Skopje: The city where the lines between the East and the West are fading away

I saw that there aren’t too many travelers on the Internet writing about traveling to Skopje, so since it is my native city I decided to write this Skopje travel guide. After all who can give you better information about a city then local people, right?

Skopje, one of the world’s least famous capitals, is the capital of Macedonia and a city with a rich history. A city that managed to preserve its identity even after being part of several different empires throughout history. Skopje has been part of Alexander the Great’s Kingdom, the Roman Empire, The Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and socialistic Yugoslavia. This makes Skopje a city where the lines between the East and the West are fading away. However, as much as it hurts, today Skopje looks like a city with an identity crisis. The city survived all these conquerors, only to lose its identity to the hands of a Macedonian Government.
Skopje travel guide

The monuments of Skopje

Today, the city center has more monuments than you can imagine. Maybe it’s not over-stretched to call Skopje the monument Capital of the world. Most of these monuments aren’t even related to Macedonian history or architecture. All these monuments were part of the previous Government controversial project: Skopje 2014. This project was controversial because it spent half a billion of taxpayers’ money. Oh yeah, and in case you didn’t know Macedonia is still one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Skopje travel guide

However, all these monuments and Gothic and classical buildings seem to be quite interesting for tourists. Plus, as I said Macedonia is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, which makes it a great bargain for travelers.

Why should you visit?

Another reason why you should visit is the fact that Skopje isn’t the typical European city. Macedonia was the last country to succeed from the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, the Ottoman Empire had a lot of influence on Macedonia, especially Skopje. Even today the city center is divided by the river Vardar into two parts:

The new westernized Skopje on the West,
skopje fortress
And the old part of Skopje, with the old bazaar street on the East.

skopje old bazaar
As you can already see, Skopje is a city of contrasts that has a lot to offer. And don’t get me started on the food. You will fall in love with it.

Places to see in and around Skopje

Vodno hill offers an amazing view of the city and at the top of the hill, you can see the third highest cross in the world. The Millennium Cross is 77 meters tall and is located at 1066 meters of height.
skopje vodno

The other natural beauty of Skopje is the Canyon Matka, located in the western part of the city. This is one of the most famous outdoors tourist attractions in the country. Matka is home to supposedly the deepest cave in the world (which is still not fully explored) and to several medieval monasteries. You can come close to the canyon entrance with public transport too, with bus number 60.

Finally, around 35 km from the city is my personal favorite, The Kozjak Dam. The Dam forms an amazing crystal blue lake that is perfectly trapped between the local mountains. This part of the country isn’t easily accessible and therefore nature there is completely untapped. In the forests near the mountains, you can also see wild goats, bores, and even wolves and bears.

That’s enough about nature and the outskirts, now back to the city. All of my foreign friends that visited Skopje and Macedonia say that this is the best value to money country they have visited. When you’re here you must try the local food. Macedonian food is amazing, especially the meat dishes, but our cuisine is just as amazing even if you’re vegetarian. You also must try the local beers, wine and of course the traditional hard liquor: rakija.

Things to do in Skopje

skopje old bazaar

You can and should get around the city with the city buses, which look like the Old London buses, by the way. You can purchase a bus card at most stations or you can also pay via your smartphone.

Unfortunately, there’s no Uber in Macedonia yet, so avoid the local taxi drivers because you might get ripped off. Or additionally, ask your hotel/hostel to help you arrange a cab.

While you’re roaming around the city center, taking a walk around the Old Bazaar Street and tasting the local food is a must.

I feel that if I start writing about food I will need a whole other article. Which I probably will do eventually. In the meantime, here’s how some of the things that you must try look like:

macedonian burek
You should also see the City Fort (Kale) that gives a nice view of the city center and the largest church in Macedonia, named after St. Clement, the founder of the old University in Europe in the Macedonian city of Ohrid. Talking about Ohrid, it’s also arguably the most beautiful and historic city in Macedonia. If you’re planning to cover both cities, check out this Skopje to Ohrid guide.
You can take a walk at the Vardar bank. A lot of local people go there for jogging and exercising, and while you’re at it you can visit the City Park and take some amazing pictures there. If you’re a football fan you can also visit the largest stadium in the country located in the park.

If you’re a party animal you will love the Macedonian clubs. Even though the nightlife here isn’t as good as in Western Europe, you can still see a lot of beautiful girls and get very cheap drinks.

Another unique thing about Skopje is the neighborhood Shutka: the municipality with the world’s largest concentrated Roma population. If you’re a fun of Gypsy culture, you ought to give this place a visit. It will take only 20-25 minutes from the city center. The bus that goes there is the one with the number 19.

The architecture

skopje architecture

If you’re a fan of architecture, you will certainly love Skopje because you haven’t seen a city like it. I say this because there was a massive earthquake in 1963 which destroyed most of the city. At that time Skopje was part of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. And all the other countries contributed to rebuilding the city. It was said that the city will be rebuilt and will be even more beautiful than before and that the city will represent the solidarity and fraternity of Yugoslavia.
After that, the local authorities hired a Japanese architect by the name of Kenzo Tange to plan the rebuild. So, the mix of the Japanese style with the socialist regime gave birth to an amazing architecture, like I haven’t seen before. And I visited more than 150 cities in 30+ countries.

Useful resources for traveling to Skopje

For the cheapest flights to Skopje, this AirFrance deal can help you save up to 15%.

Need travel insurance for you trip to Skopje? Check out these World Nomads deals.

If you want to rent a car in Skopje, this page can get you 15% off on all car rentals in Macedonia.

If you want to save on accommodation, this Booking special offer and this IHG Hotels deal can get you up to 10% off on all accommodation bookings in Skopje.

Finally, check whether you need to obtain a visa before your trip to Macedonia. Macedonia’s visa policy is relatively liberal and if you come from any European country, US, Canada, or Australia, you probably don’t need a visa. But if you do, you can easily obtain it through IVisa without going to the local Macedonian embassy.

So there you go: that’s the story of my birthplace. If you are looking for a trip to Europe to a place that will not really seem European, Skopje is your choice. I guarantee you will be charmed by the contrasts and diversity of the city.

traveling to skopje
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19 thoughts on “Skopje: The city where the lines between the East and the West are fading away”

    • Hi Gigi, yes it definitely is. We have an abundance of ancient ruines here 😀 you should definitely visit if you get the chance

      Reply
  1. Visited Skopje last autumn, and really liked the city! The new facades and the huge amount of statues in central area truly are a bit confusing sight, as well as the old brutal concrete buildings. A lot to see and do in the city. And I totally agree that Matka Canyon is worth a visit, as well as the Vodno Hill with awesome paths for trail running. 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Anne, I’m not sure how I feel about the look of the city anymore because the government literally changed the way the city I grew up looked like. Today it’s a reason for Skopje to be described as a city without identity and that really hurts because underneath all the baroque buildings and statues of controversial people from history this city has a soul. And absolutely, Matka and Vodno are amazing 🙂

      Reply
  2. Thanks for the article. I think I would head straight to the East side and just wander through the streets there and get lost. The Old Bazaar looks interesting to visit. I had not thought of travelling to Skopje but your article has changed my mind.

    Reply
  3. True that Skopje is not any typical European city, the Ottoman architecture is indeed evident just like you get to see in parts of Turkey. I would definitely love to visit this place when in Eastern Europe. Thanks for bringing the place to light – it is really pretty.

    Reply
  4. Perfect! I just read last week that the new route to Skopje will be opened from my home country Finland and the flights are very cheap. We spend summers in Finland so I thought we could do a long weekend in Macedonia to see what it’s like. I didn’t know much about it so I had to google. So I was thrilled to see this post. Seems like a great place to visit and this actually makes me excited to go there. Food looks amazing on that photo!

    Reply
  5. Canyon Matka is absolutely stunning! I’ve never considered visiting Macedonia, but now you’ve inspired me to visit. The food culture looks good there too, and though it may be one of the poorest countries in Europe, it looks like it has a lot to offer in terms of culture and landscape.

    Reply

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