If you're among many of our friends in Albania who have been curious about visiting lake Ohrid in Macedonia, this is for you. Now that we've visited Ohrid three times, we've put together our list of favorites so you can be ready to explore this beautiful area next time you go. Big kudos and gratitude to my friend Filip from Macedonia who recommended many of these to us in the first place.
If you want to make the most of your trip and truly take in all the gorgeousness this area has to offer, I'd recommend spending at least 5-7 days around the lake - whether you're staying in Ohrid or in the nearby villages.
1. Explore the town of Ohrid
Staying in the town of Ohrid on your trip will make it easier to see all the hidden gems this town has to offer so give yourself plenty of time to explore all the cobble-stoned streets, historical buildings and churches. You can stroll through old town with its traditional white and brown buildings, shop at the colorful bazaar area that connects the "modern" and "old" part of town, take a walk on the boardwalk by the lake, or hop on a little fishing boat for a short boat ride around the lake. There's plenty of places to shop (Ohrid is known for the Ohrid pearl ladies!), try delicious Macedonian food, or just stop for a quick coffee at one of the many coffee shops (or Salep if you like sweet, creamy milky drinks :-)).
Restaurants to check out in Ohrid: Belvedere, Chun, Kaneo
Bonus: a day trip on the lake - visit most of the spots highlighted below - all in one day.
There's plenty of boat tours in Ohrid - most of them offering a day trip to St. Naum while also stopping at the village of Trpejca and the Bay of Bones. You can typically spot people offering private or group tripes right by the port of lake Ohrid (down by the main street). Prices vary and most day trips seem to be about 6 hours long.
2. Visit St. John the Theologian monastery in Ohrid
Although the monastery is located only about a 10-15 minute walk from the center of the town of Ohrid, you can make this part of a short day trip by combining it with a visit to Samuel's fortress and a stroll through the Old City Park. Start at Samuel's fortress at the top of town and then make your way down on the hiking path through a small wooded forest right behind the fortress. You will see beautiful views of the lake from the other side and can stop at Labino beach before resuming the walk to the monastery. Once you admire the monastery and take dozens of pictures of the views, walk down along the lake and stop at Kaneo restaurant for some delicious traditional appetizers or smoked local trout.
3. Take a day trip to St. Naum monastery
You can't not go to St. Naum while visiting Macedonia. The St. Naum monastery is one of the most popular attractions in the country. It's truly a magical place and you'll feel its unique energy the minute you enter the park area. St. Naum is located on the south side of lake Ohrid, so if you're coming from Albania, it's a great place to visit while you're on the way to Ohrid town. It's worth allocating at least a full day to this visit because there's sooo much to see, do, and enjoy here.
St. Naum of Ohrid was a medieval scholar and writer associated with the creation of the Cyrillic scripts (along with Cyril and Metodius). He established the St. Naum monastery in 905 on top of a small hill overlooking the lake. It is well preserved with beautiful Orthodox paintings on the walls of the chapel inside. There's also usually a couple peacocks walking around the park just inside the monastery. If you get lucky, you might see them shake their tail feathers at you :-)
Once you take in the beauty of the monastery, take a walk along the nature trail that starts on the left side below the monastery. It winds through a scenic path with mountains in the background, a little stream passing through it to cool you off, and a crystal-clear spring near the end (in case ya wanna jump in). Along the way, you'll also get to enjoy three more lovely churches you can stop at and admire. The hike can take between a half hour to an hour depending on how much you stop along the way to ooh and ahh at the lovely scenery.
The St. Naum area is also home to beautiful springs that you can explore on a small boat. You'll see the rental place for the boat when you enter the monastery complex. The boat tours are typically for small groups. We have yet to do one but they last about a half hour from what we've been told.
4. Visit Trpejca village and enjoy fresh Ohrid trout at Ribar
About 15 minutes north of the St Naum monastery - on the way to Ohrid - you'll pass by a little village called Trpejca. It's definitely worth stopping there to walk around the lake, lay down by the rocks to soak in some sunshine or jump in the water, and then have lunch at one of the local restaurants. We love the restaurant Ribar - they bring out the whole fish so you can see the catch of the day you'll be eating before it goes on the grill. The Ohrid trout is so delicious and almost has a salmon-like flavor, color and texture to it. Even more tasty when you add some lemon and a tad of the garlic spread on it!
5. Drive up to the top of National Park Galichica
Right past the village of Trpejca, there's a road that curves and winds all the way up to the top of National Park Galichica. There you'll find stunning views of Lake Ohrid on one side and Lake Prespa on the other. Once you're at the top, you can go for a hike on one of the trails that will take you higher up to the top of the mountains or continue along the road to Lake Prespa and go back to Ohrid the other way around. If you have enough time, you could even stop at Bitola on the other side of Lake Prespa - a lovely little town with cozy restaurants and statues along its historic streets.
6. Visit the Bay of Bones
The Bay of Bones - also known as the museum on the water - is an archaeological complex with reconstructed tiny wooden huts right on lake Ohrid. It's a great place to stop along the way down to Trpejca or St. Naum. The huts and the crystal-clear water resemble something out of a picture...almost like one of those Pacific island huts on a crystal-clear beach! If you plan on walking around the museum and the park area (rather than just stopping by to see it from the road), give yourself about an hour or two to soak it all in. Perhaps even bring a picnic or a snack to have before moving on to the next spot to explore.
7. Check out the springs in the village of Vechani and stay for lunch
About half an hour north of Ohrid, past the town of Struga, there is a cute little village called Vechani. Drive up to the top of the village and you will reach the entrance to a small park where you can see the Vechani springs and unspoiled nature amidst the mountains. There's also a beautiful church in the village and a few traditional restaurants where it's as deliciously home-made as it gets. We've tried two that we loved equally: Kutmichevica which offers gorgeous views of the lake and village and Domacinska Kuca which has a very homey and traditional vibe with its large outside patio.
How to get to and around Ohrid:
Having a car provides the most flexibility so you can see everything on your own terms but it's also possible to explore the area without it. If you're going with a car (whether your own or rental), be aware that you will need a "green card" to get into Macedonia at the border crossings. This card is basically car insurance that is required by the country of Macedonia and costs €50 for 15 days.
If you're driving from Tirana, you will cross at Kjafasan where they sell this card right before the border. If you're coming from the south side of Ohrid (through the St Naum crossing), you can get this card at an insurance office in Pogradec (after searching the whole town, we found it at Sigal Pogradec).
If you're traveling by public transport from Albania, you can take a bus from Tirana to Struga (about 3.5 hrs) and then take a taxi to Ohrid. Then once in Ohrid, you can see most of the town on foot and take taxis or boats to the other destinations.
Where to stay in the town of Ohrid:
During our first visit to Ohrid, we stumbled upon (Bryan saw it first :-)) a place that we've been back to twice - including during Christmas: Villa Lollobrigida - comfortable, modern, and cozy apartments with the best views of Ohrid - very highly recommended! We've also checked out Villa Varosh and although we haven't stayed there, have heard great things from friends. There's plenty of options on Booking.com and Airbnb.com but if you want to stay somewhere unique, I'd recommend picking a place somewhere in old town which is more historic rather than the part of town down by the lake which is more communist-style.
What to eat in Macedonia:
Macedonian food is amazing! It reminds us of a mix of flavors of Central European cuisine (Czech, Germany, Austria) along with Mediterranean cuisine. The Macedonians love their peppers, garlic, meats, and hearty stews. They're not afraid to use seasonings, spices, and cheese in their dishes either - all bonus points on my end!
If you like veggies (more specifically red peppers and eggplants) order either Ajvar, Pindjur or Lutenica as an appetizer (or try all three while there!) to dip your bread in while you decide on your main meal. Most restaurants also offer a homemade garlic dip that tastes amazing on bread or as a topping for the fresh fish.
Macedonian food is very hearty with lots of meat dishes and stews. If you like meat and sausages, you'll definitely enjoy the selection that most places have - from pleskavica (Macedonian version of a burger - typically made of veal meat) to all the baked meat dishes with veggies like onions, mushrooms, or potatoes topped with cheese.
Along the coast of lake Ohrid, you'll have plenty of opportunities to try fresh Ohrid trout and other fish.
If you're a vegetarian or a vegan, you cans till enjoy the uniqueness of Macedonia cuisine with a decent selection of local salads and grilled or baked veggie dishes in most restaurants. A very traditional national dish called tavche gravche is made of beans, peppers, and onions and is definitely a must-try as an appetizer or side item.
Curious about Albania too?
If you're reading this and haven't been to Albania yet but are wondering about the best places to explore there, definitely check out my friend Anita's blog were she offers great insights and tips on all things Albania: https://www.anitahendrieka.com/albania-travel-guide/