A guide to Skopje: The modern, quirky & politically charged Macedonia capital with hidden history!

On the surface of it Skopje can just appear to be a quirky modern city with not much to see past the crazy new statues and architecture that dominate the centre. But scratch the surface on the Macedonia capital and it has so many stories from modern to ancient history to tell. We ended up spending much longer here than we ever imagined we would and fell in love with a city many never really see. Here’s a guide to this weird and wonderful place!

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See the more of the controversial statues, buildings and ornaments such as the “triumphal arch”

if you found the “Warrior on horse” statue interesting then you have much more to discover! The city has undergone controversial redevelopment named “Skopje 2014” in which the city has been filled with kitsch statues, pre-packed renaissance architecture and meaningless ornaments and decorations. The best place to take them in is from the main bridge that crosses the river just south of the main square. Then of course there is the now multi coloured “triumphal arch” which despite attempting to look hundreds of years old, was only built in 2011 and has a somewhat plasticy appearance!

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See the giant “Warrior on horse” statue and the main square which make this unique city stand out

One of the most controversial and striking recent additions is the “warrior on horse” statue that is supposed to represent Alexander the Great…but they can’t call it that because of the age old argument with Greece over the countries name! This enormous statue and the square that it sits in is a representation of all the problems in Macedonia at the moment, and yet it is also a magnificently strange sight to see! This imposing statue that set the state back millions of Euros is interesting both due to the sheer size of the thing and also the political background to it.

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Attend a protest!

As you may have gathered from this post so far, Macedonia and Skopje in particular is rather politically charged at the moment. Corruption within the government is rife, the building of the crazy and unnecessary statues, fancy buildings and strange decorations for the city is in a large part a money laundering activity for the mafia! Add to this the fact that the prime minister himself pardoned 50 high profile politicians and officials of corruption charges without trial you get the sense of the unrest in the city. But fear not, the people of the city have got together to peacefully protest each night in what has been termed the “Colourful revolution”. Each night thousands march through the streets and pelt these buildings and statues with paint bombs in show of their distain!

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Read more about the protests here: We protested the Macedonian government as part of the “Colourful Revolution”

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Explore the old Ottoman area of the city & Get lost in the bazaar!

Despite initial appearances of a modern city trying to cling onto some form of history, Skopje does have some amazing and authentic stories to tell. Cross over the river away from the statues and new buildings and you will be transported back in time to the Ottoman era of Macedonia.

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The narrow cobbled streets, white washed buildings and characteristic minarets of the many Mosques around this area feel a million miles away from the confused identity of the city centre. One of the most interesting places in this area to explore is the large markets, here you will find local life in full flow, fresh fruit, veg, spices and a whole host of random electronics! Just see if you can find your way back out!

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See the hidden past of Skopje at the half buried church

On the outskirts of the Ottoman area of the city is a building that has a rather unassuming and bland exterior appearance. The low walls of The Sveti Spas Church are a result of the building being built partially underground as a result of the Ottoman rule of the 17th century. In that period all churches had to be lower than the mosques of the area. As a result this beautiful and highly decorative wooden and stone church is one of the most unique sights within the city. Head inside the main building to see the impressively carved nave and stunningly painted ceiling! 

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Step back in time as you cross the stone bridge

Crossing the Vardar river the Stone Bridge is one of the oldest items left in the centre of the city and is a symbol of the city appearing on both the coat of arms and the cities flag. The bridge was built between 1451 and 1469 by Sultan Mehmed II and has survived, often miraculously, many of the cities major historical events. It was damaged but repaired during the 1555 earthquake and in 1944 narrowly avoided being blown up by the nazis after bombs places on the span were deactivated after liberation. 

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Explore the islamic side to the city inside the beautiful old Mosque

One of the highlights of the city is the beautiful Mustafa Pasha Mosque, constructed in 1492 the building is in almost its original condition after all those years. The mosque is also a symbol of the multicultural nature of Macedonia and Skopje, in combination with the new side of the city, the numerous churches and the old bazaar it represents the diversity and range of things to see and experience in the city. The Mosque is also open for visitors, just make sure you remove your shoes and wait until prayers are over, the rules are otherwise quite relaxed. Visitors are welcome to stroll around the large and highly decorative interior as well as the peaceful rose gardens which surround the mosque.

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Head out of the city for an outdoor adventure at Matka canyon

If the city is getting a little too much for you and you crave some outdoor fun then head out to Matka. The canyon is only an hour from the city centre and offers several adventures! There is the huge lake, created by the man made dam, it winds its way through the high walls of the stunning canyon. You can rent a kayak or Stand Up Paddle board at the dock and explore its length at your leisure, or you can take one of the ferries for a tour!

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There is also the impressive Vrelo Cave which is only accessible from the water, this stunning cave is said to include one of the deepest underwater cave systems in the world, but thankful there are areas above water to explore!! Around the canyon there is also great climbing and hikes to be had! Take one of the number 60 red buses out to the canyon from the main bus station.

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Where to stay:

If you are heading to Skopje then there is only one place to stay: Hi Skopje! We had the most amazing time here with the staff who really treated us like family. The converted home really retains that homely feeling with a huge garden and even a freindly resident dog! After 4 months in Europe Hi Skopje has to be one of the best hostels we have stayed in. We had some great chats with the staff too and learnt so much about Macedonia, we also went out with the owner one night!

Read more here:

A home away from home.

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Getting around the city:

Skopje isn’t a huge city, the main bus and train station like many cities in the area is a little bit of a walk away from the centre but is easily walkable if it is a nice day. The city can be seen on foot easily but there are buses you can take to places such as Matka (number 60).

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Have you ever visited this weird and wonderful city?

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See more from this county:

MACEDONIA

See more from our long term travels:

UK TO NZ

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.
  • carmel

    The protest looks crazy. A beautiful city, love the spices photo

  • Lisa

    And with all that’s going on people continue life.Love the markets and stores. Would still love to visit the old sections and learn the histories of each area. The cave looks pretty cool!

    • Yeah, they are going through so much but are still lovely people. The markets are a great place to buy fresh food. Love all the different parts of the city.

  • Honestly, I had never heard of Skopje until this post! Thank you so much for sharing! Happy travels 🙂

    • It isn’t the most well known European capital that’s for sure but that is what makes it so interesting too! Thanks!