Skopje, the capital of the Republic of North Macedonia, is not your most average destination. It is hard to pinpoint what the top things to do in Skopje are. This city has an identity crisis and as a result, you find bits and pieces of everything. I cannot say it is a beautiful place, but I also cannot say it is ugly. Unique and kitsch are the best words to describe Skopje. The capital is often referred to as a Disneyland-like theme park. For tourists kind of fun to explore, for the local people not so much. In this blog post, I am sharing the best things to do in Skopje.
Statue capital number 1
Skopje is famous for its rich collection of statues. Even the citizens are probably not able to tell you how many statues you can find in Skopje. They were constructed during the redevelopment project ‘Skopje 2014’. A crazy expensive project that aimed to redevelop the city into an attractive tourist destination. The Republic of North Macedonia has a grand history and the city was supposed to be a reflection of this. Consequently, Skopje got a complete make-over. Following the project’s name, the redevelopment should have been finished in 2014. However, when I visited the city (2018) it was still under construction.
Has the project resulted in an increase in tourists? Well, the city is definitely attracting more tourists, but they come to the city for a different reason. Not to admire the beauty of Skopje, but to see the bizarre amount of statues of Skopje.
Look for the great warrior
Personally, I thought that the statue hunt is one of the top things to do in Skopje. The most interesting one is the statue in the middle of Macedonian Square, the central square of Skopje. This is Alexander the Great, but you cannot use this name due to the Greece-Macedonia conflict. Greece says that Alexander is Greek and North Macedonia says he is Macedonian. And that is why the statue has been given a neutral name: the Great Warrior. In general, I found all statues interesting to see, but at the same time, it was sad to think that all this money could also have been spent on more useful things for the city.
- Check out this walking tour for Alexander the Great’s statue and 28 more statues of local artists and musicians.
The most beautiful place in Skopje: Old Bazaar
Not all the things you can do in Skopje are bizarre or weird, the city also has some beautiful side. Cross the Stone Bridge and head over to the beautiful Old Bazaar of Skopje. Under the Ottoman rule, this was the most important area of the city and it was the center of trade. Due to earthquakes and wars, the bazaar was damaged several times, but every time it was rebuilt. Personally, I felt that the Bazaar has a pretty authentic feeling. It reminded me of the old center of Sarajevo, one of my favorite Balkan cities. And this thought is actually not that strange, because the Old Bazaar of Skopje is together with the bazaar in Sarajevo one of the largest bazaars in the Balkan.
- Looking for a guided tour in Skopje? Join this 4-hour walking tour and learn more about the city from a local.
Walking along the old city walls: Fort Kale
Another beautiful part of Skopje is the old fort. High up on the city hills you can visit the remnants of Kale, the former fortress of Skopje. It was built in the sixth century by the Byzantine Empire. Today, there is sadly not much left, except for the defensive walls and the watchtowers. But the walls do give you an awesome view of the city center.
How to get here: walk all the way to the end of the Old Bazar and go uphill to the Mustafa Pasha mosque. On the left side is the entrance to the fort. The entrance is free.
Skopje not only has weird statues, but it also has weird buildings. This city is known for its brutalist buildings. Brutalism is an architectural style characterized by large concrete shapes and block patrons. It all started with an earthquake in 1963. Skopje had to be completely rebuilt. The UN decided to help and created a fund to redesign Skopje. Japanese architect Kenzo Tenge was chosen as the chief architect to oversee the project. He introduced the brutalist construction style. This style became popular and spread around the entire Balkan. Is it beautiful? Well no, it is unique and striking which is why it fits with the quirky look of Skopje.
- Want to see all the brutalist masterpieces in Skopje? Join this ‘brut tour’ on bicycles.
More things to do in Skopje
- Take a walk in the coolest area of Skopje: Debar Maalo. This is the popular spot among locals and it is within walking distance from the city center.
- Pay attention to the artistic electrical boxes, they are often brightly painted. I saw some nice works at Boulevard Linden, the road in front of the government building of Skopje (‘White House of Skopje’).
- Vegetarian and vegans: grab a bite at BistRaw Zdravo Zivo. The staff was friendly and the chocolate cake was perfect. Other recommendations: Vegan 365 Kitchen, Harmony, and Vega Fresh.
- Do you still have time left? Go up the Vodno mountain and admire the view from the Millenium Cross. The cross itself is a stale construction and is not that special, but the view is amazing. Or join this half-day tour to the Millenium Cross, and also visit Matka Canyon. This way you get the most out of your time in Skopje.
Where to stay in Skopje
I stayed at Hotel City Park and I really enjoyed it. Beautiful hotel, friendly staff, and good rooms. Moreover, it has a 9,4 rating on Booking.com. Another option is the Solun Hotel with a 9,2 rating on Booking.com. Click here for an overview of the hotels in Skopje.
Would you visit Skopje? What are your thoughts on this quirky city?
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