Another weekend and another two new countries never been before ahead of us with new great places to see. The Republic of North Macedonia, also known as the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, or under the acronym FYROM, was born in 1991 after the break of Yugoslavia, but of course its history can be traced back thousands of years to what was the Kingdom of Paeonia, inhabited by Thracian people that were a group of Indo-European tribe. Then the Greeks, the Romans, Slavic, Ottoman, Kingdom of Serbia and Yugoslavia; all left their part of history and culture in the region.
Skopje is the capital and largest city in the country. With over half million inhabitants it accounts for more than one quarter of the total country’s population. Despite being a medium size city, the old city center is very small and can be entirely visited in just a few hours. It is centred along what used to be the bazaar during the Ottoman rule, and it is in fact one of the largest outside Turkey nowadays. Across the river and linked by the Stone Bridge, which is the landmark of Skopje; is the new town which highlight is Macedonia Square. Farther beyond there is nothing to see from the tourist point of view. Just ugly commie blocks everywhere. It is for this reason that you can easily include any other city or place coupled with your visit to Skopje. In our case, this was Pristina, capital of Kosovo, just 80 kilometers to the north.
I must be honest in saying that I was not impressed at all with this city, and if at all, I think I was actually shocked for seeing those unnecessary and nonsense statues placed literally on every possible space, with many more yet to come. No wonder why Skopje is known as the city of sculptures, but to this extent it is extremely overloaded.
Furthermore, on the track on non-senses where the government is spending the money are the out of scale, out of place recreation of classical style buildings on mass scale just for the sake of having “something apparently looking beautiful”. That’s by all means not the right path of doing things and are such an enormous hideous pastiches like nowhere else I’ve ever seen; a bad joke. It feels to be insulted that a country which has poverty and other issues that should be addressed as priority, are overshadowed by the unnecessary overspent on doing such nonsense projects.
Food-wise talking that’s a great subject. You will be amazed about the choice and quality, for that low prices! I could not believe it myself. So talking from experience, our hotel happened to be literally across the road from what people say is the best and largest restaurant in town, serving real traditional food. Makedonska Kuka. Absolutely recommended anytime, lunch or dinner, you will not be disappointed at all. Just be mindful in not ordering too much, quantities are indeed big!
For more information about Skopje check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. FYROM’s currency is the Denar (MKD). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Skopje
- Fortress Originally built since the 6th century and expanded over the times, the last during the Ottoman times is located on the top of the highest hill in the city. Commonly known as Kale, meaning in Turkish for fortress.
- Old Bazaar Area The largest of its kind in the Balkans, outside of Istanbul. Clear influence during the Ottoman rule.
-Bezisten Is the covered market, originally built in the 15th century, and virtually unchanged since the last renovations in 1899.
-Çifte Hamam The double bath as the name translates from Turkish is located at the centre of the bazaar. Built in the 15th century was in use until the 1963 earthquake. Nowadays is the Contemporary Art Gallery.
-Clock Tower Built in the 16th century is one of the main attractions in the bazaar.
-Sultan Murad Mosque Built in 1463 on the grounds of the former Monastery of Saint George that was destroyed during the Ottoman capture of the city in 1392.
-Mustafa Pasha Mosque Built in 1492 and virtually intact ever since its construction.
-Suli Han Is a former 15th century caravanserai. Damaged in the 1963 earthquake, was later refurbished and now is a faculty of the university and a small museum.
-Kapan Han Is another caravanserai from the 15th century, nowadays a restaurant.
-Kurshumli Han The largest and nicest of the 3 caravanserais left in the city. Part of it houses today the Macedonian National Museum.
- Macedonia Square By all means the largest and most important square in the city. Unfortunately in the 1969 earthquake most of the historic buildings were destroyed.
-Ristiḱ Palace Built in 1926 when the city was annexed to Serbia and thrived becoming more westernized.
-Memorial Hall of Mother Teresa Mother Teresa was born in Skopje
-Warrior on a Horse Although the statue itself is not officially named after Alexander the Great, it is said to depict him. Was set in place in 2011 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of independence of the Republic of Macedonia.
- Stone Bridge Another of the city’s symbols. Built during the Ottoman occupation on the original foundations of the once Roman bridge and completed in 1463.
- Church of the Ascension Of very small proportions, its characteristic is to have been built half buried below street level in order not to overlook the neighboring mosques.
- Archaeological Museum of Macedonia Built as part of the project Skopje 2014
- Porta Macedonia Is a triumphal arch built also as part of the Skopje 2014 project in order to embellish the city with grandiose monuments. It is dedicated to the Macedonian independence. Located in Pella Square.
- Train Station In Neo-Byzantine style, built in 1938
Alexander the Great Airport is located 20 km southeast of Skopje. The most convenient and cheapest way to reach the city center is by bus, unless of course, taking a taxi. Signs are clear and easy therefore there is no point in why to take a taxi while buses are frequent and straightforward.
Vardar Ekspres buses from the airport to the city center take around 40 minutes and cost 150MKD per way (around 1.75£ to give you an idea). This bus stops along the way at the Hotel Alexander Palace, Holiday Inn, Continental Hotel and Bus Station.
Within the city there is no need at all for having to take public transportation. Distances are really small to the needs as a tourist, yet should your accommodation be on the outskirts, there is a good network of buses.
There is a good choice of hotels of any kind in the city, with many more to come as we saw from the frenetic construction going on everywhere. Finding a good deal was not difficult at all. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We managed a great deal at the TCC Grand Plaza, one of the 5* properties in the city centre, right next door to every sight at walking distance, in a quieter place. Really nice rooms, comfortable and very well care with very friendly and efficient staff. We can strongly recommend this hotel to anyone.