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Commonly referred to as Macedonia, the Republic of Macedonia (or FYROM ) is an impressive place to visit: old Oriental bazaars, ancient Roman ruins, as well as a hearty sprinkling of mosques and Orthodox churches amplify Macedonia's role as a gateway between Europe and Asia.
Mementos of Macedonia's rich history are set against a landscape that at times is breathtaking, such as at Lake Ohrid. Laid out amidst stunning mountains, the lake, which is Europe's deepest, affords fantastic views; in the town, dozens of uncovered Roman remains are the cherry on the cake: Ohrid is Macedonia's top tourist spot.
In Ancient times most of what we now call Macedonia was part of the kingdom of Paeonia, which was inhabited by the Paeonians. In 336 BC Philip II of Macedon conquered Upper Macedonia, including its northern part and southern Paeonia. Philip's son Alexander the Great conquered the remainder of the region, reaching as far north as the Danube, and incorporated it in his empire. Later the Romans included most of the area of the current Republic in their Province of Macedonia.
During the 580s, the Byzantine Empire lost control over the region of Macedonia, and it was only in 1014, that Emperor Basil II could finally restore control over Macedonia. (and all of the Balkans). In the late 12th century, Byzantine decline saw the region contested by various political entities, including a brief Norman occupation in the 1080s. In the early 13th century, the revived Bulgarian Empire gained control of the region. The new Bulgarian Empire didn’t last very long and the region became part of the Serbian Empire. Skopje became the capital of Tsar Stefan Dusan's empire. After his death in 1355, the Balkans became divided again. This happened at the same time as the Ottoman Empire expanded their Empire into Europe. The divided parts were no match for the Ottoman Turks.
Ottoman rule over the region was considered harsh. Movements whose goals it was to establish an autonomous Macedonia, began to arise in the late 1800s. In 1903, IMRO (Internal Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization) organised the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising against the Ottomans, which after some initial successes, including the forming of the "Krushevo Republic", was crushed with much bloodshed. The uprising is now considered on of the most important events in the forming of the Republic of Macedonia. Following the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, most of the European held territories of the Turkish Empire were divided between Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. The territory of the modern Macedonian became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1929, the Kingdom was officially renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
During World War II, Yugoslavia was occupied from 1941 to 1945. It was divided between Bulgaria and Italian-occupied Albania. In 1944 the Anti-Fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) proclaimed the People's Republic of Macedonia as part of the People's Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. ASNOM remained an acting government until the end of the war. The new republic became one of the six republics to form the Yugoslav federation under leadership of Josip Broz Tito. Following the federation's renaming as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1963, the People's Republic of Macedonia was likewise renamed, becoming the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. It dropped the "Socialist" from its name in 1991 when it peacefully seceded from Yugoslavia.
Macedonia has a total area of 25,713 km2. It lies between latitudes 40° and 43° N, and mostly between longitudes 20° and 23° E (a small area lies east of 23°). Macedonia has some 748 kilometres of boundaries, shared with Serbia (62 kilometres) to the north, Kosovo (159 kilometres) to the northwest, Bulgaria (148 kilometres) to the east, Greece (228 kilometres) to the south, and Albania (151 kilometres) to the west. It is a transit way for shipment of goods from Greece, through the Balkans, towards Eastern, Western and Central Europe and through Bulgaria to the East. It is part of a larger region also known as Macedonia, which also includes a region of northern Greece known by the same name; and the Blagoevgrad province in southwestern Bulgaria. Macedonia is a landlocked country that is geographically clearly defined by a central valley formed by the Vardar river and framed along its borders by mountain ranges. The terrain is mostly rugged, located between the Šar Mountains and Osogovo, which frame the valley of the Vardar river. Mount Korab of the Šar Mountains on the Albanian border, at 2,764 metres, is the tallest mountain in Macedonia.
Macedonia is organised into 85 municipalities. For the travellers' benefit, it is better to think of the country in terms of the following geographic regions.
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The natural and cultural heritage of the Ohrid region is placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is probably the most visited town and region in Macedonia and its lakeside location only adds to the charm of this historical place. It is situated on the shores of Lake Ohrid and is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe, mainly built mainly between the 7th and 19th centuries. The town is dotted with many churches, including the St. Sophia Church, St.Bogorodica Perivlepta and St.Jovan Kaneo church. Further south along the lake is St.Naum monastery. An antic theatre and fortifications are also places to visit and just walking around the town and the old bazaar is a very pleasant way of spending the day.
The Mavrovo National Park is the largest national park in Macedonia and includes Golem Korab, the largest mountain in the country located on the border with Albania. Mavrovo Lake is great for swimming, fishing and boat trips in the summer months. In winter, you can go skiing at the Zare Lazareski Ski Center starting at almost 2000 meters above sea level.
Demir Kapija in the east of Macedonia is the wine centre of the country. The city is home to the royal winery and vineyards of the former Yugoslavian King Alexandar Karadjordjevic and another winery is close to the town at the top of Popova Kula, which represents a fort tower from Turkish period. There are several tours available to all wineries.
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As with the rest of Europe, New Year's Day and Eve is celebrated from late December 31 through January 1, with memories of the outgoing year and hopes for the upcoming twelve months shared. Traditional fireworks at midnight see residents pouring onto the streets with parties in bars, clubs, hotels, and restaurants lively until early morning.
Post-New Year winter visitors to Macedonia can enjoy two Christmases, as Orthodox Christmas kicks off on January 5 with children going from house to house caroling and everyone gathering around a bonfire reminiscing about the past year. Christmas Eve is welcomed on January 6 with a traditional vegetarian family supper and the arrival of the Yule Log. Houses are decorated with greenery, and straw is strewn on floors in memory of the stable. On Christmas morning, everyone heads to church, followed by home visits and a sumptuous dinner. Local celebrations continue for three more days.
Held at the end of March, beginning of April on the Tuesday following Ash Wednesday, Strumica’s carnival is centuries old and focused on local girls getting engaged. The festival begins with a colorful procession and parade, followed with masked men visiting the homes of potential fiances begging for their hand in marriage. It’s all great fun, with street parties and large amounts of food and drink.
Easter is the most important festival in Macedonia, held in April about two weeks after Western Holy Week. The traditional dyed and painted Easter Eggs are prepared well in advance with the first placed next to the family icon. Good Friday sees church attendance and vegetarian food, with the traditional Easter Day meal prepared on Great Saturday. On Easter morning after church, the decorated eggs are given to family and friends, and celebrations continue all day.
Labour Day in Macedonia is a national holiday, celebrated on May 1 to honor the social and economic achievements of the workers known worldwide as International Workers’ Day. Macedonians enjoy their day off with trips to the countryside, the lakes or city parks for picnics, relaxation and general merriment with family and friends.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the lives of Macedonia’s two major saints are celebrated on May 24 with the creation of the Slavic Glagolitic alphabet and the region’s conversion to Christianity. Church services give thanks and commemorate their contribution with parades and family gatherings.
Skopje’s annual cornucopia of concerts, folk music, traditional events, and museum openings run from June 21 for four or five weeks in venues across the city, which is a feast of indoor and outdoor theatre and musical delights. The entertainment is mostly free and attracts artists and performers from around the world.
This national holiday is a dual celebration on August 2, commemorating two major events during Macedonia’s struggle for independence. The Ilinden uprising against the Ottoman rulers in 1903 and the first meeting of the fledgling Assembly in 1944 which laid down the basics of the modern republic are remembered with street parties, parades of horsemen, visits to holy monasteries, family festivities, and a great deal of eating and drinking. The religious significance of the day goes back to the end of the pagan era when the god Perun was replaced by the Christian Prophet Elijah.
The highlight of this early July event in the village of Galicnik is the traditional Wedding Festival, during which one lucky couple gets to marry in a ceremony unique to the region. The marriage rites last for two full days, with the traditional Tescoto men’s dance performed to symbolize centuries of suffering endured by the Macedonian people.
From mid-July to late August, the historic city of Ohrid celebrates its Summer Festival with theater, concerts and outdoor street performances. Many of the events are held in the city’s ancient buildings or around historic monuments. The festival is run by Macedonia’s President.
One of the most significant secular events in Macedonia is Independence Day, a national holiday celebrated on September 8 in remembrance of the great day of the referendum in 1991 which resulted in the country becoming a sovereign parliamentary democracy. Expect parades, fireworks, street celebrations, and patriotism toward the relatively new country.
The somewhat communistic title of this crucial festival on October 23 doesn’t hide the fervor of the national holiday, commemorating the first serious, revolutionary attempt to overthrow the Ottoman rulers and take back the country. The Revolutionary Organization began in Salonica in 1893 with just six firebrand members, who later set the population’s hearts ablaze with freedom, resulting in the Macedonia we know today.
Macedonia has hot and dry summers, with temperatures well over 30 °C on most days, even rising to 45 °C on some days. Night temperatures still are around 20 °C or slightly lower. In the mountains, it is a bit cooler of course and in winter there is snowfall in the higher parts, enabling visitors to go skiing. Most rain falls during the winter and early spring, when temperatures can drop below zero but are above in most places.
MAT Macedonian Airlines is the national airline of Macedonia and is based at Skopje Alexander the Great Airport (SKP) near the capital. Destinations include Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Istanbul, Rome, Vienna and Zürich. Ljubljana, Sarajevo, Sofia, Tirana, Zagreb, Prague, Cologne, Belgrade and Budapeast are other cities served by mostly their respective national airlines. In summer, charter airlines fly to and from Lake Ohrid directly from a number of European countries.
There are direct trains between the capital Skopje and the capital of Serbia, Belgrade, via Nis in southern Serbia. Also via Nis, trains go to Podgorica in Montenegro. Prishtina has direct connections, as well as Zagreb and Ljubljana. Check for schedules and prices at the Macedonian Railways website.
By car you can cross to/from Macedonia from/to Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and Serbia. You can also cross into Kosovo. Have your documentation and insurance in order and generally you will be ok, though some insurance companies might not let you drive in Albania or Kosovo!
Buses travel from Skopje to Belgrade, Prishtina, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Sofia and Sarajevo on a daily basis, sometimes passing Ohrid and Bitola en route. To Albania you can travel from Tetovo via Struga to Tirana. There is a twice-weekly service from Ohrid directly to Budva, in Montenegro on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as a direct bus from Sofia to Ohrid leaving at 7:00pm daily. Note that this bus arrives around 2.30am.
There are no crossings at Lake Ohrid between Macedonia and Albania, you have to cross north or south of the lake by road. South requires a bus from Ohrid to the border and cross by foot to take onward transport in Albania from Pogradec.
MAT Macedonian Airlines flies between Skopje and Ohrid.
Travelling by train is cheap but slow. But on the positive side: the landscape is stunning. The main lines run from Skopje to Bitola and Skopje to Gevgelia. Stip, Veles and Prilep are other major towns served by train.
Check Makedonski Zeleznici for more information about schedules and prices.
Most roads are in a good condition, but can be difficult to travel in winter, when snow is prevalent. You can rent cars in Skopje, Ohrid and the respective airports. Traffic drives on the right and your national driver's licence is valid, an international driving permit is recommended as well.
All directional signs in the country show the town names in Macedonian Cyrillic and their Roman transliterations, sometimes accompanied by a second local language, which is often Albanian.
Buses are abundant and main destinations include Skopje, Bitola, Tetovo and Ohrid, with many smaller towns being served as well at least daily.
Other than renting a boat to go out on Lake Ohrid, there are no other useful services for passengers.
Citizens of the European Union and of the countries signatories to the Schengen Agreement can enter with just a valid officially issued ID card or a passport.
Visas are not required by nationals from the following countries:
Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bosnia and, Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Turkey, UK, USA, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The period of stay is regulated under the issued visa, but is no longer than 90 days. The visa free stay is 90 days, with the exception of Turkey, Japan and Montenegro where the visa free stay is 60 days.
Any foreign national possessing a valid multi entry Schengen visa (valid for the entire territory of the Schengen zone) may enter and stay in Macedonia up to 15 days without having to possess a Macedonian visa.
See also: Money Matters
The denar (MKD, plural denari) is the currency of Macedonia. It is subdivided into 100 deni.
Banknotes are in denominations of 10, 50, 100, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 denari.
Coins come in denominations of 50 deni, 1, 2, 5, 10 and 50 denari.
Macedonian is the official language of the country, and is spoken by almost all people. Albanian, Turkish and Serbo-Croatian are spoken by ethnic minorities. While many young people speak English, many of the older generations do not, so a phrasebook is handy. Most of the employees, whether young or old, of the tourism-related businesses, e.g., accommodation, dining, public transportation, can speak at least basic English, anyway, particularly in Skopje, Ohrid, and Bitola. Speakers of Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian and Slovene should have no problem getting by. Russian and German are also useful, especially among older Albanians, and Dutch might be useful in Ohrid.
Šuto Orizari, better known as Shutka, which is part of the city of Skopje, is the only place in the world where Romani (Gypsy) is a co-official language.
Typical Macedonian food resembles the food of the southern Balkans, meaning loads of grilled meat (known as skara). Side dishes usually have to be ordered separately. Macedonia is also famous for its shopska salata, a mixed salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and grated sirenje. Sirenje is a white cheese similar to feta cheese. Usually Macedonians will translate the English cheese to sirenje. Another local speciality is ajvar, a red paste made from roasted peppers and tomatoes, which is either used as an appetizer or side dish. Another typical local dish is tarator which is comparable to the Greek tzatziki. It is made of yoghurt, cucumbers, and garlic and it is served as a cold soup.
Tavče gravče is the national dish and unique to Macedonia. It basically consists of beans, paprika and is traditionally served with cut sausage mixed in. Stobi Flips are a ubiquitous snack food found in supermarkets and corner stores, with the shape and texture of a cheese doodle, but a salty peanut flavour. The most popular street food is either burek which is a flaky phyllo-like pastry filled with melted cheese and/or ham, or pressed, panini style sandwiches, called toast.
Macedonia, being landlocked, does not offer a great variety of fresh fish. A notable exception is Ohrid, where fresh fish from the local lake can be enjoyed. If you have no objections to eating endangered species, the Ohrid trout is a local delicacy.
If you are on a tight budget, try one of the Skara (grill) places. There are quite a few up-market restaurants serving better quality food on the waterfront, but these cater to tourists, so don't be surprised by a rather sizeable bill at the end of your meal.
Being the national tourist attraction, Ohrid is obviously more expensive than any other destination in Macedonia. Note that hotel prices are very expensive throughout the country and charge double rates to foreigners. It is therefore advisable to stay in private accommodation. If someone does not ask you at the bus station, you can always consult one of the many travel agencies in and around the centre. If you do opt for private accommodation make sure you see the room first and then decide. Payment is normally made in advance and should cost no more than €10-15 per night per person in peak season and half that during the rest of the year. Note: finding suitable accommodation in July and August is not easy, so try and book through a travel agent in advance.
Rakija is a strong grape brandy that has the best claim to being the republic's national beverage.
Macedonians boast the largest winery in the Balkan area: the Tikveš (Tikvesh) winery in Kavadarci. Red wines are usually better than white ones. Try T'ga za Jug Macedonian favorite affordable red wine made from a local grape variety called Vranec. Local white wines include Traminec and Temjanika.
The local beer market is dominated by Skopsko, a drinkable, if not entirely distinctive, lager. There are also many breweries which brew surprisingly good-tasting beer.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Macedonia. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Macedonia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
Macedonia is a safe country. Driving yourself can be tricky, but it's recommended for foreigners to try and use taxis and public transport wherever possible. As in all countries, keep an eye out for pickpockets and all valuables safe. Hotels and most private accommodation will offer a safe to store valuables and cash in. Most people are very friendly and hospitable.
Internet access is widely available throughout the country. Internet cafés are available in most cities and in some villages. Almost all hotels provide internet access, either free or paid. Local coffee shops usually offer free Wi-Fi access, as many other public places do. Feel free to ask for the password, if the network is locked.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Macedonia's internetional telpehone code is 389.
Mobile phones are widely spread and the coverage is excellent. There are 3 mobile networks (T-mobile, One and VIP), all using the GSM/3G standard. You can buy a pre-paid SIM card from T-mobile for MKD295 (€5) with MKD250 free talk time, from ONE for MKD190 (€3) with MKD250 free talk time, and from VIP for MKD300 (€5) with MKD300 free talk time. You may need to show your ID card or passport when buying.
If you want to use your home cellphone for internet service, buy a local SIM card or otherwise switch off data roaming and use wifi only. Prices per MB are still extremely high otherwise.
Macedonia's National Postal Service offers fairly reliable and affordable services, though it might take a while for your letter or postcard to arrive. At least 3-5 days within Europe, but more like 10 days for destinations outside Europe. Major post offices keep fairly long opening times, from 8:30am to 7:30pm Monday to Saturday and even on Sunday mornings in some places like Skopje. Smaller towns and rural areas have (much) shorter opening times. If you want to send a package internationally, use courier services like FedEx, UPS, TNT or DHL, as they are fast,. reliable and competitively priced.
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