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How To Avoid Frustration With The Beginner’s Guide To Macedonia

the beginners guide to Macedonia A few weeks ago, I had a vague idea of where Macedonia was but I could not name the capital, any of the major towns, the language or the currency. It wasn’t on my bucket list, I’d seen no blogs raving about it and I didn’t even realise I knew someone from Macedonia. Or should I say the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?
What kind of travel blogger am I? Well, clearly A rubbish one!

Macedonia pain relief

For anyone else who may be considering visiting, this post is designed to take some of the pain and frustration out of a first-time visit to Macedonia. Macedonian tourist infrastructure is a little lacking and information can be hard to come by. I spent hours searching the Internet for bus timetables and tourist information only to come up empty-handed.

Hopefully, this post will not only inspire you to visit but will help prevent some of the frustrations we have experienced on our brief trip. It’s not intended to be a complete overview of everything you need to know, but instead to share some of the key things we discovered.

Where is it?

For anyone who admits to being as ignorant as I, Macedonia is in the central Balkans. Squashed between Greece to the south, Albania to the west, Kosovo and Serbia to the north and Bulgaria to the west, this landlocked nation is like a bullied kid squeezed into the middle of the back seat.

Sublime views from Samuil's Fortress, Ohrid, Macedonia
Sublime views from Samuil’s Fortress towards Albania

It is perhaps best known for being in a permanent state of tension with Greece over claims to Alexander the Great and the use of Macedonia in the country name. It also happens to be the name of one of the Greek regions and the Greeks didn’t take too kindly to its use (I even got called out on Twitter for not calling the country by its official name of FYROM. Wtf?!)

Why go?

This is one little gem you don’t want to miss. You may not have heard of the place but you won’t be disappointed. It’s packed with more monuments than you can count, fantastic, frivolous fountains and untouched beauty. Macedonia is home to serene gorges draped in mist, glistening lakes, high peaks and a fascinating history. If you need more inspiration, check out these posts.

Kale Fortress, Skopje, Macedonia
A cool sculpture in Kale Fortress, Skopje, Macedonia

When to go?

The summer months are understandably busier. Although October is coming to the end of the season and not everything will be open, I highly recommend this month. You will have key attractions to yourself, can still enjoy balmy days in the sun and drinks on the terrace at a night.

How to get there?

We flew into Ohrid in the south on WizzAir from London Luton and returned with them from Skopje. They are the only direct flights I could find although you can book connecting flights with a number of airlines by searching on Kiwi.  The good news is the flights are some of the best value flights I came across on my hunt for a budget last-minute break and it only gets better when you land.

Accommodation

Airbnb has arrived on these shores so you can take your pick of a number of fabulous looking apartments giving you great value accommodation. We stayed in Aurelie Apartment in Ohrid and Tina’s Baroque apartment in Skopje. Both were superb value in fabulous locations.

Don’t be put off by the communal areas in these buildings as they seem to be spartan and neglected. Once inside the apartments, you will find some magnificent traditional apartments with great facilities.

If you would prefer a hotel, you can take your pick on hotels.com (remember one free night in ten). Note that international brands are only just appearing with just a Marriott and a Holiday Inn in Skopje and only local hotels in Ohrid.

Views from Kale Fortress, Skopje, Macedonia
Views from Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia

Eating

If you are a McDonald’s or Starbucks addict then you may have to undergo withdrawal symptoms in Macedonia as thankfully the Golden Arches have yet to descend. The only evidence I saw of fast food chains was a Burger King at Skopje airport as we were leaving.

Don’t be deterred however as the cuisine is a real melange of Macedonian, Turkish, Greek and other cuisines. You certainly aren’t going to starve and the food is incredibly reasonably priced. We ate out most nights for less than a tenner for two people including a few beers. Yes, you can forget about the post-Brexit decimation of the pound here.

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia
A great place to watch the world go by while enjoying a meal – Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Macedonian cuisine seems to be heavily weighted towards stews but if you try only one Macedonian dish, make sure it is a shopska salad. Cucumbers, tomatoes, onion and a lone olive combines with grated goat’s cheese to offer a simple, culinary masterpiece that I find myself craving. I could eat this morning, noon and night and I wasn’t the only one as a Swedish guy I met felt exactly the same.

Getting around

Long distance

Intercity and international buses are plentiful and cheap. In Ohrid you will need to book tickets either at the bus station or at the tiny Galeb office in the middle of town. There is currently no option to buy tickets online as is the case for most things in Macedonia. The journey to Skopje costs just 490 Den (around £7) and takes 3.25 to 4 hours depending on traffic.

There are trains between some cities but I didn’t use them.

The Bridge of Civilisations, Skopje, Macedonia
The Bridge of Civilisations, Skopje, Macedonia

Local transport

Within cities, buses are frequent but timetables and information are hard to come by. Bizarrely in Skopje, even if you figure out which bus you need and the stop you need, you then have to find the stop. This is no mean feat given the numbering seems to have no logic to it.

Mount Vodno MIllennium Cross, Skopje
Mount Vodno, Millennium Cross, Skopje

Number 25 for Mount Vodno is in the middle lane and number 60 for Matka Canyon is in the first lane, furthest from the toilets. There seems to be no information office, very few timetables, nothing in English and the gangs of teenagers roaming the station can be unnerving. I do not recommend hanging out in Skopje bus station at night or for long during the day if you are travelling solo.

If you do manage to find a bus then fares are super cheap at just 35 or 50 Den (50 to 75p) depending on your journey. They are also great fun providing an insight into daily local life.

I found the bus system to be the most frustrating part of our trip. Not wanting to splurge on taxis, I was desperate to use buses but the lack of information makes it challenging.

Taxis

Taxis are reasonable at around 250 Den (£3.50) to Mount Vodno, 900 to the airport (£13) and 500 (£7) to Matka Canyon. In Ohrid, we only used one cab to get to the bus station on the outskirts of town and that cost 100 Den (£1.50).

Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia
Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia

Tourist information

The main source of tourist information online seems to be Exploring Macedonia (more a travel agency) and travel blogs. The latter are better sources of information in my opinion but given the relatively few tourists, you have to be persistent to find what you are looking for.

In Skopje, I couldn’t find the tourist information I was sent to and the one I came across in the bus station was closed. Most sources of tourist information seem to be independent travel agents selling trips or long distance bus tickets to neighbouring countries.

The internet is little better with few sites, countless bad links and poor functionality. For the google generation, used to relying on the internet, you may have to revert to a more old-fashioned mode of travel. Download your guidebook, buy a map and set off to explore.

Language

The Macedonian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet. This makes it nigh on impossible to decipher so it pays to write down any destinations in both English and Cyrillic should you be straying from the big cities. In both Ohrid and Skopje we found English to be widely spoken in restaurants and bars but less so elsewhere.

The Bridge of Civilisations, Skopje, Macedonia
The Bridge of Civilisations, Skopje, Macedonia

I carry a small notepad with key information and also as a catchphrase style accessory should I find myself out of options for explaining what I need. (Let’s just say there is a very poor picture of a boat in there!)

German seems to be widely spoken as well but I didn’t pick up on many other languages.

Safety

When a country is not on the mainstream tourist trail this is a question which frequently crops up. I travelled solo during the day for most of our trip and felt safe all the time. The only exception was the teenage gangs in the bus station who may have been entirely harmless but I wasn’t hanging around to find out.

Money

The local currency is Denar with currently around 70 to the pound. ATMs are widespread and we had no issues using them.

Credit cards are widely accepted with the exception of AMEX.

Typical costs

  • Small beer – around £1.40
  • Large beer – £2
  • Glass of Wine – £3
  • Omelette – £2

Please help me

Hopefully, this information will help you out but if you are visiting and come across any useful information I have not covered, please message me or comment below. I’m really not joking when I say information is hard to come by and even a Sherlock like me really struggled to find helpful stuff. I’d also love to hear what you think about the country.

It may be more challenging to travel around that come countries, but the extra effort is definitely worth it.

The boardwalk at Ohrid, Macedonia
The boardwalk at Ohrid, Macedonia on a hazy morning

About Anne

Anne is the founder and editor of TravelTheGlobe4Less. If she isn't travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 80 countries on six continents and sampled everything from backpacking to bank bursting travel. Her mission is to help you enjoy more luxurious travel without the luxury price tag through the use of airline and hotel rewards and other money saving travel tips

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17 comments

  1. A beginners guide to “Macedonia”… that neglects to mention the so-called “Macedonians” are actually mostly ethnic Bulgarians that lived in Yugoslavia. Also “forgotten” is mention that Macedonia is actually located in Greece… not ancient Paeonia. And no mention of the former Yugoslavians little quick change into apparently antihellenic founders of the Hellenistic period? No mention of the blatantly obvious irredentism against Greece? Ethnic cleanse much?

    It appears like some are more interested in hiding their mistake of ridiculously trying to ethnic engineer Slavs into “Macedonians” than the ethics they claim to have.

    • I deliberately haven’t focussed on those issues because this isn’t intended to be an history lesson for the Baltic region, but an insight into useful travel information for those travelling through the country which calls itself Macedonia in anything other than official publications. I don’t think the bloodshed you refer to is relevant to the content and I don’t profess to be an expert on the history of the region.

  2. Macedonia seems to be really underrated! You were on a boat in your video. Where was it? The water is so crystal clear!

  3. Macedonia looks so beautiful. I love traveling off peak, sounds like late september or october is the time to go. I have never stayed in an airbnb, but it seems like the most affordable way to put yourself right in the middle of all the best things it has to offer.

  4. Called out on Twitter?!? haahha that’s sort of hilarious. By who? The Macedonia police? Or.. I guess the Greek police would be more like it. Poor Macedonia getting pushed around. I’d love to go there. I didn’t know much about it either, but it sounds really interesting.. at least historically.

    • Ha ha I think it was just a proud Greek Macedonian. I’m not sure he liked my response which was along the lines of ‘take your petty squabble elsewhere.’ Of course I guess it is easy for us to dismiss this rivalry but if it is deep rooted in the national psyche then I suppose it evokes strong feelings. Ultimately though I feel it is a name and for most non Greeks they won’t even be aware that there is a region of Greece that goes by this name

  5. Good on you for putting out so much information on Macedonia — I’m finding blogs like this one are far more useful than the official sites as a country begins to embrace tourism. I love the blend of history and creeping modernity that you describe. And I could certainly enjoy tasting the local foods without breaking the bank. Sounds like it’s time to add Macedonia to my bucket list!

    • Thanks Patricia. The issues in many of these countries is that there simply isn’t really any official information or if there is, it is really a badly disguised tour operator site. I found myself heavily reliant on other blogs during my trip as it was the only way I could find the information I need. Unfortunately I cannot recall the name of the blog but there was a great one on Matka Canyone which helped me figure out how to get there without taking a ridiculously expensive day trip.

  6. Thanks for all of the fabulous tips – Macedonia is a country I too don’t know that much about, but it does seem like it’s somewhat of an undiscovered gem with a lot of history. We’re heading to Europe in summer this year, and will probably be in London for a little bit – thanks for the tip on WizzAir from London Luton, I hadn’t heard of the airline before, but will definitely look into some flights during our spare time!

  7. My sister was in Macedonia just last week! It was a brief pitstop but she might be there again and I will be ready to send her this guide. She lived in Bosnia a few years ago and I only came to learn of this country when I visited her otherwise I would be clueless too. The sculpture work in all various forms looks so interesting! I never knew that it was such an artistic country!

  8. This is a great guide to Macedonia! I haven’t heard of this place but it seems wonderful. Hopefully I can visit in the near future! I like that you provided some information about safety too.

  9. I’ve actually read a few travel blogs on Macedonia and all of them mentioned how they enjoyed it. I would definitely visit hopefully sooner than later before the hoards of tourists turn it into the next Croatia. The food sounds delicious – how can it not be with such a diverse mix!

  10. I love the challenge of travelling without the usual ease of access to information, although admittedly it is frustrating! Sometimes it works out and you have an awesome time anyway – it sounds like you enjoyed your trip despite the initial difficulties! It certainly looks like a beautiful place to visit 🙂

    • Yes I enjoyed the challenge ultimately and I guess it’s s small price to pay for having tourist attractions to myself!

  11. Wow! I’ve been wanting to visit Macedonia for some time, but I haven’t had an opportunity to, so I haven’t put a lot of research into it. This guide definitely is a lot of help though! I’m also happy to hear that the Golden Arches haven’t made their way there yet. Thanks for sharing! Cheers!

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