Skopje, Macedonia- Gateway to the Balkans
Skopje, Macedonia is a great starting point for any Balkans itinerary. Flights from big European cities are fairly easy to find and hotels are inexpensive. Skopje is big enough to have sights and tourists while avoiding the crush of overtourism found in so many other European cities, particularly in the summer.
The Old Bazaar section of Skopje is the best place to stay. Small restaurants and shops line the winding pedestrian streets with significant Ottoman influence. Today it feels a lot like being in Turkey.
Hotel Arka is the nicest hotel in this area and set me back $74 US for executive room with an upgraded view. The view was amazing!
I only spent one night in Hotel Arka and then moved to a cheaper place to meet my group tour on the main side of the river, not too far from the hustle and bustle of Skopje.
On my first night in Skopje I tried to wander a bit and get my bearings but Mother Nature had other plans. That night, hiding in my hotel room from the thunderstorms, I signed up for Skopje Food by Foot food tour for the following day. This turned out to be the best decision. It was a great combination of a food and history tour.
My favorite museum was the Archeological Museum of Macedonia. Opened in 2014, this museum is picturesque on the outside and was just as interesting on the inside.
The group that I was with was able to get a full museum tour from the main archeologist of the entire museum. While that may seem boring to some, he moved quickly (which was awesome, he was never droning on about one thing) and had great stories for some of the things we viewed. Two thumbs up for having a great museum guide!
Most of the statues, buildings, and bridges are new. The 1963 earthquake destroyed most everything and the breaking up of Yugoslavia in the 90s did not help.
Skopje is the birthplace and childhood home of Mother Teresa, who is actually of Albanian heritage. After she left Skopje at 18 years old to become a nun, Ireland and then India became her home. But Macedonia (and Albania) devote churches and monuments in her honor.
The Memorial House of Mother Teresa is a church on the top floor and a museum to Mother Teresa on the 2nd floor. It is free and worth exploring for a half hour. It is a beautiful structure.
My favorite afternoon activity in Skopje was to get a local beer and sit outside in the sun. While I was visiting in May, there were some wonderful springtime temperatures. Skopsko beer was my favorite of the Balkan beers. It is an easy drinking and not hoppy brew. Skopsko Tenmo is the dark version which was also tasty.
Most people seems to partake in this afternoon activity of finding a seat and getting a coffee or beer with friends. Since I did the first part of this trip solo, I made some cat friends instead. The man next to me and I were both feeding them our uneaten kebab meat so they loved us.
Cats are well cared for in the Balkans-keeping the vermin at bay naturally.
I had a great time in Skopje and spent 2 full days exploring Skopje itself and used it as a base to explore both Prizren, Kosovo and Matka Canyon on daytrips.
While Skopje may not be on your radar, if you end up doing a Balkans tour while in Europe, Skopje, Macedonia is a great place to use as a base for a few days. It is a great city with pretty sights, few crowds, good food, easy to navigate, good walkability, and nice people.
More from Macedonia coming up soon!