Things to do in Ohrid Macedonia

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Do you know those warm places that remind you of how little you need for happiness? One of them is the city of Ohrid, located in North Macedonia.

In this “city of light,” you will be greeted by Macedonians, some of the most welcoming hosts you will ever meet. They will accompany you with good food, song, interesting stories and a smile.

By the way, did you know that Lake Ohrid is home to probably the oldest known European human settlement?

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North Macedonia shares borders with Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia. The official currency is the Macedonian denar, the high season lasts from June to August, and the official language is Macedonian, though English will be perfectly fine.

You can connect it with other interesting destinations such as the capital Skopje, Struga or Albanian Tirana. 

But enough with the basics: this travel guide contains everything you need to know about the soul of North Macedonia’s pearl. 

Buy Ohrid Pearls

Ohrid Pearls
Ohrid Pearls. Image from Canva

Did you know that some of the most popular members of royal families, like Princess Diana, wore Ohrid pearls?

You can find them all over Ohrid. But if you’re looking for originals (you can find very affordable options), keep in mind that only two families know the secret to creating them. It is passed down through the generations by the Talevi and Filevi families, and only to their male heirs.

So, what is the secret? Ohrid pearls contain layers of a secret emulsion. The main ingredient is fish scales from plašica, which can only be found here and nowhere else in the world.

Although it is said that nothing lasts forever, these two families claim their Ohrid pearls will.

Visit the Church of St. Jovan Kaneo

Saint John the Theologian
Church of Saint John the Theologian Kaneo. Image from Canva

If there is one thing you must see on this trip, it is the Orthodox Church of St. Jovan Kaneo (St. John). This Byzantine church is one of the most photographed churches in the world. Yes, that is the one you see in all Ohrid photos.

The Church of St. Jovan Kaneo is actually located in the village of Kaneo, near Ohrid. It was built in the 13th century, and it complements the environment and lake perfectly.

Also, many people believe that here you can see the most beautiful sunset in the world. Why? When night falls, St. John’s Church is lit with lights. At the same time, Lake Ohrid reflects the pink color of the sky, and magic happens.

If there is one moment on your journey when you will pause and appreciate the beauty of life, it will most likely be this one.

A Walking Tour of Lake Ohrid

Ohrid City
Ohrid City. Image from Canva

The Macedonian Sea is how Lake Ohrid is often referred to. While standing next to it, you will have the impression that you are standing next to the sea.

Not without reason: this is one of Europe’s largest and deepest natural lakes (its depth reaches 289 meters).

Some refer to it as a living fossil museum due to the abundance of unique species. It is said to be the oldest lake on the old continent, formed 2-3 million years ago, and UNESCO designated it as a World Heritage Site because, according to its size, it has the highest biodiversity in the world.

You got it; the beautiful Lake Ohrid is truly unique.

Visit Tsar Samuel’s Fortress

Tsar Samuel Fortress Ohrid
Tsar Samuel’s Fortress. Image from Canva

I hope you aren’t afraid of heights because Samuel’s Fortress offers a stunning panoramic view of Lake Ohrid and the city. You don’t want to miss it.

Tsar Samuel’s fortress stands on two hills that range in height from 50 to 90 meters and is named after the ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire in the 10th century.

Although there is almost nothing inside today, this walking tour will be a memorable experience. And a spot for the perfect Instagram photo, of course.

Go to the Bay of Bones

Ohrid The Bay of Bones
The Bay of Bones. Image from Canva

Don’t worry; it’s not as terrifying as it seems. The Bay of Bones is an outdoor museum. With 24 houses on a wooden platform above Lake Ohrid, it looks almost like the Maldives, but, you know, much less luxurious.

Joking aside, this archaeological site was discovered in 1977. The ceramics and wooden columns date from 1200 to 600 BC and the site was named after the abundance of animal bones discovered.

The Bay of Bones is a recreated settlement from that era on the shores of Lake Ohrid, and the objects inside its houses represent the tribes’ lives at the time. It also serves as a nice reminder of how much we actually have today.

Take a Day Trip to St. Naum 

Saint Naum Monastery
Saint Naum Monastery. Image from Canva

And now, one of Lake Ohrid’s most beautiful places. Of course, it is also one of the most popular, but it is still extremely relaxing.

This is not so surprising, since here you can find the calming colors of the Crni Drim river source, the Galičica massif and the monastery of St. Naum (9th century).

However, you will have to make some effort to get there. It is located 30 kilometers from Ohrid, near the Albanian border, so you will need to drive or take a boat ride on Lake Ohrid. 

After sightseeing, you can refresh yourself by swimming, which is always a nice bonus. 

Oh, yeah. Although Macedonians are extremely friendly, monastery peacocks are not. So admire them from a distance. I suppose they’ve had enough tourists. 

Saint Naum’s Church (Sveti Naum) 

When you visit the monastery of Saint Naum, you will see a building that will especially charm you. That’s St. Naum Church (also a museum). 

So, who was St. Naum? He was one of the most important Macedonian priests. He founded a monastery and was buried there.

The legend goes that if you put your ear to his grave, you can still hear his heartbeat. And, if you can hear it, it means you are not a sinner.

If you don’t succeed, don’t worry: the sound is probably the crashing of waves against the rock upon which the monastery was built. What a relief, huh? 

Walking Tour of Ohrid’s Old Town

Traditional houses in Ohrid
Traditional houses in Ohrid. Image from Canva

Did you know that the old town of Ohrid is older than Rome? The great thing is that all attractions are easily accessible on foot. Simply follow the narrow, stone streets.

You can take the Ohrid Boardwalk, a lakeside walkway that will take you from Ohrid’s old town all the way to Samuel’s Fortress.

Also, don’t miss out on visiting the 11th-century church of Saint Sophia. During the Ottoman Empire, St. Sophia was converted into a mosque, but its frescoes have fortunately survived.

By the way, did you know that it is said that Ohrid’s old town once had 365 beautiful churches, one for each day of the year? Long story short, walking around the city centre will help you understand why Ohrid is known as the “Balkan Jerusalem.“

Taste Macedonian Wines

Plenty of sun and a pleasant climate: Macedonians have taken advantage of these favorable conditions to become top wine producers. Famous wines include Bovin, Chateau Kamnik and Tikveš, which is one of the largest in the region. So you know what to do. Cheers!

Swim in Lake Ohrid

Lake Ohrid
Lake Ohrid. Image from Canva

Lake Ohrid provides a variety of options, both wild and organized, accessible and sandy. Gradiste Beach is known for its natural shade and is a popular destination for evening parties.

If you prefer concrete beaches, there is also Golden Beach, where famous DJs perform in the evenings. Trpejca beach is less crowded, while Cuba Libre offers paragliding. Long story short, from parties to chilling, there is something for everyone. 

Visit the Ancient Theatre

Ancient Theater of Ohrid
Ancient Theater of Ohrid. Image from Canva

Once, this ancient theatre was the site of gladiator fights, Greek plays, and Roman executions of Christians.

But let’s move on to more positive topics: this ancient theater was built before the new era and is now the site of the Ohrid Summer Festival. That’s a nice change.

Explore the Old Bazaar and Bit Pazar Market

If you want to experience Ohrid’s liveliest street, and you surely do, visit an Old Bazaar and take a walking tour through it. And, of course, a shopping tour, as this area is full of cafes and shops.

Also, going to the square for coffee and then to the market is a Saturday ritual here. So don’t be surprised if I also suggest a visit to Bit Pazar, Ohrid’s largest market.

While there, try the Macedonian specialty, gravče na tavče (beans baked in clay pots). Bit Pazar’s colors and aromas will delight your senses, while the friendly Macedonians will complete the experience.

For breakfast, get burek from the market from the local Macedonian elderly women. They will benefit, and trust me, you will return tomorrow for more.

Day Trip to Galicica National Park

Galicica National Park
Galicica National Park. Image from Canva

During your visit to Ohrid, you will be thrilled by the beautiful mountains. This is Galičica National Park. Its diverse flora and fauna, hiking trails and natural beauty make it an ideal place to rest your soul.

One major advantage is that it is close to the city, and on its top, there is a perfect panoramic view of both Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa. Did someone say the perfect photo?

Visit the Monastery of St. Panteleimon

Panteleiman Church
Panteleiman Church. Image from Canva

Did you know that the First Slovenian University was founded here? Here, on Mount Plaošnik, overlooking Lake Ohrid, Saint Clement taught his students the Cyrillic alphabet. 

He was a Cyril and Methodius student, and his relics can still be found in the church.

He taught monks to translate the Bible into Old Slavic. As a result, the Monastery of St. Panteleimon became the first educational center for Slovenes.

I’m just not sure if it’s easier to study in such a beautiful setting or if the amazing view through the window interferes.

Enjoy Macedonian Food

Macedonian cuisine feels like home (at least for those of us from Europe). You will also most likely find it to be very affordable.

Definitely try the barbecue, ajvar (pepper sauce), and pinđur (eggplant sauce). Try Ohrid trout from Lake Ohrid with makala (yoghurt and garlic sauce). And make sure to leave plenty of room for dessert—an Ohrid cake.

If you want to try something different, I recommend gjomleze, which is made with only two ingredients: flour and water. You will probably be pleasantly surprised by the taste, but feel free to add makala, pinđur or ajvar. Or all three; I’m not judging.

Meet the Macedonians

Macedonia flag
Macedonia flag. Image from Canva

North Macedonia‘s standard of living is not so high, so if you are coming from a more developed country, the prices will be very reasonable. Despite this, Macedonians are excellent hosts who provide everyone with unforgettable experiences.

They enjoy socializing, so let them tell you a story or offer you a cup of coffee. It is a pleasure and an honor for them.

In short, North Macedonia will remind you that we require far less for a wonderful time than the world today would have us believe.

Author Bio: Katarina Marjanović studied Croatian language and literature at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science in Zagreb. She is a freelance columnist, writer, influencer, and content creator, which has enabled her to collaborate with many different brands and some of the largest Croatian marketing and media agencies. Also, she is the author of three books and the owner of a publishing and service company.

Katarina Marjanović

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