Sofia and Ohrid are two of my favorite places in all of the Balkan peninsula. I’m a city girl, which is why Sofia speaks to my soul and is where I’ve planted my roots.
I love being able to walk around Sofia and get all I need. I can hop on the subway to grab some fantastic Vietnamese food, shop for obscure ingredients at the Zhenski Pazar / Arab Street area, and even hop a city bus and end up at the top of Mount Vitosha in under an hour.
Meanwhile, Ohrid is where my soul gets peace when city life gets to be too much. The ancientness of the city, the peaceful blues of the waters, the seaside villages that speckle the shores of the Ohrid region, the monasteries which impress a sense of quietude into you…
Ohrid is truly a tonic for the soul, and I’ve been known to make epic journeys overland (from Novi Sad to Ohrid in one shot, and Sofia to Ohrid in another) just because I feel like I need to be at Lake Ohrid NOW.
A quick note, because I have to get something off my chest. A particular less experienced blogger has been re-writing nearly all of our posts lately, without any creative input of their own.
I’ve made the journey to Ohrid in different directions twice, and Stephanie’s made the journey from Sofia to Ohrid via Skopje as well in a single day. So needless to say, with three trips under our belt, we are qualified to write these bus guides. Frankly I’m tired of other people using our research to rip off our guides. So please, if these guides help you, add comments about your experience to our guides rather than re-writing shoddy remakes with out-of-date information for yourself. It’s not a good look, and you’re screwing over travelers who trust you. Be creative.
Apologies for the rant – let’s continue with what you came here for, how to get some Sofia to Ohrid without losing your mind.
Getting from Sofia to Ohrid
Do you need to get from Sofia to Ohrid in a single day, and you don’t plan to break the journey in Skopje? There are a few different ways you can get there, and some are a lot more pleasant than others.
First of all, this is one direct bus a few times a week from Sofia to Ohrid via Matpu, a Bulgarian bus company which services international routes between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, and Turkey.
While there used to be an overnight bus from Sofia to Ohrid which ran every other day, as of June 9th 2019, these buses have been discontinued. Other blogs who are not based in the region have not bothered to update their information, so this is the most up-to-date source.
We will inform you as soon as the buses return to their regular schedules, but knowing the Balkans well, that could be quite a while. And anyway, that bus route was a bit of a nightmare anyway, as it involved arriving to Ohrid at 4:30 AM – prime time for taxi drivers to rip you off, as you have little bargaining power when you arrive at a bus station 3 kilometers outside the city pre-dawn.
Anyway, so now, there is only really one way to get from Sofia to Skopje and then onwards to Ohrid by bus. So ignore any out of date guides that suggest this bus.
If you want, you can read both my Sofia to Skopje guide then follow it up with my Skopje to Ohrid guide. That will give you the most detailed information. But if you just want it all here in one simple post, keep on reading and I’ll do just that for you. At present, no matter what, you must transit via Skopje unless you rent a car or hitchhike. There are no trains between Sofia to Skopje, nor from Skopje to Ohrid.
To get to Ohrid in one day, you have to take the earliest bus via Matpu or Makedonija Soobrakaj/Kaleia. I took the bus that left Matpu at 9:30 AM, which had me arrive in Skopje right before 2 PM.
NOTE: Hold onto your Matpu bus ticket carefully. The first time I took Matpu they got really aggressive with me when I couldn’t find my ticket at the border (which we had already shown to the driver), to the point where I thought we’d get kicked off the bus if we couldn’t produce it. Luckily, we found it and all was well. I didn’t encounter this on my second Matpu journey, but just keep this in mind.
Also, bonus, if you take this bus you will likely stop at my favorite Balkan roadside stop of all time. Say hi to my dear Rebecca for me, she’s the raddest cat in Bulgaria.
Alternately, if you want to get an earlier start, there is a 7 AM departure on Makedonija Soobrakaj/Kaleia – you will either take a minibus or actual bus depending on the number of people who are doing the route.
Presumably, you’d be able to catch one of the earlier buses to Ohrid, as you’d be arriving around noon due to the time change.
Transfering in Skopje to Continue on from Sofia to Ohrid
You’ll have to make a quick transfer in Skopje but this isn’t such a big deal as there are several departures to Ohrid until 7:30 PM. However, if you take one of the later buses leaving Sofia – like the 4 PM Matpu – you won’t arrive in Skopje early enough to continue onwards from Sofia to Ohrid in a single day, so a morning bus it is.
Note that Matpu buses leave from Serdika (pictured below) whereas I believe Makedonija Soobrakaj/Kaleia leave via the Main Bus Station about 100 meters away. I’ve only taken Kaleia into Sofia, not the other way around, but we’ve always arrived to the Main Bus Station so I imagine they’d depart from there as well.
When I left Sofia at 9:30 AM and arrived just before 2, it was perfect timing as I had about 20 minutes to buy my onward ticket to Ohrid on Galeb (my favorite Skopje-Ohrid bus route – the others are much less comfortable).
I was able to snag the 2 PM bus to Ohrid, which got me there at about 5:30 PM. So all in all, that’s 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM to get from Sofia to Lake Ohrid, keeping in mind that there’s an hour time difference backwards once you cross Macedonia so that’s really like 9 hours, not 8.
Getting to Your Accommodation in Ohrid
Ah, the worst part of any Balkan bus journey – not getting totally f(@*ing ripped off on your way from the bus station into town. And unfortunately, with the main bus station in Ohrid about 2-3 kilometers away from most places you’d stay in Ohrid, you’ll either have to walk with all your luggage (which, props to you and I wish my pettiness matched my crappy shoulder strength for dealing with my backpack) or pay an inflated rate for a taxi.
I speak a little Macedonian because it’s basically really similar to Bulgarian which I think helped keep my rates from being truly extortionate. I got quoted 200 MKD (less than $4 USD) to get dropped off at my Airbnb in the Old Town.
If you’re a less-tired traveler than I am, you may be able to bargain them down to 120 MKD, but it depends on how many taxi drivers there are and who might be willing to accept a cheaper fare. Remember, they have the leverage here, so you may have to accept a slightly inflated rate.
There is likely a bus to downtown Ohrid but frankly I’ve never visited Ohrid without a 9+ hour journey to get there, coming from either Novi Sad or Sofia, so I’ve always just hopped in a taxi and paid for the convenience. If you successfully figure out a bus to the center – let us know!
Going from Ohrid to Sofia
If you want to do the same but in reverse, it’s definitely do-able! You have a little more freedom as the departure times to Sofia from Skopje are more spread out.
Matpu has buses at 4 PM and 7 PM heading to Sofia, so as long as you time your Ohrid bus appropriately, you should be able to get to Sofia by nighttime quite easily.
Keeping in mind that it takes about 3.5 hours to get from Ohrid to Skopje, check the current GALEB timetable on their website to plan your connection. I’d leave around noon for the 4 PM bus, and around 2:30 or 3 PM for the 7 PM bus, just to give myself a little extra time.
Worst case scenario, there’s a midnight overnight bus with Makedonija Soobrakaj/Kaleia every night, so you’ll definitely be able to get out of Skopje same night, even if you encounter a Balkan bus delay.
Where to Stay in Ohrid
If you haven’t picked out where to stay in Ohrid yet, here are our top 3 recommendations.
Budget: For people wanting to stay in Ohrid on a budget but not wanting to sacrifice their privacy and stay in a hostel, Vila Dudinka is perfect. It’s where I ended up staying during my time in Ohrid and it’s a great place for budget travelers. The host, Zarko, is insanely nice and the rooms are basic but warm and welcoming. For the price and hospitality, you can’t beat it in Ohrid. The location on a quiet side street off of the main ‘road’ of Old Town Ohrid, Tsar Samoil, is quite literally perfect. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Mid-Range: For an affordable 4-star hotel in the heart of old town Ohrid, I recommend Villa Sofija right next to the gorgeous St. Sofia Church. It’s a short walk to all the best restaurants of Ohrid and its location on top of a hilly part of Ohrid means that you have unparalleled lake views while still being situated in the Old Town – the best of both worlds, in my opinion. Rooms are cozy and modern, with recently redone bathrooms, in keeping with the slightly elevated price point compared to other places in town. It’s still a steal for the quality to price ratio! Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Luxury: Most of the luxury hotels of Ohrid aren’t located in the old town of Ohrid itself, because since it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site they can’t exactly bulldoze old houses and erect a 5-star hotel right in the middle of it. Because of that, most of the luxury hotels you’ll find are located in other villages around Ohrid, namely Lagadin and Trpjeca. Lagadin is quite close to Ohrid (I stayed there, though not at this hotel, my first time in Ohrid) and it’s great if you want a lake escape and don’t mind being outside of town. Hotel Dva Bisera is probably the fanciest hotel on Lake Ohrid, with an excellent restaurant, private beach with sunbeds, and if you want to get to Ohrid, a taxi is about 300 MKD (~$6 USD) away! Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Macedonia Travel Resources
We have guides covering quite a bit of the country! Start with this guide to planning a trip to North Macedonia, and then peruse our guide to the best places to visit in Macedonia to get your ideas flowing.
We’re creating more content for Ohrid, but you can start with our Instagram guide to Ohrid!
Finally, Make Sure You Come to Ohrid with Travel Insurance
I’m sure you’re aware that getting travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Macedonia, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world! Stephanie and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While North Macedonia is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe.
Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.