Skopje was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1963 that destroyed most of the historical monuments and buildings. Several architectural projects claimed to rebuild the center, among them a futuristic modernist and a neoclassical project. The neoclassical project was chosen, which was completed in 2014 and looks quite unusual. In addition, the city has several historic landmarks that give an idea of what it used to look like. What not to miss about Skopje and its picturesque surroundings is in this post.
The center now and before the earthquake
The main square and surrounding streets were built as part of the Skopje 2014 project. As soon as the project was unveiled, it was immediately criticized for its architectural solutions and its costliness. Despite the fact that Macedonia is considered to be a poor country, the government allocated about 80 million euros for the project. This was due to the fact that the new attractions will attract tourists to the city. Now tourists do concentrate around the main quarter, but the country is still the second most unpopular in Europe.
The city center does make a big impression. There is hardly any other place where kitsch and tastelessness have become so large-scale. Giant statues in unimaginable quantities fill the space, and the buildings of pseudo-classical style immediately give away the dubious quality of construction. Among the buildings are the archaeological museum, the national theater and administrative offices.
The fountain behind the Stone Bridge is dedicated to the mother of Alexander the Great and depicts her in different ages.
Monuments are dedicated to personalities from very different eras and fields, from ancient heroes to musicians of the 20th century. They are placed on bridges, columns, rooftops, squares, in parks – everywhere. Among them are Cyril and Methodius, creators of the Cyrillic alphabet, which is also used in Macedonia. Many call the artistic and architectural execution of the project very controversial.
Monument to Alexander the Great
The largest monument is dedicated to Alexander the Great. The Macedonians consider him their national hero and the Greeks their hero. It is because of questions of origin of the Macedonians that the main problems with Greece and Bulgaria, which believe that Macedonia is appropriating someone else’s history.
Most of the national Macedonian heroes immortalized in monuments in the main streets are also heroes of Bulgaria and Greece. Greece has taken a tough stance, banning the country from its original name forcing it to be renamed the Republic of North Macedonia, and in 2008 vetoing the country’s accession to the EU and NATO.
The Woman Wrestler Park
The unusual park near the square and triumphal arch is also full of sculptures and monuments. Among them is Prometheus, who was completely nude. After the scandal, the sculpture was “put on” a loincloth.
Before the earthquake, the main square looked different and more like the standard look of other European cities. It had classicist, art nouveau and romanticist houses. But almost all of them were destroyed.
The oldest thing preserved in Skopje is the Stone Bridge of the 15th century. It connects the modern square with the Bazar.
Behind the bridge is the area of the Old Bazaar, reconstructed from the prototype of the Ottoman market. There is an oriental atmosphere, reminiscent of Turkey or Sarajevo: many people sitting in outdoor cafes with Arabic cuisine, small stores and mosques. The contrast between the old quarters and the new is immediately striking. Unlike the new buildings, the Old Bazaar does not look artificial and is full of life.
Although most Macedonians are Slavic and Orthodox, there are Muslims, about a third of the population. The country was heavily influenced by Muslim culture centuries ago as part of the Ottoman Empire, and then during the Kosovo war in the 1990s many Albanians fled here. In the Balkans, where virtually every country has had and continues to have clashes on ethnic and religious grounds, Macedonia is an example of peaceful coexistence between different peoples and cultures.
Fortress of Kale
The Fortress of Kale overlooks the Old City. On this site was once an ancient fortress built back in the 6th century, but it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1963. The fortress was rebuilt and offers a view of Skopje, and is a favorite stroll for locals.
An urbanistic project that never came to fruition
The city could look very different now if a project by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange had been approved. He presented a modernist-futuristic project of developing the city, but the project was rejected and Skopje 2014 was adopted instead.
But Kenzo Tange managed to implement part of the project – the building of the railway station, which is located in the center, near the Bazaar. Then Tange’s work was continued by Macedonian architects, including Alvar Aalto’s pupil Janko Konstantinov. These buildings give an idea of what could have happened if the urban project had been realized.
In Skopje there is a real cult of Mother Teresa, because she was born in this city – a church named after her is being built, photos and quotes are posted everywhere. She is considered a new national hero, whose origins, unlike other historical figures, are not controversial.
Moving away from the main square, where the gigantomania of statues quickly tires you out, you get to the nice and cozy streets. There are successful examples of both the reproduction of architectural styles of the past century, as well as good modern designs.
The outskirts of Skopje are mostly private homes that resemble any southern city. Here you can rent inexpensive apartments.
Mount Vodno and the Millennium Cross
A place worth visiting while in Skopje is Mount Vodno. On it stands the cross of the Millennium, which is called the largest cross in the world. It is easy to get to the mountain – bus number 25 goes there directly from the center, and then the funicular takes you to the very top. A round-trip cable car ticket costs 100 Macedonian denars (about 120 Russian rubles). In order not to look for stops and not to think about the details of the trip, it is easier to order an excursion with a local Russian-speaking guide. The guide will take you to the top and Matka Canyon and show all the most interesting things.
The mountain offers spectacular views of the valleys, mountains and central areas. If you go around the entire summit, you can see everything around you at 360 degrees.
Where to stay
As already mentioned, Skopje is not very popular with tourists, and therefore the choice of high quality hotels and hostels here is small. The best option here is to rent an apartment, especially if you are traveling as a couple or in a group. The private sector, where most of the apartments are located, is very close to the center and the bus station. I would like to give you a personal recommendation, because the apartment we stayed in was really nice – Aloha Luxury Apartments. Here you can book a spacious clean room with everything you need with a small terrace and a pool in the courtyard, and all for a relatively low price.
Other options are easy to find on Hotellook.
Balkan Peninsula travel plan: all countries of former Yugoslavia and Albania.
Many people go straight to Skopje’s surroundings – national parks, canyons, mountains and resorts.
Mavrovo National Park
The most picturesque park of Macedonia, including all the natural diversity of the country: mountain ranges, wild plants, forests and clear lakes. It is most comfortable to get there with a personal Russian-speaking guide:
One of the most beautiful places of the country, Matka Canyon, is located 17 kilometers from the city. There is a hiking trail along the canyon that offers views of the river, mountain ranges, and ancient monasteries. You can get here by public transport or with a special tour with a local guide.
Tetovo is located at the foot of the mountain range. The old town, mentioned since the 13th century, is situated on the hills and has preserved the historic churches, mosques and the fortress. In winter, visitors come here for the ski resort. You can get here by bus, car or train.
Tours in Kosovo
From Skopje, it is interesting to travel to the partially recognized Republic of Kosovo. There is a special tour to Pristina and Prizren, including transfers and tours – you will not need to think about the intricacies of traveling to a state with a disputed status.
Where to eat
Macedonia in general does not have many modern, stylish cafes and restaurants. Here you can easily find classic cafes or eateries with national and oriental cuisine, as well as dubious restaurants designed for tourists who will never come again. Also, there are almost no well-known chain establishments in the city. So it is best to make your choice based on reviews. We liked the Mexican place on the main pedestrian street Amigos Restaurant & Bar the most on the trip, it has a nice atmosphere. By the way, it’s one of the cheapest countries in the Balkans, so to eat cheap or buy groceries in the supermarket is not difficult.
How to get there
For Russians in Macedonia visa is not necessary, which makes this country attractive to urban and nature tourism. There are no direct flights from Russia here, so you have to fly with a connection, usually in Belgrade. To fly as cheaply as possible, you should follow the flights of low-cost airlines: Wizzair and Pobeda, which fly from Russia. It’s more convenient to do it all on Kiwi.com. Then with a connection in Budapest (Wizzair) or Bratislava (Pobeda) you can go for 3000-4000 rubles for a one-way ticket.
You can also get here from any neighboring country. From Pristina (Kosovo) you can buy a bus ticket at the city bus station just before the trip. From Belgrade you can buy a ticket in advance here, cost from 1500 rubles, duration about 6 hours. From Albania the bus goes with a change in Ohrid.
In general, the most convenient way to travel around the country by car, which you can rent here.
The best Macedonian resort on the shore of the beautiful Lake Ohrid.
Judging by the photos of the central square and the reviews of many travelers, it may seem that Skopje is uninteresting. But this is far from it. The project “Skopje 2014” deprived only a few blocks of authenticity, but it is worth looking at least from a cultural point of view. In addition, the city is not limited to the center. There are pleasant green areas and picturesque nature.
The undoubted advantage of both the capital and the whole country are the prices: accommodation, cafes, food, travel. The country is unpopular with tourists, so everyone is welcome here, and prices remain low.
But the main reason to go to Macedonia is nature. All the most interesting things in Skopje can be seen in one day, after which you need to go to the mountains and lakes. The scenery is often reminiscent of Switzerland or Italy, and the prices of holidays are not comparable with these countries.
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Skopje (North Macedonia) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. The main sights Skopje with descriptions, guides and maps.
City of Skopje (Northern Macedonia)
Skopje is the capital of Northern Macedonia and the largest city of this country. It has a rich and ancient history, during which it has been influenced by several cultures. Therefore, in Skopje you can find landmarks from various historical periods: from Roman ruins and Byzantine churches to Ottoman mosques and ancient houses. The capital of Northern Macedonia is a fascinating city that offers the tourist a variety of architecture and gastronomy.
Things to do (Skopje):
€115 per excursion
Where does the cable car take you?
Enjoy the panorama of Skopje from the funicular, walk through the canyon and see the mountain lake
€220 per excursion
Trip to Mavrovo National Park
Getting to know the stunning landscapes, flora and fauna of Macedonia
Geography and Climate
Skopje is located in the north of the country in the center of the Balkan Peninsula, halfway between Belgrade and Athens. The city lies in the valley of the Vardar River (the largest river in northern Macedonia flowing into the Aegean Sea). Skopje lies at an altitude of approximately 245 meters above sea level and is surrounded by mountain ranges that protect it from strong winds. The climate of the city is subtropical (sub-mediterranean). Summers in Skopje are hot and dry, and winters are mild with frequent fogs.
- The population is 510 thousand people.
- Area – 571,5 km².
- The language is Macedonian and Albanian.
- Currency is the Macedonian denar.
- Time – UTC +1, in summer +2.
- The government of Northern Macedonia annually issues a decree on the abolition of tourist visas for Russians. At the moment, the period of visa-free stay in the country is 90 days.
The best time to visit
The most comfortable time to visit is late spring or the first half of fall. In summer, Skopje is quite hot. Although if the heat does not scare you, this period is also perfect for a visit to the capital of Northern Macedonia.
The area around Skopje was inhabited in ancient times. In the 3rd century BC, the area was invaded by the Dardans. Skopje is first mentioned in Roman sources in the 1st century AD, when the Roman military camp Flavia Aelia Scupi or simply Scupi was founded here. Throughout the Roman period, Scupi was an important fortress and center of the surrounding lands. In the 3rd century A.D. the Roman settlement was devastated by the Goths, and two centuries later by the Huns. In 518, Skopje was completely destroyed by an earthquake.
Being in the zone of high seismic activity, Skopje has suffered many strong earthquakes during its history. The last one was in 1963, destroying most of the city.
Skopje was rebuilt in the 6th century during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. In the 6th century the settlement was taken over by the Slavic tribe of the Brsats. Skopje was then for a time the capital of the Bulgarian kingdom, and afterwards was part of Byzantium and Serbia.
Ottoman Mosque in Skopje
In the 14th century Skopje was captured by the Ottomans, who named the city Uskub. At the end of the 17th century, the future capital of Northern Macedonia was occupied by the Austrians, but due to a cholera epidemic that raged, an Austrian general decided to burn the city down. Skopje began to grow and develop rapidly in the 19th century. In 1913, the city was occupied by the Serbian army and it became part of the Kingdom of Serbia and later the State of Yugoslavia. Since 1991, Skopje has been the capital of independent Macedonia.
How to get there
The capital of Northern Macedonia has an international airport with the following destinations: Barcelona, Athens, Ljubljana, Vienna, Hamburg, Sofia, Zagreb, Milan, Bratislava, Venice, Dusseldorf, Zurich, Istanbul, Paris, Cologne, Basel, London, Oslo, Stockholm and Nuremberg. Between the airport and the city center runs a bus – Vardar Express.
The streets of Skopje
By train you can reach Skopje from cities in Serbia and Greece. By bus from: Belgrade, Sofia, Istanbul, Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Tirana and other cities.
The Old Bazaar is Skopje’s largest shopping district (even though some parts of it have been destroyed or rebuilt during modern city planning). It is considered the largest bazaar in the Balkan Peninsula and one of the oldest Ottoman markets in the region. It is a very lively area with an oriental flavor that will not appeal to everyone.
Bit Pazar is Skopje’s largest green market, located just behind the old bazaar. Here you can buy inexpensive fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, tea and spices.
The largest shopping centers in Skopje are GTC and City Mall.
Skopje is famous for its bakeries and eateries, where you can eat tasty and inexpensive. In Macedonia, we recommend trying the famous puff pastry burek with various fillings, as well as: tavche gravche (fried beans), kebali (fried sausages), pleskavica (cutlets), moussaka (eggplant), sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls).
Macedonia Square is the central square of Skopje. Its main symbol is a statue of a warrior on horseback and a fountain. It is believed that the equestrian sculpture depicts Alexander of Macedonia, although it is not named after him. The statue was made in Florence and is mounted on a powerful 10-meter column.
Kale is the main attraction of Skopje, towering on the highest hill above the city. This fortress was founded in the 6th century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who was born in a village nearby. Most of the walls and structures that can be seen in Calais now date from the Ottoman period. The strong square tower was built in the 10th century and the round tower in the 13th century. The fortress once had 70 towers, but only three have survived. The small gate, on the side of the old bazaar, is the only surviving entrance. They were built in 1446.
Charsija is a real Ottoman town in Skopje with charming, winding streets and old Ottoman architecture.
The Stone Bridge was built in the 6th century by Justinian and is one of the main symbols of the capital of Northern Macedonia. The bridge has 13 arches and is 214 meters long. This structure was significantly rebuilt by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in the 15th century.
Port of Macedonia
Porta Macedonia is an imposing triumphal arch built to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the country’s independence and decorated with marble bas-reliefs depicting national historical events.
The feudal tower was built by the Ottomans and probably had defensive functions. The exact date of its construction is unknown.
The Clock Tower
The Clock Tower is one of the first similar structures in the Ottoman Empire. It was built in the 16th century in the old bazaar so that the Muslims would not miss their prayer time. The original clock was brought from Szeged in Hungary.
Aqueduct is an ancient hydraulic structure located at the exit of Skopje. It was most likely built during the Byzantine period. The aqueduct was used to bring water into the city until the 18th century. There are 55 arches left standing.
Mustafa Pasha Mosque
The Mustafa Pasha Mosque is one of the most beautiful Islamic buildings in Macedonia, located near the old bazaar. The mosque was built in the late 15th century.
Sultan Murat Mosque
Sultan Murat Mosque is the largest mosque on the Balkan Peninsula, built in the 16th century with donations from the Ottoman ruler of the same name. This structure has the form of a basilica with three naves, which is explained quite simply – the mosque was built on the foundations of an ancient Christian monastery.
Isa Bey Mosque
The Isa Bey Mosque is a beautiful small mosque (with a once richly decorated facade) built in the 15th century with money from an Ottoman general.
Isa Bey Mosque
The Isa Bey Mosque is the only Seljuk mosque in Europe, built in 1475.
Church of the Holy Savior
The Church of the Holy Savior is a small church with a cozy courtyard built in the 19th century. Here is the tomb of the national Macedonian hero Gotse Delchev. Interestingly, the church on this site was first built back in the 14th century. The Ottomans forbade the construction of churches above mosques, so the foundation of Christian structures as if “sunk” into the ground.
Church of St. Demetrius
St. Demetrius Church is a three-nave religious edifice built in the 19th century. The church is located near the stone bridge.
Church of St. Clement
The Church of St. Clement is a modern religious building, construction of which began in the 70s of the 20th century. The dome of the church is decorated with beautiful frescoes.
€50 per tour
Welcome to Skopje!
See the capital of Northern Macedonia as a shining example of the cultural mixing of East and West