Macedonia, formally known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), is a small landlocked country nestled between Greece, Albania, Serbia, and Bulgaria. This position gives its culture a unique blend of Ottoman, Mediterranean, and Balkan influences, making it a wonderful place for food and cultural tours.
But it’s Macedonia’s nature that attracts the most visitors. From the glittering shores of Lake Ohrid to the stunning views of the Matka Canyon, this mountainous country offers up some exceptional natural sights. Combine this with a network of quiet and beautiful hiking trails, and budding rural tourism industry -- complete with unforgettable farm homesteads and wineries -- and you have yourself one of southern Europe’s best-kept secrets.
Macedonia’s biggest draw is Lake Ohrid, a gorgeous expanse of clear blue water that has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area draws visitors in year-round thanks to the collection of charming villages that surround it, but in the summer you can swim, dive, and snorkel in the lake’s waters. There are plenty of beautiful hikes in the area, including a week-long trail around the lake’s perimeter.
Lake Ohrid is Macedonia’s most famous natural wonder, but there are many others. Macedonia boasts gorgeous mountains and national parks, all filled with opportunities for camping, hiking, and adventure sports.
There is a blossoming food tourism industry in Macedonia, mostly based around remote farms, homesteads, and restaurants in the countryside. Macedonia’s diverse culture makes for a uniquely delicious cuisine -- a blend of Greek, Turkish, and Armenian -- that is yet to emerge within the classic European food trails.
The food is farm-to-table, fresh, and traditional, with dishes such as slow-roasted meats, pastries, stews, and artisan wines and spirits abounding.
Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, underwent an expensive makeover in 2014, leaving it covered in neoclassical facades that have done little to promote the city’s actual cultural heritage. Behind the huge statues and new buildings, there are centuries of history at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and the Balkans.
Many tours specialize in exploring this fascinating culture, whether it be through the old streets of Skopje, the monasteries of Ohid, or the Ottoman architecture of Bitola.
Macedonia is not yet fully "on the map" as a European destination, which has its pros and its cons. On one hand, there is the peace and quiet that comes with a yet to be discovered country, but on the other, there is the patchy infrastructure that comes with a lack of mass tourism.
However, the open and friendly attitude of the locals, combined with the growing tourism sector, means you are rarely inconvenienced, and that you really have a chance of feeling at home here.
Best Time to Visit Macedonia
The best time to visit Macedonia is in the summer (May to August). This is when you can take full advantage of the country’s lakes, mountains, and hiking trails, and when the cities are at their most pleasant and vibrant. This is high season so you can expect fuller hotels and slightly higher prices, but the difference is not as marked as with other major European destinations.
There are great cultural festivals in the fall, and winter offers skiing opportunities as well as the chance to see some of the country’s sights blanketed in snow.
What to Look for in a Tour of Macedonia
This will depend greatly on what you are interested in, but the best tours offer the chance to do a bit of everything. For example, several hiking tours stop by local food producers and cultural attractions, giving you an overall view of Macedonian culture. Many tours go beyond Macedonia, stretching into Greece, Albania, Croatia, or Montenegro, which is a good choice if you have more time.
Typical Tour Cost
Macedonia is a very affordable European destination, and most tours reflect this. A 5-day “best-of” tour costs approximately $400-$700, depending on the activities offered and the level of accommodation. Tours lasting a week to 10 days can cost about $1,100, with bike tours usually costing a bit more. More expensive and longer tours are likely to incorporate neighboring countries for a more general tour of the Balkans.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Most people who visit Macedonia end up doing a lot of walking and hiking, so pack appropriately with comfortable, quick-dry clothing and a pair of solid, reliable boots. If you are visiting in summer, know that temperatures can get very high, and vice-versa in winter. Monasteries and churches are popular cultural attractions, so pack options with full leg and shoulder coverage.
Gear requirements vary by tour, but generally speaking, you will not be required to pack specialist equipment. Bike tours usually have their own bikes, although many welcome you to bring your own saddle if it makes you more comfortable. Tours that involve camping usually provide tents, but this is not always the case -- if you're ever in doubt, check with your tour provider.
Other Tips for Travel in Macedonia
The Macedonian currency is the Dinar, but Euros and Dollars are often accepted as well, especially along the tourist trail. Credit cards are generally accepted in most sit-down restaurants and city shops, but you will still need cash for smaller independent businesses.
Healthcare in Skopje is good, but there are sometimes shortages of medicines. Make sure you have health insurance before traveling and bring a stock of any medicines you take on a regular basis. It is also a good idea to check with your tour company what is included in their first aid kit.
Tap water is generally safe to drink, as is the water from the many public fountains around the country. Bring a reusable water bottle, especially if you are going to be hiking.
Macedonia doesn’t present any significant safety risks for travelers, although the usual precautions against theft and pickpockets are recommended. When in rural regions, keep a safe distance from dogs, as these are often trained as guard dogs and can attack if threatened.