Where do I start? Ohrid in North Macedonia was one of my favourite stops while backpacking The Balkans for four weeks. It was calming, easy to get around and totally picturesque. Visiting the Balkans in off-season meant it was pretty empty too!
Famously home to hundreds of churches despite its small size, Ohrid’s star attraction is Lake Ohrid itself. This serene body of water will be the backdrop of your activities in this area. I stayed in the Old Town which was the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere.
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Quick Facts about Lake Ohrid:
- Located largely in North Macedonia but one third crosses the border into Albania
- Lake Ohrid is 300m deep and 34km wide
- It’s one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes at 3 million years old
- Lake Ohrid is on the Unesco World Heritage List
Could there be a more peaceful spot for a quick stroll? This was the first place I came in Ohrid and it was deserted in the off-season. There are some lovely water view restaurants at the end of the walk or continue on to the Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo.
There is also a ‘city beach’ further along the shore which is popular for sunbathing in the summer months.
Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo
A wonderfully photogenic scene set against the edge of Lake Ohrid, this 13th-century church is an ideal sunset spot. In fact, the sunset here was probably the most calming and serene experience I had while backpacking the Balkans. It is a very popular spot for photos and I can imagine it gets crowded in high season – I advise photography enthusiasts to come for sunrise or early morning before the tour groups arrive.
There are many Byzantine-style Orthodox churches across the Balkans, but this one stands out due to its clifftop position.
Walk around the lake
I loved this unexpected walk! After viewing the church, you can follow the path which snakes around the lake for as long as you like. I just went 20-minutes or so before heading back though you could go much further, either walking back on yourself or taking a taxi one way.
It was particularly lovely in the late afternoon light although I made sure not to be walking in the dark. As you can see from the photos below, the constant lake views make this a beautiful walk.
Built-in 893, Plaosnik looks alright for its age eh?
St Clement Church on Plaosnik hill is a familiar architecture if you’ve been in the Balkans for a while, and due to nearby building work during my arrival it was not as attractive as some other spots. But worth the stop all the same! I walked here through the woods from the Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo and it’s close proximity to Ohrid’s other attractions make it an easy addition to my Ohrid itinerary.
While minding my own business, strolling around Ohrid’s old town, I couldn’t help but notice this 10th-century fortress dominating my view. Once you climb up to the fortress, as you can imagine the views of Ohrid are gorgeous.
In the 11th century, Ohrid was briefly under the Slavic rule of Car Samuel and the city was an important city within the Balkans. Today, though far from the fierce fortress it once was, the location is striking. If you walk around the ramparts you’ll essentially have a panoramic view.
This is the only attraction on this list which has to be paid for! The cost is just 60 denar… that’s just 0.80 GBP, 1.08 USD or 1.58 AUD!
National Workshop for Handmade Paper
Although this was a very small shop, considering Ohrid has one of only TWO copies of the Gutenburg Press in the world, it’s firmly on the tourist radar. Since the 16th-century, Ohrid’s been printing paper and this cramped shop is what remains of this legacy.
The staff are friendly and will give you a short demonstration, answering any questions you may have. You can also buy handmade paper here, often in the form of diaries or unique gift cards.
Ancient Theatre of Ohrid
According to local tourism, this site was built in 200BC and was once a place of performance, gladiator fights and the execution of Christians by Romans. Locals did not like this and buried the site after the demise of the Roman empire. It was accidentally rediscovered in the 1980s!
Sunbathe or enjoy a coffee overlooking the water
I arrived at Ohrid in November so definitely no sunbathing for me thanks! Though I can imagine it’s a serene spot to enjoy the sun in high-season. You can swim in the lake then too.
Instead, I sat with a coffee and watched the waves lap against the shore. Still lovely even from the other side of a window on a cold day.
Take a boat trip and visit Sveti Naum Monastery
There are various short trips from Ohrid, with the most obvious being a boat trip across the lake. Though there were not many boat trips running during my visit in November, this is usually a key activity with various tour options available.
You can combine a boat trip with Sveti Naum Monastery and get a round trip ferry ticket too.
Sveti Naum Monastery is a must-see for anyone travelling by car at only 29km from Ohrid, though personally, I didn’t go in favour of attractions I could reach by foot. However, there is a bus schedule or else taxis can take you there and back. The monastery is a huge Orthodox monastery complex rebuilt in the 16th century. Visitors enjoy it’s stunningly detailed architecture and serene natural setting, nearby to forests and the lake.
For more information, see all OHRID tour recommendations on GetYourGuide here: https://www.getyourguide.com/ohrid
Hiking in Galicica National Park
Speaking of nearby trips, I’d have loved to go hiking in Galicica National Park if I’d have had more time! Many hikes have views over Lake Ohrid and it’s famous for stunning panoramas.
You can arrange hiking trips here with a guide from Ohrid Pass – I spotted their stall was open in the old town in November still. It came up on google maps so was easy to find. Or of course you can take a taxi and go independently.
Information on hiking and other activities nearby Ohrid from Ohrid Pass: http://www.freepassohrid.mk
Skopje is a three-hour bus from Ohrid, so this is one to fit in only if it easily fits in with your route! For example, if it’s cheaper to fly into Ohrid and out of Skopje. Or perhaps you’re backpacking the Balkans and will be arriving at Ohrid via Kosovo, Bulgaria or Serbia, potentially making Skopje a natural stopover.
Although Skopje is North Macedonia’s capital, many people I spoke to skipped it in favour of Ohrid. And, to be fair, I can understand why… Ohrid is bloomin’ gorgeous!
However, Skopje surprised me. I only went for an afternoon before getting the bus to Ohrid the next morning and it was a pretty interesting place.
Below you can see photos of the city centre with it’s New But Made To Look Old Architecture. When walking around the city centre, you’re going to see SO MANY statues! Too many to count… Apparently, in the naughties, the government’s tourism strategy was to spend millions on (not good infrastructure, or transport etc) but statues?!
Whilst it’s sort of fun spotting them as you walk around, you can understand why this expenditure didn’t go down well with the locals. This statue on the right is the most controversial of all. Some say it’s meant to be Alexander the Great, but the government can’t call it that because there’s an argument over whether he’s Greek or Macedonian. So instead people call it… warrior on a horse.
The Old Bazaar and Kale Fortress are far less controversial.
The main structure of Kale Fortress was built over the 10/11th century although it was originally built in the 6th century. Much of North Macedonia has been rebuilt over the years due to earthquakes, with the fortress most recently being renovated after the earthquake in 1963.
If you only have a short stopover in Skopje, I really recommend visiting the fortress for sunset. You also get a lovely view from here over the city.
Next to the fortress is the Old Bazaar, which is one of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the Balkans and dates back to the 12th century.
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