North Macedonia is one of the most underrated countries in the Balkans, often overlooked by tourists exploring the region. And even if they decide to visit Macedonia, it’s often just Lake Ohrid and Skopje. But there are so many more great places to visit in Macedonia: breathtaking mountains, charming towns, ancient sites, interesting architecture, and more.
I’ve been visiting Macedonia frequently for some 10 years now and it quickly became one of my favorite countries to travel to. There always seem to be new places to discover and returning to the old ones is always a pleasure. Add to that delicious food, friendly locals, and affordable prices and you will see why I enjoy North Macedonia so much.
But creating this list of best places to visit in North Macedonia made me realize that there are still some awesome destinations there that I need to see (and need a car to get to as not everything is reachable by public transport, unfortunately). That’s the plan for the near future, though!
When you decide to visit North Macedonia be sure to include more than just the popular destinations in your itinerary. Below you can find the list of what to see in Macedonia that can hopefully serve as the inspiration for your trip.
Best places to visit in North Macedonia
Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, is one of the quirkiest cities you will ever see. At first, it might seem pretty random, with blocks of flats covering the center, but once you dig a bit deeper into the place you are in for a treat.
You won’t find many historical sights there as the city was largely destroyed by the 1963 earthquake but Skopje is such a weird combination of architectural styles that they somehow fit together.
The central part of the city is lined with modern buildings that try to resemble ancient ones and with countless statues (some of them portray well-known historical figures, others are just random scenes). The most important one is “the warrior on the horse” located in the middle of the main square of the city – Macedonia Square. Not only it is very impressive with its 12-meter height, but it is also a very controversial statue that in fact shows Alexander the Great.
Across the Vardar river, you can explore the oldest part of Skopje – the bazaar with the maze of narrow streets and the fortress towering above the area. Wandering around there is like stepping back in time.
If you enjoy brutalist architecture (I do!), Skopje is like a huge playground with so many concrete masterpieces around.
For a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, you can head to the nearby Vodno mountain from where you can go hiking or simply enjoy the stunning panorama of Skopje and its surroundings.
Read more about Skopje in my articles:
- What to do in Skopje, the kitschy yet cool capital of North Macedonia
- Guide to Skopje Brutalist Architecture
- Alternative Skopje
- North Macedonia: Skopje monuments in pictures
Only a short ride away from Skopje you will find one of the most beautiful places to visit in Macedonia – Marka Canyon. This spectacular place was actually not made by nature. In 1938 the dam was built on river Treska, creating an artificial lake surrounded by high mountains, the oldest lake of that kind in North Macedonia.
The Matka Canyon covers an area of around 5,000 hectares. 20% of the plant species you can see here are endemic, meaning they can’t be found anywhere else. You can also see 77 kinds of butterflies in the area! There are also ten caves at Matka Canyon, the most popular one being Vrelo Cave. It was even included on the list of the top 77 natural sites of the world in the New 7 Wonders of the World project.
When visiting Matka Canyon you can do here numerous activities, like hiking, fishing, or kayaking. You can also find some old monasteries in the area. But the main reason to visit Matka Canyon is to simply see what a stunning place it is.
You can get to Matka Canyon from Skopje by bus or join one of the tours that visit this place.
Read more about Matka Canyon in my article: Matka Canyon – a perfect nature getaway outside Skopje
Tetovo is one of the most underrated places to visit in North Macedonia. Even if it’s conveniently located only 45 km away from Skopje, on the way to Lake Ohrid, not many tourists decide to stop there. Huge mistake as Tetovo hides one of the most stunning buildings you can see in North Macedonia – the Painted Mosque.
It was built in 1438 and later rebuilt in 1833. Even if the mosque is rather small, it surely is stunning with very rich decorations (unlike many other mosques, the dominant motifs are floral and bright). This is also the only mosque in southeast Europe where you will find the illustration of Mecca – the holy place of the Islamic world.
While the Painted Mosque is amazing there are actually more things to do in Tetovo: the 16th-century Turkish hammam turned into a gallery, Arabati Baba Tekḱe – a spiritual complex popular in Sufism religion, founded in the 16th century, or a few great brutalist buildings. Tetovo also offers some beautiful views of the surrounding Sar Mountains.
Read more about Tetovo in my article: Tetovo, North Macedonia – Stunning Painted Mosque and More
Lake Ohrid is, hands down, the most amazing place to visit in Macedonia and one of the best in the Balkans. Every time I’m there my jaw drops at how stunning this area is. Whether you are looking for cultural, relaxing, or active holidays – Lake Ohrid falls into all of these categories.
The main town at the lake is Ohrid where you will find most of the attractions and monuments. The best way to get to know Ohrid is to simply wander around the Old Town and stumble across all it has to offer: numerous churches (it is said that in the past there were 365 churches in town), the 10th-century fortress or the ancient amphitheater. The most iconic view in Ohrid (or even the whole country) is the 14th-century church dedicated to Saint John at Kaneo, built on a high cliff above the lake.
Once you are done with visiting Ohrid, there are more places along the lake that you shouldn’t miss: Saint Naum Monastery (founded at the very beginning of the 10th century, it is one of the most important religious sites in North Macedonia), Bay of Bones, Holy Mother of God Zahumska church or Struga (another large town on the lakeside).
Both, the city of Ohrid and the lake were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and are one of the few places that are both on the Cultural and Natural list.
Read more about Lake Ohrid in my articles:
Veles might not be the not obvious destination choice when visiting Macedonia but the city, located 55 km south-east of Skopje, has at least one landmark that is worth the attention. If you are familiar with the concept of Yugoslav spomeniks – the WW2 memorials that often have rather unusual shapes – you might want to come to Veles to see one of them.
Kosturnica Memorial, dating back to the late 1970s, was created to honor Partisan soldiers from Veles and surrounding areas who were fighting against the fascist German and Bulgarian forces during the National Liberation War from 1941 to 1945. The memorial was supposed to look like the open poppy-seed flower, the symbol of life and rebirth. Inside you can find the museum with the biggest mosaic in North Macedonia.
Visiting Kosturnica Memorial has one more advantage – from the monument, you can admire a beautiful panorama of Veles (the city has a really picturesque location). Besides the abstract-looking spomenik other places worth seeing in Veles include the historical clock tower from the 18th century and the Church of Saint Pantaleon from the 19th century.
Read more about Veles in my article: Veles, North Macedonia – an underrated city in the Balkans
Even if today Kratovo is a sleepy little town, it has a long and interesting history, dating back to Roman times and for centuries it’s been an important mine center with various raw materials mined here.
Kratovo is picturesquely located in a basin surrounded by green hills at the edge of Osogovo mountains and the townscape is packed with red rooftops and medieval stone towers. 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 remain but they sure are impressive. Another remnants of the old times are medieval stone bridges connecting two sides of the small rivers and creeks, there are still five of them in Kratovo.
Altogether, visiting Kratovo feels a bit like stepping back in time. This is one of the most underrated places to visit in Macedonia.
Read more about Kratovo in my article: Kratovo, North Macedonia – the Town of Stone Bridges and Towers
Bitola, known also as the “City of Consuls” is the second-largest city in North Macedonia, located in the south of the country near the border with Greece.
Thanks to the many consuls who had their seats here in the 19th century the city still has a different, more laid-back, and European vibe than other places in Macedonia. The center is lined with beautiful 19th-century buildings and the pedestrian central street – Shirok Sokak – is packed with cafes where you can sit down, observe the world around and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of Bitola.
Even if the city is known for its 19th-century importance, Bitola is much older and you can find some older monuments here too, especially mosques and the bazaar area (which can compete with the one in Skopje).
But the real highlight of visiting Bitola is Heraclea Lyncestis – the ruins of the ancient town located just 2 km outside of the center.
Pelister National Park
When visiting Bitola don’t also miss Pelister National Park, located just outside of the city. This is the oldest national park in North Macedonia, established in 1848, and surrounds the Baba Mountain massif with its highest peak Pelister (2601 m, the third highest mountain in the country).
The park is known for its exquisite flora and fauna, it is also a perfect place for hiking around and the close proximity to Bitola makes it a popular nature getaway among locals. When wandering around you can expect some amazing views, you can also visit two mountain lakes called Pelister’s Eyes.
Prilep is known mostly as the Macedonian tobacco and beer capital but this city, located between Skopje and Bitola, has actually a lot to offer.
The central part of Prilep isn’t large but it’s packed with monuments from the ancient, Byzantine, Ottoman, neoclassical, communist, and modern times. The old bazaar is rather small but really pleasant with its vibrant atmosphere. On the edge of it, you can see the ruins of the Čarši Mosque from 1475 (the oldest mosque in Europe with a double balcony on its minaret) that was sadly set on fire during the 2001 protests. Despite its current condition, you can still easily imagine what a beautiful place it used to be.
In Prilep, you can also see another Yugoslav spomenik – Mound of the Unbeaten – commemorating the Prilep area’s fallen in the Struggle for the Liberation of Macedonia.
What catches the attention right away when visiting Prilep is the city’s beautiful location with rocky hills surrounding the place. On those hills on the edge of the city, you can find remnants of the medieval fortress from times when Prilep was the capital of the medieval kingdom of Kings Vukašin and Marko. This is one of the best places to visit in Prilep, not only for its historical value but also stunning views around.
10 km away from the city you can also visit the secluded Treskavec Monastery from the 12th century with incredible frescoes inside. The hike to the monastery is a bit challenging but the landscape and views around are the best rewards for the effort.
With an elevation of 1,350 m Krusevo is the highest-located town in the country that, in 1903, was the center of the Ilinden Uprising against the Ottoman Empire. Today it is a very picturesque yet sleepy town with a few monuments worth visiting.
The highlight of Krusevo is yet another spomenik, probably the most known one in North Macedonia – Makedonium, opened in 1974 on the 30th anniversary of the Second Session of the Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia and the 71st anniversary of Ilinden Uprising. The design of this structure is really unique and looks like from outer space. If you are lucky and Makedonium is open be sure to visit it inside too to see some interesting stained glass windows and basreliefs.
Krusevo was also the hometown of the most popular Macedonian singer, Tose Proeski who died in a car accident in 2007 at the age of 26. Today you can visit his memorial home and his grave in Krusevo, there are also numerous signs all over the town commemorating this famous artist.
Krusevo is also a perfect place for a lazy stroll around, to admire the beautiful architecture of the town and beautiful views of the town and beyond.
Read more about Krusevo in my article: Visit Krusevo – the Picturesque Town in North Macedonia
Mavrovo National Park
Mavrovo National Park is the largest national park in the country, located in the western part of North Macedonia, near the border with Albania. You can find there some beautiful landscapes with lakes, rivers, and caves as well as the highest peak of Macedonia – Mount Korab (2,764 m).
The most popular place to visit in Mavrovo National Park is the submerged Church of Saint Nicholas from the mid-19th century. How much of it you can actually see depends on the water level in Lake Mavrovo, in the summertime when the lake dries up you can even visit the church inside.
The area of the national park has actually more interesting monuments you can visit, the highlight being Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery originally from the early 11th century, with the impressive wood-carved iconostasis. Don’t also miss the village of Galičnik, known for its historic architecture – it has the biggest number of buildings under protection in the whole country.
Stobi is probably the most impressive ancient town you can find in the territory of North Macedonia, dating back to BC times. Around the 2nd century BC, it fell under Roman rule and was developing until the 6th century when it was destroyed by earthquakes and invasions.
Today you can visit amazing remnants of that ancient town and see ruins of numerous historical sites: houses, basilicas, streets, and more, there are also some well-preserved mosaics still on the ground.
Located on the border between North Macedonia and Kosovo, Šar Mountains offer some breathtaking views and hiking possibilities. With 30 peaks higher than 2,500 m as well as a few glacial lakes located over 2,000 m, Šar Mountains is a paradise for all nature lovers.
Since the area isn’t widely popular you can expect fairly empty trails when wandering around. The highest peak of the Šar Mountains is Titov Vrv (2,747 m). The mountain range is located just outside Tetovo and is easily accessible from this city.
Located near the border with Bulgaria, Osogovo Monastery was founded in the 12th century but the oldest part of the structure we can visit today dates back to two centuries later.
The monastery in fact consists of two churches: the larger “Saint Joachim of Osogovo” and the smaller “Holy Mother of God”. That’s also where you will find a residency for the Head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
Besides its historical and religious value, it’s worth visiting Osogovo Monastery for the beautiful frescoes you can see inside the churches.
Stone Dolls of Kuklica is often called “the Macedonian Cappadocia”. There are over a hundred stone pillars: 15 large (10 meters tall) and 120 smaller ones. Since many of them resemble humans, the legend says that the pillars are in fact wedding guests that were turned into stones.
Kuklica is located only 10 km away from Kratovo so you can combine visiting these two places together.
Discovered only in 2001, Kokino is the site of the megalithic observatory that is believed to be almost four thousand years old, making it the fourth of the oldest observatories according to NASA. You can still find there special stone markers used to track the movement of the sun and moon on the eastern horizon.
What makes this place even more worth visiting is the spectacular scenery in the Kokino observatory is located in.
Kozjak Lake is the largest artificial lake in North Macedonia, located not far from Skopje. Surrounded by picturesque mountains rolling down to its surface, the lake is 32 km long and in the widest place, the distance between the shores is up to 400 meters. Kozjak Lake was created in 2004 when the nearby hydroelectric power plant opened.
The lake is especially popular among fishermen but even if you are not interested in fishing you should still visit the area as the views, especially from the upper parts, are breathtaking.
Less popular than Ohrid, Lake Prespa is divided between three countries: North Macedonia (the largest part), Greece, and Albania. With an elevation of 853 meters, this is the highest tectonic lake in the Balkans, surrounded by two national parks of Macedonia: Galičica and Pelister. This is also where you will find some of the best beaches in North Macedonia, making Lake Prespa a popular destination among local tourists.
Besides the stunning views, there are other places worth visiting around Lake Prespa: Golem Grad (the largest island in the country) as well as a few old churches and monasteries.
Galičica National Park
The area between Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa is where you will find Galičica National Park, focused around the Galičica mountain range with the highest peak being Kota (2,292 meters). Within the park, you can find over 1600 floral species. The national park makes a perfect nature getaway or even a day trip destination when visiting Lake Ohrid.
Map with the best places to visit in Macedonia
To give you a better overview of places to visit in Macedonia, here is the map with the locations of all the destonations mentioned above.
Final thoughts on visiting Macedonia
As you can see, North Macedonia really has a lot to offer and even if it doesn’t have sea access (which I think is the reason why it’s less popular than other Balkan countries) there are still plenty of great places to see in Macedonia. Give the country a chance and you will not be disappointed! You might even keep returning to North Macedonia just like I do.
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