Skopje was our first and last stop during our slow travels through Macedonia. We weren’t sure what to expect from Macedonia’s capital city and before arriving all we’d heard was that it was a bit bleak and wasn’t the best for vegan travellers.
We were pleasantly surprised by Skopje.
I guess we’d assumed the capital city would be grey and Balkan-looking, which isn’t untrue. Unexpectedly though, Skopje was also grand and majestic and there were so many statues that you just wanted to keep walking around to see how many you could spot.
We mainly used Skopje as a travel base in Macedonia so that we could catch up on our freelance work and take some time to figure out where to travel in Macedonia. Despite being in Skopje for a total of 9 days, it felt like we barely scratched the surface of this Macedonian city, but here’s what we did there:
Walk Through Skopje’s Majestic City Centre
When we first arrived in Skopje, it was 10pm so we took a taxi straight to our Airbnb apartment and crashed out. We caught up on our online work and didn’t venture out – except to get food and coffee – until the next evening. That was when we first went into the city centre. To tell you the truth, we weren’t expecting anything much. Boy, were we wrong.
My mouth literally dropped when I saw Skopje’s city centre.
It is the most grand, over the top city centre I have ever seen. Massive classical style buildings with thick pillars adorn the riversides, bronze and marble statues have been erected everywhere and the statue-lined bridges play classical music. I couldn’t believe how huge everything was.
Turns out that all of this was built in 2014. It’s caused a lot of controversy in the city: some love the classical style that’s transformed the city’s Socialist architecture, others are critical that a more contemporary approach wasn’t taken. The construction costs have been immense and for a relatively poor country, many critics felt it was an unnecessary expense.
All that aside, if you’re a traveller in Skopje, take an evening walk and enjoy some local Macedonian wine by the river, overlooking all the grand buildings and statues.
Taste Turkish Coffee in Skopje’s Old Bazaar
Skopje’s Old Bazaar is a small maze of streets just across from the grand city centre, where you can shop for trinkets and sit back with a small cup of Turkish coffee. There are small cafes and coffee shops all around the bazaar, as well as some traditional style restaurants.
I keenly eyed up some winter hats with fluffy bobbles on the way into the bazaar that I eventually became adamant that I needed on our last day in Macedonia (much to Luke’s distress over our remaining budget). It was only 350 denar (£4.40) for a hat though!
Explore Skopje Fortress
Overlooking the Old Bazaar and city centre is Skopje’s thousand year old fortress, often referred to as the Kale Fortress. We’d gone up expecting there to be gorgeous views of the city, but this wasn’t really the case as the walls were really high. Nonetheless, we were pleased to find there wasn’t an entry fee and enjoyed walking along the walls.
Hike Through the Forest & Take the Cable Car to Vodno Mountain
I left Luke to plan our afternoon trip to the Millenium Cross up Vodno Mountain. In Luke’s usual style instead of us simply catching the bus, he decided we’d walk the unknown distance through Skopje and up the mountain to the cable car.
After some initial distress from me about not having enough hours of daylight left and some insistence from Luke that it was too late to find the bus now anyway, we set off through the streets. After an hour or so, we reached the edge of a forest and began scrambling our way up a rocky trail identified on a sketchy Google Maps route through the trees.
It was… beautiful. Not only was it quiet (because nobody else would have any idea that walking route was there), but there were beautiful, clear views over Skopje from the mountain side. It only took about 45 minutes until we reached the road leading up to the cable car. We hopped on, got to the top and stared in awe at the mountainous cityscape, rolling clouds and golden sunset.
Where to Eat in Skopje
The food in Skopje wasn’t the best for vegans and we had such cool Airbnb apartments that we mostly decided to cook for ourselves. When we did venture out though, we ate at a couple of really good places.
The only place we found that was exclusively vegan in Skopje was Сурово & вкусно, a vegan and raw food take-out. We searched around for quite a while at the exact spot on the map before realising that the cafe was actually above us – on the second floor of an outdoor block of shops.
We finally caught on, headed upstairs and excitedly followed the signs with strawberries (the cafe’s logo) on. We ate some pretty yummy chickpea patties and salad and a raw lemon cake outside on the balcony, but realised that most of the locals come to grab food to take home. Total cost for our lunch was 540 denar (£6.80).
While on the lookout for cool cafes with vegan options, we came across Squeeze Me. It’s mainly a smoothie bar, but there are some salads and sandwiches on the menu. We chowed down on two hummus and tomato wholegrain toasted sandwiches and a blueberry, banana and date smoothie. The total cost was 390 denar (£4.93). A pretty successful lunchtime!
On our second night in Skopje, we ventured out without a plan. As vegetarians (and at the time, vegans) this is a pretty risky thing to do in a new city, but we felt like braving it. We ended up in Destan, which is actually known as one of the best kebab houses in town. I know, vegans in a kebab house – don’t laugh at us!
Well, we weren’t planning on eating any kebabs, but we went into Destan after seeing some delicious looking baked tavce gravce, a traditional Macedonian white bean stew, through the window. We ate that with some really good chewy white pita, a small dish of ajvar (a red pepper relish) and some pickles and washed it down with red wine. Cost of our meal was 590 denar (£6.70).
Whilst on the hunt for traditional Macedonian restaurants in Skopje, we found Old House Restaurant. Apparently the house is the oldest traditional house in Macedonia. The building is lovely, though less ‘old’ looking and a little more high-end than we expected.
We were pleased to find loads of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, including a vegetable stew and tavce gravce. A starter, two mains, bread and two drinks set us back 1100 denar (£14).
Another traditional Macedonian restaurant, Skopski Merak had such great reviews on TripAdvisor that we couldn’t not try it out. It was surprisingly buzzing for a weekday night and the waiter was super friendly and went out of his way to point out all the vegetarian options.
The highlight was the restaurant’s pizza oven in which they were making pavijelik, traditional Macedonian style pizza which is more like really nice bread with toppings. We also ordered a massive mixed salad, grilled veggies and plate of three traditional Macedonian dips. Dinner cost us a total of 1000 denar (£12.65).
Local Travel Accommodation in Skopje
What I really loved about Skopje was the accommodation. Luke and I are always looking for the cheapest places we can find that have good wifi (which means they’re not the cheapest) and in Skopje we needed a good work base, so decided to scour Airbnb.
We stayed in two different private apartments and they were both awesome. The first Airbnb apartment in Skopje was a small, warm place with a bed, well equipped kitchen and dining space all in one room. It was everything we needed and so conveniently located.
The second Airbnb apartment in Skopje was a couple of pound more expensive but it had a separate bedroom and living room, a breakfast bar and cool art on the walls, as well as an amazing view of Vodno Mountain.
Travelling Around Macedonia from Skopje
Skopje was an excellent travel base for exploring Macedonia. From Skopje, we took a day trip to Matka Canyon, a weekend trip skiing in Mavrovo National Park and used it as a starting point for a travel loop around Macedonia to Lake Ohrid and back around. We loved this city because everywhere was accessible and we loved having city life on our doorstep at a fraction of what it would cost anywhere else in Europe.
Have you visited Skopje? How did you like it?