Skopje > Ohrid > Shkodra > Ulcinj > Kotor > Mostar > Sarajevo > Belgrade > Petrovaradin > Novi Sad > Niš > Prizren > Prishtine.
I can say that I had never confronted with any bad situation during my Balkan trip which was done on my own without any tours or agencies. I would also like to give stats now instead of at the end of my articles. I totally stayed 15 nights in the Balkans and the money I spent was only 550 Euros and return flight ticket, transportation, food and accommodation were all included.
In this article, I would like to share my own experiences on transportation, baggage fees, left luggage, exchange money, border crossings, accommodation, places to visit, Macedonian language and what to eat & drink in Skopje.
Most of the travellers buy return tickets for the same destination. However, you don't need to do this. I bought an outbound ticket to Skopje from Istanbul and an inbound ticket from Prishtine to Istanbul. When you arrive at Skopje, the airport name is Skopje Alexander the Great Airport. Altough, the Macedonian territories are constitutionally known as The Republic of Macedonia, it was internationally known as FYROM (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia) because of the political and historical claims of Greece.
Anyway, what I would suggest when you arrive at the airport is not to pay for the taxi which is about 20 Euros. Instead, simply take Vardar Express. You could check out the timetable for this bus on both the company's and the airport's website.
The bus ticket from the airport to the city center just costs 175 Macedonian Denars (MKD) which is just under 3 Euros.
- BAGGAGE FEES
It is really weird that most of the Balkan countries apply baggage fees on board. However, the only exceptions were Macedonia and Albania. I had noticed on my trips from Skopje to Ohrid, Struga to Durres and Skopje to Prishtine that I wasn't asked for any money.
- LEFT LUGGAGE
I didn't need to leave my stuff in Skopje, but I asked just to get an information. The officer at the Information Office told me that I could leave my bag there. They charge 50 MKD per bag.
- EXCHANGE MONEY
The currency unit in Macedonia is Macedonian Denars (MKD) and 1 Euro is just about 61 MKD. However, the rates may vary depending on the place you are at. For example, you will see an exchange office adjacent to Vardar Express bureau when you have passed through the customs at the Skopje Airport. The exchange rate was 1 Euro = 54,92 MKD. I would suggest to change money as much as you need.
I also remember that I had changed my money in VERO Shopping Center near my hostel and the rate was 1 Euro = 62 MKD which was great. All in all, most of the places in the center change approximately like 1 Euro=60 MKD. So, think like this so as not to confuse.
- BORDER CROSSINGS
It was hassle-free when I was at the airport. I was just typically asked like "Why you are here?" and "How many days you will be here?" and wasn't asked any documents. However, I would suggest you to bring your return tickets with you.
When it comes to border crossings by bus, the only place I waited most was Tabanovce which is between Serbia and Macedonia. I had waited inside the bus 10 minutes is Serbian side and 40 minutes in Macedonian side. However, there was no question by the officers. They just collect passports and give you back after stamping.
I stayed in Skopje 1 night on two occasions and preferred Shanti Hostel which is just off the Vardar River. I can recommend this hostel as it is just 5 minutes away from the bus terminal by walking and 15 minutes walking distance from the city center. I had paid just 9 Euros a night in a 4-bed dormitory including breakfast. The staff was very welcoming.
If you would like to make a reservation at Shanti Hostel, you could reach their reservation page by clicking HERE.
- PLACES TO VISIT IN SKOPJE
Vardar River : It is the longest river in Macedonia. The river was very famous and significant in Ottoman era and modern-day Turkey and was the inspiration of many folk songs. The most famous one is Vardar Ovası.
Stone Bridge : In some historical sources, it is said that this bridge was built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. As far as I have seen, known and heard it was started to build in the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murad II and finished in his son Mehmed the Conqueror. It is also written on the plaque in the middle of the bridge that it was built in the era of Sultan Murad II (15th century) and repaired in 2008. However, the very famous 17th-traveller Evliya Çelebi also tells us that this beautiful bridge was the structure of Mehmed the Conqueror.
Macedonia Square : It is a fully sculpture-decorated square and the meeting point in Skopje.
Porta Macedonia : It is a marble arch erected on the 20th independence anniversary of Macedonia. It's possible to climb up there but I don't know the fee.
Parliament Building : It's the parliament building of the Republic of Macedonia. It is located between October 11 and Dame Gruev streets.
House of Mother Theresa : Mother Theresa was born in Skopje and lived here until she was 18. Today's house in not the original one. As it did not really grab my attention, I just took a look from outside. There is no entrance fee for this place.
Archeology Museum : When you first walk into the museum, the section on the right dedicated to the coins of the Empires who ruled here. On the other sections, there are models of emperors, sculptures, bowls, and old belongings.
The entrance fee for this museum is 300 MKD and it equals almost 5 Euros. If you are not a student of archeology, this museum definitely wouldn't worth it. Also, the museum hosts are really rude and they definitely don't allow you to take photographs. If I compare the money I gave and the museum itself, I can clearly say that I didn't like this palce. Though, most of the objects here are replicas.
Davud Pasha Hammam : This hammam was built in 15th century by one of the viziers of Ottoman Empire and it now serves as a National Gallery. The entrance fee is 50 MKD, but it is free on Sundays.
Double Hammam : Many sources on the internet say that this hammam is Davud Pasha Hammam. This is not true. Also, this hammam is what Evliya Çelebi mentions on his travel book (Seyahatname in Turkish) Gazi İsa Bey Hammam.
Double hammam is located next to Davud Pasha Hammam and entrance fee is 50 MKD. However, it is free on Sundays. This hammam also serves as an exhibiton center today.
Old Bazaar : No need to explain this great place. It is a typical Ottoman quarter where there are so many shops, jewelry stores and so on.
Skopje Fortress : It is though that this fortress remained from Romans in the 5th century. Many fires and earthquakes damaged it and not restored after the last earthquake in 1963.
As far as I can see, there is nothing to see in the fortress. Just a few towers, small bastions and the view. It is free to enter and is closed at 8 pm.
Mustafa Pasha Mosque : This beautiful Ottoman mosque was built in 1492 and restored by Turkey a few years ago after having damaged by the 1963 earthquake. It is free to enter.
You will also see a tomb next to the mosque and the daughter of Mustafa Pasha was buried there.
Yahya Pasha Mosque : It is a 16th century mosque near Bit Bazaar.
Arasta Mosque : This mosque is also 15th century building and restored in 2014 by Turkish government.
Sultan Murad II Mosque : This is the biggest mosque in the Balkans. Evliya Çelebi also mentions this mosque as Emperor's Mosque. There is also a clock tower near the mosque.
Kurshumli Han : This is the biggest and maybe the most beautiful Ottoman caravanserai of the three surviving ones in Skopje. It was closed when I got there so I can't give you details.
Apart from this han, there are also Kapan Han and Suli Han.
Church of St. Saviour : This church is not so big and located near Sultan Murad II Mosque. In this church, Goce Delchev who was the leader of the movement against Turks was buried.
In my limited time, I visited these places in Skopje. Apart from what I wrote here, Museum of Macedonian Struggle and Skopje City Museum could also be visited.
Matka Canyon : I didn't go this place but if I had time I would definitely go there. People go there for swimming, trekking and picnicing. You could go to Matka Canyon by taking the No.60 bus and the journey takes about 40 minutes. I would also suggest to check out the timetables for your return as it might be a problem in off season.
- MACEDONIAN LANGUAGE
The rate of speaking English is really low in Balkan countries compared to the other Europeans. I tried to contact them sometimes in English and sometimes in Turkish. In the meantime, I learnt some Macedonian from them. Here is what I remembered :
Da / Ne : Yes / No
Blagodaram : Thanks
Zdravo : Hello
Dobra Nok : Good night
Dobro utro : Good morning
Doviduvanje : See you
Dobro : Good / ok
WHAT TO EAT & DRINK
Destan Restaurant : I had read many blogs about this restaurant before I left home for my Balkan trip and vast majority were saying this place was extremely great, the food was extremely awesome and it was cheap.
When I went there for lunch and ordered the famous meatballs which is called "cevapcici" or shortly "cevabi" here and it was something like this :
Yes, it was indeed tasteful, but not like what people exaggerated. Much better one can easily be found anywhere in Turkey. For the bill, I paid 300 MKD (about 5 euros) for 10 pieces of meatballs and 1 ayran. So, it was not as cheap as what people advised. It was actually a little bit expensive than I thought.
Restaurant Kej : This restaurant was just a few minute walking distance to my hostel and has a view of Vardar River. I actually didn't eat here but I had a look at the menu for a while. Prices were not so bad. As far as I remember, a chop stick was 90 MKD, salad was 70 MKD, soup was 60 MKD and pasta was between 80-150 MKD.
Restaurant La Tana : I have been to this restaurant with fellow travellers who are Spanish, Canadian and Dutch. The food was not bad but the atmosphere is really noisy as they perform local live music. A bootle of Beck's was 120 MKD, French fries with cheese was 130 MKD. Chop stick was about 150 MKD.
Suna Cafe : This place is located at the beginning of Old Bazaar and right on the opposite side of Davud Pasha Hammam. I had actually came here to get rid of my Makedon Denars. I ordered ice-cream and one ball was just 20 MKD. However, I wouldn't recommend this place as the ice-cream was really awful. They also brought me Turski Çay (Turkish tea) and there was no connection between my Turkish tea at home and what they brought me. The staff was good, but the overall quality was really low. So, I definitely wouldn't recommend here.
Apart from what I told you guys here in my article, there was also another cafe but I can't recall its name. It was located in a narrow street when you follow the sign for the fortress from the Old Bazaar. People was drinking their Turkish teas and playing backgammom. The atmosphere seemed to be very authentic.
In my next article, I will share my experiences on Ohrid.