The Old Fortress of King Samuel in Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
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Useful things to know before visiting North Macedonia

Maysie Dee

Contributing writer

North Macedonia is a fascinating country located on the Balkan peninsula of Eastern Europe. As with other modern-day countries in the region, Macedonia was once part of a much larger city-state that changed hands many times throughout history.

The country began as a kingdom of Thraco-Illyrian people that was later overtaken by the First Persian Empire. Greater Macedonia then suffered Roman dominance, followed by Byzantine supremacy. In time, the Macedonian identity shifted as Slavic tribes settled in the area, altering yet again, with Serbian and Bulgarian influences. 

The history of the entire area is conflicted, not only to outsiders looking in, but to those with roots in the region. In 1991, Macedonia broke free from Communist Yugoslavia, and only recently the area underwent an unpopular name change. The country is now known internationally as North Macedonia, although locals still use the name “Macedonia” for daily use.

Regardless of its name, this beautiful country is a wonderful place for tourists from around the world to explore the remnants of its vibrant past, or simply exult in the dramatic natural beauty of its mountains and lakes.

Here's what you need to know before you visit.

Useful planning information

When to visit

Every season in Macedonia has its charms, depending on your choice of activities. Winter is perfect for high-altitude sports like skiing or snowboarding, or for lazing around a fire in gorgeous Lake Ohrid.

Spring and autumn are best for hiking and general touring of historical monuments and bazaars. Summer can get hot, and is the best time to visit Macedonia’s lakes for water sports and fun in the sun, or for heading into the mountains where the air is cool and fresh.

Plugs and measurements

Macedonia uses the usual European 220V plugs with two round prong sockets. Use of American appliances with flat-prongs will require an adapter. For appliances that don’t accept 110-240V, a converter will also be necessary, so bring one with you.

Measurements for distance are calculated in kilometres, while weight is noted in kilograms.

Visas and entry

The visa policy in Macedonia is fairly liberal, with over 85 countries granted 90 days visa-free, within a 180-day period. You should have at least three months validity of your passport beyond your visit.

Citizens of numerous other countries require a visa before traveling to Macedonia (including some Middle Eastern countries, India, China, and others) so do check before you go to make sure you can enter easily with the correct papers.

According to the law, all visitors must register their first night’s stay in Macedonia with the police in the area of your accommodation. It’s free to do so, and if you’re staying in a hotel they usually take care of this for you.

Otherwise, have your apartment owner accompany you to register and keep the little registration card with you until you leave the country.

Money and ATMs

Macedonia began using its own currency, the Macedonian denar (MKD) when it gained independence from Yugoslavia, in 1991-2. The MKD has a value of approximately 61.5 to one Euro.

The currency is locked, so you’ll need to get denars once you arrive and exchange any remaining bills and coins back into an international currency before leaving the country.

Currency exchange houses are readily available for exchanging Euros, USD, or GBP inside of Macedonia. Bank ATMs are found throughout cities and towns.

Prices are often quoted to visitors in Euros, and many taxis, restaurants and shops in touristic areas accept Euros as payment, although they don’t usually accept USD. Credit/debit card usage is widespread in Macedonia, but keep a bit of cash on hand for small expenditures.

Safety

Macedonia is a very safe country with a low level of touristic crime. It feels like a modern European-style country, a bit more so than its neighboring Balkan countries. The locals you’ll encounter are some of the friendliest and helpful people you’ll ever hope to meet.

The country is primarily Orthodox Christian (approx. 60%) with a Muslim minority (approx. 32%) so it’s a good idea to behave and dress a bit more conservatively, out of respect for the local customs.

As elsewhere in Europe, it’s always smart to keep tabs on your belongings with an eye for pickpockets, although it’s not a widespread problem in the country.

Macedonia is safe for solo women, but again, as always, keep your drink in sight when in bars and clubs, and avoid being out alone late at night.

Accommodation

You can find almost any kind of accommodation in Macedonia and the infrastructure is quite good. There are large 5-star hotels and hotel/casinos, plus lots of mid-range hotels, self-catering apartments, historic villas and guesthouses. There are also hostels for those on a budget, and interesting options like staying in a monastery.

Many older buildings with drab exteriors house newly refurbished apartments with all the mod-cons you’re used to enjoying. In these buildings, the elevators might seem a bit old-fashioned, but they are usually functional, and fortunately, the country is not prone to power outages.

Quaint guest houses and resorts can be found along the lakes and in mountain regions.

Alcohol

Macedonia hasa drinking culture, with a variety of alcoholic beverages, in varying strengths, for every occasion. From locally produced beer to homemade fruit brandy rakija to rich wines, you’ll find most restaurants and social gatherings include an offer of alcohol to round out the experience.

There are plenty of traditional taverns and super-hip wine bars, something for everyone!

Smoking

Although there was a brief period of time when Macedonia had a smoking ban in public places, it was modified to allow smoking in outdoor social spaces and in special smoking areas. Therefore, you’ll find that some pubs and restaurants allow smoking, while providing outdoor spaces for smokers to congregate or have a quick smoke.

There is supposedly a fine for smoking in a public place that serves food, in hospitals and in other spaces.

Drugs

Recreational marijuana use is not legal in Macedonia, nor is the use of narcotics. Although possessing small amounts of these substances for personal use was decriminalized (meaning the penalty is now less) it is still illegal, which means you could be fined €100-250.

Tipping

Macedonians don’t usually focus on tipping, and even those involved in the tourist industry are happy to do the job they agreed to without expecting a tip. This is especially true with taxis, as once you agree on price you can figure they are happy with the deal. If locals feel the need to, they might leave their coin change or round up to the next bill as a tip.

There is rarely a service charge added to a restaurant bill, but if you see one then any “tip” is covered. However, if you have a large party or receive over-the-top excellent service, it’s always nice to leave a little something extra for the servers.

Water

The tap water in Macedonia is perfectly safe to drink. If you find public drinking fountains, they are often fed by mountain springs from high above. There are also locally produced natural mineral waters available at any mini-market or grocery store.

WIFI and SIM cards

Macedonia is well-connected, with WIFI available in most restaurants, cafes, hotels and self-catering apartments. There are also hot spots in some public areas and parks.

It’s easy to get a local SIM card for use while you’re in Macedonia, as long as you have an unlocked phone. You’ll need to bring your passport and choose one of the popular companies to register a SIM card (around $4.5-6 Euros). Then it’s just a matter of selecting a data package that suits your needs.

The most popular companies are:

  • Makedonski Telekom

  • A1 Macedonia

  • Lycamobile

You can buy a SIM at the airport, but the prices will be higher. If possible, wait until you can walk into a mobile shop or convenience store in town where you can save a bit of money.

Respectful behaviour

  1. Although most Westerners pronounce the name of the country with a soft “C” sound, the correct way to pronounce the name of the country is with a hard “K” as in: Mah-ke-dohn-ee-a.

  2. It is considered rude to point at someone or something with a finger. Instead, use your whole hand to make a gesture in the direction of focus to avoid offending anyone.

  3. If you visit any of the numerous churches, monasteries, or mosques in the country, remember to dress conservatively. Women and men should wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees, and should avoid wearing shorts. Women can also carry a scarf to cover their heads when requested.

  4. Be aware that most Macedonians refer to their country as “Macedonia” rather than “North Macedonia” because the name change was not popular among the majority of the population. Be sensitive when discussing the politics around the name change, and be respectful of the local perspectives.

  5. Regarding political discussions in general: It’s important to note that although the majority of the population are Orthodox Christians, there is a strong Muslim Albanian minority within the country – so don’t assume anyone’s religious or political standing. Political comments and opinions on the part of tourists could very well offend someone and cause insult, so it’s better to avoid political discussions if possible.

  6. A great way to learn about why Macedonians feel so strongly on various political topics is to politely ask questions and listen, rather than immediately bringing your own outside opinions to the conversation.

Transport

Macedonia has two international airports, the Skopje International Airport just outside the capital city, Skopje, and the Ohrid (St. Paul the Apostle) Airport in the south of the country.

The Skopje Airport is easy to navigate and there are a few options available to get you into town such as:

  • Airport Shuttle Bus

  • Airport Taxi

  • Pre-arranged Private Transfer

  • Rental Car

The Ohrid airport is located about 9 kilometers outside of the town of Ohrid. It services those who are traveling specifically to Ohrid and want to avoid arriving in Skopje in the north of the country. Options for getting into town from the airport are:

  • Airport Taxi

  • Pre-arranged Private Transfer

Macedonia also shares land borders with give surrounding countries, each with more than one crossing:

  • Albania (west)

  • Kosovo (northwest)

  • Serbia (north/northeast)

  • Bulgaria (east)

  • Greece (south)

You can enter Macedonia via these borders by car or bus.

Travel within Macedonia

Options for travelling within Macedonia include:

  • Buses – large coaches, between city routes

  • Taxis

  • Mini-Buses within and between cities

  • Private Car Transfer (with driver)

  • Train

  • Car rental

The roads are in good condition in Macedonia, and many people opt to rent a car to travel around. If you have time, traveling by train is economical, scenic, and comfortable, although not the speediest way to get from one point to another.

The bus system in Macedonia is well-connected, with service to almost every area you might want to visit. Within cities and for short distances, minivans are often available in city centres.

Hiring a private driver is not over-the-top costly in Macedonia, and can be well worth the expense if you don’t want the stress of navigating or have lots of luggage to haul.

What to pack

Macedonia is small, so if you travel around, you’re bound to face weather changes. The country is defined by its mountainous areas, so you should definitely prepare to encounter mountain weather. Bring layers, as the winds can be chilly, but you’ll feel the heat in midday.

Along the lake, depending on the time of year, you’ll want to have a combo of lightweight clothing and sweaters/sweatshirts for shoulder season changes in weather.

Useful words and phrases

Most signage in the country appears in Cyrillic script, so you’ll probably have to rely ona few introductory phrases to communicate. In most areas of the country, you’ll be able to find someone (often the younger generation) who can speak English and will be happy to translate or help you along.

Here are a few words/phrases to get you started:

Hello - Zdravo

Goodbye - Cao/Prijatno (Chow/Pree-yat-no)

Yes – Da

No – Ne (neh)

Where is…? - Ka de eh

How much? Kol ku

Please -  Veh-moh-lahm

Thank you - Bla-go-da-ram

How are you? - Kako steh

Where are the toilets? KAH-deh seh twah-leh-TEE-teh?

Bus - Avtobus

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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

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