Sofia Adventures

Welcome to Sofia!

Sofia is an intriguing city, with corners that show at various times a glint of the splendor of Vienna, the charm of Istanbul, the quirkiness of Budapest, and the brutalism of Moscow. You’ll find Roman ruins in our subway stations, medieval icons in the church basements, and Thracian relics in the former presidential palace. Yet Sofia brings all of these seemingly disparate traditions together into one magical, inspiring city.

DISCOVER SOFIA

DISCOVER SOFIA

DISCOVER SOFIA

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21 Mind-Blowing Places to Visit in Macedonia

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.

Skopje

Macedonia - Skopje - Main Square - Pixabay

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. 

Ohrid

Macedonia - Lake Ohrid - Lake Ohrid

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). 

Matka Canyon

Macedonia - Skopje - Matka Canyon pixabay

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. 

Bitola

Macedonia - Bitola - Shutterstock

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

Macedonia - Mavrovo National Park - Canva

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. 

Trpejca

Macedonia - shutterstock_1307674978-Trpejca

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. 

Kokino Observatory 

Macedonia - Kokino Observatory - Pixabay

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

Macedonia - Lake Ohrid - Bay of Bones - Pixabay

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.

Kratovo

Macedonia - shutterstock_633203255-Kratovo

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.

Tetovo

Macedonia - shutterstock_1070674670 - Tetovo - Sarena Mosque

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

Macedonia - shutterstock_1311062792-Stobi

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.

Snake Island

Macedonia - shutterstock_1147935824-Snake Island

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

Macedonia - Pelister National Park - shutterstock_668510818-Pelister

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.

Heraclea Lynkestis

Macedonia - shutterstock_526847269 - Heraclea

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.

Radožda 

Macedonia - shutterstock_134540237- Radožda

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 

Macedonia - shutterstock_1012289794 - Galicica

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.

Prilep

Macedonia - Prilep -Pixabay

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. 

Kruševo

Macedonia - shutterstock_540045214 - Krusevo

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

Macedonia - shutterstock_461923033 - Sveti 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.

Recica

Macedonia - Rečica - Wikimedia Commons

By Reklam-net, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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)

Macedonia - Šar / Shar Mountains - Pixabay

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 busroad trip, and itinerary guides. 

For more information about traveling to Macedonia and the Balkans, check out our North Macedonia and Balkan travel pages. 

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!

 

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

 

Pin this Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Macedonia for Your Trip

The Most Instagrammable Places in Brasov, Romania

Brasov is one of the cutest towns in Transylvania, with its Saxon city walls, winding streets, and mountain backdrop with its cheeky Hollywood-style sign. There are tons of cozy cafés beckoning you off the streets for a quick pause,

There are so many Instagrammable spots in Brasov that it’s hard to know where to start, but here are a few of our favorites.

The Old Town Hall (Casa Sfatului)

In the heart of Brasov, you’d find it hard to miss the Old Town Hall, part of Piața Sfatului, the main square. Casa Sfatului is its name, hence where the name of the square (piața, pronounced ‘piatsa‘ similar to the Italian piazza — remember, Romanian is a romance language!) comes from.

While the whole square is picturesque, this is one of our favorite Instagram spots in Brasov for its cute facade and quirky clocktower. While it’s been restored and looks brand new, it actually dates back the 15th century.

Address: Piața Sfatului, Brașov, Romania

The White Tower

Many of the towers that made up the Saxon walls of Brasov have been converted into viewpoints and museums for tourists to enjoy.

The Black and White Towers are both beautiful but personally, I prefer the view from the White Tower (Turnul Alb) because it has a slightly better view of Piata Sfatului.

Address: Turnul Alb, Calea Poienii, Brașov, Romania

Note: The interior of the tower itself is closed to visitors, but you can still access the gorgeous views from the staircases, and there is no charge.

The Black Tower

This viewpoint is quite beautiful too and most people visit both the Black and White Tower during their time in Brasov. The Black Tower has a great view of the Black Church, so it depends what you want to get in your photo!

Similar to the White Tower, you can’t actually go inside but there is a great viewing platform that is free.

Address: Turnul Negru, Brașov, Romania

The Black Church (Biserica Neagră)

While you can get a great view of the Black Church from the Black Tower, perhaps you want a little more of a close up or some detail shots.

The Romanian name for this church is Biserica Neagră and it’s one of the most photogenic places in Brasov! This unique church was built by the city’s German population over 600 years ago in the Gothic style, which is quite unusual for Romania.

Address: Curtea Johannes Honterus 2, Brașov 500025, Romania

Note: It can be a bit tricky to photograph from close up so you’ll want to bring your widest angle lens!

Tampa Hill

Take the cable car up Tampa Hill for some of the most impressive city views of Brasov.

Be aware that there can sometimes be a long line for the cable car on weekends and in high season, so try to go early in the morning to catch the golden morning light and skip the crowds.

Address: Aleea Tiberiu Brediceanu, Brașov, Romania

Note: A roundtrip in the cable car costs 18 lei, or if you only want to go one way and hike up or down the other a single way is 10 lei.

L’etage

One of the cutest cafés in Brasov, chock full of books, this is a great place to refuel when you’re nearby the Council Square and need a quick caffeination stop. It’s also ultra-Instagrammable to boot!

Address: Strada Republicii 50, Brașov (it’s a bit hard to find as it’s upstairs and down an alleyway, so keep your eyes out for the sign)

Pharmacy Cafe (Dr. Jekelius)

The unusual Pharmacy Cafe is one of the quirkier, off the beaten path places in Brasov and it’s a must on any Instagrammer’s Brasov itinerary.

It looks like an old-fashioned pharmacy on the outside, and on the interior you’ll find a cozy café made to look like an early 20th-century pharmacy – most of the decor was bought from a Sibiu pharmacist and dates back to 1905.

Even funkier, your cocktails come in large test tubes!

Address: Strada Michael Weiss 13, Brașov, Romania

Strada Sforii

Also called “Rope Street,” this is one of the narrowest streets in Europe – you can’t even spread your arms to their full span while walking the street.

At its narrowest point its 111 cm (44 inches, not even two feet!) and at its widest, it’s 135 cm (53 inches) – pretty wild!

Address: Strada Sforii, Brașov, Romania

Note: Having trouble finding it? It’s near Schei Gate and perpendicular to Strada Cerbului, and you’ll likely find a fellow tourist or two taking photos there!

Brasov Citadel

Located looming over the city of Brasov, the Brasov Fortress is one of the best places to get a killer view of the city laid below you (and some awesome Instagram photos of Brasov Fortress, too).

The streets you’ll walk winding your way up to the fortress are quite photogenic too!

Address: Strada Dealul Cetăţii 5, Brașov, Romania

Rasnov Fortress

Not far from Brasov, and similar looking in name enough to make anyone feel dyslexic, Rasnov Fortress is a common side trip from Brasov. It’s a tiny bit out of the way if you are staying in Brasov but if you want some beautiful Instagram shots it’s one of the must-visit places in Brasov.

Address:  Strada Cetății 17, Râșnov, Romania

Note: You can DIY a day trip here but best and easiest is to take a taxi. It should cost about 40 lei ($10 USD) but it depends on your negotiating skills and your taxi driver’s mood.

You can take a guided tour as well which is even easier. This 5* tour includes Rasnov and Bran Castle, another Instagram must-see in near Brasov, and it’s a great way to save money and time if you want to see both Rasnov Fortress and Bran Castle in a single day trip, as they are close to each other and easy to cluster.

Bran Castle

Not in Brasov proper but a good 30-minute drive (or much longer bus experience), Bran Castle is an absolute must on most people’s Transylvania itineraries.

While it’s most famous for being the inspiration for Dracula’s castle, a lot of that is all hype – the writer of Dracula never even visited Romania! Still, Bran Castle is gorgeous, only a tiny bit spooky, and infinitely Instagrammable.

Note: Getting here independently can be a pain in the ass, so I recommend driving or a guided tour. This 5* tour includes Rasnov and Bran Castle and couldn’t be easier to do.

How to Visit Buzludzha: Day Trip to Bulgaria’s Communist UFO

I’m obsessed with Buzludzha. Obsessed. I’ve been three times, but I know a fourth trip isn’t too far around the corner. And it is such a cool place that every time I go, my fiance gets excited to go with me (which is not the case, for say, the opera). Who knew an abandoned Communist UFO in the Bulgarian Mountains would be such a fun date? 

Why do I love it so much? It’s the perfect place for the modern traveler. It’s an important artifact from history, but its abandoned state makes visiting seem transgressive and exciting. Its remoteness means that it is never crowded. Its unique architecture makes it seem both otherworldly and yet anchored to a forgotten chapter of the past. In other words, Buzludzha is my everything. 

History of Buzludzha Monument

Bulgaria - Buzludzha and Hands - Buzludzha in Winter

Buzludzah was officially known as the House of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Built on the top of Buzludzha peak, its location was carefully selected:

The Buzludzha Memorial House was opened in August 1981, commemorating a location with great significance in Bulgarian history. Three key historic events are linked to this mountain peak: the 1868 death of Hadzhi Dimitâr, a WWII-era battle between fascists and partisan forces, and most significantly, the foundation of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party in 1891.

When the Communist party fell in 1989, the building was abandoned. Since then, it has become the darling of Red Tourists and Urban Explorers alike. 

How to Visit Buzludzha

Bulgaria - Buzludzha Selfie - Buzludzha in Winter

If you want your very own Buzludzha selfies, you’ll need to get out here, and it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.

Once you get to Buzludzha (I’ll cover how to get here in the next section), there are a few things you want to make sure to do. Most people start with visiting the actual building. If you’re on your own, I’d set aside one hour to explore and photograph up here. It’s usually not crowded (I’ve never seen more than 5-10 other people at the complex while I’ve been there). 

Take your time and walk all the way around the building. The views are spectacular, especially if you’re lucky enough to be there at sunset. There’s tons of great street art to appreciate as well, with some of my favorite murals anywhere in the world.

You are not going to be able to break into the building. More on that in the FAQ.

To get from the main building to the torch statue, you’ll want to drive. It’s not marked on Google Maps (or if it is I couldn’t find it last time) but it’s easy enough to find if you know what you’re looking for. I’ve marked both on this map:

 

Save this post and you can go back to the map and open the torch statue marker in your Google Maps in case you can’t find it while you’re there. If you don’t have a Bulgarian sim card or an international plan, then download the area of Google Maps to your phone before you leave.

You can also see on the map that neither part of the monument is located at the point where Google Maps lists it as, and it has it under the name “Monument of Hadzhi Dimitar.” If you type “Buzludzha” into Google Maps, it will still get you here, but it will take you to that other location instead of to the building or to the torch statue. 

Of course, if you’re on a guided tour then you don’t have to worry about this, but for road trippers, keep this info in mind.

How to Get to Buzludzha

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Buzludzha Roadtrip Selfie

If you want to travel to Buzludzha independently, the best way is to rent a car.

While I’ve heard rumors of people trying to visit Buzludzha on public transportation, this would be a nightmare in practice. There are really only two practical options for visiting, and I’ve done both.

The easiest way is to go on a guided tour. You can find guided Communist monument tours leaving from Sofia, Plovdiv, and Veliko Tarnovo. For my first trip, this is what I did. It was great because we got a ton of great historical information and details that added something to the trip, and we got to see many more monuments in a single day than we would have been able to on our own.

Bulgaria - Beklemeto - Arc of Liberty / Arch of Liberty

Take the opportunity to see several communist monuments along the way, either on an organized tour or on your own.

The second option, which I’ve done twice, is to rent a car and drive. The roads in Bulgaria, especially on the main highways, are pretty good. The drive through the mountains is beautiful, and it is easy to find places to stop for gas along the way. If you’re looking for a great Balkan road trip experience, Bulgaria is a good place to start.

Buzludzha is also located near one of the main highways from Sofia to Burgas, so if you’re going to be exploring some of Bulgaria’s beaches and Sofia on the same trip, its a natural place to visit along the way.

From Sofia

To get from Sofia to Buzludza by car, you’ll want to take Route 6 which goes through Central Balkan National Park. This drive is gorgeous, and the park is listed as a Tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site. The drive takes about three hours if you go direct, but of course expect it to take longer if you stop for lunch, gas, or to visit another place along the way.

Alternatively you can go on an organized Communist Monuments tour from Sofia that includes hotel pickup and the Museum of Socialist art. 

Click here to check out tour details, reviews, availability, and prices.

 

From Plovdiv

To get from Plovdiv to Buzludzha by car takes about two hours. Your main roads will be a combination of A1 and Route 5, or you can take a combination of Route 64 and Route 6. I can’t find a guided tour on GetYourGuide that leaves from Plovdiv but I believe those who stay at Hostel Mostel can book a tour through them. 

From Veliko Tarnovo

If you rent a car, the drive from Veliko Tarnovo to Buzludzha is fairly easy. It’s only a little over an hour and a half each way. For this, you want to take Route 5. As for Plovdiv, I can’t find a guided tour on GetYourGuide from Veliko Tarnovo but I believe those who stay at Hostel Mostel can book a tour through them. 

When is the Best Time to Visit?

If you’re planning your trip to Bulgaria around wanting to see Buzludzha, here’s what you need to know about seeing the monument throughout the year.

Buzludzha In Spring

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Buzludzha in Fog

On my first visit in May 2017, Buzludzha was hidden by fog.

Spring is a fabulous time to visit Bulgaria! The average temperatures here in spring are in the mid-forties to sixty degrees Fahrenheit (6-15 degrees Celcius). The weather gets warm around the beginning of March, and flowers are out by early April. While the weather can alternate between warm and cold throughout March (thanks to Baba Marta), rainy days are few. So pack layers and a rain slicker just in case, but be prepared to have a great time in Bulgaria during spring.

My first trip to Buzludzha was in early May of 2017. Because you’re up in the mountains, there’s always a chance the monument will be shrouded in a thick fog. We couldn’t even see it in front of us! It was also incredibly windy. While I was sad we couldn’t see it, the fog made everything feel extra spooky. 

You just can’t know if it is going to be foggy, even when nearby towns are bright and sunny. So while there’s a very good chance that in spring it will be a bright and sunny day, if you show up and it’s foggy appreciate the extra cool factor. 

Buzludzha In Summer

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Summer - Allison

Allison at Buzludzha in the summer of 2018

Summertime is the most popular season for tourists to come to Bulgaria. Most head to the Bulgarian Riviera, while others come to explore the cities. The average temperatures here in the summer are in the mid-sixties to mid-seventies Fahrenheit (nineteen to twenty-one degrees Celcius). Though there are days when it gets much hotter.

I haven’t been to Buzludzha in summer, but Allison has. You can tell from her jacket that even though it was summer, it still gets cool when you’re that high in the mountains. And again, she hit it on a day when it was covered with fog. You just can’t control it, so make the most of whatever version of Buzludzha you get! 

Buzludzha In Autumn

Bulgaria - Buzludzha at Sunset - Khadzhi Dimitur

Sunset in Buzludzha in October 2017

Bulgaria is autumn is just gorgeous. For my visit, we took a road trip through the mountains and got to see the beautiful changing foliage. This is the only time I got to see the monument at sunset, which was just spectacular. 

The temperatures in Bulgaria during the fall are pretty mild. September and October are still warm-ish, with the average temperatures hovering in the low sixties to low fifties as the season progresses (seventeen degrees to eleven degrees Celcius). However, by November its properly cold with an average temperature in the low forties Fahrenheit (five degrees Celcius). 

Buzludzha In Winter

Bulgaria - Buzludzha and Snow - Buzludzha in Winter

Snowy Buzludzha in late December

Not many people visit Buzludzha in winter, but it’s a pretty cool sight! We lucked out and there was no fog, and the roads were pretty good considering it was still snowy at the top. We were very happy that we were driving a rental car with four-wheel drive. If you’re coming up to the mountains in winter, make sure you have a car that can handle it.

Average temperatures in winter in Bulgaria stay just around the freezing mark, with some days feeling colder and the occasional day feeling much warmer. Up on the mountain, though, it will feel colder than in the cities, so don’t skimp on layers, gloves, hats, etc. 

If you drive here on your own in winter, make sure you stick to the main roads. We took a wrong turn at one point and our car nearly got stuck on some ice on a small road. 

Travel Tips

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Buzludzha in Fog

Any trip to Buzludzha is a good trip, but there are some things you can do to make your experience better.

First, dress in layers. You will be colder up on the mountain. It’s better to have too many layers and take some off than not enough and be cold. 

Second, prepare for it to be windy. Ladies, only you know your preferred way to deal with your hair in the wind. 

Third, have cash. While service stations will take credit cards, any roadside restaurant you stop at most likely will not. You also will need to pay to use the bathrooms in some service stations if you aren’t a customer (though this isn’t enforced all of the time). For more about Bulgarian money, check out our Balkan currency guide. 

Fourth, wear comfortable shoes. You want a pair with thick soles and good grip. The stairs here can be slippery and the area underneath the dome is covered in rubble. 

Finally, if you’re not going on a tour you need to prepare for the road. This means having your maps downloaded in case of cell phone data failure, knowing who will navigate, and carefully thinking through your snack strategy. For more about traveling in the Balkans by car (including for just a day) check out our Balkan road trip guide.

Things to Do Nearby

Bulgaria - Shipka - Shipka Memorial Church

Make sure to set aside enough time to visit the Shipka Memorial Church

There are some other cool sites in the area. Save time to see a few of these if you aren’t going on an organized tour. A tour will include more than just Buzludzha, so your independent road trip should too!

Shipka Memorial Church

So close to Buzludzha that you can see it across the valley, you really must give yourself enough time to stop at this beautiful Russian Orthodox Church. It’s just a thirty-minute drive. Have a few leva in cash for parking, and make sure to see the museum basement.

Arch of Freedom

If you’re coming from Sofia, make sure to stop by the Arch of Freedom in Beklemento Pass on Garaltepe Mount. The views from the top are worth it alone, but the impressive arch monument is another great social realist monument in Bulgaria. 

Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex

An hour from Buzludzha, the Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial (Memorial “Samarsko Zname) is a super interesting social realist monument that was erected in 1877 to memorialize the fight for liberation from the Turks and the men who defended the city.

Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak

A thirty-minute drive from Buzludzha is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak.

Where to Stay

Most visitors to Buzludzha will come as a day trip from Sofia, Plovdiv, or Veliko Tarnovo. If you’re planning a trip around Bulgaria and don’t know where to stay, we’ve picked a few of our favorite hotels and guesthouses for each of these cities for each budget category.

Sofia

Budget: Hostel Mostel / Mid-Range: R34 Boutique Hotel / Luxury: Sense Hotel

Plovdiv

Budget: Best Rest Guest House / Mid-Range: Villa Antica or 8 1/2 Art Guesthouse / Luxury: Hotel Residence Hebros

 

Veliko Tarnovo

Budget: Hostel Mostel / Mid-Range: Base Camp Guesthouse / Luxury: General Gurko House

Frequently Asked Questions

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Getting Inside

The number one thing people want to know is how to get into Buzludzha

Can You Go Inside Buzludzha?

No.

But I heard people can still break into Buzludzha?

Not anymore.

Why Can’t You Go Inside Buzludzha?

After being abandoned for thirty years, the monument isn’t safe to go into. When we were there in 2017, the way to get in was to shimmy down a pile of rubble. I skipped it, but my fiance went inside. It was awesome. But he could have broken his leg. 

The monument is finally getting the recognition that it needs to be saved, and there are people working hard to save it. The Buzludzha Project Foundation is frantically working to get the monument restored before it falls into complete ruin.

Through their hard work, the monument was named as one of the Seven Most Endangered Heritage Sites in Europe. The goal is one day for the interior to be restored and the monument to be open to the public. You can see their restoration plans here

Today there are guards in place to keep people from breaking in. They are there 24/7. 

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Inside

As of mid-2018, Buzludzha is guarded 24/7 to keep people from breaking in.

But I Read a Blog Post from 2019 About People Going Inside?

Those posts are old. They’ve been updated this year, but the writers took those trips before the change in the middle of 2018. It’s likely they just don’t know about the guards. 

Are You Mad People Can’t Go Inside?

No. The site needs to be preserved, and it was getting to be so dangerous that someone would eventually have died. When the restoration is done and people can tour the complex, the wait will have been worth it. 

Bulgaria Travel Resources

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Trees in Fog

Bulgaria has so many hidden corners to discover. Here are some resources to help you along the way.

If this will be your first trip to Bulgaria, check out our post on how to plan a trip to Bulgaria. 

Depending on which part of the country you will be visiting, you may be interested in different city guides. 

Sofia

If you’re going to be visiting Sofia, check out our post on how to avoid taxi scams. Bulgarian Taxis are inexpensive and a great way to get around the city, but there are a few unscrupulous drivers and we want you to know how to spot them.

You also should check out our massive guide for what to do in Sofia, plus our recommendations for where to stay, the best restaurants, and our favorite bars.

Plovdiv

We have more information about Plovdiv in the works, but for now, check out our guide for what to do in Plovdiv and our favorite local photography spots. 

If you’ll be traveling from Sofia to Plovdiv or vice-versa, we have transportation guides. Check out how to get from Sofia to Plovdiv and Plovdiv to Sofia by bus and train.

Veliko Tarnovo

If you’re going to be exploring Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s historic capital, check out our guides for what to do in Veliko Tarnovo and how to take a day trip to the charming village of Arbanasi.

More Photos of Buzludzha

After three trips out to Buzludzha, I find that it’s a place I want to go back to over and over again. Which means I have about one billion photos (way too many for one article), and I really can’t choose my favorites. So here are all the photos I love that didn’t fit into this post. Enjoy!

Bulgaria - Buzludzha at Graffiti - Khadzhi Dimitur

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Buzludzha in Fog

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Buzludzha Selfie

Bulgaria - Buzludzha at Sunset - Khadzhi Dimitur

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Horses

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Buzludzha Road Trip Selfie

 

Finally, Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

If you’re the kind of traveler interest in Urban Exploration, abandoned places, and getting high up in the mountains, then you better have a current travel insurance policy. The country is a very safe place to travel, but abandoned places come with risks. You want to know that your medical bills will be covered if you fall, step on glass, or hurt yourself. 

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

 

Pin this Guide for How to Visit Buzludzha for Your Trip

Planning a Trip to Macedonia: Your Travel Checklist

Macedonia is one of the least traveled countries in Europe, so there’s not as much trip planning advice available online as there is for say Croatia or Greece. Yet this is a shame because Macedonia is a truly wonderful country to travel with amazing natural wonders, cultural centers, and possibly the Balkan’s quirkiest capital. 

Since Macedonia is so under-traveled, visitors come with questions that range from basic safety to logistics to simply what to do here. To help you, we’ve created this eleven-step checklist for planning a trip to Macedonia. If you have questions about anything we’ve covered, list it in the comments. We’re always happy to help fellow Balkan travelers!

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. 

Step 1:  Check to See if You Need a Visa

Passport and Suitcase Luggage - Pixabay

Since Macedonia is not a member of the European Union or the Schengen Zone, it has a much more expansive visa-free travel policy. At present, this is the list of countries who do not need a visa to stay for 90 days or less in a 6-month period, but again, please double check at things may change!

Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech, Cuba, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Maurtitius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Seychelles, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan,Turkey, Ukraine, UK, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, USA, Vatican, Venezuela.

If your country is not on the list, you may be in luck if you have a valid Schengen visa, which would grant you fifteen days of visa-free travel. From the official “Rules for European Union and Schengen Visa Holders.” 

1. EU member countries and signatories of the Schengen Agreement

  • have the right to enter the Republic of Macedonia with a valid national ID card.

 

2. Third countries with temporary stay in an EU member country or signatory country of the Schengen Agreement

  • may stay up to 15 (fifteen) days upon every entry to the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia and the total amount of the subsequent stays must not be longer than 90 days in any 180-day period.

 

3. Third countries with permanent stay in an EU member country or signatory country of the Schengen Agreement

  • may stay up to 15 (fifteen) days upon every entry to the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia and the total amount of the subsequent stays must not be longer than 90 days in any 180-day period.

 

4. Third countries with multiple entry short stay Schengen visa type C valid at least 5 (five) days beyond the intended stay in the Republic of North Macedonia.

  • may stay up to 15 (fifteen) days upon every entry to the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia and the total amount of the subsequent stays must not be longer than 90 days in any 180-day period.

Alexander the Great didn’t need a visa to travel here, but you might so always double check!

Finally, holders of multi-entry visas to the UK, Canada, and the US also have access to some visa-free travel in Macedonia.

Third country nationals with a valid British, Canadian or U.S. visa with a validity date at least 5 (five) days beyond the intended period of stay in the Republic of Macedonia can stay in the Republic of Macedonia for up to 15 (fifteen) days at any given entry on the territory of the Republic of Macedonia while the total duration of consecutive stays in the Republic of Macedonia must not exceed 3 (three) months in any six-month period calculated from the day of first entry.

Passports need to be valid for at least six months after your planned departure. 

A Note about Registering in Macedonia

Technically you are required to register at the local police station within twenty-four hours of arrival. If you are staying at a  hotel or hostel, they are supposed to do it for you and give you a paper showing they did. You need this to exit. If you’re staying at an Airbnb or another peer-to-peer rental, then you are supposed to do the registering.

I wasn’t aware of this requirement and did not do it. I had no issues leaving. I have friends who’ve been to Macedonia and never had a paper given to them and had no issues. However, technically you can be charged a fine if you don’t have the paper with you when you leave. 

While we will do our best to ensure this page is updated, you should always check the MFA website to confirm any visa information.

Step 2. Book Your Tickets

Macedonia - Lake Ohrid - Boat

Unless you’re arriving by boat from Albania (which is actually a possibility!) you’ll most likely get to Macedonia by plane or by bus.

There are two international airports in Macedonia. Skopje International Airport, while not a huge international hub, does have multiple flights a day coming in from across Europe. Budget travelers will rejoice since many of these flights are serviced by Wizz Air.

The second option is to fly into Ohrid St. Paul the Apostle Airport. This airport gets far fewer flights than Skopje, especially in the off-season. However, it is still worth it to check the prices for flying in and out of both. If your goal is to visit Ohrid and you fly into Skopje, there are frequent (and budget-friendly) buses headed that way all day long.

We usually use a combination of Skyscanner and Google Flights when we are searching for flights. Use Skyscanner’s “Everywhere” feature, which is helpful for determining which of the two cities to fly into. 

If you know exactly which airport you need to fly from and into, then use Google Flights which has a nicer interface and updates with the correct prices faster, so there are no disappointments when you click through unlike Skyscanner sometimes has. 

Many travelers visit Macedonia as part of a larger Balkan backpacking trip. Most of these travelers will arrive by bus. This is how I travel to Macedonia since the bus from Sofia to Skopje is cheap and leaves often. If you will be taking a bus, read our guide on surviving a Balkan bus trip (and pack snacks).

Step 3. Plan Your Itinerary

Macedonia - Kokino Observatory - Pixabay

Decide where you want to go before you get here so that you can figure out how many days you need to see what you want.

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume that you are only visiting Macedonia. If you are planning a multi-country Balkan trip, we have a whole post all about Balkan itineraries for you to read!

If you have four days or less, I suggest starting with Ohrid. It’s one of my favorite cities in the Balkans, and four days is the perfect amount of time to balance relaxing on the lake and exploring the area’s important cultural sites. You’ll want to go during the warmer months so you can swim, though it’s also beautiful when covered with snow. 

If you have a week, you can combine a trip to Skopje (2-3 days) with Ohrid (4 days). You can also plan a day trip during this time. I’d suggest using one of your three days in Skopje to do a day trip to Matka Canyon. 

While a small country, Macedonia has a surprising amount of beautiful places to visit. Just keep in mind that getting between places can be time-consuming if you’re relying on public buses. You also have the option to rent a car and explore on your own.

Step 4. Plan Your Activities

Macedonia - Vineyard - Pixabay

Want to visit a Macedonian winery? Plan ahead so you know you have time!

Once you’ve determined what cities are on your itinerary, it’s time to plan your activities! We have a guide for things to do in Skopje, and we are in the process of creating similar guides for cities in Macedonia.

If you want to do any city tours or day trips, we recommend booking in advance, as sometimes tours book out especially in the peak season (May to September). We personally use and recommend GetYourGuide when searching for tours in Macedonia and the Balkans in general. We like that they have a best-price guarantee and that they tell you the name of the tour companies they partner with (unlike Viator), so you can research it and be sure it’s worth your money! These are the company we recommend in our guides like the best day trips from Dubrovnik.

Step 5. Budget Your Trip

Skopje - Macedonia - whack umbrellas

Plan out your budget so you know how much you can spend at trendy Skopje cafes

The great news when creating your Macedonia travel budget is that it is one of the best bargain destinations in the world. Now that you know the costs for your transportation and what activities you’re interested in, it’s time to create a trip budget.

You can travel Macedonia on a budget of $35 dollars per day. Of this, $10 will go towards a bed in a hostel dorm. The other $25 dollars will go to cooking meals in a shared kitchen, eating street foot, budget-friendly and free activities, souvenirs, and public transportation. 

Mid-Range travelers can have a fantastic time in Macedonia for $50-$75 dollars per day. This means staying in a cheap but wonderfully private room, eating out at a mix of local restaurants and higher-end restaurants, going out for drinks at the local bars, taking taxis, and indulging in a few guided tours. The range mostly has to do with whether you’re traveling solo or with someone, since it will obviously cost more for a private room if you’re the only one paying for it. You can find private and double rooms in most parts of Macedonia for about $20-$30 dollars.

Luxury travelers will find they can have a baller time for $100-$150 dollars a day. You’ll find five-star hotels in Ohrid and Skopje for around $75 dollars a night, so if you’re splitting the cost with someone your money goes very far. You can eat at the nicest restaurants, go on as many guided tours as you want, and shop for fabulous souvenirs and I still think it would be hard to spend above this range. 

Step 6. Book Your Accommodations

Macedonia - Lake Ohrid - Flowers

In Ohrid, you can stay at beach resorts, hostels, and charming guesthouses.

Once you’ve sorted out what you want to spend per night on accommodations, it’s time to get booking! We use Booking.com because we like that they have free cancellation if you end up changing your plans and they have the widest selection and best prices.

We’re in the process of creating comprehensive guides on where to stay in Ohrid and Skopje (some Skopje recommendations are here), but for now, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible. While Macedonia is underrated by international travelers, many of the best places in Lake Ohrid book early during the high season.

Step 7. Research Any Vaccinations You May Need

Bulgaria - Random Town - Bus to Skopje

Allison met this friendly cat on the way from Sofia to Skopje. She’s never met a cat she didn’t want to pet.

TL;DR – if you’re a frequent traveler who is usually up-to-date on their vaccines, you’ll be fine in Macedonia.

There’s really nothing that special that you need for Macedonia. The CDC recommends being up-to-date on all your standard vaccines, which you should be anyway. This includes MMR, tetanus, chickenpox, polio – the usual. You may want to consider getting vaccinated for hepatitis A if you’re not already vaccinated against it, as it can be spread by contaminated food or water. This is unlikely to happen as Macedonia’s water is clean and safe to drink in nearly all cities, but being vaccinated against hepatitis A is a good idea anyway for future travel.

The CDC also suggests possibly being vaccinated against hepatitis B if you, for example, want to get a medical procedure done or get a tattoo, and also possibly getting vaccinated against rabies. I think most travelers can safely skip both. Allison got bit by a cat in Ukraine last year and had to get post-exposure shots. While it was a pain in the ass (not literally, anymore – the shots are now done in the arm, luckily!), it is 100% effective if the protocol is followed. And since you have to get post-exposure shots regardless of being vaccinated, it is not that much more of a burden in the extremely unlikely chance of an animal attack.

Step 8: Learn a Few Common Macedonian Words and Phrases

Skopje - Macedonia - Books

We think it’s a nice idea to learn some basic words in the country you’re traveling to! Luckily, while Macedonian is a hard language to master, the basics are easy enough! Here are a few that are nice to know:

Hi = Zdravo
Good day (more formal) = Dobar den
Please = Te molam
Thank you = Vi blagodaram
Goodbye = Zbogum
Excuse me = Izvini me
OK, Good = Vo red, Dobro
Yes = Da
No = Ne
I don’t understand = Ne razbiram
Do you speak English? = Dali zboruvash angliski?

Macedonian is a South Slavic language closely related (ahem) to Bulgarian. (The two languages are so close that it’s a question if they even are distinct languages, but that’s a political question as much as a linguistic one).

Macedonian is written using a version of the Cyrillic alphabet. While not identical to the versions used in Bulgaria and Serbia, if you can read any version of Cyrillic you’ll find that you can read 99% of Macedonian words.

If you have an interest in languages, you may want to consider learning the Cyrillic alphabet! It’s easy to learn the basics and it will help you immensely, such as being able to find familiar words on a menu (many Macedonian words are Cyrillicized versions of English/Latin words), finding the right bus at the bus station, or spotting a fake taxi! 

English is common in the tourism industry in Skopje and Ohrid, but the further off-the-beaten-path you get, the less likely that English will be spoken or written.

Step 9. Pack Your Bags

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

What you should pack depends greatly on the time of year. We have some packing lists that we’ll add soon to help you plan for your trip to Macedonia, but for now, here are five things we don’t recommend you visit without!

  1. A Lonely Planet guidebook, to help you plan when on the ground
  2. Your swimsuit if you’re headed to Lake Ohrid
  3. An unlocked smartphone, so you can buy a cheap SIM card and stay connected
  4. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer, in case of a poorly stocked bathroom
  5. Comfortable walking and/or hiking shoes, so you can make the most of Macedonia’s cities and national parks

Step 10. Prepare For Your Arrival

Macedonia - Ohrid - Pixabay

You’re nearly done planning your trip to Macedonia, but don’t miss this last crucial step – planning what you do when you arrive!

Firstly, money – you’ll either want to withdraw cash from the ATM at the airport/bus station or exchange your money. We recommend withdrawing cash instead, as you will get a better exchange rate at money-changers in the city. However, if you plan to use the ATM, you should probably call your bank to advise them of your travel. The last thing you want to happen is for your bank to deny your card when you arrive! I always advise carrying at least $50 USD/Euros as a backup in case of any card problems.

Once you’re in Macedonia, you’ll use local currency since the country is not on the Euro. Check out our Balkan Currency Guide for an overview of how money works in Macedonia and what to tip in the country.

Know how you’ll get to your accommodations before you arrive.

Next, transportation. The best way to find out how to get to your accommodations is to ask your accommodations directly. When I arrived in Ohrid, I walked instead of taking a taxi. Walking may be an option in many parts of the country.

Taxis are economically priced. Ask your accommodations what the cost should be for a taxi from your arrival point so that you can make sure you don’t get ripped off in a taxi scam. Be prepared to pay in local currency.

Finally, be sure you have your hotel or Airbnb information (address and phone number) easily accessible so that you or your taxi driver can contact them if you have any trouble reaching them. We also recommend pre-downloading the local city map on your phone so that you can know your location if you get lost, even if you don’t have wifi or data.

Step 11: Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

Macedonia - Lake Ohrid - Lake Ohrid

We put this last so it’s fresh on your mind: 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!

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

 

Pin this Macedonia Trip Planning Guide for Your Trip

Planning a Trip to Macedonia: An 11-Step Checklist

How to Get From Plovdiv to Sofia (By Bus or Train)

Plovdiv is one of my favorite cities in Bulgaria and of course, it features highly on everyone’s must-sees when crafting their Bulgaria itinerary! Since Plovdiv is just two hours from Sofia by bus, it couldn’t be easier to plan a trip from Sofia to Plovdiv and then back from Plovdiv to Sofia.

I’ve done it as an overnight trip, heading back from Plovdiv to Sofia in the morning, and I’ve also done it as a day trip, leaving Sofia early in the morning, getting to Plovdiv before noon, and leaving Plovdiv to return to Sofia on the last bus home.

There are so many things to do in Plovdiv that staying for a few days is completely warranted! However, while you can certainly see Plovdiv for a few days, it also works well as a day trip. Plovdiv is a small city with a clearly defined center that is easy to see within a day’s worth of sightseeing. There are frequent buses between Sofia and Plovdiv so you can really do whatever you like depending on your Balkans itinerary.

Most people also visit Plovdiv as part of their multi-country Balkans trip and as a result, you may not be doing it as a day trip and are coming from another place like Veliko Tarnovo instead and therefore just need the directions from Plovdiv to Sofia. So, this post will focus all on how to get from Plovdiv to Sofia, but if you also need the reverse directions we have you covered on getting from Sofia to Plovdiv here. They are quite similar but there are a few differences to keep in mind, namely the last bus home!

Where to Buy Bus Tickets in Plovdiv

Whereas Sofia has a handful of bus stations, Plovdiv has two – Yug (South) and Central Railway Station, both of which are close together and within walking distance, about 5 minutes apart.

The first time I went to Plovdiv I came in and out via the Yug bus station; the second time, I came in and out via the Central Railway Station (below), where there are also buses. It depends on what bus company you use, but I prefer Karats.

Why Karats? Well, it is 4.50 leva cheaper than the other company I took the first time when I didn’t know any better, Vitosha Express (which arrives at Yug). And it’s basically the exact same thing.

Karats costs 9.50 leva one way, and Vitosha Express costs 14 leva one way. Neither is that much of a better bus ride (and the bus is short, anyway) so I’d just save your leva for a cab ride when you arrive in Sofia.

Karats has departures leaving from 1 PM onwards, every hour until 8 PM (and that is the last bus, don’t miss as I once did drinking too much beer with my friend in Kapana…)

The departure times for Karats

Meanwhile Vitosha Express has more morning departures so if you need to leave earlier in the morning check with them.

But in that case, you may even want to take a train, as it’ll be even cheaper and not take too much longer (2.5-3.5 hours vs. 2 hours). More on that below!

Getting from Plovdiv to Sofia By Bus

It couldn’t be easier! Since I was visiting Plovdiv on a day trip from Sofia, I just bought my return ticket as soon as I arrived in Plovdiv so that I wouldn’t have to stress it later in the evening. I bought a ticket returning to Sofia for the last departure, 8 PM. You will get a receipt and they will probably write the number of your platform on it. If they don’t, look for the word ‘sektor‘ (Сектор) and it will tell you where to go. But this station is quite small and it will be easy to find your way!

They even have an electronic display of departing buses!

When I was ready to return to Sofia, I waited for the bus at the Central Railway Station in the front of the building, where the buses arrive and depart from. My bus arrived 10 minutes early and left exactly on time, so don’t be late!

While on the way there, our Kapats bus had a TV playing a Korean pirated version of Jurassic Park – with Bulgarian subtitles, on the way home there wasn’t any entertainment. I recommend bringing your own entertainment (Candy Crush and podcasts are my poison of choice) and of course, bus snacks, as while the trip from Plovdiv to Sofia should only last 2 hours, you never freaking know in the Balkans.

Arriving in Sofia

Congrats, you’re now in one of my favorite cities in the world! Start your trip off on the right foot by refusing to get ripped off by Sofia’s notoriously unscrupulous taxis (you can read our comprehensive guide here).

Luckily, it’s actually quite easy to ensure you won’t get ripped off when you arrive at Sofia because the Central Bus Station is highly regulated and has an official OK Supertrans taxi stand where you will be sure to get a real taxi. Just make sure you ignore anyone who is offering you a taxi and walk to the front of the station, where you will see this sign.

Bulgaria - Sofia - OK Taxi
Read up about specific taxi procedures at your arrival station so that you don’t get scammed.

The taxi driver should be waiting in his car, not hustling passengers inside the station. There may or may not be an attendant showing people to their taxis. If not, check the phone number on the taxi. It must match the sign above, 9732121.

Check each digit carefully as many of the fakes are quite close but leave it off by just one or two digits. Scam taxis can fake the logo and write something similar in Cyrillic instead of Supertrans (like Superplus or Cititrans), which foreigners can’t read anyway… but they can’t fake the numbers!

You could also use one of the taxi apps we recommend, TaxiMe or Yellow Taxi. Sofia’s bus station has free WiFi though it can be spotty at times.

Bulgaria - Sofia - Taxi
We love Yellow taxi!

However, you are perfectly safe taking any of these taxis granted that you confirm the number and don’t go with a random person who accosts you in the bus station. OK Supertrans is a highly reputable and regulated company, they don’t want to lose their lucrative contract with the city to be the only contractor serving Sofia Airpot and Sofia’s bus station. Therefore, anyone picking you up here shouldn’t give you any issues.

Is There a Train From Plovdiv to Sofia?

Yes, there are trains that run between Sofia and Plovdiv! However, it takes longer (between 2.5 hours and 3.5 hours, depending on the train you select and of course a high possibility of delays) which is why more people opt for buses.

On my most recent search, there were trains departing Plovdiv to Sofia at the following times: 3:11 AM, 4:45 AM, 6 AM, 7 AM, 8 AM, 9 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM, 1:45 PM, 3:20 PM, 4:30 PM, 6 PM, and 8 PM. However, don’t take my word for it as these times are subject to change. You can check departure times online here and even buy tickets online. Keep in mind you will likely have to print your ticket though.

I’m not sure of the exact cost but it generally is the same or cheaper than the price by bus. I would estimate a train ticket would cost between 8 and 15 leva, about 4 euro to 7.50 euro, depending on if you take a fast train or a slower local train.

If you want to get to Sofia first thing in the morning a train may be a better option than a bus, but just check if it’s a fast or slow train on the official website (linked above). If you want to leave for Sofia in the afternoon then I recommend a bus instead.

What to Do In Sofia

Of course, there’s a ridiculous amount of things to do in Sofia! (we’ve written about 101 of them here). From checking out the funky street art in Hadzhi Dimitar and the city center to eating in the city’s best restaurants and going out in the coolest bars, you’ll have so much to do in Sofia you’ll want to plan at least a few nights here!

Where to Stay in Sofia

If you haven’t already booked where to stay in Sofia, check out this complete guide to our favorite hotels and hostels in Sofia in every budget category. No time to read the whole post? Here are our top 3 picks.

$ – BUDGET – UNDER $15 A NIGHT FOR A DORM

 For a hostel, we always recommend Hostel Mostel. I have never stayed at the Sofia location but several of my friends have and have always spoken highly of it. I stayed at the one in Veliko Tarnovo and it was excellent. Perks include a free vegetarian dinner in addition to breakfast included in your stay! Check rates and availability here. If you are traveling in peak season, be sure to book online, as Hostel Mostel is popular and tends to get booked up.

$$ MID-RANGE – $50-100 A NIGHT FOR A DOUBLE

 For a trendy new boutique hotel that is shockingly affordable, we recommend R34 Boutique Hotel. The location is fantastic, near the Ivan Vazov National Theater in central Sofia. It has gorgeous, loft-inspired details like exposed brick, giant windows, and streamlined but modern décor. It’s a great bargain, too – check rates, reviews, photos, and availability here.

$$$ – LUXURY – $100+ A NIGHT

As far as we see it, there’s only one option for the best hotel in town: Sense Hotel. We go to their upscale, beautiful rooftop bar all the time when we have guests in town – it has one of the best views in the entire city and they make fantastic cocktails. With beautiful views over Alexander Nevsky, Sofia’s most iconic landmark, the hotel couldn’t be in a better location. Sense Hotel also boasts a state-of-the-art fitness center, an art gallery in the lobby, an excellent spa with luxe treatments, and an indoor pool. It’s truly the best choice in town. Check rates, reviews, photos, and availability here.

Don’t Leave without Travel Insurance!

Finally, make sure you always travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. The country is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!

For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

10 Stunningly Instagrammable Places in Ohrid, Macedonia

The town of Ohrid and its namesake lake are renowned for their beauty, but even knowing that I was still stunned when I got there and saw it with my own eyes. It’s one of the most photogenic cities in the Balkans, full of wonderful hidden photography spots. While we’ve selected our picks for the most Instagrammable places in Ohrid, know that this is a town that rewards the photographer who gives themselves enough time to wander and explore.

On the Lake Shore

If you’ve come to Lake Ohrid, you simply must come down to the town’s lakeshore. There are tons of great photography options here, but the classic shot is to get the houses going up the hill in the background (or as the subject), 

Lakeside Cafes

The town is lined with cafes. Some are located right on the shoreline, while others have waterside tables. Either way, this is a great opportunity to photograph the lake with some beautiful and interesting framing. Alternatively, the cafes themselves offer opportunities for photography, especially the ones that jut out above the water.

The Church of St. John at Kaneo

Possibly the most iconic photo spot in all of the Balkans, the Church of St. John at Kaneo is positioned beautifully above the lake. The best place to get a photo with the lake in the background is to climb the steps above the church. Make sure to show respect here, as the church is not just a great Ohrid photography spot. It’s one of the most important religious sites in the country. 

Samuel’s Fortress

The tenth-century fortress sits on the hill above the city. It served as the former capital of the Bulgarian Empire when the empire was centered at Ohrid. Tsar Samuel was a tsar of the Bulgarian Empire, so it’s common to run into places named after him in Sofia as well.

Today the fortress is a popular tourist attraction in Ohrid. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes since getting to the top is a bit of a hike!

Boats on Lake Ohrid

There are many boats on the lake which tourists hire for trips out to the different sites. My personal favorite is to go in one at sunset because sunsets on Lake Ohrid are truly spectacular. However, I love taking the time to photograph the boats on their own, especially when they’re void of tourists and you can capture a candid moment of the boat’s captain at rest.

The Boardwalk

This picturesque boardwalk is how you walk to St. John at Kaneo from the shoreline. However, give yourself extra time before you head to the church to capture this interesting architectural feature along the lake.

Streets of Old Town

Full of Ottoman houses and stone streets, the Old Town is incredibly charming. My favorite views are the corners where you find beautiful flowers juxtaposed with centuries-old stone doorways and windows. Give yourself time to wander around and see what you find that’s all your own. 

Ottoman Houses

Ohrid is famous for its beautiful traditional Orthodox houses that line the hill above the lake between the shoreline and the fortress. While you more than likely will have some of these houses in other shots, I love pictures where the houses are the subject and not just the background or part of the landscape. Its a great reminder of the mixed heritage of Macedonia, where different empires and nations controlled it for thousands of years before it finally achieved its own independence in the last few decades. 

Flower Arch

This gorgeous (and sadly seasonal) flower arch is basically Instagram bait. So if this is your kind of thing, pack a red maxi dress and a white floppy hat and get under these arches. 

Trpejca

The fishing village of Trpejca is a boat ride away from Lake Ohrid, but it is worth the trip. This town has become a popular summer resort town, and it is easy to see why. When I first saw the gorgeous picks of Trpejca, I thought I must be looking at pictures of beaches in the Philippines or Halong Bay in Vietnam. But nope, this gorgeous place is on Lake Ohrid!

There are a few popular photography spots here, including a tree that’s out in the water and this beautiful boulder that sits in the lake. 

Finally, Don’t Go without Travel Insurance!

Make sure you always travel to Macedonia and the Balkans with a valid travel insurance policy. While the country is safe, accidents can happen anywhere. If you experience an accident or theft, travel insurance will help you recover your costs and enjoy the rest of your trip. 

For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

 

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

 

Pin This Ohrid Instagram Guide for Your Trip

The 10 Most Instagrammable Places in Ohrid, Macedonia

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