Two Days in Skopje: An Underrated Destination!

Good evening travellers! (Or good morning/afternoon/night, depending where you are in the world). I am currently writing this while sat in the bar/lounge area of my hostel in Bucharest and am enjoying being out of the cold for a few hours…

On Wednesday, I left my home-of-the-last-five-months (Austria) and started my journey to Bucharest. I knew I had to be here by Sunday, but the question was where to visit on the way!

As someone who often likes to check where they can fly to for low prices, I had often seen Skopje come up and had checked it out on Google. I loved it! The architecture, the history, and – the icing on the cake – a budget destination. Skopje was a little bit of a detour (and not really the most logical route) on the way to Bucharest, but I had made up my mind.

To Skopje I would go!

Klagenfurt to Bucharest by bus and train

My final route to Bucharest from Klagenfurt! (Made with travemap.fr)

I will be detailing my journey to Bucharest in more detail in another post – I spent a grand total of 16 hours on trains and 21 hours on buses in the end… 

GET THERE

I travelled from Niš in southern Serbia to Skopje by bus with Niš Ekspres. Overall, I was fairly impressed by the journey. It cost 1450 dinar (just under 12€ or £9) for the 4 hour/215km journey, which is a pretty respectable price. There was a surcharge for luggage (I guess the equivalent of hold luggage charges by airlines…?) but at 60 dinar (or 50, in my case, since I had no more RSD left) it didn’t really break the bank, considering that’s the equivalent of about 50¢. Definitely cheaper than the 35€ fee for some Ryanair flights…

The only particularly eventful thing to happen on the journey was being practically interrogated by the border police. I was the only person on the coach who wasn’t Serbian or Macedonian, and was asked questions by the officer such as “where are you from?” “Where are you going?” “Why are you going?” “What’s in your bags?”, which I tried not to answer TOO sarcastically.

(He was holding my passport and I was on a coach that came from Niš – I would have expected my nationality and departure point to be fairly obvious.)

All in all, though, I would travel with Niš Ekspres again. The drivers were friendly (even when we had some “lost in translation” moments), the coach was comfortable and the journey left on time AND arrived on time.

The journey – 4/5!

ARRIVE

My arrival into Skopje was an interesting combination of amazing (the views of the city) and awful (the taxi driver trying to fleece me of my money).

I had already asked the guy who ran the hostel how much I should expect to pay for a taxi – taxi drivers tend to not hold back on prices when it’s obvious you’re a tourist. I was told to pay about 100 denar and no more.

When asking the taxi driver how much it would cost he told me “about 150”. A good start. I replied stating what Oliver had told me – I would be paying 100. He made a non-committal noise and, since it was almost 10pm and I’d been awake since 7am (after sleeping on an overnight bus) I didn’t have the energy to argue at that point.

We then went to what I thought was his taxi. No – it was his friend’s taxi and he’d be sitting in the back. Now, as a solo female traveller, this made me a little (quite a bit) nervous. I sat there with my phone out, following the route and also “talking to friends” (I actually wasn’t since I didn’t have roaming, but they didn’t need to know that).

We eventually arrived a little while later outside my hostel. The views on the way were amazing – Skopje is beautiful lit up at night. I don’t want to think of what the electric bill is, but they sure know how to light up their landmarks well.

Government building in Skopje

Skopje’s Government building (opposite the hostel).

The friend of the taxi driver helped me with my suitcase to just outside of the hostel and then stood in the way of the bell.

“180 denar,” he informed me.

I told him I only had 150, but apparently this wasn’t good enough. He also wouldn’t accept the 50 denar coin I offered, only notes. “This is little money,” I was told. He then started asking for euros, pounds, dollars. I told him I didn’t have any. He didn’t believe me.

“I saw them in your purse – give me your purse!”

At this point, I was getting quite angry, but I know when to argue and when not to. I don’t like to argue when I’m the one in the vulnerable position (in a foreign country, a fairly short woman, alone in the dark VS a local man who was fairly tall and strong). However, I did point out that these “euros” he had seen were Russian roubles and not worth much. I managed to get past him to press the bell for the hostel and he eventually left with 200 denars.

After getting inside the hostel’s front door and getting all my bags in, I realised quite how scared I had actually been at the time.

The arrival – 1/5 (and only gets 1 because the views were good)

SLEEP

I stayed at Unity Hostel, a small and centrally located hostel just minutes away from some of the best sights in the city.

I had conversed with Oliver, who runs the hostel, by email before I arrived so knew (mostly) what to expect. Some things were even better than I had expected!

Suitcase problems…

The main problem I had was that there was no lift. Had I been a normal backpacker with, well, a backpack, this wouldn’t have been an issue. However, I am in the process of moving countries (from Austria back to the UK) so I was lugging around a large and heavy suitcase with me. I rang the bell a few times but no-one came downstairs so I struggled with/dragged my (much too heavy) suitcase up two flights of stairs. After my encounter with the taxi driver and a really, really long day I was practically having a breakdown by the time I got to the hostel’s door.

However, all was well when I made it through the door. The staff were all super friendly and helped me get my luggage to my room and then gave me a brief tour of the hostel. After being given my linen and towels, I just about made it to my bed to collapse and sleep extremely well!

Cheap and cheerful!

This is probably the best phrase to describe Unity Hostel – cheap (definitely perfect for anyone travelling on a budget!) and the staff were all absolutely lovely and really helpful when it came to where I should go and what I should see.

I really enjoyed staying at Unity Hostel and will definitely stay there again when I come back to Skopje!

The hostel – 4/5!

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 20.05.37

SEE

I officially am a little in love with Skopje. I don’t know what it is about the city, but I definitely want to go back. I missed out on visiting some places that I wanted to see, but – in the end – I just ran out of time.

Skopje itself is fairly small population-wise as cities go, with about half a million inhabitants. At first, I thought the city wasn’t that big, but instead of being more of a circle shape the city is more like an oval (I believe it was reconstructed in a specific way after the 1963 earthquake that destroyed a lot of the city in order that any other quakes would have a more limited impact) and is actually about the same size as Chicago.

If you visit Skopje, I recommend that you visit the city when it’s a little less cold. The city is absolutely beautiful in this season but is really quite cold and it takes a bit away from just being able to wander around a city (although nothing compared to where I went next (Sofia) at -21ºC). There are probably some people from the USA/Canada/Russia reading this and scoffing about -21 being “really cold”, but I’m from the UK and we think anything below 10 is quite chilly!

PLB_2232

St. Clement of Ohrid Church

I’m a massive fangirl when it comes to awesome architecture, so I’m really annoyed I ran out of time and didn’t get to go see the Old Bazaar. However, I visited St. Clement of Ohrid Church and was gazing around the inside like a kid at a sweet store – it’s amazing! The look of Eastern Orthodox churches is so different from churches in Western Europe and I hadn’t (up until now) seen any in person.

Museum of the City of Skopje

When I first walked into the museum, I thought it was just a small photography exhibition until I walked slightly further in and discovered there was a whole other part of the museum – part dedicated to the 1963 earthquake and part dedicated to archaeological discoveries from the site of Scupi, where a Roman military camp was founded on the site of a Dardanian settlement.

There were a few people at the photography exhibition (which I still don’t quite know what it was about as it was entirely in Macedonian, but I figured out it was something to do with Warsaw) but in the museum itself I was the only person there. The exhibit about the earthquake was really interesting and I recommend a quick visit; the archaeological exhibition didn’t really have much information apart from just telling you what the artefacts were.

Early morning exploring

On my second day in Skopje I ended up waking up at around 6am and going exploring to get some photos as the sun was coming up (and to make up for not getting out until about 11:30am the day before). I knew I only had until about lunch when I would have to leave for Sofia, so I wanted to make the most of the time I had.

Other recommendations are the Memorial House of Mother Teresa (who was born in and lived in the city until she was 18), Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia and Skopje Fortress. 

It was definitely a rather brisk morning, but since I got some good shots of the city and followed up my walk with visiting two cafés, it was worth it!

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NEXT TIME…

The main things I don’t want to miss next time I go are the Old Bazaar, Matka Canyon & Vrelo Cave, and Mount Vodno. If you visit Skopje (and you definitely should) – don’t miss them out like I did!

 

Unity Hostel hosted me during my stay. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Don’t forget to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Skopje is a truly underrated destination and more people should travel there! Great for architecture and history buffs alike.

Skopje is a truly underrated destination and more people should travel there! Great for architecture and history buffs alike.

 

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    voyaging vanessa
    January 25, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    I usually stick to public transportation, because I am terrified of a cab experience such as yours! But it happens, sometimes it’s late, we’re tired, and only have taxi’s as an option. Good for you for standing your ground! Even though they tried scamming you, at least it was all they did. Good for you, #Girlpower

    • Reply
      The Flyaway Girl
      January 25, 2016 at 10:54 pm

      Yeah I’m not a huge fan of taking them but when it’s late and public transportation is difficult (and I had a lot of luggage) then I’ll go by taxi.

  • Reply
    Sarah
    January 26, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post!
    Skopje is amazing city!

    • Reply
      The Flyaway Girl
      January 26, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      Thank you! I loved it – definitely have to go back soon!

  • Reply
    Rob
    January 26, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    I once planned to transit through Skopje, as it happened there was a delay. I have now visited 5 times and I love it. One of Europe’s best. Enjoy!

  • Reply
    Rob
    January 26, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    P.S. Definitely check out the cities of Ohrid, Bitola and Prilep next time. Also the wine region around the town of Veles is to die for!

    • Reply
      The Flyaway Girl
      January 26, 2016 at 5:05 pm

      Sounds amazing! I definitely want to visit Ohrid. Thanks for the tip!

  • Reply
    Faria
    January 27, 2016 at 9:38 am

    if you are planning to visit Macedonia again, i would recommend you to visit Ohrid! The breathtaking city !!!

  • Reply
    whereisnoodles
    January 27, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    I love hearing about new destinations! I’ve never considered Skopje before but your post has inspired me!

  • Reply
    Roaming Required (@RoamingRequired)
    January 27, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    It’s a really scary story about your cab driver. I absolutely hate things like that. I’m glad you made it out and you’re safe but really its so unnecessary for such things to happen.

    • Reply
      The Flyaway Girl
      January 27, 2016 at 10:16 pm

      Yeah – it was so frustrating! But the rest of the trip was great.

  • Reply
    The Perpetual Tourists
    January 27, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    I am headed to Plovdiv next month and may just have to make a stop here in Bucharest. Looks very interesting. I appreciate your pictures and descriptions. That church is verrrry different from any I have been seeing in Poland/Croatia/Italy. Great post

    • Reply
      The Flyaway Girl
      January 27, 2016 at 10:33 pm

      Do you mean Skopje? I’m currently in Bucharest and will be writing a post about it soon!

  • Reply
    kachinasnomaddiction
    January 28, 2016 at 1:12 am

    Really enjoyed reading this 🙂
    I went to Macedonia a few years ago and absolutely fell in love with the country! It’s now one of my fav places I’ve visited, and I always recommend it to friends travelling that way. I’d def recommend Lake Ohrid for your next trip too 🙂

  • Reply
    Nicole
    January 28, 2016 at 5:59 am

    Looks beautiful! I have never been there, but it looks and sounds like a place worth visiting!

  • Reply
    Gabi @ Books & Trips
    January 28, 2016 at 7:35 am

    I should definitely visit one day, it’s so close by! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Reply
    Liesbeth
    January 28, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Looks like a great destination! It’s one of those you never put on your list until you kinda just stumble up on them 🙂

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    January 28, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    I’ve never heard of Skopje but it looks and sounds amazing! Thanks for the interesitng read!

  • Reply
    Francia Benson
    January 29, 2016 at 4:59 am

    I have never before of that place. It seems so fun and interesting. What I admire is your determination, so many hours in bus and train to get there. You definitely have the travel bug. I like your writing style.

  • Reply
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