Macedonia’s a place I’ve only visited once, for a few hours, on the spur of the moment. We were skiing at Bansko in neighbouring Bulgaria for the week, but the mountain was closed for a couple of days due to high winds. On the first day a few of us randomly rented a car and went for a drive around southern Bulgaria, through the mountains and up to a spooky old church, stopping to buy jam from a withered old roadside vendor. Eventually realising we were just a few miles from the Greek border, we thought about crossing over but didn’t all have our passports with us and had to head back to Bansko.
So when the mountain was shut for a second day, all eight of us decided to grab a couple of rental cars and this time took our passports, and decided we’d try a loop through Macedonia to Kosovo and back to Bulgaria. Unfortunately the border guards couldn’t let the rental cars in due to insurance reasons, so we had to scale down our ambitions; we parked the cars at the border, crossed over to Macedonia, and hung out with the border guys while they called us a taxi to get to the first proper town, a place called Delchevo.
Now, Delchevo was an odd little place, as border towns often are; it was pretty undeveloped and felt like stepping back a decade or so, and in some ways it all looked a little Borat. We wandered around looking for a spot of lunch, and found a neat little restaurant whose owner clearly enjoyed being visited by a bunch of random foreigners; his hearty food (think nan, pita, salad & kebab) and hospitality sent us on our way back to Bulgaria with a favourable impression of his ramshackle town.
Travel to, from, and within Macedonia overland
Macedonia has good roads and a domestic rail network; the railway doesn’t cover the whole country, but roads will get you anywhere the train can’t (notably Lake Ohrid). Macedonia’s main north-south railway is an international line with services to Belgrade (Serbia) and Thessaloniki (Greece); an Interrail pass (for Europeans) or Eurail pass (for non-Europeans) is therefore a good way to reach Macedonia overland as part of a wider European trip.
Macedonia is not a member of either the EU or the Schengen area. Neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria are both EU members – Greece is in Schengen, but Bulgaria hasn’t yet joined the Schengen area (though will be doing so in the near future). If crossing these borders, take care about your Schengen entry requirements – be careful you don’t accidentally terminate your Schengen visa if you have one, and if you’re visa free keep proper track of your days in & out of Schengen. Macedonia’s other neighbours – Albania and Serbia / Kosovo – are in neither the EU or Schengen, so check the entry requirements for your passport on a case by case basis.
Things to do in Macedonia
I’ve only personally been to the eastern town of Delchevo, which I wouldn’t really recommend travelling to visit (as interesting as it was to go there for the day); the main points of interest for foreign visitors are the capital city Skopje, and Lake Ohrid on the border with Albania.
Resources and Useful Links for Visiting Macedonia
Official website for the Interrail pass
Official website for the Eurail pass
World Nomads offer flexible travel insurance you can buy even if already overseas (most travel insurance companies won’t cover you if you’ve already left your country, and this can be a crucial point as I once found out the hard way in Thailand)
Seat 61’s Serbia page also has the details for London to Macedonia by train
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