Introduction to Skopje
Skopje is the capital of Macedonia, the home of Alexander the great, and once a part of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedona. Skopje is also hometown of mother Teresa; ironically one, Alexander, was a great warrior and the other was a messenger of peace.
Over the ages Macedonia was ruled by different empires including Roman, Byzantine and Ottomans, the marks of which you can still see and feel in its architecture, culture and food. The population of Skopje is around half a million and is a mix of ethnicity ranging from Albanians, Turks, Toma and Serbs.
How to reach Skopje
Flight: Skopje’s airport is called Alexander the great and lies about 24 km outside the city. Skopje is well connected with major European cities with regular international flights.
Train: Skopje is well connected with Belgrade and Serbia with daily trains.
Bus: Connections are available to other Balkan cities, and also with some other major European cities by the popular Euroline bus service. Conveniently, both train and bus stations are located next to each other.
Getting around Skopje
Bus is the cheapest means to travel around and will take you to all the major tourist attractions. Both public and private bus service is available. Public buses are red in color and will cost you as low as 30 MKD when you buy the ticket from a kiosk. While private buses will cost you 25 MKD flat. Buses are not marked in English but every bus can be identified with a number.
Skopje Top Attractions
The Matka canyon lies around 15 km from Skopje making it a quick getaway in nature. Scattered around this stunning gorge are the ruins of once fledgling town of Matka. There are several buildings from medieval period to see including – churches, monasteries and ruins of a fortress.
You can visit the 14th century monastery of St. Andrew located near the lake Matka. Alternatively, take the 30 minutes hike up to the clifftop church of St. Nicholas Shishovski (Sveti Nikola) for an excellent view of the area.
The Matka region also has a no. of caves of varying length to explore. Of these, Vrelo bat cave is of the prime interest: a very long cave which can be accessed with a boat ride. Marvel at the unusual shapes of stalactites and stalagmites which took millions of years to form.
Home to rare species of flora and fauna, in Matka you will come across fluttering butterflies of all shapes and colors. There are about hundred odd species of butterflies in the region.
The boat ride on the lake costs 450 den or 7 euros. Kayaking and climbing are also very popular activity. Take bus no. 60 to reach here, travel time is 30 minutes and costs 35 den or about half a euro. Cheap!
Old Bazaar, Skopje
The 12th century Old Bazaar dominated by Ottoman architecture is situated along the Vardar River. Apart from the Ottoman styled buildings, the remnants of Byzantine architecture can also be seen. A large part of the old bazaar was reconstructed as it suffered heavy damage in the two world wars and in the earthquake of 1963. To get here from the town center simply cross the Stone Bridge.
The old bazaar is lined with small shops selling everything from handicraft, to apparels and souvenirs. But the most striking are the gold jewelry shops, which always remain very busy with locals. Note that shops close early, if you are planning to shop come around late noon.
You can also visit a museum dedicated to the Skopje Old Bazaar, which highlights the history and evolution of the area over the centuries.
If you are feeling hungry eat Ottoman style, try a Turkish restaurant.
Built across the river Vardar the stone bridge connects the Macedonia Square with the Old Bazaar. The construction of the 500 years old bridge, a legacy of Ottoman empire, finished in the year 1451. The bridge constitutes 13 arches and is more than 200 meters long. The adjacent watcher tower was added much later in 2008. In all totality, it is nothing spectacular but it does make for a quick stop to take a picture.
The Macedonia square doesn’t exactly emanate an old world feeling. It is rather a new construction paved with white marbles. As the town was heavy damaged during the wars and the earthquake, many of the buildings around the square are also reconstructed.
The most striking feature of the square is the giant bronze statue erected right in the middle. Warrior on Horseback is enormous 24 meters tall statue built in Florence. It was installed on the square in 2011 to celebrate twenty years of Macedonia’s independence. The statue is also called the statue of Alexander the Macedonian.
There are many other statues on the square telling you the story of rise and fall of the tiny Macedonia. Also, gate of Macedonia – Arch of triumph – is located nearby. Check out the fountains which turn colorful at night, certainly something kids would love.
Millennium Cross is a giant metallic cross with a height of 66 meters located on the hill top (1066m) of Vodno Mountain. It replaced a small wooden cross and was installed to commemorate 2000 years of Christianity in Macedonia.
To reach the cross you need to take the 3.5 km rope way which was opened in 2011. In the cable car at a time only 6 people can sit and the return ticket costs 100 Denar. To get to the base of the rope way take the millennium bus which you can catch by the mother Teresa building.
Once you reach the top you are treated with stunning views of the area. Also, there are several trails for walking. For food option, there is small restaurant nearby. The rope remains closed on Mondays.
Memorial House of Mother Teresa
The memorial house dedicated to Mother Teresa was opened in the year 2009. Run by a non-profit organization of the same name, the museum exhibits photographs, and related personal items.
The importance of the site is that once there stood a Roman catholic church which was where Gonxha Bojaxhiu or Mother Teresa was baptized.
There is a small but beautiful Chapel on the top floor, look out for the blue stained glass window. Perhaps, the most striking thing about the museum is the building which incorporates a very modern design with rather bizarre exteriors.
Note: The life of Mother Teresa had not been left untouched by controversies. Her vociferous critics, Christopher Hitchens – a British writer, produced a documentary and a book with claims that seriously undermined her work.
Entrance to the museum is free.
Happy Traveling! Hope you have great fun!