Located in the heart of the Balkans and with close proximity to nature getaways, the capital of North Macedonia (Skopje in Macedonian; Shkup in Albanian; Üsküp in Turkish) is multi-layered yet fascinating city to visit. We recommend that you spend at least a long weekend break in Skopje, especially in spring or summer. That way, you will get to see the sights and do things as described below.
1. Cross one of the oldest bridges in Europe
When in Skopje, one should definitely see and cross the Stone Bridge on the Vardar River, the longest river in North Macedonia. The bridge (Kamen most in Macedonian; Ura e gurit in Albanian) was built in the 15th century on top of Roman foundations under the patronage of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror. The bridge connects not only two parts of Skopje, but North Macedonia’s two ages as well, transforming the city like a portal to another world. If you want to learn more about old bridges in the Balkans.
2. Go back in time at the Old Bazaar
Situated on the eastern bank of the Vardar River, the Old Bazaar is one of the oldest living witnesses of history of North Macedonia and the Balkans. Ottoman architecture is predominant. Every corner here, tells its own story. In Ottoman times, this place reached its urban and economic zenith, developing into one of the largest and most significant commercial centers in southeast Europe. Many of the old buildings here, such as Ottoman-era hans and hammams, to name a few, are transformed into museums and galleries and places for hosting art exhibitions and important cultural events.
3. When at the Old Bazaar, eat and drink like locals do
The Old Bazaar is filled with coffeeshops and teahouses, which are considered the heartbeat of Skopje, overflown with Skopjans of all ages enjoying local traditional coffee or tea. Just sit in one of the traditional cafes or teahouses of the Old Bazaar, and hear the call to prayers from the Ottoman-era mosques ringing out over the clang of metalsmiths crafting copper housewares while slowly savouring the local brew.
4. Have a vantage point from the Fortress
The Fortress (Kale in Macedonian; Kalaja in Albanian) is situated on the highest point in Skopje overlooking the Vardar River and the Old Bazaar. The first fortress is believed to have been built amidst the 6th century, which asserts the idea that it originated from the ancient settlement of Scupi. The Fortress is thought to have been reconstructed during the rule of Justinian I and constructed further during the medieval period due to a number of sieges. The Fortress was partially destroyed yet again, this time by an earthquake in 1963.
5. Walk in the city’s main square
The city’s main square, the Macedonia Square, radiates with statuary and monuments all erected as part of a project called “Skopje 2014”, financed by the then-Macedonian government, with the purpose of giving the city a more classical appeal. The statue you will come across that is hard to miss is the gigantic ‘Warrior on a Horse’, although everyone knows it is Alexander the Great.
A structure of monumental symbolic importance you will come across on Macedonia Square is the Ristiḱ Palace, which was built in 1926 and is currently used as an office block. The building is one of the few large structures in the city from that period that survived the 1963 earthquake.