Lake Ohrid, pronounced ‘Okrid’, located between the southwestern part of North Macedonia and eastern Albania, is relatively unknown outside this part of Europe. People spend time surrounded by terracotta-coloured roofed houses and eating sumptuous food in waterside restaurants dotted around the lake.
This Instagram-ready town has architecture dating back over 2,000 years, sits amongst natural landscapes, and is perfect for walking, hiking, or relaxing. Read our 10 cool things to see at Lake Ohrid.
Mode of transport: Delfina Turs from stand 10 at Skopje station.
Things to note: Take cash as credit cards are not widely accepted.
Cost: 700 Denars (€11.30) Adult single return.
Journey time from Skopje: About three hours.
Distance from Skopje: 175km (108.7 mile).
Need to know
Visa: UK residents – no visa for stays up to 90 days. Register with local police after 24 hours unless staying in a hotel.
Currency: Denar (1GBP = 70 Denar approx.) – purchase within country. Closed currency.
Language: Macedonian and Albanian. Basic English is spoken and understood.
Best time to visit: June to September.
Time: GMT +1.
Quick Facts about Lake Ohrid
- Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
- One of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes at three million years old.
- It is 34kms wide and 300 metres deep.
- It contains 200 species of fish.
- One-third of the lake is in Albania.
At Lake Ohrid
From the bus station in Ohrid, take a 15-minute walk into town. Allow a few hours to follow the itinerary below.
- Ohrid Central Square
- Statue of St Clement
- Church of St Sophia
- Church of St John at Kaneo
- Walk through the woods
- Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon
- Holy Mother of God Peribleptos
- Ancient Theatre of Ohrid
- Vintage vehicles
1. Ohrid Central Square
The central square with its fountain and a 1,000-year-old tree is at the top of the main street in Ohrid. The tree is hollow and rumoured that a barbershop was once inside, although stalls now obscure the trunk.
The Turkish influence is apparent around the square, with small bazaars, souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants. The closer one gets to the lake, the nicer the buildings. Try Shilla, located on the main street between the square and the lake, for breakfast.
2. Statue of St Clement
At the end of Old Bazaar street, in the Ohrid City Park, is the Statue of St Clement. As a Bulgarian scholar, he is regarded as a patron of education and language by the Slavic people. In the 9th century, Bulgaria covered most of what we know as The Balkans today, including Ohrid. Saint Clement built a crypt in the monastery, his burial site in AD916.
3. Church of St Sophia
This church of great significance is deceptive, as the rear courtyard has tiered seating, similar to an amphitheatre. Typical of churches built in the 7th century, it has undergone several transformations, acting as a mosque under Ottoman rule at one point.
The church interior has frescoes from the 11th-13th centuries. The church’s main section was built in the 11th century with later additions in the 14th century, forming Gregory’s gallery, one of the most beautiful parts of the church.
4. Church of St John at Kaneo
The Church of St John at Kaneo sits on the cliff edge at Lake Ohrid. The single dome with its early fresco paintings is from the 13th century. The view is impressive, and entry to this small church is €2. No photography is allowed inside. The church is the best of the 10 cool things to see at Lake Ohrid.
5. Walk through the woods
Leaving the Church of St John at Kaneo and walking uphill, you enter the woods. The long thin trunks, seemingly spaced at equal distances from one another, provide cover similar to a parasol where the sunlight creeps through the trees casting shadows on the forest floor. The woods are offer calmness and serenity away from the hustle and bustle of Ohrid town.
6. Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon
The Byzantine church situated on Plaošnik is an archaeological holy site below Samuels Fortress. The five Roman basilicas provide a distinctive look. Archaeological excavation work is ongoing, but this does not deter Orthodox Christians from visiting during religious festivals and holidays.
7. Holy Mother of God Peribleptos
Built in 1295, it is one of the oldest churches in Northern Macedonia. The 3-tonne bell in the tower was the biggest in the Balkans. It is known locally as the Macedonian Sistine Chapel due to the colourful frescoes on the domed ceiling. The views across the old town and lake are beautiful.
8. Ancient Theatre of Ohrid
Built in 200BC, brutal gladiator fights took place, along with the execution of Christians by the Romans. Locals rebuked this, burying the site after the demise of the Roman Empire. The 1980s saw its rediscovery.
Restaurants combine delicious food with organised boat tours. The sheer size of the lake is only appreciated when standing close to the edge.
10. Vintage vehicles
Several Instagram photo-ready vehicles are abandoned, with many in disrepair. They pique the interests of tourists, but their significance is uncertain.
Not just limited to vehicles, there are several randomly placed scooters around the town of Ohrid, although this one seems to be in use.
Most people visit Ohrid to admire the splendour of the UNESCO World Heritage lake. However, Ohrid town, with narrow and winding cobbled streets peppered with medieval stone architecture, feels like a step back in time. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’, it was once an important place in Slavic history.
Two days in Ohrid is enough time to see the sights and enjoy the 10 cool things to see at Lake Ohrid. It is cheap by Western European standards, perfect for those on a budget but more expensive than other parts of the Balkans.
Only 130km (80 mile) from Albania’s capital, Tirana, combining the two places would make a perfect road trip.
Read about our European weekend breaks.