What should my first post be about? Every blogger’s worst nightmare. I decided that I should pay my dues to my hometown, the city where I grew up – the city of Skopje, the city I always come back to, wherever I go.
Skopje is the capital of Macedonia, a small country that takes a central position in the Balkans. The city officially has a population of half a million, but unofficially it has around 700 000 people living there. This is mostly due to the people who are emigrating from the other cities in the country, in order to study or work in the capital. The easiest way to arrive in Skopje is by plane – you can land on “Alexander the Great Airport”, where low cost operator WizzAir has opened a hub which serves 22 destinations in Europe. You can also arrive from other continents with transfers via Vienna (Austrian), Istanbul (Turkish), Rome (Alitalia), Geneva and Zurich (Swiss) as well as from Dubai (flyDubai). It is possible to arrive with car using the E-75 highway. Using the bus is yet another possibility (see the official site of the Skopje Central Bus Station: www.sas.com.mk). The last option is the train, with daily departures to Belgrade and Thessaloniki, however this is not recommended since the trains are not in great condition (but if you are on a budget – go for it).
Things to See in Skopje
It would be an understatement if I say that Skopje has had a vibrant past. The city has been set
on fire twice, while it has been struck by devastating earthquakes numerous times, the most
recent being in 1963. The mixture of cultures cannot be matched by any other city in the World.
Enough with the introductions, let’s get to the sightseeing part.
First of all – the Skopje Old Bazaar (or as the locals call it – “Skopska Carsija”).
It is the biggest bazaar in Europe, right after the “Kapaliçarsi” in Istanbul. Once it was the center of the city where the citizens would gather and do some shopping in the shops of the most skilled craftsmen. Today the craftsmen are a bit forgotten, as the Bazaar is full of night bars and restaurants which makes it the perfect place for a night out.
Must see places inside the bazaar
“Mustafa Pasha Mosque”, “Sveti Spas” church (especially the iconostasis), “Kapan An” and “Suli An”. All these places are testifying different historical times and cultures, in a radius of several hundred meters.
Museum of Macedonia and the Museum of Modern Art.
The Museum of Modern Art is located on the top of the Kale Fortress. The Fortress was first build in the 1st century AD, however it was destroyed in 518 AD when Skopje was, yet again,
struck by an earthquake. Justinian I (FYI, he was a Byzantine Emperor, that was born in one of Skopje’s villages) was the one who ordered to rebuild the fortress. During the Ottoman Empire, the fortress was upgraded, however, only a small part of it is open to public today.
Going down from the bazaar, all the way to the Main Square, you have to pass the Stone Bridge – the oldest bridge in the city. Similarly to the Kale Fortress, it was thanks to “Justinian I” that this bridge exists today. It dates back to the 6th century AD, and it is one of the best known landmark of Skopje. Even today, it is the main pedestrian connection between the Old Bazaar and the Macedonia Square, the old and the new part of the city.
Located on the left bank of Vardar River, just next to the Stone Bridge, you can visit the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia – if you would like to learn a bit more about the rich history of Macedonia Guided tours are available and in this case I would sincerely recommend taking one, as the museum is large and it is easy to get lost. You could easily spend an entire afternoon in the Museum, exploring the past of the country.
In close proximity to the Archeological Museum, you can find the Memorial House of the Holocaust. Not many people know this, but during the Second World War Skopje was home to about 20,000 Jewish people, most of them being deported to the “Treblinka” concentration camp in Poland.
When you pass the Stone Bridge, you reach the “Macedonia Square” – the main square of the city. Placed in the center of the square is a gigantic monument, called “Warrior on a horse”, but in reality it is a monument dedicated to Alexander the Great. Most of the cafés and restaurants are located on the “Kej Street”, which is 2 minutes’ walk from the square. If you like shopping do not forget to visit the “Gradski Trgovski Centar” (City Shopping Center), which is approximately 5 minutes from the square.
Walking on the pedestrian street called “Macedonia” (which continues straight from the Macedonia Square), you will spot the Mother Theresa Memorial House. The house is paying homage to one of the most famous person that were born in Skopje. This house is one of the main tourist attraction on the Macedonia Street. In front of the memorial, there is a monument dedicated to her. Guided tours are available, however since the Memorial House is relatively small I do not recommend it.
Street Macedonia itself, is the main pedestrian street in the city. It is home to many cafés, bars and restaurants. Together with the “Kej Street” and “Leninova”, it is the most popular choice for a night out in the city. I would highly recommend the newly opened “Gnezdo” bar, as well as “Bar Celona”.
Another shopping location in the city is the popular Shopping Mall “Skopje City Mall” – not to be confused with “Gradski Trgovski Centar”. It is definitely the place to be if you are into shopping. This mall is one of the biggest closed shopping centers in the Balkans with brands such as Zara, Springfield, Stradivarius and many others, being a part of it. I other words, if you have some extra cash that you want to get rid of, this is the place to visit.
Have a Great Time in Skopje!
To wrap it up we can say that Skopje is a great weekend destination with lots of things to see, both cultural and historical. The locals are very welcoming so I have no doubts that you will have a wonderful time in the capital of the Republic of Macedonia. P.S. The food is great and highly affordable.