Skopje, Macedonia: What to See and Where to Eat in the Land of Coffee & Kitsch
Walk around Macedonia’s capital city, Skopje, and you’ll find yourself in three primary areas: the bohemian district, the old town, and the redeveloped downtown, which has been compared to Vegas kitsch on steroids. After snapping your photos of the 72-foot-tall (and unofficially named) Alexander the Great statue and those of his parents, you’ll want to focus your time on the first two areas.
My Airbnb host, Sofija Grozdanova, who quickly become my Macedonian sister, came on the Postcard Academy podcast to share the best her hometown has to offer. Subscribe to the podcast to hear the whole story. Here are the highlights.
What to see in Skopje
After an earthquake destroyed most of Skopje, Macedonia in 1963, the world sent donations of both money and talent to rebuild the capital city. Kenzo Tange, a Japanese architect, won a UN competition to redevelop Skopje, which he did in a famously gray and modern way. Several decades later, a now-ousted government spent hundreds of millions of dollars to redevelop the city to make it seem more connected to antiquity. The statues of Alexander the Great and his family are especially controversial because Greece says that Macedonia is trying to steal its history. Greece does not even want Macedonia to be called Macedonia and has blocked its application to the EU and NATO until it changes its name. (read more on this proposed name change).
Local residents say the redevelopment project, called Skopje 2014, has been a huge waste of taxpayers' money and that the kitschy statues, monuments, and new buildings don't reflect 'the real Macedonia.' For a taste of that, you need to head to the Ottoman old town, or Debar Maalo, the bohemian district.
“Macedonia time is 8-8-8, you work eight hours, you sleep eight, and you have eight hours for cultural and social life,” Sofija says.
What to eat in Skopje
Skopje is a Balkan country, so very meat-centric. Though you will find a number of places that serve veggie burgers and other vegetarian options. There’s even a vegan restaurant in town. The best thing to do, though, is hang out at a kafana, where you’ll find traditional Macedonian food, drink, and music. “Macedonia was an agricultural country many years ago,” Sofija says. “So while they were working, they started to sing songs to make their job easier.”
K8 is Sofija’s favorite place to relax. “There’s a part at the front where you can have lunch, but there’s also the part behind that not many people know about. You can have your coffee and ice cream and have a peace of mind that’s impossible to find in another place in Skopje.”
Other restaurants and cafes to try:
Kantina - Dog-friendly hipster cafe. Veg options include salads, sandwiches, pizza. My veg sandwich came with fries and cost under $3. Outdoor seating. Some of the seats are actually swings.
Vegan 365 Kitchen - Hole-in-the-wall with good (but very sloppy) vegan burger.
Dneven Prestoj - Open all day. Find traditional food and loads of outdoor seating.
Casa Cubana - Eat dinner here then dance all night long.
If you found this article useful, please share it, and subscribe to the Postcard Academy podcast. Each week, expats and adventurers share their insider travel tips on the best food, nightlife, and cultural experiences in the most interesting places around the globe. I’m your host, Sarah Mikutel, an American who's spent the last 7 years living in, and traveling around, Europe.