North Macedonia

Kratovo, North Macedonia – the Town of Stone Bridges and Towers

(Last Updated On: 31/03/2021)

I don’t remember why but ever since I started visiting the Balkans frequently, I wanted to go to Kratovo, North Macedonia – a small town in the north-east part of the country, near the border with Serbia and Bulgaria. Most likely I’ve seen a random picture somewhere online and that was enough to catch my interest.

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo seemed like a nice off-path destination in the Balkans and decent proximity to the capital makes the town one of the possible day trips from Skopje. And so during one of my trips to North Macedonia I’ve finally managed to visit Kratovo.

I must admit right away that I was slightly disappointed with Kratovo (I blame myself for that, my expectations were too high) but nonetheless I think this is one of the best places to visit in North Macedonia.

How to get to Kratovo

Kratovo is located 90 km away from Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. If you are traveling by car you can get to Kratovo in under 1,5 hours from the capital since part of the journey will be on a motorway.

Traveling by public transport is a bit more challenging but not impossible. There are a few buses per day between Skopje and Kratovo but be sure to check the connections before the departure, you can do it at the bus station in Skopje (you can also buy a ticket in advance there, also return ones).

I stayed in Kratovo a bit longer than planned only because the bus that, according to the online schedule, was supposed to run didn’t show up. The website of the Skopje bus station can give you an overview of bus schedules.

The bus station in Kratovo is located near a supermarket, a short walk away from the central part of the town. Since there is no schedule at the bus stop it’s good to ask someone about the departure times of buses to Skopje.

You can also go to Kratovo on a tour and I would actually recommend it if you want to visit more than only Kratovo. I wanted to see the surroundings too but failed with finding a taxi in Kratovo that could take to me to a nearby Kuklica (more about this site later in the article).

Here are some recommended Kratovo tours:

Kratovo Macedonia

A brief history of Kratovo

The area of Kratovo was inhabited already in Roman times but it gained importance only in the 13th century, under Serbian rule, when gold, copper, lead, silver, and iron were mined in and around the town. Not long after, in 1390, the town was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire and remained within its borders until 1912 when it was taken back by Serbia.

For some time Kratovo was one of the main mining centers of Ottoman Europe but the prosperous mines were destroyed during the 17th-century Karposh uprising against the Turkish rule and remained closed until 1805. Kratovo never regained its former glory and today it is a sleepy provincial town, part of Macedonia since 1991.

Kratovo Macedonia

What to see in Kratovo

The town might be small but there are actually plenty of things to do in Kratovo, enough for a few hours of sightseeing.

If you checked the old pictures of Kratovo and how it used to look like over a hundred years ago you will be surprised that not much has changed there. Kratovo occupies a basin surrounded by green hills at the edge of Osogovo mountains and the townscape is packed with red rooftops and medieval stone towers.

Kratovo Macedonia

And those medieval remnants are the biggest attractions of Kratovo.

In the past there were seventeen stone towers from the 12th to 14th century (the highest number of medieval towers in Macedonia), today only six remained well-preserved and they still are impressive.

They were built as defense towers in the style similar to the towers in Georgia – there were no stairs inside to make it harder to capture the object (instead ladders were used since it’s easier to pull it up and cut the way up for attackers). Afterward, when the battle style has changed, the towers were used to keep the iron ore in, they also got the stairs inside.

Of the six towers, you can see today the most impressive one is the Clock Tower, built in 1372. Inside it is divided into three floors and today hosts the Kratovo City Museum. From the terrace in the upper part, you can see the panorama of Kratovo and the surrounding. I didn’t, since the tower was closed when I visited.

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

Another distinctive attraction of Kratovo is its numerous medieval stone bridges connecting two sides of the small rivers and creeks. Today five of them still stand proudly in Kratovo, reminding about the golden past of the town. You will find bridges mostly in the central part of the town.

All the bridges are very picturesque, built from solid stones and with arches high above the river. Be sure to walk along the riverside, it’s so pretty there and you can look at the place from another perspective.

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

When wandering around Kratovo you should also see the Church of Saint John the Baptist. It got its current look in 1836 when the church was rebuilt after it burnt down during the 17th-century uprising. Many of the valuables were saved from the fire but the most impressive part of the church is the entrance with old but well visible frescoes painted on the walls – it reminded me about Rila Monastery in Bulgaria.

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

In the central part of Kratovo, you can also find the small but nicely renovated bazaar, similar to the great bazaars you can find in Skopje or Sarajevo (they all were created in the times when the region was under Ottoman rule hence the resemblance). It really is tiny but can give you an image of how Kratovo used to be in the past.

Kratovo Macedonia

I really enjoyed wandering around Kratovo, although it was a bit bitter-sweet. There were so many beautiful old houses (a bit like in Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria) and those that were renovated looked really lovely, but they were in minority. Many of the buildings were in a rather poor, heartbreaking condition.

It’s such a shame but I can understand there are more important expenses for Kratovo and its inhabitants. I just hope one day the town will be brought back to its former glory as it has a chance to be one of North Macedonia’s biggest tourist attractions that now not many visitors know about.

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

I also wanted to visit the nearby site – Kuklica. It’s located some 10 km away from Kratovo and I could see it from the bus heading towards the town. But to my big disappointment, I couldn’t find a single taxi in Kratovo that could take me to Kuklica. Such a pity, really!

The complex of stone pillars (15 large, 10 meters high ones and 120 smaller ones) are known as Stone Dolls of Kuklica. They were created most likely by erosion but the legend says these are wedding guests turned into the stone.

Many people compare Stone Dolls of Kuklica to the Turkish Cappadocia region and this natural site definitely looks lovely in the pictures. I will have to visit Kratovo again one day to finally see Kuklica.

This is also why I recommend going to Kratovo on a tour if you don’t drive yourself. You don’t want to miss this place!

Kratovo Macedonia

Since I had a few hours left in the town and I’ve already seen the most important Kratovo attractions, I’ve decided to go for a small hike to the nearby hills. I figured the view from up there must be nice and I was right.

I could see the town with its red rooftops and towers below and the surrounding Osogovo mountains were so pretty! Even if it was the end of September, the weather was really nice and this small hike was such a nice wrap-up to my day trip to Kratovo.

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

Final thoughts on visiting Kratovo, North Macedonia

I admit I was a bit disappointed with Kratovo but that’s because I had too high expectations of the town. But Kratovo is a great place to visit when you are in North Macedonia!

It’s small but so pretty, with a long history, some interesting and unique sights, and a beautiful location. I’m sure you will enjoy visiting Kratovo too!

I was actually surprised I haven’t seen any other tourists during my visit there even if it was a sunny Saturday. It was a market day in the town, there were a few weddings happening, locals lounged in the outdoor cafes and I was a curiosity for everyone around (which resulted in some nice encounters).

Kratovo has a big potential to be a major site in North Macedonia and I really hope it will become more popular among tourists since this town is well worth a visit!

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo Macedonia

Kratovo travel tips

There are five daily bus connections between Skopje and Kratovo. According to the online schedule buses from Skopje depart at 7.30, 9.00, 13.00, 16.00, 16.40, and from Kratovo back to Skopje at 6.30, 7.50, 14.58, 17.01, 19.00. It’s better to buy a return ticket, it’s a bit cheaper then. You can do it at the central bus station in Skopje.

If you want to visit Kratovo on a tour here are recommended ones:

There are a few restaurants and cafes in the central part of Kratovo where you can sit down and relax a bit. Many of the places serve the traditional local dish – Kratovska pastrmajka, a bread pie with smoked pork. I ate at Gostilnica “Kaj Spiro” located in the city park and the food I ordered (a vegetarian version of pastrajka) was really good, definitely can recommend the place.

Kratovo Macedonia

If you would like to stay overnight in Kratovo, there are a few highly-rated accommodation options available:

Kratovo Macedonia

Further reading

If you are planning a trip to North Macedonia you might want to read other articles I wrote about this country:

Travel Resources

Revolut bank card is the best way to save money when traveling. It’s a pre-paid service that offers very good exchange rates and no fees for ATM’s use. Click here to learn more and order your Revolut card.

You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for the place to stay in North Macedonia

Never travel without travel insurance, you never know what might happen and better safe than sorry. You can check the insurance policy for North Macedonia here.

I recommend joining organized tours to get to know the place better and to visit more places during your trip. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide – click here.

Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.


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