Ohrid is located in North Macedonia along the Northeastern shores of Lake Ohrid. This beautiful city is small and cozy with a population of roughly 42,000. There is significant historical influence for this hidden gem city in North Macedonia. I’ve collected the ten top places in Ohrid to explore on your journey to the historical city. Ohrid has often been referred to as “Jerusalem of the Balkans” and believed to previously exhibit 365 churches, one for each day of the calendar year. You will certainly see many of these churches, monasteries and basilicas while exploring Ohrid whether searching for them or not. In fact, several churches are top attractions in Ohrid representing beautiful architecture with picturesque views. You will learn more about these below where we discuss the ten top places to visit in Ohrid!
If you are curious how people in the region were living centuries ago, you will see a glimpse of it here! Ohrid old town was one of the first settlements in Europe, and even the world. All of this makes the top places in Ohrid even more attractive!
The Ohrid Lake region, which includes the town of Ohrid, is protected by UNESCO (https://www.unesco.org/en) on the World Heritage List under natural and cultural criteria. It is one of under 30 places in the world recognized as a mixed World Heritage Site. Another amazing excuse to visit this place! You will not be disappointed. Ohrid settlement was predominantly between the 7th and 19th centuries but you can certainly see architecture and structure constructed centuries prior. My fellow Americans, our young country is a baby. Visit the old world, experience a very small sample of what life used to look like. This, I promise, will change your life. To the men out there: suggest Ohrid to your wife or girlfriend if you plan on taking a visit to the Balkan Region. I presume your partner will be impressed! Now, continue reading to learn more about the amazing and beautiful sites Ohrid has to offer as you browse my top ten places to see in Ohrid, North Macedonia.
1. Old Town Ohrid
Many of the top places in Ohrid are located in the Old Town. The entire Old Town of Ohrid fascinating, so it takes the top spot! Quaint beaches, medieval churches, narrow pathed cobblestone streets, beautiful houses, old architecture and unforgettable views of Lake Ohrid. You’ll find yourself walking for hours through the same streets because you’ll find something new to admire each pass through. There is a wealth of history here, and I recommend diving into it a bit before visiting for an even more meaningful experience. I’ll talk more below about what you can expect to see during your stroll around old town Ohrid!
2. Lake Ohrid
Ohrid Lake was formed over a million years ago and some researchers claim millions of years prior to this! Yes, you can swim in these waters quite easily as cozy beaches are plentiful. During mid-summer, you’ll be sharing beaches with many others but if you visit just before or after season, you’ll have a beach nearly all to yourself. There are many places to swim, choose one as you walk along the waterfront in the old town. Enjoy unforgettable sights and sounds. Some of my favorite simple viewings were a line of fishing boats docked on the beach shore, waves crashing onto the banks with mountain views in the distance. There was still snow on the mountain tops at the time of my visit in the early part of March. You’ll remember these walks for a long time, promise!
Another memorable opportunity on Ohrid Lake are the boat tours offered. You’ll see another perspective of the city, mountains and water as you cruise along the shores. I highly recommend this. Prices are affordable and the trip is quick. I chose a 30 minute tour and paid cash upon arrival, no scheduling necessary and the boat departed within 10 minutes of my arrival which tells me they are running all day, back to back. This convenience may be different during the summer months while traffic is high but I imagine you can still get on a boat tour same day without a problem. This is the Balkans after all, it’s casual and they make it work!
3. Ohrid Boardwalk
So, this could be the number one sight to see but I will reserve this ranking for my personal list as the vibe (when not busy) is simply serene. It’s as perfect as perfect in my opinion. Calm waters splash lightly against the beach below the boardwalk. Quiet vibes of nature are abundant here. The boardwalk stretches roughly 2 meters wide and has rustic look as it should, in my opinion. This is a historic place after all so it is a proper look and anything different just wouldn’t look appropriate. This is the place you come to do some soul searching, your mind will be completely as ease, promise! In one long stretch, the boardwalk is aligned parallel and directly against the cliff side so you are isolated in the region of the lake so this is the only way to access much of the area unless you were to swim here, which would not be a safe idea for you to attempt. There are multiple opportunities to enter the lake while walking the boardwalk and you’ll pass a few cozy beaches as you continue atop and past the boardwalk. The boardwalk will come to an end at Kaneo. Once here, you’ll be able to hike upward to the Church of Saint John at Kaneo which is a lovely and displays old architecture while overlooking Ohrid Lake. The views here are stunning so keep going!
4. Church of Saint John at Kaneo
Next on the list is the Orthodox Church of Saint John at Kaneo. How convenient, after walking the boardwalk, you are a few steps away from this beautiful landmark. Get your camera ready, you’ll take a few photos here. The church continues to sit in its original location, on the edge of a rugged cliff overlooking Lake Ohrid. This viewpoint over the lake is likely the best in the area so you will take in a lot here! The church, dedicated to John the Theologian, is believed to have been built in the 13th century, before Ottoman Empire control. There is no charge to enter the church but you may want to be mindful of your attire when entering although it isn’t likely to be a big deal if you do not have proper clothing as the church is now primarily a tourist attraction. Proper dress is considered to be modest clothing with pants covering the knees and tops covering the shoulders and chest up to the neckline. Enjoy!
5. Plaoshnik Archeological Site and Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon
Plaoshnik is located between the Church of Saint John at Kaneo and Samuel’s Fortress, which sits atop the hill of Ohrid. A convenient and short walk from one attraction to the next, another reason this old town of Ohrid is so compelling! You’ll continue to stumble upon beautiful landmarks and historical sites. At Plaoshnik, you will see displays of excavations with ropes marking off certain areas. Several mansions and other projects are being planned and built in the area to represent how the area looked centuries ago when St. Clement built the church.
This is an interesting area. The Church of Saints Clements and Panteleimon is a replica of the original Church of Saint Panteleimon which was built by Saint Clement near turn of the 9th century. The nearby archeological site is located on the Plaoshnik area, excavations from previous constructed churches, monasteries and mosques have been researched heavily from the area. As mentioned above, the original structure built on Plaoshnik was the Church of Saint Panteleimon. Saint Clement decided the church was not big enough so he ordered construction of a larger church to be built on top of it and Saint Panteleimon was named the lead Saint of the church. Again, the views here overlooking Lake Ohrid are compelling. Have a picnic or eat at a nearby cafe. Enjoy!
6. Samuel’s Fortress
At the top of the Ohrid hill you will find the Samuels Fortress or Samoil’s Fortress as it is commonly referred to. The fortress is located in the old town, a short walk from the archaeological site. It is believed to have been built in the 4th century and has been restored numerous times over the centuries by various rulers who have claimed the city at different times. The heavy fortified and high wall enclose the fortress for ultimate protection from threats and attacks. With such a high vantage point, you will have some of the best views of Lake Ohrid!
7. Ancient Theater of Ohrid
Built around 200BC and sitting just below Samuel’s Fortress, Ohrid Amphitheatre has been controversial with locals at times, especially in the early years of its existence as executions of Christians by Romans took place here. As a result, once the Roman Empire collapsed here, the site was buried and abandoned by locals. Gladiator fights and other performances also happened here in early days. As of the late 20th century, the site has emerged again for a place where performances, ballet and other festivals take place. Currently, it’s the site for summer festivals in Ohrid which would be nice to attend for several reason, one being the beautiful background overlooking Ohrid Lake.
This historical site, like many others, is located in the old town. It is surrounded by houses and cafes. You’ll see locals and tourists coming and going from their homes and in and out of cafes throughout the day. This is not a coliseum so brace your expectations. It’s a nice spot to visit for several minutes but it is rather small so you will see its entirety rather quickly. Take a look, it’s certainly worth it and even if it’s not on your list of places to view, you will likely pass it a time or two on your walks through the old city.
8. Saint Naum Monastery
An Eastern Orthodox Monastery, Saint Naum sits cliff side in the village of Ljubaništa which is located 29 kilometers from Ohrid and near the Macedonia/Albanian border. It is one of the most popular places to visit in all of Macedonia so take the opportunity to see amazing architecture, religious vibes and spectacular views overlooking Lake Ohrid. You will need a taxi or shuttle service to get here if you do not have a vehicle. Saint Naum, or Sveti Naum Monastery is certainly worth the trip away from Ohrid as you have other significant places to visit nearby such as Bay of Bones and National Park Galičica. Plan a nice day trip and see all of three popular destinations before heading back to Ohrid for a sunset dinner and evening relaxation.
The original monastery was built by Saint Naum around the 900. Saint Naum was a medieval scholar and writer who was tasked spreading Christianity among the Slavic people living in the region. The monastery was demolished centuries later and rebuilt to reflect Byzantine architecture and preference. Byzantine was an Empire associated with Eastern Orthodox values and beliefs.
9. Bay of Bones
Named Bay of Bones, this a museum on the water. The museum is a partial recreation of a settlement established above the shallow waters of Lake Ohrid dating back to 1200-700BC. This archeological site transformed into a museum represent 24 houses from the original settlement and outlines daily life on this overwater platform village. This is an interesting to absorb yourself into life during medieval times. Views from the main road overlooking this museum on water, also call “Ploca Mikov Grad” are breathtaking. I am on repeat here but the views overlooking Lake Ohrid are quite nice.
10. Grand Bazaar of Ohrid
The Grand Bazaar in Ohrid begins on the outskirts of the old town and begins under the large flag pole close located along the shores of Lake Ohrid. It is one log street roughly 500 meters long offering many delights! Take a walk along the cobbled stone street and enjoy local and international dining, shops, cafes and of course churches and mosques. While exploring Ohrid, you will undoubtedly stumble upon the historic street and do some shopping and relaxing here. Many cafes are situated along the streets where you can watch daily life pass, boats coming and going from the shores of Lake Ohrid and of course the gorgeous mountain backdrop.
Vibes from the top places in Ohrid
Serene, peaceful, picturesque and ancient. Ohrid Old Town offers beautiful views and walks with many amazing spots to visit, as you’ve seen above. It’s a romantic place for couples but just as nice for a friends, family and even solo trip, as I did! It is not the easiest place to make friends however as locals tend to either leave during high season or keep to themselves. Restaurant servers and accommodation hosts are very kind and helpful, in my experience. Ohrid is a cozy city with a small Old Town. You’ll have a trip to remember and can make it happen in the short span of a weekend, although you may be craving more time after exploring my list of the top places in Ohrid.
Getting around in Ohrid
There is no need to use transit systems in Ohrid unless you’d like to taxi out of town to see nearby attractions such as Bay of Bones (16km from Ohrid) and St. Naum Monastery (30km from Ohrid). You also have a national park nearby called Galičica (35km from Ohrid).
Final thoughts: Top places in Ohrid
One thing I love about visiting small cities is the ease of mobility, especially in off season. I visited Ohrid for about a week in March of 2023. At times it felt as if I had the old town all to myself! An incredible experience. This will not be the case during summer months so if you get the chance, I’d recommend visiting during April, May, August or September if you have the option. You can see all of the above sites in one short weekend so if you’re backpacking this region of the Balkans, I’d highly recommend a quick stop in Ohrid. I will emphasize this again, Ohrid is a must-see city in North Macedonia with lots of interesting history, old architecture and stunning views over looking Lake Ohrid. It’s a great visit whether you are relaxing for a week or simply visiting a few days. Go!