After spending a couple of nights in Ljubljana, Slovenia, we headed to Skopje, North Macedonia. I had never been to North Macedonia before, but the country has interested me for quite a while, dating back to their constant “Invest in Macedonia” ads that played on CNN International (which was before the country was renamed North Macedonia).
I was going to take my dad to Skopje on a trip a couple of years ago, but a hurricane in Florida meant he couldn’t travel, and I ended up canceling the trip.
Despite my interest, I had no real clue what to expect from Skopje. I wasn’t sure if it would feel more like Belgrade, Moscow, Tashkent, Yerevan, or somewhere completely different. So in this post I wanted to share my thoughts.
Skopje was incredibly approachable
A bit about my general destination philosophy. I’m an introvert, and in general my approach to experiencing a new city is that I like to be a “fly on the wall.” So I like cities where I can easily observe people living their lives, whether that comes in the form of sitting in a coffee shop and watching people, or just walking around and observing behavior.
I was expecting that I’d find Skopje to be interesting, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the vibe I got from the city. For example, I loved visiting Tashkent, but even after several days there I feel I didn’t have a real sense of what peoples’ day-to-day lives were really like.
Skopje felt different. In addition to that, the city is approachable as a tourist — lots of people spoke English well, they were very warm towards visitors, there were great restaurants and bars, and I felt safe (though I’d note that a reader recently commented that the only place in the world they were robbed was Skopje, but I guess that will happen in any city).
Holy statues, batman!
The thing that stood out to me most about Skopje was the statues. A lot of cities have a lot of statues, but at some points I felt like Skopje had more statues than people. OMG there’s a statue of something on every block. It’s unreal.
Beyond the statues, the architecture was varied and cool-looking as well.
The North Macedonian countryside is gorgeous, and you can do a really cool day trip
We had almost exactly two days in Skopje (we arrived in the afternoon, and left around the same time two days later).
We ended up not spending quite as much time in North Macedonia as we expected, because for our full day on the ground we decided to do a day trip to Kosovo. I’ll share my thoughts on that in another post, but it was so worthwhile.
By taking this day trip we also got a glimpse of just how beautiful the countryside in North Macedonia (and Kosovo) is. There are lots of other nature attractions just outside the city, and we could have done those in place of Kosovo.
I knew that I’d find North Macedonia to be interesting, but it exceeded my expectations in almost every way. When I visit a city where I have few expectations, my hope is always just that it’s interesting — that can be good interesting or bad interesting.
What surprised me about Skopje was just how welcoming everyone we interacted with was, and how good of a vibe the city had.
So yeah, Skopje was great, and I think it’s worth a visit if you’re looking for something different than other European cities. The icing on the cake was being able to visit Kosovo from there, which was SO FASCINATING.
If you’ve visited Skopje, what was your experience like?
Skopje is Beautiful. Food is excellent. Going back to Macedonia ad Skopje in July 2019
Thanks, Ben. Great info! I was just passing through North Macedonia last week en route from Romania to Greece. In fact, went right by the Skopje airport (recently renamed, like the country). But I didn't explore Skopje or elsewhere, but it's on my list (as well as Kosovo--thanks for that day-trip info too--and Albania). Where did you stay? Do you have hotel/restaurant tips for Skopje? I know there's a big Marriott there and sometimes the...
Thanks, Ben. Great info! I was just passing through North Macedonia last week en route from Romania to Greece. In fact, went right by the Skopje airport (recently renamed, like the country). But I didn't explore Skopje or elsewhere, but it's on my list (as well as Kosovo--thanks for that day-trip info too--and Albania). Where did you stay? Do you have hotel/restaurant tips for Skopje? I know there's a big Marriott there and sometimes the Eastern European properties are super nice for a much more reasonable amount of points than US or Western Europe.
I love Macedonia, and the food is terrific! A lot of the former Yugoslavia is interesting.
Skopje is rich with traditional Macedonian history, culture and blended well with the cosmopolitan feel ....its well balanced.
Great restaurants (love the traditional Macedonian meals and drinks), feels very welcoming, plenty to see in the capital city centre, fortress, old city, beautiful churches.
Overall we would reccomend Macedonia for a visit.
Skopje is awesome and in addition to everything Ben mentioned the old city has several historic old caravanserais worth a quick visit.
@Lucky, thoroughly enjoyed your coverage of both Skopje and Ljubljana.
Have you considered spinning this content into a new blog brand and interlinking for those interested? I would highly recommend it.
The only country/city/hotel I've ever been where there was a pile of porn magazines on my bedside table that greeted (or better, shocked) me on arrival. Can't remember which hotel. I agree the rest of the city was great though!
I traveled through North Macedonia in 1985 on the Budapest-to-Athens leg of my post-college European backpacking trip through the entire length of the former Yugoslavia. This was a 24 hour trip on an extremely slow train during the Communist Era. I recall collapsed buildings that had still not yet been cleared since the 1963 Skopje Earthquake. One of my strongest recollections is that everyone was chain-smoking (including some children) while refusing to open any windows....
I traveled through North Macedonia in 1985 on the Budapest-to-Athens leg of my post-college European backpacking trip through the entire length of the former Yugoslavia. This was a 24 hour trip on an extremely slow train during the Communist Era. I recall collapsed buildings that had still not yet been cleared since the 1963 Skopje Earthquake. One of my strongest recollections is that everyone was chain-smoking (including some children) while refusing to open any windows. The other is that there were no other Americans on the entire train. I finally found an exchange student from Cameroon to converse with (I speak French), and I commented that it was strange that so many people had purchased birds to bring home as pets. He explained that actually some people were so poor that they would come to the city with cages to capture pigeons to bring home to eat. The Balkans have come a long way since then, so I'm thrilled to see that the tourism infrastructure is there and that you had a wonderful time. Will be heading to Slovenia (finally) in a few months!
I enjoyed the spa in the Skopje Marriott Hotel. I came there every day I was in town. Never got busted either.
Don't miss the Prometheus statue. Old Prometheus originally came out of the studio stark nekkid, but the locals protested. A pair of golden drawers was later add to cover his shame. A fine example of a Simpsons episode come to life.
Great photos. Now I want to go to Skopje.
@Aaron, why choose when you can go to both. I visited both Slovenia and North Macedonia in 2016 and found both of them wonderful. Montenegro (beyond the beaches) is another jewel.
So, Ljubljana or Skopje, if you had to choose one over the other? Personally, I'd go with the former over the latter, but they're both nice cities to visit.