NORTH MACEDONIA TRAVEL GUIDE
North Macedonia gained its independence in 1991 as one of the successor states of Yugoslavia. While easily accessible from all points abroad, and boasting all the amenities of the Western world, North Macedonia remains one of Europe’s last undiscovered countries: a natural paradise of mountains, lakes, and rivers, where life moves to a different rhythm, amidst the sprawling grandeur of rich historical ruins and idyllic villages that have remained practically unchanged for centuries. The country represents the Balkans in the truest sense, consisting of a fascinating mix of Greek, Albanian, Turkish, and Mediterranean influences.
The use of the country name "Macedonia" was disputed between Greece and Macedonia (now North Macedonia) between 1991 and 2019. Citing historical and irredentist concerns, Greece opposed the use of the name "Macedonia" without a geographical qualifier such as "Northern Macedonia" for use "by all ... and for all purposes". As over 2 million ethnic Greeks identify themselves as Macedonians, and view themselves as unrelated to ethnic Macedonians, Greece further objected to the use of the term "Macedonian" for the neighbouring country's largest ethnic group and language.
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NORTH MACEDONIA QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Skopje
- Currency: Macedonian denar
- Area: 25 713 sq km
- Population: 2,077 million
- Language: Macedonian 66%, Albanian 25%, Turkish 4%, Romani 2%, Greek 2%, Serbian 1%,
- Religion: Orthodoxy 62%, Islam 37%, other 1%
- Electricity: 220V/50Hz (European plug)
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NORTH MACEDONIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 7 January, Orthodox Christmas
- 1 May, Labor Day
- 24 May, Saints Cyril and Methodius’ Day
- 2 August, National Day
- 8 September, Independence Day
- 11 October, Uprising Against Fascism Day
- 23 October, Day of the Macedonian Revolution
- 8 December, Saint Clement of Ohrid
Also, Orthodox Easter Monday and Eid al-Fitr.
BEST TIME TO VISIT NORTH MACEDONIA
North Macedonia has a relatively dry Mediterranean climate with a full array of four seasons, although spring can be quite short, and each season is tempered by the altitude.
Located so far south in Europe, North Macedonia is great to visit most of the year-round. It is particularly welcoming during spring and autumn, outside the high tourist seasons and when the weather is at its most pleasant. It can be warm and sunny during the day from as early as March until as late as November, while skiing is usually available from December through to early April. July and August can be very hot, sometimes getting up to 40°C during the day in Skopje and along the Vardar Valley. This can be particularly unpleasant if taking lengthy journeys by public transport where there is no air conditioning and the local population fears getting ill from a breeze from an open window. The mountains remain pleasantly cool, however, and even Ohrid is relatively quiet midweek in the summer.
June to August - Enjoy Ohrid's Summer Festival and dive into its 300m-deep lake.
September & October - Partake in Skopje’s Beer Fest, Jazz Festival, and harvest celebrations.
December to February - Ski Mavrovo and indulge in North Macedonia’s holiday carnivals.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN NORTH MACEDONIA
The snow sports season in North Macedonia can be as long as from November to April, making it a wonderful and affordable skiing destination.
HIKING & CYCLING IN NORTH MACEDONIA
The best time for outdoor activities in North Macedonia is from May to September and with three national parks there's plenty of outdoor exploring to be done.
NORTH MACEDONIA TRAVEL TIPS
An airport shuttle bus, Vardar Express, runs between the airport and the city. Buy tickets (100MKD) from the marked arrivals terminal booth. The bus leaves half-hourly or hourly, depending on passengers, and stops at several places including the bus/train station and central square
Within Skopje, the easiest is to get around by taxi but for a longer stay, you should get a bus card and a map of the bus lines. In Ohrid (the most popular tourist destination), you can walk almost everywhere; the exception is that the bus terminal is at the edge of town, and you might have to use a taxi to get to your hotel. Most taxis will charge a flat rate of 30 MKD (in Skopje 50 MKD) with the extra kilometers added on. Be careful when negotiating the price of the fare beforehand. Within city limits, prices over 100 MKD are considered expensive outside of the summer season.
Between cities, the most popular public transportation is by bus. Trains are infrequent and will get you to fewer destinations than buses. Renting a car, of course, will give you more freedom to see more.
An intercity bus is a normal way for locals to get from city to city. The buses are modern and comfortable. The Skopje bus and train station are in the same building. At present (2018), you cannot buy a bus ticket online; you can only buy it at the bus station.
The bus between Skopje and Ohrid takes about three hours by the shortest route and costs about 500MKD one way. There are about 15 buses a day on this route. In high-season, they may be sold out, so it is best to go over to the bus station the day before to get your ticket.
Cycling is popular in Skopje. Traffic is light in rural areas, though mountains and reckless drivers are common.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF NORTH MACEDONIA
North Macedonia might be a small country but there's no shortage of sight and activities.
Gaze out over Ohrid from the Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo, immaculately set on a bluff above the lake.
Dive into historic but fast-changing Skopje, a friendly, quintessentially Balkan capital.
Enjoy the old-world ambiance of Bitola and hike nearby Pelister National Park.
Soak up the serenity at clifftop Zrze Monastery, with sweeping views of the Pelagonian Plain and priceless Byzantine artworks.
Ski Mavrovo, North Macedonia's premier winter resort.
NORTH MACEDONIA TRAVEL ITINERARY
Spend two nights in Skopje, marveling at its bold new architecture, and visiting its Čaršija (old quarter), with historic churches, mosques, museums, and an Ottoman castle. Next head southwest to Macedonia's most charming and historic town, Ohrid, and enjoy its spectacular lake, calling at the lush forested mountains of Mavrovo on the way. After two days, continue to cultured Bitola, the long-famed 'City of Consuls' known for its vibrant cafes and nearby Pelister National Park.
Take your time in and around Skopje, Ohrid, and Bitola, then add on a visit to Macedonia's famous Zrze monastery. Before returning to Skopje, enjoy winery-hopping in the Tikveš wine region.
Skopje is among Europe's most entertaining and eclectic small capital cities. Recent years have seen an abundance of statuary, fountains, bridges, museums, and other structures built to encourage a national identity but luckily plenty survived from earlier times – Skopje's Ottoman- and Byzantine-era wonders include the 15th-century Kameni Most (Stone Bridge), the wonderful Čaršija (old Turkish bazaar), Sveti Spas Church, with its ornate, hand-carved iconostasis, and Tvrdina Kale Fortress, Skopje's guardian since the 5th century.
Ohrid is North Macedonia's prime destination, with its atmospheric old quarter with beautiful churches along a graceful hill, topped by a medieval castle overlooking serene, 34km-long Lake Ohrid. It's considered the jewel in North Macedonia's crown and undoubtedly its most alluring attraction, especially when you factor in the nearby Galičica National Park and the further secluded beaches that dot the lake's eastern shore.
Mavrovo's ski resort is North Macedonia's biggest, comprising 730 sq km of birch and pine forest, gorges, karst fields, and waterfalls, plus Macedonia's highest peak, Mt Korab (2764m). The rarefied air and stunning vistas are great year-round.
Bitola, the second-largest city is also North Macedonia's most "European" town. With elegant buildings and beautiful people, elevated Bitola (660m) has a sophistication inherited from its Ottoman days as the 'City of Consuls'. Its 18th- and 19th-century colorful townhouses, Turkish mosques, and café culture make it North Macedonia's most intriguing and liveable major town.
Kruševo, a museum-city nestled high up in the mountains of southwestern North Macedonia. It is one of the most historically significant destinations in the country as it was the site of a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The town is also home to some great skiing.
Just over 20km northwest of Prilep, towards Makedonski Brod, the 14th-century Zrze Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration rises like a revelation from a clifftop. The monastery's tranquil position around a spacious lawn, with views over the outstretched Pelagonian Plain, is stunning. During Ottoman times, Zrze underwent periods of abandonment, rebuilding, and plunder but remained an important spiritual center. Its 17th-century Church of Sts Peter and Paul contains important frescoes and icons.
WHAT TO EAT IN NORTH MACEDONIA
Macedonian cuisine is typically Balkan, with a combination of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences. You will find lots of meat grills (skara), and plenty of fresh vegetables and herbs used in local dishes.
Ajvar - Sweet red-pepper sauce; accompanies meats and cheeses.
Šopska salata - Tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers topped with flaky sirenje (white cheese).
Uviač - Rolled chicken or pork wrapped in bacon, filled with melted yellow cheese.
Tavče gravče - Macedonian specialty of baked beans cooked with spices, onions, and herbs and served in earthenware.