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19 Things to Know Before Visiting Macedonia

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19 Things to Know Before Visiting Macedonia

Few people travel to Macedonia making it an interesting and untouched destination. The culture and customs here may be different from what you’re familiar with and it’s difficult to find good information. The tourist infrastructure isn’t as developed as other places and we made one or two mistakes.

So, here are 19 things to be aware of before visiting to avoid making the same mistakes as we did on our one month trip to Macedonia

1# Registering with the Police:

We didn’t know this when we arrived and it caused quite a scare. In Macedonia, you need to register with the police within 24 hours of arriving. A hotel or host on Airbnb should do for you. It’s your responsibility if you’re staying with friends.

Apparently, you could face up to a €1000 fine if the police find out. But, I’m sure people aren’t really bothered and it’s unlikely that you’ll be caught. Just be aware of it.

2# Drinking Water in Macedonia:

The water is safe to drink from the taps. And, you’ll see a number of water fountains around the cities where you can refill bottles. The fountains either have a continuous flow of water or you turn on the tap. If in doubt, watch the locals. You don’t need to buy water from the shop.

3# Changing Money in Macedonia:

There are money changers in all of the towns and cities that offer excellent rates. Most are slightly lower than the official one. Only change enough money at the airport or border crossing to get to the city and exchange the rest when you get there.

4# The Late Night Alcohol Ban:

Supermarkets and shops stop selling alcohol at 7 pm. This doesn’t apply to bars and restaurants. Remember to get your alcohol before 7 pm to avoid disappointment. I asked a local why. He told me that the ban came into effect after a huge alcohol-fuelled riot in Skopje in which one person died. I’m not sure how true it is.

5# Warnings for Crossing the Road:

Crossing the road can be a scary affair. Cars sometimes stop, other times they don’t. This is also the case for pedestrian crossings. In Western Europe, by law, the cars need to stop for people to cross. That’s not the case in Macedonia. The worst part is the inconsistency between who stops and who doesn’t. Compare this to say, Denmark and Iceland where people will stand and wait for the green man to cross – even when the roads are empty. 

Another point is that you’re not expected to thank or even acknowledge the drivers who do stop for you.

6# Be Aware of How People Park Their Cars:

Cars park anywhere. You’ll see them on the pavements, stopping in the middle of the road for people to get out, and parked sideways across three spaces. Lots of people have cars and space is limited. It’s just an inconvenience until someone starts reversing towards you without looking first.

7# Macedonians are Smokers:

It’s an understatement to say that people smoke everywhere. The bars are full of smokers and restaurants have come up with a clever way to bypass the law. And, people smoke one after another. We took a day trip to Kosovo and the driver smoked. The driver on the bus to Bitola did the same. Expect it and get used to it.

8# Macedonia has a Problem with Litter:

Litter is everywhere. It’s along the streets in the cities, by the side of the road, and thrown across the mountains. It’s not a pleasant site, but you’ll have to get used to it.

9# Expect People to be Direct:

When you deal with people, there’s no fluff or bullshit. You ask the question as direct as you can and they reply as direct as they can. Macedonians don’t try to be polite, which can come across as rude to some people.

10# Using the Bus is a Challenge:

Public transport in Macedonia is confusing to say to least. The buses for the city often don’t have timetables or schedules at the stops. You buy your ticket from the driver. Long distance buses are even worse. Information is difficult to find online and is often outdated.

For most of the time, you buy the ticket on the day that you travel and get on the next available bus. Buses leave every hour or so and most aren’t full. This is also the case for a day trip to Kosovo.

Weekend during the summer months are busy, it may be better to buy in advance for popular places like Ohrid.

11# People Speak English:

A large number of Macedonians can speak a little English. Some speak German. Both languages are taught at school and it makes communication easier. It’s not hard to find someone who speaks English in places like Skopje or Ohrid.

12# Be Careful of Gipsies:

The gipsies are the biggest problem that we faced in our one month trip to Macedonia. Most of the beggars are gipsies and their kids run around the streets doing the same thing. You need to be careful around them. Often one will distract you whilst the other grabs something. The parents make them do it.

13# Macedonia is Full of History:

Macedonia has a rich history dating back to the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans. This video from Geography Now gives you a brief overview of the history of MacedoniaYou can see the legacy of these different eras throughout the country. A favourite of ours way the Roman Theatre in Ohrid or the Heraclea archaeological site, which dates back to Phillip II in Bitola.

History doesn’t come without controversy. Macedonia and Bulgaria have disputes about the nationality of significant people in their shared history. Greece also has problems with Macedonia claiming Alexander the Great.

14# The Ottoman Legacy:

The Ottomans ruled over Macedonia for 500 years and as such have contributed strongly to the way of life. You can see this in the legacy of the coffee drinking culture. Cafes and restaurants are full of people sipping coffee at all hours of the day. A quick side note is that the café will also give a complimentary glass of tap water so that you can spend more time the sipping your coffee.

Another less positive legacy is the inheritance of Turkish Time. The laid back attitude of, ‘it can wait until I’ve finished my coffee’ applies here too. This means nothing happens on time.

15# People are Proud of their Country:

Macedonians are very proud of their country. The region has several disputes with neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria, but the spirit lives on. People fly their flags and are patriotic. The government has also erected several sculptures of famous Macedonians. Perhaps it’s an attempt to build a strong cultural identity against the criticism from the neighbours.

16# Be Aware of Protests:

The people of Macedonia aren’t happy with their government at the time of writing in 2017. Peaceful protests are happening all of the time about a controversial law to make Albanian an official language. It’s not my business to judge. But, expect protests to happen.

17# Macedonian Beer is Good:

My favourite beer in the whole world is probably from Macedonia. The two popular one are Skopsko and Zlaten Dab with the former being the national beer. The locals love it when you drink Skopsko and several people have told me that it’s the best beer in Macedonia. I can confirm that it’s true.

18# Eat a Burek:

A burek is a pastry that the locals eat all of the time. Some have meat, cheese, or vegetables inside and they’re delicious. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with them as they’re quite greasy. You can find them in bakeries or supermarkets.

19# You’ll Love Macedonian Music:

The Macedonians like to listen to folk music. You’ll hear it on the radio and in restaurants. The traditional music not only sounds good, but it also adds an atmosphere to the place. Click here to check out what Macedonian music is like

Things to Remember:

The most important thing to remember is that Macedonia may be a little rough around the edges, yet it does have a special charm underneath. Enjoy the history, the traditional, and enjoy the coffee culture. Macedonia is a great country and you can read more about what it’s like on our One Month Trip to Macedonia. Be patient and you’ll love this country as much as we do.

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