A Student-Approved Guide To Macedonia from a Local

For most people, Macedonia represents just a place on the map your eyes pass through to get from one big country to another. Even though it’s often overlooked, it doesn’t mean you can’t look at it at all. With the point-of-view of a native with family from all around the country, let me show you why a student-budget trip here will prove to be a genuinely unique experience, connecting you to untouched nature and a refreshing blend of cultures. In this guide to Macedonia I’ll show some places I heartily recommend:

a guide to Macedonia
The pretty wilds of my home (source: Personal archive)

As someone who’s lived all her life in this small and packed country, I can say that a trip around the entire land will not last you too long. It takes about three hours to get from one end to the other, even less if you breeze through it. But the memories will definitely last you forever.

So let’s start with the capital!

The city of Skopje has a very turbulent past. From great plagues and fires, to an earthquake in ’63 that destroyed almost the entire town. Luckily, it was visually revived by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, and you can see some otherworldly brutalist remnants of it in many buildings. Skopje also holds about half a million people, yet during the summer time it’s nearly empty since everyone goes back to their family.

Guide to Macedonia - Museum of Contemporary Art
One of the most peaceful places, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje (source: Boban Simonovski)

One fact about this city that I’m proud of is that there has always been a very active underground life in Skopje, cultivating a hub for alternative art expression and music performances. For example, the Zdravo Mladi annual music festival. Every summer this festival hosts some of the coolest underground musicians both locally and from around the world. It’s filled with many colourful visuals and friendly faces all around, as people love to hang out and talk to new faces, and especially to someone who’s not from around, so don’t be shy! The festival’s website even has information on cheap Wizzair tickets and places to stay at.

My recommended guide to Macedonia

If your style is more chill and less parties, I’d recommend an early morning walk through the Old Bazaar. Then the Kale fortress, and lastly the small summit of the museum of contemporary art. These three places are side by side, so it’s easy.  Getting there is easy as well, just follow the Vardar river. I’d recommend going everywhere on foot since it’s a relatively small distance, but bus tickets are sort of cheap. In the Bazaar you can find a mix of old Oriental style buildings. If you take your time there you’ll see small workshops, people sipping teas in intricate coloured cups, sharing a nargile, and traditional dresses and lots and lots of jewelry. The smell of food being prepared is irresistible, even to the wandering cats who are often lounging around these places. And if all else fails, there’s always the cheesy bootleg backpacks.

The bath house galleries

First thing for this guide to Macedonia: The Old Bazaar used to be the main hub for the city in the past, while now it’s a place where arts can flourish. The Daut Pasha Hamam, which used to be a bath house in the past, represents a very unique part of this old city. It was turned into one of the many alternative hangout spots in Skopje. The Hamam is an art gallery that’s usually pretty empty and super cheap to enter. It’s only 50 denars, or less than a euro. Plus you can photograph to your hearts content!

Climb the hill and visit the Museum of Contemporary Art

Gather some food and drinks in a picnic basket and head out. A soft trek up to the hill, near the medieval fortress Kale (which you can also visit for free) and right next to the Bazaar, you will find yourself listening to birds and distant city sounds rather than the noisy chit-chat of people. Just on top of that hill lies a monument of art and renewal, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Even if you aren’t in the mood to look too deeply into art installments, the hill gives a panoramic view of the river and park to rest your eyes and mind. My friends and I have had the most profound conversations there, sitting on the grass with drinks.

Then there’s the food

Maybe not the healthiest, but burek is definitely the best breakfast food around. You don’t need to look far to find a burekdžilnica that sells them. Burek can be stuffed with meat, cheese, spinach, and other greens, or of course, more bread. A student’s favourite meal!

Burek, fast-food of the Balkans (Author: Marco Vech)

If you want something on the lighter side, definitely try out ‚gevrek‘ or ‚perek‘ – they are in any bakery or moving seller’s cart (psst, those are the best).

Another dish that should be definitely tasted is the tavče gravče. It’s a baked bean dish with chilly red peppers, placed on an earthenware pot. Side by side with šopska salad and some fresh bread, this is the classic order people have during their stay here. Most food places in Macedonia aren’t too fancy, so it’s very easy to find a cheap meana (sorta like a Czech hospoda) just by asking or looking around. But if you’re ordering a glass of rakija, be warned that even though the glass is small, the drink is not.

The Bohemian Debar Maalo

After the tour of the museum on the hill, follow the Vardar river and you just might find yourself in the liveliest quarter of Macedonia. There’s a big café culture in this country, and Debar Maalo is the heart of it. If the Old Bazaar was the best place for breakfast, then Debar Maalo is the perfect lunch’n’lounge area. If you’re following my guide to Macedonia, then you’ll go through the park and river on the way, a visual refreshment from the cement that surrounds Skopje. Ending up somewhere near Debar Maalo, you will find yourself surrounded by music and life, as well as the smell of food. The place I really recommend visiting is the dessert place Apče. There you can get the sweet and bitter boza drink, plus lots of traditional sweets.

Easy to Go Green

Lastly, if you’re a vegan/vegetarian, don’t worry! As a vegan myself there’s really no struggle living here. In regards to getting the best produce, just check the Green Pazar for all of your veggie/fruit/spices needs. It’s much more affordable than buying from a supermarket, plus you get to meet and support the farmers themselves! The pazars in Skopje seriously have everything. Hair dyes, pyjamas, phone screen protectors.

Additionally, if you want some cruelty-free junkfood, check out Harmonija, Squeeze Me, and last but not least Vegan365Kitchen. As a student in Skopje, some of these places have saved my life with ones of the best tasting, affordable, treat-yourself foods.

Stay tuned!

For those who want some wild adventures: my next post will be about all of the activities and wild places you can visit in Macedonia!

Other travel tips & experiences can be found here.

– Mina ♥️