A late-spring road trip through Macedonia

Over the past few years, the Western Balkans has been cementing its reputation as one of the most up-and-coming areas of Europe. With rich history and beautiful scenery, as well as affordable prices, it’s not surprising that tourists have been flocking to the region.

Macedonia is one of the easiest Balkan countries to travel around by car, thanks to its highway system connecting the best sight-seeing spots. It’s safe to say that there’s no better time to embark on a road trip here than in late spring.

All image credits: Larissa Olenicoff

The glorious mountains are still snow-capped, its plants are in full bloom, and the temperature is warm enough to enjoy Macedonia’s outdoor splendour and some of its most beautiful towns.

You could spend weeks road tripping all over Macedonia. For those pressed for time, however, here’s an easy journey itinerary that packs in the top spots.

Getting to know the capital

Skopje, the country’s much talked about “Capital of Kitsch” is the best place to start and a springboard for exploring the rest of the country.

The city has recently undergone an impressive, yet quirky, modernisation in a bid to attract a new generation of tourists. The renovation incorporates faux neoclassical façades, statues, and fountains – 99% of which have appeared over the last decade.

Although you can squeeze the main sights into a day, take two to really get a feel for this vibrant city. Skopje has the largest functioning bazaar in the Balkans as well as the historic Kale Fortress overlooking the Vardar River. There are also various sites and museums to explore. The Memorial House of Mother Theresa and the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle are not to be missed!

Macedonia’s capital, Skopje

Winding through wild scenery

If you have some extra time to spend in the surrounding area, the stunning Matka Canyon is just a twenty minute drive from Skopje city centre – but a world away in terms of scenery. You could also head up to Mount Vodno and take a cable car up to the 66-metre-tall Millennium Cross.

Heading west, the E-65 from Skopje takes you along a picturesque route towards the stunning lakeside town of Ohrid.

Stop off for a coffee in the city of Tetovo and admire its impressive Painted Mosque (Šarena Džamija) or shop from one of the roadside vendors selling homemade honey and jams.

As you wind your way further down the road, you’ll come across the gorgeous Mavrovo National Park and the cities of Gostivar and Kichevo.

Painted Mosque in Tetovo

Exploring Macedonia’s natural beauty

Ohrid is a stunningly beautiful town, sitting on the magnificent Lake Ohrid at the foot of the Galičica National Park. The town itself is charming and steeped in rich history ripe for exploration. Through its meandering cobblestone alleys you can discover the town’s ancient amphitheatre, the towering Samuel Fortress, the Plaošnik archaeological site, and the iconic Church of St. John at Kaneo.

Lake Orhid

However, the real star is Lake Ohrid itself. One of Europe’s deepest lakes, you can hire a boat to explore it from the surface or simply drive around and admire the amazing views.

For some interesting excursions close to Ohrid, drive south along the lake to discover the Bay of Bones (an archaeological museum on water), the quaint lakeside village of Trpejca or the Orthodox Monastery of St. Naum.

Heading through the Galicica Pass on the last stretch of this road trip is another one of Macedonia’s most beautiful drives. Stop at the top of the pass for some jaw-dropping views of Ohrid. The journey continues via the town of Oteševo by Lake Prespa – another beautiful body of water that also lies across Albania and Greece.

Bay of Bones

Driving through ancient history

Bitola is Macedonia’s second largest city and although it’s not as well-known, it has just as much to offer as Skopje and Ohrid. Historically, it served as a main trade and administrative centre for the Ottoman Empire and at one time had around 20 international consulates.

The City of the Consuls really comes alive at night. The Heraclea Lyncestis ruins, dating back to the 4th century B.C., and charming Ottoman-era architecture combine with the old bazaar to create a wonderful atmosphere. Every resident seemingly appears as the sun sets, coming out to stroll along Širok Sokak – the main pedestrian artery that runs through the centre of town – soaking up the evening air.

Bitola

Macedonia is relatively unknown on the typical tourist trail of Europe. However, with wild scenery, a rich history, and eccentric regeneration happening in its capital, it’s certainly a country worth getting to know first-hand. With areas of natural beauty running through the country, taking a car along its epic roads will help you experience the very best of this wonderful country.

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