An aerial view of the archaeological site of Stobi in North Macedonia.

Nine remarkable things to do in North Macedonia

Maysie Dee

Contributing writer

Planning a trip to North Macedonia? Here are some of our top picks...

Macedonia, a small country in the centre of the Balkans, has an abundance of natural beauty to enjoy, but that’s not all it has to offer. 

We’ve made a list of our favourite side trips and included some exceptional sites, traditions, and legacies that you’ll only find within its borders. 

The country isn’t large and that means you can spend more time in each area—if you know what to look for, that is! Most people start their Macedonian adventure in Skopje, the capital city, so that’s where we’ll start, too.

The Millennium Cross of Skopje perched on a hill in North Macedonia.

1. Visit the Millennium Cross of Skopje

If you fly into Skopje at night, you’ll be welcomed by the brilliant lights of the Millennium Cross of Skopje shining above the city. This inspiring icon is dear to Macedonians, symbolizing over 2000 years of Christianity in the country. 

The 66-metre-high cross sits atop Mt. Vodno’s Krstovar Peak. The impressive steel-and-concrete structure is the third-tallest cross in the world. (If you’re wondering like I was, the Cruz de los Caídos (Spain, 150 metres) and the Dambana ng Kagitingan Memorial Cross (Philippines, 92 metres) fill the #1 & #2 spots.)

For amazing panoramic views of Skopje and beyond, visit the cross up close during daylight hours. Your options include taking a diverting cable car ride to the top, or you could hike if you’re feeling energetic. 

It’s peaceful at the peak, and the views are incredible! There’s a small cafe for drinks, coffee, and ice cream/snacks.  

Getting there:

The cable car (100 MKD round trip), located about midway up the mountain, is reached by either a taxi from the center of Skopje (between 300-400 MKD) or by bus. (.30 MKD)

Take the #25 bus to the cable car (any day but Monday when the cable car is closed); the bus is free on weekends. The best place to catch the bus is just off the city center at the REKORD stop on Dimitrie Chuposki Street, near the bakeries. 

Note: There’s often a wait of at least ½ hour after arriving at the summit for a return cable car, and another wait for a bus returning to Skopje. Plan for at least 2 hours total to avoid time pressures. 

Some visitors hike back down the mountain from the cable car to Skopje town centre; it’s not a difficult walk.

The Old Stone Bridge and Archaeological Museum in Skopje at sunset

2. Walk the Stone Bridge, Skopje

Skopje’s historical Stone Bridge is a symbol of new-meeting-old in the country’s fascinating capital city. It holds a central position on the Vardar River between Macedonia Square and Skopje’s Old Bazaar. The 15th-century bridge is a great place for just pausing to enjoy views down the river and imagining bygone times. 

Amid many changes in Skopje, the multi-arched Stone Bridge has remained untouched by modernization. It can be crowded as it’s a main pedestrian thoroughfare, and these days the bridge is, understandably, a prime spot for an eye-catching photo op. 

Have a coffee or beer at one of the many restaurants and bars lining the walkways near the bridge and bask in the ambience for a while. Then move on to #3 on our list

People walking down the streets of Skopje's Old Bazaar in winter

3. Explore Skopje’s Old Bazaar

Cross the Stone Bridge, and you’ll step into Skopje’s historic past. If you’re intrigued with old-time marketplaces, you’ll love the Skopje Old Bazaar! It’s a hold-over from Byzantine days defined by Turkish influences from the Ottoman period. By day, the busy marketplace is brimming with activity throughout the warren of tiny cobblestone streets and alleyways. 

Take your time to browse for traditional clothing, leather goods, groceries, and souvenirs. There are dozens of silver and gold shops, plus plenty of tiny coffee shops, inexpensive home-style eateries, tea stalls, and baklava stands. 

A walk up a small hill above Old Town brings you to the Mustafa Pasha Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Macedonia. The lovely Byzantine white-stone building has beautifully painted domed ceilings and walls, plus gorgeous mosaics, largely intact since ancient times.

By night, the Old Bazaar takes on a romantic aura and the pace slows. The ambiance is perfect for a stroll, an evening drink at the microbrewery, or a traditional meal

The sun setting over the ancient site of the Kokino Observatory in North Macedonia

4. Explore Kokino Observatory

You might be surprised to discover that Macedonia has its own ancient space observatory! This under-radar-but-super-interesting archaeological site is just one hour outside Skopje near the small village of Kokino.

The marvellous Bronze-era site is carved into Tatichev Kamen, a volcanic mountain peak sitting at 1,013 metres elevation. The complex comprises several platforms designed for astronomical and religious viewing purposes. Monuments and vantage spots carved in specific areas observe the movements of the sun and moon, plus other yearly celestial happenings. 

It’s stunning that the enormous carved monuments blend into the surrounding environs so completely, with some almost impossible to distinguish from the mountain’s natural rock formations.

Entry is free at Kokino and there are markers along the easy walking paths guiding visitors to the grassy platforms, monuments, and incredible views. You can also book a day tour from Skopje.

The Prilep monument in North Macedonia

5. Take a Spomenik tour

If you spend time in any Balkan country that was once part of the vast Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, you’ll come upon some dramatic, abstract war memorials. These largely concrete-and-steel sculptures (the majority built in the 1970s) commemorate the Republic’s long sufferings in the name of freedom, all the way through World War II. 

These days, the monolithic structures found in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro share the collective name “spomenik(s)” a Serbo-Croat word for monument or memorial.

Macedonia is home to several unique ones, and they are truly incredible to behold. The sculptures are immense, futuristic, abstract designs and regardless of their complex purpose and meaning, they leave the viewer in total awe.

A visit to any following Macedonian spomenik can be combined with a day trip to the nearest town:  

  • The Makedonium monument to the Ilinden Uprising (Kruševo) – Located atop Gumenja Hill, the unique 23-metre roundish “mace-inspired” white building has beautiful mosaic windows inside and a circular memorial garden and ampitheatre outside.

  • Monument to the Revolution (Struga) – An18-metre white concrete obelisk dedicated to heroes of WWII (the National Liberation War), set in an open square with an ampitheatre.

  • Monument to the Uprising at Debarca (Botun) – Twopoured-concrete-and-rebar 4.5-metre geometric monoliths, roughly resembling abstract human forms on a large concrete base. 

  • Burial Mound of the Unbeaten (Prilep) – Located in Prilep’s Park of the Revolution against the mountains and pine forest; contains 8 over-sized carved marble “urns” in a semicircle, commemorating the fallen soldiers of the Yugoslav Liberation Struggle (WWII). The tallest urn has a symbolized eternal flame.

  • The Memorial Ossuary of Fallen Fighters (Kavadarci) – set upon a hill in the center of Gradski Park; is built in the style of a traditional Macedonian inverted stair-step "čardak" house. Commemorates fighters in Kavadarci who fell to Axis forces in WWII.

  • Memorial Tomb to the Heroes of the Second World War (Veles) – A two-sectioned abstract representation of an inverted poppy flower; memorial to those Yugoslav Partisans fallen to Belgian and German WWII Axis fighters. 

    The open-air ossuary has a museum and mosaic collection, a long staircase leading up to the monument; the complex contains an amphitheatre and rose gardens.

The colourful, intricate interior of the Tetovo Painted Mosque in North Macedonia.

6. Visit the Tetovo Painted Mosque

The city of Tetovo, just an hour from Skopje, is a hidden treasure in Macedonia and one you shouldn’t miss! Tucked away in northwestern Macedonia, this colourful and charming city is home to a largely ethnic Albanian population and a stunningly beautiful painted mosque. 

The Šarena Mosque, also known as the Pasha Mosque, or simply the Painted Mosque is unusual because, unlike other painted mosques around the region, it is covered in spectacular paintings, inside and out!

Architect Isak Bey designed the masterpiece in 1438. It was beautiful in its original time but was ravaged by fires in 1833. The mosque was reconstructed by Abdurrahman Pasha, who is credited with commissioning the incredible floral, fleur-de-lis, and geometric designs that cover the mosque’s ceilings and walls. The paintings also include detailed landscapes, plus a rare depiction of Mecca. 

The murals and decorations used a traditional powdered pigment, oil, and egg-based paint (fresco or secco paint) that has retained its brilliant colouring and glossy finish to this day! The mosque is small, but mesmerizing as you stand surrounded by all the glorious details.

Note: It’s free to visit the mosque, although it is still in use—so you may have to wait if you arrive during prayers. When visiting, be sure to dress appropriately (women should have a scarf for head covering; modest clothing for men and women).

Also of interest in Tetovo are the ancient hammam building near the mosque and Arabati Baba Tekḱe, a Sufi monastery that was once an active  Albanian Bektashi Muslim religious center. The carved wooden buildings and well-kept grounds are simple and charming. 

Additionally, Tetovo is home to some wonderful shopping at its old town bazaars. 

An aerial view of the archaeological site of Stobi in North Macedonia.

7. Wander the Stobi ancient site

Standing amid the ruins of this ancient Paonian settlement, it’s easy to envision the bustling trade centre that it once was. Its location made it a perfect crossroads during the Archaic Period (800-469 BCE). It thrived as a Macedonian and then Roman city, until its eventual decline after the Slavic invasion. 

The site sits outside today’s city of Prilep, in south-central Macedonia. Much of the 27-hectare site spanning 3 terraced levels has been excavated, and the ruins are magnificent. 

The main attractions of the previously-walled city are the enormous amphitheatre and the numerous exquisite floor mosaics throughout the site that have (miraculously) remained intact. The Baptistry is remarkable, as well as the Episcopal Basilica.

It’s relaxing to meander the walkways and colonnades and view the remnants of housing along the way. Within the site, you’ll find remains of a large palace attributed to Emperor Theodosius I, plus ruins of a large library, prisons, baths, more palaces, fountains, mansions, and a Jewish synagogue.

The Stobi site is underrated but there is so much to see! Fortunately, it’s rarely crowded, and you might have the place to yourself, making you feel like a real archaeologist.

Note: there is a small entry fee (125 MKD) to the Stobi site.

Old Church of St. Jovan Kaneo on Lake Ohrid in winter

8. Count churches in Ohrid

We’d be remiss if we didn’t advise you to undertake a tour of the historic churches and monasteries in southern Macedonia’s Ohrid town.Once known as the town of 365 churches—one for each day of the year—Ohrid still has a few churches that reflect its over 2000 years of Christian history. 

Most remaining churches are located within Ohrid’s stone-laid streets or along the lake. There are walking maps to follow if you want to take a day or two to check them out. The Byzantine architectural features, frescoes, and interiors of each are lovely. 

The churches are perfect for experiencing a few moments of peace, especially if you’re in Ohrid during the summer high season when the town can get a bit hectic.

This self-guided tour map shows the churches, which include:

  1. 9th-century Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon 

  2. 13th-century Church of Saint John at Kaneo 

  3. 11th-century Church of Saint Sophia

  4. 13th-century Holy Mary Perybleptos

  5. 14th-century Church of Saint Bogorodica Bolnicka

  6. 14th-century Church of Saint Nicholas Bolnicki

  7. 17th-century Holy Virgin Mary Kamensko

  8. 13th-century Saint Bogorodica Perivlepta Church

Handmade paper in an old paper workshop in Ohrid, North Macedonia.

9. Check out Ohrid's specialty products

Most fun things to do in Ohrid centre around the churches (as above) or the illustrious Lake Ohrid. Additionally, Ohrid has a lovely old town with little shops and kiosks; perfect for browsing and hanging out.

While you’re doing that, check out these unique Ohrid offerings:

Browse original Ohrid Pearls

Two families hold the hidden technique for making special pearls from crushed shells and fish scale emulsion, unique to a single variety of Ohrid fish. The technique is a well-preserved secret and the results are truly gorgeous. 

Many jewelry shops are claiming to sell the special Ohrid pearls, but only the Filevi and the Talevi are holders of the original recipe, handed down for generations.

Shop for unique Ohrid Ruby jewellery

It’s fascinating that Macedonia is Europe’s only country where natural rubies are found. 

They’re not the type of crystalline ruby you’re used to seeing, as they’re opaque rather than clear. The rubies come in a variety of pretty colours ranging from strawberry milkshake pale to deeper plum or raspberry pinks and reds. 

These stones often feature in Ohrid silver filagree jewellery (another Ohrid speciality) as polished cabochons. They’re rare and lovely, so check them out at any of the several silver filagree jewellery shops in Ohrid’s shopping district.

Tour the National Workshop for handmade paper in Ohrid

This generational workshop has been a centre of creative handmade papermaking since the 16th century. Today you can tour the shop (museum) and see the original process of crafting paper from natural ingredients like coffee, wood, herbs, and cotton. 

The results are splendid, especially if you’re partial to natural products and beautifully textured handmade papers. You can also see one of the original Gutenberg presses and learn about the museum’s history.

Check out this little shop and collect a paper souvenir or some sheets of handmade paper for personal projects. There’s no fee to visit and no high-pressure sales…these folks love their art and are happy to share it with you.

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Maysie Dee

Author - Maysie Dee

Maysie Dee is a freelance writer, content editor, and recipe creator. She and her husband have travelled across the world for decades as natural product consultants, collecting stories along the way.

Last Updated 17 May 2024

The beautiful turquoise Kozjak Lake in Northern Macedonia

North Macedonia

Situated in the centre of the Balkans, North Macedonia is known for its stunning landscapes and diverse history.