North Macedonia is a hidden gem of a country within the Balkans and a perfect backpacking location. This small Balkan country boasts incredible nature and a ton of history. It is also one of the least visited countries in Europe and it is incredibly hard to understand why. Eastern European and Balkan countries get a bad reputation. However, I would argue that this is undeserved as these places are greatly misunderstood. I went to this country, not knowing what to expect and I had a blast.
1. You Most Likely Don’t Need a Visa
North Macedonia is neither part of the Schengen nor the EU. That means the country has its own border crossing and visa policy. However, most countries in the world don’t require a tourist visa. As a UK passport holder myself, that means I am allowed to stay there for 90 days and that’s the same case for many nationalities in North America and Western Europe.
2. Incredibly Friendly People
The whole reason I decided to visit North Macedonia is because I met some Macedonians while visiting Bled. They really sold me visiting their country and told me about how breathtaking Lake Ohrid is. Furthermore, a lot of the people I met during my time backpacking here were incredibly welcoming. I make exception to some people who were working in different places, however I can understand.
Moreover, The local people I met working at the hostels I stayed were incredible. While in Skopje, I was recommended the best places to eat and sorted out my transport to Ohrid. While I was in Ohrid, I was having beers with some backpackers and one of the people working at the hostel joined us. I can definitely say that everyone at that hostel was top class.
3. It’s a Multicultural Country
Although this country has a population much less than Scotland, its population is diverse. Most people in this country are of course Macedonians who are Orthodox Christians. This country boasts some incredible orthodox churches and monasteries which are many centuries old.
However, this country is also home to a significant population of Albanians, who are predominantly Muslims. This came as a surprised to me as it’s one of the few European countries where you can see so many mosques. When I was staying in Ohrid, my hostel was right next to a mosque and the call to prayer woke me up early in the morning. It’s quite fascinating that such a small country.
4. Extremely Hot in the Summer and Extremely Cold in the Winter
I was backpacking this country in the middle of August and it was absolutely boiling. Walking around Skopje had me sweating bullets with temperatures over 37 degrees celsius. If that intense heat isn’t for you, then I recommend avoiding this place in summer. On the other hand, winter in this country is the complete opposite. Due to its mountainous terrain, you can expect freezing temperatures and snow.
5. Don’t Know Cyrillic? Don’t Worry
North Macedonia is one of the countries in the world where the Cyrillic alphabet is widely used. As someone who can read Cyrillic, it was very interesting to see all the different signs as it’s not something I usually see. If the Cyrillic letters mean nothing to you, then it can seem daunting. However, you should have nothing to worry about as the signs are also written in Albanian. Albanian uses the Latin alphabet and is used in sides alongside Macedonian.
6. Make Sure you Always Have Cash
It’s important to that Euros are not generally accepted here and the Macedonian denar is the official currency. It may be a huge inconvenience, but card payments are not widely accepted. Although some museums and restaurants may have card machines, you should expect that not many businesses have them.
7. It Used to be Part of Yugoslavia
Historically, this country has been under different forms of rule, including the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. However, what can be well-observed is North Macedonia’s more recent history as part of Tito’s Yugoslavia. After WWII, Skopje was developed under the socialist regime and that meant that there is a lot of typical Yugoslav architecture. Furthermore, you can see faces and statues of Tito scattered around in some places. One interesting thing about North Macedonia is that you can still see Yugo cars being driven around as well.
8. Don’t Worry About Safety
Going to a little-known country in the Balkans may seem intimidating, however there is nothing to worry about. I felt completely safe walking around at night and it does not feel like a dangerous place at all. I’d also like to mention that there’s hardly anyone trying to take advantage of tourists, unlike some other places.
One thing that I would suggest to be wary of though is pickpockets in some of the crowded areas of Skopje. Despite that, it does feel like a place that is very welcoming to tourists and it’s likely that backpacking here won’t be a hassle.