What Is Skopje Really Like? An Honest Review

The Vardar River with a fountain
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Last Updated on: 23rd October 2023, 01:37 am

If you asked 1,000 people which European city they would most like to visit, I’d be surprised if even one would put Skopje, North Macedonia, at the top of their list.

It’s not because Skopje isn’t worth visiting, but it is not well known and can’t compare to the draw of many European cities. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider visiting it.

Read on to find out what Skopje is really like, at least from my perspective.

A Little Background

Steve and I spent most of August 2023 in Skopje. It was the 88th city we’ve visited. We chose it for several reasons:

1. It is outside the Schengen Area – we had to spend 90 days out of the Schengen Area after visiting Greece, Croatia, and Italy in the spring of 2023.

2. It is inexpensive – to keep our budget under control, we offset visits to expensive places like the U.K., the U.S., and Western Europe with trips to more economical places.

3. It looked unique – I had read about the elegant classical buildings, the multitude of statues, and the two new pedestrian bridges lined with sculptures that resulted from the Skopje 2014 project. I was curious to see them.

You can read about our stay in Skopje in “Wind and Whim’s Monthly Recap: August 2023” and see more of the city in our post “Skopje, North Macedonia Photo Gallery.”

What’s Good About Skopje?

It’s Never Boring

There’s no denying that Skopje is interesting. The buildings, sculptures, and bridges in the city center are fun to explore. Skopje is the perfect city for you if you love to turn a corner and see something unexpected.

Six photos of Skopje
Skopje is beauty mixed with quirkiness

The Compact City Center

Most of the attractions are within walking distance of each other. For example, you can visit Macedonia Square and then cross over the mid-15th century Stone Bridge to Old Town and the Old Bazaar.

The Stone Bridge in Skopje
The Stone Bridge heading towards Macedonia Square

Old Town and the Old Bazaar

You can spend hours exploring Old Town and the Old Bazaar and never get bored. In addition to oodles of souvenir shops, there is an entire street lined with jewelry stores.

A street in the Old Bazaar, Skopje
A typical street in the Old Bazaar

There are also many stores selling ballgowns and wedding dresses.

Two dresses for sale in the Old Bazaar
If you’re in the market for a fairytale dress, you can find it in the Old Bazaar

Learn more about the Old Bazaar in this article by Wander-Lush.

The Public Transportation

For times when you don’t want to walk, there are a lot of buses. You can use the Skopska app to get tickets for a single trip or a weekly or monthly pass.

Uber and Lyft aren’t available, but there are plenty of taxis.

Good Restaurants With Good Prices

You won’t want for places to eat. And the prices are kind to your budget. As you would expect, there are plenty of traditional restaurants. However, our favorite was a Mexican restaurant called Amigos. Their margaritas alone were worth a visit.

A Few Impressive Museums

While there aren’t many museums and tourist attractions in Skopje, the museums we visited were very good. Steve and I were particularly impressed with the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia and The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence.

The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia
The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia

English is Everywhere

It is easy to communicate since almost everyone speaks English. It is also widespread in museums and on menus.

Diverse Architecture

If you can take your eyes off the glitz of the Skopje 2014 project, you can see examples of other architectural styles.

Photos of four buildings in Skopje
Different architectural styles in Skopje clockwise from upper left: the neoclassical Ristik Palace, the postmodern Church of St. Clement of Ohrid, a Brutalist building, and a 15th-century Ottoman building (originally a bath, now an art gallery)

What Could Be Better?

As entertaining as it was to experience the city center, I couldn’t help thinking that with the Skopje 2014 project, the city leaders bit off more than they could chew. Maintenance seems to be a problem. There were just too many things that needed attention.

The Bridge of Art and the Bridge of Civilization

Both the Bridge of Art and the Bridge of Civilization were built as part of Skopje 2014. Both of these pedestrian bridges are lined with sculptures of men who were important to North Macedonian history. Only half of the sculptures on the Bridge of Art had name plates when we visited, and none on the Bridge of Civilization did. Older photos of the bridges show nameplates.

The Bridge of Art in Skopje
The Bridge of Art

In addition to the statues, both of these bridges are lined with ornate lights. We never saw them on even though we visited during tourist season.

The Bridge of Art in Skopje at night
What the Bridge of Art looks like with the lights on (photo from Canva)

The National Theater

The National Theater building is lovely to look at, being adorned with statues and theatrical masks. There are also several free-standing statues around the building. Unfortunately, the area near the ground is already in disrepair, as you can see from this photo:

The National Theater in Skopje
The National Theater – you can see the disrepair along the bottom of the photo

The Litter

There is a lot of litter. While it isn’t unusual for cities to have a litter problem, I think a city that is trying to attract tourists would take extra care to keep the city clean.

Surprisingly, we saw much more litter around the city center than where we stayed, which was a 20-minute walk from the center.

The Graffiti

There is also way too much graffiti.

Two photos of the National Opera and Ballet exterior
Top photo – mosaics on the National Opera and Ballet building; Bottom photo – graffiti on the side of the building

The River

The section of the Vardar River that flows through the city center was not the least bit pleasant. This may have been because the water level was low.

There was a lot of litter in the river, some of which was accumulating on posts. While looking online, I discovered these weren’t posts but water jets meant to put on a lighted water show. Like the lights on the bridges, these were not working when we were there.

You can see how pretty the fountain looks in the featured photo.

The Vardar River
The Vardar River was not picturesque

The Pirate Ships

Yes, you read that right. There are replicas of three pirate ships on the Vardar River. One ship is a restaurant and hotel, one is deserted, and one is in ruins.

If you’re wondering what pirate ships have to do with the landlocked country of North Macedonia, you are not alone. North Macedonian architect Nikola Strezovski said it best: “Skopje 2014 was something that shocked us all at the time. By the time the pirate ships arrived on the Vardar River, we were used to crazy.”

Two pirate ships in Skopje
Top photo: The Hotel Senigallia (hotel and restaurant). Bottom photo: an abandoned ship

The Fountain Water

This last item is minor, but the water in the Warrior on a Horse monument was green. A lovely shade of blue would be so much better.

Lower part of the Warrior on a Horse monument in Skopje
Blue water is pretty; green water – not so much

Should You Visit Skopje?

I don’t believe Skopje is a good choice for the occasional traveler. There are more exciting places with many more tourist attractions. But for frequent and full-time travelers, it is worth a look. You can revel in the kitsch, eat well without spending a fortune, and learn cool historical facts about a country and region you likely know little about.

If you are interested in visiting Skopje, check out our post “What You Need To Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia” for helpful tips.

Until Next Time

That’s it for my review of Skopje. As always, Steve and I would love to hear what you think of this unusual city. Do you live in Skopje? Have you been there? Do you agree with my assessment? Let us know!

Happy traveling
Linda

Feature image from Canva

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