How to Spend Christmas Time in Skopje (A Skopje Travel Guide For Christmas)

Christmas time in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, is a magical season where you can immerse yourself in rich traditions, festive decorations, and bustling markets.

From exploring traditional Macedonian Orthodox Christmas customs to indulging in delicious local cuisine, Skopje offers a unique and memorable way to celebrate the holidays.

So pack your warm clothes and adventurous spirit, and head out for a memorable Christmas in Skopje – a city that offers an exciting blend of tradition and modernity during the holiday season.

how to spend christmas time in skopje

Exploring Traditional Macedonian (Orthodox) Christmas Customs

Christmas Eve Dinner: The Pinnacle of Macedon Culture

In Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, Christmas Eve dinner is considered one of the most important aspects of the holiday season.

Celebrated on January 6th, according to the Julian calendar, Macedonians observe Badnik (Christmas Eve) in an intimate setting with family members to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

The pinnacle of this celebration is the Christmas Eve dinner, a grand showcase of Macedonian culture and tradition.

Macedonians typically observe a fast in the lead-up to Christmas, making the Christmas Eve dinner a much-awaited feast.

This meal, known as ‘Badnikova Večera,’ is a lavish spread that includes an array of dishes prepared using traditional recipes passed down through generations.

A key feature of the meal is the ‘Badnik Bread’ or ‘Badnikova Pogača’ – a round loaf decorated with Christian symbols and a coin hidden in it, which is broken by the head of the family and shared amongst all present.

Whoever gets the coin is believed to be blessed with good luck for the coming year.

The main course traditionally doesn’t have dairy, meat, or animal products and instead compromises fish (baked or roasted cod or trout) and ‘tavče gravče’ (baked beans,) while traditional sweets like ‘baklava,’ ‘tulumba,’ and fried cookies are served as dessert, along with fresh and dried fruits and nuts.

the tulumba dessert of Skopje Macedonia, a traditional Christmas dessert
The Balkan tulumba is a popular sweet pastry made of deep-fried dough soaked in syrup, often enjoyed as a dessert or treat in various Balkan countries.

Christmas Eve Customs: A Vibrant Tradition

Another central aspect of Christmas Eve is the tradition of decorating the house with oak branches.

To ensure the house was blessed and prosperous, many Macedonians would place an oak branch under the table during the meal and bring it outside, where they would set it on fire.

Lastly, another intriguing tradition associated with Orthodox Christmas is the Kolede bonfire event.

During this evening gathering, locals share warm homemade rakija – a famous Balkan fruit brandy, while the children, brimming with excitement, take turns leaping over the bonfire.

This spirited activity is followed by them going from door to door in the neighborhood, much like Halloween.

As they sing Christmas carols, they receive various gifts from the residents, including fruits, nuts, and candy.

Christmas Church Service: Honoring Orthodox Traditions

On Christmas Day, which is on January 7th, you’ll find that many Macedonians begin their morning by attending a church service to honor their Orthodox Christian beliefs.

These services are typically solemn and reflective, filled with hymns, prayers, and sermons reflecting on the birth of Jesus Christ.

After the church service, families often gather for another special meal similar to the one from the night before, with roasted meats, cheese pies, salads, breads, cakes, and sweets included this time around.

So, while Christmas Day in Macedonia may differ slightly from other places in Europe, it’s a significant occasion that encompasses religious observance and family tradition.

Skopje’s Festive Decorations (December to January)

During Christmas time, Skopje is a beautiful city filled with dazzling decorations, twinkling lights, and festive activities.

In this section, we’ll explore two of the most popular spots for experiencing the holiday cheer: Macedonia Square and the Stone Bridge.

Follow along and create unforgettable memories with your loved ones in Skopje this season.

Macedonia Square: A Winter Wonderland

Starting on December 15th, Macedonia Square comes to life with decorated streets and buildings and a variety of Christmas market stalls.

This where you can buy all sorts of goods, including oak branches, dried fruits, and nuts, various local delicacies, and, of course, mulled wine and rakija to keep you warm.

While immersing yourself in the cozy atmosphere, don’t forget to snap a picture with the impressive Alexander the Great statue, also known as the “Warrior on a Horse,” which is beautifully illuminated at night.

Stone Bridge by Night: Illuminations

As you continue your festive journey in Skopje, make sure to visit the iconic Stone Bridge at night.

This historical structure is lit with mesmerizing lights during the holidays, creating a truly magical experience.

Stroll across the bridge and marvel as the illuminations reflect off the water of the Vardar River, creating a dazzling display.

While crossing the Stone Bridge, stop to admire the stunning views of the Skopje Fortress and the illuminated buildings on each side of the river banks, adding to the overall charm and enchantment of your evening.

Christmas Markets and Shopping in Skopje

Christmas Decoration at Skopje's main Square

If you have traveled to other European countries, such as Germany, Austria, and France, during Christmas time, you may find Skopje a little underwhelming in that regard.

People here don’t go all out with the festive decorations like in some other European cities, which means you may not see grand Christmas markets and extravagant light displays, which are a staple in other places.

However, this doesn’t mean that Skopje lacks its own Christmas magic, as the city has a unique charm that shines through during the holiday season.

While it may not have the scale of Christmas markets found elsewhere, Skopje does host festive bazaars where local artisans sell their crafts, homemade food, and drinks.

These markets may be smaller but rich in local culture and offer a more intimate experience.

In this section, we will explore a few prominent shopping destinations in Skopje:

the Macedonia Square, packed with Christmas market stalls.

the Old Bazaar, brimming with rich history and unique finds, and;

City Mall and East Gate, two major shopping destinations that cater to modern preferences.

Macedonia Square: Christmas Market Stalls With Local Delicacies

Macedonia Square is the heart of Skopje and the largest square in Macedonia.

Although a beautiful sight at any time of the year, this spacious area transforms into a bustling Christmas market during the Holiday Season, teeming with stalls where local artisans display their crafts.

Here, you can find all sorts of homemade goods, including honey, dried nuts and fruits, Macedonian wines and local brandies, traditional homemade desserts, Christmas decorations, and many other handmade goods.

Old Bazaar: Handicrafts and Gifts

The Old Bazaar in Skopje is another fantastic place to explore during the holiday season.

As you wander through this historic market, you’ll find beautiful handicrafts and gifts and feel the strong sense of tradition and history that forms the essence of this area.

Here, you can come across:

Hand-woven textiles: Unique scarves, tablecloths, and rugs exhibiting exceptional craftsmanship.

Copperware: Intricately designed coffee pots, plates, and ornaments to adorn your home.

Filigree jewelry: Stunning silver pieces that make for perfect gifts.

While exploring the Old Bazaar, be sure to participate in nearby Christmas-related events, which often feature a variety of food, drink, and entertainment options.

City Mall & East Gate: Modern Christmas Shopping

EastGate Christmas Bazaar Agenda
2023’s Christmas Bazaar at EastGate shopping mall.

If you prefer a more modern shopping experience, head to the City Mall or East Gate in Skopje.

These expansive shopping centers are decorated beautifully during Christmas and feature various gift options for all ages and interests.

Some popular shops include:

Fashion stores: Find stylish clothing, accessories, and shoes that make for excellent presents.

Electronics shops: Discover the latest gadgets and devices for the tech lover in your life.

Toy stores: Keep the little ones happy with entertaining and educational picks.

During your visit to the shopping malls, don’t miss out on various Christmas events within the mall premises, from festive dinners to holiday shows, designed to make your holiday season memorable.

Culinary Delights: Where to Eat

Traditional Macedonian Cuisine

You can’t miss out on savoring some traditional Macedonian cuisine in Skopje.

Start your culinary journey at Old Bazaar, where numerous restaurants serve authentic dishes.

Gostilnica Turist: Located in the Old Bazaar, this cozy place is known for serving delicious traditional dishes, like kebapi (traditional Balkan sausages made of ground beef.)

Vavilon: This restaurant offers a range of Macedonian dishes and desserts like kadaif (a pastry dessert wrapped into a crispy dough, filled with chopped nuts, and bathed in lemon-scented syrup.)

Cozy Cafes and Sweets

For those with a sweet tooth, Skopje has plenty of cozy cafes where you can enjoy delicious treats. Discover some of the city’s best desserts and drinks at these establishments:

  • Baklava Nexho: Known for its baklava, this family-run bakery offers an assortment of traditional dessert flavors.
  • Lokmades: Indulge in luxurious handmade chocolates at this boutique, where you’ll find a variety of sweet treats.

Entertainment and Events

Live Performances and Music

During Christmas time in Skopje, you can enjoy various live performances and music events.

Local choirs and musicians come together to share the festive spirit with performances and traditional tunes in different venues across the city, including the square, where several concerts are held during the Holiday Season.

Children’s Activities and Storytelling

Thanks to the wide range of children’s activities and storytelling events available, kids will have a blast during Christmas time in Skopje.

From Santa Claus gift distribution to exciting holiday-themed workshops in children’s playhouses, the city’s shopping malls, and the square, your little ones can stay engaged and entertained while getting into the festive spirit in Skopje.

As you plan your Christmas time in Skopje, these entertaining events and engaging activities provide you and your family with an unforgettable holiday experience.

Outdoor Winter Activities

AI depiction of Christmas time in Skopje, Macedonia
An AI depiction of Christmas time in Skopje, Macedonia.

During Christmas time in Skopje, you can enjoy various outdoor winter activities that showcase the beauty of nature in this region.

This section will highlight two popular destinations that offer fun and adventure during the festive season: Vodno Mountain and Matka Canyon.

Vodno Mountain: Hiking and Views

Vodno Mountain is a fantastic destination for a winter hike with picturesque views of Skopje and its surroundings.

The mountain has several hiking trails, ranging from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours to complete.

On the other hand, if you prefer to take in the views without any extra physical activity, you can take a ($2) cable car up to Millennium Cross, one of the world’s tallest crosses.

At the summit, you can also find cozy cafes offering comforting warm drinks to energize you during your winter adventure.

Matka Canyon: Nature and Serenity

Another beautiful destination to visit during Christmas time in Skopje is Matka Canyon.

This picturesque canyon offers various outdoor activities to enjoy in the winter, such as hiking, rowing, or simply admiring the stunning views along the lakeside.

Matka Canyon is also home to some of the oldest churches and monasteries in Macedonia, which allow you to immerse yourself in the country’s rich history and culture.

New Year’s Celebrations: Ringing in the New Year

Visiting Skopje during Christmas means you’ll also have the chance to experience the vibrant New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Skopje’s city center becomes a lively party, with locals and visitors coming together to welcome the new year with music, food, and fireworks.

Macedonia Square

The heart of the celebration takes place at Macedonia Square, surrounded by beautiful historic buildings dressed up with festive lights.

Pack your warm clothes as the festivities occur outdoors with a spectacular fireworks display at midnight.

You can expect a fantastic live music lineup featuring local and international artists.

Sampling the delicious street food, including traditionally roasted chestnuts, is a must!

Nightclubs and Bars

If you’re a fan of nightlife, Skopje offers a diverse range of clubs and bars to cater to your preferences.

Many venues host special New Year’s Eve parties where you can dance the night away.

Be sure to check for events and reservations in advance, as popular spots tend to fill up quickly.

However, with that said, you are likely going to be able to find a nightclub or bar that doesn’t require you to have a prior reservation and will happily welcome you for this special night.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are The Traditional Macedonian Christmas Customs?

In Macedonia, Christmas celebrations focus more on religious aspects rather than consumerism.

Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, and many Macedonians attend church services during this time.

Family gatherings and festive meals are some of the season’s highlights, where people share warmth and love.

Where Are The Best Places to See Christmas Decorations in Skopje?

During the Christmas season, Skopje lights up with festive decorations.

You can find beautiful Christmas light displays on Macedonia Street and at the heart of the city in Macedonia Square.

Strolling through these areas, you’ll be surrounded by the twinkling lights and holiday atmosphere that make Skopje so magical.

What Special Events Take Place in Skopje During the Christmas Season?

While Christmas in Macedonia is a more family-oriented and religious celebration, the city comes alive for New Year’s Eve with an outdoor concert in Macedonia Square, where you can ring in the new year with locals and other visitors.

When is Christmas in Macedonia?

In Macedonia, while the main celebration of Christmas takes place on January 7th, according to the Julian calendar used by the Macedonian Orthodox Church, it is also somewhat recognized on December 25th, following the Gregorian calendar.

However, the primary and more traditional observance is on January 7th.

What Are Some Typical Christmas Dishes to Try in Skopje?

During the Christmas season, you can indulge in delicious Macedonian cuisine.

Traditional dishes include baked or roasted cod, sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls), tavče gravče (baked beans), and homemade bread.

For dessert, try some sweet treats like baklava, tulumba, or honey-drenched kadaif.

Enjoy these culinary delights as you celebrate the holiday season in Skopje.

This guide was first published on December 15, 2023 and was last updated on February 23, 2024. For more information, please contact us at