Having done a range of day tours across Europe over the years I’ve come to realize that it’s never possible to completely prepare yourself for what the day will bring.
On that note, it was 9AM on a mild, early spring morning in March when I was waiting outside my hotel for Victor, my tour guide in Skopje for the day from Skopje Daily Tours.
I was nervous, of course, but as soon as I saw Victor pulling up on his scooter all my fears and reservations about meeting someone new and exploring a new city with a stranger disappeared right away.
It was very early in the day, at least for me, and Victor was already smiling and looking wide-awake. I guess a scooter ride through the busy streets of Skopje will do that to you but I had just finished breakfast and was still a bit sleepy. I shook hands with Victor and he went to park his scooter before we took off right away to check out Macedonia Square and the city centre of Skopje.
Before I further dive into my experience with Skopje Daily Tours let me tell you a little more about Victor and the company itself.
Victor the Tour Guide and Skopje Daily Tours
Born and raised in Skopje, Victor is probably one of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve ever met. It was obvious that he was very passionate about Macedonia and I was surprised about how knowledgeable he was about not only the city of Skopje but of the entire region itself.
With most tours you walk by some of the main tourist sights and things to do and the guide gives you a quick explanation about what you’re looking at, but Victor was different.
It seemed that Victor knew everything about, well, everything.
I had done a little bit of research about Skopje and had already walked around the city a short while. Even though I spent a few hours on my own walking around the same area where I was with Victor, he pointed out so many different things that I never would have noticed or discovered if he wasn’t there. He had a small, personal story attached to everywhere we went and it was refreshing to see that he knew at least one person wherever we were.
Over the length of the long day I spent with Victor he warmed up immensely and by the end of the tour it seemed like we were lifelong friends. There were plenty of jokes, laughs, stories and I was happy to see that Victor was having a good time as well.
Some guides like to rush through everything just to finish the day but Victor with Skopje Daily Tours spent a lot of time covering all the small details that most people would overlook. It’s these reasons that I can safely say that Victor was one of my favorite tour guides ever and I hope to meet him again whenever I return to Skopje.
Skopje Daily Tours was the tour company that Victor worked for and that I was fortune to go on a tour with. They’re operating under Simonium Travel LTD and if you’re looking for day tours in Skopje or tours to the surrounding areas, like Kosovo or Ohrid, they have a range of different shared and private tours available.
The prices are very reasonable and I found that they make an effort to cater to any of the needs that you might have in regards to a tour.
OK, on to the tour itself.
Macedonia Square and its Surroundings
As I mentioned earlier the tour started early in the morning and Victor lead me immediately to the heart of the city – Macedonia Square. He spent a few minutes explaining the history of the square and then went into detail about Project 2014.
It turned out that the Skopje Project 2014 would be a common theme throughout most of the tour and many of the different sites and areas we checked out, especially in the newer part of the city, were a direct result of this project.
In 2010 the ruling government decided to make an effort to improve tourism in Skopje by transforming the bleak and outdated city center into a more modern, epic and enjoyable area that both tourists and locals could enjoy.
Construction and renovations began across the entire city and in just a few years many new buildings were erected, monuments built and many improvements were made. Unfortunately, some of the people living in Skopje aren’t too happy with what’s happened but as a tourist I was very pleased with the massive buildings, awesome structures and all of the practical improvements that made it easier to enjoy the city.
From the city center Victor lead me down Macedonia Street towards the old train station. Along the way we stopped at a few different places, like the Mother Teresa Memorial Museum and one of the oldest hotels still operating in the city, before we continued our way towards the Skopje market.
We actually never made it very far before Victor stopped to point out something that was installed, built or renovated because of Project 2014 but I still found it interesting that the city was taking such lengths to improve the overall look and appeal of Skopje itself.
Walking through the market Victor went into detail about all of the different products and goods that were popular in the market and the types of items that Macedonia produced and exported to the rest of the world.
I didn’t even know that olives were such a popular export, having never seen Macedonian olives anywhere else, but I made a point to try them later on in the day and yet again Victor hit the bull’s-eye with one of his many knowledgeable and insightful suggestions.
He also mentioned that many of the locals shop here at the market because it was a lot more affordable than buying groceries at a local store and the fruits, vegetables and other food items were much fresher as well.
Without Victor leading me through the city I doubt I would have even stumbled across the market and I was pleased to find such a hidden, tucked away area that was bustling with plenty of locals doing their daily shopping.
From the market we continued our way through the city, between some of the famous apartment blocks known locally as the “city walls” and stopped for a moment outside of the Macedonian Parliament. After spending some time talking about the parliament building and the surrounding area we continued through the Park of the Woman Warrior and stopped for a short while in the old city mall.
Compared to the malls that I’ve seen the city mall was very unique to me. It was a completely open air space with plenty of shops catering to whatever it is you’re looking for.
It reminded me more of the outlet malls that you can find everywhere in Canada but I thought it was interesting that one of the main city malls was an open air area and it seemed that there many people just taking advantage of the shade and using the corridors as a shortcut to get around the city.
From here we ended up on the banks of the Vardar River, which cuts through the heart of Skopje, and Victor pointed out some of the newer buildings that were recently built thanks again to Skopje’s Project 2014.
I found them to very impressive and although Victor had mixed feelings about them, commenting that they were designed in Baroque style but there was never any Baroque styling in Skopje, I thought that they were a great addition to the city centre and helped to modernize the river bank.
Victor continued on, explaining about how at one point there were only two bridges crossing the river and elaborated on the two more modern bridges, the Art Bridge and the Eye Bridge. Again, I found these two bridges to be picturesque and it was surprising to me that a fair amount of locals weren’t in favor of the newly built pedestrian walkways over the Vardar.
Heading into the Old Town
By now a few hours had passed so we decided to stop for a quick coffee break before heading across the river to explore the Old Town of Skopje. We sat for about 45 minutes chatting about history, politics, the economy and just about anything else that crossed our minds.
Victor was very relatable, easy to talk with and full of countless interesting stories that helped to quickly pass the time while we enjoyed our hot coffee drinks in the warm sun of a Macedonian spring.
After we finished our coffee we made our way across the Stone Bridge into the Old Town and more historic part of the city. It was on this side of the river that we began to explore the historic and culturally important Old Bazaar, which turned out to be one of my favorite parts of Skopje.
The Old Bazaar is a charming, quiet neighborhood and it takes on a much more of an Albanian/Muslim influence compared to the rest of the city. It’s here that you’ll find a wide range of different shops, restaurants, café’s and other interesting storefronts selling anything you would never need from carpets and cleaning supplies to gold watches and wedding dresses.
Walking throughout the Old Bazaar Victor pointed out many of the older and more historic buildings like the Ishak Bey Mosque, the Kapan Han, the Sultan Murad Mosque and the Cifte Hamam among other things. Along the way he even showed me where to get a delicious plate of tavce gravce, one of the most popular dishes in Macedonia and I made a plan to come back the next day to try it out and take him up on his suggestion.
Eventually we ended up leaving the center of the Old Bazaar and we made our way up to the impressive Skopje Fortress.
Unfortunately, because of all the questions I had and all of the explaining that I made Victor do about everything in the city, we were running a little bit behind so we had to cut the visit to the fortress short and we got into Victor’s car to make our way to the old Roman Aqueduct a short distance from the city centre.
A Quick Visit to the Roman Aqueduct
The Skopje Aqueduct is not something that too many tourists are aware of but I found out about it online and I asked Skopje Daily Tours if I could visit. They didn’t have a problem arranging a quick stop to the Aqueduct and I’m definitely glad they said it was OK.
The Aqueduct, which today is falling apart and completely abandoned, is one of the biggest remaining in the Balkans. It hasn’t been confirmed exactly when it was built but there’s no doubt that at one point it was used to bring fresh water from the springs nearby to the centre of the city.
I’ve never seen anything else like it and even Victor seemed happy to explore the Aqueduct. He mentioned he hadn’t been there in 3 years, probably because not too many people know about it, and he was pleased that he could take a few recent photos of it to upload to his Facebook page.
We spent about 20 minutes walking around and exploring the Aqueduct and Victor continued to tell more of his stories about the time he spent at the army base nearby.
The more I learned about him the more interesting and personal the tour became. Even though it seemed that he had already told me so much information he just had so much more to tell and it was clear that he was very excited and passionate about everything there is to see and do in Skopje and the surrounding region.
Up to the Millennium Cross and Onward to a Byzantine Churche
After the Aqueduct we continued onward to the cable car and Millennium Cross. When we got in line to take the cable car up to the cross there was a growing line but Victor somehow managed to get us to the front of the line and we were the first ones up to the cross.
Standing high above the city on Mount Vodno is the Millennium Cross. This is a 66m high metal cross, the largest of its kind in the world, and from the top you get the best views of Skopje down below along with the surrounding mountainous countryside.
While we were enjoying the view Victor pointed off to a city in the distance and mentioned that it was actually the first city you go through after crossing the border into Kosovo. I didn’t realize it was that close and yet again Victor surprised me with how much he knew and how many random facts he had about the city and surrounding area.
We didn’t spend very long at the Millennium Cross, there really isn’t much to do up there except enjoy the view, so after taking the cable car down we got back into the car and headed to one of the oldest Byzantine churches left in Macedonia.
Just outside of Skopje in the small village of Nerezi is the St.Pantelimon Monastery. This is one of the most culturally and historic religious structures in Macedonia.
The monastery was built and some of the frescoes were painted in 1164, as can be determined from the inscription carved into the rock above the entranceway, and the artwork is some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen in a monastery dating from that time period.
It was built by some of the most skilled Byzantine architects who brought their knowledge back after training in Constantinople and was one of the first monasteries to use five domes rather than a smaller, three-dome design.
Over the years the St.Pantelimon Monastery has been able to remain standing through fires, earthquakes and even enemy occupation.
One of the most interesting features of the monastery that Victor pointed out to me were the scratched out eyes of the various painted saints and other religious figures.
He said that the Ottomans, when they occupied the area and were in control of the monastery, didn’t like the eyes in the fresco staring back at them so they scratched them out in guilt and as a sign of dominance over the local religious population.
Today, much of the fresco has been restored to its former glory and it’s one of the best examples of Byzantine art that is still remaining.
Finishing Up the Day in Matka Canyon
After we finished checking out the monastery it was finally time to head to the Matka Canyon. Just 20 minutes outside of the city center the Matka Canyon is one of the most popular and beautiful natural areas accessible from Skopje.
The sun was setting as we arrived and it was a relief to reach the cool weather in the shade of the canyon walls after having spent a long day walking around in the surprisingly warm Skopje spring heat.
Victor explained about the many caves, hidden monasteries and hiking paths that you can find in the canyon and after a few short moments of walking we ended up at a beautiful restaurant sitting right on the river in the shadow of one of the canyon walls.
At this point Victor said it was time for lunch, although it was nearly 16:30 so it was more of a dinner, and he opted to sit outside while waiting for me to finish my meal.
It would’ve been nice if Victor decided to eat with me but after spending the whole day together and having to listen to me talk for hours on end I’m sure he enjoyed a few moments of silence to take in the beautiful view while enjoying a warm coffee.
The dinner was delicious and I don’t think I’ve ever had a better view while enjoying something to eat. I wish I could have stayed longer but it was getting late, it was actually almost dark, and it was finally time to head back to my hotel.
On the drive back into the city Victor continued to give me some more tips on places to eat and other areas of Skopje to check out. Finally, well after the sun had set, we pulled up to my hotel, exchanged a few words and said our goodbyes.
When I got back to my room and laid on the bed to relax I couldn’t help but think that the tour I had today with Victor was one of the best that I’ve ever had.
I was sad to part ways with Victor but I’m happy to have met him because I never would’ve had such an incredible experience visiting Skopje without his help and the help of Skopje Daily Tours.
After spending nearly 10 hours on a private, guided tour with Victor of Skopje Daily Tours I have to personally recommend them if you’re looking for a detailed and in-depth tour in Skopje and the surrounding area.
They are friendly, easy to work with and accommodating to any of the requests you might have about what you want to see in Skopje and the surrounding area. I can’t comment on all of the tour guides but if they’re all as friendly and passionate as Victor then I’m sure you’re going to have an amazing time.
Just lately Simonium Travel LTD, the company behind Skopje Daily Tours, has made plans to start offering daily tours in the Ohrid area.
So, if you’re looking to escape the summer heat in Skopje or you want to explore one of the most popular places in all of Macedonia I recommend checking out Ohrid and taking advantage of what Ohrid Daily Tours has to offer!