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Why Skopje Should Be On The Top Of Your Bucket List

6Skopje, capital of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

It’s possible you haven’t heard of this city, but if Skopje isn’t yet on your radar, you need to add it to your bucket list this very instant. It certainly wasn’t on my bucket list when I booked my last-minute budget flights to The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Surely that has to be in the Guinness book of records for the longest country name ever!

It’s often shortened to FYROM or Macedonia but be warned, if you use the latter you may receive some abuse. The Greeks have a big issue with their tiny neighbour trying to pinch the namesake of one of their regions. So much so that I got a little telling off on Twitter for not using the correct name.

One minute in Skopje

If you prefer video, hopefully, ‘One minute in Skopje’ will give you a taste of the city’s key delights. Otherwise, let me share with you how this city captured my heart. I am already itching to return and I have not even disembarked from my return flight.

Čaršija – The Turkish old town

In the heart of the city is the old bazaar with glistening cobbled tiles, Turkish coffee shops, kebab restaurants, souvenir stalls and bustling bars. It’s a colourful place to wander (women, prepare to be stared at) and the melting pot of Balkan and ottoman cultures is evident here.

 

Turkish Bazaar
Turkish Bazaar courtesy of The Sweetest Way
The olf town of Skopje, Macedonia
The old town of Skopje, courtesy of Travel Addicts

Kale Fortress

This is one of the strangest tourist attractions I’ve visited. Perched high above the city, with a bird’s eye view of city panoramas and Mount Vodno, it’s FREE to enter. It looks part abandoned ghost town and part archaeological dig site. More bizarre still is the groups of bedraggled guys chatting over picnics or sleeping in the grass.

WARNING: if you are travelling with children, do not let them wander off alone. Health and safety laws do not exist here with rusty barbed wire barring entryways and sheer, barrierless drop offs. There’s nothing to see within the walls apart from the guys and scary looking policeman. I am unsure what they are guarding but given the extensive Kevlar and machine guns it must be something important.

The sole reason to visit is for the views and they are spectacular.

Kale Fortress, courtesy of The Sweetest Way
Kale Fortress, courtesy of The Sweetest Way
Kale Fortress, Skopje, Macedonia
A cool sculpture in Kale Fortress, Skopje, Macedonia
Views from Kale Fortress, Skopje, Macedonia
Views from Kale Fortress

Opposite the fortress, you will find the mosque of Sultan Murat so head there next before descending back into town.

Sultan Murat Mosque

Skopje differs from Ohrid in its religions and ethnicity. There is a much greater Muslim influence here with minarets dotting the skyline instead of the innumerable Christian crosses we saw in the south.

This mosque is unusual for the colour of the stone and is another FREE attraction. Be sure to take off your shoes by the front door and I recommend women cover up arms, legs, and head. Whilst there appears to be no staff to reprimand you should you do otherwise, don’t be surprised if you get some negative attention from any stray worshippers if you don’t.

Sultan Murat mosque, Skopje, Macedonia
Sultan Murat mosque, Skopje, Macedonia courtesy of Journeys Wonders

Macedonia square and surroundings

The area on both sides of the Kameni Most bridge is simply stunning. Grandiose marbled columns hold up whitewashed palatial buildings, fountains spurt water into their basins and countless statues are scattered about. The Bridge of The Civilisations is a modern day equivalent of the Charles Bridge in Prague with statues of ancient heroes lining it. From above, it resembles an eye but sadly I did not find this out until after we left.

It is easy to while away a few hours admiring the incredible fountains or lazing in terrace cafes. The frenetic construction of buildings and monuments in recent years is somewhat mind boggling. It’s as though the architects were determined to build bigger, better, and more brag-worthy edifices to commemorate ancient heroes.

Macedonia Square, Skopje, Macedonia
Macedonia Square, Skopje, Macedonia (Picture on the left courtesy of The Sweetest Way)
Alexander the Great Fountain, Skopje, Macedonia
Alexander The Great Fountain, courtesy of Drive On The Left

The Holocaust Museum

Not surprisingly this is not a bag of fun but is a very interesting historic reconstruction of the fate of Macedonian Jews. Virtually the entire Jewish population of Macedonia was wiped out during the holocaust and their stories are recounted here.

There is an especially poignant gallery of children’s pictures and drawings on the ground floor. One, in particular, catches my eye, depicting seven graves each etched with the name of a mass genocide. The year of each is also captured and the Cambodian Killing Fields, Rwanda, and Balkan War all serve to remind us that it will happen again.

Please note: to gain entry you need to push the button on the intercom and it is FREE. Happy days!

Around town

Mount Vodno

Once you tire of all the monuments there are two ideal day trips that you can take. The first to Mount Vodno is more a half day involving a bus ride. Take bus 25 from the bus station or board just behind Macedonia Square (on the same side of the road as the large arc de triumph). For 35 Den this drops you at the base of the cable car which will take you to the top of Mount Vodno at just over 1,000 metres.

Cable cars on Mount Vodno, Skopje, Macedonia
Mount Vodno cable car courtesy of Breathe With Us

From here you will have unobstructed 360 views of the city, surrounding valley and mountains circling you. Covered in misty clouds, the mountains look sublime and have me longing to return for a future ski trip.

Mount Vodno, Skopje, Macedonia
Mount Vodno scenes

Matka canyon

Our day trip to Matka ends up being a washout thanks to relentless rain but this place is beautiful regardless of the weather. Make sure to dress for the occasion and go no matter how wet or cold it is.

Bus 60 takes you there for just 35 Den (50p) in around 40 minutes. It drops you by the walking track and from here it takes ten-minutes to get to the restaurant, hotel, and church.

Alternatively, you can jump on bus 2 to Sagari and get a cab from there. There is no cab rank but you can try to flag one down or wait for an opportunist local to offer to drive you the last few km. In some respects, this is a better option as the number 2 runs much more frequently than the haphazard timings of the 60.

Matka Canyon on a drizzly day
Matka Canyon on a drizzly day

Once in the canyon

You can head into the canyon on foot taking the narrow, cliff-hugging hiking trail. If you prefer to travel on the water, you can opt for a boat trip or kayak hire. For 400 Den the boat trip lasts an hour and includes entrance to a cave thought to be the deepest underwater cave in the world.

The boat will only leave if there are sufficient passengers and unfortunately for us, this wasn’t the case. We end up watching the rain in the cozy restaurant for a few hours until the rain abates.

Encouraged by a glimmer of brightening skies and determined to see at least a little of the canyon I rush outside. Leaving my dad behind, I promise to be back in ten minutes and weave my way up the uneven path hugging the cliff. Low clouds hover above lush greenery, jagged cliffs, and serene waters and I find myself smiling in spite of the rain.

I am gutted when I have to turn around but the abundance of water and my promise to my dad force me to do the sensible thing.

Note: there are tours to Matka Canyon costing €25 but do it yourself and you will save a ton.

Matka Canyon Hotel, Skopje, Macedonia
Matka Canyon Hotel on a sunny day, courtesy of The Sweetest Way

How long should I stay?

I would recommend a minimum of two days but if you can spare it, ideally three days would be better to do Skopje justice. This will allow you a few leisurely days in the city and a full day in Matka Canyon.

Top travel hacks for Skopje

    1. Book an Airbnb if you are travelling in a group or want self-catering facilities. We stayed at Tina’s place which is spacious, in a brilliant location and has great views over Mount Vodno.
    2. If you prefer a hotel book through Hotels.com for one free night in ten. Note that hotel chains are thin on the ground with just a lone Marriott in the main tourist area.
    3. The Marriott is definitely the best place to splurge with a rooftop bar opening early in 2017. From there, you will be able to admire incredible vistas of the hugely impressive Alexander the Great fountain.
    4. Book flights using a search engine such as Skypicker or book directly with Wizz Air. You can read my review here and rest assured if you haven’t heard of them, they are a pretty slick budget airline with a focus on lesser-known Eastern European destinations.
    5. Don’t forget travel insurance. A local chap I met was telling me stories of the terrible local hospitals. If the worst should happen you may need to be repatriated and unless you are happy to lose your house, it isn’t worth the risk.

Have you been to Skopje?

If so I would love to hear what you thought and any other tips you have for potential visitors. I absolutely love this city in spite of the ridiculous, OTT displays. Opinion is divided on the city however with some blogs being very critical.

Are you planning a trip to Skopje?

If you are planning a trip to Skopje anytime soon, be sure to check out my ‘Beginners guide to Macedonia’ as travelling around the country poses some challenges which this guide may help with.

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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14 comments

  1. I love Skopje and you definitely made me want to go back there! It’s interesting how people rarely think about Macedonia for a nice, chilled and cheap holiday.

  2. This wasn’t on my radar but then again it would be perfect. Thanks for letting me know. Its a quaint place I would like to explore.

  3. Skopje looks like a cute quaint place to visit and will have to put on my radar for future consideration. That does have to be the longest name I have ever known for a country. The history is really quite interesting and find that I need to keep re-educating myself on geography because boarders and names have changed so much since I learned them in the 70’s 🙂

  4. Ok it’s definitely not been on my radar, but is now! I’ll be going to Kale Fortress first, as I like anything with a view (especially free 🙂

  5. I’ve said it before but I LOVE your travel hacks section! So useful and handy. Skopje looks fabulous! Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thanks for the kind comments Anna. Skopje is definitely one of the highlights of my 2016 travel calendar. The world really is full of some amazing places!

  6. I haven’t been there but I would love to go. Your guide is so helpful.

  7. This looks like one of those places that is up and coming. Great tips on where to stay and maybe not travel with kids. The architecture and history look amazing. Matka Canyon looks like my kind of place.

  8. This is somewhere I would love to go. Truly Skopje is a MUST! thank you for sharing! cheers!

  9. Wow Skopje looks so beautiful and I loved your video! That Matka Canyon Hotel cafe was so cute I could easily sit there all day, and the canyon looks gorgeous. Thanks for adding yet another place to my ever-growing travel list! hahaha

  10. Your video definitely piques my interest. I can see making it a weekend destination when we’re able to find some good flights. It looks fun to explore. Love those Turkish bazaars. I wouldn’t have thought they’d have that in Skopje. Obviously have to go check it out for myself.

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