Ohrid, North Macedonia is one of my very favorite places to visit in the Balkans. Every time I visit Ohrid I’m blown away by the beauty and charm of the place and it keeps impressing me every single time.
Whether you are looking for cultural, relaxing, or active holidays – Ohrid falls into all of these categories and surely is one of the best places to visit in Macedonia. I can’t praise this place is enough, it is simply amazing.
And so I finally put together a guide to all the best things to do in Ohrid, Macedonia. If you are planning a trip to the Balkans don’t miss this place. This is a true gem and I’m sure you will fall in love with Ohrid as much as I did!
Table of contents
- 1 Why visit Ohrid
- 2 How to get to Ohrid
- 3 How to get around Ohrid
- 4 Things to do in Ohrid
- 4.1 Wander around the Old Town
- 4.2 Shop at the Old Bazaar
- 4.3 Find all the beautiful churches
- 4.4 See the iconic Church of Saint John at Kaneo
- 4.5 Admire the stunning view from the fortress
- 4.6 Be impressed with the ancient amphitheater
- 4.7 Visit Plaošnik
- 4.8 Find cute old cars
- 4.9 Walk along the Lake Ohrid
- 4.10 Go for a boat tour on Lake Ohrid
- 4.11 Relax at the beach
- 4.12 Buy Ohrid pearls
- 4.13 Enjoy local food
- 4.14 Visit Saint Naum Monastery
- 4.15 Visit Bay of Bones
- 4.16 Go hiking
- 4.17 Go for a day trip to Albania
- 5 Final thoughts on visiting Ohrid
- 6 Further reading
Why visit Ohrid
Not only Lake Ohrid is an insanely beautiful place but since this area has huge historical importance you can expect to find there many Ohrid attractions and centuries-old monuments. The town and its surroundings are the perfect area for the Macedonia holidays – you can enjoy the sightseeing and then relax at the lakeside (or even swim in Lake Ohrid) or go hiking in the nearby mountains.
Even if Ohrid is one of the largest cities in Macedonia it doesn’t feel that way. When wandering around you might feel like you are transferred back in time as the place is so idyllic.
The city 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.
How to get to Ohrid
Getting to Ohrid is actually rather easy. The local Ohrid airport serves flights to only a few European destinations, especially in the summertime but it’s worth checking if there are direct connections from your local airport.
Otherwise, you can take the bus from Skopje, there are at least ten connections per day and the journey takes a bit over 3 hours. There are also a few buses per day from Bitola as well as other destinations in North Macedonia.
The bus station is located some 2 km away from Old Town. In the summertime, it’s better to buy the ticket a few days in advance as the buses can get full.
If you are coming from Albania you have two options. Either take the direct bus from Tirana to Ohrid (apparently there are two of them each day) or take the bus to Struga (usually buses going to Skopje stop there) and then catch the local bus or taxi to Ohrid.
Or you can take the bus to Pogradec and walk/take the taxi to the border, walk through the border and then catch the bus/taxi from Saint Naum Monastery to Ohrid. I did this last time and it was just fine.
How to get around Ohrid
Most of the Ohrid attractions are within a walking distance in or near Old Town.
If you want to visit a bit more distant places like Saint Naum Monastery you can take the local bus or boat there. The nearby Galičica National Park is best reached by car, you can also join a tour.
Things to do in Ohrid
With the long and interesting history and all the beauty around, Ohrid really has a lot to offer. If you are wondering what to do in Ohrid this comprehensive list of things to do in Ohrid and beyond should help you plan your time there.
Wander around the Old Town
The Old Town in Ohrid is such a pleasant place, perfect for a slow wander around.
Back in the old times, when Turks came to Ohrid they allowed the Christian population of the town to live only inside the city walls, on the steep area. That is why this part of Ohrid feels a bit claustrophobic, with narrow lanes and tall houses towering above them, but at the same time, that’s what makes this area so unique.
Some of the buildings have a distinctive shape with upper floors being slightly wider than lower ones. But altogether these beautiful houses and charming lanes create such lovely scenery and getting lost in the Old Town really is a pleasure.
It is possible to visit some of the traditional houses, such as Robevci or Uranija houses – it’s definitely worth stepping inside to get a taste of how life in Ohrid used to look like in the past. Some of the old houses offer accommodation options so you might want to consider staying in one of them during your trip to Ohrid.
Shop at the Old Bazaar
Unlike the amazing Skopje Bazaar, the Old Bazaar in Ohrid is rather small, consisting only of one street, starting at the waterfront near the big Macedonian flag. But still, this is probably the most vibrant part of the town, and it gets an extra charm on the market days when there are even more people around.
Only a few old, stone stores remained on the street, a fine testimony of the past times.
Among all the other things you can buy here some local souvenirs too. There are also a few craft shops, making the place more special. And once you are tired you can sit down in one of a few cafes and watch the busy world around you.
Find all the beautiful churches
Ohrid has a long history of being the spiritual center of the region. Between 1019 and 1767 this was the seat of the Archbishopric of Ohrid, an autonomous Orthodox Church.
It is said that in the past there were 365 churches in town, one for each day of the year hence the place was often called “Jerusalem of the Balkans”. Still today Ohrid is known for its numerous churches.
Some of them are so tiny they can fit maybe five people and you will be surprised when you find them randomly squeezed between houses.
If you would like to visit some of the most beautiful, important, and valuable churches you should head to the Church of Saint Sophia (one of the most important monuments in North Macedonia, dating to the 9th century), Church of Saint Mary Perivleptos, or Church of Saints Constantine and Elena. But the truth is every single one of Ohrid churches is worth seeing, you just might not have time for each of them.
See the iconic Church of Saint John at Kaneo
Even if this is not the most valuable of all Ohrid churches, the 14th-century temple dedicated to Saint John at Kaneo is probably the most iconic and picturesque place you can find in North Macedonia.
Because of its beautiful location, on the high cliff above Lake Ohrid, the panorama of the small church with blue waters in the background is probably the most popular picture from Macedonia that you can see in all the folders. And in real life, this sight is even more beautiful, it takes my breath away every single time.
The best place to see the famous panorama and take good pictures is from above the church, when you descend from the fortress towards the lake.
Admire the stunning view from the fortress
Samuel’s Fortress, towering above the town and Lake Ohrid, is probably the best viewpoint you can find in Ohrid.
The first fortress was built in this place already in the 4th century BC but the current fortification date to the 10th century when Ohrid was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire rules by Tsar Samuel (the fortress was renovated recently though).
Inside you can walk the fortification and see some remnants of the old times but the main reason to visit the fortress are the amazing views of the surrounding area. You can admire the red rooftops of Ohrid’s Old Town, vast blue waters of the lake, and amazing mountains beyond.
Be impressed with the ancient amphitheater
When wandering the Old Town in Ohrid you will stumble across the ancient amphitheater, one of the most impressive of all the Ohrid attractions. It dates back to the year 200 BC and is the only remaining Hellenistic theatre you can find in North Macedonia (other, like the one in Heraclea Lyncestis in Bitola are from the Roman times). What’s even more impressive is that the amphitheater was accidentally discovered only in 1980!
This is a wonderful place to sit down, relax a bit, and admire the beautiful panorama of the Old Town and Lake Ohrid below.
The Ohrid amphitheater still serves its original function and is often used for numerous events, such as Ohrid’s Summer Festival – if you happen to visit Ohrid during one of those events be sure to attend them, it must be a great experience!
Hidden in the forest, between the fortress and the Church of Saint John at Kaneo, you can find Plaošnik – the archeological site with the foundations of a 5th-century basilica, numerous other excavations as well as St. Clement’s Church.
The church was restored recently but what makes it still special is the glass floor where you can see the original fundaments down below.
The works on the archeological site are still undergoing and the plan is to add a few mansions and surrounding objects from the times of Ohrid’s glory. But even now this is an interesting place to visit so be sure to stop there when you are sightseeing in the nearby area.
Find cute old cars
Of all the places I visited in the Balkans, Ohrid is the one I associate with the old, vintage cars from the times of Yugoslavia. Back then there were two main car brands produced, Yugo and Zastava, and still today you can see many of these cars parked on the streets of Ohrid Old Town.
They are such a nice addition to the place and only add to the overall atmosphere of the town. Not to mention they make a really lovely picture background.
Walk along the Lake Ohrid
One of the best things to do in Ohrid is to walk along the waterfront. This is such a pleasant area and you can be sure to relax when wandering around as the views along the way are just the prettiest.
You can either walk the promenade going from the Old Town towards the more modern and residential part of the city – the path is next to the water so you can admire the lake at its finest. There are also numerous benches if you just want to sit down and relax with this amazing view.
Another great place to go for a walk is the boardwalk going towards the Church of Saint John at Kaneo. What makes it special and unique is that the path is actually on the water and goes next to the cliff. I’ve never seen many people there so it kind of feels like one of the hidden gems of Ohrid and it is so nice to be this close to the splendid nature at Lake Ohrid.
Go for a boat tour on Lake Ohrid
If you would like to admire the incredible beauty of Lake Ohrid from yet another perspective go for a boat tour on the lake. There are a few options to choose from, you can go on an organized tour, hire one of the local men to take you for a boat ride on the lake, or go by boat to Saint Naum Monastery.
No matter what you choose, you can be sure to see a wonderful panorama of this stunning place in the Balkans. Going for a boat tour is one of the highlights of visiting Lake Ohrid.
Relax at the beach
Even if there are so many great monuments in Ohrid this is still a destination for a relaxing holiday at the lakeside. Near Old Town, you will find a few beaches where you can sunbathe, relax and swim in the lake.
If you visit Ohrid in warmer months don’t miss the opportunity for a bit of chilled-out time too!
Buy Ohrid pearls
One of the best and most typical souvenirs from Ohrid are local pearls. They are not like pearls anywhere else since they are made of shells.
The tradition of making pearls has been brought to Ohrid by a Russian immigrant around a hundred years ago and now and only two local families know the secret technique.
If you are looking for a beautiful and traditional souvenir from Ohrid get pearls. You can find shops selling them in the Old Town.
Enjoy local food
Macedonian food is among my favorite cuisines and every time I visit the country I spend way too much time eating. But everything is so delicious and, what’s important to me, there are many vegetarian options to choose from.
And so one of the best things to do in Ohrid is to try the local food and simply enjoy it. There are numerous restaurants in the Old Bazaar area and at the waterfront so choose one of them and feast on the yummy Macedonian dishes.
Once you are full you can sit down in the cafe with a view, enjoy the drink and admire the beautiful surroundings.
Visit Saint Naum Monastery
A short bus or boat ride from Ohrid you can visit the Saint Naum Monastery.
It was founded at the very beginning of the 10th century by Saint Naum of Ohrid and is one of the most important religious sites in North Macedonia. The saint was buried here in the year 910 and the legend says if you are quiet enough you might still hear his heartbeat.
The main church in the complex was extended and rebuilt a few times and what you can see today dates to the 16th-17th century. Inside you can see beautiful frescoes from 1806.
Since this is a rather popular place it’s better to arrive here early in the morning or in the afternoon to avoid crowds.
Around the monastery complex, you can wander around the beautiful area with creeks, ponds, and a few small shrines sparsed around. You might also go for a boat trip or eat in one of the restaurants but the prices here are much higher than in Ohrid.
Visit Bay of Bones
Bay of Bones is an interesting and kind of unique museum located on the shore of Lake Ohrid, more or less halfway between Ohrid and Saint Naum Monastery.
It is literally built on water, just like it used to be in the prehistoric times when this area was home to pile dwellers. For safety reasons, they’ve built their settlement on the few thousand wooden piles standing in the water. It was discovered not so long ago, and the Bay of Bones museum is one of the newest addition to the list of attractions at Lake Ohrid.
Today you can visit the place that recreated the former settlement, with 24 houses of different shapes and sizes. Inside you will see how the prehistoric people used to live and what kind of tools and items they had.
Bay of Bones is a perfect stop if you head towards Sveti Naum Monastery and the border with Albania so you can visit it easily on the way.
When wandering around Ohrid you can always see stunning mountains in the background. That’s Galičica National Park, a beautiful mountain range located between Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa.
This is a perfect area for hiking, with breathtaking views from the upper part of the mountains (they reach over two thousand meters above sea level here). In the national park, you can also find over 1600 floral species, 13 of which are endemic.
The area is very close to the city so if you feel like having a bit of an active time head to Galičica National Park.
Go for a day trip to Albania
When you are at Saint Naum Monastery you can continue a bit further and reach Albania – the border crossing is only around a kilometer away from the monastery. From there it’s some 5 km to the nearest town – Pogradec, you might also stop at the Tushemisht, the first village across the border.
Even if both countries are only a few steps away from each other, they sometimes feel like a different world. If you’ve heard about all the bunkers in Albania you won’t be surprised when you spot a few of them already after crossing the border, and the further you continue, the more bunkers you will see.
Pogradec itself is a pleasant city with a long history, an important center for Albanian culture and identity. Besides seeing the city you should definitely see the waterfront – not only it offers some of the best views of Lake Ohrid but also has some nice addition, like quirky bunkers. You can also get lunch in one of the waterfront restaurants to try the local Albanian cuisine and enjoy the splendid panorama of the surrounding area.
You might also venture a bit further into the country and see more of Albania. There are a few tours from Ohrid that you might want to consider:
Final thoughts on visiting Ohrid
As you can see, Ohrid really has a lot to offer and everyone should find something interesting there. Even if this is probably the most popular destination in North Macedonia, the city and surroundings aren’t busy with tourists (like you can experience in other popular Balkan countries: Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, or Bosnia and Herzegovina) and you can actually spend here relaxing holidays with so much beauty around.
I can’t recommend visiting Ohrid enough, no matter what I write it will still not be enough to describe the beauty of this place. So I suggest you plan a trip to Ohrid too so you can see it yourself! I’m sure you will not be disappointed!
North Macedonia is one of my favorite countries to visit and I always enjoy returning there. If you are planning a trip there too you might find other articles I wrote about this country useful or interesting:
- What to do in Skopje, the kitschy yet cool capital of North Macedonia
- Matka Canyon – a perfect nature getaway outside Skopje
- Day trip from Skopje to Pristina, Kosovo
- Veles, North Macedonia – an underrated city in the Balkans
- Tetovo, North Macedonia – Stunning Painted Mosque and More
- Kratovo, North Macedonia – the Town of Stone Bridges and Towers
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