohrid 6000
Vila Bisera is located 7 km from the downtown of Ohrid and they spell the word villa with one “L”. Or maybe it is someone’s name. This is one of the best luxury hotels in Ohrid. The best time to stay at this villa is in summer when you can use two of their outside pools and enjoy a delicious breakfast on the summer terrace. When you are done exploring the old town of Ohrid and want to have a super relaxing chill time by the water, this hotel is a great choice
Price: 72 Euros (in-season rate)
Location: Lagadin, Ohrid
Sveta Sofija: This restaurant is located right next to the church of St. Sophia and serves up traditional North Macedonian cuisine. Everything we had here was good, but I highly recommend the Ohrid trout “tavi”, which is fish baked in a clay pot with vegetables.
Location: MK, Tsar Samoil 88, Ohrid 6000
Pizza Nemo: On my first night in Ohrid I really felt like just going to get a pizza and then resting. I happened on Pizza Nemo while walking towards the center and figured it was good enough. I was wrong, it was fantastic. I didn’t really expect to get great pizza in a tourist town in North Macedonia, but the pizza here was so delicious. Paired with a couple beers, Pizza Nemo is a great place to eat after a long day.
Location: MK, Tsar Samoil, Ohrid 6000
Le Petit Bistro Lihnidos: Located right in the center of the old town, I was actually “stuck” in Lihnidos due to a huge rainstorm. The menu here is large and they have plenty of options for various appetites. I recommend the pizza if you’re drinking, or the sandwiches if you’re looking for something light.
Location: Kosta Abrash, Ohrid 6000
Pizza Bar Instinct: It’s strange to me they call this place a pizza bar, when everything else on the menu was so good. I was a little apprehensive to be honest as it’s right at the entrance to the old bazaar, and reminiscent of a middling tourist trap restaurant. However, again, I was mistaken. The prices here are totally fair (for the old town) and the food was delicious. I recommend the Chicken Curry Tortellini which was just $4.
Location: Kliment ohridski 120 Ohrid MK, 6000
Dalga: This restaurant is a very nice place, especially in summer when you can sit on the summer terrace overlooking Lake Ohrid. The restaurant has a mix of cuisines including traditional. I would recommend trying fried Plashica, a small fish endemic to Lake Ohrid)
Location: Kosta Abrash 3, Ohrid 6000
Porta: This is a great cafe for breakfast and lunch. The prices are super affordable and the location is just great!
Location: Kosta Abrash 3, Ohrid 6000
Ohrid Old Town is the place to be if you are coming to Ohrid city. Almost all the things to do, the best cafes and restaurants, and hotels or airbnbs with great views are located in Ohrid Old Town.
The Old Town is quite large, with many thin cobblestone streets to get lost in. However, if you follow a street that goes down the hill, you most likely will end up next to the lake.
Because we traveled to Ohrid in winter, the Old Town was quite empty, except during the weekend when locals were relaxing at the cafes overlooking the lake. In summer though, the situation is completely different. The city turns into a prime tourist destination for locals and foreigners and the thin streets of the Old Town are full of people.
The Church of Saint Sophia is one of the 365 churches that existed at one point in Ohrid (every church was dedicated to one day in the Orthodox calendar). It is located in the center of Ohrid Old Town.
The Church of Saint Sophia was built in the 10th century. The church was nicely preserved and inside it you still can see the old frescoes on the walls and ceiling. Once you are inside, pay attention to the eyes of people on the frescoes. The thing is that their eyes are scratched off. One of the locals that we met in Skopje, who is also an archeologist, explained to us why this is very common. During the time of the Black Death, people thought that if they would take (scratch) some paint of the frescoes of saints, mixed it with water and drink it, they would be healed.
After you visit the inside of the church, walk to the right side of it where the courtyard is. The courtyard looks quite decrepit, and it seems like everyone just forgot about this part of the church.
Samuel’s Fortress is one of the main historical sites in Ohrid. The fortress was built by Tzar Samuel at the time when Ohrid was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in the 11th century AD. Although recent excavations show that the Samuel’s Fortress was built on the ruins of another fortification that dates back to the 4th century BC and may have been built by King Philip II of Macedon.
Most of the walls of the Samuel’s Fortress have been recently restored and you can climb them to enjoy a great view of the city and Lake Ohrid. The inside of the fortress, however, is still in ruins.
To get inside the fortress you need to pay a small fee – 60 denars or 1 Euro. Before going to the fortress, prepare some small bills, since you cannot pay with your card and they don’t alway have change for a high denomination bill.
The Church of St. John is located on the cliff, next to Kaneo beach. That is why the church is often called St. John at Kaneo. No one knows when exactly it was built, but it was most likely built in the 13th century before the rise of the Ottoman Empire.
The church of St. John is the iconic picture of Ohrid Old Town. Even I could not resist placing the picture of the church of St. John with Lake Ohrid in the background as the title picture for this article.
You can visit the church for a small fee of 100 denars ($2). It is a very small church and you would need just a glimpse to see everything inside.
The Bridge of Wishes was built as a shorter walk to the Church of St. John. Instead of walking 1,5 km through the city up the hill, you can walk around the clif for just 1-2 minutes, as the bridge is only 140 meters long.
The Bridge of Wishes gives you an opportunity not just to have a shorter walk, but also enjoy the lake and its freshness, see for yourself how clean the water is, and of course toss a coin into water and make a wish. Of course, almost every city has these superstitions “drop a coin into a fountain to come back” and things like that, but you never know, maybe it works.
The Church of Sts. Clemen and Panteleimon have a long and not always happy history. It is believed that the church was built in the 10th century BC, when Saint Clement arrived in Ohrid. With a church he started a school to teach the bible.
Later, the church was ruined a few times and rebuilt, turned into a mosque when the Ottomans came, turned back to a church and again to a mosque until the year 2000, when the mosque was destroyed and transformed into the church once again. The same year the excavation around the church started and you can see today.
To get inside the church costs the same as to any other church in Ohrid – 100 denars. Inside, it looks quite simple, no ancient mosaics on the walls or ceilings like in St. Sophia church. However there are artifacts presented which were found on the property during the renovations.
The excavation site looks quite impressive and you are allowed to walk around it. It is possible that at the entrance you will be ambushed by a local guide who gives tours. And sometimes it is really nice to have a person who knows the history of the place, but because it was the second time per day that it happened (and the first time we could not understand what the guy was saying at all, we refused to hire a tour guide.
The Ancient theater in Ohrid is located in Ohrid Old Town, not far from the main gated entrance. It has quite an interesting story. The theater was built in 200 BC and later was used by the Romans as a place for gladiators’ fights. Unfortunately the same theater was used by Romans as an execution place of early Christians. Therefore, with time, people started to hate this place. The theater was buried by the locals under soil and stones, which actually helped to preserve this site.
In the 1980s the Ancient theater was accidentally found due to some construction work nearby. The excavation work was done and once again people can enjoy watching plays and concerts at this historical site. The site is completely open and you don’t need to pay fees to visit it.
It seems like every city that was influenced by the Ottoman Empire has an old bazaar, including Ohrid. Although, in Old Town, the old bazaar is more like an old bazaar street that was turned into a shopping street with many boutique stores.
The street is not that long, but full of stores that sell clothes, small cafes and most importantly, jewelry stores which sell Ohrid pearls. It is a nice place for getting your souvenirs and presents for your friends.
The bazaar street starts at the lake side and takes you deeper into the Old Town to one of the mosques and a nice fountain. It is definitely a site you want to visit in Ohrid, but be aware that on weekends it is super crowded. By the way, there are a lot of gypsy kids walking between the cafes’ tables and asking for money, so watch your things.
Ohrid is famous for their pearls and they are owned by many celebrities and heads of state. In fact, even Queen Elizabeth has a few strands of Ohrid pearls.
Now, you may be wondering, “If Ohrid is a lake that doesn’t have oysters, how can they have pearls?” Well, it is because Ohrid pearls are not true pearls, but rather a unique type of faux pearl with a closely guarded secret manufacturing process.
In fact, there are only two families in the entire world who know how to make Ohrid pearls, and their shops are right down the street from each other.
The history is quite interesting. In 1924 a Russian man stationed here knew of a way to make faux pearls by using the scales of a fish endemic to Lake Ohrid.
The fish is called Plashica, and other than that one ingredient, no one knows the secret to making these pearls.
While you can buy pearl jewelry at plenty of stores, the best place to go is to either the Filevi or Talevi family shops. These are of course the two families that know the secret to making Ohrid pearls and you can avoid buying at a less reputable shop that may get pearls from China.
The people in North Macedonia love Lake Ohrid not just because the water is extremely clean, but because it has a few endemic fish which are culinary specialties.One of them is plashica, a small fish that is usually served deep fried and cost around 300 denars ($6) per plate and from the scales of which the Ohrid pearls are made. The other one is Ohrid trout.
Due to overfishing, Ohrid trout is endangered at the moment, but even so, you can still find this dish on the menus of many Ohrid restaurants. I guess people are allowed to catch a certain amount of this fish. The price per kilogram of Ohrid trout is 2400 denars ($48), so your baked trout can cost around 1000 denars ($20), since one fish is around 300 – 400 grams. You need to try Ohrid trout not because this fish is endangered, but because it is really delicious.
A small tip for you: while you are travelling in North Macedonia and going to Ohrid city, you should also visit the city of Struga. Restaurants there are half the price and just as good as in Ohrid.
One of the popular activities in Ohrid is a boat tour around the lake. Unfortunately, because we traveled to Ohrid in the middle of winter, it was quite cold for a boat tour at that time.
Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest lakes in the world. It has crystal clear water and a few isolated beaches that you can only get to by boat and enjoy some time away from summer crowds.
Most locals come to the city of Ohrid for some rest and relaxation. Lake Ohrid has a few nice beaches that are as good as the beaches on the sea line.
This is the main resort city of the whole country and a favorite place of locals to spend their summer weekends. Therefore you should do as the locals and have a few nice relaxing days at the lake.