Most folks that have toured Europe in the past have likely ever heard of Skopje, which is the capital city of Macedonia.
Perhaps they ought to learn more about this Balkan city, as not only is it a culturally rich and rapidly modernizing city in the midst of one of Europe’s most affordable regions, but it was also the cradle from which Alexander the Great was raised before imprinting his name on the history books for all time with his imperialistic exploits.
Those that come here will find much to like about this hidden gem, and will learn much about this tiny former Yugoslav republic before setting out to explore the countryside.
Start your tour of Skopje by trolling around the Old Bazaar, which is still the largest of its kind in the Balkans despite modern “progress” chipping away at its former grandeur. Boasting a mix of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture from varying eras, and a number of mosques, galleries and museums in addition to the shop stalls that exist today, spending an entire afternoon in this part of Skopje is not an unrealistic prospect.
Another place where many points of interest can be found in Skopje is at Macedonia Square. Biggest the largest public square in the city by far at 18,500 square meters, there is a large amount of territory to cover over at least a couple hours of exploration.
The central focal point here is an impressive fountain, atop which sits a statue of Alexander the Great, who was born and raised here before going on to conquer much of the known world back in the 3rd century BCE.
A number of other statues and monuments can be found throughout this space, and with theatres and museums devoted to the city’s growth and Mother Teresa, you will find yourself spending more time here than you anticipated.
Those looking to take in religious landmarks while in Skopje will want to visit the Church of St. Panteleimon, which dates back to an era when the Byzantine’s still controlled this part of the Balkans. With its aged bricks surviving numerous earthquakes and wars over its 850 year old life, the frescoes within, which depict Mary mourning the death of her son Jesus after his crucifixion, will appear all the more impressive.
One of the more enduring symbols of Skopje is none other than the Stone Bridge, which has spanned the Vardar River since the 6th century AD. The current bridge was rebuilt after crumbling in an earthquake in the 15th century, and it survived an attempted booby trapping with explosives by retreating Nazis in the Second World War.
With no less than thirteen arches over its 214 metre length and stonework that is over 1,500 years old, walking across this timeless piece of infrastructure will engender respect within you for generations that passed on eons ago.
A number of Skopje’s best attractions lie just outside of its city limits, as the nature that encircles it will beckon you throughout your stay here. Lake Matka is one of those draws, as it is hemmed in by a dam and by sheer canyon walls that will make you want to linger all afternoon, especially if the weather is great.
There are boat tours available that will take you into the cave systems along the length of the lake, and if you are active, there are opportunities to rent a canoe or a kayak and pilot yourself along this magnificent body of water.
If you are after a dramatic view of the city of Skopje, then heading up the Mountain of Vodno is the best way to accomplish this goal. Those that are athletic can climb it from its base, launch off its face on paragliding flights, and bike its many trails.
Those just looking to drink up its natural surroundings without breaking much of a sweat can ride a cable car from the bottom and snap photos of the city below, the waterfall Prskalo and the Millennium Cross in a manner of a few hours.