Balkan Travel Blog: Things To Do In Ohrid Macedonia
Witten by travel writer Giulia.
The Ottoman houses on the shore of lake Ohrid are veiled in the morning mist as if they were white ghosts against a blanket of white. This enveloping whiteness hovers over the wooden boats scattered around the lake and swallows the crown of houses ranged around it. Nevertheless, I know how beautiful the view is, having seen countless postcard-perfect pictures of this UNESCO-listed Lake, which is one of the oldest in the world.
When tourists are gone, and winter is in the air, Ohrid becomes again the picturesque lakeside town that has enchanted visitors since the Byzantine Empire. The pale light of the sun reflects on deserted cobbled streets, and this glowing fog melts in time with the footfalls of the few people wandering around. The ancient stones drenched with rain emanate a wet, winterish smell, which –here and there- is abruptly interrupted by the warm smell of oven-baked burek.
The churches are scented with incense. Ohrid is well-known for its churches, which were 365 originally –one for each day of the year- a feature which won it the epithet of “the Jerusalem of the Balkans”. Ohrid’s churches, as well as its architecture, span more than two millennia, but this is just one of the reasons why this enchanting city is recognized by UNESCO.
Actually, it is one of the 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are on both the Cultural and the Natural lists. I didn’t stumble upon any celebrations inside Ohrid’s churches. Rather, I always found a profound silence only occasionally interrupted by footsteps tiptoeing on the marble floorings: a solemn atmosphere I bet you can only find during this time of the year when the town becomes quiet and idyllic again.
Unlike with my usual ‘travel-style,’ I visited a lot of churches when in Ohrid, starting off with an ambitious plan in the early morning, but then slowly adopting a more Balkan approach as the day passed by. This implied Turkish coffees at a typical Macedonia cafe, Skopsko beers, some meaty snacks and the ubiquitous Ohrid trout, which is the protagonist of the traditional cuisine of the area and the only thing that the Macedonian shore has in common with the Albanian side across the lake.
The area is also well-known for its centuries-old tradition of wine making. Macedonians love to drink, and Ohrid’s porches overlooking the lake are the perfect place to do it. During the summer, all these lakeside cafés are bustling, but now the paved promenade is empty, and everything looks more authentic. Even the accordion player at a fancy restaurant goes for Tose Proeski’s very Macedonian songs rather than the international repertoire of the summer.
When the music stops, the only sound I can hear is the rhythmic percussion of waves on sand. As I watch them coming and going, I can’t help thinking about the time when I was on the other side of the lake, on the Albanian shore. The two experiences could not be more different: the touristy, postcard-perfect Macedonian outline of the Ottoman houses and the rough, neglected jumble of concrete on the Albanian side. Anyone who has visited both sides of Ohrid Lake knows that these two landscapes are not a just lake, but a whole world apart.
Things To Do In Ohrid
Ohrid is well-known for its ancient churches, among which the most popular are St. Pantelejmon, the oldest Slav Monastery in Europe, St. Sophia, from the 11th century, the Holy Mother of God Perivleptos, well-known for its frescoes, and St. John Kaneo, which is picturesquely situated on the cliff. Or you could take a day trip and head to the Monastery of St Naum.
Besides beautiful frescoes and theological representations, Ohrid’s churches preserve a collection of more than 800 Byzantine-style icons dating from the 11th to the end of the 14th century.
Ohrid is one of the few UNESCO sites inscribed both for its cultural and natural values, so don’t forget to enjoy its UNESCO-listed lakefront, or even take a boat ride on the lake! To make it easy, jot down these nine must-see things to do in Ohrid.
- Marvel at The Ancient Theatre of Ohrid
- Wander The Monastery of Sveti Naum
- Get Back To Nature at National Park Galičica and Visit St. Jovan of Kaneo Monastery
- Snoop Through The Robevci Family House Museum
- Check Out St. Clement Church
- Admire The Frescos of the Church of St. Sophia – Sveti Sofia
- Head to Tsar Samuil’s Fortress
- Buy an Ohrid Pearl
Where Is Ohrid Macedonia & How To Get There?
Ohrid is 170km away from Skopje, the country’s capital city. You can either catch the public bus from Skopje Bus Station, which will take 3 hours, or rent a car and drive for 2.5 hours along the most scenic routes in the country.
Where To Sleep In Ohrid Macedonia?
Besides the stunning hotels, in Ohrid, you can sleep in a well-preserved, traditional late-Ottoman houses that have turned into family-owned bed-and-breakfasts for a genuinely charming experience!
What To Eat In Ohrid Macedonia?
Macedonian cuisine is very similar to other Balkan cuisines. A popular national dish is the “Tavče Gravče”, a bean soup, while in the area surrounding Lake Ohrid several traditional dishes are made out of trout.
Main photo credit: Jaime Perez