North Macedonia is a tiny landlocked country in eastern Europe and the best unspoiled destination in the Balkan. In this North Macedonia itinerary, I take you to the most important place of interest. It even includes a day trip to the Albanian side of lake Ohrid. This North Macedonia itinerary includes all UNESCO World Heritage Site, ancient prehistoric sites, monasteries, the country’s best nature and more. First, I give a few North Macedonia travel tips and then I take you on a day-by-day road trip. I am sure this road trip suggestion will help you plan your North Macedonian trip.
Planning a North Macedonia road trip itinerary
North Macedonia is a small country and can easily be explored by staying a few nights in the capital Skopje and a few at Lake Ohrid. I rather drive slightly more than to check in and out hotels daily. You can split the trips from Ohrid and Skopje as you like. I decided to do 2 nights Skopje, 4 nights Ohrid and again 3 nights in Skopje. I will give some options to shorten the trip to a week. This should be enough for the major sights but first some North Macedonia travel planning tips.
North Macedonia visa and entry
As I am from the Netherlands, I did not need any visa. Europeans only need their national ID card which is sufficient to enter. If you are not from Europe, please check with the embassy for the current North Macedonia entry requirement. A visa should be easily obtained if required for most nationalities.
Flights to Macedonia
The main airport of Macedonia is in Skopje, but a second airport is near Ohrid. To Ohrid fly mostly low-cost carriers from within Europe and is a good choice if you’re flying from Europe and can find a suitable flight. Otherwise, Skopje will be your place of arrival with flights from several European hubs. A the time of writing however it’s only Star Alliance flights and airlines that are not member of the big three alliances. Flights are cheap in low season but can be steep in high season. I choose Austrian Airlines from Amsterdam in business class which was just over 350 euro. You could also check flights to Thessaloniki in Greece as it is just a few hours’ drive!
Skopje Hotels and Lake Ohrid Hotels
There are plenty of hotels to choose from in both areas. As I am a Marriott Titanium member one of their hotels is always my first choice. Thus, in Skopje I stayed at the Marriott hotel. It has a great location downtown. At Lake Ohrid I wanted to stay near the old town but also be able to get out of town easily. Hotel Villa Kotlar in Ohrid was my choice and I enjoyed it a lot. The location is just a short walk to downtown Ohrid, 200 meters from Ohrid Beach and there is easy and free parking. The perfect place to stay while on a North Macedonia road trip.
North Macedonia car rental
Where possible I try to rent cars from local companies rather as the big brands. In Skopje I can highly recommend Relax Rent A Car Skopje. Check their website for rates and booking. Their service is great, and the car was perfect and very affordable. Make sure to add the green card to your rental if you plan to travel to Albania. This North Macedonia itinerary does include a day trip there.
Other things to keep in mind while travelling in North Macedonia
- Macedonia uses the Denar. Change money in Skopje. For example, at the casino on the main square. Their exchange rate is amazing. Exchange rates at the airports are terrible. If you really need to then change just a bit.
- If you decide to not have a rental the two days in Skopje, then it is easy to take a taxi to or from the airport. It takes about 20 minutes. You can rent a car from Skopje as well as Relax Rent A Car Skopje as an office downtown.
- While driving in North Macedonia take care on two lane roads in the mountains. Locals drive fast and sometimes not respecting all the safety rules. If you take care, it will be perfectly safe.
- When visiting monasteries keep in mind to dress modest.
- Eat good local food! It is cheap and delicious. I will give you some suggestions in the day-by-day explanation of this North Macedonia itinerary below.
Day 1: North Macedonia itinerary: Arrival & Skopje orientation
The arrival of my flight was in the afternoon. I used the remainder of the afternoon to get the rental car, exchange money and to pick up some craft beer at Pivoteka Beer shop. I also finetuned this North Macedonia itinerary last minute. Although it was a short flight I did get tired. I went for an early amazing authentic Macedonian dinner at the Old City House. The Old City House restaurant I can highly recommend as the food was amazing. I went to bed early as I did not know the amount of time; I would require the next day to see Skopje.
Day 2: Skopje city trip
Skopje, especially the old town, is a small capital city. A Skopje city trip can be done in a day if not less is my experience. Skopje was founded back in the 3rd century BC and was of great importance through the ages. Current Skopje is just a few decades old due to an earthquake in the sixties that levelled most of the city. Most buildings now are new but few older remain. All the places of interest are within a short walk of Square Macedonia. I will list all Skopje sights in the most efficient walking order starting at Square Macedonia.
- Square Macedonia and the statue of Alexander the Great. It was constructed in 2011 for the 20th anniversary of the Macedonian Independence.
- Mother Teresa House. Located at her birth house where she lived until here 18th birthday. A small museum worth visiting.
- Porta Macedonia (Arc of Triumph) with beautiful carvings of Macedonian history.
- Stone Bridge. As the name says a stone bridge which dates to the 6th century when Macedonia was under Byzantine rule.
- Museum of Archaeology and Museum of Macedonian Struggle. Located on the banks of the Vadar river and a must see.
- Daut Pasha Hamam which now houses an art gallery.
- Now walk into the old bazaar and just wander the streets towards the National Museum of Macedonia. You will come across various mosques, Ottoman Inns (Kapan Han, Suli Han), Clock Tower, the Bedesten (a bazaar within a bazaar for the most precious items).
If you visit all the museums the above will take about 4-5 hours. I decided to call it a day and visit the St. Saviour Church, Kale Fortress and Museum of Contemporary Art the next day after the Kokino half day trip. If you are not interested in visiting all the museums, you can see all places of interest after or before the Kokino day trip. It would safe 1 day on this North Macedonia itinerary. Personally, however I always visit the National Museum and Archaeological Museum of a country to understand more of its history. I enjoyed Skopje as it is small and pleasant.
SHORTEN THIS NORTH MACEDONIA ITINERARY: Do day 2 and 3 on the same day which is easily possible. You can visit the fortress direct after arrival to safe some time as well.
Day 3: Kokino day trip & more of Skopje
The Archaeo-astronomical Site Kokino is an ancient astronomical platform from the Bronze Age just recently discovered in 2001. It is just over an hour drive from Skopje towards the Serbian border. The Archaeo-astronomical Site Kokino is, honestly, over advertised as a tourist attraction in Macedonia as “the Stonehenge of Macedonia”. Yes, it is important and do not get me wrong, it is worth going! I simply had to go as it is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site. If the guard is there, you will have to pay a small entrance fee of about 2 euro. He arrived just when I departed. It takes about an hour to explore the site.
The Archaeo-astronomical Site Kokino is believed to be from the 3rd century BC as various artifacts were found and dated to that time. There are several thrones and ceremonial platforms to explore. Make sure to walk the full circle as you otherwise might miss the ceremonial wall!
It is an interesting site and for sure worth adding to a North Macedonia itinerary. I returned in time for late lunch in Skopje which I had at the Old Town Brewery. The shaslik is delicious as is their beer. On day 2 I skipped Skopje Fortress & the Ascension of Jesus church which I visited this day. Skopje is small so it is easy to mix day 2 and 3 of this North Macedonia itinerary.
Day 4: North Macedonia itinerary continued: Skopje to Ohrid via Prilep
There are two routes from Skopje to Ohrid which, until the northern highway is completed almost take the same time. I recommend going through Prilep at least once. Either going to Ohrid or going back to Skopje. It’s not about the city Prilep but the rocky mass called Markovi Kuli in the middle of the valley. This natural phenomenon is of particular interest as it’s not found elsewhere and therefore inscribed as a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To get there just put your GPS to Markovi Kuli and it will take you there. At the entrance sign just continue the road until it gets to narrow and inaccessible by car. Walk the remainder to the once biggest tower of the Balkans. You have beautiful views here of the massif and when done go back and visit the Holy Mother of God (Treskavec Monastery) in the northern part. It has beautiful fresco’s inside. It is also possible to hike between the two places but you would need someone to drive the car or walk both ways which is too time consuming for this North Macedonia itinerary. From Prilep continue to Ohrid.
ADDITIONAL STOP: If you’re like me and don’t mind long days then go to Saint George Church in Kurbinovo. It’s also a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site just near Lake Prespa. It will add about 1:15 hours to the trip including the additional driving.
North Macedonia Itinerary Day 5: Ohrid old town day trip
Ohrid is a beautiful town on the shores of Lake Ohrid and a must place to include on a North Macedonia itinerary. I stayed a 10-minute walk north of downtown in Hotel Villa Kotlar. It’s ideally located near Ohrid Beach, and you walk in no time to the old city. Parking is also available for free which is perfect if you follow this North Macedonia road trip itinerary because in the old town no cars are allowed.
An Ohrid old town day trip doesn’t take a full day, so I decided to start around 10 AM and finish around 4 PM. From the hotel I walked along the shores up to the fort first and then continued through the old town to the lower part. The following places of interest are a must-see. I’ll list them in best order to avoid walking up and down the hilly Ohrid old town.
- Church of Saint John the Theologian
- Old City Park with the Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon
- Samoil’s Fortress
- Antique Theater of Ohrid
- Upper Old Gate with walls
- Church of Holy Mary Perybleptos and the Icon Gallery
- Church of St. Sophia (lunch tip: Sveta Sofija Restaurant)
- Museums Robev Family House (Ohrid Museum) and Hristo Uzunov House
- City Square and from there walk the shopping street
You will pass other interesting buildings and more churches. There is enough time to enjoy all the streets of Ohrid! For dinner, I highly recommend Belvedere for an amazing BBQ!
Day 6: North Macedonia itinerary into nature: Mavrovo Hike
National Park Mavrovo is a large nature reserve in northeast North Macedonia. It is real wilderness which crosses into Albania and Kosovo as well. North Macedonia’s tallest mountain, Mount Korab is located there as well. At the foot of the mountain, deep into the park, is an ancient beech forest which is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site. This Primeval Beech Forest site is a transborder site and because I “hunt” UNESCO sites I simply had to visit. If you plan hiking this is a hike you want to do!
There is just one hike that goes through the forest which starts at Ribnica to Mount Kabash summit. It is approximately 8-9 kilometers one way. The terrain is not that difficult but its wilderness, the path not always fully clear and there are wild bears! Go with a local guide (contact Misko by email, best licensed guide!) if you are like me not an experienced mountaineer. I drove 2 hours from Ohrid and hiked the first 7 kilometers (and back) only as rain was coming so I skipped the summit. I did make it to the primeval beech forest which is ancient and pristine. So beautiful! On the way back I made a quick stop at St. Joseph Monastery which is a pilgrim’s place. I was back in Ohrid in time for again a large BBQ dinner at Belvedere restaurant. Yes I love meat.
Day 7: Road trip to Albanian side of Lake Ohrid
Lake Ohrid borders North Macedonia and Albania. If you make a North Macedonia road trip, I highly recommend including the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid as well. Why do this Albania Lake Ohrid day trip? Because the sights in eastern Albania are all located there. All others are near the coast and thus this saves time. Start at the Illyrian Tombs of Selca e Poshtme (take the northern border crossing) which are the remains of a settlement dating to the 5-2nd century BC. One it was home to the Illyrian kings and now a Tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site. I then recommend driving to Lin to see the old foundation of the cathedral. It has beautiful mosaics and are part of the Albanian UNESCO Site Lake Ohrid.
From Lin continue along the coast to Pogradec for lunch and time at the best beach of Lake Ohrid. It is a small city but for locals a tourist destination. This does not mean it is expensive as the food is even cheaper as in North Macedonia. I had lunch for two people for just twenty euro. This included a large T-Bone, salad, bread, and beers. As I am not that much into beaches and the weather was not nice either I decided to already visit Sveti Naum which is a monastery just across the border (southern crossing) into North Macedonia. This is including on day 8 of this North Macedonia itinerary as it makes more sense on that day. If you do stay in Pogradec I do recommend staying until dinner as food is just so cheap there.
Day 8: Lake Ohrid day trip & National Park Galicica hike
There are some sites around Lake Ohrid left for this North Macedonia itinerary. Two of which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage site Lake Ohrid as well: Sveti Naum and the Natural Park Galicica. Select in Google maps “Lipova – Vrv Magaro Starting point” which is the starting point of the hike into Natural Park Galicica. Unlike the Mavrovo Hike I included in this North Macedonia itinerary you do not per se need a guide here. The hike takes approximate 4 hours, but I only made it halfway to the top when thunder and rain came. It was not safe to continue. The first part of the hike goes through pine forest after which you will walk in the open. Make sure to hike the circle to the top counterclockwise as it is easier. For lunch head over to Sveti Naum, which is a monastery but also a beach with plenty food options.
Sveti Naum or Saint Naum monastery is a beautiful monastery on the coast of Lake Ohrid. He lived in in the 8th century and is associated with the founders of the Cyrillic writing. He founded the Pliska Literary School (you can visit the remains in Bulgaria) and worded the remainder of his live at the Ohrid Literary School. His resting place is at the Saint Naum monastery which he himself founded. Today, the monastery is partly a hotel, and the beach is full of eateries and place to drink. You can even have a boat trip on the small lakes. Quite touristic but it is a must go to on Lake Ohrid shores.
If you start early, you can make a stop at the Bay of Bones Museum to learn how pile dwellers lived centuries ago. It is an interesting museum but if you have seen similar museums in the past, it is not worth going. Altogether a long day full of nature and culture. One that you must do if you follow this North Macedonia itinerary.
Day 9: Day trips from Skopje
I did not plan any of these day trips from Skopje as I planned this day to get a PCR Test to travel home because of the pandemic (summer 2021). The Netherlands however changed the rules, and I did not require this test anymore, so I suddenly had an additional day in Skopje. If you have time, I can recommend them. They can even be done as half day trips on one day as I did.
- Climb up to mount Vodno to the millennial cross. The biggest millennial cross in the world which you can also climb. The climb up the mountain takes about 90 minutes and gives great views over Skopje. After the climb make sure to visit the St. Panteleimon monastery nearby. It has a beautiful painted interior.
- A 40-minute drive away from Skopje is the Matka canyon where you can make a hike or take a boat trip to a cave. There is a monastery as well and plenty of restaurants to have lunch. If you have time, it is worth going.
SHORTEN THIS NORTH MACEDONIA ITINERARY: Simply skip this day!
Day 10: North Macedonia itinerary: departure
My Austrian Airlines flight was early afternoon, so I had a good night of sleep. A good breakfast at the Marriott Skopje before heading to the airport. I had dropped the car already the night before to save some time on departure. One thing: do not come early at the airport. It is small and there is nothing to do at Skopje airport.
When I started planning this North Macedonia road trip itinerary, I thought it would be an average trip. Now, after driving around the country, taking in all its beauty I can say that it is really a great destination in the Balkan. It is unspoiled with beautiful nature and culture and because it is small everything is easily in reach. Then there are the cheap prices for food which is delicious. Altogether North Macedonia is a great destination to get away from over tourism. I hope to return one day to travel into Kosovo and southern Serbia.
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Did you visit North Macedonia too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!