During one of my trips to North Macedonia, I was looking for easy day trips from Skopje. One of the nearby bigger cities was Tetovo but the pictures I found online weren’t very inviting, it looked like yet another random Balkan city.
I knew that there is a painted mosque but since I’ve seen plenty of mosques in my life I’ve thought it will be nothing special. I was almost sure I will skip Tetovo.
But then I ended up with a spare day in Skopje. I adore the city for its quirkiness but I figured this is a great opportunity to visit Tetovo. It is so close to Skopje and with frequent connections so I’ve decided to give it a try.
And I enjoyed visiting Tetovo a lot, it’s now pretty high on my list of the best places to visit in North Macedonia.
Table of contents
Where is Tetovo
You will also pass Tetovo on the way to Lake Ohrid – one of the most popular places to visit in North Macedonia. The city of Ohrid is 130 km away.
With a population of around 55 thousand inhabitants, Tetovo is the 5th largest city in North Macedonia.
Why visit Tetovo
Those who visit Tetovo go there mostly for the Painted Mosque but there are a few more interesting sights worth seeing.
The city has a different feel than Skopje (or any other city in North Macedonia really) – Tetovo is home to the large Albanian community and you will notice it right away. The atmosphere is vibrant, the streets are busy and the signs are not in Cyrillic anymore.
How to get to Tetovo
Getting from Skopje to Tetovo is very easy. There are very frequent buses and the journey takes less than one hour. You can go to the bus station and there will be a bus heading in that direction within a few minutes. You can also catch the bus along Blvd. Partizanski Odredi.
In Tetovo you don’t need to go to the bus station, instead, you can jump off at the roundabout closer to the center however you need to let the driver know you want to stop there (when I was going other people told the driver to stop there and I just joined there).
On the way back to Skopje you need to go to the bus station to board the bus. Both, in Skopje and Tetovo at bus stations you need to buy the ticket before, at the ticket counter.
When going back to Skopje you don’t need to go all the way to the bus station, you can leave the bus at one of the earlier stops. I did it at Blvd. Partizanski Odredi as I wanted to see some of the best examples of Skopje brutalism.
A brief history of Tetovo
First settlements around Tetovo were established already in the Bronze Age but the town was founded in the 14th century. Soon after it developed under Ottoman rule as the trade and craft center. That’s when numerous mosques, baths, and bazaars were built around the town.
Due to its location, the city has attracted people from surrounding villages and grew fast in the multicultural spirit.
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire Tetovo was under Albanian control but shortly after the Serbian Army captured the city only to be taken by the Kingdom of Bulgaria not long after. After turbulent years, after World War 2 Tetovo became part of Yugoslavia and eventually independent Macedonia.
What to see in Tetovo
The main attraction and the absolute highlight not only of Tetovo but of North Macedonia is the Painted Mosque – Šarena Džamija – and that’s already a good reason to visit Tetovo. It was built in 1438 and later rebuilt in 1833.
The mosque is rather small but stunning – when I entered it my jaw has dropped. I’ve seen many beautiful mosques in my life, especially in Iran or Uzbekistan, but this was one different. It’s very rich in decorations and unlike many other mosques, the dominant motifs are floral and bright.
What also brings attention is that the Painted Mosque doesn’t have a dome, like many of the mosques built around that time. This is also the only mosque in southeast Europe where you will find the illustration of Mecca – the holy place of the Islamic world.
Even if the mosque is small you will spend a lot of time there, admiring all the beautiful details. Don’t miss the upper part too – you can find the stairs on the right side when looking at the mosque. From the balcony, you can see some of the paintings even closer. I bet you will be impressed with the Painted Mosque as much as I was!
The mosque is surrounded by a neat courtyard full of flowers, with the Türbe in the middle. The mausoleum is dedicated to Hurshida and Mensure – two sisters who have financed the building of the mosque in the 15th century.
While the Painted Mosque is amazing there are actually more things to do in Tetovo.
Across the river from the mosque, you will find the hamam – the Turkish bath from the 16th century. These days it is used as a gallery but you can still admire the impressive old building.
A bit further there is Arabati Baba Tekḱe – spiritual complex popular in Sufism religion (part of Islam), founded in the 16th century. The places used to serve as the spiritual retreat center, still today in the complex you can see prayer rooms, dining halls, lodgings and a marble fountain inside a wooden pavilion.
This is one of the best Bektashi monasteries in Europe, definitely worth a visit. When I was there the place was very quiet and no one was around, contrary to the Painted Mosque.
On the opposite side of the street from Arabati Baba Tekḱe there is a large cemetery – you can admire beautiful views of surrounding Sar Mountain. The location of Tetovo was actually one of the things I enjoyed the most about the city, with beautiful mountains always in the background.
Fans of brutalist architecture, like me, won’t be disappointed with Tetovo. There are a few really nice concrete buildings, like the post office or the City Shopping Center.
From Tetovo you can also go to the nearby Sar Mountains. Its highest peak, Titov Vrv (2 748 meters) is close to Tetovo. The views from the city can give you a little sneak peek to the beautiful nature around.
Final thoughts on visiting Tetovo
I enjoyed Tetovo so much more than I’ve thought. I expected a dull city with a nice mosque and I was welcomed with a vibrant place, one of the most beautiful and unique mosques I’ve ever seen and many more Tetovo attractions.
I believe this is one of the best day trips from Skopje – it’s close, well-connected and very interesting. If you have a spare few hours when visiting Skopje be sure to visit Tetovo, I bet you will be surprised just like I was!
I’ve visited North Macedonia a couple of times, it’s one of those underrated countries I enjoy discovering. I’ve already written a few articles that you might enjoy too:
- What to do in Skopje, the kitschy yet cool capital of North Macedonia
- Matka Canyon – a perfect nature getaway outside Skopje
- Veles, North Macedonia – an underrated city in the Balkans
- Beautiful Ohrid, North Macedonia off season
- Your ultimate Balkan travel guide
- and more!
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