Skopje, Macedonia has a lot to offer the visitor. Nature is at the city’s doorstep. Culture in the form of brand new museums and performance venues is everywhere. The main difficulty will be in deciding how to spend your time in that city. Here is a list of my top 10 favorite spots in the city of Skopje and why I think they are worth a visit.
My Skopje Top 10
1. Museum of the City of Skopje
Some museums shut you out. They put you on the other side of a pane of glass, or behind a plush cord and command you to view from a cold distance the history, or art. Other museums draw you in. These museums might have glass and plush cords, but friendly staff, welcoming interiors that beg for exploration, and fascinating exhibits invite the visitor into the story they tell. Housed in the old railway station, the museum of the City of Skopje is a very cool, (if not completely realized) version of the latter.
When I visited the museum in September 2014, there were 3 sections: A temporary contemporary art exhibition, an exhibition of Technology through the years, and the exhibition of the devastating 1963 earthquake. The coolest of the three was also the least complete. The exhibition of technology included lots of seemingly random stuff. There were old post boxes, letters, and postcards written from Skopje – a great way to see how the central part of the city has changed through the years. There were typewriters, and telegraphs, cameras, and radios. What made it so “cool” was that the display space was an open room with a series of steel balconies and bridges stretching upwards into the rafters of the building – unfortunately only the first level was open for display, and even that felt a little bit temporary – I really hope they don’t completely abandon this very fun concept.
The display dedicated to the earthquake of 1963 and it’s aftermath was also very interesting. Along with artifacts from the earthquake, the museum displayed old photographs and film showing the devastation and the response over time. News papers and news broadcasts from all over the world covered the event and are on display. The lamest part of this exhibit was a couple of rooms recreated to look like they might have after the quake. Fake cracks painted on the temporary walls gave that particular display the feeling of the doll-house of a disturbed child.
2. Mother Teresa Memorial House
I cried as I walked through the tiny exhibition dedicated to the life of one of the most inspiring women our modern world has ever known. The mother Theresa house has a lower level that is always open, a second floor that has artifacts from her childhood and that chronicles her life, and a top floor that has offices and a small, glass chapel.
The main exhibition is open from 9:00am to 8pm Monday through Friday and 9am to 2pm on the weekends.
Memorial House Mother Teresa Website
3. Ride a Bike Along the River
Rent a bike and ride along the Vardar River. The beautifully paved river trail runs for just over 2 kilometers. Admire the architecture as it shifts from the brand new buildings in the center to the older, communist-era apartment blocks, to the mixture of new towers and smaller blocks in the suburbs.Currently there are some detours in place due to the ongoing “Skopje 2014” construction.
Bikes for All is a public bike rental program that opened during the spring, summer, and autumn of 2009. I couldn’t find any information about whether this program is still operational, but this is a link to the official website with location and pricing information
go4bike offers mountain bike rentals in both Skopje and Ohrid and offers tours and also advice on routes.
Virtual Tourist has some very general information about safety and bicycling in Skopje.
4. Take a hike
You can hike into the mountains right from town. Hiking trails in Macedonia are way-marked and very well maintained, so pack your hiking boots and get into those mountains! A few cautionary notes: be careful of bears, and respectful of wild life.
5. Museum for the History of the Macedonian Struggle
Whether you like tales of revolution and resistance, or are interested in violence and torture, or you just want to hear how Macedonia tells its own history, the Museum for the History of the Macedonian Struggle is the place for you. A guided tour through the museum of historical figures – sometimes painted, often mannequins in tableaux of significant events – chronicles the centuries long struggle for nationhood.
6. Wander the Old Bazaar
The Old Bazaar, beneath the parapets of the Kale Fortress, is a good place to find souvenirs or buy jewelry. It isn’t very large and it caters almost exclusively to tourists, but that doesn’t take away from the market’s charm.
7. See a production
The “Skopje 2014” project has led to the construction (and in many cases the reconstruction) of the city’s performance venus. A new National theater, Opera and Ballet Theater, and a new Symphony Hall are all a part of the project. Catch a performance inside one of these new venues, if you can get the chance.
Here is a link to the calendar for the National Theater. You will need to read Cyrillic as the English portion of this page is still “under construction” (as of October, 2014).
Here is a link to the official page for the Macedonian Philharmonic including big news and upcoming concerts (and their venues). This website also has information about the Opera and Ballet Theater schedule.
8. Ride a Bus
Skopje has completely replaced its once aging bus fleet with new double-decker red buses. You get a great view of town from the top of the bus, and you will get to see more of this surprisingly large city than you could by foot. There is information about the bus routes at many of the stops and on the buses as well. If you know of a website that shows bus routes, please let me know!
9. Ride the Gondola (or hike) up to the Millennium Cross
The cross is hard to miss, it is enormous and on top of a mountain (Vodno Mountain to be exact). A bus to the Gondola lift up to the cross leaves from the international bus station every half hour or so. The Gondola runs for a half hour every hour and costs 50 Dinar each way (100 for a return ticket). There is a children’s playground, some backpacker huts and a phenomenal view of the city at the top. There is also quite a lot of construction in progress at the summit so expect some noise in 2014 and 2015. For more information about this check out Yomadic.com ‘s article or Macedonia for 91 Days.
10. Find something unexpected
Skopje is the kind of town where unexpected beauty lies just around the next corner. Spend some time exploring the streets and odd neighborhoods. You might find an abandoned factory, or you might find an idyllic little park. You might just find the thing that makes you love this city as much as I do.