Skopje is the capital city of FYROM (Macedonia). It could be described as the statue capital of the world. Things to do in Skopje include;
- Skopje Fortress (Kale Fortress)
- Stone Bridge
- Archaeological Museum of FYROM
- Art Bridge
- Old Bazaar
- Macedonia Square
- 1963 Skopje Earthquake and Railway Clock
- Matka Canyon
- Vodno Mountain and Millennium Cross
- Memorial House of Mother Teresa
- Walk along the Vardar River
- Visit the UNESCO Lake Ohrid
I was staying at Hotel Elsa in the center of Skopje. From here, all of the things to do in Skopje were within walking distance.
Skopje Fortress (Kale Fortress)
Skopje Fortress is visible from all over the city. It was first built in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire. This structure was destroyed during the war against the Bulgarian Empire. However, it has since been rebuilt to the impressive structure it is today. Now it’s one of the most popular tourist sites in the city. It’s easy to walk to the fortress from the center and once on the fortress walls you have a wonderful city view. As a matter of fact this is one of the best sunset locations in the city.
One side of the bridge is the center of Skopje and Macedonia square, the other side is the old bazaar and fortress. The bridge was built in the 15th century and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. In fact, the bridge which was built in the 15th century was built on old Roman foundations. An interesting fact about the bridge is that during World War II the Germans planned to destroy it. Fortunately, locals persuaded them not to and at the last minute, the bridge was saved. Do you believe in ghosts? Executions have occured on this bridge throughout the years.
Archaeological Museum of FYROM
The Archaeological Museum of FYROM is one of the most majestic buildings you’ll find anywhere in the world. It’s worth entering the building to check if the interior is as impressive as the exterior (it is!). Any archaeological findings in the FYROM region are on display here. As a matter of fact you’ll discover that the Skopje Fortress site actually dates back to 4000 BC. You see discoveries from this period as well as the Byzantine and Bulgarian periods. History buffs will love this museum and it’s interesting to see such historic artefacts.
Things to do in Skopje – Art Bridge
Almost as fascinating as the museum it leads to, the Art Bridge has several statues of famous Macedonian artists. There are in fact 14 artists on each side and an additional artist as its centerpiece. If you are interested in Macedonian artists, this will be your favorite part of the city. Nonetheless, this bridge is an Instagram worthy location in Skopje, not only for the statues, but also for the majestic museum as well as the river and fortress views.
Monuments and Statues in Skopje
As you walk around Skopje, you’ll see hundreds of statues and monuments. Why are there a huge amount of statues in Skopje? Unfortunately, the reason for the statues is money. When Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia, the new government had an idea how to make themselves rich. They would use government money for statues and erect them all over the city. A statue is art so what is its the true value? The government would pay much more than the true value and the extra money would disappear. Essentially, this was money laundering on a massive scale. You can see the extent the statue making scheme when you walk around the city center. Additionally, on the way to Matka Canyon, you’ll see a lot more statues in the outskirts.
The Old Bazaar of Skopje is full of bars, restaurants, fast food, shops, markets as well as being a picturesque location. No visit to Skopje is complete without at least a walk through the Old Bazaar area. The Old Bazaar is one of the oldest bazaars in the Balkans and strongly resembles the old town of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Macedonia Square is not only the largest square in Skopje but in all of Macedonia. The centerpiece of this square is a huge monument of Alexander the Great. There is currently a huge debate about Alexander the Great. Was he Macedonian or Greek. The answer depends on whether you ask a Greek or a Macedonian! Wherever he is from, the statue of him in the center of Macedonia Square is an impressive one! Furthermore, where the square meets the Vardar river there are several bars and restaurants where you can discuss Alexander the Great.
1963 Skopje Earthquake and Railway Clock
In 1963, a 6.1 earthquake destroyed 80% of Skopje. Today, there is very little evidence of this earthquake and if you didn’t read this post you could visit without hearing about this event. A noteworthy piece of history from this earthquake is the old railway station of Skopje. It’s located right in the center of the city therefore it’s easy to visit. You can see structural damage to the building but the most significant piece of earthquake evidence is the railway clock. The earthquake struck at 05;17 am on July 26th 1963. At that moment, the railway clock stopped and today it remains 05;17 am.
The lake in between the Matka canyon is the oldest man made lake in Macedonia. In addition, there’s the huge Matka Dam which created this lake. There are also a few monasteries and restaurants. With such a beautiful view, you’ll be happy to know there’s a hiking trail alongside the canyon. As a matter of fact, you’ll pass a few caves along this route. Matka Canyon somewhat resembles, Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas, Mexico, minus the crocodiles of course!
How to get to Matka Canyon from Skopje
I used a taxi meter from central Skopje, the price was 500 Dinars (less than €10). If you’re staying less than a couple of hours the taxi driver will probably wait for you and take you back for another 500 Dinars. Alternatively, there are taxi drivers who wait around the parking area of the Matka Canyon. These guys may request more than 500 Dinars but you now know the fair price.
Vodno Mountain and Millennium Cross
Vodno Mountain towers over Skopje, its landmark is the Millenium Cross. It’s possible to see the Millenium Cross from all over Skopje, unfortunately it’s not nearly as impressive as the Christ the Redeemer in Rio, Brazil! Nonetheless, it’s a popular tourist site as well as an excellent sunset location. To get there takes a little effort. You can either take a taxi or the red double decker bus from the bus station to the cable car. In fact, the red double decker bus could qualify for my London landmarks list!
Memorial House of Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa lived in Skopje from 1910 to 1928. For this reason, there’s a memorial house in her honor. The house is built on the exact location of the former church in which she was baptized. Adjacent to the memorial house is a statue of Mother Teresa, I wouldn’t expect anything less in the city of statues! In nearby Pristina Kosovo is a cathedral devoted to Mother Teresa as well as a statue and boulevard.
Philip II Arena
A visit to the Philip II Arena is a must for football fans. Tickets for a football match are excellent value in this part of the world. More importantly, you get to watch the game in a UEFA category 4 stadium. Read about my Philip II Arena matchday experience on my travel blog.
You may be surprised to learn that there is a huge triumphal arch in the center of Skopje. Officially, this was built in 2012 to celebrate 20 years of independence from Yugoslavia. The real reason it was built was like most statues and monuments in Skopje, to launder money. Did you know there are also triumphal arches in Paris, Bucharest, Chisinau, Pyongyang and Mexico City.
Walk Along the Vardar River – Things to do in Skopje
There is a pedestrian walkway beside the Vardar river. It’s worth taking a walk along the river as you’ll see several striking buildings. As a matter of fact you’ll see several of the things to do in Skopje when you take this walk. In addition, there are several more buildings I haven’t mentioned such as the Macedonian National Theater and the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. Photographers will be rewarded if they take this walk around sunrise or sunset, especially if the river is calm. Enjoy!
The UNESCO lake Ohrid is a 3 hour drive from Skopje. I highly recommend you visit the only UNESCO site in Macedonia. Read about the things to do in Ohrid which include picturesque churches, a fortress, a pre Roman theater as well as a hotel winery.
How to get from Skopje to Thessaloniki
There is one direct bus per day between Skopje and Thessaloniki. It leaves in the evening from the Skopje bus station. I recommend buying your ticket a day in advance to guarantee your seat. Remember, Greece is in the EU, so you will enter the EU on this trip. For this reason, you must present a valid passport to enter the EU before they’ll even sell you your ticket.
Thessaloniki to Sofia – Things to do in Thessaloniki.