Five Things First Time Travellers To Macedonia Should Know
- Macedonia uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Just like in Russia, it can make navigating the country difficult for English speakers. Spend some time learning the basics to help make your trip easier, as most signs won't have an English translation.
- Macedonia is not part of the European Union. This means that the Euro is not accepted and you'll have to exchange your money for Denars. Withdraw from ATMs instead of exchanging cash at the airport if you want a better rate.
- You can't buy alcohol after a certain time. In summer, liquor sales stop at 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. in winter. However, if you forget to buy before these times, booze will still be available at bars and restaurants.
- Tipping is at your discretion. In Macedonia, the locals usually round up the bill and leave change. You could do the same or tip 5-10% if you feel the service was good.
- The tap water is safe to drink. You'll see plenty of public fountains where you can top up your water bottle. But if you're paranoid, it won't hurt to check with locals beforehand if you're in a more rural area.
Best Time To Visit Macedonia
Macedonia is a great all-year-round destination. For the best weather, head to the country in its spring or fall months. The temperatures are comfortable, and you'll find great deals on accommodation and flights. September and October host some of Macedonia's best events including the Skopje Jazz Festival and the Kavadarci Wine Carnival.
From June to August, summer is in full swing. Thousands of visitors from Europe flock here for the holidays and Ohrid is buzzing with activity. One of the country's biggest events, Ohrid Summer Festival takes place, and many cool off in the city's beautiful lake.
The only downside is that summer is the most expensive time of year and the hottest. Temperatures reach 40°C, and the thick crowds push up hotel rates. If you're planning your trip during this time, make sure to stay hydrated and book your trip a few months in advance.
If you're a fan of the colder weather, Macedonia's winter months won't disappoint. From December to February you can hit the ski resorts and tackle the slopes. It's also a seasonal lull, and some places will shut down. However, you won't struggle to find a decent hotel, and you'll just need to plan your itinerary around the attractions that do stay open.
Located on the Albanian Montenegrin border, Ohrid is one of Macedonia's most popular destinations.
The city's biggest drawcard is its lake. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its diverse ecosystem, and natural beauty attract thousands of visitors each year.
Other notable attractions include Tsar Samuel's Fortress that dates back to the 10th century, ancient churches, theatres and open-air museums.
Skopje is Macedonia's vibrant capital city. It's home to one-third of the population and boasts a history that dates back to 4000 BC.
Walking through Skopje's streets, you'll pass over 200 ancient statues and diverse architectural styles ranging from the Ottoman era to Neo-Classical.
The city's Old Bazaar is one of its top landmarks. Built under the Ottoman rule, it's recognised for its important cultural heritage.
Tetovo is one of Macedonia's oldest towns. Located at the foot of the Sar Mountains range, it dates back to the Bronze Age. In fact, Tetovo still has the original stone bridges made by the Illyrian tribes.
But besides its historical importance and natural beauty, it's also rich with culture. Most of the locals are immigrants from Albania which gives the town a unique atmosphere.
Top Attractions in Macedonia
Mavrovo National Park
Mavrovo National Park is the largest reserve in Macedonia. It's home to lush forests, snow-capped mountains and a beautiful lake.
For adventurous travellers, Mavrovo has a lot to offer. It boasts some of the country's best rock climbing routes, a world-class ski resort and plenty of trails to discover.
The lake is 10 kilometres long and is known for its excellent trout fishing. But its most unique feature is the Church of St. Nicolas. Once submerged by floods in the 1950s, it's slowly re-emerging from the depths of the lake.
If a few hours of exploring is not enough for you, intrepid travellers can set up camp or stay at the cosy hotels in the nearby village.
The Matka Canyons are synonymous with adventure. Spanning across 5,000 hectares of land, it boasts some of the best canyoning in Europe with beautiful natural caves that are begging to be explored. It's also famous for its alpine hiking and has an artificial lake that's ideal for kayaking and fishing adventures.
But that's not all you can expect to find here. The Matka Canyons are home to a number of Medieval buildings, ruined monasteries and the ancient town of Matka.
If you get hungry, there is a restaurant near the beginning of the hiking trails. It's located on the banks of the river, and while it's expensive, the views and traditional Macedonian food are worth it.
Lake Ohrid is 3 million years old and one of Macedonia's most beautiful natural attractions. Its pristine waters reach depths of 300 metres, and the lake spans across 34 kilometres.
Over the centuries, it's developed a unique aquatic system, and its shores are crammed with history. You'll find picturesque lakeside churches and the bones of a medieval castle scattered across the lakeside.
If you're planning a visit during the summer, book your accommodation in advance. It's one of the most popular destinations for locals and plays host to Macedonia's biggest summer festival.
Located in the old town of Ohrid, Samuel's Fortress marks the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire. Built by Tsar Samuel in the 10th century, it was one of the most impenetrable fortresses in the Balkans.
Today, it's the largest preserved medieval fortification in Macedonia.
After undergoing renovations in 2003, it has become a top tourist attraction. The fortress offers impressive views of Lake Ohrid from its 18 towers, and there is even a gate that leads directly to the lakeside.
St. Jovan Kaneo
Another not to be missed site near Lake Ohrid is St. Jovan Kaneo. Situated on the edge of a cliff, the 13th-century church boasts impressive views of the landscape.
During restoration work in the early 1960s, beautiful religious frescoes were found inside its dome. While the painters are unknown, their work is a must-see while exploring the church.
Once you've wandered around the site to your heart's content, follow the path down to the nearby restaurant, or you can take a boat back to Ohrid harbour if you don't feel like walking back.
Major International Airports in Macedonia
- Ohrid Airport
- Skopje Airport