Home to narrow, cobblestoned streets and medieval-esque architecture, a visit to Ohrid may seem like a trip back in time. Yet to be hit by huge waves of tourism, Ohrid is a vacationer’s paradise, with glimmering beaches, spectacular views, and a wealth of Mediterranean and Turkish cuisine – all available on a budget.
Nicknamed the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’, Ohrid is one of the oldest settlements in Europe, and was once considered to be the epicentre of religion and Slavic culture. Its history is evident in every building that lines the city’s old town. However, it is Lake Ohrid that makes the city a unique historical artefact. At three million years old, it stands as one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes, and gives Ohrid the prestige of being named as both a cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage site.
Nestled between the mountains of Macedonia, three hours outside the capital city of Skopje, Ohrid is the perfect spot for your next adventure. Surrounded by natural landscapes that are the stuff of your Instagram dreams, Ohrid is removed from the bustle of major cities, yet easily accessible by bus or plane – the city even has its own international airport. For those looking to travel within the area, the Greek border is less than two hours away.
What Ohrid lacks in coastline, it makes up for in character and natural beauty. Its lake offers pockets of beachy areas that reveal views of the surrounding mountains and hills. Along the shoreline, carefully reconstructed stilted villages give the area an Italian vibe, while waterside resorts make it the perfect place to relax in the sun. For those tired of the beach, hikes that lead around the shoreline and into the mountains are especially tempting. The more vigorous hiking and cycling trails will reward their conquerors with a beautiful overhead view of the lake.
Macedonian cuisine is reason enough to come to the city. It is unlikely that you’ll make the trip to Ohrid without hearing about Dr. Falafel, which serves up some of the best falafel sandwiches in the region, with fresh hummus and pickled vegetables. Macedonian food has been influenced by a variety of cultures, but largely focuses on Mediterranean and Turkish flavours, with a hint of Italian zest. Typical dishes include flaky kifli pastries, rich vegetable and meat stew known as turli tava, and tavče-gravče, a delicious bean dish. Local foods are made from scratch, focusing on quality and freshness, while the lake ensures that there is never a shortage of fresh seafood.
Once boasting 365 churches, the city has a fascinating architectural layout, full of monasteries, fortresses and castles. Some of the architecture dates back to 200BC, including the city’s ancient theatre, which was formerly used to host gladiator fights. The well-preserved grounds now serve as a concert and theatre venue. Bring some beer and snacks and head to the path just above the famous 13th-century Saint Jovan Kaneo Church to watch the sun as it sets over the lake. Gorgeous views are guaranteed.
While unassuming, Ohrid has a modest but lively nightlife for anybody looking for a good time. Lakeside bars and cafés offer drinks and desserts until 1am, while jazz lovers can listen to live music most nights at The Jazz Inn. For those looking for a little more of a wild night out, Club Havana brings in DJs from all over the region to get the crowd jumping until 5am.
Ohrid transforms into a sunny paradise by May, with little rain, and temperatures that range from a balmy 23°C (73°F), to 31°C (89°F). The weather is perfect for spending the day relaxing on a beach or sipping a beverage at a café. For the more adventurous traveller, there are many outdoor activities offered such as kayaking and cliff jumping. Boat rentals are extremely cheap, and soaking in the sun from the middle of the lake makes for a carefree day.
If you’re looking to go further with your money, forget Paris, London and Barcelona – Ohrid is where it’s at. The country is a great spot for budget-conscious travellers, offering free walking tours, reduced entrances to museums, and extremely cheap day activities (renting kayaks for two hours will only cost you about $5). With meals typically costing between $4-8 and accommodation being found for as little as $10 a night, Ohrid is a budget-friendly haven.
There is no doubt that Ohrid is a tourist treasure trove just waiting to be discovered. Its natural beauty, Instagram-worthy scenery and budget friendly activities marks it as an up and coming choice for tourists looking for their next spot, so go before the tourist circus begins.