Macedonia. What to see in Skopje
What to see in Skopje, how to get there and when best to go. Walk around the city and climb the Millennium Cross – panoramic views of the whole city and the mountains.
The city of Skopje: information and interesting facts
Skopje is the capital of the state of Northern Macedonia (FYROM), part of the former Yugoslavia.
In Macedonian it is Skopje, in English it is Skopje. The emphasis is on the “o.”
Population: 544,000 people (according to wikipedia).
The history of Skopje goes back more than 2,000 years. The date of its foundation is considered to be the 4th century BC. Then it changed hands: Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgarians, Turks, Serbs. At one time it was the capital of the Bulgarian kingdom.
Skopje has been destroyed by earthquakes several times, the last time in 1963, so there are few really ancient monuments of architecture, such as in Ohrid. Nevertheless, there is plenty to see.
What to see in Skopje: main sights
Our walk around Skopje
First we were to visit Cathedral of St. Kliment Ohridski (Sobornja Crkva) – it is cathedral of Skopje, built at the end of 20th century. There used to be the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary, but it was burned by the fascists. The size of the rotunda is 36*36 meters. 400 bulbs are used to illuminate the inside of the church. The designer is Slavko Brezovski.
On the way from the cathedral to the fortress of Calais we meet these lions. There are four of them – two on each side of the bridge over the Vardar River.
The fortress itself is in the background. Much of it is preserved from the 10-13 centuries. Admission is free. We did not get inside – it was already closed.
And this is the view from the bridge to the new part of the city and neoclassical buildings.
The old town in Skopje is a solid bazaar and some caravanserais from the Ottoman period.
We ate an ice cream and returned to the new part of downtown Skopje – Macedonia Square . We are greeted by a monument to Philip II of Macedonia – father of Alexander the Great.
Saints Clement of Ohrid and Naum, museums and a monument to Alexander the Great (Warrior on the Koњ).
The stone bridge existed in this place since the 6th century and was reconstructed and rebuilt many times. The length is 214 meters.
Near it is such an art object.
Memorial House of Mother Teresa: strange design and crowds of Chinese tourists. Mother Teresa was born and lived in Skopje until she was 18. Her old house has not survived.
Nearby is the church of Mother Teresa .
The aqueduct is outside the city, on the road to Pristina.
Museums in Skopje
There are several museums in Skopje:
- Museum of the city (the old railway station).
- Museum of Modern Art.
- Museum of the Struggle for Independence.
- Museum of Natural History.
- Macedonian National Museum and Gallery of icons.
The Millennium Cross (Misllenium Cross) is located on Mount Vodno, south of Skopje, and is a symbol of the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity in Macedonia. During Ottoman times, it was called Kristovar, “the place for the cross”.
There is an observation deck with views of the entire city and the other side of the ridge. At night it is illuminated. The height of the Millennium Cross – 66 meters.
The length of the funicular is 1600 meters, the lower station at 570 m and the top at 1068 m. The lift takes 8 minutes.
Elevator schedule at the Millennium Cross
- All days except Mondays and the last Tuesday of the month,
- May to September: 10-20, last descent at 19:45,
- October and April: 10-18, last descent at 17:45,
- From November to March: 10-17, the last descent at 16:45.
Ticket price: 100 dinars, children 50 dinars. Children up to 6 years old, women from 62 years old and men from 64 years old free of charge.
Prohibited: passing with pets, building fires. Allowed: to bring bicycles and skis.
Reach the car can only to the bottom station of the elevator, then only the attendants. Parking is free on weekdays and is chargeable from 9 to 16 on weekends (first hour 100 dinars + 50 dinars for each additional hour).
Buses to Millennium Crest
Bus number 25: daily, leaves from the Central bus station (Transportation Center). Timetable: 8:00, 9:00, 9:40, 10:20, 11:20, 12:20, 13:20, 14:20, 15:20, 16:20, 17:20, 18:20.
Bus 25A: Only at weekends, runs from the old railway station (Stara Železnicka Stanica). Departures: 9:00, 9:30, 10:00, 10:30, 11:00, 11:30, 12:00, 12:30, 13:00, 13:30, 14:00, 14:30, 15:00, 15:30.
Bus 25B: at weekends only, departs from the House on the Pechat. Schedule: 9:15, 9:45, 10:15, 10:45, 11:15, 11:45, 12:15, 12:45, 13:15, 13:45, 14:15, 14:45, 15:15.
Excursions in Skopje and its surroundings
You can also walk around the center of Skopje on your own, using my map. But there are also interesting places, where you can go from Skopje for 1 day: Matka Canyon, an unusual mosque in Tetovo, a sunken church in Mavrovo.
There are few excursions in Russian so far, but they cover the main attractions around Skopje.
In English there are more options, and prices are lower.
All excursions in and around Skopje on GetYourGuide
All excursions in and around Skopje on Viator
Where is Skopje on the map of Europe and the world
Skopje is located in the north of the country of Northern Macedonia, near the border with Kosovo. The Vardar River flows through the city.
On the map I have marked all the sights of Skopje + useful places (airport, bus station, railway station, etc.).
Accommodation in Skopje: where to stay, hotels, hostels
If you come to Skopje by public transport, it is certainly better to settle right in the center and walk everywhere.
If you get to Skopje by car, you should consider that in the center there are problems with parking, especially in the old town, so you should either look for accommodation with parking or in 10-15 minutes walking distance from the center.
How to get to Skopje
You can get to Skopje by plane, bus, train or car.
Skopje: flights and airport
Skopje has an international airport – Skopje International Airport (IATA code: SKP).
Interestingly, it used to be called Alexander the Great Airport, but was renamed to improve Macedonia’s political relations with Greece. Although, many places still use the old name.
Low Airfare Calendar:
3. regular airport cab.
How to reach Skopje from Ohrid (Macedonia)
Distance: 178 km.
1) Direct bus Ohrid-Skopje:
- Travel time 3-3.5 hours,
- Ticket price from 8€,
- Timetable: every 1-1,5 hours except at night,
- On the way there are a lot of serpentines – take a seasickness pill.
2) train + bus Ohrid-Skopje:
- First bus to Kicevo (1 hour, from 6€),
- Then train #662 to Skopje (Kichevo) (2 hours, from 7€),
- You can also take the train or bus to Skopje.
How to get from Skopje to neighboring countries
1. Skopje ➜ Tirana (Albania)
Distance: 288 km via Ohrid, 335 km via Pristina. If you go via Pristina, you may need a Kosovo visa.
The bus takes 7 hours. Ticket price from 21 euros.
For those who visit several countries in the Balkans, there are interesting options:
: picked up from the hotel in Skopje, driven to Ohrid, guided walk, then driven to the hotel in Tirana. Pick up from the hotel in Skopje, drive to Prizren, walk with a guide, then drive to the hotel in Tirana.
2. Skopje ➜ Sofia (Bulgaria)
Distance: 245 km.
The bus takes 5-5.5 hours. Ticket price from 16 euros.
There is no direct train, you need to change trains in Serbia.
3. Skopje ➜ Thessaloniki (Greece)
Distance: 235 km.
The bus takes 4.5 hours. Ticket price from 21 euros.
It is not clear about the train. In the past there was one train a day from Skopje to Thessaloniki (5 hours of travel time), but it was canceled.
4. Skopje ➜ Pristina (Kosovo)
Distance: 93 km.
The bus takes 2.5 hours. Ticket price from 6 euros.
5. Skopje ➜ Podgorica (Montenegro)
Distance: 370-400 km, depending on the road to travel. The road passes through Kosovo or Albania, and they may need a visa.
Given the roads in Albania and Kosovo, you can get from Skopje to Podgorica by bus. It would be more comfortable or split it into 2 transfers: Skopje – Tirana and Tirana – Podgorica.
To fly by plane is also difficult, because there are no direct flights, you have to change planes via Istanbul, Belgrade or Vienna. See also airfare to Tivat (Montenegro) – it may be cheaper, especially in summer.
Rent a car in Skopje
It’s cool to drive around Macedonia, especially since they are now building new roads and improving the old ones. The roads are generally okay (though not perfect), and you can visit all sorts of places far from the bus stops and drive at your own pace, not depending on the schedule.
The center of Skopje is easier to see on foot, but the Millennium Cross, Tetovo and Matka Canyon are better to visit by car.
We usually compare prices and conditions on aggregator sites that collect offers of different rentals, and choose the most advantageous option:
Public transportation in Skopje
Skopje has had a well-developed public transportation network since the times of Yugoslavia. There are 80 bus lines in the city – you can easily get to any end of the city.
The system is as follows: you buy the card “SKOPSKA” for 150 MKD and fill up as much as you want. The card already includes 3 trips (2 if you go to Matka Canyon). One trip around town costs 30 MKD. These are the red buses.
All other buses are private, you can pay cash to the driver.
You can refill your passes at the green kiosks. Where can I find them? Someone kindly made a map with all the ticket booths in Skopje – the booths are marked in blue.
The official website of municipal transport in Skopje: https://www.jsp.com.mk/en/.
When is the best time to go to Skopje: weather and climate
Skopje can be visited at any time of year, but it is most pleasant from April to October.
The amount of precipitations in Skopje is stable all year round – 10-28 mm. There is no rainy season in Macedonia.
In summer (July, August), the air temperature during the day can rise to 32 ° C, but at night it is usually cooler (up to 15 ° C). The most comfortable months are May, June and September: it’s neither hot nor cold.
The peak of tourism in Skopje is from April to August.
In winter, you can also walk around the city, but from December to February it can snow and freeze at night.
Air temperature in Skopje by month:
Our review of Skopje, Macedonia
Skopje is not a city you can visit several times and walk around for days at a time, like London, Lisbon, Paris or Rome. Also, it has been destroyed many times by wars and earthquakes. That’s why there aren’t many sights to see.
Skopje should be visited in conjunction with other interesting places in Macedonia: Matka Canyon, Tetovo, and Mavrovo. And there is not much sense to come especially for the sake of this city.
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Attractions of the Macedonian capital Skopje
Skopje – the capital and main tourist center of Macedonia, the city with an ancient and rich history, which has survived many natural disasters and wars in its time.
Skopje is the capital of Macedonia, a state located in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula. Skopje is located in the north of the country near the Macedonian border with the Republic of Kosovo and Serbia. The city lies in the valley of the Vardar River and is surrounded by mountain ranges. Skopje is protected from the north by the Skopska Crna Gora mountain range, from the south by the Vodno Mountains.
How to reach the city
There are no direct flights from Russia to the Macedonian capital, therefore you must get to Skopje with a change. Optimal routes lie through the neighboring countries. The cheapest option is to fly to Istanbul, from where flights of Turkish Airlines fly to the Macedonian capital. The flight time from Istanbul to Skopje is 1 hour and 30 minutes. As an alternative, you can connect flights in one of the European airports, in Belgrade, Vienna or Berlin. All of these cities are connected with Skopje by direct flights, but such a flight will cost at least 2 times more than the route through Istanbul.
From the Alexander the Great International Airport on the outskirts of Skopje you can take a cab to the city itself. The fare is fixed at 1220 MKD. As an alternative to cabs, you can also take the Vardar Express bus, which takes 40-50 minutes to get to the center of Skopje. Tickets for buses are sold in the terminal building.
Skopje is connected to nearby Balkan cities by intercity bus routes. The capital of Macedonia can be reached by bus from Belgrade, Sofia, Thessaloniki, Tirana, and Zagreb. Buses are quite old, because of the mountainous landscape of the Balkan countries go slowly, so this way to get to Skopje is not comfortable.
Traveling by private car from Russia to Skopje will require overcoming 2500 km and crossing the borders of several countries. The shortest way lies through Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. You will need not only to worry about the acquisition of a “green card” for a car, but also to get a Schengen visa or visas to countries outside the Schengen Agreement (Romania, Bulgaria).
Climate and Weather in Skopje
Skopje has a moderate continental climate with Mediterranean influences. Due to its southern location, the temperature is warm enough – the average annual temperature is +12.4 ° C. Summers are very hot, the average temperature in July and August stays at +30 ° C, in winter the temperature regularly falls below zero. The average temperature in January is +0.1 °C. In winter, snow may fall and remain for several days, but a permanent snow cover is not formed because of regular thaws.
The average annual precipitation is less than 600 mm, moisture is uniform, with most precipitation in May and least in August. Due to its location in a mountainous basin, Skopje rarely has strong winds, which are positive in winter, and negative in summer.
Population of the capital
The population of Skopje is 550 thousand people, which is a quarter of the entire population of Macedonia. Most of the residents of the city are Macedonians (65%), 27% of the residents are Albanians, another 8% are other Balkan nationalities (Serbs, Turks, Bulgarians, etc.).
Where to stay and what to eat
Skopje has not yet become a tourist city in the full sense of the word, so there are not many hotels. For this reason, the accommodation rates in hotels in the historic center are quite high – from 2500 MKD per room per night. At the same time, the prices of accommodation in the hotels of 4 and 5 stars are moderate – for a room at a 5-star hotel you would have to pay 4,800 MKD, for a room at a 4-star hotel – 3,000 MKD. In the hotels outside the historic center of the city prices start at 1,500 MKD.
For budget travelers the best option is staying in a hostel. The price for a bed in a multi-bed room is 400 MKD. If you do not want to share a room with other tenants, you can choose the most common type of housing in Skopje – private apartments. You can rent an apartment with all conveniences for 1000 MKD, more luxurious options would cost 1000-2000 more.
Like any major Balkan city, Skopje has no problems with the public catering. Their range is really great: from modest cafes to luxurious restaurants. It should be noted that in Skopje, even in cafes with a focus on ethnic cuisine, European dishes are always served. The average bill is small – about 400 MKD in a mid-range café. A dinner with wine costs much more – up to 1,500 MKD.
The cuisine of Macedonia is typical of the Balkans, but at the same time it has a special influence of Turkish cuisine. While in Skopje, you must try at least one of the local national dishes: dzhevuch (meat with rice), chebapi (local sausages), skaru (grilled pork or chicken), Shopski salad (vegetables, feta cheese and olives), cold soup tarator. For dessert, you can try lukumades (doughnuts with honey and cinnamon), bugatsu (puff pastry) or sutliyash (pudding). Finish your meal with a Turkish coffee, which is very popular in Macedonia.
Skopje’s public transport is represented by buses and streetcars, there are no trolleybuses, let alone the metro. Fleet of buses in Skopje is represented only by Chinese copies of British double-decker – capacious double-decker buses. You can buy a bus ticket (getone) from the driver or at a newsstand (a little cheaper). SCOPSKA reusable bus tickets are sold at tobacconists, their purchase allows you to save on a single trip up to 40% of the cost. Buses start at 05:00 and end at 23:00.
Another common way to travel is by cab. Cab drivers Skopje, as a rule, take a fixed amount for landing (30 MKD), the remaining amount runs up on the meter. The average fare for a ride in the Macedonian capital is 150 MKD.
You can rent a car right at Skopje Airport, where you can find the offices of international car rental companies (Europcar, Avis, etc.). In the city center you can rent a car from local companies (Kompas Holidays, Setcom Rent). The average rental price is from 1000 MKD per day.
As an alternative means of transportation in Skopje you can rent a bicycle. Some hotels and hostels offer free bicycle rentals, and specialized rental companies have bicycle stations in the city center.
Money and exchange rates
The monetary unit of Macedonia is the Macedonian denar (dinar). It is very convenient to orient in prices in Macedonia, as the Macedonian denar exchange rate is approximately the same as the Russian ruble. However it is problematic to change Russian currency in Skopje, therefore it is better to come here with dollars or euros or with a bank card and to withdraw money from ATMs if necessary. You can exchange your currency for denars either at bank branches (fees may apply) or at exchange offices, which are limited in Skopje.
You can exchange your currency
- at Skopje airport (worst rate);
- Skopje railway and bus stations (more advantageous exchange rate);
- City exchange offices (the best rate).
Attractions in Skopje
The settlement of Skopje has existed since ancient times, but no buildings from the Roman Empire remain in the city. In the Middle Ages during the Ottoman rule of the Balkans, Skopje was almost entirely a Muslim city, so you can still feel the oriental spirit and color.
The turbulent history of the Balkans, numerous conquests and devastating earthquakes have not allowed the ancient history of Skopje to reach our times. Only in the XX century Skopje was twice destroyed in earthquakes, after which it had to be rebuilt virtually from scratch. Mass epidemics also played their role. So, at the end of XVII century Skopje was completely burned because of the epidemic of cholera that spread here.
However, some of the ancient buildings of Skopje have survived to this day.
Skopje Fortress is called Skopsko Kale (from the Turkish “kale” – fortress). It was founded during the Byzantine Empire in the VI century AD, but a powerful fortress turned at the turn of the X and XI centuries during the Bulgarian King Samuel. Now the buildings of the fortress are almost entirely from the period of Turkish rule over Macedonia. Skopsko Kale consists of 12 towers connected by powerful stone walls. In the summertime there are many festivals, concerts, and theatrical performances held within the fortress. The address of the fortress is the bank of the Vardar River, Skopje 1000.
The stone bridge in Skopje is one of the main symbols of the city. The bridge spans the banks of the Vardar and connects the historic center of Skopje with the New Town. The exact date of the bridge does not exist, according to most researchers, it was built in the 15th century after the conquest of Macedonia by the Omani Empire. The bridge has survived several earthquakes, during one of them four arches collapsed into the waters of Vardar. The last major reconstruction of the bridge was completed in 1992. The length of the bridge – 214 meters, the height – 6 meters. It is built of stone blocks resting on 12 semi-circular arches. Its exact location: south of Skopje Fortress, it connects Macedonia Street and Stone Bridge Street.
Mustafa Pasha Mosque is the main Muslim temple of Skopje, built at the end of the 15th century. The mosque received its name after the vizier Mustafa Pasha, an associate of Sultan Selim I. As usual, the mosque was built on the site of the old Christian church of St. Spas. Surprisingly, over the past 500 years the mosque has undergone virtually no changes: neither war nor earthquake damaged the building and did not change its appearance. Mosque was built in the classical Ottoman tradition – a rectangular one-story building with regular proportions, topped by a massive dome with a diameter of 16 meters. Next to the mosque rises a 42-meter minaret. Inside and outside the building was decorated with intricate oriental ornaments. Not only Muslims can visit the mosque, but also followers of other religions. The exact address is Samoilova Street, in front of the Skopje Fortress.
Kursumli Khan is a caravanserai, erected in the 16th century during the Ottoman Empire. It is one of the rare medieval structures preserved in Skopje. In Islamic countries, the caravanserai served as an inn for noble travelers and traders. The Skopje Caravanserai was typical of the Empire of that time: the square-shaped building has a courtyard surrounded by a covered two-story gallery. In the middle of the courtyard there was a fountain. The first floor was intended for the horses’ corral and the storerooms, the second floor for the accommodation of travelers. The address of the building is Atanas Babata Street, Skopje 1000.
Christian churches in medieval Skopje have almost completely disappeared, the only exception is the Church of the Holy Savior, and that more like a peasant’s house. But in the nearest Skopje suburb the Monastery of St. Panteleimon has survived since the XII century. It is located in the mountains of Vodno, south of the Macedonian capital. The main temple of the monastery was founded by the Byzantine Emperor Alexei Comnenus II in the second half of the 12th century. This church is a classic representative of the Byzantine temple architecture, and inside the temple there are frescos of great historical and cultural value. The address of the monastery is Mount Vodno, Gorno Nerezi 1010.
Saat Kula Clock Tower is another example of Ottoman architecture in Skopje. The tower was built in the middle of 16th century by Ottoman architects, but its appearance leads to bewilderment – Saat Kula does not fit any Ottoman or European architectural standards and more often reminds of the tent-like sample of Old Russian architecture. This may be due to the fact that the historic building was burned down at the end of the 17th century during a cholera epidemic. The current structure was rebuilt only at the very beginning of the XX century. The tower is 40 meters high and was once the tallest building in the Balkans. Address of Saat-Kula: Vasila Ancelarski Street, Skopje 1000.
Domestic aspects in dealing with the population
Despite the fact that the majority of Skopje residents are Christians, the Muslim community of the city is very large, especially in the historic center. There are no particular problems with this – the Albanian neighborhoods are as safe as the Macedonian ones. However, when visiting the Albanian areas it is better not to violate the traditions of Muslim culture – you should not dress too frivolously, behave licentiously, etc. Also, you should not expect pork and alcohol in the menu of Muslim cafes.
It is not a good idea to talk to the locals about political issues, and especially not about interethnic problems. Ten years ago, relations between Albanians and ethnic Macedonians were quite heated. Now the heat of passion has subsided, so it is not in the interests of Skopje inhabitants or tourists to stir up the past.
As in any country with Islamic background, it is customary in Skopje markets and private shops to haggle. Such skill will allow the tourist to save significantly on souvenir shopping.
In cafes, restaurants, cabs Skopje it is customary to pay tips. The amount of commission is standard – 10% of the check.
Skopje has not yet become fully popular among Russian tourists. However, as an alternative to well-known other Balkan cities the Macedonian capital is quite suitable. The main advantage of a holiday in Skopje is very reasonable prices, which the city can still boast.