Skopje: One of the Weirdest Cities I’ve Ever Visited

Skopje park

Skopje is the capital of Macedonia and was the last stop on my Balkans trip in July that included Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania. I really just added it in because it was cheaper to fly out of than Pristina, Kosovo, and going there would mean visiting a fourth new country on the trip.

I can’t say I regret going to Skopje, but I can say it was weird. After walking around Prizren the previous day constantly thinking how cute it was, I walked around Skopje thinking, “what the f**k?”

My first impression of Skopje was my hotel – a hotel that was described as being five stars but, aside from the enormous size of my room, everything about it screamed two and a half stars. My air conditioning didn’t seem to work, my television had no international channels, my bed was flat and lumpy and covered with the type of bedspread you would find at a Motel Six. But really, none of that mattered since I was only spending one night and I would spend most of my time trying to see what I could of the city.

Through an online search I discovered a walking tour app that I downloaded to my iPhone – it included two walking tours, one of the new part of the city and one of the older part. I attempted to do both.

It is worth noting that Skopje was hit by a major earthquake back in 1963 that destroyed 80% of the city. The reconstruction effort left the city with a fairly Soviet feel (not surprising, given the influence of the Soviet Union in the region at the time). In recent years, the city has undergone a massive project to give the city a more “capital-like” feel, adding or reconstructing a variety of monuments, fountains, squares and bridges. As a result, the city is an odd mix of old and new with all sorts of wanna-be landmarks that just don’t fit in. The massive arch that totally makes sense in Rome or Paris just looks out of place in Skopje. Likewise with the gargantuan statue and fountain on the main square.

Skopje clock

Skopje arch

Skopje bridge

Aside from Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, Skopje may be the weirdest feeling city I have ever visited. The new part of the city felt like a massive construction zone and the old part of the city (mostly reconstructed after the earthquake) was oddly empty – entire streets with empty storefronts made me feel like I was on a movie set, not in the middle of a capital city.

old town street

I ended up only spending a few hours exploring Skopje – it was well over 100 degrees so after trying to do the walking tour in the new part of the city (I say “tried” because I ran into construction along the way and had to skip a big part of it), I returned to my hotel to rest and cool off. A couple hours later, I headed out to the old part of the city, once again trying to follow the walking tour, but getting lost about halfway through. As I left the old city to head to Skopje’s castle, I asked a local man for directions after hearing him speak English and ended up chatting with him for a good 45 minutes (we’re now friends on Facebook – gotta love travel!). By the time I made it to the castle, I had to beg the caretaker to let me in as he was closing the gates. He gave me 15 minutes to quickly explore and catch some sunset views before he closed up.

Skopje catle

Skopje castle sunset

Skopje sunset

By the time I returned to the new city, night had fallen and the city had come alive! Lights everywhere. Music everywhere. People everywhere!

Skopje river at night

Skopje square at night

So I wrapped up my night with some people watching on the square as I downed my third cup of ice cream of the day (I blame the heat for the fact that all I ate in Skopje was ice cream!!) and I kind of wished I had one more day to experience it all.

Have you been to Skopje? What did you think?

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7 thoughts on “Skopje: One of the Weirdest Cities I’ve Ever Visited”

  1. We were just there and kind of loved it! Well, the bazaar, new orthodox cathedral, and post office building. The new construction was super odd, but enhanced that fun disorienting feeling one gets when in a new place.

    Two thumbs up from us!!

  2. I loved Skopje but I also went in the summer when it was hot but I tried not to let that bother me. I had two days there and managed to get a taxi half away up Mt. Vodno to see the relgiious places then hiked the rest to the cross at the top. Amazing experience. 🙂

  3. I’ve been to Skopje two years ago and I have a few friends from Skopje, and the thing is – everyone thinks the new part of Skopje, also called “Skopje 2014” is super odd, extremely expensive for such a developing country, and definitely not reasonable to be built – but they (The Government) still manage to built it. How crazy is that?

  4. Ha! I just wrote a very similar post about Skopje. We did find the old city charming — but there were far more people on the streets, and it was also not so hot. so perhaps that helped a bit too. But overall, what a bizarre place!

  5. I was in Skopje last summer, also on a flying visit, was only there 24 hours but would largely agree with your assessment. I really liked the area along the riverside and the old bazaar, but the number of statues everywhere was crazy – I’ve never seen anything like it! I still think Tirana was weirder though…

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