Skopje also known as the Vegas of the Balkans, not for gambling or partying, but for the larger than life, sometimes gaudy architecture. Walking down the central streets of Skopje you see statue after statue and Greek column after Greek column. You can’t go far on your walk without being greeted by one of the city’s many stray dogs. I wanted to take every dog home with me, but I won’t be home until April and the dogs probably get better care than I could provide. Every dog is tagged, tracked, fixed, and given all the necessary shots. On top of it, they seemed well-fed. It’s a unique city to say the least, and incredibly inexpensive.
Here’s what to do in Skopje
See the statues
You don’t have to go out of your way for this one because the statues are everywhere. According to our walking tour guide, a lot of them aren’t even very significant. The government just got addicted to making statues and started looking for every reason to commemorate Macedonians. If you were Alexander the Great’s second cousins neighbor’s sister, congratulations, you get a statue. Many of the statues although new, are in the classical style and made to look like they’ve been standing for centuries. Other statues in the newer part of town are more modern and cast in bronze. Some of them are original, some of them are carbon copies of other famous statues, like the wall street bull. Instead of living outside of a financial institution, this bull lives outside a shoe shop.
Discover the life of Mother Theresa
Mother Theresa was born in Skopje and spent her early in the city. Although her original home was destroyed in an earthquake, a plaque still stands to mark the location where the home stood. Several blocks away is the Mother Theresa Memorial House, a replica of her old home and a museum about her life. It is also home to a modern chapel that regularly puts on cultural and spiritual events.
Dig deep into history
The three story archeological museum is hard to miss. It’s one of Skopje’s largest buildings and it’s full of ancient archeological finds from Macedonia. Macedonia has a rich archeological history, with close ties to ancient Greek civilizations. The museum gives insight on Macedonia’s ancient history, which is important to understand to know how ancient ties drive modern history. Macedonia and Greece aren’t on the best of terms, and part of that reason is the question of who has the right to claim Alexander the Great, and who has the right to the name Macedonia. Macedonia is also the name of the Northern Greek region right on the border. Like other Balkan countries, the history is a bit difficult to understand and you hear a different story from every person you speak to.
Climb to the Old Fortress
As with many Balkan cities, there is an ancient fortress on a hill overlooking Skopje. Although this fortress is not quite as intact as the one in Ohrid or Kotor, it’s an easy walk to the top and offers an excellent view of the city.
Get out of the city
Not far from Skopje’s city center is the stunning Canyon Matka. It is really easy to get there, simply take bus 60 from Skopje’s central bus station all the way to the end of the line. Three or four buses go too and from the canyon daily, so make sure to take note of the schedule before you get to the canyon. The bus stop is about a 10 minute walk from the canyon itself, but it isn’t hard to find. Just follow the signs until you reach a large wooden building. This restaurant is the beginning of the trails and the last opportunity you’ll have to pee/eat. I don’t recommend eating there, as it is quite expensive.
There are plenty of hiking trails along the canyon walls with small churches and monasteries nestled into the cliffs above. I went in the winter and since it was cold, I opted to explore via boat. Right next to the restaurant is a small dock with men gathered around drinking coffee and chatting. Ask any one of these captains for a ride and for around seven dollars, he will take you out on his boat for about an hour. About 30 minutes from the dock is a cave for you to stop and explore. Although the boat offers the same views as hiking does, it is difficult, if not impossible to get to the cave without taking a boat.
The great thing about Canyon Matka is that it can be done in a few hours, or an entire day depending on the weather and your mood. However you do it, the clean canyon air is sure to lift your spirits.