Lake Ohrid is truly the jewel in Macedonia’s crown.
When we first made it past the town centre and scaled up the hillside through the old town, we looked out in wonderment over the lake and distant mountains. Lake Ohrid isn’t just any lake, this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes. It is beautiful.
We’d heard from our cab driver back in Skopje that Lake Ohrid was where every family in Macedonia went in their summer holidays, when the weather was warm enough for swimming in the clear waters. We were there in winter and there was hardly anyone around, it was quiet and serene.
What did we spend our time doing? We took it slow, revelled in our fortune at being at this beautiful lake, and explored everything we could.
Amble Through Ohrid’s Old Town
Ohrid is one of the oldest settlements in Europe. Though the main high street doesn’t stand out, as soon as you begin wandering up hill everything changes. There’s a maze of cobbled streets, local architecture unique to Ohrid and historic walls and gates dotted around. Ohrid’s old town was so quiet that while we were there we crossed paths with less than five people.
Admire the Church of St. John Kaneo
The church of St John Kaneo is just a short (but uphill!) walk from the town centre. We trailed our way through the old town haphazardly but simply making sure the lake is always to your left will get you to the church. This little Macedonian Orthodox church sits right on the cliff side. We spent a fair while sitting on the grass next to the church, looking out at the magnificent view of the lake.
Look Out Over the Town from Tsar Samuil’s Fortress
Head further up hill from the church of St John Kaneo and you’ll enter a wooded area. There was construction work (of what looked like a large hotel complex!) going on right next to the woodlands while we were here, but the path simply winds around the edge of the construction site and up to Tsar Samuil’s fortress.
Tsar Samuil’s fortress overlooks the town of Ohrid. Macedonian flags stand proud atop the walls, flapping in the wind. The fortress is quite small and you can easily walk around it within 15 minutes or so. We walked along the walls, stopping at the viewpoints along the way – all of the tower viewers were out of action!
Bay of Bones & Museum on Water
Take the road south along the lakeside and eventually you’ll come to the Bay of Bones, a reconstructed pile-dwelling settlement on the water. The reconstruction was made identical to remains of the underwater archaeological site which dates back to the Bronze Age. A Roman military fortification has also been reconstructed on the hillside next to the Bay of Bones. The settlement and museum are only small, but their location was by far the most beautiful spot on the lake.
Discover St Naum Monastery
Continue following the road south down the lake and eventually you will reach the monastery of St Naum, located right on the border of Albania. Peacocks roam around the monastery’s grounds, climbing high up into the trees and even onto the roof of the monastery itself. I read that Macedonians believe you can still hear the saint’s heartbeat if you press an ear to his stone coffin inside the church – I decided against finding out, so I guess we’ll never know if you really can!
Watch the Sunset Over the Lake
Lagadin, a small town 10km south of Ohrid, is the most serene part of the lake. In the winter, there was barely anyone here at all, so we had the lakeside all to ourselves. While some days were overcast and misty, others were completely crisp and clear. On the clear days, we walked along the lake waiting for the sun to set. The reflection from the lake made it the most glorious sunset I’ve ever seen.
Where to Stay in Lake Ohrid
When we were in Bulgaria, we picked up this colourful leaflet about the best hostels in the Balkans. We were staying in a great hostel in Plovdiv that was listed in there at the time, which made us pretty confident about the other hostels. That’s how we found out about Robinson Sunset House at Lake Ohrid.
The guesthouse is located in Lagadin, the same place where we watched the most magnificent sunset. We arrived with our bags and scrambled uphill along a dirt track with no idea what to expect. When we got to the gate, we received a warm welcome from Anton and his wife, Tatyana, and immediately felt at home.
We sat drinking coffee next to the fire in the heart of their home. They explained that they’d built it themselves, adding one room each year, gradually welcoming more guests until they had a whole hostel. It was winter though, so we were their only guests, but that it made an even more personable experience for us.
Where to Eat at Lake Ohrid
The very best part of staying at Robinson Sunset House was that baba Tatayana cooked us delicious food with fruits and vegetables that they’d grown in their own garden everyday. There is no doubt about it: she is the best cook in all of Macedonia and I don’t know why you’d ever want to eat anywhere else. She kindly prepared all-vegan meals for us, adapting traditional Macedonia foods to be vegan. Not to mention that they also made lovely homemade wine.
Dr Falafel is a small vegetarian falafel bar on the high street in Ohrid. It’s a low-key place, but their hummus and falafel is really yummy. A plate of hummus, falafel, pita bread and salad cost us 180 denar (£2.30) each.
How to Get To & Around Lake Ohrid
We travelled by bus everywhere in Macedonia. We travelled from the main bus station in Skopje direct to Ohrid. The buses leave at regular intervals every day and takes around 3 hours. When you arrive at the bus station in Ohrid (which isn’t the best spot), it’s about a 25 minute walk into the centre of town, or you can grab a taxi into town from there.
Want to travel further in Macedonia? Check out our guide to all the best travel destinations in Macedonia.