When the temperature in Bulgaria dropped too low for us to bear, we made an unplanned detour to neighbouring Macedonia. We were excited to discover what Macedonia would be like, but we had absolutely no idea where to travel in Macedonia.
We looked up travel guides for Macedonia, but aside from Skopje, Macedonia’s capital city and Lake Ohrid, a popular summer holiday destination, there’s really very 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 we didn’t want to be hopping around between countries again and because Macedonia seemed like such a mystical and undiscovered country to us.
Where to Travel in Macedonia: A Slow Traveller’s Route
Our slow travel route around Macedonia was a bit haphazard as 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 sensible and well-planned route around Macedonia – even if you’re a slow traveller, you still want to use your time efficiently.
The best way to get into Macedonia is to arrive in the capital city, Skopje. We travelled by bus across from Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, which took over 5 hours thanks to a disorganised border crossing. From here, we travelled across the whole of Macedonia by bus – the buses are pretty ancient but they were always on time.
- 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, so 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 in Macedonia
We loved everywhere that we visited in Macedonia, and especially the country’s stunning lakes – Lake Mavrovo and Lake Ohrid. After our travels, we couldn’t help but feel that there was even more to see in this beautiful Balkan country, particularly if you’re travelling in the summer when there are 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, which we really hadn’t expected 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 – and for good reason. 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
Mavrovo National Park
There is so little information about travelling to Mavrovo online 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 unspoilt and serene. From here, 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 one of 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, once 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) 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
You might also want to stop in…
There are a couple more places to travel in Macedonia that any slow travellers (us included) would love to explore. At the time, these places either weren’t on our radar, or were difficult to get to on public transport in 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 and 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 looking hiking trail from Marko’s Towers to the Treskavec Monastery.
If you want to travel further in Macedonia, 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.
Slow Travel in Macedonia
Our slow travel route in a circle from Skopje through Mavrovo, Lake Ohrid, Bitola and back to Skopje took us three weeks. We spent a little longer than necessary in Skopje during this time because we were catching up on our freelance work, but we’d still definitely recommend slow travellers a minimum of three weeks in Macedonia, especially if you’re travelling during the summer time.
Do you have some recommendations for where to travel in Macedonia? We’d love to hear about the places you liked most and anywhere that we missed off of our Macedonia travel route.