Monday, May 2, 2016

A quick guide to Ohrid, Macedonia

I didn't put a lot of thought or planning into my trip to Macedonia. As I was lazily clicking  through Skyscanner one day (instead of online clothes shopping like a normal person) I stumbled across bargain flights to Macedonia.
Macedonia? Although I could vaguely pinpoint where said country was on a map, I had absolutely no idea really about anything to do with Macedonia.

After a quick Google Images search I was easily won over and booked the tickets for a five day trip, along with a few friends who were keen to visit a lesser known European destination. 

Leading up to my trip, I couldn't find a great deal of information about our destination, Ohrid, so after a few hours of attempted research, I decided the information I had was enough and hoped for the best! Despite being unprepared, I had the most incredible time, and was so pleasantly surprised. I would fly back there in a heart beat!

However, if you prefer to be a little bit more prepared then below are a few tips and notes that you might find helpful if you are planning a trip to Ohrid.

Ohrid is a small city located on the shores of Lake Ohrid, in the south west of the country. Two thirds of the lake belongs to Macedonia, with the remaining third part belonging to Albania, the border of which is about an hours drive from Ohrid. 

The town is set on a hill, with lots of pretty old buildings dotted around. The lake is just stunning with blue glittering water, lying beneath green mountains all around the lake.

What to do
Despite being a small city, there is still plenty to fill a few days in Ohrid, below being just a few.

  • Visit Samuel's Fortress, towering on the hill above Ohrid for a spectacular view.

  • Go for a boat ride on Lake Ohrid. The prices are reasonable and on a sunny, warm day it's just perfect.

  • Church of St John - A pleasant walk up a hill on the edge of the city will bring you here. Once again, a beautiful view as well as a good dose of history wrapped up in the church.

  • Drive around Galicica National Park for some of the most incredible views in the world. Sit perched on a rock with glassy water below and green mountains surrounding you.

  • Visit Albania! Many of the taxi drivers at the taxi rank near the lake will be happy to drive you around the lake for a day trip. We paid 80 euros for the day, however prices do fluctuate depending on the season. Start the morning in Galicica National Park, check out Sveti Naum Monastery, then grab some lunch in Tushemisht or Pogradec in Albania. If you have the time left, make a quick stop in Struga in Macedonia, and head back to Ohrid in time for dinner.

Compared with London and most of Western Europe, the prices here are ridiculously cheap. An average decent sized main meal will cost about 3-4 GBP, and accommodation is easy to find for well under 50 GBP per night. I found there were many apartments/ hotels set up to cater for groups of four for this price.

Macedonia has its own currency, the Macedonian Denar, but Euros are accepted pretty much everywhere. 

Taxis are the most convenient and cheapest way of gettig around. From the airport into town, there is a bus for 300 denar per person (about 2.5 GBP) but if there is a few of you, a taxi is usually more cost effective. The drivers I found were quite pushy, and I know I paid more than local rates, but 700 denar (approx 9 GBP) for four of us was still reasonable to me and cheaper than the bus.

I found the food quite similar to Greek food, although like everywhere there are of course local and national dishes. A standard meal would consist of lots of meat, with a small side salad or serve of vegetables, so I found it best to also order an extra salad to balance out the meat! Bread is usually served for free.

We booked a hotel for under 40 GBP/night including breakfast for the four of us, which was an absolute steal! No, it wasn't glamorous and the hallways reeked of cigarette smoke, but the room itself was clean, well presented and centrally located, so I wasn't complaining.

There are some "fancier" hotels around, but if you are on a budget, I felt the standard of accommodation for a basic hotel was adequate, especially if you are only there to sleep at night.

Of course, like anywhere it's important to use common sense and take precautions, however I found Ohrid to be one of the safest places I have ever visited. The people were genuinely friendly and helpful, and I never felt like a) there were always people watching us or b) constantly trying to rip us off for being a tourist.
We walked around at night, and even in the quieter areas I didn't ever feel uneasy.

Well, there you go! 
Hopefully these tips have helped if you are planning a trip to Ohrid. It really is a beautiful place, and perfect for a few days to relax and explore a lesser known country!

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