We had much to learn during our time in the Balkan nation of Macedonia, and if we can give you any advice before travelling here, it would be to understand the dispute about the country’s name!

Did you know that there are many conflicting opinions between whether the country is called Macedonia, or FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)?

We aren’t going to get into that argument in this post, but you can read about it in this article.

Once you’ve got that main issue sorted out (or as sorted out as possible), you’ll be ready for Macedonia and its eclectic capital city of Skopje.

When travelling, we tend to compare places to one another, we can’t help it, we just do. If we had to compare Skopje with a city from our previous travels, it would be either Ashgabat, Turkmenistan or Astana, Kazakstan. All of which have undergone major renovations, with grand, somewhat out-of-place architecture dotting the city centers.

travelling to skopje
Skopje on the top, Astana on the lower right, and Ashgabat on the left

In recent years, an expensive and kitschy development in the city center has left many locals unimpressed, and questioning their Government’s choices in spending their tax dollars – which, according to this article, is around 300 million euros.

The locals we spoke to want jobs, not enormous fountains, and statues!

museum of skopje

However, on the flip side of the argument, more tourists are now coming to Skopje as the city has done away with most of its drab soviet-style architecture, and is trying to identify itself as an exciting European destination. The influx in tourism could lead to more dollars in the pockets of the locals – at least for those in the tourism industry.

Regardless of which side of the argument you are on, as a tourist, Skopje should be on your Macedonian itinerary, and we’re glad that it was on ours 🙂

mother teresa house in skopje macedonia
The Memorial House of Mother Teresa – did you know she was born in Skopje?!

We arrived early in the day after an easy bus ride from Sofia, Bulgaria, and took a taxi to our hostel, Hi Skopje. There are a few budget places to stay in the city, but we opted for this hostel due to its positive reviews, and appealing online photos.

where to stay in skopje hi skopje hostel
Our room at Hi Skopje Hostel…and Zhile the dog!

For us, a hostel must have a cozy, comfortable communal area, which this place definitely had. The fireplace was on when we arrived, and our room was pre-heated (thankfully!).

We met with Marina, who is one of the owners and is a fellow traveller. Her and a friend decided to open up the hostel when they were in their early 20’s! Pretty impressive.

The hostel and each of the rooms were decorated with all things travel, accumulated from various destinations around the world. Our room had a very comfortable bed and had some nice furniture in the room, which is always a bonus.

where to stay in skopje macedonia
The comfy communal area at the hostel – and Zhile curious about what Nick is writing

Immediately we could relate to Marina, and because she is a traveller, this meant that she knew what backpackers look for in a hostel – fast wi-fi, communal feel, kitchen, laundry, breakfast, and clean rooms. As an added bonus, this place came with Zhile, the adorable Golden Retriever.

After unloading our packs into our room, and having a quick cup of coffee, we were off to explore Skopje.

hi skopje hostel
Me and Marina at Hi Skopje Hostel

The city can basically be split into two parts: on one side of the Vardar river, there’s the modern, newly developed area, while crossing the bridge to the north will bring you to the old, ottoman-era bazaar and neighbourhood.

An easy, 5 minute taxi ride brought us to the center of the city – Skopje’s masterpiece. We entered through the Mother Theresa gate and into the pedestrian-only area, complete with a 22 meter high statue of Alexander The Great riding a horse.

Surrounding the towering statue were lanes leading out from this center point, which were lined with shops and busy restaurants. Since we were visiting in January, Christmas lights were still strung up on the lanterns and buildings, which really made for a nice winter setting.

old bazaar skopje
The gorgeous blue lights in the Old Bazaar area

The ground we were walking on was marble. And although it looked nice, it was impractical as it became very slippery when it snowed and rained!

Looking across the Vardar River we spotted more buildings, including the Museum of Macedonia and the Opera House. Crossing the beautiful 15th century stone bridge brought us to the start of the Old Bazaar …which is where we found hot wine!

There was an Austrian project that was set up for the winter, which offered hot wine and rum to passersby, for a mere $1.25.

hot wine project in skopje macedonia
Hot wine is my new favourite winter drink!

Both drinks had orange and cinnamon added, giving it a very “Christmasey” flavour. This pit-stop really helped us warm up during our walks around the city, and it’s possible that we were their best customers 🙂

The Old Bazaar and Ottoman neighbourhood is an excellent spot for wandering around through the cobblestone streets, while popping in at various restaurants to sample the local dishes of Tavče gravče (spiced beans in clay earthenware) and burek (meat & veggie stuffed pastry) along the way.

macedonian food in skopje
Spinach and cheese burek

We found numerous wine bars here, plus a local brewery with live music in the evenings. In fact, Skopje had some delicious food, which was a welcomed surprise!

Apart from food, wine and entertainment, the Ottoman area is home to mosques, churches, galleries and museums, plus the second oldest bazaar in the Balkans (next to the one in Istanbul).

where to eat in skopje macedonia
Oh ya, the restaurants in Skopje were awesome!

In the actual bazaar itself we found vendors selling anything and everything we could want or need. Which was good as we were actually in the market for a scarf, mitts and a toque for Nick.

Towering above the old bazaar is the Tvrdina Fort, which was built in the 6th century AD. The views over the city from the fortress were excellent, and even though it was very windy and cold the day we went, we still enjoyed it.

fort in skopje macedonia
A cold day at the fort

After three days of eating, drinking and sightseeing in Skopje, it was time for us to move on. We picked up our rental car and made our way southwest to the tourist hotspot of Lake Ohrid.

Stay tuned to hear about what we got up to there, including an incredible festival…and epic videos! 


Watch out for the corrupt taxi drivers in Skopje. We had a 50/50 experience with honest vs. scammers during our stay in Skopje. Some of them have “special” meters, which count the fare much faster than normal. Find out what the price should be before setting off.

A taxi from Hi Skopje Hostel to the bus station, is around 100 – 150 MKD, and from the hostel to the city center, it’s around 100 MKD. Walking is around 15 minutes to the center.

An awesome spot for eating is the Lounge Restaurant Trend and Bistro in the main square. The food is really good (and affordable), the atmosphere is lively and the staff are attentive. On Sundays, ALL food is 50% off! You can’t beat that. (Regular price mains = $3 – $20)

In the old town, make sure to sample the local dishes listed above, they are very cheap and delicious 🙂

We had an awesome stay at the Hi Skopje Hostel. The room was clean, comfy and the pooch was an added bonus! You can book your room at the hostel here.

From the airport, there is a shuttle bus with Vardar Express that will take you to the center, or to the bus / train station. This costs 175 MKD and takes around 30 minutes. A taxi will run you 20 euros or more. You can see the bus schedule below.

bus from skopje airport to town
Not the best photo! But this is the schedule from the airport into town.

A huge thank you to Marina for hosting us at her hostel during our stay…and for having our backs and telling off the taxi driver when he tried to rip us off! As always, all thoughts, opinions and reviews remain our own – despite any complimentary services received. 

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Our 3 Days in Skopje - Macedonia's Controversial Capital

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Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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30 thoughts on “3 Days in Skopje – North Macedonia’s Controversial Capital

  1. OMG I grew up with this silly name dispute. My family are from Macedonia in North Greece – so to them calling FYROM Macedonia is such an insult…! My friends from Macedonia (the country) think otherwise of course. We just giggle each time the Eurovision’s on and the presenter not only has to say “the Former Yugoslavic Republic of Macedonia” but then has to translate it into French…

    We found Skopje to be a Disneyland of buildings – trying too hard to show off. Our friends said similar things to what you wrote – ‘we prefer jobs not fancy buildings’! Love a good Turkish coffee and baklava in the Turkish quarter though 🙂

  2. I hope that the influx of tourist attractions being constructed here and there in Skopje also brings more local jobs.

    PS: Hot wine for the win! On my recent EuroTrip, I went gaga over hot red wine in Vienna! Tastes like heaven but costs dirt cheap!

  3. Ooooh that food looks good! I’m all for the architecture as well. Let’s hope the government’s decision to pump so much money into it pays off for the locals. I really hope it does. Your tips at the end are really useful too: thanks for the heads up about those taxi monkeys!

  4. Looks like a very fun time! That cheese dish looks amazing. I would love to see the statue of Alexander the Great and the blue lights in the Old Bazaar were so photogenic. 😉 Thanks, I did not know anything at all about Macedonia until now.

  5. Thanks so much for this very thorough post! This is not an area of the world that I know much about at all, but for that reason, it’s definitely on my very long list of destinations to hit up over the next few years (And that burek looks amazing!).

  6. Loving the blue lights at the old bazaar and the hot wine and the dog! Macedonia dn the capital seem to be making a come back, watch out in a couple of years!

  7. That hostel looks really nice. I love the fact that they had a dog – missing my dogs is my only complaint about traveling. I have never traveled in that part of the world although Greg has. The contrast between old and drab vs. new and glitzy must really be interesting. I think I’d almost prefer the old and drab!

  8. Wow, I’m so glad she helped you with those awful taxi drivers! I had some bad experiences like that in Italy. The hostel sounds great. And what a bonus to have that adorable dog. Having a pet makes it feel so much more like home. 🙂

  9. Hey Nick and Dariece friends, you both shared such a valuable information. I am going to follow your way. keep rocking dude

  10. I really appreciate the honest tips at the end – there’s nothing worse than being scammed, especially on vacation! Gotta watch those taxis!

    Macedonia seems like an awesome place to visit, although I would probably wait until the summer when it’s warmer 🙂

  11. I certainly understand the comparisons with Ashgabat – very grand, but in a shiny, new and slightly Disney-esque way! That hostel looks great too 🙂

  12. We too hope it brings jobs 🙂 And yes, how had we not known about hot wine before?! haha

  13. Thanks for reading and commenting Brianne. Not many people travel to Macedonia, but they should! We had a great time 🙂

  14. For us, we don’t have a permanent dog, but we get to housesit and enjoy furry company from time to time 🙂 I like the old and the new, I find the contrast very interesting! Thanks for the comment.

  15. haha, Ya, when have you ever had a hostel owner have your back like that? It was pretty cool!

  16. Why is it that everyone has a taxi story?! Macedonia is great year-round, depending on what you want to do there. We went skiing, so it was OK that there was snow – but walking around was a bit cold!

  17. Well, we haven’t visited Skopje or Ashgabat or Astana – so they’re all new to us :-). The food looks inviting! (And thanks for enlightening us on this little part of Macedonia.)

  18. I love traveling to ancient places, learning the food culture, trying the local cuisines, etc. as it helps me to get inspiration for my new dishes. I have heard about Skopje from my friend, but I was not aware about the delicious food and restaurants. Loved reading your travel experience and thank you for sharing this information. Great post!

  19. I went t Skopje last year, it was such a weird city! Feels like a them park kind of with all the statues everywhere.

  20. haha, yes! The statues and monuments are very strange for sure. Although, we somehow liked this odd place.. 🙂

  21. People wouldn’t think it was so amusing if it was western France ridiculously claiming to be “Republic of England” and using that claim to proclaim 1/3 of the UK as “modern British occupied England”.

    Names aren’t just names. Calling them Macedonians is incredibly offensive to Greeks. You are taking a side. The friend of my enemy is becomes my enemy. I wish that was not the case but you all spit on Greeks by trying to ethnic engineer obvious Slavs into “macedonians”.

  22. Oh, so cool! I am going to Skopje in a bit more than one month and already started planning a bit. It actually looks much more pretty (on pictures) than I would have thought before I started researching.

    I am planning to stay 3 days as well, and hope to get to see just as much as you did. Seemed like you had a really great time! 🙂

  23. Thanks for this great article! I’m visiting Skopje in February. I will try that restaurant and I hope to find some great coffee too!

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