When people are looking at possible holiday destinations, I don’t think many of them consider North Macedonia. I lived in Skopje for a month and never heard anyone speaking English on the streets. That’s unusual for a capital city. It doesn’t seem to have much tourist pulling power.
However, Macedonia is a beautiful country, the people are very friendly, the food is good, and it’s not too difficult to find locals who speak English if you need help or advice. For a first-time visitor, Skopje is probably the most obvious destination and there some interesting things to see and do.
When I arrived in Skopje, four weeks ago, I was amazed to see such a lot of statues. If you like statues, Skopje could be your paradise. As I explored the city I saw so many statues it became almost annoying. I felt like everywhere I looked there was a piece of sculpture vying for my attention and saying “Look at me!”
In Prague, there’s a bridge that has a row of statues on either side of it. They’re both on a smaller scale, but Skopje has two such bridges.
Strangely enough, as I became accustomed to the city, I began to love all the statues. I now feel they give the city a unique charm of its own and some of them look extra impressive highlighted against the green mountains in the background.
Why does Skopje have so many statues?
All the statues you see when you visit the city are the result of a project called Skopje 2014. It was funded by the Macedonian government. The idea was to give the city a more classical appeal. It involved more than statues though. Many buildings were constructed as part of the project too.
Skopje 2014 has received a lot of criticism. According to some estimates, the cost of the project may have been as high as €500 million. Many people see this as a waste of financial resources because Macedonia has a high unemployment rate.
There are various other criticisms of the project as well, the present Macedonian Prime Minister considers it “idiotic” and there is talk of removing some of the statues. Of course, this will only lead to further expense.
Where’s the Tourist Information Office in Skopje?
Where’s the tourist information office in Skopje? You may be surprised to learn there isn’t one. At least I couldn’t find one. I never saw one anywhere in the city and, when I tried to find one online, I drew a blank. So, when it comes to providing visitor information, Skopje isn’t really geared towards tourists.
If you want to find out the best things to see and do in Skopje you will need to find a book or seek information online. Unfortunately, some the information available is outdated or inaccurate.
Because there is a shortage of accurate information about the city, I’m going to use the rest of this blog post to try and help rectify that fact. However, please be aware I am not a typical tourist. I’m a nomad. Although I may know about certain places of interest in Skopje it does not mean I took the time to experience them. For instance, I walked past the Mother Theresa Memorial House on numerous occasions, but I’ve never been inside.
The best I can do is provide a few tips and ideas based on my own experience. If you want to find out more about the things you can see and do in Skopje it’s a good idea to check out some other sites as well. Or, better still, talk to a few locals when you arrive. Nobody knows a city as well as the people who live and work there and may have done for all of their lives.
Things to Know Before Visiting Skopje
The first thing to know is, there is no Uber in Skopje. The city is swamped with normal taxis though. When I arrived at Skopje bus station I got approached by several taxi drivers looking for business. The fact that I had a big backpack strapped to my back and another bag strapped to my front probably made me an appealing target. I declined all the offers I received at the bus station and several more as I was walking down the streets. I don’t like taxis and try never to use them. The other thing is I’m incredibly mean and won’t spend money when I know I can walk. You may be different and, if you want to find a taxi in Skopje, you won’t have to look too hard.
There are also plenty of buses in Skopje, but I never used any of them. Skopje is not a particularly large city and I found it easier to walk. Walking is also an excellent way to get to know a new city.
However, although I never used any buses in Skopje I gather it’s not possible to just step on the bus and buy a ticket. You have to buy a reusable ticket/bus pass and keep it topped up with credit. Unfortunately, the kiosks where you buy the tickets are not open during the evening, so you really need to go looking for them during the day. You’ll probably need to use Google Translate, but here is a list of places where you can buy a reusable bus pass: http://jsp.com.mk/jspinside.aspx?page=17
Personally, I think it all sound overly-complicated so I’m glad I’m the kind of guy who loves to walk.
The guy who I rented the apartment from told me about Lake Matka and a few other interesting places that were further afield, but he said the buses stopped running at around 3 pm in the afternoon, so I decided not to bother. The buses run well into the evening in and around the city. It’s only when you want to go further afield that you may have problems. So, if you are using the bus to visit Mount Vodno or going somewhere else, don’t presume there will be a bus to get you back if you want to stay a long time. Check with the driver to make sure.
Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in Macedonia
The most popular mobile phone network in Macedonia is Telekom MK (Makedonski Telekom). It used to be part of the T-Mobile network. There are other providers, such as Vip, but I only know about Telecom MK because that’s the company I went with.
The surprising thing about Skopje is, it can be very hard to find a place to buy a SIM card. In Albania, there are so many Vodafone shops it can seek like there is one in almost every street. It’s a whole different ball game in Macedonia. Fortunately, when I arrived I was fortunate enough to find a guy who helped me find a place to buy a SIM card. He initially took me to two small shops that sold mobile phones and accessories. Neither one sold SIM cards, so he took me the shop where his friend works instead and I managed to get a SIM card there.
So, if you arrive in Skopje and need to buy a prepaid SIM card, it may save you a lot of time if you ask a local for help instead of trying to go it alone. I did a lot of walking and sweating before I gave up.
They have 4G in Macedonia so, once you have a SIM card and your phone is up and running, everything works well. As for the price, I paid 500 MKD (€8.12). That was for the SIM card, but it came with 1GB of free data that was good for a week.
A week later, I paid another 150 MKD (€2.44) for a further 500 MB of data and that was good for four weeks. Although most people may need more, I seldom use 500 MB per month, so that was great.
Things have changed since I bought my SIM. The latest deals get you the SIM and 7 days of data for 399 MKD. You can get an up to date list of prepaid offers here: https://www.telekom.mk/new-number.nspx
ATM Fees in Macedonia
I lived in Skopje for a month and never had to pay any ATM fees. It may have been just been I was lucky when picking machines. I’ll probably never know for sure, but I do know which machines won’t hit you with fees. I’ve already written about that though: It’s Easy to Avoid ATM Fees in the Republic of Macedonia.
Drinking the Water and Disposing of Toilet Paper
Can you drink the water in Macedonia? The guy who I rented my apartment from told me it’s safe. I double-checked online and got the same answer. However, if you are visiting one of the smaller Macedonian cities you may want to check with your host before drinking any water from the tap. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Can you flush toilet paper in Macedonia? I was told not to. The best thing to do is put it in the bin.
I never had any problems with the internet speed in Skopje. It was fast enough for my needs. Even when I was streaming videos there were no problems with buffering. However, uploading videos to YouTube was kind of slow.
I did a speed test. I’m not saying this is typical for Macedonia, but this is what I got:
Shopping in Skopje, Macedonia
The supermarkets in Skopje are very good. As is the quality of the food they sell and the queues don’t tend to get overly long because there is generally plenty of staff to man the tills. It’s easy to pay by card and I never saw a trolley that required a coin or token. The carrier bags are very thin, but they are free.
I Never found an all-night supermarket in Skopje, but there are some all-night bakeries where you can go and buy Burek and other pastry products. May of the bakeries also sell drinks and have tables and chairs, so you can eat and drink there if you want. Just for the record, although the bread at the supermarkets in Skopje is okay, the bread from the bakeries is better.
Most supermarkets in Skopje shut at 9-10pm. Some small stores stay open to 12, but you may find it hard to find any that are open any later than that. The most popular supermarkets appear to be Ramstore, Vero, Kam Market, and Reptil.
Macedonian Supermarket Chains
Reptil is different from the other three in as much as the name above the stores is always written in Cyrillic: Рептил. The others use the Roman alphabet.
While I was living in Skopje, I usually did most of my shopping at Vero. I found the Reptil supermarket was a little more expensive. I only went to the local Ramstore supermarket a couple of times, but I preferred it to Reptil as well. As for Kam Market, it doesn’t have such a diverse range of groceries as the other supermarkets do, but it easily beats them on price for certain items. For instance, it’s the only supermarket where I could buy a cheap can of kidney beans. I was only paying around €0.30 per can. Kidney beans were hard to find at some of the other supermarkets and often cost several times the price.
Kam Market actually reminds me a little of the UK food store chain Heron Foods. Although Kam Market doesn’t have a lot of frozen food like Heron does, it seems like it may buy big batches of bargain-priced products and sell them cheap on the premise that when they are gone they are gone. I noticed Heron Foods in the UK used to do this a lot.
Unless you go to one of the big shopping malls in Skopje, you may find many of the shops are shut by 3-5pm. As for Sunday shopping, the supermarkets and many of the shops are open as normal.
Skopje Shopping Malls
There are actually a number of shopping malls in Skopje and some of them, such as the Vero Centre Mall and the Ramstore Mall have ties to the supermarket chains. I haven’t visited them all, but, of the ones I went to, the Skopje City Mall is my favourite. [MAP]
The Skopje City Mall has several floors and is very clean and modern-looking. It also has a cinema on the top floor, along with several choices of places to go and eat, including a KFC, Burger King, Goody’s Burger House, and Giro Mamas. There’s also a bowling alley.
If you want to buy cheap clothes, LC Waikiki is probably the best option.
The mall also has some nice bars situated on the ground floor. Most of them have a covered seating area outside.
The Ramstore Mall is okay too. It also has the advantage of being in the centre of the city, but it’s smaller than Skopje City Mall and has fewer floors. The top floor has a KFC, a Burger, and a Goody’s Burger House and a few other options. However, while you are there you may find it more interesting to visit the little stall that sells Baklava. You can eat fried chicken and burgers anywhere in the world, but Baklava is a traditional Balkan food. It’s a sweet pastry dish that’s more of a snack than a meal, but it’s a taste sensation you don’t want to miss.
The Old Bazaar
The Old Bazaar offers a somewhat different Skopje shopping experience. It’s also a must-see area of the city and a good place to go and chill out and have something to eat or drink. With its mix of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture, the Old Bazaar also has a lot of character.
One street is predominantly filled with stores where you can be gold and silver jewellery. Elsewhere in the Old Bazaar, the street often provide a pretty mixed bag of traders, but many stores are selling the same kind of things. The type of things that are probably most likely to appeal to tourists, such as handmade leather footwear that has a distinctive look but is not something you would want to wear in the street or while visiting a club.
You’ll also find a few stores in the Old Bazaar selling more modern items such as mobile phone accessories and clothing.
If you enter the Old Bazaar by crossing the Vardar River via the Stone Bridge [MAP] and then keep walking, to the other side of the Bazaar, you will find a large Market where you can buy fruit and vegetables, clothing, local smoked sausages, and just about anything else you may need. There are even stalls that sell nothing but sunglasses.
Things to See and Do in Skopje
If you are visiting Skopje, the Old Bazaar is definitely a good place to spend some time wandering about, but there a plenty of other things to see and do in the city.
The Stone Bridge
The Stone Bridge that’s situated near the outskirts of the Old Bazaar is also billed as a tourist attraction. It’s nice but, to be honest, in my opinion, it’s nothing special.
There’s been a bridge there since the 1400s, but it’s been rebuilt a number of times.
The Two Bridges with Statues
Slightly further down the river are the two bridges I mentioned earlier on this blog post. The ones with all the statues. They are probably something that many visitors will want to see while visiting Skopje but have nothing on the Charles Bridge at Prague.
Following the river from the Stone Bridge, the first statue-filled bridge is called the Bridge of Civilizations in Macedonia. The second one is the Art Bridge.
The Bridge of Civilizations in Macedonia stands in front of the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia. The museum looks nice from the outside, but I never went inside so am unable to comment on how good it may be.
I’m not sure who the statues on the Bridge of Civilizations in Macedonia are meant to represent. However, all the statues that line the Art Bridge are noted Macedonian artists and musicians. The Art Bridge cost around €2.5 million to build and there are 29 statues in total. That’s 14 on either side and one in the centre. The centre of the bridge also has a row of ornate lamp posts.
Mother Theresa Memorial House
Skopje is also home to the Mother Theresa Memorial House. Mother Theresa was born in Skopje in 1910 so it’s not surprising the City has built a museum to honour this special lady.
The Mother Theresa Memorial House is located in the centre of the city [MAP]. As with most of the other building in the area, it looks very clean and new. It has has an extremely creative design. Saying it’s a work of art would be overstating the obvious.
I never went inside the Mother Theresa Memorial House. Because every time I passed it was closed for cleaning. However, I can tell you there is no entry fee.
The Memorial House is open from 9 am to 8 pm, all week long, but the gallery closes for cleaning four times per day:
- 11:00 -11:15 am
- 1:00-1:15 pm
- 3:00-3:15 pm
- 5:00-5:15 pm
Keeping the toilets clean apparently takes an hour. This is done twice per day. Once at 1 pm and then again at 7 pm.
Porta Macedonia Arch
Call it a rip off of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or look at it as a construction that is meant to pay it homage. The Porta Macedonia Arch stands in the centre of the city.
Skopje Fortress (Kale Fortress)
Skopje Fortress is only a short walk from the centre of the city and it costs nothing to go inside and enjoy the views.
It’s a good place to visit. I recommend it and have written about the fortress in more detail HERE.
It’s ridiculously cheap to visit Skopje Zoo. The ticket price is less than a Euro. I visited the zoo more out of curiosity than anything else and have mixed feelings about the place. Again, this is a subject I have written about in more detail elsewhere on the blog. You can read about my Skopje Zoo experience HERE.
The Millennium Cross is situated on top of Mount Vodno and stands 66 meters tall. Due to its size and location, you can see the Millennium Cross from many areas of the city and it lights up at night.
It’s actually one of the tallest crosses in the world and was constructed at the turn of the century to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity. It’s an important landmark.
Walking up to the cross would take the best part of two hours. However, if you set off early enough in the day, it’s possible to take a bus to Mount Vodno and then take the cable car the rest of the way. I wanted to do this but never had time. Of course, it’s possible to make the journey by taxi as well, but it will be more expensive than the bus.
Skopje Night Life
Normal bars shut at 1 am in Skopje. That’s the law. However, night clubs and certain other establishments can stay open later. For instance, there’s a bar in the Old Bazaar that has a dance floor on the top floor and plays Latin music until 3 am.
There are nightclubs in the centre of the city. One of them is located next door to the Irish Bar, near the river. However, most of the nightclubs in Skopje are situated near the City Park [MAP] and beside the river in that area. I never went to any of the nightclubs in Skopje, but got the impression you may need to reserve a place in advance.
As for the bars, I went to a few. Many of the bars in Skopje have a system where you don’t pay for your drinks until you are about to leave. That means you have to attract the attention of a member of staff and get them to bring you the bill. It also means you pretty much have to stay in the same place because the tally is linked to your table or place at the bar.
The price of a beer can vary in Skopje. In some bars, I paid 100-120 MKD for a large (500 ml) beer but in others, it could be closer to 200 MKD. In one lively bar, down by the river, I paid 130 MKD for 333 ml bottle of Heineken, but on the day I arrived, I got a large local beer for only 80 MKD. So I think if you were to be charged more than 200 MKD for a drink you’d be paying a lot.
If you like live music, I recommend you visit the Temov Craft Beer pub in the city centre [MAP]. They have a live band playing from 10 pm to 1 am every Saturday night. For a craft beer pub, the prices are okay as well. There are a lot of options, but the cheapest one is 120 MD for a large beer.
A Small Disclaimer
I’m not claiming this blog post is a particularly good guide to things to see and do in Skopje. I lived there for a month but, due to work commitments, only had a limited amount of time to explore. There’s a lot more to see and do in Skopje than I have written about here. However, the information I’ve shared will make a good starting point. All the opinions are based on personal experience and, at the time of posting, the information was accurate and up to date.
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