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Top things to do in North Macedonia, the pearl of Balkans

In this article I write about some of the top things to do in North Macedonia, a beautiful country in the Balkans that is still fairly off-the-beaten-path.

skopje fortress

There are some places that I dream of since I was a kid. I’d love to visit Greenland for example. Another of my dreams is to visit the massive Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Certainly North Macedonia wasn’t on my bucket list. Not even on my personal top 50 of countries to visit.

kepap in macedonia

How did I end up on a plane heading to Skopje? To be honest I’m still not certain. In a few seconds, I went from surfing the web to paying a low-cost flight from Milan to Skopje, without thinking if it was really worth spending my holidays in the Balkans.

But one of the best things about traveling is visiting places that we don’t know much about. And this can be hard in our days because since we have internet we can virtually visit any place from our homes. But North Macedonia is still an almost unknown country for most of the people.

Just try to Google some info about things to do in North Macedonia and you will see what I’m talking about. not much info about places to visit, besides the capital. After all: how many people you know that have visited North Macedonia?

The first thing I discovered was really good! North Macedonia is a very cheap country compared to other European countries. On average, during the low season, you can spend as low as 15€ per night for a hotel (find some deals on Booking.com or check out Agoda) and you can eat in the center of Skopje for just 6/7€. In Skopje, you will eat the best Kebap in the Balkans.

To be 100% honest this wasn’t my first time in North Macedonia. On 2011 during a solo trip in Greece I visited the small village of Dojran, but it was just for few hours. So this time I spent more time in this country.

Info about North Macedonia

main square in skopje

If we exclude Skopje, the capital, and Ohrid, the rest of the country is still an unexplored tourist destination. And this is good because the people are very friendly and genuine. Something rare in the most famous tourist destination. Sometimes you won’t even feel in Europe.

Right now the flights from other countries are few and probably this is one of the reasons why few people consider North Macedonia as their destination.

North Macedonia is a landlocked country that is geographically clearly defined by a central valley formed by the Vardar river and framed along its borders by mountain ranges. The country is part of a region called with the same name (where Alexander the Great was born) that include also northern Greece and a small part of Bulgaria.

It is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia, from which it declared independence in 1991. It became a member of the United Nations in 1993, but, as a result of a dispute with Greece over the use of the name Macedonia, it was admitted under the provisional description of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

Just a question: dear Greek friends, why do you care so much about this name?

things to do in skopje north macedonia

During this trip, I crossed the border between Greece and Macedonia, and the first thing that the Greek custom did was put the small sticker that you see in the picture on my rental car. I really wanted to ask: so what? Fortunately, the dispute seems to be completely resolved now and the official name of the country has been changed to North Macedonia.

Walking in the streets of the capital you will find so many different ethnicities. According to the last census data, the largest ethnic group in the country is the Macedonians, but you will also find Albanians, Romani, Serbs, Bosniaks, Aromanians, and other minorities. I had the feeling that this peaceful coexistence is fragile. Maybe just a feeling, I don’t know.

Top things to do in North Macedonia

north macedonia map

What are some things to do in North Macedonia? The most famous destinations are Skopje, the capital, and Ohrid, a beautiful lake close to Albania.

Skopje is not big and one day is enough to visit the old town and the city center. If you have more days you can do a one-day trip to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, by bus.

Ohrid is only about 3 hours drive from Skopje and I strongly suggest you include it in your itinerary. After all, a trip to North Macedonia is not complete if you don’t visit Ohrid.

boat over lake ohrid

Ohrid is in my opinion one of the most beautiful places in North Macedonia.

On your way to Ohrid make a deviation to Mavrovo, a national park and a winter sports center, to see the half-submerged church in the lake. Sadly when I went there the lake was almost completely dry…

mavrovo lake in macedonia

Not far from Ohrid you will find two more lakes: the Great Prespa Lake (divided between Albania, Greece and North Macedonia) and The Small Prespa Lake (in Grecia). This is not a popular tourist destination and if you are looking for a genuine place to meet local people and see beautiful landscapes, it’s definitely the place to go.

On the Great Prespa Lake, you will see the only Island in North Macedonia: Golem Grad aka the Snake Island. Why this name? Because it is home to several different species of snakes. The island is currently uninhabited.

prespa lake greece

The Small Prespa Lake has been recognized as an important wetland ecosystem favoring the breeding and feeding of rare waterbird species. It is best known for hosting the largest breeding colony of the Dalmatian pelican in the world. But if you want to photograph these amazing birds it’s much easier to do it in Kerkini, Greece.

If you want to visit the Prespa Lakes keep in mind that the border with Greece close to Dolno Dupeni is closed since 1963 and for this reason, you have to drive as far as to Bitola. Then keep driving towards Florina (in Greece) then drive back towards Prespa. I really want to thank the Google Maps team: for some reason, they didn’t update the map and I drove for more than 3 hours just to get to a border that has been closed for more than 50 years!!!

Is North Macedonia a safe country?

I often had the feeling that there is a lot of tension between the different nationalities and ethnicities that live in North Macedonia but honestly I didn’t have any problem while visiting this country

Obviously, as always, it’s important to use good judgment and avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations. This being said, I felt safer in Skopje than in Milan.

Final thoutghs

skopje mosque in macedonia

Visiting North Macedonia is not just a holiday, but it’s like traveling back into the past. And in some places, it seems that the time has stopped. In the remotest parts of the country, you will see people still using horses as the main mean of transportation and the contrast between Skopje and the other places can be sometimes shocking.

North Macedonia is a poor country where people in the capital don’t make more than 450€ per month and 300€ in the rest of the country. But some people work for as low as 150€ per month. The unemployment rate is very high and the cost of living, for those who live and work there, is quite high.

This also means that Hotels in Macedonia are quite cheap.

skopje north macedonia

Poverty is evident also in the center of Skopje. Sadly pollution is also another big problem as I discussed here.

Even though life can be tough, the people are just great. The capital was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1963, then rebuilt. North Macedonians survived the dictatorship of General Tito and the fall of the Yugoslav government.

Today people of many different ethnic groups and religions live peacefully together. It’s amazing to see Christians and Muslims living so close without any problem and churches and Mosques built side by side: something impossible in Italy (where I come from).
Well done North Macedonia!

Here is more info about another amazing country in Europe: Slovenia. Here more pictures of North Macedonia. Here my travel guide to Meteora, in Greece.

18 thoughts on “Top things to do in North Macedonia, the pearl of Balkans”

  1. No worries.. I approved all the posts because I think that It’s good to have an honest and open discussion.. But so far it seems that there is nothing more to add to this topic.. So I wont approve any other comment that is about the name of Macedonia.. I honestly don’t have all the facts and I don’t know the history of Greece and Macedonia as well as I know the history of my country… But that’s the point: It’s history… And history is part of the past. Today Macedonia is a country and Greece is another one. I’m sorry that this bothers so many people… As for me, I love both Macedonians and Greeks. They are generally very good and generous people.. And at the end of the day that is what really matters in life, not what happened in the past (let’s keep in mind guys that history is ALWAYS written by the winners and even historians are not 100% reliable, they are ALL in one way or another biased).

  2. Makedonec

    Just a reply to the “dutch” guy who is paid to don`t know any history. The fortress in Skopje was made by the roman emperor Justinian First, but since you are paid to know you probably would know that. st***d people who think they know everything. there is not one single thing which is truth in your reply.

    And you Istor you are probably one of the many “greeks” who once were real macedonian, slavic macedonian but during the assimilation made by the greeks in the 20th century became a greek and now you are one of the most loud greeks in whole greece. there is a name for people like you traitor.
    You should be ashamed of all your sayings because you are a shame for the hellenic people. those were people for respect and nowadays greeks(every respect to the exceptions) are just a fart left trough the time of 2000 years, so you can guess whats left from them.

    As for you Fabio, thank you for your great post. The people should see the things as they are not constantly trying to push some already dead ideology.

    1. Istor Macedonian

      I would be ashamed about eventual data manipulation made by me.
      But I am not. All sources about Macedonians prove that they have always been Greeks.
      In contrary, SlavoSkopians distort, rape and kill historic facts in order to adapt Macedonian name and history to their Slavic identity.
      Please give an end to this stupidity. Open your eyes and realize that Macedonians did spread Greek Language and Civilization to the World.

      1. Makedonec

        he he yes, they spread one language which the nowadays greek can not understand. it has no similarity with the greek language nor the new, nor the old greek. It is your fabricated history which leads you to stu****ty.

        But yes you can write as long as you want, name us however you think would be an insult. That would not change the fact that greece is using their last strength to keep up what is left from it. If it was`nt for a certain Churchill, you would still wash our legs as you were doing before it. But life is circle once you are up, once you are down. How high you fly, so low you go. See you!

        1. Istor Macedonian

          The Language of Macedonians was a Greek dialect.
          This is what Plutarch, an ancient Greek writer, states in his hymn to Macedonians’ Greekness. Have a look: http://www.starkrealities.com/fortune.html
          Modenrn Greeks need as much time to learn it as they need to learn any other Greek dialect.
          Greeks are defending truth about Macedonians.

          1. Makedonec

            yes yes everybody can write what he wants on the internet, and you can believe him as much as you want. the first one that ancient Macedonians conquered were the greeks. Can you tell me why would one conquer his own people?
            No please don`t tell me, i don`t want to ruin such a good post anymore.

            Sorry, Fabio, you can delete all my comments after this guy will read the last one. Don`t want to sh*t on this great post anymore. and you can let them do whatever they want.
            Thank you for the post once again.

        2. Blenkestijn / NL

          Problem with Macedonia is that it’s country in making! It’s not a country that had continuity and history like Serbia, Bulgaria or Greece, even more so, it was a country called Old Serbia ( as a part of serbian empire ) for more than 1000 years (!) The fortress above the capitol Skopje is built by the Serbian not by a Macedonian emperor Nemanjicz! Never the less, it is the will of the people to live in the country of their own, but me, as a Dutch I should be impartial, but I’m Not! because it is my country and rest of the EU and US who decided to demolish Yugoslavia for reason fitted to us and consequently disintegrate Serbia as a biggest and most dangerous part of Yugoslavia, and in the proces we made some new “countries”out of Serbia’s proper, Macedonia being one of them! There’s different between Hellenic nation and Slovenian nations. Real Macedonian are HELENIC ( Greece ) But the Macedonians nowadays are mainly Slovenian ( Serbs ) and the rest are Albenian, Bulgarian Greece, Roma… And thats it where the problem is! All of the respectful minorities do not call themselves Macedonians because that is what there’r not and the one that call themselves Macedonian, are actually Slovenians ( or Serbs ) one that we so cleverly call slavish Macedonians, while real Macedonians can be only Helenian of the nation! Greece and Serbs are very close allays sinds 5th century and its Greece who allowed Serbs to settle on their territory ( hence Old Serbia!) but calling once land Macedonia outside Greece means confiscating part of the Greece land and culture, and that is something hard to swallow and it would be always a problem!
          PS; for the record, I’m not a Serb! I work for some organizations in NL and I’m paid to know balkan history!

          1. Vane

            Of course you aren’t Serb, because Serbs know the history and you don’t. I don’t know who is your boss but apparently they’re wasting money paying you to know wrong facts and history. Be ashamed. If you don’t have to comment something normal and related about the tourism in this beautiful country Macedonia, better don’t.

          2. DianaGesovska

            Well your getting paid for NOT doing your job and reporting incorrect facts on the balkans. If Macedonian’s were Serbs or Greeks why do we not speak the same language?? If you have traveled to Italy you will see tourist maps on a wall near the vadican city that show Macedonia on the maps of the world well before Greece and Serbia existed (why italy?? Exactly! Macedonia does not have any connection with Italy!!its just that the truth couldnt be removed). Before you act like you know about the Balkans do some proper research instead of quoting incorrect information that has been taken from an uneducated Greek that cannot admit they are Turks. (I wonder what its feels like to be called a turk when you know your greek and you dont even understand the Turkish language, well thats what us Macedonia’s have been dealing with for years). And im not suprised that your been paid to report lies, the Greeks have been doing it for years. Maybe thats actually why they ran out of money and not because of an evonomic crisis! Im am Macedonian now and forever and dont bother commenting in Greek or Serbian I DONT UNDERSTAND YOUR DIFFERENT LANGUAGES

        3. Istor Macedonian

          Just remember that Macedonia of Alexander is not there, but in Greece.
          Because Macedonians have always been Greeks.

          1. I still don’t get why people take this issue so seriously..Today Macedonia is Macedonia. That’s it.. 😉

            1. Istor Macedonian

              First, Macedonians have always been Greeks. Macedonians did spread Greek Language and Civilization to the World. I really don’t know how could any decent person deny this.
              Second, Macedonian is still being a strong local Greek identity. We are proud of Macedonian past and we proudly honor, read and learn about Alexander’s campaign.
              We cannot be humiliated by SlavoSkopians by hearing that we have stole their land, their identity, their name. Because they cannot convince us that they are not dreaming of our land as long as they insist to be named just Macedonians, for no reason!
              Greeks created, defined and glorified the name of Macedonia. Its fame belongs to us.
              I belive that Germans would do what we Greeks do if a Slavic nation around east-south borders of Germany would insist to be named Bavarian.
              Some local names-indentites are crucial and importand. World MUST respect them.
              Anyway, I am here to answer to any question about Macedonia and Macedonians.

              1. You talk about “respect” then you don’t show any respect to millions of people. There are many ways to explain this issue and I understand that many people take it so seriously. But you are certainly using the wrong way.
                The only reason why I didn’t delete you comment is because I want other people to see how far someone can go in hating another country. I’m really sorry for you.

                1. makedonka

                  Thank you fabio for being truthful to millions of macedonians. Greeks have never respected us they even think they can call us any names they want ! The real reason why they are discriminating and humiliating us because if they admit who we are they will have to give us back the northern part of greece whicj they took of us after the world wars . Grerks are very popular on modern day by the number of things they owe to their neighbors like macedonia and turkey and few billions of euros to lots of European countries.They love taking but not paying back ! They have taken the northern region from us and now they make all sort of crazy stories just to keep macedonia gor themselves! Thats the truth about gteece and macedonia

                2. makedonka

                  Ohh istor Macedonian you are sooo boring with your own stories that you are blind to accept the truth! Macedoniands ! Europe has seen your real face you love taking money and land you love spending others hard earned money and you stole our land! You are good at taking but not at giving back… The world is not blind anymore. ..everyone have seen greeks real face of overspending on the account of othets…poor Macedonia happen to be your neighbour and suffered the most your egoism rudeness discrimination. ..you csn do whatever but you will never delete Macedonia of the map Macedonia has existed b for thousands of years and has one of the oldest culltures in the world and we r proud on who we are…After all we don’t ripp off other countries and cultures and nations like you

                3. Vane

                  Thanks God somebody understand.
                  Macedonia is old country and always will exist.

                4. Mimi

                  NEVER my dear, you must be a TRAITOR and maybe worse than the Nazis. I thought we are trying to live in the beautiful and peaceful continent, it was enough of the Greeks milking the European community, the gravy train is over for Greece, and start working in building better Europe. Are you claiming the Byzantine to be Greece? You are dead wrong! What about the Roman Empire, are you saying that was Greece too!? MACEDONIA existed and will exist, perhaps you should try and go back to school and not to mention the Holly Bible, maybe you will learn SOMETHING! I am proud to say I am MACEDONIAN, and for your interest, most of my learned Greek friends love me and respect me for what I stand for …

                  1. Istor Macedonian

                    Back to school?
                    Well, if you are my teacher, I would be glad to !
                    Deal?
                    Lets start: Why Macedonians have named after Greek names ALL the cities they built or renamed?

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