Ohrid, Macedonia: Hikes, swimming, and cute-ass churches

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As always, everything I’ve mentioned here can be found saved on this map.

Ohrid was…not what I was expecting. A few different people had recommended it to me, sold it as a small settlement on a lake, where you can bike, hike, swim and basically take it easy. Great. I allocated three days at the end of my Balkans trip and looked forward to it for weeks. But when I got there, I found a bustling town, filled with what felt like half of Macedonia there on vacation. The beaches I’d planned to relax on were absolutely chock-a-block with sunbeds and people – I felt like I was at Bondi in January. The waterfront cafes I’d planned to slowly sip coffee in while wistfully staring at the horizon were overpriced and way too busy to be thoughtful in. At night the main pedestrian street turned into Times Square, and I wish I were exaggerating. I don’t know where all those people came from, but it was PACKED. At first I was disappointed – I wasn’t here to party or fight for space in a lake filled with kids practicing their bombs. But it is an undeniably beautiful place – here’s how to get away from the crowds and make the most of it. 

Day Trip To Bitola

A small-ish town to the east of Ohrid, Bitola was an unexpectedy nice place to spend a day. I tagged along with a girl in my hostel who was going, and together we made the hour-and-a-half bus trip through beautiful national parkland. The main “attraction” in Bitola is their Roman ruins, and let me tell you, it’s impressive. It’s a sprawling complex of walls and streets that were built between the third and sixth centuries, and they’re surprisingly intact. There are even floor mosaics that are in amazing condition. I don’t think I’ve seen ruins in such good nick before. Plus, there was hardly anyone else there so it’s a relaxing experience, unlike visiting ruins in more heavily touristed areas. 

Bitola itself is a cute little town to walk around, with the requisite pedestrian street, main square, church, mosque, and market. Definitely spend some time wandering through the market area, and pick up some fresh fruit. It’s really, REALLY good, and extremely cheap.

Sveti Naum Monastery

This is probably the number one place tourists visit when spending time in Ohrid, and it is PACKED. While I don’t normally love going somewhere so busy, the old monastery standing over the lake was a beautiful place to visit, and was worth a couple hours of my time. The best part is the small beach behind the monastery – way fewer people than the beaches along the main entrance. I paid 50 MKD ($1.20) for a beach chair for a couple hours and just chilled out.

You can get to the monastery by boat (10 Euro return) or bus (110 MKD one way). Or just rock up at the bus stop and after a while a driver will ask you where you’re going, and he’ll take you there for the same price as the bus once enough people show up going in the same direction. You won’t have to wait more than ten minutes.

The small beach around the bay

If you want to spend a relaxing day on the beach, away from beach clubs and masses of people, but don’t have a car or the desire to catch a bus, there’s a small beach you should know about. It’s around the coast from the church, about 10 minutes walk away from Ohrid. It’s way more chilled out, and a beautiful spot to watch the sunset.

Galicia National Park

There are some amazing-looking mountains surrounding the lake, which I was just itching to climb. The guy working at my hostel recommended I head up to the peak of the highest one, where I’d get views over Lake Ohrid, and another lake  over to the east. The walk starts way up the hill, from a viewpoint that can be driven to. I caught a shared taxi (or you can get the bus) to the base of the national park (100MKD). From there, you can hitchhike up the hill – everyone’s driving in the same direction. It took me a while but eventually I was given a lift by a paragliding instructor taking a German family up for a ride. Once at the viewpoint, follow the road for another 20 minutes, where you’ll find a carparking area, and two trails shooting off on either side of the road. The right one heads to the top of Magaro, while the left takes you up to an amazing view then follows along the ridge for a while before heading back down to the main road. I took the left, and ended up doing about a six-hour hike. It’s easy to follow, just look for the red and white markers (or use maps.me). You can make it shorter by turning around at the peak and going back the way you came. But I followed it down then caught a bus back to town. 

Where To Eat

Kaj Kanevche for absolutely delicious Macedonian food on a terrace over the lake. It’s a little pricey for local standards, but still less than $15AUD for two courses and wine.

Dr Falafel for cheap wraps, delicious hummus, and falafel made right in front of your eyes.

Restaurant Fortuna for actual local food, not the “traditional Macedonian food” most other restaurants market. This is a slightly dingier option with a poorly-translated menu – often a sign you’re in a true local place. The food is delicious. Try the local Shopska salad – it’s COVERED in grated cheese. Yum.

Fruit Box for fresh juices and smoothies. They also have cold brew (yum) and… wait for it… ALMOND MILK which is a bloody rarity in the Balkans. Unfortunately I only found this the night before I left so didn’t get to have one, but I can vouch for the watermelon juice.

Patisserie Palma for the best desserts. Make sure to try trileche cake, or the local Ohrid cake.

It Cafe  for pretty good coffee, in a nice cafe. The wifi is reliable, so I sat here for a couple hours doing some work.

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