Macedonia is probably one of the most fascinating but still underpublicized tourist destinations in Europe. You might not think there aren’t too many interesting places to visit in a country barely bigger than Vermont but you’d be wrong. Macedonia today is a melting pot of Persian, Roman, Ottoman, and Slavic cultures where most cities’ skyline is dominated by both, Orthodox Christian churches and mosques and where the omnipresent limestone-crusted mountains rise over the quiet countryside. There are many good reasons why should you visit this lovely country and hopefully, this article will show you some of them. Here are the 28 best places to visit in Macedonia.
Let’s start at the beginning:
Skopje, not your typical European capital
If you’re planning to visit Macedonia, this will probably be your first stop. Skopje will show you how Macedonians embraced a modern European way of living while still preserving their ancient past. There is no better example of this than the Stone Bridge, which connects the new, modern part of Skopje to the Old Ottoman Quarter and crossing it will make you feel like traveling back in time. Some other interesting sights include the Kale Fortress, Skopje’s own standing guard, the city square, Vodno Hill, and the Mother Teresa Memorial House (she was actually born in Skopje). While you’re here, you should also not miss…
The deepest underwater cave in Europe
The Matka Canyon is a home to 10 caves and more than 70 different species. Matka is very popular among kayakers because of its calm waters and lush scenery and among cliff climbers because of its steep, dramatic gorges. The most amazing thing about Matka is probably the Vrelo Cave, which might be the deepest underwater cave in Europe. Today, officially that’s Hranická Propast in the Czech Republic but Vrelo haven’t been fully explored even though there were several attempts. Currently, no one knows exactly how deep this cave is.
Related: everything to know before traveling to Montenegro
Stobi, the ancient capital
Stobi was the capital of the Macedonia Secunda province during the Roman times. It was one of the most important ancient capitals in the region, lying on the route that connected the Danube River with the Aegean Sea. In just one hour driving away from Skopje and 120 denars (2 EUR), you can get an ultimate glimpse of history.
Shara, the mountain of ice lakes
Spreading across 80 kilometers, the Shar Mountain is longest mountain massif in the country. It’s here that you’ll find some of the highest mountaintops in the country, with the highest one being Titov Vrv, named after Josip Broz Tito sitting on 2 748 meters. The massif also has a very diverse flora and fauna featuring over 100 species, including the very rare Balkan Lynx. The Shar Mountain is also a home to probably the best skiing center- Popova Shapka and over 20 breathtaking ice lakes. If you’re looking for an ultimate winter paradise destination, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Gonoi, the “beauty cave”
The Gonoi Cave lies off the beaten track but it’s one of the most beautiful caves in Macedonia. What makes this cave special is the fact that its stalagmite’s shape resembles a woman’s body. That’s why Macedonian people literally call it “Beauty Cave”. The inside of this cave is absolutely stunning! It has various forms of cave art, lakes, and even waterfalls as high as seven meters. Similarly like Vrelo, this cave is also not completely explored and is unfortunately forgotten by the local authorities even though it has the potential to be the next big tourist sensation.
The Mavrovo National Park, an underwater church, and a wedding that lasts for 7 days
Mavrovo is the largest National in Macedonia, spreading over 192,000 acres. It has an amazing nature and a diverse wildlife and some of the most famous skiing resorts in Macedonia. The Mavrovo Lake is another beautiful place that attracts a lot of photographers from around the country throughout the year.
Mavrovo also has its own underwater church which was flooded in 1953 when a severe earthquake damaged the dam containing the local lake. The church today is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the region.
Another place to visit around Mavrovo is St. Jovan Bigorski, one of the most beautiful monasteries in the country that supposedly has a few pieces of the legendary cross Jesus was crucified in its foundation.
Finally, while you’re here, don’t forget to visit Galicnik, one of the most beautiful small villages in Macedonia which is one of the last places where you can witness a traditional Macedonian wedding that lasts for 7 days. This happens every year in the month of July. Finally, if you want to get there, you’ll have to drive on arguably the most scenic road in the country!
Enjoy the stunning nature of Lazaropole
These are two beautiful villages that many locals don’t know about. This whole area is so green that it will shock your senses. The lovely countryside parceled out in patches of green and brown, over roads and rivers winding through the landscapes always makes me wonder how there aren’t more tourists around. This is one of those places that will make you forget about your daily struggles and just enjoy nature as the gurgling waters of Gari River sing the hum of the turning earth.
A cave that looks like it came out of Lord of the Rings
Peshna is another beautiful cave in Macedonia that’s yet to be discovered by international tourists. Peshna’s entrance is 30 meters high, which makes it one of the biggest cave entrances in Europe. The Peshna River, located right next to the cave, forms several lakes and waterfalls, creating the biggest cave system in Macedonia (10+km long).
The most interesting part about Peshna is that familiar feeling you get when you go inside and turn around. If you’re struggling to remember – it’s Lord of the Rings. The New York Times described Peshna as “identical to the imaginary caves in “Lord of the Rings”.
The oldest lake in Europe
This UNESCO World Heritage city is probably the best destination in Macedonia for a summer vacation. Ohrid also has the nickname “The Jerusalem of the Balkan” because, at one point in time, it had 365 churches- one for every day of the year. The city is also home to Ohrid Lake- a 4 million years old lake that happens to be the oldest one in Europe. While you’re at Ohrid, you should visit the Kaneo Monastery, the Ancient Theatre, St. Clement- what was once arguably the oldest university in Europe, and the Samuel’s Fortress, where you can experience an amazing view of the city.
A beautiful monastery that hangs off a cliff
Located around 25 kilometers away from Ohrid, this stunning monastery is located on a rocky cliff near the Albanian border. Here, you’ll enjoy some panoramic views of Lake Ohrid, find some 16th-century frescoes, and the grave of St. Naum, one of the most important people in Macedonia’s history.
Read more about traveling to Albania.
The Bay of Bones
Roughly halfway between Ohrid and St. Naum, you’ll find the legendary museum on water, known as the Bay of Bones. This is actually a reconstruction of an ancient settlement that was built by the Romans between 1200 and 700 BC.
The Galicica National Park and endangered Balkan Lynx
Spreading across an area of 25,000 acres, Galicica is the smallest National Park in Macedonia. If you’re lucky, you can see the endangered Balkan Lynx. There are 36 of them in Galicica and there are also small populations of bears and wolves. Galicica is a home to arguably the most famous hiking trail in the country which leads to the top of the mountain, from where you can see the Ohrid Lake on your right, and the Prespa Lake on the left. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful view in the whole country!
A village that’s 1,000 years old
This sleeping, charming fishing village is a place that not many locals know about. This is the closest inhabited place to the Albanian border. Hence, you’ll witness a rich culture with influences from both nations and you can even hop across the border if you fancy. This calm and picturesque village will give you a real taste of Macedonian rural life and history, as Radozda is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Macedonia. It was first mentioned in historical documents in 1342!
Trpejca, the St. Tropez of Macedonia
Trpejca is another pristine, fishing village located between the rocks on the east coast of Ohrid Lake that offers some of the most spectacular views of the Ohrid Lake. Trpejca’s beaches are so beautiful that Telegraph called it the St. Tropez of Macedonia. It’s here that you’ll find the clearest water in the Ohrid Lake, which makes it a great spot for divers. The village is still relatively unfrequented and still offers an intimacy that places off-the-beaten-track usually have but I can definitely see this changing in the future.
Macedonia’s very own Snake Island
Macedonia is probably the only landlocked country that has an island in its territory. On this island, you’ll find a lot of pelicans, turtles, and cormorants, as well as some endemic species of trees. However, what makes this island famous (and also a bit dangerous to visit) are snakes.
The island today is open for visitors and has been since 2008. However, the large presence of snakes, especially in their mating season makes it very difficult (and not so recommendable) to visit.
Bitola, the second largest city tourists don’t know about
Bitola is the second largest city in Macedonia with a great all-around sampling of Macedonian culture, dining, and day trip options. Some places you can’t miss while in Bitola are the Magnolia Square, the Old Bazaar, and Sirok Sokak, Bitola’s very own Champs Elysees. While you’re around, you also shouldn’t miss…
And another ancient capital
In the ancient world, Bitola was known as Heraclea, founded in the 4th century B.C. by Phillip the Second of Macedon. These fascinating ruins are only 2 kilometers away from the city and the archeological park is a home to several buildings that are more than 3,500 years old! Another very notable attraction are the beautiful floor mosaics that depict religious imagery dating back to the Byzantine era.
Pelister and the most beautiful mountain lakes in the country
Located around 30 kilometers away from Bitola, you will find Macedonia’s oldest national park, created in 1938. Pelister is widely famous for its diverse flora and fauna that includes the five-leafed Molika pine, Pelagonian trout, wild boars, wolves, deer, and eagles, as well as the breathtaking hiking trails. My favorite place in this National Park are the two glacial lakes, known as “the Eyes of Pelister”, situated on the highest point of the national park.
Krusevo, the ultimate paragliding spot
Nestled along a ridge that rises from the Pelagonia Valley, Krusevo is Macedonia’s highest city, rising above 4,500 feet. Its specific geography makes it the perfect paragliding spot and this attracts a lot of paragliding enthusiasts from the region. Krusevo was the stronghold of the first Macedonian republic, known as the Krusevo Republic that gained independence from the Ottomans. It’s also the best place in Macedonia to try the famous Turkish delight and the birthplace of one of Macedonia’s greatest musicians, Tose Proeski.
See exactly how Roman baths used to look like!
Located around 12 kilometers away from Strumica, you’ll find Bansko- one of the largest hot water springs on the Balkan. These Roman baths have been around since the 2nd century BC and remain one of the last remnants of Roman times to be preserved in such a great shape. The bath has 11 rooms, including rooms for the sick, massage rooms, and rooms for cold baths.
Smolari, the highest waterfall in the country
Also located near Strumica, Smolari is the tallest waterfall in Macedonia, rising above nearly 30 meters. The waterfall is a part of the Lomnica River and if you want to get there, you have to pass a trail that includes 300 stone steps. The beautiful nature surrounding the falls makes Smolari one of the hotspots for picnics and camping.
Kavadarci, the wine capital
Located in the heart of the country, Kavadarci might not be as pretty as some other places on this list but it’s one you have to visit because of two reasons. Wine and Rakija! I traveled in many places in the Balkan Peninsula and I can say that the best wine you can find in this region comes from Kavadarci. This alone should be a reason enough to visit!
Berovo, the city with the cleanest air
Hidden in the Malesevo Mountains, Berovo is one of the smallest towns in Macedonia. In recent years, Berovo has become an attractive tourist destination, especially in the winter. Berovo is the city with the cleanest air in the Balkan Peninsula and the city that gets the most sunny days out of all cities in Macedonia, with an average of 6.4 hours per day. Three things Berovo is famous for are the legendary Berovo potato, the cheese, and the traditional skill of wood crafting.
Ponikva, the ultimate mountain getaway
Located 1500 meters above sea level, Ponikva is another mountain destination that’s slowly turning into a tourist attraction. Here, you can find 30 or more centimeters in throughout most of the year. Ponikva is a great starting point for conquering the highest mountaintops of both, the Malesevo and the Osogovo Mountains. Talking about the highest mountaintops, if you’re here you really shouldn’t miss…
The mountaintop that allows you to be in two countries at the same time
Ruen is the highest top of the Osogovo Mountains, elevating up to 2,252 meters. Like many other mountaintops in Macedonia, Ruen offers spectacular views and beautiful, pristine trails where you can get away and feel isolated from the rest of the world. However, what makes this top special is that it’s located right on the border with Bulgaria. Hence, both, Macedonia and Bulgaria account this top as part of their territory and by making it to the top, you can actually get to a location where you can have your two feet in two different countries.
Stanecki, another divine waterfall
The Stanecki Falls are located in the northern part of the Osogovo Mountains, 8 kilometers south of Kriva Palanka. This place lies off the beaten track and getting here isn’t easy as the Kozjak Valley Trail is really tight and almost vertical on several places but once you get there, it’ll be worth it.
A wonder of nature: the stone dolls of Kuklica
The Stone Dolls of Kuklica are another place that recently started gaining popularity in recent years. This fascinating, stone town was formed as a result of natural erosion processes but that didn’t stop locals from creating legends about these strange stone pillars.
One of them is that a woman who was supposed to marry a man saw him marrying another woman and cursed them and all the guests and turned them to stones. Nevertheless, this place looks different than anything I saw before and it’s certainly worth visiting.
One of the oldest space observatories in the world
It’s really a miracle how many people don’t know about Kokino- one of the oldest space observatories in the world. The oldest archeological findings date back to 19th century BC! Kokino covers an area of about 5,000 square meters and it’s without any doubt the best place to watch the stars in Macedonia and Europe.
Have you heard about some of these places before? Would you like to visit Macedonia and some of them? Let me know in the comments!