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).

 

 You can see the statue of Warrior on a Horse, aka, Alexander the Great on the far left.   

You can see the statue of Warrior on a Horse, aka, Alexander the Great on the far left.

 

 The government commissioned several random ships as part of its Skopje 2014 redevelopment project.   

The government commissioned several random ships as part of its Skopje 2014 redevelopment project.

 

 This statue of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, stretches 95 feet into the sky.   

This statue of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, stretches 95 feet into the sky.

 

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.

 

  The old train station  is now the Museum of the City of Skopje. It stopped operating as a train station after the 1963 earthquake and its clock forever marks the time when that natural disaster hit. 

The old train station is now the Museum of the City of Skopje. It stopped operating as a train station after the 1963 earthquake and its clock forever marks the time when that natural disaster hit. 

  Memorial House of Mother Theresa , who was born in Skopje, Macedonia. Her family home was destroyed in the 1963 earthquake. This museum was built on top of the church in which she was baptized. 

Memorial House of Mother Theresa, who was born in Skopje, Macedonia. Her family home was destroyed in the 1963 earthquake. This museum was built on top of the church in which she was baptized. 

  Kale, which means fortress in Turkish . My guide said the Romans first built this, but according to Wikipedia, the Byzantines used Roman materials to construct the fortress in the 600s.

Kale, which means fortress in Turkish. My guide said the Romans first built this, but according to Wikipedia, the Byzantines used Roman materials to construct the fortress in the 600s.

  The archeology museum . Another museum Sofija says you can't miss:  The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle . Plan at least 90 minutes for this. They don't let you walk around on your own; you have to go with one of their guides.   

The archeology museum. Another museum Sofija says you can't miss: The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. Plan at least 90 minutes for this. They don't let you walk around on your own; you have to go with one of their guides.

 

 Sofija, my lovely Airbnb host. I'm sharing her apartment in Skopje’s bohemian district and feel so at home in her place and in this neighborhood. And her room is $12 a night. What?! If you’re new to Airbnb,  take advantage of my friends and family discount .   

Sofija, my lovely Airbnb host. I'm sharing her apartment in Skopje’s bohemian district and feel so at home in her place and in this neighborhood. And her room is $12 a night. What?! If you’re new to Airbnb, take advantage of my friends and family discount.

 

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. 

 Ajvar and tavce gravche in Skopje's old town.   

Ajvar and tavce gravche in Skopje's old town.

 

 These sweet, fried rings are called tulumba and this lady serves them warm. She married a Turkish man and called this pastry shop Istanbul, serving sweets from Turkey. Interestingly, she's been in the newspapers for her pistachio baklava, which she named after Angela Merkel.

These sweet, fried rings are called tulumba and this lady serves them warm. She married a Turkish man and called this pastry shop Istanbul, serving sweets from Turkey. Interestingly, she's been in the newspapers for her pistachio baklava, which she named after Angela Merkel.

  Silbo bakery  operates 24/7. "There's a bigger chance to meet your crush in Silbo than in any other place in town," Sophie says.

Silbo bakery operates 24/7. "There's a bigger chance to meet your crush in Silbo than in any other place in town," Sophie says.

 Rakija is a type of brandy you'll find throughout the Balkans. Some regions make it with grapes and others use plums, Macedonia using the former. You're meant to sip to maintain a nice buzz, not pound it to get drunk really fast. 

Rakija is a type of brandy you'll find throughout the Balkans. Some regions make it with grapes and others use plums, Macedonia using the former. You're meant to sip to maintain a nice buzz, not pound it to get drunk really fast. 

  K  apan An  dates back to the 1400s and served as lodging for merchants and travelers. Today, you'll find food and shops here. “Kapan An mixes old architecture with the new spirit,” Sofija says. “You can have your coffee there, smoke nargile, write songs, meet people. I usually go there by myself to recharge my batteries.”

Kapan An dates back to the 1400s and served as lodging for merchants and travelers. Today, you'll find food and shops here. “Kapan An mixes old architecture with the new spirit,” Sofija says. “You can have your coffee there, smoke nargile, write songs, meet people. I usually go there by myself to recharge my batteries.”

  Pelister  in the main square downtown has a massive outdoor seating area where you can enjoy a coffee and take in Alexander in all his glory.

Pelister in the main square downtown has a massive outdoor seating area where you can enjoy a coffee and take in Alexander in all his glory.

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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.