Get To Know Ohrid Macedonia
Ohrid, a place of many names. It has been called the Jerusalem of the Balkans, as it once had a church for every day of the year. The City of Light for the city’s original name (Lychnidos), and the Pearl of Macedonia, for the pearls from the local endemic fish. However, we call it one of the most beautiful places in the Balkans and think you will too!
The city has a long history dating back to BCE and held an important position on the “Via Egnatia,” the ancient road linking Rome to Constantinople. A center of trade and culture in the past, today it is a Unesco world heritage site and top vacation destination for the region. From the beautiful, mysteriously clear lake to the cobblestone streets that snake through neighborhoods lined with white houses. Learn more about one of Europe's best-kept secrets before the word gets out in our guide below.
Getting To & Around Ohrid
The easiest way into Ohrid for international travelers is to fly. Ohrid has an international airport, “ St. Paul the Apostle,” which is open year-round with more flights available in the summer season.
The largest airport and the most feasible way to fly into North Macedonia is in the capital Skopje, Skopje International airport. Skopje is a 3 hours bus ride to Ohrid.
There is a direct bus from Skopje airport to Ohrid, which runs Wednesdays and Sundays. The way we recommend is to take one of the buses from the Skopje bus station, which runs multiple times a day. Buses from the station run every few hours between the cities and take approximately 3.5 hours.
Buses also run from neighboring countries, and we recommend checking the following site for up-to-date bus schedules GetByBus.
Tip: Buses also run to Struga, a town just north of Ohrid. A taxi from Struga to Ohrid should cost 250 MKD ($5 USD). As always, negotiate the price before getting in the cab.
Ohrid is a small city so that it can be navigated everywhere on foot. The old town and surrounding area is cobblestone and hilly, so wear appropriate footwear and bring water. The greater city area has public buses, and the taxis are reasonably priced. Taxi drivers may try to overcharge tourists, making sure they turn the meter on or agree on a price. Ohrid is a safe city with very low crime.
Things To Do In Ohrid
Lake Ohrid is one of the oldest lakes in the world, 1.4 million years, and at 938 ft (286 meters), the deepest in the Balkans. Macedonia’s "Pearl of the Balkans'' has crystal clear water due to the underground rivers and springs that source the lake. Due to its age, Ohrid is one of the most bio-diverse lakes globally, with over 50% of the organisms only found here.
No trip to Ohrid is complete without enjoying the waters of the lake by swimming or by boat. Boat rides from the local’s on the lake run anywhere from 350 - 1000 MKD ($7- $20USD). Prices vary based on how long you want to go for, what time of year. We found better pricing if you ask someone outside of the main tourist area.
Scuba diving, kayaking, paddle boarding, and paragliding are also popular activities, and you can find more information here.
Enjoy the lake beaches.
There are many options for sitting along the lake, and some offer umbrellas and seats for a price. Our favorite areas are the beaches on the way to St. Jovan at Kaneo and the areas just outside the main square walking toward Saint Sophia.
Tip: If you want to avoid the crowds and have a quiet spot to yourself, take the walkway past Kaneo and down to Labino beach below. There are no restaurants here so bring water and snacks.
Walk along the lake walkway.
Ohrid has a walkway around the lake that is popular with tourists and locals alike. It is an easy flat walk and offers benches and shaded green spots to sit and relax from the summer heat. This is an excellent area to bring a blanket, some food, and drinks for an afternoon lunch. Also, there are many restaurants with seating along the water here as well.
Tip: Go out for an evening walk along the lake and see the locals come out dressed in their best to see and be seen.
Explore the Old Town
Ohrid’s Old Town dates back to 879, and you can spend hours exploring its cobblestone streets and alleys. We like to walk up to the Fortress and choose a random route back down to see where the different roads take us! Along the way, see how many classic cars you can spot, and don’t forget to pet the sweet cats and dogs that will come out to greet you!
One of the things you may want to pick up while in Ohrid is a string of “Ohrid Pearls” Queen Elizabeth even has some in her private collection! Many shops in Ohrid sell what they claim to be Ohrid pearls but if you want to be sure they are authentic, buy from the Talevi or Filev family shops.
If you are in the mood to shop, take a stroll down the main pedestrian street, lined with shops selling clothes, accessories, souvenirs, and art. At the end of the road, you will find the 1000-year-old Činar tree. A short walk away is the Green Market, the best place to shop for fresh produce, eggs, cheese, and if your brave, some homemade wine or rakija!
St Jovan at Kaneo
If you have seen a photo of Ohrid, it is more than likely from here. The 13th-century church perched on a cliff overlooking the lake. Take a walk from Ohrid Old town along the wooden walkway hugging the cliff and above the church for Ohrid’s most photographed spot.
Tip: Go for sunset, bring a bottle of wine and see the church and town surrounding the lake light up.
Monastery of Saint Naum
Built by Saint Naum himself in 905AD and rebuilt as it is today in the 16th century. An amazing place, no visit to Ohrid is complete without a trip here. The options to get Naum from Ohrid are: A boat runs from Ohrid harbor to the Monastery, leaves between 9-10 am and returns at 4 pm, and costs around 500mkd( $10USD) roundtrip. Taxi approximately 2030mkd ($40 USD) or the local bus 150mkd( $3 USD).
While visiting the monastery, see if you can hear Saint Naum’s heart still beating inside his stone coffin. People swear they can listen to it; the locals say the noise is the water from the lake under the monastery. We will let you judge for yourself!
Another must-do while visiting Saint Naum is to take a boat through the springs. It takes approximately 20 minutes and is worth seeing the beautiful vegetation and crystal clear water of the springs.
The park complex also has beaches, tourist shops, trees for shade, peacocks, and beach bars. We have also seen people jump in the springs and let the current take them into the lake. We haven’t tried it, but it looks fun!
Tsar Samuel's Fortress
Sitting 328ft (100 meters) above Ohrid on a hill, the fortress offers beautiful views of Ohrid town and the lake. The fortifications have been built and destroyed since 209 BC, with most of what you see today believed to be from the 11th century. Entrance price 60 MKD ($1.50 USD)
National Park Galicica
Large park with many species of flora and fauna. The park holds mammals such as bears, wolves, and possibly the rare Balkan Lynx, one of the rarest animals on earth! The park is a nature enthusiast's dream with 170 species of animals and over 500 floral species. It separates Lake Ohrid and Prespa and is famous for hiking and camping. It is advised to get a guide for the park, more information about visiting can be found here.
Ancient Antique Theatre of Ohrid
The theatre was built sometime at the end of the 3rd century BCE and used first for theatre performances. Later after the Roman conquest of the region, it was turned into an arena for gladiator fights. Once Christianity came to the region in the 4th century AD, the theatre was buried and was only recently uncovered in the 1980s!
Ohrid at one time had a church for every day of the year! See how many you can find. Many are small, only the size of a chapel, and some are hidden, so you may miss them if you don't look carefully. Google maps can only help so much! There are some you can’t miss visiting, and we recommend.
Plaosnik- Beautiful complex overlooking the lake, with many ruins and excavations ongoing, don’t miss the baptismal with the mosaic-covered floor. Consider using one of the guides to tell you the complex history; they are very knowledgeable and speak English.
Saint Sofia (Sveta Sofija) is one of Ohrid’s most beautiful churches, close to the old town with a lovely garden surrounding the church. On our last visit, it was pouring rain outside, and they were turning the organ. It made for an eery surreal experience!
Holy Mary Perybleptos- built-in 1295, located close to the upper gate of Ohrid. The church grounds hold the grave of Grigor Prlichev.
Eating & Drinking
Ohrid is not short of restaurants, bars, and cafes; some of our favorites are below!
Gladiator restaurant- Brakja Miladinovci 14, Ohrid 6000 located directly above the amphitheater. We have eaten here many times, and family-owned excellent service, food, and delicious fish soup.
A beautiful stone house turned into a boutique winery and bed and breakfast. It's a great place to go for some wine tasting in the old town with welcoming and friendly owners. They have a delicious wine made from the oldest grape variety in the world found in Armenia!
Viva Ksantika- 6000 Macedonië, Tsar Samoil 23, Ohrid A family-owned restaurant serving delicious traditional food at great prices, with super friendly staff and outdoor seating. We usually eat here several times during our visit!
For a quick food stop or a late-night bite, check out The Pink Panther, frequented by tourists and locals alike. The 20-year-old establishment has fast, fresh, and tasty eats at a reasonable price!
Cuba Libre Beach bar -Kej Makedonija, 6000 Ohrid
Our favorite lakeside bar, where you can get a beach feel and enjoy RumRunners, Mai tais, and many other “beachy drinks.” Tip- When it’s hectic, and you can’t find a seat, order a drink “to-go” from the bar and find a spot on the water!
The Good The Bad & The Booze!
Writing this, we are currently on the 3rd week of our 5-week stay and our third visit to Ohrid. So we can safely say we find an unlimited number of “Good” things here! Well, the views speak for themself; it's hard to take a bad picture in Ohrid. The lake is the big draw, but the town of Ohrid is also beautiful with whitewashed houses, stone streets, and orthodox churches. The people are some of the friendliness we have come across in Europe. They will greet you on the road with a “Hello” or the local “Zdravo” and “Dober Dan.” If you strike up a conversation, they will talk your ear off and tell you about the relatives they have in America! The prices are very good for a resort town; the sites, day trips, food, drink, and accommodations are well priced!
There are not many “Bad” things about Ohrid; only reading the alphabet (Cyrillic) can be difficult if your not familiar with it, and if you stay too close to the restaurants and bars, it can be loud at night. That’s pretty much it. Seriously, it’s pretty great here!
Now for our favorite part, the “Booze”! Excellent Macedonian wines, the largest producer is Tikves, but there are many to choose from and range in price 1.50-5 MKD ($3-10 USD). Our favorites are from Tikves, which will cost less than $3 a bottle at the grocery store! Beach drinks on the water are reasonable and delicious, usually around $3.50-$5 USD. If you're more adventurous, buy the local Rakija and wine at the bazaar for a fraction of what the stores charge. We love chatting with the locals at the market and trying the different varieties. Beware the homemade rakija’s are not regulated and can be over 100 proof! If you want to go the traditional route, a well-stocked liquor store is in the old town (Top market). If you are more of a beer drinker, a .5L can or bottle at the store will cost less than $1, and at a restaurant, $2-3. As we have mentioned before, in most of Europe, there are no "open container laws," so you can drink in public, on the beach, or in the parks! Just make sure to clean up after yourself!
Ohrid is one of those places you have to see to see to believe, and one of the most underrated places we have ever been! We recommend visiting soon before the secret is out. Who knows, we may be here for the 5th time by then!