North Macedonia Road Trip

Vineyards, National Parks and a Rich History

Despite boasting wonderful national parks, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and excellent vineyards, North Macedonia is one of Europe’s least visited countries. This makes North Macedonia undoubtedly one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. One of the best ways to explore this off-the-beaten-track destination is by taking a road trip. As the country is mainly rural, a road trip allows you to access the many national parks, vineyards, and remote locations that public transport doesn’t serve. In many cases, you’ll have the sights and attractions all to yourself, a very rare experience for visitors to Europe. 

Best Time to Take a Road Trip in North Macedonia

The summer months from June to September are the best time to take a road trip in North Macedonia. During this time of year, the days are warm and the evening mild, making it a great time to visit the national parks or relax at one of the lakes. Despite this being peak season, it’s only Skopje and Lake Ohrid that see high volumes of tourists. This means booking ahead for these destinations is essential. Elsewhere, it’s recommended to book ahead during the peak months of July and August, but there’s usually availability.

Driving in North Macedonia

Driving in North Macedonia isn’t too different from other European destinations. First and foremost, all vehicles drive on the right side of the road. The other key point is that all speed limits are stated in kilometers per hour and not in miles per hour. The quality of roads varies, with some rural and national park roads a mix of stone and dirt tracks, while the main highways between cities are good tarmac roads.

There are a few essential items you need to carry with you when driving in North Macedonia as a foreign national. The first and most important are your driving license and an international permit unless you’re an EU citizen. If you’ve brought your own vehicle, you will also need to have your insurance certificate plus your car ownership paperwork. If you’ve rented a vehicle, you’ll need a copy of the rental agreement. As well as this paperwork, it’s also essential that all vehicles have a warning triangle and headlight converters if the vehicle is usually driven on the left side of the road. 

North Macedonia Road Trip Itinerary

To take in the best of North Macedonia on a road trip, you’ll need to travel around the country’s perimeter. Starting in the capital city of Skopje in the north, you’ll head west to the city of Tetovo. The route then turns south to Lake Ohrid via the impressive Mavrovo National Park. After a few days in Ohrid and around the lake, you’ll head east to Bitola via Pelister National Park. After taking in Bitola and the ruins of Heraclea Lyncestis, the route turns northeast to the city of Kavadarci in the Tikves wine region. Finally, the route turns east to take in Strumica and Berovo before returning to Skopje.

Skopje to Tetovo

The road trip starts in Skopje, North Macedonia’s capital city. If you plan to fly in and pick up a rental car from the airport, it’s just a short 24-kilometer drive into the city. In the city, there are a few must-see sights, such as the Old Bazaar, Fortress Kale, Macedonia Square, and the Memorial House of Mother Teresa. If you’re planning an extended stay in Skopje, there’s more detail in our Skopje city guide about where to go and what to see.

Central square in Skopje North Macedonia
North Macedonia's capital, Skopje is home to numerous impressive Alexander the Great statutes

From Skopje, head southwest to Lake Matka and the Matka Canyon. It’s a short 30-minute drive, and you’ll be rewarded with some spectacular canyon views. It’s a good place to hike, climb, and kayak or canoe, so plan to spend a few hours here at least. It’s also an excellent spot for lunch or dinner with several good waterside restaurants.  

The beautiful Matka Canyon
The spectacular Matka Canyon and Lake is located just outside of Skopje.

It’s a further 37 km and 35 minutes from Lake Matka to Tetovo, where we’d recommend spending a night. Located at the foot of the Sar Planina Mountains, it’s a bustling city with some interesting Ottoman sights. The undoubted highlight of these sights is the spectacular Painted Mosque, which dates back to 1459. Close by is the Isa Beg Hamman, which is also worth a look. The Arabati Baba Tekke is also worth visiting to experience one of the few remaining Bektashi Monasteries in Europe. 

Tetovo to Lake Ohrid

From Tetovo, we head south for 56 km to our next stop, Mavrovo National Park. A popular ski resort during the winter months, the park is also a great summer destination. Home to forests, gorges, karst fields, waterfalls, and Macedonia’s highest peak, Mount Korab, it’s a great place to hike and explore. If you’re lucky, you might see some of the deer, bears, lynx, and wolves that live in the park.

Visiting Mavrovo National Park on a road trip is one of those times when having your own vehicle is a real benefit. Your vehicle will allow you to find some spectacular viewpoints and explore some of the traditional local villages, such as Jance and Galicnik. There are also some monasteries you can visit, with the thousand-year-old Sveti Jovan Bigorski monastery the pick of the bunch. 

A pretty village in Mavrovo National Park
Mavrovo National Park is home to some beautiful vistas and pretty villages

From Mavrovo National Park, we continue south towards Ohrid. It’s a 112 km and a 2-hour drive if you make the journey without stopping, although we’d recommend a detour to the hillside town of Vevcani. It’s a great example of a traditional North Macedonian town centered around a church with numerous pretty and historic buildings. This hillside town is famous for its mountain springs, and there are some pleasant walks around these in the surrounding countryside. Vevcani has also made a name for itself with some fine restaurants.  

Lake Ohrid to Bitola

Lake Ohrid and the city of Ohrid are North Macedonia’s premier tourist attractions. The lake covers an area of 358 square kilometers and stretches into Albania. Ohrid lies on its northern shore and is the main town in the area. It has a pretty old town area with historic churches that are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is overlooked by the impressive medieval Car Samoil’s Castle. There’s plenty to see and do in Ohrid and the surrounding areas. Whether relaxing or exploring, you can find out more in our Ohrid Guide

The UNESCO town of Ohrid as seen from Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia
The UNESCO listed town of Ohrid as seen from Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve seen and enjoyed enough of Ohrid and the surrounding areas, it’s time to get back on the road. The next leg of the journey takes you 70 kilometers east towards the city of Bitola. Halfway along the road is a turn-off to Pelister National Park, and we highly recommend stopping by for the day. Located in the Baba Mountains, this park has some fine hiking and scenery. The mountains are relatively easy to scale, and they afford spectacular views across the two glacial lakes, which are known as ‘Pelisters Eyes.’ The highest of these peaks is Mount Pelister, with an elevation of 2601 meters. It’s a tough but rewarding climb to the top.

Glacial lake in Pelister National Park
The two glacial lakes in Pelister National Park are know as 'Pelister's Eyes'

Bitola to Berovo

On arrival in Bitola, you’re immediately struck by the town’s rich history, evident in its numerous historic buildings. A significant commercial center during the 18th and 19th centuries, the town is now considered a lifestyle city with great cafes and restaurants. It’s a great place to hang out for a few days and watch the world go by. The standout attraction in town is the ruins of Heraclea Lyncestis. An important historic city, the site first dates back to the 4th century BC. Other attractions worth seeing include the treasured Bitola Clock Tower, as well as the various mosques and churches that dot the center of town. 

Heraclea Lyncestis an ancient city near Bitola
The ruined ancient city of Heraclea Lyncestis is one of Bitola's best sights.

From Bitola, head 90 kilometers northeast toward Kavadarci. While the city itself is nothing to write home about, the surrounding regions that make up the Tikves wine region are beautiful. Home to numerous vineyards, this wine-growing region dates back to the Roman times. It’s an incredibly scenic journey passing by all of the vines, and it’s a great experience to stop at some of the vineyards. Plenty of the vineyards offer tours and tasting sessions, although you may need to book in advance. 

Vineyards in the Tikves area of North Macedonia
North Macedonia's burgeoning wine industry is based in the pretty Tikves region.

It’s a further 85 kilometers and a 90-minute drive from Kavadarci to our next destination, Strumica, close to the Bulgarian border. This historical city has a colorful past, although much of it was sadly destroyed when the town was sacked by the Greek army in 1913.  While there are some interesting buildings remaining in town, it’s the surrounding areas that draw visitors.  The nearby Monastery of St Leontius and Monastery of Sveta Bogorodica-Eleusa are well worth visiting, while the region is also home to numerous waterfalls. The best are the Kolesino Falls and Smolare Falls, North Macedonia’s highest. 

Kolesino Waterfall in east North Macedonia
The pretty Kolesino Falls are one of a number of waterfalls around Strumica.

The final leg of our road trip before returning to Skopje is the short but very scenic 50-kilometer trip to Berovo. Located in the Malesevski mountains, the town is a popular summer escape due to its cooler temperatures on account of its altitude. It’s also another fine example of a North Macedonia hill town. You’ll find a pretty town center featuring a church and several traditional buildings. In the local area, there’s some good hiking and Lake Berovo, an excellent place to kick back before the final drive back to Skopje. 

The final leg of the road trip is the return journey to Skopje. It’s 150 kilometres in distance, taking 2 to 3 hours, depending on traffic. This brings the total distance covered to around 700 kilometres and completes this epic road trip. 

Enjoyed this Guide?

We hope you’ve enjoyed our North Macedonia Road Trip guide. If you’re interest, why not try some of the other guides for North Macedonia or Europe? We’ve also got a road trips section where you can find other great guides and itineraries.

Related Content

North Macedonia Country Guide
One Day in Skopje
Best Things to do in Ohrid
France Guide
Georgia Guide
Turkey Guide
United Kingdom Guide

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