Before visiting North Macedonia for the first time the only thing I knew about Veles was that this used to be one of the eight cities in the former Yugoslavia named after its famous leader – Josip Broz Tito. I haven’t heard anything about the city itself so I never bothered with checking things to do in Veles or is it worth visiting Veles.
But then, during one of my trips to North Macedonia, on the way from Skopje to Bitola, I was passing through this city and right away I knew I have to visit Veles one day.
A few trips to North Macedonia later I was thinking about possible day trips from Skopje and Veles came to my mind. Less than an hour later I was already on the bus heading to this city located only around an hour away from the capital.
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Where is Veles
Veles, the city of almost 45.000 inhabitants, is located 55 km south-east of Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia.
The city has a very picturesque location in the valley of the Vardar river and the houses are strewn around on the surrounding hills – it reminded me a bit of one of my favorite places – Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A short history of Veles, North Macedonia
The area of Veles has been inhabited for over a millennium. In antiquity, it was part of the Paeonian kingdom. Afterward, the city belonged to the Byzantine Empire, First and Second Bulgarian Empire, Kingdom of Serbia and Ottoman Empire.
Veles gained importance especially in the 19th century, when one of the main Balkan trading routes was going through the city and the river Vardar was used for transporting goods.
During the times of Yugoslavia, the city was called Titov Veles, to commemorate the famous leader (other cities that praised Tito were current Podgorica (Montenegro), Drvar (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Korenica (Croatia), Uzice, Vrbas (Serbia), Mitrovica (Kosovo) and Velenje (Slovenia)). The name was changed back to Veles only in 1996.
Recently Veles got popular as the so-called world capital of fake news – you can read more about it here.
What to see in Veles
There might not be all that much to see in Veles but the city is still worth your time, even if only for the picturesque location and beautiful views on the way from Skopje.
My main reason to visit Veles was one of the Yugoslav spomeniks – Kosturnica Memorial. It is located above the city and, like most of the spomeniks, it is a great example of the unique and abstract architecture of the Yugoslavian monuments from the middle of the 20th century.
The main reason why spomeniks were built was to commemorate people’s resistance struggle during World War Two. And Kosturnica in Veles is no different.
It 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. Even if the idea of creating the memorial came up just after the war, it was built only between 1976 and 1979.
Kosturnica was designed by the Ljubomir Denkovic and Savo Subotin, two architects from Novi Sad, Serbia. The memorial was supposed to look like the open poppy-seed flower, the symbol of life and rebirth.
The building consists of two parts – the open space one with the names of the fallen Partisans and the places they were fighting in and the inside room with the museum and the mosaic – the biggest one in North Macedonia. It was designed by the artist from Skopje, Petar Mazev, and in bright colors and funky shapes, it shows the history of Macedonia, from the Ilinden Uprising in 1903 till the independence of the country.
Under the monument, there is the ossuary with the remnants of 87 soldiers that previously were buried near the local church.
To get to the monument you need to climb up a bit, first from the town’s center to the so-called amphitheater and then up the stairs. It is a bit tiring but definitely worth the effort – not only you can see Kosturnice from the close-up (and that’s one crazy monument, trust me!) but also this is one of the best viewpoints in Veles, with the whole city in front of you.
Just don’t repeat my mistake and don’t visit Veles and Kosturnica memorial on Sunday as that’s when the museum is closed. Unfortunately, I could only peek inside through the glass door but I couldn’t fully admire the mosaic and see the museum. This has taught me a lesson I should check the opening hours before going anywhere.
But even if I didn’t see Kosturnica inside I still loved the memorial. It takes a lot of imagination to create such a funky shape and I admired it wholeheartedly.
I walked around the monument to see it from every possible angle and I just couldn’t stop staring at how crazy it is. I probably have spent there more time than just the average person but that’s because the monument was so much cooler than on the pictures.
You can read more about Kosturnica memorial and see the archive images here.
But there are more Veles attractions than just Kosturnica memorial.
One of the most popular landmarks of Veles is the historical clock tower from the 18th century. It was built as the Ottoman watchtower and today is one of the most beautiful clock towers in the country. Best place to admire it is from the pedestrian bridge on the Vardar river or from the bridge above the bus station.
The center of the city is fine but nothing really special to be honest. Like in other Balkan cities you can find here some brutalist architecture, as well as beautiful art nouveau houses. And since this is North Macedonia there has to be the statue of the warrior on the horse on the central square.
If you are not too tired after climbing up to Kosturnica (I assume this is your main reason to visit Veles, like it was for me) you can also go to Church of Saint Pantaleon from the 19th century. It is located on the hill literally on the other side of the city from Kosturnica.
I must admit I was too lazy to go all the way there but now, of course, I regret it a bit. Not only this large, three-aisled basilica-type church is known for its rich interior but also the views from up there must be amazing.
A bit further south there are three more churches, from the Middle Ages. If you have a car you should definitely check them out!
Is it worth to visit Veles?
Veles might not be one of the most interesting cities in North Macedonia but it is definitely worth a visit.
If you like funky architecture from the times of Yugoslavia you will definitely appreciate Kosturnica. Other attractions of the city make it worthwhile too. Not to mention the location – together with Krusevo, this is probably the most beautifully located city in North Macedonia.
Together with Pristina (Kosovo) and Tetovo, Veles is probably the easiest day trip from Skopje – even visiting Matka Canyon can be more challenging. Once you run out of things to do in Skopje you should definitely consider visiting Veles!
How to get to Veles
Getting to Veles from Skopje is super easy. There are frequent buses, at least once an hour but usually more often and the journey takes just a bit under one hour.
You can go to Veles as a day trip from Skopje or you can stop there on the way to the destinations further south in North Macedonia, such as Bitola, Prilep or Krushevo.
You can check the bus schedule on the website of the Skopje bus station.
On the way back I didn’t check the buses from Veles to Skopje, I just returned to the bus station once I was done with the sightseeing and surely enough there was a bus departing in 10 minutes.
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