Macedonia is a very small country in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula. It is popular because of its history and unique architecture. Due to its geographic position, Macedonia represented a bridge between the Mediterranean world and the Ottoman Empire.
The Romans built their cities, the Turks built their temples, and the natives created unique architecture for centuries.
Macedonia used to be one of the centers of the Byzantine Empire, so there are a lot of Orthodox churches and monasteries from the early and middle centuries.
And of course, there is also tasty cuisine and wine to enjoy after a day of exploring history, art, architecture, or Macedonian nature.
Here are the 10 must see places in North Macedonia.
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1. Ohrid Lake
Ohrid is a historic town and one of the oldest settlements in Europe. The old part of the town is built in a unique architectural style, and there are over 40 Orthodox Churches on a single hill, built mainly during the middle centuries.
The town lies on the shores of Ohrid lake, one of the oldest lakes in the world which harbors over 200 endemic species of fauna and flora.
You can take a boat, kayak, or paddleboard to discover the hidden beaches and the beauties of the lake. Also, there is a bike route around the lake – some 96 kilometers that pass through Albania.
The whole lake and town are surrounded by mountains above 2000 meters of altitude, with hiking and mountain biking tracks that offer breathtaking panoramic views.
There are also many restaurants in Ohrid as well as the villages on the lake that offer fish, caught during the night, by the local fishermen.
2. St Naum Monastery and the Springs of the River Black Drim
Many people have described this place as heaven on earth. It is situated 29 kilometers away from Ohrid, The monastery was established in 905 by St. Naum of Ohrid himself, and functioned as a Greek school. He is buried in the church in the Monastery complex.
Near the monastery, there are the underwater springs of the river Black Drim which flows in the Ohrid Lake and flows out, on the other side of the lake, in the city of Struga.
The springs can be visited only by boat and with the locals. No matter how warm the weather is, the water from the springs is always colder. So the sun can never heat the air as much as the water cools it. The whole place is in a forest, under a mountain, so it feels like 50 thousand shades of green.
There is also a floating restaurant in the basin of the spring, that offers traditionally prepared fish from the lake.
3. Explore Skopje
Skopje is a very interesting place. Someone called it “adorably ugly” and that’s what it is. Skopje is an architectural wonder as it had to be rebuilt once in 1963 after a devastating earthquake, and in 2014 due to nationalist politics.
Most of Skopje is built in the socialist uniformed fashion, with several futuristic structures, and brand new baroque buildings built between 2011 and 2017.
The most original buildings in Skopje are those of the National Post, the Faculty of Philosophy, and the student dormitory “Goce Delcev”, built in the style of brutalist architecture.
And in the heart of the city, under a medieval fortress lies the Old Bazaar. It is like an inter-zone. An oasis is hidden between the ottoman caravanserais and hammams where you hear the clanging of the metal spoons in the glasses of Turkish teas, and smell the coffee, spicy food, and sugar.
Skopje is the place for all the events. It offers incredible nightlife for everyone’s taste. From the National Opera house and theaters to rooftop cocktails, and underground discotheques, to alternative music events. Skopje is an amazing place to visit.
4. Matka Kanyon
The Matka Kanyon is only 10 miles away from Skopje and is the place where all adventures await. It is a very narrow canyon of limestone – heaven for rock climbers – that ends in the emerald waters of the Treska River.
You can climb rocks or rent a kayak to explore the beauties of the canyon. Upstream there is the Cave Vrelo. You can walk inside and discover underground lakes. All sports activities are available, but there are also boats that can take you up and down the river.
After a day of exploring, there is a restaurant where you can treat yourself to tasty traditional meals.
5. Enjoy Traditional Food
Macedonian cuisine is a mixture of the Mediterranean and Arabic cuisine, so there is a lot of meat and vegetables. And Macedonians love to eat and spend time together eating and drinking wine or rakia (national brandy).
There are a few basic meals that you shouldn’t miss. First of all, the most popular one – ajvar. It is a dip made of paprika. The making of ajvar takes three days in September and all the family participates in it. Then, it is stored in jars and it is eaten throughout the whole year. It is delicious and it is usually served on bread and with white cheese.
White cheese is the second must-try-food. Macedonians eat white cheese with everything. And it is produced locally. It can be a cow, sheep, or goat cheese. There are mountain villages where you can see the whole process of how it is made. One such place is the village of Galicnik.
Another popular meal is Macedonian kebabs. Everyone loves them, and they are best in the restaurants in the Old Bazaar of Skopje. But almost all places have kebabs.
There is also a lot of pastry which you can enjoy with yogurt, for breakfast.
And of course, the traditional dishes which are prepared with different meat, rice, and vegetables.
6. The Village of Galicnik
Galicnik is a mountain village, at 1400 meters altitude, with unique architecture. It is famous because of its cheese and white cheese.
The village is also very popular because of the annual Galicnik Wedding Festival which lasts for two days and during which one selected couple is married with all traditional customs. The wedding takes place on the day of St.Peter, the 12 of July.
Originally, the wedding lasted for five days. Some of the customs were excluded, but the most important ones are still practiced. The festival is followed by traditional music and dances which can not be seen and encountered easily.
The whole experience comes at a price which is the crowd of thousands of curious people. However, Galicnik is still beautiful and peaceful throughout the rest of the year.
7. Solunska Glava Peak
This is one of the highest mountain peaks, in the heart of the country. It stands at a height of 2540 meters.
The name Solunska glava means Thessalonkki’s head and it is called as such because, on a clear, sunny day, the port of Thessaloniki at the Aegean Sea can be seen with a naked eye.
The path to the top goes through forests, rocks, and green fields (or snowfields in winter), and from the highest point, one can see all the natural borders of Macedonia. Just standing in one place and circling around yourself, you can see the whole country.
The hiking takes a whole day, and there are a few warm mountain huts where you can spend the evening.
8. Paragliding in Krushevo
Krushevo is another authentic place. It is a town in the mountains famous for its architecture, history, and ski center.
It is the highest town in Macedonia, at an altitude of over 1350 meters. It offers fresh air and people say that it is the place where you live longer.
The most exciting way to discover the surrounding nature of Krusevo is by paragliding. It is the most famous spot for the sport, so there are tens of paragliders daily.
For those interested in history, Krushevo was the safest place for a rebellion in 1903 against the Ottoman Empire, and the town where the first independent republic of Macedonia was established and existed for 10 days.
In winter, skiing is the best way to pass the time in Krushevo.
9. Kokino Observatory
The observatory in the village of Kokino is an ancient megalithic observatory, dating back nearly 3,800 years. It used to track the patterns of the moon and the sun.
Today, there are four massive stone thrones from where the movement of the sun can be observed. Only the most powerful members of the ancient communities who were settled in the area, were allowed to sit on these thrones.
The observatory and the studying of the sky were done in order to provide predictions about the weather so that the agricultural calendar could be properly planned. There were also pagan rituals performed at the site, to mark and celebrate the changes of the weather.
The observatory is approachable at day and night. And it is equally astonishing to be present there under the sun or the starry sky.
10. Demir Kapija
The name of this town means “Iron Gate” in Turkish, as it lies in a narrow canyon near the river Vardar. The whole area around this canyon is quite unexplored. Only the most enthusiastic adventurers and travelers have enjoyed the beauties of this canyon.
It is mostly visited by rock climbers and nature lovers, and in more recent times, there are also enthusiastic guides that can take you to places that haven’t been discovered by tourism yet.
Only 20 kilometers away, there is the archaeological site of Stobi, an ancient Roman city whose ruins are well preserved. There is a baptisterium with beautiful early Christian mosaics as well as Roman theater.
Nearby, there is one of the most popular wineries in Macedonia, which bears the same name, Stobi. Tours and wine tasting are available with booked visits. As a matter of fact, the whole area from the central part of the country towards the southeast is covered with vineyards and there are many wineries. Some of the best wines are made there.
Macedonian wine is one of the jewels of the country.
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Besides the numerous places, there is the music and the people who are very warm and welcoming, and full of stories.
Macedonia is a country worth discovering.
There is a saying that nobody visits Macedonia once because everyone returns.