Macedonia is one of the least-traveled countries in Europe (less than fifteen thousand American, Brits, and Canadians visit here annually – combined!). Yet, this mountainous, landlocked country has so much to offer! There are quirky cities, gorgeous villages, interesting historic sites, majestic lakes, and beautiful mountains. And while some of the most beautiful places to visit in Macedonia rival those anywhere in the world, you’ll pay a fraction of what you would for a trip to similar spots in western Europe or even Croatia or Slovenia.
So whether you’re backpacking the Balkans or you’re just looking for a quick city break, don’t make the same mistake most travelers do and just hit Skopje or Ohrid. There are far too many unexpected and wonderful places to visit in Macedonia to give this country short shrift.
A note about Macedonia versus North Macedonia: This article is about planning a trip to North Macedonia (the country) and not the region of Greece called Macedonia. However, the name “North Macedonia” is not commonly used yet, so we will simply by substituting the name Macedonia in places. This is not a political statement; we are merely trying to help those looking for information about the country find it easily. Political comments will be deleted.
The Best Places to Visit in Macedonia
From small fishing villages to resort towns to interesting historic sites, these are our picks for the best places to visit in Macedonia.
Most trips to Macedonia will start in Skopje, either landing at the airport or grabbing a bus from Sofia, Tirana, or Greece. Visitors will find that there are fantastic things to do here, but the real joy is simply strolling the quirky streets and enjoying the juxtaposition of the city’s delightfully slow pace with its urban atmosphere. Highlights include visits to the Old Bazaar, Skopje Fortress, and the stone bridge. Don’t forget to check out the city’s decidedly strange architecture!
Skopje is also a great place to base yourself to visit a few of the other spots on this list, so if you’re the kind of traveler who likes to spend a week or two in a place, you can use Skopje to explore the greater region on day trips.
The Jerusalem of the Balkans, many people have heard of Ohrid as an important cultural and religious city. But this UNESCO World Heritage Site is worth visiting for so many reasons. Yes, it is full of beautiful churches and monasteries, including the picture-perfect St. John at Kaneo, but it’s also just a fabulous lakeside town. Here you can mix your summer fun with cultural pursuits, making Ohrid the perfect all-around vacation destination.
Give yourself time to tour the churches, but don’t skip on time on the water. No trip here is complete without getting in a boat! You can go on a quick sunset cruise, or you can take an entire day trip on the water visiting some of the other villages on the lake (several of which are listed below).
The most popular day trip from Skopje, though you can also choose to stay at Matka Canyon for a few days at the local hotel. Easily reachable by taxi, bus, or car, you simply have no excuse not to take in this beautiful Macedonian natural wonder while in the city.
Matka Canyon is beloved by hiking enthusiasts, spelunkers, and photographers of all levels. While here you can go for a boat ride, visit the monasteries, swim, kayak, hike, or visit one of the caves.
Located in the southern part of North Macedonia near the border with Greece, Bitola is the country’s second largest city. Yet it receives a fraction of the tourists of Skopje or Ohrid, so it has a decidedly off-the-path feel. Start your time here in Magnolia Square underneath the clocktower, before making your way through the city’s important religious sites.
You don’t come to a sleepy Bitola to rush, so take your time by enjoying the local cafe scene on Sirok Sokak, the city’s main pedestrian drag. Visit the city’s Old Bazaar and the covered market, where you can get your Macedonian shopping fix.
Mavrovo National Park
While Lake Ohrid attracts international travelers, the rest of Macedonia’s natural wonders are far less known outside of the country. Yet Mavrovo National Park is home to the country’s highest mountain (Mount Korab), the best ski resort (Zare Lazareski), and one of the country’s most beloved festivals (the Galičnik Wedding Festival). So if you’re looking for somewhere that offers interesting culture and beautiful nature year-round, look no further.
If you’re a foodie, you’ll want to make a visit to the twin villages of Janče and Galičnik, which have become something of a culinary mecca in Mavrovo and across Macedonia.
The town of Trpejca on Lake Ohrid has earned the nickname of the Macedonian Saint-Tropez as tourists have increasingly set their sights on visiting this tiny yet glamorous former fishing village.
Most hotels here are actually guest houses run by locals who open their homes to the numerous tourists during the high season and return to regular life during the rest of the year. While here, you can indulge in swimming, snorkeling, boating, and soaking up the sun on the shore. It has a reputation as having the cleanest swimming water on the lake, and Instagrammers adore the photogenic rocks standing out in the water.
You can visit as a day trip from Ohrid or you can base yourself here for a few days of total relaxation.
Located in the northern part of the country near the Serbian border, the four-thousand-year-old Kokino Observatory is an ancient megalithic site that Bronze Age peoples used to track the patterns of the sun and moon. Avid photographers will love the opportunity for astrophotography looking up at the same sites that men and women have been tracking for thousands of years:
Four massive stone thrones, facing the direction of the east, make up the lower platform. The higher platform consists of markers carved into malleable andesite rocks, that indicated significant astronomical events like the summer and winter solstices, as well as the spring and autumn equinoxes.
While seated on the thrones, particularly the second one, the exact movement of light during these days could be seen. The most powerful member of the community usually took his place on this special seat, and observed the light that streamed through the carved markers, and soaked in the energy of the sun. Rituals based on these solar changes were held at the observatory.
The Bay of Bones
The Bay of Bones is a unique experience in Macedonia. This overwater museum on Lake Ohrid is an authentic reproduction of a pile-dwelling settlement, so visitors can see how men and women lived here in the first millennium BC. There’s also a reconstructed ancient Roman military fortress up on the hill nearby. Both can easily be visited from Ohrid or the other lake villages by boat.
Situated in the crater of an extinct volcano, the museum city of Kratovo is famous for its six stone towers and its picturesque nineteenth-century architecture. Other can’t-misses in the city are the medieval bridges, including Rada’s Bridge, and the city’s underground tunnels.
If you visit Kratovo as a day trip from Skopje, make sure to pair it with a stop at the nearby Kuklika Stone Dolls. This natural wonder is a set of stone pillars, which legend has it that each pillar is a member of a wedding party put under a curse by a scorned bride.
The city of Tetovo has an Albanian majority, so while here you’ll see the city’s interesting mosques including its most famous, the painted Sarena Mosque. You’ll also want to set aside time to see Tetovo Art Gallery, located in the former bathhouse, the city’s beautiful churches, and the beautiful stone bridge.
If you come to Tetovo as a day trip from Skopje, pair your visit with a stop at the nearby fourteenth-century Monastery of Leshok.
Stobi Archaelogical Site
The most famous archaeological site in North Macedonia, Stobi is located in the middle of the country, almost equidistant from Skopje and Bitola. Stobi served as the capital of the ancient Roman Provence of Macedonia Secunda, and it continued to play this important role during the early Byzantine Empire.
While here, make sure to see the famous theater, the beautiful baptismal font, and the detailed mosaics.
The island of Golem Grad in Lake Prespa is better known by its more imaginative nickname, Snake Island. Visits here start from the villages of Konjsko or Stenje, where you can take a two-kilometer boat ride to the island (though you can visit from any point on Lake Prespa if you happen to have access to a private boat…).
Why the name snake island? Well, yes, it’s because there are quite a few snakes on the island:
The alternative name of Golem Grad is ‘The Island of Snakes.’ Upon arrival on the island itself, make sure that the first tree which you’ll see (and there are many) will be decorated with thin snakes that hang on the dry branches. The first ones are friendly and are not poisonous – beloushki (grass snakes) and they live in the rocks and by the water.
The second type…Well, you may be amazed, excited or terrified – it depends on how willing you are to encounter horned vipers having a party on the island. Yes, they are everywhere. Yes, they are poisonous. These magnificent guards protect the place from the top of the island.
While here, make sure to stop by the grave of Tsar Samuil, the ruined church, and the flocks of pelicans who live here during the season.
Pelister National Park
Located about an hour outside of Bitola, Pelister National Park is the second largest national park in the country. The most famous landmarks here are the two mountain lakes known as Pelister’s Eyes.
Visitor’s come for the spectacular views, hiking, camping, rock climbing, and horseback riding. So basically Pelister National Park is an outdoor paradise.
Located just outside of Bitola, Heraclea Lyncestis was founded by King Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. The ruins here are one of the last remaining ties between the ancient and modern Macedonian cultures.
While here, there are many important landmarks to see:
Beautiful Roman baths, the Episcopal church and baptistery, a Jewish temple, portico and a Roman theater now used for summer concerts and theater performances, all stand proud in excellent condition.
The Roman theater on the hill, who’s ruins where unearthed in the late 1960’s, was constructed during Emperor Hadrian’s 20-year reign (A.D. 117-138). He is credited with building as well as restoring many structures in the province of Macedonia. It was not until after his death that the theater came into use. Artifacts found at the site indicate that it was primarily used to stage gladiator fights until the late 4th century, when such fighting was banned throughout the Empire.
There is a small museum on the grounds with few artifacts and a nice scale model of the city at its peak.
Located on Lake Ohrid just two kilometers from the Albanian border, the village of Radožda is over a thousand years old. Besides soaking in the sun and enjoying the peaceful village setting, you can tour the seven churches in the village. On Easter, the townspeople set out to visit each one, but the most famous is the cave church of St. Archangel Mihail from the fourteenth century.
Galičica National Park
Named after Galičica Mountain, which straddles the border between Macedonia and Albania, Galičica National Park is on the Macedonian side of the mountain and covers the area between Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa.
If you get high enough on the mountain you can see both lakes simultaneously (and even grab a photo of both). The panoramic views from here are just breathtaking and more than worth the effort of getting this high.
An easy day trip from Bitola, the village of Prilep (which also encompasses the former village of Varoš) is famous for its namesake tobacco.
After you arrive, start with the clocktower which is the most famous spot in the city. Make sure to see the Monastery of Treskavec and the Carshi Mosque and spend time exploring Varoš with its beautiful Ottoman architecture.
Hiking and history lovers should visit the nearby medieval fortress of Markovi Kuli.
Completely off the tourist path, Kruševo is a great mix of museum town and decay. The colorful houses come to life when the sun is shining, spread across the hilly village.
Spomenik hunters need to put this place on their Macedonian itinerary since it’s home to one of the most unique Yugoslav Memorials. Makedonium, also called the Ilinden Monument, is located on Gumenja Hill and is dedicated to those who fought for Macedonian independence from the Ottoman Turks and during World War II.
Monastery of St. Naum
A popular day trip from Ohrid, the Monastery of St. Naum (Manastir Sveti Naum) is situated on the shore of the lake near the Albanian border. Yet the church is important for more than just its beautiful setting:
This is one of the first monuments of Slavic church architecture, built duringByzantinee times.
The central part of the monastery complex is the church of the Holy Archangels, and it is the most captivating building in the entire region. Surrounded by tall cypresses, traditional buildings and stone walls, it is nicely secluded…
The interior of the church is well known for its characteristic wood craving, which is very old, dating back from the 17th and 18th century. Inside the church, the icon of the holy Assumption of St. Naum is still there, representing the oldest item of the theme.
The core of the monastery complex is a lush and serene garden, with fountain streams and colorful peacocks. An attraction on its own, these birds are a popular highlight of the entire region as well.
About an hour away from Ohrid by taxi, the trip out to Recica is an easy one. Once here you’ll find a “village” with only one resident and no stores. But the highlight here isn’t the people watching or the shopping, rather you come here to see one of the most unique sites in the Balkans: the natural laundry!
The laundry here is done using a vortex in the river which agitates the clothing the way a washing machine does. Afterward, the laundry is hung up to dry, so you’ll find a field full of laundry hanging in the sun.
You won’t find a more unique day trip from Ohrid or any other city in the Balkans, so make sure to make time to see this cultural site!
Šar Mountain (Sharra Mountain)
Located an hour and a half from Skopje on the border with Kosovo, Shar Mountain is a popular ski resort and hiking spot. The mountain is covered in glacial lakes, called Sharplaninski Ochi in Macedonian. Dog lovers will be excited to see the Shara Mountain Sheepdog, also known as the Sharplaninec, a local dog breed endemic to the mountain.
Foodies should make sure to check out the local cheeses, made from sheep’s milk, and other local dairy products.
Macedonia Travel Resources
Headed to Macedonia? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Macedonia, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. We also have a Balkan currency guide which explains how money works in Macedonia and local tipping customs.
Next, you’ll want to read our guide to shopping in Macedonia so you know which souvenirs are truly local gems.
If this will be one of your first trips in the Balkans, check out our massive list of things to know before traveling the Balkans as well as our Balkan bus, road trip, and itinerary guides.
Finally, Make Sure You Come to Macedonia with Travel Insurance
I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is essential for Macedonia and for travel in general! Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last two years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While Macedonia is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” is true!