North Macedonia

Veles, North Macedonia – an underrated city in the Balkans

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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.

Veles Macedonia

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.

Veles Macedonia

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.

Veles Macedonia

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.

Veles Macedonia

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.

Kosturnica Veles Macedonia

Kosturnica Veles Macedonia

Kosturnica Veles Macedonia

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.

Veles Macedonia

Veles Macedonia

Veles Macedonia

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!

Veles Macedonia

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!

Veles Macedonia

Veles Macedonia

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.

Veles Macedonia

Further reading

I published many articles about North Macedonia that you might find useful when planning your trip there. Here are some of them:

If you are looking for articles about a specific destination – check out the map with all the articles I’ve published (and their locations). You can also join my Facebook group about traveling in the Balkans and ask your questions there.

Travel Resources

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.

For the end I left a few announcements that might interest you:

  • Sign up to my newsletter or follow me on Bloglovin to get updates about the new posts
  • Join my Facebook group about Eastern Europe, the Balkans and former USSR and connect with fellow travellers and enthusiasts of these regions – just click here!
  • I’ve included a few handy links of services and products I personally like and use so you can plan your own trip to North Macedonia too. They are often affiliate links. This means I will get a small commission if you book/purchase anything through my links, at no extra costs for you. Thank you!


Macedonia Veles

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  • Reply
    Frances Reinfjell
    03/01/2022 at 03:45

    Hello! I lived in Old Town Titov Veles (Kukuska26) for over a year in the late 70’s. My husband was born there and I am from NY so we had to travel to Skopje at least once a week to the US Consulate to get our paperwork in order to go to the US. I was married across the street from the statue in front of a giant picture of Tito, and have been to the museum. My husband said it was supposed to represent a broken soldier’s helmet. The Church you didn’t get to see I have been to a few times (his parents are buried up there) most notably on Easter for a Mass. I loved Titov Veles. The old bridge that you showed? We lived about a 3 minute walk from there and used to sit there in the night drinking beer and playing guitar…Pancevako Pivo is one of the best! There used to be a scara grill under the clock tower and we’d eat there many times, I have been over the new pedestrian bridge and even swam in the Vardar – too bad it’s so polluted! I have great memories from there!!!

    • Reply
      17/01/2022 at 13:35

      Thank you for your lovely comment! All the best!

  • Reply
    Elize barnard
    06/01/2023 at 06:27

    Hi…we want to visit macedonia in april and I was womdering if we can stay in 1 central town and travel from there through macedoniA?

    • Reply
      09/01/2023 at 16:22

      You can visit some nice places on day trips from Skopje but Ohrid or Bitola are located a bit further away and it’s better to stay there overnight

    • Reply
      Marius Mircea
      13/02/2023 at 16:31

      You guys have forget about Ohrid city in Macedonia. Is a lovely place

      • Reply
        20/02/2023 at 13:06

        I have two articles dedicated to Ohrid on the blog. And I’m about to write about Bitola too.

  • Reply
    Marius Mircea
    13/02/2023 at 16:32

    Bitola have just a main street and a watch tower

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