When we think about visiting a country, the first thing that most people think of is “we will visit its capital”. North Macedonia is one of those few countries I visited without even passing through its capital. But in this case, I passed by a city that was a capital long ago, a visit to the city of Ohrid. One of the first capitals in the Balkan region, maybe even of the world.
Ohrid isn’t just another city in North Macedonia, Ohrid is also UNESCO World Heritage! If you decide to visit Ohrid, I can assure you won’t bet bored. It is like living and breathing history in a gorgeous city.
The city is by a lake with the same name, the Lake Ohrid. The city and the lake are the only UNESCO Human Heritage in the country. The region has a biblical reputation, but at the same time that reputation is also reason for some conflicts with the neighboring country.
A bit about North Macedonia
Until quite recently the official name of the country was really long, all of this thanks to a dispute with Greece for the same name. The problem isn’t even the name itself, but the stolen symbology that comes from that. Alexander the Great was king of Macedonia during the IV century before Christ, however the biblical region of Macedonia is almost all where is nowadays the North of Greece, which gave that same name to that region. Once Yugoslavia fell apart, this new country adopted the name that belongs to a region of the neighboring country. And with this, also some cultural appropriation for some history that didn’t take place in that country.
This name conflict was due to the historial and cultural heritage appropriation. But in 2018 Greece accepted the proposal to change the name to North Macedonia, something that most Greek people disagree with. But this can also open the door to this country for a potential relationship or even integration with the European Union. Joining the European Union will still be unlikely due to the relations between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, but that’s another story.
What to do in Ohrid?
Go for a boat ride in Lake Ohrid
One of the main experiences I recommend is a boat ride around the lake Ohrid. The lake Ohrid is one of the biggest and oldest in the world, alike Titicaca and Baical lakes, and it is the deepest in the Balkans.
The lake Ohrid is irrigated by the Prespa lakes, and then drains to the Black Drin river in Struga, a city in the north margin of the lake Ohrid.
You can either take a ferry or a private boat to go for your ride around the lake, it costs around 5€ per person. Any of these options will give you a nice experience, and also something to add to your plans of what to visit in Ohrid.
Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon
The church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon has one of the most gorgeous views in Ohrid, almost in par with the Church of St. John at Kaneo.
The archeologists believe that the church is on the place where the first students of the Glagolitic script were taught, the oldest slavic language that is known. According to the archeologists, it was St. Clement himself that designed the church, which was used for the teaching of Glagolitic and Cyrillic scripts to convert the slaves into christianity. Being used as an university.
Visit the Church of St. John at Kaneo
One of North Macedonia’s symbols, the Church of St. John at Kaneo is one of the most photographed sites in the country. Without a doubt it is a place to visit in Ohrid. The site where it is located is gorgeous, with Lake Ohrid as a background and at the edge of a cliff. It is the perfect place to take great photos, however not so original considering the site is really well-known.
The church is dedicated to John of Patmos, some believe he was the Apostole John. The construction date is still unknown, though there are documents that detail the existence of a church in the XV century. The archeologists believe that the church was built during the Ottoman Empire, probably in the XII century.
Alike the construction date, the name of the architect that designed it is also unknown. But the architectonical style is very similar to the one of some Armenian churches, specially the ceiling. In 1964, during restoration works, there were found frescoes in its dome.
Visit the Old Theater of Ohrid
The Old Theater of Ohrid is the only theater of the Hellenistic period in North Macedonia. There are a few other old theaters in the country, but all of them already of the roman period. And since we are now talking about the roman period, this theater was used, during that time, as a gladiator arena. Now imagine the feeling of walking around those ruins knowing what happened there hundreds of years ago.
Another curiosity about this theater are the reasons of it’s preservation. During the roman period it wasn’t just used as a gladiator arena, but also a place of public execution of christians. Due to these executions, the place soon became a target of hate by the local population. As soon as the Roman Empire collapsed, the theater was abandoned and buried. In 1980, by chance, it was re-discovered in a extremely well preserved state.
Walk through the walls of Samuel’s Fortress
Samuel’s Fortress is another of the most well-known sites to visit in Ohrid, founded around the X century by the Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria. The Tsar Samuel used Ohrid as the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire.
Nowadays this monument is one of the city’s most visited site. In 2003 it went under big renovations where the rebuilt from the ground some of the walls. According to some recent excavations, they found traces that this fortress was built on the top of another much older fortress. From the IV century, probably build by the King Philip II of Macedon.
Wandering through the Ohrid Bazaar
For the shopaholics, or even those who just enjoy to walk around, the Ohrid Bazaar is a perfect excuse to get to know a bit more of this city.
However, due the amount of shops and how easy is to walk around in that street, as it is pedestrian, it is also one of the most crowded areas in the city. There are several types of stores, souvenirs shops, ice-cream shops and a few cafés are part of the offer that you can find in St Clement Street.
Nowadays there are very few buildings from the original Bazaar, but you can still find a few. At the end of the bazaar, there is a small square with a tree (I think it is a Platanus) with almost 1000 years old! Some sources mention that it has more than 1000 years, while other sources mention 900. So let’s go with “almost millenary“. And another sightseeing point in Ohrid.
Explore Ohrid’s Old Town
If you don’t like crowds, then Ohrid’s Old Town is an excellent alternative for you. This historical area is in one of the city hills, and just because of that, if repels a lot tourists. If you’ve been in Lisbon, it kind of reminds of Alfama, the narrow steep streets in cobblestone and a few stairs. It was in this area where I had my AirBNB, therefore, I had the opportunity to go through some of those streets several times. In fact, I believe that very few tourists wander around that area.
From the Bazaar area, any street towards the hill will lead to the old town. Even though it might not seem like it, it is a area with a lot of historical details, like arches, some ruins and old fortifications. One of the most well preserved arches is the Upper Gate, and arch near the Old Theater.
Go to the beach and swim at the Ohrid Lake
And after so much walking around in Ohrid, relaxing a bit will feel wonderful, and which better place to relax than the lake itself? The beach is quite small, but it will feel great after a day of walking. You might struggle to find a place to lie your towel though…
Since I was on my own in Ohrid, I couldn’t enjoy the beach properly. I had some valuables with me (like the camera), and I was a feeling a bit uneasy to leave everything behind just for a swim. The city seems to be really safe, though I don’t think we should leave valuables unattended and ready to be stolen…
Just keep in mind that this is a fresh water lake, the experience is a bit different from the sea. But beware of the sun, it will still burn…
Have dinner by the Ohrid Lake
And to end the day, having a dinner over the waters of Ohrid Lake will, certainly, be one of the highlights of the trip. I was lucky to be seated with a great view, with a clear sky and gorgeous night. And the bill? Quite cheap! I ate a massive fish (I don’t remember what I ordered), and in the end I paid exactly 10€ with a drink included.
So don’t let the view lead you to think you will be overcharged, take advantage of the opportunity to have a dinner with a privileged view and great food!
I hope you enjoy Ohrid to it’s fullest, and if you’ve been there already, leave a comment and tell me which was the place that you enjoyed the most to visit in this beautiful city.