Travel Guide Europe: Skopje, Macedonia

Skopje is the starting city of my 9-day Great Balkan Tour. During my 9-day trip, I visited 7 cities from 5 Balkan countries. You can read about this trip through this blog city by city.
My flight arrived at Skopje Alexander the Great Airport in the morning. At the airport, Alexander the Great welcome visitors on his horse sculpture.
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From the airport, regular shuttle buses are available for about 3 euros, aside from buses, you can take a taxi too but obviously, it’s more expensive. Airport is roughly 25km from the city centre and bus trip takes 40 mins. approximately.

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Bus stops twice at two different locations in the city centre. One is at the central bus/train station of the city (for intercity and international buses) and the final stop is at the main road opposite to the Holiday Inn hotel. If your accommodation is near the city centre, hop off at the final stop and walk or take a cab to your hotel. My hostel was in the city centre 10 mins. walk from the city’s main square.
Skopje is the capital city of Macedonia (FYROM) and also the largest with a population of 600,000 residents. Many civilizations ruled this city through the centuries; Bulgarian Empire, Byzantine, Serbian Empire, but the most significant empire that ruled the region was the Ottomans which lasted for 500 years (1392–1912).

The main tourist attraction of the city is the central square. The landmark has Alexander the Great’s fountain, which is now one of the symbols of the city. The main square is surrounded by business establishments, mostly hotels, fancy restaurants and cafes.

Skopje centre has been busy with large and controversial development projects (Skopje 2014 Project). Along the Vardar River, new buildings are rising to be home of governmental and cultural organisations. These new buildings are beautiful with its Renaissance style and a neural white colour, however, the financial burden it brings to the tax payers cause controversy among citizens.

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The river bank is occupied by these sophisticated buildings and can be crossed by several bridges. The most famous structure is the old Stone Bridge (Tas Kopru) which connects the main square with the Old Town (Old Bazaar). This bridge can be seen in the city’s flag as well. It was built by the Ottomans (Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror) on the Byzantine foundation around 1450’s.
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There are other newly built bridges; the Bridge of Civilizations and the Art Bridge. The Art Bridge features many statues of noted Macedonian artists and musicians. It includes 29 sculptures, with 14 on each side and one in the centre.

When you walk across the Stone Bridge and reach the north side of the river, keep walking towards the left until you reach the Kale (means castle in Turkish). Skopje Fortress (Kale) is situated on the highest point of the city overlooking the Vardar River, which is incorporated in the city’s flag. The Fortress was built by the Romans in the 6th century AD. Since then, it has been put under restoration many times.

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Kale Fortress has its main gate opening to the Old Bazaar (old settlement and market area of the city). The Old Bazaar has cobblestone alleys that are free from vehicular traffic. This pedestrian district has many restaurants, cafes and jewelery shops. These are all built in Ottoman style, especially the Hans (Large hotel like buildings with a yard in the middle – old time traveller inns) are worth visiting. Kapan Han is the most famous in the Old Bazaar. It has a café on the ground floor and small shops on the second floor.

Take your time while wandering around in the Old Bazaar. I would suggest, try the traditional food such as Cevap Cici (means small kebab) and baklava. Do not forget to drink Turkish style brewed tea with your dessert. Best part of being in the Balkans is paying reasonable prices for food, accommodation and transportation. For instance, a regular dinner menu would cost you no more than 5 euro.

Potable drinking fountains are to be found in the city, especially in the Old Town near the old mosques. By the way, city has beautiful old mosques inherited from the Ottoman era and still active, thanks to city`s Muslim minority.

The Bit Bazaar is in the north of the Old Bazaar where you can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, clothes and second hand items. Communicating in English is challenging, but doable.

In summary:

The city has old and new towns divided by a river. The new town is located in the south and the old town in the north. The new town has monuments, sculptures, fountains and chic restaurants. The old town has the historic mosques, kale fortress, local shops and cozy cafes.
I kept my Skopje visit short to continue to the south of the country. Next stop; Ohrid (pretty lake city of Macedonia). There is a direct bus to Ohrid from Skopje Central Station that leaves every hour. The trip roughly takes 3.5 hours.

Travel tip by bus to Ohrid:

Although bus schedule indicates that it leaves every hour to Ohrid, bus trip postpones anytime whenever there are only few passengers for a specific scheduled trip and waits for enough commuters before leaving. Bus service is not reliable and long wait is possible.

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