What To Do In Ohrid: The Jewel of Macedonia

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Ohrid is the reason to visit Macedonia. The town is located on the shores of the aptly named Lake Ohrid and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. It has a wonderful mix of natural beauty and historical monuments that ensures you won’t be at a loss for what to do in Ohrid. I recommend spending at least two full days in the town which will give you enough time to see the main sites as well as enjoy some peaceful serenity around the lake.

Arriving in Ohrid

Ohrid has an international airport meaning you can find budget flights from a number of European capitals including London, Amsterdam and Brussels.

However, for most travellers, Ohrid will likely be another stop on a longer trip throughout the Balkans so the best way to get to Ohrid is by taking a bus from other Macedonian cities such as Skopje and Bitola. I took the bus from Skopje and there were several buses to choose from throughout the day for the 3.5-hour journey. 

You can also take a bus from Tirana, Albania to the nearby town of Struga which is 15km away from Ohrid. However please note that there are no direct buses between Ohrid and Struga so you will need to take a shared taxi which costs approximately €1.

Where To Stay in Ohrid

If you’re backpacking through the Balkans and are on a budget then undoubtedly the best place to stay in Ohrid is Sunny Lake Hostel. >

Run by the very friendly Gyoko, I instantly felt at home upon checking in as the place is another reminder of the famous Balkan hospitality you will experience when travelling throughout the region.

In a lot of ways, you feel that he is running this place as if he was just having a constant stream of his friends over to his house as he offers guests beers and free use of the bikes despite the sign above reception suggesting they cost €5 per day.

If you haven’t done much research before arriving and are unsure as to what to do in Ohrid then have no fear as Gyoko will undoubtedly take the time to outline the must-see sights as well as hidden gems in a town that he knows like the back of his hand.

If you prefer to stay in a hotel, then Villa Jordan is a great option. Their rooms are extremely spacious with lake views, they have a pool on site and breakfast included in your room rate.

What To Do in Ohrid

On my first day, I followed a walking route that Gyoko recommended which took in the main sites of the town. I started by making the short but relatively steep walk to King Samoil’s Fortress which, like most fortresses, offers brilliant views of the surrounding area.

The fortress was originally built in the 4th century BCE and was an extremely important site for the First Bulgarian Empire that existed between the 7th and 11th centuries CE.  It was most recently renovated in 2003 and whilst there is a small entrance fee of 30 Macedonian Denars (approximately 50 Euro cents) it is most definitely worth making the walk up to see the gorgeous lake and surrounding mountains from up above. 

What To Do In Ohrid
The view from King Samoil’s Fortress

The route then follows through the Old Town Park to the Early Christian Basilica and Saint Pantelejamon – the site of the oldest university in Europe and birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet. The area has changed between having churches and mosques built depending on the ruler of the time and they are currently reconstructing a church in the area.

The highlight, however, of my walk was just around the corner as I came across the Church of Saint John the Theologian. The small church is stunningly built on a cliff overlooking the lake and is certainly one of the most scenic locations for a church that I have come across during my travels in the Balkans. You do need to pay if you want to see the inside of the church, however, I was more than satisfied to just sit outside and people watch as I admired the full beauty of the lake and cliffs.

The rest of my walk passed through some small sandy beaches and a couple of other significant churches – the Saint Sophia and the Saint Bogorodica Perivlepta. During the summer months of July and August, the beaches can get extremely crowded however as I was there in early spring during unseasonably wet weather, the beaches were all deserted. In summer, you can also rent boats from this area to take around the lake. 

church of Saint John the Theologian ohrid
Church of Saint John the Theologian

You can easily see most of the main sites in Ohrid in one day so if you’re unsure what to do in Ohrid on your second day then I strongly suggest renting a bike and riding around the lake outside of the main town. There’s no need to have much of an  itinerary in mind, and you can simply ride west along the lake’s banks and within a kilometre, you will be outside the built-up areas of the town and can enjoy the peaceful scenery.

There are a number of small beaches that you can stop out within a couple of kilometres which will likely be deserted outside the summer months. So bring a book, maybe some food and enjoy a couple of peaceful hours overlooking the majestic lake without all the crowds you find in the town of Ohrid. 

What To Eat in Ohrid

If you’re on a budget in Ohrid, then one of the best places to eat is the small family run business of Dr Falafel. Their menu is very simple consisting of falafel, hummus, or falafel and hummus but it’s incredibly tasty and a rare vegetarian option in the meat-loving Balkans. 

Otherwise, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to try on the main boulevard and there is also a large supermarket only a few minutes walk from Sunny Lake Hostel if you prefer to cook your own meals.

lake ohrid night stormy
Stormy Lake Ohrid at dusk

Whilst the town of Ohrid is certainly one of the more popular spots on a Balkans backpacking route, it doesn’t feel overcrowded and the beauty of the area is more than enough reason to visit.

I can’t wait to visit again, particularly in summer when the weather is warmer so  I can experience the town of Ohrid it in all its glory on a warm sunny day.

Have you been to Ohrid or planning a trip there? What are your must-see sites to visit in Ohrid? Let us know in the comments below! 

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Michael is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. When not obsessively searching for flight deals, Michael likes being ultra-competitive at table tennis, gazing at street art, and contemplating life while sipping a dram of fine single malt whisky.

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