Are you looking at a map and wondering is North Macedonia worth visiting? Then this article will convince you to visit this underrated part of Europe.
When we told people we were going to North Macedonia, the most common reply we got was ‘where?’ That in itself made North Macedonia a destination worth visiting!
In my experience, lesser known destinations (particularly in Europe) means fewer crowds – something that Europe is undeniably suffering from since emerging from the pandemic.
However, North Macedonia is so off the beaten track that we couldn’t find any blog posts about visiting North Macedonia with kids, plus there is only one published guidebook dedicated to North Macedonia. When we arrived in the country, we knew very little about it.
So, what did we discover about North Macedonia and is North Macedonia worth visiting with your family?
Table of Contents
North Macedonia is affordable
Is Macedonia cheap? The short answer is yes – it is one of the most affordable countries we have visited in Europe with our kids.
We had expected prices to be lower in Macedonia than in other European countries but, on arriving in North Macedonia shortly after a trip to Turin, Italy, we were shocked how the prices compared, especially for a family.
Everything was cheaper; particularly food, public transport and activities.
Accommodation prices ranged from £50 per night to £65 per night – and all our accommodation was a step up from our usual budget hotels or apartments. Our most luxurious stay was a one bed apartment with an open plan living room and full kitchen, communal pool and a fantastic view of Lake Ohrid for just £64 per night for all five of us.
Several museums were free; if there was an entrance fee it was usually only a few Euro each so sightseeing was very cheap. We enjoyed an eight hour boat trip on Lake Ohrid for €25 each with discounts for our children.
North Macedonia landmarks
North Macedonia is not a well known destination but it has several landmarks that should be on every travellers list.
The capital Skopje is an intriguing mix of old and new, with pedestrianised streets lined with elegant 19th century buildings next to dazzling new hotels next to crumbling buildings.
Skopje is known as the ‘city of statues’ and wow, does it have a lot of them! There are statues in Skopje everywhere you look – lining bridges, on rooftops, outside shops, in parks and dominating city squares. The explosion of statues is due to the controversial ‘Skopje 2014’ project.
The city has ornate churches and mosques, interesting museums and the oldest and largest bazaar outside Istanbul. It is a fascinating and friendly city to spend a few days.
Day trips from Skopje
Venture out of the city to nearby destinations such as the beautiful Matka Canyon for walking and hiking, or take the cable car to the top of Mt. Vodno to see one of the tallest crosses in the world, the 66 metre high Millennium Cross.
Travel north to see the fourth oldest observatory in the world at Kokino or marvel at the blue mosque in Tetovo.
Ohrid is one of the most popular locations in North Macedonia. The picture perfect Ohrid old town is packed with winding cobbled lanes and 360 churches. It is an atmospheric and idyllic town to spend a few days.
Lake Ohrid is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The impossibly blue lake is one of the deepest and oldest in Europe and is home to over 200 species of fish. It is 136 square miles and over 300 metres deep.
The lake is perfect for swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding and for taking a boat trip.
Sights around the lake include the Bay of Bones and the Sveti Naum monastery. Our day trip on Lake Ohrid was the highlight of our trip for our kids.
You can also drive around the entire lake, spending a few hours in Albania along the way. We hired a private driver for one day to do this and learnt a lot about Macedonian and Albanian history and culture from our brilliant guide.
The charming historic town of Bitola was one of our favourite locations in North Macedonia. It has a laid back vibe and boasts beautiful 19th century buildings and tree lined streets.
It is also home to one of the best Roman ruins we have ever visited (and we’ve been to Rome!). Heraclea Macedonia (or to give it its proper name, Heraclea Lyncestis) dates back to the 4th century B.C.
The ruins include an amphitheatre, a street lined with houses and temples and some of the best preserved mosaics in the world. PLus, we had the entire site to ourselves during our October visit.
Prilep is the 4th largest city in North Macedonia and is a delightful place to explore for a few days. Highlights of the city include the 13th century ruin fortress, Marko’s Towers, the old bazaar and St. Michael’s Monastery.
North Macedonia National Parks
80% of the landscape in North Macedonia is mountains. It ranks 7th in the 10 most mountainous countries in the world (above Switzerland!).
This means visitors to North Macedonia have the chance to go hiking, mountain biking and camping in some of the most pristine national parks in Europe. The best – and most accessible – national parks in North Macedonia are Pelister, Mavrovo and Galičica.
North Macedonia beaches
As North Macedonia is a landlocked country, there are no expansive sandy beaches in North Macedonia. this is not the country to visit if you are looking to laze on a beach.
However, there are some rocky beaches along the enormous shoreline of Lake Ohrid and the water is exceptionally clear to swim in.
Food in North Macedonia
North Macedonian food is cheap – so much so that eating out was almost the same price as buying food and cooking for ourselves.
We could eat breakfast for €1 each and a two course dinner with drinks cost around €8 each. A pint of beer was cheaper than a can of fizzy drink. We tended to eat out for breakfast, buy picnic groceries or a delicious cheese Borek for lunch and then dine out in the evening, something we rarely due in Europe due to the cost.
Food is fresh and plentiful. There are lots of bakeries for fresh bread and cakes and grocery stores for bread and fruit. You can find pizza restaurants in most towns or opt for a more traditional dinner of Ćevapi, shopska salad and the very tasty tavce gravce.
Festivals in Macedonia
If you plan on visiting Macedonia, try to coincide your visit with a festival. Locations may be busier and prices may be higher but the atmosphere will be electric.
Taksirat Music Festival in Skopje, the Manaki Brothers Film Festival in Bitola (one of the oldest film festivals in the world) and the Ohrid Summer Festival of music, theatre and dance.
We visited Skopje on a national holiday (Day of the Macedonian Revolution) and the city was empty as everyone had left to visit relatives!
Getting to Macedonia
If you do not know much about North Macedonia you may be wondering is there a North Maceodnia airport. In fact, there are two airports in North Macedonia – Skopje Airport and Ohrid Airport. Both are served by a number of European airlines.
From the U.K, you can fly to and from Skopje Airport or Ohrid with Wizz Air. We flew on a open jaw ticket flying into Skopje and out of Ohrid.
Both airports are small (Ohrid is tiny) so don’t expect lots of airport services and facilities.
Getting around North Macedonia
Getting around North Macedonia is both easy and very cheap. We decided not to hire a car as public transport was so cheap.
Skopje is a walkable city but if little legs get tired, taxis are plentiful and cheap. Taxis in Skoje will only take four people so the few times we caught a taxi we had to take two. Taxis are on a metre but ask in advance for an estimated fare price and be aware of the route that the taxi driver is taking.
Public buses are everywhere and we found them to be reliable and running to schedule. You must buy a preloaded fare card from the central bus station in Skopje in order to tap on and tap off the buses. The buses can get crowded particularly on weekends or on tourist route such as the bus route to Matka Canyon.
Long distance buses are also cheap and are air conditioned coaches. As the roads are very winding and we have travel sickness prone kids, we kept our long distance bus rides to a minimum. However, they are a cheap way to travel around North Macedonia. Our 1.5 hour ride from Bitola to Ohrid cost just €1.50 each.
North Macedonia’s train system is almost non existent and is barely used by locals. We got quizzical looks when we asked about buying tickets. We’re not sure why this us as we found the train to be comfortable, scenic and super cheap.
The trains departed on time but as they can be hailed in isolated villages along the route, the jounrey length ran over. Our five hour journey from Skopje to Bitola cost around €5 each and treated us to spectacular scenery.
Buy your ticket in advance at the station and make sure you watch what other passengers do. As there was only one train a day we knew everyone else was there for the same train as us. However, the train arrived onto a different platform than the one we were waiting on. When everyone else moved, we followed.
Is North Macedonia safe?
We found North Macedonia to be safe but we took the usual travel precautions. This included carefully checking our accommodation before booking or sleeping, using public transport (avoiding driving risks) and sticking to busy well lit areas particularly at night. We didn’t flash cash or carry obvious valuables.
Final word – Why did we choose to visit North Macedonia?
We decided to go to North Macedonia because of our tight travel budget in 2022. I knew about the surge in prices in Europe so typed into a search engine – ‘where is the cheapest country to visit in Europe?’ North Macedonia was top of the list.
Then after discovering we could get flights from the U.K to Macedonia airports on a budget airline, I booked the flights before knowing much about the country.
I loved North Macedonia as soon as I arrived – and for someone who has visited 76 countries I can say that this does not always happen.
North Macedonia is a fascinating blend of old and new buildings and traditions, of Christian and Muslim faiths and with a proud people eager to look outwards and welcome tourists.
Everywhere we went we experienced fantastic customer service and warm hospitality. We were given free rides, food, wine and lots of helpful advice.
People were keen to talk to us and were surprised to discover we had chosen to visit Macedonia and were not there for work.
If you are wondering is North Macedonia worth visiting, I can highly recommend it. Go with an open mind – and go before the crowds of tourists discover this stunning country and descend on it in their thousands.