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North Macedonian Souvenirs You Can’t Leave Macedonia Without.
Written by local Macedonian travel writer, Daniel Kiteski
Still vastly unexplored by tourists, except for the city of Ohrid and the capital Skopje, North Macedonia (Macedonia) remains one of the ultimate hidden gems on the Balkan Peninsula.
This small but rich-in-culture country has been the crossroad of cultures for centuries and the last country to break free from the Ottoman Empire.
As such, it’s a country with a rich history and many unique things that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. From the famous Macedonian handicrafts and ceramics to the marvelous Ohrid pearls and filigrees, here are the best souvenirs to take bring back home from your trip to Macedonia.
Traditional Costumes & Textiles
Like all other countries in the Balkan region, Macedonia has some exceptional, authentic traditional costumes that are very different from those you would find in other parts of Europe.
Unfortunately, locals rarely wear these costumes nowadays, except for big celebrations and stage events, but you can still find these traditional costumes in a handful of places. Keep in mind that traditional wear varies from region to region. If you have an eye for detail, you can notice some differences between the traditional costumes from the eastern and western parts of the country.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for something smaller and less expensive, you can always get small fabrics or accessories that people ordinarily wear with traditional clothes.
You can find these fabrics in the same stores that sell traditional clothes, and the best place for this is the Old Bazaar in Skopje, where you can find a myriad of different shops that sell traditional costumes and fabrics.
Next, if you want to complete the whole outfit, you also need to get…
Traditional Macedonian Shoes (Opinci)
Like the old clothes, people don’t wear opinci anymore, and this old craft is slowly disappearing. However, you can still find these handmade leather shoes if you know where to look for them.
The only people that keep this craft alive today are the folklore dancing groups that need to use these shoes for their performances and ethnic-enthusiasts who are seeking rare items. Hence, this is a great chance not only to get a rare Macedonian souvenir but also to support a local craft that’s on the verge of extinction.
Talking about declining local crafts, another unique souvenir you can get from Macedonia is…
Authentic Ceramics & Earthenware
You might be surprised to learn that the same Macedonian earthenware pots that you see in museums can be purchased in some of the many stores in the old bazaars around the country.
Earthenware is an important part of the culture of Balkan countries, and Macedonia is no exception. These bowls and pots have been historically used for preparing traditional Macedonian food and have been lately replaced by their equally-appealing ceramic counterparts.
They both look different from everything you saw before and would definitely make a great unique souvenir to bring home.
However, ceramics and earthenware isn’t the only thing Macedonia is famous for. This leads me to the next item on this list…
Wood Carving Artwork
The deep wood carving technique is one of the most impressive handicrafts that can still be found in Macedonia. This technique dates back to the 12th century and has been passed on from generation to generation.
You can find many small independent shops spread across the country that sell various items made using this ancient technique.
The items cover a range of different motifs, such as historical events, religious themes, national landmarks, and some even try to capture the divine nature of Macedonia. However, the finest wood carving masterpieces are not for sale, and most of them can be found in churches in different parts of the country, like the iconostasis in the church of St. John the Baptist (Sveti Jovan Bigorski).
Talking about churches and icons, another unique Macedonian souvenir you might consider buying is…
Painted Orthodox Christian Icons
While in Macedonia, you’ll probably visit a lot of beautiful Orthodox churches. This might inspire you to buy a couple of lovely painted wooden icons. You can find these items practically anywhere, from the old bazaars in different cities to the small shops located in various churches.
They make great souvenirs, come in many different shapes and sizes, and most of them are reasonably priced. Finally, if you decide to purchase these icons, keep in mind that they are objects of great religious significance to believers and, as such, should be respected.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more modern souvenir, there are a lot of places where you can get…
Modern Artwork Of All Shapes And Sizes
Many young artists have independent shops in different places around the country where you can buy modern artwork with a traditional touch.
These items come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from paintings with different motifs to hand-carved jewelry boxes, copper and clay dishes, candles, vases, replicas of historical items and buildings, and other decoration items.
Next, a Macedonian souvenirs list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning…
Traditional Macedonian Filigree Jewelry
Filigree jewelry making has been present in Macedonia since the late 13th century. It’s an art form that includes decorating metal jewelry with silver. Nowadays, many filigree jewelry is produced by machines, but you can still find rare handmade items in a few places around the country.
Needless to say, these items are more expensive than the ones made with a machine, but by buying it, you’re getting an extremely rare item and supporting another handicraft that’s on the verge of extinction.
If you’re looking for an excellent gift for your girlfriend, mother, or sister, there’s no better choice than this.
Talking about jewelry, we can’t forget to mention the iconic…
The Ohrid Pearls are one of the unique souvenirs you can get while visiting Ohrid, Macedonia’s tourist hub. Two old Ohrid families have made these pearls, Filevi and Talevi, since the 1920s,’ and the whole process of making the pearls remains a closely guarded secret even today.
The pearls are coated with secret ingredients, and it takes at least eight layers of emulsion before they get their final form. Just make sure that you buy your pearls from the shops of these two families because there are many fake pearls made in China and sold as “Ohrid Pearls.”
Carpets play a big role in the interior of a typical Macedonian home. In fact, it’s common to see a carpet in every room of the house, including the kitchen! Hence, it’s no wonder that you can find various beautiful, traditional, authentic rugs in different stores around the country.
The traditional Macedonian carpets are a unique blend of traditional Macedonian and Ottoman motifs. They will again remind you of the country’s rich history as a crossroads of the east and the west. If you don’t believe that, just listen to some…
Traditional Music Records
You can hear it all over the place—celebrations, restaurants, cafes, bars, TV, and even on the street.
Many people don’t like Macedonian music when they first hear it, but it eventually grows on them so much that they want to listen to it when they get back home. There are several shops in Skopje where you can find old records and tapes with some of the most beautiful Macedonian ethnic songs for a meager price.
Additionally, if you can’t get enough of this incredibly contagious music, another souvenir you might consider buying is…
Traditional Musical Instruments
As a country with very distinct traditions, culture, and music, it’s no wonder that Macedonians have some very unique musical instruments that you won’t find anywhere else on our planet.
Some of them include tambura (a different version of ukulele), kemane (looks like a violin but sounds very different), kaval (a very popular blowing instrument), zurla (the Macedonian version of clarinet), etc. You can purchase some of these instruments for affordable prices in (as you might be guessing by now) the Old Bazaar in Skopje.
Another thing that you’ll probably enjoy in Macedonia is the food. Most tourists can’t get enough of Macedonian food. Unfortunately, you can’t take Macedonian food back home with you, but one thing you can take is…
A Book Of Traditional Recipes
There’s a book written in English named “Macedonia: Recipes from the Balkans.” The book features 105 traditional Macedonian recipes with photographs.
You can get this book in several different bookshops, souvenir shops, and even online. If you want to try preparing some of the delicious Macedonian dishes and remind yourself of your trip, there’s no better souvenir for you than this book.
Finally, I can’t talk about Macedonian food and souvenirs without at least mentioning…
Ajvar is one of the most delicious Macedonian delicacies and one that even picky eaters love.
This delicious spread is the perfect souvenir because it’s packed in a jar and can endure a long journey. It’s the ideal opportunity to make your friends or family taste a slice of Macedonia.
A lot of people usually don’t hear about Macedonian wine before they visit Macedonia. However, this country is home to some delicious and underrated wines.
I say underrated because you rarely hear about people mentioning how delicious Macedonian wine is. If you’re looking for a nice gift from Macedonia for your friends, family, or co-workers, Macedonian wine is a great choice.
And since we’re talking about alcoholic drinks, I have to mention…
A trip to Macedonia can’t be complete without at least one shot of Rakija.
If you have a Macedonian friend and visit their home, this is likely the first thing you’ll be offered with. Rakija is a traditional Macedonian spirit typically made of plums (but other fruits too).
It’s a local drink that can’t be found outside the Balkan peninsula, making it the perfect souvenir to bring back from your trip to Macedonia.
Macedonian Souvenirs Buying Tips
As you can see from this list, you have several choices regarding your choice of Macedonian souvenirs. However, you should also know where to search because you might drastically overpay some of these souvenirs if you buy them from mainstream stores and outlets.
Here are some of the best tips for buying souvenirs in Macedonia.
Buy Directly From The Producers
Whether you’re in a winery, taking a food tour, or seeing demonstrations of handicrafts or folk arts, always check out the souvenir shop or ask what items they have for sale. This is always cheaper than buying the same thing from a souvenir shop.
Church Gift Shops
Many churches have small gift shops where you can buy small orthodox icons, books, bracelets, and other items that mainly cater to devotees and tourists looking for interesting souvenirs. All of these items are reasonably priced, and all of the money goes to the church.
So, by shopping here, you’re also supporting the local churches. Just like the local markets, these gift shops rarely accept credit cards, so make sure to bring some extra cash with you.
Wherever you are in Macedonia, always head for the local open markets or old bazaars (if any). When you visit this type of market, make sure you have enough cash because vendors don’t accept credit cards.
Tips For Buying In Souvenir Shops
Sometimes, you’ll have no other choice but to buy souvenirs from a souvenir shop, but you should know that some souvenir shops sell items that aren’t authentic.
That’s why you should make sure that the item you’re buying was made in Macedonia (if possible), check out different stores and compare the prices to ensure that you’re not getting ripped off, and research to learn which are the best places to buy certain items.
So, which item from Macedonia will you buy first?
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