Things to Do in Skopje: the Quirky Capital
Heralded by many as the kitschiest capital in Europe, Skopje really is one of the most bizarre places that we have visited. The city is full of crazy contrasts that just don’t seem to fit together, but this is the beauty of this capital city: it’s unpredictable and keeps you guessing.
It seems though, that the local Skopje residents don’t share this feeling. Project Skopje 2014 was put in place by the then government of North Macedonia to give the city a more ‘classical’ feel. This involved the construction of many monuments and buildings as well as updating facades of buildings using a lot of taxpayers’ money. As you can imagine, this is particularly controversial.
Skopje is a lovely place to spend time just strolling along the water, stopping for coffee or a portion of tavce gravce (spiced baked beans). Keep an eye out for all the contrasts and oddities. Look up at all the grand buildings and huge monuments that have had this ‘classical’ feel added to them, and see that they stand beside the original Ottoman-style bazaar. Spot the classic London-style red double decker buses. Wonder why there are pirate ships moored up. See the shop selling elevators. Why are there so many statues? Everywhere.
London-style double decker bus
Attending the free walking tour helped us to understand a lot about Skopje and answer a lot of our questions, but the more we wandered Skopje over the next four days, the more we began asking more questions! Skopje is a city that will always keep people curious: that’s its unique selling point.
You could probably see the majority of Skopje in a day, but it is also a great place to base yourself for day trips. So, maybe add a day or two on to explore further afield.
This Skopje guide will give advice on how to get to the city, our favourite things to do plus a day trip and a few other recommendations.
Things to Do in Skopje: the Quirky Capital
How to Reach Skopje
Skopje International Airport (SKP) has direct connections with a lot of European countries. If you’re based in the UK, you will be able to find some really cheap flight deals leaving Luton a few times per week.
There are direct buses from most North Macedonian cities to Skopje. There are also buses straight from Pristina or Prizren in Kosovo or Sofia in Bulgaria. It’s a city that is very well-connected within the country as well as with its neighbouring countries, so getting around should be pretty straight forward.
We took the bus from:
Krusevo to Skopje at 07:00. It took nearly three hours and cost 600 MKD each.
Skopje to Prizren at 16:00. It took nearly three hours and cost 580 MKD each.
Pristina to Skopje at 08:30. It took two hours and cost 8.5 EUR each.
Skopje to Sofia at 15:00. It took five hours and cost 1600 MKD each.
Discover all Skopje’s Statues, from the Extravagant to the Plain Weird
Skopje is full of them. Literally full of them. You will struggle to walk much of a distance around the city without catching sight of at least one. From a band of musicians, a diver, a bull, and a woman with shopping bags, to prominent historical figures; Skopje has it all. There is a diverse and eclectic, shall we say, variety of things and people portrayed in the statues all around the city.
Feel the rhythm
Statue of beggar
Wander the Bridges over the Vardar River
There are four different bridges over the Vardar River in the main part of the city, and each one has a different theme. They are also all within a very short length of the river – you could probably walk across all four back-to-back within 20 minutes – so why are they all there? Who knows? It does all seem a tad excessive.
The Bridge of Art has statues of Macedonia’s great artists and musicians.
The Bridge of Civilisations has statues of prominent figures in North Macedonia’s history.
Freedom Bridge has Macedonian shields and scenes portraying the struggle of the Macedonian people.
Stone Bridge is built in Ottoman style and ‘bridges the gap’ between the new kitschy part of town and the old traditional bazaar.
Bridge of Art
Learn about Skopje and North Macedonia on a Free Walking Tour
Take a free Skopje walking tour with Vasko. This is a really in-depth walking tour that covers everything from sightseeing, politics, controversial topics, history, food, you name it: Vasko knows the answer. The tour lasts about three hours and is one of the best that we have tried in the Balkans.
Mother Teresa Memorial House
Mother Teresa was born in Skopje, which is a point of great pride for Macedonians. The building from the outside looks like it is made of several parts of different buildings pieced together. Inside, however, there is a beautiful yet small display of information, photos and objects about Mother Teresa. It’s well worth a look, even if only for twenty minutes or so.
Mother Teresa Memorial House
See the Brutalist Architecture in the Post Office and St. Clement of Ohrid Church
These are two really interesting examples of Brutalist architecture that are pretty close together, and they’re both completely different.
Brutalist Central Post Office
Brutalist architecture of St. Clement of Ohrid Church
Walk around Macedonia Square
Macedonia Square is surprisingly large. There are several statues (shocker) around and different architectural styles in the surrounding buildings, but the main event is the huge statue of Alexander the Great and its fountain.
The mighty Macedonia Square
Wander the Traditional Ottoman Bazaar
The bazaar is small in comparison to say, Sarajevo’s bazaar, but it feels like it hasn’t changed too much since the Ottoman times. Grab a cig kofte (Turkish spiced bulgur) or a bowl of tavce gravce (a spiced baked bean dish), or wander round to find souvenirs.
Nuts, seeds and dried fruit
Day Trip: Marvel at the Intricate Paintings of Tetovo Mosque
Tetovo Mosque is probably the most unique mosque that we have visited in the Balkans in terms of its shape and its decoration. There is not a spare bit of space on the walls or ceiling for any more art. It is everywhere, and it is stunningly detailed.
Buses leave Skopje’s central bus station every thirty minutes or so. Tickets cost 200 MKD one way which you need to buy at the kiosk inside the station. You can use cash or card at Skopje. At Tetovo station however, you can only purchase your return ticket with cash at the kiosk. The journey to Tetovo only last about an hour and is a comfortable ride.
The mosque is maybe a fifteen/twenty minute walk from the bus station. It is intricately painted on the outside and the inside. There is no fee to enter, but a ‘donation’ is more or less enforced. Take your shoes off and cover your legs if you are female, and you will be allowed to enter.
Don’t forget to look up
See Arabati Baba Tekke
You will likely only spend twenty minutes at the mosque as it pretty small. So, once you finish here, head over to Arabati Baba Tekke which has some beautiful and traditional architecture also. If you’re lucky, the market on the road leading to the tekke will be on. See tractors full of squash and melons, and stands absolutely brimming with colourful fresh produce. Grab some lunch at Dante Restaurant and Pizzeria (they do great pasta!) and then head back to Skopje.
Arabati Baba Tekke
The pumpkin and squash tractor
Still got time in Skopje and looking for something else to do?
There are a couple of other trips that we missed while we were in Skopje:
- Get the cable car up Mount Vodno
- Take a day trip to Veles or Kratovo
- Make a day trip out to Matka Canyon
- Head up to the fortress
- Visit the museums
Have you been to Skopje? Is there anything else you would add to the list?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations or questions.
Thanks for reading!