Our main reason for visiting North Macedonia in the first place was getting to see Lake Ohrid in its full glory. So, after exploring the capital of Skopje, we headed down south to spend 3 full days in the scenic town of Ohrid. Whether you’re looking to soak up the sun on the beach, explore ancient churches and monasteries, or indulge in delicious Macedonian cuisine, Ohrid has something for everyone.
At the same time, it retains its small town charm and is really compact, meaning we could easily work in the mornings and still explore plenty in the afternoons.
In this blog post, I’ll guide you through everything you need to know when planning your trip – from where to stay to the best things to do and restaurants to visit in Ohrid – so you can make the most of your time in this magical town!
Where to stay in Ohrid, North Macedonia
As we wanted to work remotely during this leg of our trip, we were looking for a place where we could comfortably set up our virtual office. We chose RINES Apartment, where we stayed for 4 nights at a cost of €154.75 (around £137). Our favourite thing about this place was its location in a quiet residential area, yet only a 10-minute walk away from the waterfront. If you’re arriving by bus, the station is also just a 15-minute walk away. You have to be careful, though, as the pavement is extremely narrow in places and a little tricky to walk on, especially in the evenings.
When it comes to the flat itself, the only real downside was that the hosts didn’t supply toiletries or even toilet paper, so we had to buy these ourselves. On the positive side, there’s a washing machine, which can be particularly handy if you’re travelling for an extended period, like we were. Overall, our stay was very comfortable and we would certainly consider booking it again for future trips.
Best things to do in Ohrid
Buy some original Ohrid pearls
One of the best keepsakes to bring home from Ohrid are the original Ohrid pearls. Not your typical pearls, these ones are made of ground shells that are formed into a ball and coated with several layers of special emulsion. To make the emulsion, they use the scales of the Plashica fish, a species only found in Lake Ohrid. The rest of the process is a well-kept secret.
You’ll find all sorts of jewellery in most souvenir shops around the town. But remember, only two families in Ohrid, the Talevi and the Filevi, are certified to make the original Ohrid pearls. So, if you’re after the real deal, their shops are where it’s at!
After popping into both shops, I decided that the Filevi pearls were more up my street. It looks like I was in good company too, as we spotted photos of the Swedish Royal Family on the walls. If you’re planning to buy, I’d really recommend checking out the Filevi website first. This way, you can get a ballpark idea of what you’d like to buy, along with the pricing. Once you’re in the shop, the choice is almost too much, so it definitely helps to know what you’re looking for!
Make friends with the local kitties
It’s no secret that I’m a total cat lady. If that sounds like you too, you’re gonna feel right at home here. The cats of Ohrid are super friendly and sociable, often spotted lounging about in the sun on the steps of local shops or strolling through the town’s streets. As we were eating in the waterfront restaurants, they’d often come up to our table, hoping for a bite. They’ve become such an integral part of Ohrid that you can even buy cat magnets in souvenir shops!
We saw so many strays during our time in Ohrid that I started carrying around a bag of cat treats in my handbag just in case. One of the cats we met was covered in scars and wounds, and it broke our hearts thinking about what he must have been through. Even so, every encounter with these furry friends was a highlight of our trip. They add to the town’s charm and character and serve as a reminder of why we should care for all creatures, big and small.
Explore the Church of Saint Sophia
As you wander through the old part of Ohrid, right by the entrance to the Ohrid Boardwalk, you’ll come across one of the most important churches in North Macedonia. In fact, it’s so important that you can spot a part of it on the back of the 1000 denars bill!
The Church of Saint Sophia was built in the 9th century on the foundations of an early Christian basilica. During the Ottoman rule, it was converted into a mosque, and the stunning medieval frescoes were covered up. It was eventually abandoned in the first half of the 20th century and turned back into a church. During the restoration works, they uncovered the original frescoes, which you can now admire for a small entrance fee.
Sadly, the church wasn’t open when we were there, but it was still lovely to walk around the grounds. Between July and August, the church gardens also host North Macedonia’s biggest music and theatre event, the Ohrid Summer Festival, featuring performers and theatre groups from various countries around the world.
Stroll the Ohrid Boardwalk
The boardwalk connecting the old part of the town with Potpesh Beach was undoubtedly one of my favourite places in Ohrid. When we first stumbled upon it, it genuinely felt like we were stepping into paradise.
You can also use it to reach one of the waterfront restaurants, or continue on to the Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo. As you walk alongside a cliff, surrounded by crystal clear waters, it’s the perfect place to take a moment to appreciate the natural beauty of Ohrid.
Pose under the flower arch
Now, I would categorise this next attraction as “nice-to-see” rather than “must-see”. But, if you find yourself with some extra time or in need of some fresh Instagram content, this flower arch should do the trick. You can find it on the Ohrid City Square, right in front of the St. Kliment Ohridski statue.
Go back in time at the Ancient Theatre of Ohrid
Very close to the Upper Gate of Samuel’s Fortress, you can find the Ancient Theatre of Ohrid. Built in 200 BC, it served as a venue for performances and gladiator fights. Later, it became the site of Christian executions by the Romans. This caused the locals to despise the theatre, so after the fall of the Roman Empire, they decided to abandon and bury it.
What’s fascinating about this place is that it was uncovered by complete accident back in the 1980s during construction work in the area. This created a rather unusual effect, as it’s now completely surrounded by modern houses. I mean, can you imagine growing up with an ancient amphitheatre practically in your front garden? These days, the Ancient Theatre of Ohrid hosts a variety of public performances again, including the Ohrid Summer Festival.
Climb to the top of Samuel’s Fortress
An interesting fact about Ohrid is that at the turn of the 11th century, it used to be the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire. That’s when Tsar Samuel restored an old fortress dating back to 4th century BC, resulting in Samuel’s Fortress as we know it today.
Although it’s no longer the stronghold it once was, Samuel’s Fortress is still worth a visit. At the time of our visit in 2022, the entrance fee was 120 MKD (around £1.70/€2). Back in 2003, extensive restoration work was done on the fortress, adding new battlements where none of the original ones had survived. Now, if you climb to the top, you get incredible panoramic views of Lake Ohrid and the surrounding area. I’d say it’s the only reason to visit, as other than that, the interior of the fortress is mostly rubble.
Visit the Church of St. John at Kaneo
If you’ve ever seen a photo of Ohrid, there’s a good chance it featured the Church of St. John at Kaneo. What makes this church a must-see for anyone visiting Ohrid, as well as one of the most iconic photo spots in the entire Balkans, is its clifftop position overlooking the lake.
Getting there was quite a struggle, but the scenic views made it more than worth it. If you’re heading there from Samuel’s Fortress, you can stop by the Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon, or check out the ruins of an early Christian basilica on your way.
To get the best photo with the lake in the background, you should climb the steps behind the church. If you’re visiting in the high season, I’d highly recommend getting there before the tour groups arrive, as this place can be swarming with tourists. For an additional fee, you can also go inside to see the medieval frescoes.
Learn about the art of paper-making at the National Workshop For Handmade Paper
If you weren’t actively looking for it, you could easily miss this tiny, unassuming workshop. However, it was actually one of the most fascinating places we visited in Ohrid, as it houses one of the only 2 existing copies of the Gutenberg Press in the world! Ohrid has been making paper since the 16th century, and this little museum/shop is dedicated to preserving this ancient craft.
Inside, you can witness the paper-making process firsthand completely free of charge. The man who gave us a short demonstration was an absolute wizard. When we mentioned we came from Poland, he instantly switched to our language, with occasional Macedonian words thrown in-between. Describing these processes in your own language is hard enough, let alone in a foreign one, so he completely blew us away!
Once the demonstration is over, you can buy some handmade paper in the form of postcards, prints, or notebooks. The great thing is that there was no hard sell – although we didn’t need much persuading anyway after the demonstration we’d just seen.
Best restaurants to visit in Ohrid
It was Mac’s birthday on our first day in Ohrid, so I decided to book us into the town’s nicest restaurant for dinner. Our friends recommended Kaneo, and after seeing the photos, I was instantly sold.
The restaurant is practically on the water, with its own little jetty. At sunset, you get unparalleled views of the boats on the lake, with the Church of St. John at Kaneo right behind you.
They refresh the menu seasonally, meaning the truffle gnocchi our friends had tried the year before and raved about was, unfortunately, no longer available. Interestingly enough, though, soon after we sat down at our table, we were approached by the head chef holding an actual lobster! Turns out, he spends a month in different restaurants around the world, preparing lobster as his speciality. As I don’t like seafood, we didn’t take him up on his offer, but every single dish we tried was delicious.
We had the parmigiana and fish soup for starters, followed by gnudi Toscani in sage sauce and homemade ravioli with shrimps, foie gras, and truffles for our main.
Then, we had a cheesecake with sour cherries and apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
All of this, including 2 alcoholic drinks each (the Lavanda was SO good!), came to just 3,800 MKD (around £55/€62), which was incredibly affordable!
Another highlight of our experience was the fact that we had multiple cats come to our table in the hopes of getting a little treat. I understand this might not be to everyone’s liking, but we were both in our element. Overall, if you come to Ohrid, Kaneo is certainly the #1 restaurant you should try.
On our last evening, I was really craving a burger, which is how we ended up at Kaj Kanevche. I learned this the hard way, though, that in Macedonian the word ‘burger’ doesn’t mean the same thing it does in Western countries. I ended up getting just a beef patty with cheese and chips, but I wasn’t complaining. Barbecue is a serious business in the Balkans. These people truly know their way around meat, and every single piece I’ve tried was amazing, this one no exception.
Mac opted for the traditional Macedonian tavche gravche, which is a baked bean stew served in a clay skillet. So, if you like a hearty English breakfast, you’ll likely enjoy this dish too.
The one thing you absolutely HAVE to try, though, is the traditional Ohridsko makalo, which is a delicious creamy garlic paste. We tried it with some bread with spices, and it was unbelievable how such a simple starter can be so flavoursome. If we hadn’t been travelling with hand luggage only, we would’ve definitely bought some to take back home!
Roastery – artisan coffee house
If you like quality coffee, you should definitely drop by Roastery for your caffeine fix. There’s a counter by the entrance where you can buy some coffee to take away. Or, you can go to their waterfront terrace and enjoy your coffee with a view.
They also offer a great selection of breakfast and lunch dishes, and you could easily work remotely from there too – that is, if you don’t find the crystal blue water right in front of you too distracting…
I hope you enjoyed my little guide to Ohrid! In case you missed the first part of our North Macedonia trip, here’s a post listing all the best things to do in Skopje. In the meantime, I’d love to hear which of these places you liked the most. Is there anything you would add to this Ohrid itinerary?