It’s not too often that you hear about Skopje and I’ll be honest – before I got here there wasn’t too much I knew about Macedonia’s capital city.
In recent years the city has undergone, and is still undergoing, massive renovations. New buildings are being built wherever you go, sidewalks are being upgraded, older buildings and structures and being cleaned, reinforced and it’s easy to see that there’s a push to improve the quality and appearance of the Skopje infrastructure.
This has had a positive impact on tourism and over the past few years tourism has exploded in Macedonia. This has been helped by new airfare connections from budget airlines like WizzAir and there are many more people visiting Skopje than there were just a few years ago.
Surprisingly, there are quite a few things to do in Skopje and you’ll definitely be able to occupy your time here for at least a few days before wondering what else there is to explore and check out.
Between a lovely Old Town and city center to vast mountain valleys and high, snow-covered peaks that loom over the region, Skopje is full of many different activities, places to explore and areas to check out that are all vying for your attention.
If you haven’t visited here yet you’ll want to get here soon. Skopje is becoming more and more popular every year and it won’t be able to retain its small-town charm forever.
The Best Things to Do in Skopje: The Gem of Macedonia
Visit Macedonia Square
Right in the centre of the city is Macedonia Square, one of the most stunning squares in all of Europe. Since Project 2014 started this square has seen the most upgrades, renovations and improvements over the years. It was turned from a peaceful, tree-lined area to the sprawling, epic and amazing square that it is today.
It’s the biggest square in Macedonia and it’s where all of the events, festivals and popular city activities are held. Just a few years ago the square wasn’t a very popular place and there was even a bus stop on one end. While there were more trees and less people at that time it wasn’t an interesting place to visit, at least for tourists, and there wasn’t that much to see.
Today, it’s one of the most impressive places in the entire city. Dominating the square is an enormous statue of Alexander the Great and there are a few other statues that surround the square as well. From here you can reach all of the best sights, attractions, restaurants and it’s also within walking distance of many of the popular hotels.
What I love about the square is that it offers a sweeping view of the Old Bazaar, Mount Vodno and even the Fortress. My favorite thing to do is to grab a cappuccino at the famous Pelister restaurant, rated as one of the best in the city, and just watch the people walking by for hours on end.
Leading out of the square is the Stone Bridge on one end and the three streets leading the other way are full of shops, restaurants, cafés and other cool places to explore and check out.
Enjoy the View from the Stone Bridge
Spanning across the Vardar River is the historic Stone Bridge. The modern bridge was built in the 15th century, on top of the foundation of a much older Roman bridge, and it currently connects the central Macedonia Square with the Old Bazaar part of the city.
Due to its historic importance and cultural relevance the Stone Bridge has also made it onto the Skopje coat of arms and is featured on the city flag as well.
One creepy fact about the bridge is that over the years many different executions have taken place on the pathway and some of the locals believe the bridge to be haunted!
Today, the bridge is a prominent feature of the city and is always full of people crossing the Vardar who are just looking to enjoy a nice walk through the city centre or the Old Bazaar.
Check Out all of the Different Statues
What started out as an idea on how to improve tourism turned into the Skopje 2014 project.
The project was announced in 2010 with the aim to build a range of museums, monuments, government buildings and hotels along with renovation of previously standing buildings. More than 20 buildings and over 40 different monuments and statues have been, or are in the process of, being built and in the past 5 years the entire city has undergone a facelift.
Many of the popular areas, like Macedonia Square, have taken on a completely new appearance and it’s quite nice to walk around through the Old Town and see all of the massive, epic monuments and the brand new buildings.
There is actually a lot of controversy surrounding the project, which is said to cost upwards of 500 million Euros, but for tourism I think the city has made a smart choice and Skopje is slowly turning into a destination that will impress and leave a positive impact on its visitors.
Today, in 2016, you actually can’t walk very far at all without passing by something epic. Some of the best statues, monuments and buildings throughout the city include:
- The Warrior on a Horse in Macedonia Square
- Porta Macedonia
- The Mother Teresa Monument and Museum
- The Docked Boats in the Vardar River
- The Art Bridge
- The Museum of Archaeology
Head to the Kale Fortress
Kale Fortress, also known as the Skopje Fortress, is one of the most prominent features on the city skyline and you’ll see it peeking down the narrow streets and standing high above the low buildings when you’re walking through the Old Bazaar.
The Skopje Fortress was built in the 6th century and has remained as a defensive structure overlooking the city for more than 1400 years. It’s not nearly as big as the fortresses in Belgrade or Novi Sad but it’s still an interesting and unique place to visit when you’re traveling in Macedonia.
Unfortunately when I was there many of the areas were under construction but it appears that a few museums are planning on opening up for the tourist rush for the summer.
If you’re looking for a great view of the city and Mount Vodno I recommend checking out the Skopje Fortress. It’s only a short 15-minute walk from the city centre and there’s also free parking if you’re visiting Skopje by car.
Relax Along the Vardar River
The Vardar River is the slow, meandering river that cuts through the heart of Skopje. At one point it was a roaring and powerful body of water but today the river has been diverted, slowed down and flows by more like a stream.
Even as a shadow of its past self, the Vardar is a symbol of the city and its banks are a neat place to check out and relax after a long day of walking around.
There are many nice restaurants and cafe’s that line the banks and there are even a series of boat-restaurants where you can enjoy a meal or a coffee drink on the river itself.
Learn More About Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa is probably one of the most famous and most well-known Macedonians. She was born in Skopje and although she did not return to the city very often you’ll see quite a few references and dedications to her life.
The most important dedication to her is the Memorial House of Mother Teresa just a few hundred meters down the street from Macedonia Square. It just opened in 2009 and was actually built on the same spot where a church was that Mother Teresa was baptized in.
Right beside the house is a large monument of Mother Teresa but the city is actually building a much bigger one in Macedonia Square as a further dedication symbol to her life.
The museum building itself is very impressive. It was designed by the architect Vangel Bozinovksi and was built in a very modern style. On the inside you’ll find a bunch of relics and other items from Mother Teresa’s life that have been preserved and are now on display for the public.
Entrance to the museum is free but they’ll definitely appreciate a small donation.
Stroll Through the Old Bazaar
One of the best things to do in Skopje is to thoroughly explore the Old Bazaar. The Old Bazaar is the Muslim part of the city and is actually the oldest part of Skopje. It’s a neat little area that’s full of unique shops, mosques, historical buildings and a wide range of Middle-Eastern themed restaurants.
My favorite part of the Old Bazaar were the three caravanserais. The caravanserais were originally small inns near the centre of the city that were built for travellers to weigh their goods, rest their horses and enjoy a nights rest before heading onwards.
There are only three left in Skopje, with the oldest having been built in the 14th century, and they were one of my favorite places. Inside each of the caravanserais is a small courtyard and I found the space to be quiet, relaxing and it offered a nice break from the busy streets of the Old Bazaar.
If you’re looking to try some delicious baklava, you want to taste a great example of one of Macedonia’s most famous dishes or you just want to drink a turkish coffee while enjoying the view then you’ll definitely want to check out the Old Bazaar and discover more of what the area has to offer.
It’s located on the far bank of the Vardar, completely opposite to Macedonia Square. From the Old Bazaar area you can easily reach Kale Fortress so it’s hard to miss if you’re planning on just walking around without a map and exploring Skopje on your own.
Take in the View from the Millennium Cross
Perched high on Vodno Mountain is the Millennium Cross, an enormous metal cross that towers 66-meters high and can be seen from all across the lower Skopje city area. It’s the highest metal cross in the world and it’s even higher then the Jesus statue that’s in Rio de Janeiro.
There are two different methods you can use to get up to the cross. You could either hike or take the new cable car system.
Hiking from the city centre will take about 2-hours if you’re in shape but I don’t recommend this option since the trails aren’t updated, there is a lot of litter on the ground and unless you’re properly prepared with hiking shoes you’re not going to have a good time.
The cable car is the best way to get up to the millennium cross. The system was just built in 2011 and it’s affordable, fast and provides incredible views of the city and mountain the whole way up. It’s only about $1.70 for the round-trip cable car up to the top and it takes about five minutes to reach the summit.
One thing you want to remember though is that every so often, I think once per hour, the cable car system closes for 30 minutes for quick maintenance so you’ll be unable to use it at that time.
Also, if you’re visiting during the summer when there’s a lot of tourists you’ll want to arrive early because there can be quite a line up of people that want to reach the top.
Go Hiking in Matka Canyon
Less than 30 minutes away from the city center by car is the Matka Canyon. This canyon is one of the most popular outdoor areas in the entire country and many people from all across the Balkans come to visit, go hiking and enjoy all of the natural beauty that the canyon has to offer.
Along the river that runs through the canyon is a beautiful hiking trail, a series of restaurants, many different medieval monasteries, caves and there is even the possibility to either rent kayaks or take a boat trip down the river further into the canyon.
Some of the destinations along the river are only accessible by water so you’ll need a boat if you want to reach some of the caves or monasteries but the restaurant and boat trip are all accessible in front.
Skirting the edge of the canyon is a beautiful hiking trail that leads 6 km through the canyon itself deep into the Macedonian countryside. From this trail are the best views of the canyon but you don’t have to walk very far for incredible photo opportunities of one of the most beautiful natural areas in all of Europe.
I’m not sure how you can reach the canyon if you’re not driving, I’d recommend checking out a tour, but if you have your own car there is free parking right at the entrance to the trails and it’s not very far to walk to the restaurants and best views.