Travelers exploring the Balkans region of Europe won’t want to miss the city of Skopje. With its blend of tradition and unusual modern elements, the capital city of North Macedonia is an essential stop on any good Balkan itinerary. It’s unlikely you’ve ever been anywhere quite like Skopje, and isn’t that as good as reason as any to see what it’s all about?
Even though the city of Skopje isn’t short on sights, it’s not the kind of destination that needs a lot of time to thoroughly be explored. The best things to do in Skopje show both the city’s historic side and it’s modern attempt at reinvention, quickly revealing its complex nature. While you can never fully know a city from a short visit, one day in Skopje is enough to see why this Balkan city is so fascinating. To get the most out of your time there, be sure to follow our Skopje itinerary to see all of the city’s best and most important spots.
Best Time to Visit Skopje
To make the most of your visit to Skopje, you’ll want to give some thought to when you plan on going. Like most destinations in Europe, Skopje experiences different weather each season and you don’t want to be caught out. It’s worth noting though that Skopje isn’t a massive tourist destination and so doesn’t have problems with too many tourists during Europe’s high season.
The weather is going to be the main factor in working out what the best time to visit Skopje is. The city experiences surprisingly high temperatures during summer and snow isn’t uncommon during winter. If you like hot weather or city’s lightly blanketed in snow, then you may find those seasons a good option. But if you’re after generally pleasant weather that is ideal for sightseeing, spring and autumn are the best seasons to go in. From mid-April through to early July you can enjoy mostly dry spring weather while the months leading into autumn, September and October, are equally as good.
How to Get Around Skopje
Since you plan on seeing the sights while visiting Skopje, you’ll want to know the best way to get around the city. Although the city limits of Skopje stretch out quite a long way, you won’t have much need to wander far from the city center. Even with the Vardar River carving its way through the city, getting from one side to the other is a breeze thanks to Skopje’s many bridges.
What all of this means is that you’ll have no problem getting around Skopje on foot. Most of the city’s major sights are neatly grouped together, reducing any need for extra walking. However, depending on how you arrive in Skopje or where you are staying, you may find the need for public transport. Skopje is connected by a network of red double-decker buses which will have you thinking you’re in London. To use the buses in Skopje you’ll need to buy a bus card for 150 MKD at a green kiosk, one of which is found at the main bus station.
Coming in from Skopje Airport to the city center, you have the option of a reasonably expensive taxi or the far cheaper alternative of a bus. Taking 30 minutes to reach the city, the bus stops at both the main bus station, as well as opposite the Holiday Inn Hotel which is closer to the city center. Tickets between the airport and city cost 180 MKD.
Where to Stay in Skopje
Whenever you’re unfamiliar with a city, working out where to stay during your visit can feel a little daunting. You naturally want to stay somewhere that is close to the city’s main sights, as well as transport and restaurants. All of this applies when looking at where to stay in Skopje.
The best places to stay in Skopje are those found in the city’s Centar district and the closer you can get to either Macedonia Square or the River Vardar, the better. This doesn’t mean you need to stay right up on Skopje’s main square, you just want it and the city’s main attractions to be within walking distance. While you will find more accommodation options on the southwestern side of the river, there’s no problem with staying on the opposite side either.
If you’re looking to treat yourself while you’re there, the Skopje Marriott Hotel is the way to go. Sitting right on the main square, this elegant five-star hotel offers guests spacious and stylish rooms, as well as access to a spa center and an excellent in-house restaurant.
Being an affordable destination, you can often find quality accommodation in Skopje like Hotel Super 8 which won’t break the bank. Just a block from the Old Bazaar, this four-star hotel is designed in typical Balkan style and boasts some superb city views from the balconies.
For backpackers after a cheap place to stay, Hostel Log Inn has what you’re looking for. Friendly staff operate this hostel northeast of the river in a quiet area of the city. Both dorms and private rooms here have air-conditioning, are clean, and definitely full of character. Make sure to also check out our guide on the best hostels in Skopje.
For more accommodation options in Skopje check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 1-Day Skopje Itinerary
Despite being a national capital, Skopje isn’t a destination that demands a lot of your precious vacation days. It’s not a city with an endless list of must-see attractions, so seeing the best places to visit in Skopje is actually quite manageable with just one day there. Still the best way to make the most of your time is going in with a plan. Following this Skopje travel itinerary you’ll know exactly what places you need to visit to get a sense of this wonderfully unusual city. Along the way, you’ll see not only Skopje’s historic side but also the recent efforts that have gone into making it a memorable tourist destination.
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With that helpful reminder taken care of, let’s get into what to do in Skopje in 1 day so that you feel confident that you’ve experienced the best of Skopje.
Recommendation: If you want to learn a little bit more about Skopje’s history consider booking a private walking tour. Your guide will lead you through the past and present of Skopje and in only a few hours you will feel the magic of this vibrant city.
There’s really no other place to start your Skopje visit than at Macedonia Square in the heart of the city. A great round plaza with crowds of people regularly passing through, Macedonia Square focuses on a gigantic statue known as the “Warrior on a Horse”. Clearly meant to depict Alexander the Great, this oversized statue sits within an elaborate fountain which quickly draws your attention.
Once you’ve seen the central fountain of the square, you’ll want to see what lies down each of the streets that run off of it. Walking about, there are quite a few large statues of notable figures from North Macedonia’s history around the square’s edge. Down 11 October Street you’ll notice the grand form of the Porta Macedonia gate and even the Marriott Hotel on the main square has been given an elegant belle epoque design.
From Macedonia Square, the next obvious part of Skopje to explore is the waterfront of the Vardar River flowing by. Connecting the main square with the historic center to the north is the city’s beautiful Stone Bridge, perhaps the next most symbolic sight after the Warrior on a Horse statue. The Stone Bridge actually dates back to the 6th century which helps explain why it has pride of place of Skopje’s coat of arms and flag.
Interestingly, the Stone Bridge sticks out in comparison to the rest of the riverfront here in the city center. A great deal of effort has gone into redeveloping this part of the city with new bridges, promenades, and buildings added in recent years. Depending on your tastes, you’ll likely find this grandiose style of architecture to be either impressive or tacky, but interesting either way. Spots not to miss include the bridge leading to the city’s Archaeological Museum with its row of endless statues and lavish street-lamps, as well as the two boats that feature restaurants and even a hotel.
Crossing the Stone Bridge you soon find yourself walking through the more historic Old Bazaar. Made of traditional buildings, housing shops, restaurants, and cafes, the bazaar has been the hub of trade in Skopje since as far back as the 12th century. Unlike in the city center, the Ottoman heritage is clearly reflected in the architecture and atmosphere, not to mention the several mosques nearby.
The largest bazaar in the Balkans, the Old Bazaar is made up of a long main pedestrian street and many backstreets which are worth wandering down to soak up the historic atmosphere there. If you look hard enough you might even find the historic tavern called Kapan Han which dates from the 15th century.
The other landmark of Skopje to earn its way onto the city’s coat of arms is Kale Fortress. Looming over the Old Bazaar, this is one landmark that’s hard to miss. Believed to date back to the 6th century with additions later on, the fortress has long influenced the fate of the city. Once you find your way up to the fortress, you’re able to walk along the fortified walls and enjoy a good vantage point of the city below. Like much of Skopje, the fortress suffered damage during the 1963 earthquake that shook the city but has undergone repairs and excavations several times in the last decade.
The best place to dive into the history of Skopje and North Macedonia is in the city’s Archaeological Museum along the River Vardar. Thousands of historical artifacts cover the three floors of this modern museum with exhibits touching on the history and culture of North Macedonia. The museum generally covers the region’s history from the prehistoric period to the Byzantine and Ottoman eras.
Memorial House Mother Teresa
You may be surprised to learn that the world-famous missionary and saint Mother Teresa were actually born in the city of Skopje. Without doubt the most famous person to come from the city, it makes sense that they would want to honor her and her legacy in some way. While there are many plaques scattered about the city bearing quotes by Mother Teresa, the Memorial House Mother Teresa is the main landmark dedicated to her.
Built on the site of the church in which Mother Teresa was baptized, this memorial contains a small museum and gallery documenting her life through photographs and relics. Inside is even a small chapel where mass is held each Tuesday.
Skopje City Museum
Not necessarily a big attraction of Skopje, the Skopje City Museum is nevertheless an important place to go to better understand the city. Housed inside the former city train station, it can be recognized by the giant clock on its exterior which is forever stuck at 5.17. That is the time at which a 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit Skopje on July 26, 1963.
Inside this free museum you can learn all about this earthquake that destroyed roughly 80% of the city, from the effect on the city and people to the overwhelming international response to the crisis. Understanding that Skopje had to be nearly entirely rebuilt really starts to put into context the types of building seen around the city and the modern efforts to reshape the city’s look.
Have More than 24 Hours in Skopje?
With your first 24 hours in Skopje you shouldn’t find it too hard to get through most of the city’s main sights. That isn’t to say that we’ve covered every single sight in Skopje in this itinerary, just the most important ones. If you’re not pressed for time, you may like to spend longer in the city for two reasons. The first is that you can explore the city at a slower pace and really dig into what is so unique about it as a destination.
But the other is that beyond the city of Skopje you’ll find some other interesting places that will shed some more light on what North Macedonia is really like. To give you an idea of what we mean, here are a few places you can visit beyond the center of Skopje.
1. Mount Vodno
Easily visible from the center of Skopje, one of the most obvious options for your second day in the region is Mount Vodno. Just southwest of the city and only a little beyond the city limits, hiking up this 1066 metre mountain is too tempting to ignore. Hiking trails that begin in the outskirts of Skopje weave their way up the mountain, although there is also a cable car which takes you from half way up to the summit. Once you’ve made it to the top, you’ll find the 66-meter high Millennium Cross standing before you. From the top of the cross you’ll be treated to sweeping panoramic views of Skopje which will make the hike up well worth the effort.
2. Matka Canyon
A trip out to Matka Canyon for the day is almost as popular as many of the attractions in the city of Skopje. Located not far from the city on the far side of Mount Vodno, this canyon is great for people looking to go sightseeing or enjoy some outdoor activities. A visit to Matka Canyon is centered on the large and artificial Matka Lake. Out on the water you can enjoy a relaxing boat ride or paddle about in kayaks. The canyon is also home to ten caves which feature walkways, while you can also spend the day hiking along the gorge and visiting a few medieval monasteries that have long been hidden away here.
Recommendation: If you only have one extra day in Skopje, consider booking a guided tour that combines a visit to Vodno Mountain and Matka Canyon. This full-day tour comes highly recommended.
If you’re looking to get off the beaten track and experience more of North Macedonia’s complex culture, then make a day trip out to the city of Tetovo. Situated in a part of the country that is mostly ethnic Albanian, Tetovo looks and feels nothing like Skopje making it worth the visit. Even though it’s one of North Macedonia’s largest cities there aren’t too many attractions to be found here. The most popular landmark in Tetovo for visitors is the city’s Painted Mosque where the outer facade bears incredibly beautiful paintwork. Other important historical landmarks include the Hamam of Tetovo and the Arabati Baba Tekke Monastery.
You should now feel like you have a much better idea of what there is to see and do in Skopje in 1 day. Hopefully this has piqued your curiosity about this often overlooked Balkan capital and you’ll think about adding it to your next European trip.