Macedonia travel guide
Macedonia is underrated and underexplored. A mountainous nation at the heart of the Balkans, it’s sprinkled with picturesque valleys and shimmering lakes, offering outdoor appeal in spades. Yet that isn’t its sole selling point – Macedonia also has a bustling capital, a rich Hellenic heritage and an up-and-coming wine industry that appears on the cusp of international recognition.
For most visitors, the adventure begins in the capital Skopje. The cityscape is an incongruous jumble of buildings and gigantic neoclassical statuary. Monolithic socialist apartment blocks sit beside grandiloquent monuments, controversially added during an ambitious government scheme dubbed Skopje 2014. Old Ottoman and Byzantine edifices hark back to the nation’s pre-communist history, while buzzing bars and clubs project its forward-looking aspirations.
Rural Macedonia is far easier of the eye. Blessed with an extraordinary diversity of landscapes, the countryside is also home to serene lakeside towns such as Ohrid, which offers glorious relief from the sizzling Balkan summer. Visitors can while away lazy days on the dreamy lake’s edge, visit the region’s handsome, time-warp churches and enjoy languid evenings quaffing wine produced in the surrounding hills.
From Ohrid push on into the endless green pastures of the Šar Planina mountain range, where the tranquil glacier lakes mirror the surrounding peaks, or try trekking the mountainous Pelister National Park, a dead ringer for the Swiss Alps. Outdoor enthusiasts heading to the remote hinterlands are more likely to see wild goats than deluxe resorts, but the country’s rustic inns are welcoming and affordable. During winter, there are many opportunities for skiing and snowboarding, particularly in the Mavrovo region.
Like most countries in the region, Macedonia has had its fair share of political and economic problems over the years. But shrug aside the stigma of the past and you’ll find a different Europe – one that’s fresh, crowd-free and, for the time being, incredibly affordable.
25,713 sq km (9,927.8 sq miles).
2,081,012 (UN estimate 2016).
81.5 per sq km.
President Gjorge Ivanov since 2009.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev since June 2017.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Personal attacks against foreigners are extremely rare. Organised criminal groups are active, particularly in the north of Macedonia near the border with Kosovo. Shooting incidents, including in Skopje do sometimes occur, but are not targeted at foreigners. Gunfire can also be heard as part of a celebration. You should be vigilant at all times.
There have been several cases of pick pocketing by gangs of children and bag snatches in the main shopping and entertainment areas late at night. Foreign nationals appear to have been specifically targeted. Make sure your personal possessions are secure.
In the event of civil disorder, stay indoors as much as possible, especially after dark, and avoid crowds and demonstrations.
Keep your passport in a secure place and carry a copy of your passport data page for identification. If your passport is lost or stolen report it immediately to the local police and the British Embassy Skopje on +389 (2) 3299 299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Travel near the border with Kosovo should be restricted to primary roads and daylight hours only.
Lorries transiting Macedonia borders may be subject to long delays before being allowed to cross. Make sure you have the proper customs documentation before arrival at the border.
Between November and February, Skopje and surrounding areas can experience thick fog. This can sometimes cause delays or diverted flights if visibility at Skopje airport is affected. Updates of arrivals and departures, as well as delays and cancellations due to weather conditions can be found on the Skopje airport website.
Driving is on the right. Road conditions and driving standards vary widely. Driving styles differ significantly from those in UK. There are frequent accidents. Take care at all times while driving or on foot.
You can drive in Macedonia with either a UK licence or International Driving Permit.
By law all vehicles must use side lights/ dipped headlights during the day, and at night, on all roads. Not doing so will result in a fine of 15 euros during daytime and 35 euros at night time.
It’s illegal to use mobile phones while driving. If caught you’ll be fined 40 euros.
It’s a legal requirement for drivers and passengers to wear seatbelts. Not doing so will result in fines; 40 euros for drivers, 50 euros for passengers.
Road speed limits in Macedonia are as follows: 130 km/h on highways, 110 km/h on roads reserved for motor vehicles, 90 km/h on other roads and 50 km/h on roads in built up areas. When travelling on major roads, you can pay the toll fare in Macedonian denars or in Euros by using cash or a credit card, Euro coins are also accepted.
The legal drink/drive limit in Macedonia is lower than in the UK. The blood alcohol limit is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood or 0.5 per millilitre. Drink driving whilst over the limit can result in heavy fines and the possibility of arrest. There is a policy of zero tolerance for professional (eg HGV) drivers.
If you are taking your own car, you must have vehicle registration/ownership documents and a locally valid insurance policy. If you do not have a green card valid for Macedonia you will be charged a cash border insurance fee, the price of which depends on your vehicle. You should confirm that your insurance company recognises that your policy covers Macedonia.
In case of emergency, drivers may contact the police (telephone 192), the ambulance service (telephone 194), or roadside assistance (telephone 196).
In the event of an accident, don’t move a vehicle until the police have recorded the incident and allowed you to do so.
Rivers and lakes
According to checks conducted by the State Sanitary and Health Inspectorate, the water in Ohrid, Prespa and Dojran lakes are suitable for swimming, recreation and water sports.
However the rivers Vardar and Treska as well as Lake Treska are rated below the level suitable for swimming.