The Republic of North Macedonia is quite a young country and for now still under the radar of many tourists. And although the government is trying to make North Macedonia a popular tourist destination by making Skopje a European Disneyland of statues and monuments, the lack of publicity is slowing down this process. If you are travelling in the Balkans and have the time and opportunity I do recommend spending at least a few days in Skopje as well as Ohrid and other cities. For those who are just passing by and have a limited time to spend in Skopje, I created a self guided walking tour, so that you can hit all the most important Skopje sites in just one afternoon.
There are just two ways to get from the airport to the city other than renting a car and driving yourself. First there is a bus that you can use. The bus ticket is 170 denars (about $3). Unfortunately, the bus leaves just three times a day and in most cases you will spend too much time waiting for the bus. So, my advice as soon as you land, check if the bus is standing outside, if not check the bus schedule on the official website, since it is changing every day.
In case you need to wait more than an hour, use option #2 and take a taxi. A ride in a taxi will cost you 20 Euros flat rate, and more often than not the taxi drivers will prefer Euros to denars.
Once you get to the center of Skopje you can start exploring the city. The best spot to start is the house of Mother Teresa. It is located just a few minutes away from the main (Macedonia) square.
As you probably know Mother Teresa is Albanian, but she was born here in Skopje. Nowadays the location of her house there is a museum that is open for tourists free of charge. You can easily spot it by the statue of Mother Teresa praying outside.
A few blocks away from the house of Mother Teresa is the main square of Skopje – Macedonia square. This is the place where you will find one of the greatest and largest statues you have ever seen – the statue “Warrior on a horse” or how locals call it, the statue of Alexander the Great.
The statue is 24.5 meters tall. On the bottom of the statue there is a fountain and another 8 bronze lion statues that are 2.5 meters tall. Around the monument “Warrior on a horse” there is a beautiful mosaic floor that covers the whole square.
Along with the monument dedicated to Alexander the Great, there are other statues dedicated to well… everyone famous that had any connection to the land of North Macedonia.
Around the main square you will find many nice hotels and some good restaurants. If you are looking for something fancy, you can try the Pelister restaurant, otherwise just go to the old bazaar for some good traditional food.
Location: Macedonia, Skopje 1000, North Macedonia
To cross the river Vardar and get from Macedonia square to the old bazaar you can use one of the many bridges, including two bridges with status and the Stone bridge, which lead directly from the square to the old bazaar.
The Stone bridge was built in the 15th century by the Ottoman Empire. This was the place of public execution at one time. The bridge is very well preserved and looks great. An interesting fact is that it almost was blown up by the Nazis when they were leaving Skopje. Fortunately this didn’t happen due to some mysterious circumstances (aka saved by people of North Macedonia) and the Stone bridge was saved.
Note: if you are going to cross the stone bridge after it is dark outside, watch your pockets. Sometimes gypsies try to corner you and ask for money. And although it is not dangerous, it is quite annoying (it happened to us). On the other bridges I hadn’t noticed that many beggars.
As soon as you cross the Stone bridge, the one thing that you will be able to focus on is another huge monument. This monument is dedicated to Philip the II, the famous one eyed king and the father of Alexander the Great. It was actually Philip who conquered part of the land of current North Macedonia under his Kingdom of Macedon.
At the bottom of the statue you will see more big lions and a bronze family (mother, father and a son). The statue in total has three levels and it is in the center of a fountain.
The old bazaar is located just behind the statue of Philip the II. Next to the entrance, on the right you will see an old Turkish hammam. Nowadays the hammam is an art gallery that you can visit. I don’t know if it is ever changing, but when I visited that art gallery it was free. Maybe it depends on a season or on the exhibition, or it may be just a free sight.
The old bazaar is a maze of narrow streets made of cobblestones. It is a place to get all the souvenirs you want or some nice jewelry. By the way, at this old bazaar, you can find a stone that is found just on the territory of North Macedonia – Macedonian Ruby. It is not a high quality ruby, but because North Macedonia is the only place in Europe where ruby is found and the color of these rubies is unique, it makes for a very nice souvenir.
The old bazaar is a great place to get some delicious traditional food. There are many cafes and restaurants that serve tasty dishes (Destan, Turist), good beer (Brewery “Old Town”) and even hookah.
Location: MK, Skopje 1000, North Macedonia
On the edge of the old bazaar of Skopje there is one of the oldest churches in the capital city – The Ascension of Jesus Church. The church has amazing iconoclasts carved of wood and beautiful paintings on the ceiling. The church is open to tourists and the ticket costs 120 denars (about 2 Euros).
Location: Samoilova, Skopje 1000, North Macedonia
Mustafa Pasha’s mosque is the main mosque in Skopje and one worth a visit. It is located on the hill between the old bazaar and the Skopje fortress.
To visit the mosque you don’t need to pay a fee, but remember that you need to take your shoes off, you cannot wear inappropriate clothes in accordance with Islam, and of course you cannot visit the mosque during the time of prayer (unless you are there to pray.
The mosque is named after Mustafa Pasha because he was the one who built it (well, paid for it). Mustafa Pasha built this mosque for his sister who got seriously sick. Unfortunately the sister died before the mosque was finished. Her body is buried in a white sarcophagus in the graveyard behind the mosque.
Location: Fort Kale, Skopje 1000, North Macedonia
Skopje fortress is one of the main historical sites in the capital. Unfortunately the government neglected this site due to the lack of money (from corruption). As soon as you get inside the fortress you will notice some trash lying around, along with some important artifacts.
You don’t need to pay to get inside the fortress. There is no one to collect ticket money or to tell kids that they cannot climb on super old and not safe walls. On the territory of the fortress you will see an unfinished and never opened museum.
Not everything is bad of course, some of the walls were restored, but I have a feeling that the reason was because those walls face a beautiful white, new government building.
Location: Samoilova, Skopje 1000, North Macedonia
Skopje is not a massive sprawling capital city like Istanbul or Paris, so it is easily seen by walking throughout a single day. However I would not write off Skopje so quickly. I spent over a week in the city, and while I did do plenty of things multiple times (visiting the old bazaar for example) I didn’t really get ‘tired’ of being in the city.
When you do happen to tire of Skopje it is very easy to hop on a bus to Ohrid for a little lakeside R&R. I actually liked Ohrid so much I extended my stay twice!