City guide: Skopje, Macedonia

A journey into Macedonia is a journey into the unknown. The first mystery relating to this small Balkan nation is its name. Greeks will tell you it is called FYROM (former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), locals will tell you its name is Macedonia and officials will tell you that you are in the Republic of Macedonia. In addition to the controversies surrounding its name and history, notably regarding the origins of Alexandar the Great, Macedonia is a country that very few people actually visit and it is probable that you have never heard of its capital city, Skopje. You will be pleasantly surprised.

History and overview:

The area of modern Skopje has been inhabited since as early as 4000BC, which makes it one of the oldest cities in Europe. The Kale Fortress served as a base for settlements well before the Roman era and well before most other towns in the Balkan were inhabited.

The first century AD saw the Romans seize the settlements in order to establish a military base and Skopje has been under numerous rulers since. The Macedonian capital has in fact been part of Byzantine Empire (4th to 10th Century), the Bulgarian Empire (10th to 12th Century), the Serbian Empire (13th to 14th Century), the Ottoman Empire (14th to 19th Century) and the Kingdom of Serbia in the early 20th century.

The Second World War imposed a new shift in occupation when the Bulgarian army captured the city but lost it to the new superstate of Yugoslavia shortly afterwards. The eve of the war heralded the era of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, a period which was mostly marked by the devastation caused by an earthquake that destroyed substantial parts of the city in 1963.

Macedonia eventually gained independence in 1991 when the Balkan war induced the implosion of Yugoslavia.

Alexandar Square

 

A typical Skopje street

 

Accommodation:

Alexandar Square Boutique Hotel: A stylish yet affordable option right in the city centre. Check it out here

 

Hotel Senigallia: A luxury hotel located inside a boat on the Vardar river. In addition to its cool setting, the hotel disposes of a pirate style bar on its deck, Aargh. Check it out here

Hotel Senigallia

Cultural offer and activities:

Mother Theresa Memorial House: (Macedonia str. bb) A small yet very instructive museum about the life of the famous Catholic nun and missionary Mother Theresa, a Skopje native.

Alexander Square and Vardar riverbank: Easily the most beautiful part of Skopje. The whole riverside area around Alexander Square has been polished, modernized and improved throughout the last decade. Akin to those recent embellishments, the area around Vardar river nowadays looks like the city centre of a great European capital blending ancient architecture with modern building technology while keeping its traditional charm.

Kale Fortress: A bit rundown and not very well maintained but nonetheless worth a visit in order to enjoy the stunning views over Skopje

City of Skopje, Earthquake museum: (Ss Cyril & Methodius) The ideal place to learn more about the devastating effects the 1963 earthquake had on the city of Skopje. To add to its authenticity, the museum is located inside the remains of the old railway station which also fell victim to the tremble that destroyed more than 70% of Skopje’s urban structure.

The Bazars: Skopje hosts several bazars where you can buy literally everything, the recommended items to take home from Macedonia definitely include Macedonian wine and Macedonian/Bosnian coffee which is one of the strongest coffees you will find anywhere.

In front of Vardar river and the National Theatre
City of Skopje Museum inside the destroyed former railway station
Mother Theresa Memorial House
The view from Kale Fortress
Popular neighbourhoods
The Bazar

 

Wine & Dine:

Old House Restaurant: (Boulevard Phillip the Second of Macedon 14) Easily my favourite restaurant in Skopje. It may be a bit touristy but the quality of the food and the service are unmatched in the centre of the Macedonian capital.

Going out:

Austrian Palace Bar: (Mitropolit Teodosij Gologanov 3) One of the coolest bars I have found in Skopje. The bar has several rooms and a large terrace which is an excellent place to enjoy a cold beer and meet some locals.

St Patrick’s Pub: (Kej 13-ti Noemvri) one of the few Irish pubs in Skopje, its location right on the river bank is a massive plus in comparison to most other bars in the Macedonian capital.

Avenue Club: (Dimitri Cupovski street) the most ‘high end’ nighclub you will find in Skopje. A hip young crowd dancing to local folk and other types of Balkan music.

Kapan Han Club: (Bazar) An electro club with a nice location inside the bazar, not to everyone’s taste but a great option especially in summer when the club’s setting is improved by a cozy patio.

Urban Jungle: A large hidden bar which mostly consists of a vegetated outside area and attracts a young, trendy crowd.

Avenue Club

Final tips: I would not recommend Skopje or Macedonia to first time Balkan visitors. There are many other cities in this region that have more sights to offer to tourists and better infrastructure. If you however want to go to an unknown city which won’t make page 1 of Lonely Planet’s top places anytime soon, Skopje is the ideal destination and as I previously mentioned, you will be pleasantly surprised.

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