Skopje is the interesting capital of the Republic of Macedonia (officially the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’/FYROM, due to a dispute with Greece over the history of this region and its name).
The city (and the country) is divided by the two biggest communities, arab (albanians and turks) and orthodox (macedonians and serbs).
You will admire Byzantine churches and monasteries, ancient Roman sites and Ottomans mosques. The 26th of July 1963 an earthquake destroyed 75% of the buildings in the city. As a result you will see many new buildings and statues in the city centre.
Below you can find my budget tips for a nice visit:
1- Visit the Old bazar
The old bazar is the heart of the city and its real symbol, with many small shops, narrow streets, arabic cafè, restaurants and bar where to hang out in the night.
In the past it was covered with wine grape, so it would protect the shoppers from the sun and the rain. The old bazaar was never used for living, it always was a shopping area and contact zone of the Christian and the Muslim population as they lived in separate parts of the town.
Even though some parts of the old bazaar have been destroyed to make streets and parking lots, it still is the largest one in the Balkans and there is still a lot of atmosphere in it.
2- Spend a day at Matka canyon
It takes approx. 30/40 minutes to reach this beautiful place by public transportation (bus nr. 60). Ticket can be bought from the driver (35MKD). The bus runs every 90 minutes, therefore ask for the schedule times to not wait too long.
Matka features a lake and a dam. Climbers and hikers enjoy a variety of trails of different difficulty there. You can see a complex of medieval monasteries and remnants of a fortress remain too.
There is also a chance to rent a guided boat to explore the lake and some caves, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
The Kale Fortress stands on the highest hill in the Skopje valley and offers great views over the city. It has free entrance.
It was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian who was born in the village of Taorion near Skopje. The fortress was badly damaged in the fire in 1689 and even more during the earthquake of 1963
From the fortress you can admire Vodno Mountain a popular hiking place with marked paths leading through the woods and there are a couple of rest areas. On the top of Vodno the Millennium Cross was built to mark 2000 years of Christianity in Macedonia. It is 66 meters high and it is the highest structure in Macedonia.
4- Stay at Urban hostel.
It is a quiet and tidy hostel with nice rooms (with balcony), a front garden and a back yard.
Breakfast is included in the price and friendly staff always willing to help.
More for tourists rather than for backpackers, in my opinion, however it won’t be difficult to find good company and nice people to chat with.
It s located in a beautiful zone not far from city centre, quiet and safe.
Bars, mini markets and restaurants are at walking distance.
Seat in a cafe by the riverside near the old bridge and spend some time there, at night this area becomes a lively party zone.
There are plenty of bars in the Old Bazar too, the nightlife there recently has become very interesting (favorites places by locals are La Kaña, Damar, Rakija Bar…).
During the day and in the early evening, tea and turkish cafè are the most common drinks rather than alcohol
Nighlife is interesting too, better ask a local for updated situation. During summer the Skopje Summer Festival together with the Pivolend (beer fest) will pleasantly entertain your time.
Make sure to try the famous Macedonian foods such as burek and Shopska Salata, cevapi...
Skopje (like in the whole balkans region) offers a great mix of eastern european, ottoman and mediterranean cuisine style.
There are many local bakeries all around the city where many Macedonians have breakfast and snacks. Salty pastries, called burek (a flaky filo pie stuffed with meat, cheese or spinach) are the dominant offer and they are usually combined with plain yogurt.
Prices are very cheap and the quality of food is good.
Sofia, the bulgarian capital city, is one of the oldest cities in Europe with ruins spread across the city center. It has a unique combination of ancient remains, European and Communist-style architecture, together with many beautiful orthodox churches. The city claims to be one of the few European capitals with a very close and developed ski-resort (Vitosha mountain).
Below are listed my budget tips:
Where to sleep? Hostel Mostel is my favorite option, friendly staff, international environment, nice and tidy rooms, breakfast and dinner included in the price, good location.
The big common area is ideal to meet other backpackers and travellers. Every night a pub crawl is organized, free of charged, you pay what you drink, no rip-off and fake tour.
Enjoy the free walking tour of the city, is free, only small tips are welcome at the end of the tour.
Starting point is at the corner of the Palace of Justice, everyday at 11.
You will be driven through 6000 years of history by passionate young guides.
Funny thing when I was there a turkish tv chanel was filming the tour.
Bulgarian food is available in many restaurants at very convenient prices. Try tarator, a cold soup made of yogurt and cucumber and salads (Shopska is one of the most famous salad in the balkans, made from tomatoes, cucumbers, onion/scallions, raw or roasted peppers, white brine cheese and parsley). Avoid tourist traps in the centre. Usually when the menu is in english is not a good sign…You can get tasty and very cheap bulgarian fast food in bakeries, offering banitsa and other kinds of pastry. This food is often consumed with ayran or boza, drinks that contain yogurt. Another possibility is to get a katma, which is a big pancake filled with cheese, ham, jelly or chocolate.
In the city alone there are 7 independent mineral water springs.
One of the springs is in the central area of the city and is accessible for everybody, nearby the intersection of Iskar and Ekzarh Yosif streets, where the biggest mosquee is
Join the Balkan Bites Food Tours, a free food taste tour ( 100% vegetarian!) in some of the more interesting and trendy family owned restaurants that Sofia has to offer and enjoy some traditional Bulgarian cuisine, while hearing about the some of the history and customs that helped make them become staple foods in Bulgaria, by our trained guides. The tour itself is a walking tour that starts at 2pm everyday (excluding national holidays) at Park Crystal in front of the big head statue of Stefan Stambolov. The duration is about 2 hours and the food that is presented to the participants is free of charge.
What to visit? Ivan Vazov National Theatre; St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral; Orthodox churches; down town. You can visit the city and do things like a local would do, thanks to this project.
Guess my next destination… 🙂
Fast photo-post regarding my few days spent in Novi Sad – Serbia.
Novi Sad is the capital of Vojvodina, the northern Autonomous Province of Serbia.
The city is situated on the Danube River between Budapest and Belgrade. One of the symbol of Novi Sad is the fortress of Petrovaradin on the right bank of the Danube. A fortress that no enemy has ever taken.
From Budapest, by train, buy the special train ticket for Belgrade for 15 Euro (intead of 22Euro for Novi Sad, which is closer to Budapest…).
Picture below, Subotica, first serbian station after the border
Stay at Sova Hostel, is a nice apartment in the city centre, owners (Mike and his beautiful wife) are lovely and very hospitable. You will be welcomed with a shot of Rakia, local brandy. Your balkan experience can now start! 🙂 Beds are comfy and big
Take a stroll until the fortress, on the right bank of the Danube and enjoy the view from up there
Nightlife and fun? Walk around street Zmaj Jovina, around Njegoševa and Grčkoškolska streets
Eat a delicious burek/pita at Koliba, one of the best I have ever had in the balkans!