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Macedonia is a magical destination made up of soaring Balkans mountains among the treasures of natural beauty which make it a top of the line Balkans road trip destination. Its small towns have more to tell than the likes of bigger cities like Skopje.
You will feel the weight lift off your shoulders as you hike through the fresh mountain air and stare down into the lush green valleys of the Sar Mountains. There are several national parks you can explore.
The country is small but packed with adventures. Macedonia is a land-locked country which is surrounded by four other Balkan countries; Bulgaria to the East, Greece to the South, Albania to the West and Kosovo to the North.
What Macedonia lacks in sea views, it makes up for in mountainous vistas which cover a predominant portion of the country.
The heart of Macedonia exists in the historic small towns which barely fit on the country’s maps. If you want to get off the beaten track of Europe, you take a trip through the Balkans. But if you want to get lost in the Balkans, you come to Macedonia.
Take a look at our guide to some of Macedonia’s most fascinating small towns as you travel around the country in a weekend.
Macedonia Travel: Know Before You Go
Whether you are spending one weekend or one month in Macedonia, you are bound to find endless adventures. However, there are things you need to know before you travel to Macedonia. Here is a little background information:
Transportation in Macedonia
Renting a car in Macedonia is our preferred method of transportation. It is relatively expensive when compared to other Balkans countries; however, it is still affordable and efficient. Expect to pay around $ 15-18 for a compact economy rental vehicle. Roads are well-constructed and maintained almost everywhere.
Train travel in Macedonia is also comfortable and efficient. It is generally inexpensive, but the problem is that routes are limited due to tough mountain ranges to navigate throughout the country.
Taxis are abundant in Macedonia. Taxis are how most people get around within the city. It is better to find a taxi at a designated taxi stand rather than calling for a ride at arrivals of either the airport or train station.
Buses in the country are getting better constantly. Nowadays, most have air conditioning and even WiFi. Also, more routes are being introduced yearly.
Accommodation is a little harder to come by in Macedonia than in other countries within the Balkans region. You can find a budget hotel for around $ 20-25 per night; however, most hotels will ring you anywhere from $ 35-50 a night. In the towns listed below, you may have more luck on AirBnB.
Food is relatively inexpensive. Macedonian cuisine combines Mediterranean flavor with Middle Eastern influences, mixed with cuisines of other Balkans countries. You can eat at a traditional mid-range Macedonian restaurant for $ 12-15. Of course, you can always find a $ 5 meal somewhere, too.
Macedonia Weekend Itineraries
Here are a few examples of some weekend (extended weekend) itineraries for those planning a trip to Macedonia. Keep in mind, these itineraries only include small-town destinations. Check here for other Macedonia travel information.
2 or 3-days: Fly into Skopje and drive to Veles for a day before going to Kratovo for the remainder of the trip.
4-5 days: Start in Skopje, make your way to Kratovo, spend a day there. Go to Berovo, spend 1-2 days visiting before heading to Veles for the remainder of the trip.
7 days: Skopje to Kratovo for a day. Drive to the east to Berovo, spend a day there before driving back west to Veles. Then, to Ohrid and Struga for a few days, ending the trip with Mavrovo for a day before heading back to Skopje.
Best Time To Visit Macedonia
Like most places in the Balkans, Macedonia’s best weather comes in the summer months, usually from June until mid-September. However, with a mild spring, you could avoid the high peak of tourism in Macedonia by visiting from April on.
Summer season is best for hiking in the mountainous national parks and also for the fact that the country is big on festivals come summertime.
Winter is cold in Macedonia. As a majority of the country exists in the mountains, temperatures are usually at least ten to twenty degrees cooler. Snow usually doesn’t melt off the peaks until late spring to early summer. Rain and slush will keep hiking trails sloppy until, at least, June.
Small Town Places To Visit In Macedonia
Here is a list of small towns in Macedonia which you may find worth your visit. In between the mountains and valleys are these small oases filled with culture on the walls. Read why we like each and see if it fits your itinerary and gets your travel bug scratching.
Ohrid is an ancient city nestled on the Albanian border in the southwest corner of Macedonia. It is the largest city on this itinerary and certainly the most popular among tourists – and for good reason.
This beautiful town on the shores of the renowned Lake Ohrid and its turquoise waters has earned itself a tranquil yet modern reputation having a lively nightlife scene that continues to grow year-by-year. The lake has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its diverse ecosystem and general beauty.
The town, although small, has enough to keep you wandering its narrow cobbled streets for hours on end with its cozy orange roofed homes and distinct restaurants.
The city’s small-but-packed Old Town has cathedrals and monasteries still standing which date back to the 4th Century including Samoil’s Fortress, which is the most impressive and sits at the top of the hilly town.
The quaint boardwalk and gorgeous lakeside beaches give Ohrid a charm that cannot be topped. Its cliffs seemingly come to life at sunset. You will be in complete awe.
The town of Ohrid has nearly 50,000 residents, but it can feel like many more in the summer months due to steady tourist inflation. If you are traveling to Ohrid in July or August, it may be a good idea to book your accommodation in advance as that is the festival season with many domestic and international visitors.
We have a few recommendations as far as hotels and accommodation in Ohrid goes. Here are our favorites:
- Villa Jovan
- Villa Veron
- Villa Square Ohrid
Tucked in that same southwest corner of the country, bordering the same beautiful Lake Ohrid is a village which is every bit as beautiful as the larger city down the road, but a bit more quiet, especially during the summer months.
Struga prides itself on its low-key atmosphere when compared to Ohrid. While Ohrid was once the capital of culture in Macedonia, Struga never received a title like that and has remained in the shadows.
This town is split in two by the Black Drin River which gives the entire town a riverside vibe similar to that in Venice. With that being said, the architecture is entirely different than the canals of Italy. However, the atmosphere is quite similar with one striking difference: the people of Macedonia aren’t out to take your money, they simply want you to enjoy their town/ country.
With numerous cafes and restaurants who seat people outside with unparalleled views along the riverfront, it will be hard for you to not enjoy and romanticize every evening in Struga.
As for hotels, Lake Ohrid has many hotels surrounding it. In Struga, there aren’t nearly as many as in Ohrid; however, we’ve found a few which suit our fancy and perhaps you would like them too:
- Hotel Drim
- Villa Mal Sveti Kliment
- Hotel Montenegro
Veles is another town which is on the larger side of a ‘small town’ scale with a population exceeding 40,000. It sits on the banks of the Vardar River just forty-five minutes south of the nation’s capital, Skopje.
It is a traditional city whose history saw control by the Bulgarian and Serbian Empires before being taken over by present-day Macedonia where it has remained. Being that it has a long history, you can see the influences in the Veles architecture – especially in its Old Town.
The Old Town of Veles, with its winding roads and hilly streets, paint an exciting picture of life in Macedonia with its renowned custom wood housing, churches built into the hillsides, and beautiful clock towers in the most random places.
That is not the only alluring detail about Velles. Book junkies would love the fact that it is the birthplace of modern Macedonian literature thanks to the nationally famous novelist, Koco Racin.
Veles is a city of history, culture, poetry, tradition, and everything in between and it would be a shame to miss it on your Macedonian road trip.
There are a few hotels which we like in Veles that you can take a look at. We have listed them below:
- Hotel Restaurant Brod Panini
- Montenegro Rivijera
- Epicentrum-Veles Motel
Mavrovo is everything you could want out of a small town tourist destination. For starters, it is located only an hour and a half from the capital, Skopje, in the northwestern mountainous part of the country.
Visitors come to Mavrovo to ski in the wintertime, and they come for the beautiful Lake Mavrovo in the summertime. Mavrovo National Park is as gorgeous as it is refreshing. Most visitors stop in Mavrovo on their commute between Skopje and Ohrid for some fresh air.
The park is home to Macedonia’s tallest peak, Mt. Korab, standing over 8,000 feet in the air. However, the park is best known for its ski resort. Although, if you are an avid skier, you may only consider the slopes just slightly above average, but the views make it worth every penny.
With steep gorges and thick pine forests, ancient monasteries and an atmospheric small town, Mavrovo and Mavrovo National Park is just the breather you were looking for on your weekend trip. Stop in for a day or two, rest up and recover and be on your way.
Below are a few of the accommodation options we would consider perfect for your rest – but don’t forget to enjoy the great outdoors, too!
- Hotel Bistra Mavrovo
- Hotel Tutto
- Yeti House
With a population of just over 7,000 in a lesser-traveled part of the country – the eastern side of Macedonia – Kratovo is precisely what you would imagine the rural charm of the country to be. Not to mention it is actually hidden inside the crater of a non-active volcano!
If that is not enough to entice your appetite, perhaps its mountain surroundings and gorgeous stone architecture will suit your fancy.
The Tavacka River splits the city in two, multiple ancient stone bridges connect the two sides throughout town.
As if all of this wasn’t enough to convince you to travel to east Macedonia, the city’s center is the most quaint of all the views around town. Here, you can spin around and see all six guard towers built from stone to protect the village from invaders during medieval times.
Its rustic red roof homes and narrow winding lanes remind you of something out of a movie.
Here are a few hotels around town which we found suitable. If you know of any others, let us know!
- Etno House Sancheva
- Villa Ana Maria
Berovo has a lot to offer nature lovers. At the foothills of the gaudy Malesevo Mountains and along the glistening Berovo Lake with trees as far as the eye can see, you will love your time spent hiking the abundant trails and taking in the fresh mountain air. At several breaks in the trail, magnificent viewpoints are looking down onto the lake and into town. It is not hard to see what calls visitors to this stunning area of Macedonia.
That’s not the only thing this small town has to offer. Most of Macedonia’s cheese comes from this region, and it is fun to go on a tasting tour through the absolutely peaceful city center.
There are plenty of restaurants and attractions that meet the eye and can keep visitors entertained for a day or more.
We have included a few hotels which you might look into staying at if you make it to Berovo. It is worth your while if you have got the time!
- Hotel Gogov
- Bela Voda
- Villa Lake Palace
Cultural buffs, unite! Galicnik is everything you could want in a quick Macedonian getaway. Every year during what locals call the Wedding Festival, a couple from the village or nearby will be married the traditional way with singing and dancing and everything that preserves its history.
Most people do not know this, but modern-day Macedonia is home to a group called the Mijaks – who are an ethnic group dating back to the Middle Ages. They are most known for their peculiar way of living and skilled architecture. The Mijaks are commonly associated with Galicnik.
The town itself slips into the mountainside in the middle of lively nature and relaxing pastures for picturesque views.
Galicnik is a great place to spend a day or two if you have got it. Here is a small list of hotels to choose from if you are looking to book your stay in advance. If not, they are easy to spot within town, too.
- Radica View House
- Vertical Hostel Mavrovo
- Melnicani Bed & Breakfast
Stobi is one of the more interesting stories of Macedonian history. Once a thriving city with one of the nation’s largest populations and infrastructures, the city is no longer inhabited.
Why would you visit a city that has no people? Well, history enthusiasts would be the first to tell you that what remains of Stobi tells a story like none other. Ruins of churches, palaces, and well-developed city streets – a perfectly preserved Roman amphitheater – this place is like walking into a historian’s gold mine.
Traceback the time thousands of years and try to imagine a lively city, one of the richest in the country, and see where it all stands today — buildings dating back centuries upon centuries and an eerie silence which you won’t believe.
Stobi may be the last on this itinerary but certainly not least. It packs a punch worth checking out.
Here are a few hotels we found that you will be comfortable staying at just outside of Stobi in the bustling city of Kavadarci and surrounding suburbs:
- Hotel Villa Bella
- Urbanista Boutique Hotel
- Gardenia Hotel & Spa
Macedonia is a country which is suffering through a bit of an identity crisis – especially in its most populated towns such as Skopje. However, hidden in its small towns are the country’s treasures.
The national parks and glistening alpine lakes; the premiere culinary experiences and charming architecture – somehow, these features of Macedonia and more have gone unexplored in a majority of the country. But no more! Now, you won’t have to miss this side of Macedonia; the real Macedonia.
If you have questions about your itinerary in Macedonia, feel free to reach out, and we will do our best at answering your concerns with what knowledge we have of the country.