Sofia Adventures

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

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