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Greetings Internet Stranger! You are certainly an adventurous world traveler if you are looking to spend a perfect 24 hours finding the best things to do in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. Unless you are from this part of the world, or you have seen the first season of Elementary, you probably know little about this young country. But a intrepid explorer like you must be dying to learn.
That’s where I come in! In this tour of the best things to do in Skopje, I’m going to teach you all about delicious Macedonian food, Mother Teresa, controversial monuments, and how Moriarty almost made a killing manipulating North Macedonian currency. Just follow me!
Best Things to Do in Skopje
Where to Stay
Skopje is not a huge city but the main square is really fun to walk around at night, so you’ll want to stay in a centrally located hotel. I recommend the Hotel Cara 1928. It’s clean, comfy, and very centrally located. Plus there was a tasty, ginormous breakfast included for free at the restaurant next door every morning. For some reason, I forgot to take a photo of my hotel room, but you can see the real and spectacular brekkie pictured above.
If you’re in the mood for something else, and you’d rather explore great deals on over 800 other hotels in Skopje, click here!
Best Things to Do in Skopje
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today on our exploration of the best things to do in Skopje. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Skopje is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
Best Things to Do in Skopje
Morning: Archaeological Museum of Macedonia
North Macedonia has not existed for a very long time as an official country. In fact, it’s so new that people can’t even really agree on what to call the country. Most locals I met refer to the country as Macedonia, but its official name is North Macedonia because of a vicious dispute with Greece. (This dispute featured heavily in Moriarty’s plan to profit off of some complicated scheme involving Macedonian currency.)
But people have been living in this region for thousands of years, so there’s tons to see at the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia. It’s just a short walk from our hotel, and it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Skopje, so let’s head over right away for…
Three Fun Facts: Archaeological Museum of Macedonia
1) Just How Old is North Macedonia?
Such a complicated question! This region was just one small part of the Macedonian empire back in the 4th century BC. Then the region, like pretty much every other region in Europe, was conquered by the Romans, which made it part of the Roman Empire. If you’re interested in Roman history, you’ll enjoy the reconstructed Roman mosaics and the creepy Roman wax figure lurking in the background.
The most famous Macedonian of ancient times was Alexander the Great! North Macedonian politicians like to claim him as the founder of the country…except the North Macedonians are mostly Slavs and Alexander the Great was definitely not Slavs. So Greece gets mad when North Macedonia tries to do this because they say Alexander the Great is there’s. But they can’t stop North Macedonia from featuring this replica of Alexander the Great’s sarcophagus in their archaeological museum!
I feel like this is one of those conflicts that no one is really winning, except for Holmes and Watson because they stopped Moriarty from making a fortune by manipulating North Macedonian currency.
2) What About After Rome?
Like most of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, North Macedonia was absorbed by the Byzantine Empire. This means lots of pretty religious art, elaborate gold jewelry, and creepy wax figures.
In more recent times, North Macedonia bounced back and forth between Bulgaria and Serbia before becoming part of Yugoslavia after World War II. After the death of Communism in Eastern Europe, North Macedonia was able to leave Yugoslavia without much of a fight. I don’t know exactly what it says about North Macedonia that Serbia was willing to let it go relatively peacefully, unlike Croatia or Bosnia. But these artifacts above are from a joint archaeological project between North Macedonia, Serbia, and Bulgaria, so they must be getting along relatively well for the Balkans.
3) Any Other Tips?
Yes! Bring small bills because when I visited they didn’t take credit cards and there’s no guarantee it will be easy to get change. Also you can’t bring bags into the museum, so you’ll have to check them. Checking bags at museums makes me nervous, so I suggest just bringing a clutch or wallet so you can carry it with you. You can always run back to your hotel and get anything else you need after the museum.
Also, they let this guy bring his giant hat into the museum and they wouldn’t let me bring mine, which I think is very unfair. If you think it’s unfair too, please complain on social media using the hashtag #letstellajanewearagianthatinthearchaeologicalmuseumofmacedonia.
Best Things to Do in Skopje
Afternoon: Food Tour
My absolute favorite thing to do in any city is try a food tour. You get to eat way more tasty food than you would on your own, plus you have access to a local guide who will teach you tons of fun facts. Skopje is fairly new on the tourism scene, so I was pleasantly surprised that they had a very fun Skopje Food by Foot tour running the afternoon I was in town.
I strongly suggest taking it, as it is one of the very best culinary bangs for the buck that I have ever experienced. That definitely makes it one of the best things to do in Skopje. I can’t feed you through your computer, but I’d be more than happy to share with you…
Approximately Top 5: Skopje Food
1) Borek and Yogurt
Macedonia was once part of the Ottoman Empire, and you can really see the Turkish influence on the food. That’s why our first stop was for borek, a flaky Turkish pie you can find all over the Balkans. (My father’s family is from Romania where this dish is also popular, but I’ve always heard it called placinta.) Some countries are more partial to meat boreks, but this one was filled with a delicious savory cheese filling. The salty yogurt drink was a little more unusual, but I liked it. And it must be amazing for your digestive system.
Each snack stop came with a bit of history stop as well. Here we have the Mother Teresa museum. Did you know she was born in Skopje? Well, now you do! Her house doesn’t exist anymore, so the museum is in the church where she was baptized. We weren’t able to go inside on the tour, but I suggest you pay it a visit after the tour is over.
2) CHEESE PLEASE!
Next my guide, whom I shall call Olympias, took me to a very local market. No one here seemed to speak English, so I would never have been able to visit this market on my own, as my Macedonian is quite losho. We snacked on some local cow and sheep cheeses while Olympias explained to me that Macedonia used to be a middle-class country when it was still part of Yugoslavia. But now it has fallen on harder times financially. The country hopes things will improve when they are able to join the European Union or when Moriarty finally manages to profit from manipulating Macedonian currency and shares her ill-gotten gains with the country.
Nearby was this fine patriotic statue. Olympias explained that he used to be naked, but some locals objected, so they made him a little diaper. Won’t somebody please think of the Macedonian children?
3) Rakia and Peppers
Rakia is undoubtedly the Beverage of the Balkans. I suggest drinking some in every Balkan country and then causing Major Controversy by announcing which country does rakia the best. Rakia is a fruit brandy, so you can make it with any kind of fruit except probably tomatoes and cucumbers. But don’t worry if you don’t have a sweet tooth. It’s not a sweet drink at all.
Of course day drinking without eating is usually not the wisest decision. So we accompanied our rakia with bread topped with eggs and pepper, salami, and cheese with ajvar, an extremely scrummy pepper spread. Ajvar is also popular in neighboring countries like Bulgaria and Serbia, so keep an eye out for it!
4) Not a Donut
This is not a donut even if it looks like one. There is a sign outside this place saying Turkska Baklava Angela Merkel, so I was hoping these donuts were made by the most powerful woman in the world, but apparently not. They are very dense and sticky, so be sure to take as many napkins as you need unless you want to be covered in sugar syrup all afternoon.
Olympias and I had a high old time munching these Not Donuts as we wandered around Skopje’s open air market. She told me that aside from Sarajevo this is the last open air market left in the former Ottoman Empire, so it’s historic as well as affordable and delicious. Plus I’ve been to the open air market in Sarajevo and this one is less jam-packed with tourists.
I’m from New York City, so there’s nothing like sipping on a craft beer to make me feel like I’m right back home in Williamsburg. And the craft beer scene has really taken off in Skopje, according to Olympias. But I liked drinking my beer even better in Macedonia than I do back home because as far as I can tell, Macedonia has no hipsters.
In case you thought I was joking about this tour having an amazing bang for the buck, I promise I was NOT. We washed down the beer with some homemade sausages, warm beans, and a Macedonian tomato/cucumber/cheese salad. It was summer time and all the tomatoes I ate in Macedonia were as plump and satisfying as Baby Mother Teresa.
Best Things to Do in Skopje
Evening: Admire the Night Lights
Unless you have a magic stomach, I will be surprised if you can eat dinner after that massive food tour. So instead, walk off some of those cheese calories while you explore Skopje’s impressive monuments. There’s a reason that people call Skopje “The Las Vegas of the Balkans” or “Macedonian Disney World”. I’m not sure if those people meant those names to be compliments, but I love Vegas, Disney, and Skopje, so I think that sounds awesome!
These monuments are a little controversial because the government spent a massive amount of money on them and some locals feel they should have spent the money on making sure the hospitals were functioning. They even spent millions of euros trying to plant palm trees along the river but they all died because North Macedonia doesn’t have the right climate.
Don’t miss the most famous monument in Skopje, the Warrior on a Horse statue. Of course, it’s really meant to be a statue of Alexander the Great, but North Macedonia isn’t allowed to call it that officially because of a dispute with Greece. Since Greece has the power to prevent North Macedonia from joining the EU, they pretty much get to call the shots when it comes to things like naming statues, the country, etc…
It’s just this animosity between Greece and North Macedonia that led to Moriarty almost making a jillion dollars in pure profit from betting on Macedonia’s EU status. And now that you’ve read this blog post, you probably can do the same. Don’t say I never taught you anything!
That’s the Best Things to Do in Skopje!
What do you think are the best things to do in Skopje? Do you think we should call that statue Warrior on a Horse, Alexander the Great, or perhaps Walt Disney? And are you ready to become a super-villain like Moriarty and rule Skopje with a fist of iron? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours with the best things to do in Skopje.