A holiday in Macedonia hadn’t been our travel plan. But when the temperature in neighbouring Bulgaria dropped too low for us to bear, we made an unplanned detour to holiday in Macedonia. It was one of the best travel decisions we’ve ever made.
Macedonia is an incredible holiday destination. From the capital city of Skopje with its towering classical statues and buildings to the beautiful and serene Lake Ohrid and the pretty ski slopes of Mavrovo.
At the time, I remember trying to look up travel guides for information about holidays in Macedonia. But there was little information about where to travel in this beautiful Balkan country. There’s even less information about where to travel in Macedonia in the winter – and it was late January when we arrived.
Determined to explore further in Macedonia than just Skopje and Ohrid, we took some chances… and they all paid off. We decided to travel slowly and spend all of our remaining travel time in Macedonia because it seemed like such a mystical and undiscovered country to us. Now, I’m going to share with you all the best destinations for a holiday to Macedonia.
Holiday in Macedonia: Travel Map
Our travel route around Macedonia was a bit haphazard, but it worked for us. We ended up going back on ourselves based on a recommendation to go to a National Park from a local Macedonian couple who we stayed with. Instead, I’m outlining a well-planned travel route for a holiday in Macedonia.
This travel route starts in the capital city of Skopje. The best way to get into Macedonia is to arrive in the capital city. We travelled by bus across from Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. The bus took over 5 hours due to a long wait at the border crossing. From Skopje, we continued our holiday in Macedonia by bus. The buses in Macedonia are ancient-looking but they were always on time.
The best travel route for Macedonia would be:
- Start in Skopje, take a trip up Mount Vodno and be sure to take a day-trip to Matka Canyon.
- Take an anti-clockwise loop around Macedonia and head from Skopje to Mavrovo National Park.
- Getting out of Mavrovo is a bit tricky. You can either return to Skopje by bus first or take a bus or taxi to Kafasan before heading south to Lake Ohrid.
- After Lake Ohrid, there’s Macedonia’s second largest city, Bitola.
- From Bitola, make a stop north to Prilep, a city with an incredible mountain range in the backdrop.
- Head into Macedonia’s wine region of Tikves, back to Skopje, or out to a neighbouring country from here.
Best Places to Visit on a Holiday in Macedonia
We loved everywhere that we visited in Macedonia. But especially the country’s stunning lakes – Lake Mavrovo and Lake Ohrid. After our holiday in Maceondia, we couldn’t help but feel that there was more to see in this beautiful Balkan country. If you’re travelling in the summer, there are also more opportunities for hiking and cycling.
We had absolutely no idea what to expect from Skopje. I’d spoken to a couple of travel bloggers who weren’t that keen on the city, but… we loved it as soon as we got there. We booked a great apartment on Airbnb so we’d have a work base for the week and explored the city on foot.
Skopje’s city centre was the most impressive and striking city centre we’ve ever seen. It was completely rebuilt in 2014 and now boasts incredible, massive marble buildings and more than 240 statues. We were taken aback by the grandeur of it. We really hadn’t expected such a grand city design in such a small country.
You’ll also want to take the cable car up Mount Vodno for some incredible views over Skopje while you’re here.
Recommend time: 3 days
The most well-known day-trip from Skopje is to Matka Canyon. This impressive canyon spans 5,000 hectares and is home to several monasteries. We spent an afternoon hiking along the canyon but you could easily spend a whole weekend traversing the hiking trails here, especially in the warmer months.
Recommend time: 1-2 days
There is so little information about travelling to Mavrovo online that planning ahead was impossible. Luke couldn’t resist the idea of another weekend of skiing and when I read that it was the most beautiful national park in Macedonia that was that – we just went for it without planning or booking anything.
We’re pleased to say that all the rumours were true – Mavrovo is so beautiful. A bright blue lake with a half-sunken stone church and snowy white mountains all around. The town is really small and there are only a couple of restaurants and a tiny corner shop, but that adds to it’s quiet charm.
Recommend time: 3+ days, depending on how long you want to ski or hike for.
Lake Ohrid is one of those places that you immediately fall in love with. Though the bus station and the town aren’t anything special, once you climb up the hill through the old town and look out over the lake, you completely understand why they say that this place is the jewel in Macedonia’s crown.
We accidentally booked into a guesthouse outside of Ohrid in a lakeside town called Lagadin – and it turned out to be our best decision while travelling in Macedonia. Lagadin is a quiet place but the views of the lake are unspoiled and serene. The guesthouse was amazing, and we feasted on home-cooked vegan food there all week. From Lagadin, it’s just a short bus ride to the monastery of St Naum on the border of Albania.
Recommend time: 4+ days
My initial reaction to Bitola was complete let down. I wrote it off as an ugly and unremarkable city almost immediately. I’m the first to admit that I made a mistake. Although Bitola is quite industrial looking and desolate in places, when you scratch the surface it’s actually quite a beautiful and cool city.
Once the mist cleared and the sun came out, I realised that Bitola is surrounded by stunning mountains. There’s a hipster coffee scene going on along their high street where everyone goes to drink nescafe (iced coffee – not the instant coffee) and the main square is characterised by two beautifully designed mosques and a clock tower.
Recommend time: 2 days, + 1 day if you plan on hiking in Baba Mountain
Other Places to Visit in Macedonia
There are a couple more places to travel in Macedonia worth visiting. At the time, these places either weren’t on our radar or were difficult to get to on public transport during the winter season.
We completely overlooked Prilep but when our bus from Bitola to Skopje passed through our jaws dropped at the incredible mountain range backdrop to the city. We immediately wished we’d known about it beforehand.
I later read that Prilep supposedly has the most beautiful clock tower in Macedonia, is where Macedonia’s annual beer festival is hosted, and there’s this absolutely stunning hiking trail from Marko’s Towers to the Treskavec Monastery.
If you want to travel further in Macedonia whilst on holiday, then Tikves looks like another good region to explore. Tikves is Macedonia’s famous wine region, producing the fruity but dry red wines that are sold across the country for over 2500 years. We couldn’t find much information about travelling in Tikves, but it seems that most travellers stop by in the town of Kavadarci and visit the region’s wineries and Tikves Lake from there.
DIY Holidays in Macedonia
Our DIY travel route for a holiday in Macedonia worked out perfectly. You can do the whole route by bus, by bike or rent a car and drive at your leisure. We travelled slowly, but the route from Skopje, Mavrovo, Lake Ohrid, Bitola and back to Skopje took us three weeks. If you’re travelling during the summer, then make sure to schedule time for cycling and hiking.
Do you have some recommendations for where to holiday in Macedonia? We’d love to hear about the places you liked most and anywhere that we missed off of our Macedonia travel route.
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