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Beautiful Ohrid – Hidden Gem in North Macedonia

North Macedonia (Macedonia before February 2019), officially the Republic of North Macedonia is landlocked country in Southeast Europe, bordering Kosovo to the northwest, Serbia to the north, Bulgaria to the east, Greece to the south, and Albania to the west. I wanted to visit this country for a long time and I’m glad that I finally did. It is such a beautiful country, with lots to see and do. There are many things to do in Skopje or Ohrid and there are many other amazing places to visit while visiting North Macedonia.

Even though there is no ocean in sight, this country has amazing lakes and rivers and it’s totally worthy of a visit. Talking about the water, let me introduce you the hidden gem of North Macedonia – I’m talking about the beautiful Ohrid. Lake Ohrid is one of the deepest and oldest lakes in all of Europe. It is partially owned by Albania, but the majority of the lake is within the North Macedonia’s borders.

Keep on reading to find out why you should put this hidden gem on your travel bucket list! I’ll introduce you the best things to do in Ohrid, tell you something about the history and show you the most beautiful places around the lake.

Read also: Reasons to love Skopje

Best day trip from Skopje to Matka Canyon

Lake Ohrid

WHERE TO STAY IN OHRID

When we were looking for out accomodation, we wanted to base ourselves in the old town of Ohrid. The old town has beautiful architecture, many things to see and there are many different options for accomodation. The entire city with its cobblestone streets is extremely picturesque and charming. Ohrid was also listed as a UNESCO heritage site. There are other places to stay around the lake, but the old town of Ohrid is the most lively, the most beautiful and it is the most interesting for travelers.

There are numerous places to stay – majority of them are being apartments, villas or guesthouses. Also you have a few hotels there and you can decide if you want to rent something cheap, mid-range or a bit expensive. If you travel on a budget, you won’t have any difficulties with findind a place to stay (and you can get a really decent one for a small amount of money).

If you come by car, you may face some problems with parking in the old town. I can’t tell you more about parking, because we decided for a bus journey from Skopje.

WHAT TO SEE ON LAKE OHRID

There are endless options on what to do on lake Ohrid, you just have to find something that suits you the best. You will find something for yourself whether you’re interested in outdoor activities, culture or you are more of a lazy type. You will never be bored at Ohrid. On the top of that the prices are cheap and people are so nice.

The Old Town is pretty compact, so all the sights are within walking distance (but there are a few hills to conquer). According to legend there were once 365 churches within Ohrid’s city boundaries – one for every day of the year.

ST. JOHN at KANEO

I am sure that you have already seen this place somewhere. It is the most photographed location of lake Ohrid and it is something that you will find on postcards from N. Macedonia. I can understand why is it like that. This is picture-perfect church, located on a cliff above Kaneo beach just outside the Ohrid old town. The views are stunning and you can also hangout and relax here.

To get there you just have to follow the signs through the old town and wander the streets of Ohrid before arriving at the church. If you will continue your way into the forest, you will arrive at Plaoshnik and eventually at the Samuel’s Fortress.

SAMUEL’S FORTRESS

Absolutely this is place to see it when in Ohrid. Ancient castle located on top of the hill. It was built by tsar Samuel and it was the capital of the first Bulgarian empire when tsar Samuel ruled in the 10th century. Despite the fortress being in a relative bad condition, the small entrance fee (around 1.30€ – 80 MKD) to get inside is worth the trip up the hill. You will get a better understanding of the former strategic importance of Ohrid and there are some spectacular views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

CHURCH OF ST. SOPHIA

St. Sophia church is located in the old part of Ohrid, and is one of the most important churches in Macedonia.  It is believed to have been built in the 9th century, the present church is a reconstruction of the 11th century, but the courtyard was built later, in the 14th century. In the second half of the 15th century the Ottomans transformed the church into a mosque.

Church of St. Sophia Ohrid

WANDER THE COBBLESTONE STREETS OF OHRID

Ohrid’s architecture is unique. The cobblestone streets are narrow and tight, with white houses actually built hanging over the roads. All the houses are painted white to help with the intense heat of the sun. There aren’t many open areas or big yards in front of the houses and there are two main reasons for that – there is no space available and it also helps to prevent the strong winds from the lake.

Worried about your safety? You don’t have to be – you can explore the town withour any bigger concerns.

ADOPT A BALKAN APPROACH OF LIFE

There is a cultural difference between Western lifestyle and life at the Balkans. The people of the Balkan countries still like to take their time. Service may be slower and some stores may be closed in the middle of the day. If you not used to it, this things can disappoint you. There isn’t much you can do about it, so you only have two options – to get frustrated or to accept those cultural differences and adopt a Balkan approach.

Be open and flexible and inform yourself about local customs and culture. People of the Balkans are very nice and friendly and they will try their best to make you feel comfortable. I’ve met a lot of great people during my time in the Balkans and I’ve hung out with them a lot. They are the best source for getting information about culture and lifestyle.

Adopting a Balkan approach of life includes having a Turkish coffee at a typical café, Skopsko beer, some delicious meaty dishes and the Ohrid trout – an endemic freshwater fish. The trout is considered a culinary delicacy, usually enjoyed on its own or used in a variety of hearty fish soups or other fish dishes. This area is also well-known for its tradition of winemaking.

TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE ST. NAUM

During the summer months there are a different options to get to St. Naum. We chose the boat Aleksandrija from the Ohrid centre with a stop at the Bay of Bones. The boat left at 10am and at 3:30pm from St. Naum. The price of the return trip = 10€.

Lake Ohrid
Ohrid lake

Visiting Saint Naum is amazing experience without a doubt. It’s a place where you can fully spend your day, enjoy and relax. There are two main things you have to visit/do.

THE MONASTERY OF ST. NAUM

The monastery sits high on a cliff overlooking the lake. The primary reason to visit this place is because of its historic legacy. When you walk into the main complex, you will see the main square, St. Naum’s grave and peacocks that roam freely. On the other side there is a beach where visitors can go for a swim in the crystal clear waters of lake Ohrid.

ST. NAUM SPRINGS – IZVORITE NA CRNI DRIM

Not far from the St. Naum monastery is the St. Naum springs. The water flows into Ohrid lake but it seems not to run at all. It is perfectly clear and the place it’s so peaceful. The water comes from the lake Prespa, travels the mountain Galichica for 26 years before it comes to the St. Naum springs. The mountain is the natural filter, so the water is 97% clear (the other 3% are grass, leaves, etc.). The St. Naum springs is the natural habitat for many birds and other creatures. One of them is the cormorant and you can easily spot them in the sun drying their feather.

The average water temperature of St. Naum springs is between 9° and 13°C, no matter of the time of the year or weather conditions. The water never frozes.

The St. Naum Springs tour will cost you 1000 MKD for a private tour or 200 MKD/person if you take a group tour. If you don’t travel in a group and you don’t want to pay for a private tour, just wait for a few minutes and you will find some people to share the boat.

St. Naum Springs

THE BAY OF BONES

Once it was an ancient settlement, today it represents a perfect combination of beauty and history. This place shows you what life was like many many years ago. You’ll have the chance to see prehistoric homes and tools and you’ll see how these people used to live, sleep and cook. The entry fee is 100 MKD and allows you to explore the “village” and museum.

You can visit the Bay of Bones individually, but I did it as a part of the St. Naum day trip with boat cruise. My suggestion is to take a boat to the Bay of Bones, but you can get there by road too. Getting a taxi is easy and the price you’ll pay is similar to the boat trip.

I’ve found the information that they were buses running to the Bay of Bones and to St. Naum but at the time I was there, there were no buses.

The Bay of Bones

CHECK OUT THE OLD ROMAN THEATRE

I never made it here, but I regret that I missed this place. The over 2000 years old Roman Theatre is located near the Upper Gate. Later it was used for gladiator fights and execution of Christians – during Roman times. For that reason it was completely buried by locals. It was discovered by accident. 

HOW TO GET THERE

Ofcourse this depends on the fact from which place you are traveling, but there are different options on how to get to there. Ohrid also has an airport, but there are not many flights to Ohrid. You can check Skyscanner and see if there are flights from your country.

The easiest option is to drive there. With this type of transportation you will get the most flexibility to explore all the beautiful places around the lake.

As mentioned above, we decided to take the bus from Skopje as we have spent a few days there before. The buses run pretty frequently. We have checked the timetable in the Skopje bus station and bought the tickets in advance. We decided to take the Galeb Ohrid which is the best bus company operating this route. One way journey will cost you 14€. There are daily services from Tirana too.

The bus station at Ohrid is outside of the old town (30 minute walk). A taxi in should cost around 2€, which is around 120 MKD. Before getting into the taxi ask for a price and agree on a price.

Among travelers there is another route that is pretty common. Many travelers visiting Ohrid continue their journey to Albania or they are coming from Albania to Ohrid. We decided to visit Albanian Riviera and we had to figure it out how to get from Ohrid to Sarandë.

How to travel from Ohrid to Saranda by bus

The bus from Ohrid to Saranda will be a long journey. But unfortunately there are no trains, private driver will cost you a fortune and driving can be really stressfull if you’re not used to Albanian roads and reckless driving.

Based on that, we decided to take the bus again. You can book a journey in advance on getbybus – the journey is direct and it takes around 7 hours. Keep in mind that it only runs during the summer months and that you have to print the ticket before (because it will be handed to the driver). Price = 35€/person.

The bus leaves Ohrid at 4.30 a.m. and that felt super early for us. Based on that, we decided to get to Saranda on our own – oh, what an interesting story that is. It was a hell of a journey. I’ll tell more about this journey in post dedicated to the Albanian public transport.

The regular bus goes via Tirana and this journey will take you up 9 hours.

The cost of a taxi from Ohrid to the Albanian border will cost you about 20€. This is the price we have payed for a taxi ride from Ohrid old town to Pogradec on the Albanian side of the lake Ohrid.

If you have visited Ohrid and have any other recommendations for things to do in town, please let me know in the comments below. You can show me some support and share this post if you like it.

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