Winter in Skopje

Spring in Skopje gets all the love, but the Macedonian capital in the winter with many holiday traditions and celebrations is especially beautiful. It's the season of spreading joy and days filled with hope for a better tomorrow. The whole city is glowing, snow is falling, holiday spirit is high and the atmosphere last longer here since many Orthodox Christian holidays are happening from December till late January. Here’s what to expect from Skopje in the most wonderful season of the year. To find out more details about the seasonal upcoming events, visit our Events section.


No other time of year sparkles with traditions and good cheer like the Christmas season. Temperatures regularly dropping below zero, city is covered with layer of snow and if you're on your way to Skopje, don't forget to pack your warm clothes. Winter in Macedonia is generally cold, although the temperature varies with altitude. January is the coldest month with average temperature in Skopje around 0°C(32 °F). Snowfalls can be heavy in the winter months, which can cause travel delays. During winter months, Skopje is regularly annoyed by the snow and everyday life is regularly paralyzed, so you should expect some slow rhythm in the city.
No other time of year sparkles with traditions and good cheer like the Christmas season. Temperatures regularly dropping below zero, city is covered with layer of snow and if you're on your way to Skopje, don't forget to pack your warm clothes. Winter in Macedonia is generally cold, although the temperature varies with altitude. January is the coldest month with average temperature in Skopje around 0°C(32 °F). Snowfalls can be heavy in the winter months, which can cause travel delays. During winter months, Skopje is regularly annoyed by the snow and everyday life is regularly paralyzed, so you should expect some slow rhythm in the city.
By the middle of December, Skopje will have pulled all its best magic tricks and illusions to turn itself into a winter wonderland, with decorations along all the major promenades and the Christmas tree is put on the city square. Since most Christians in Macedonia belong to the Orthodox Church, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th (Orthodox Church use the 'Julian' Calendar for their festivals), so don't be confuse if someone greets you with Merry Christmas in beginning of January.

Take a wintery stroll in downtown Skopje

The city center is small and can easily be walked in a few hours. Grab a hot wine or bag of chestnuts and walk along the river Vardar to see the glow of neon lights that are decorated on the bridges and near by squares. Stop to admire the Stone Bridge and the many monuments around the bridge. Take a walk up Macedonia Street, the main pedestrian boulevard which is also full of cafes and bars, or you can cross the Stone Bridge and go wandering around in the Old Bazaar. There’s some fine stores downtown, but for serious shopping you should go in some of the shopping malls like Ramstore Mall, VERO Center and GTC in the city center, or go to the biggest shopping center - City Mall which can be easily reached by bus or car. A great place to finish any stroll in the city center is at Skopje City Park and have some fun in the snow, or you can visit the local restaurants at near Debar Maalo neighborhood who are great choice where you can get something warm to eat and drink.

Winter Fun - Ice Skating & Skiing

You like ice skating? Head over to the ice skating rink at Boris Trajkovski Sports Hall and enjoy the beauty of a winter night while skating under the seasonal lights. The ice rink is open for skating almost everyday through the winter and is a fun setting for beginners to give skating a try in a relaxed environment.
If you love skiing and snowboarding you can visit some of the near ski resorts. The best ski resort in the country is Popova Shapka, just 50km (30 minutes drive) west from the capital and airport of Skopje. It is a large complex filled with hotels, bars and restaurants. The resort has hosted both European and Balkan Ski Championships and the local Shar Cup is held here every year in February. The runs are accessed by six lifts, both chair and drag lifts, and the longest run is 10 km. 
Mavrovo  Ski  Center - located and surrounded by a beautiful winter landscape in the Mavrovo national park, is just 95 kilometers away (one hour drive) from Skopje. The resort is home to an approved FIS downhill as well as a super giant and giant slalom pistes. The ski area is served by two double chair lifts, one single chair lift, and several drags. Also, Mavrovo Ski Center has several ski slopes as well as mountain biking and hiking trails.
There are also several other skiing centers in Macedonia, but they are situated further away from Skopje. Kozuf is one very small ski resort located on the south near the city of Gevgelija and the border with Greece (two hours drive from Skopje). Ski Kozuf has just three ski lifts (one chair lift, two surface lifts), has 1110 acres of terrain over 12 pistes and is best suited to advanced and intermediate skiers and snowboarders.

Holidays

In contrast to western cultures, Christmas in Macedonia is the time when people are really trying to put the ‘Christ’ in Christmas. Here traditionally '‘capturing the holiday spirit’' denotes an embodiment of Christian ideals and people are expected to spiritually prepare for Christmas by refraining from indulgences like eating fatty food and drinking, and are encouraged to help the less fortunate and pray more for forgiveness and blessings on the church masses. Before Orthodox Christmas (7 January) there is a period of many celebrations. For the locals the beginning of November brings the Slava period (slava means celebration). Slava is an Orthodox Christian tradition of ritual celebration of one's family patron saint. There are many celebrations of this kind of type during the year, but most of them are in the winter time. The family celebrate their patron saint annually on the saint's fest day, with lots of traditional lean food dishes on the table and many relatives and friends coming around. The most common patron saint celebrations are Saint Nicholas (19 December), Saint Demetrius (8 November), Saint John the Baptist (20 January), Saint Michael (21 November), Saint Clement of Ohrid (8 December) and others.

New Year’s Eve

Skopje celebrates New Years Eve grandly with concerts, countdown parties, fireworks and many special events. It’s a tradition in Skopje for people to go out on the streets and squares to celebrate with their friends or family, and while Macedonia Square is the main center of activities, festivities can be enjoyed in other areas of the city, too. Be aware that restaurants will close early on December 31st for private parties. Some of Skopje's clubs and restaurants have special events on New Year's Eve and we recommend making a reservation or getting tickets ahead if you don't want to join the open-air celebrations.

Badnik and Christmas Eve

6th of January – or ‘Badnik’ as it’s called in Macedonia - is the day when the Christmas celebration begin and is an important time to be with family. As such, Badnik is not a work holiday and you can expect every shop in the country to be closed early, so arrange accordingly. The celebration starts early in the morning when young children go from door to door announcing the birth of Jesus Christs by singing Christmas carols and receiving candies, fruits and nuts from the people. The evening on the 6th of January is the Christmas Eve, so the house is usually decorated with oak branches with their leaves and the table is being set for the Christmas Eve supper. Because the supper it’s meant to be meatless, the table is traditionally composed of fish, meatless sarma, tavche gravche (beans in a skillet), potato salad, ajvar (red-pepper dip), pickled and cooked vegetables, nuts and dried fruits. Traditionally, the dinner starts with breaking the bread in which a coin is being put while before it was baked. The belief is that whoever gets the coin in his piece, will have a healthy and successful year.
There is also kind of small pagan celebration that is not supported by the Church. At the evening on the 5th of January, people gather around big bonfires held in parks or at small local community corners and with music and alcohol they are announcing the beginning of celebration of Christmas. This bonfires have noting in common with the religion beliefs and there is a strong effort from the Church to end this kind of gatherings.

Christmas Day

After morning church service, January 7th is reserved for visiting family and friends and a continuation of feasting (this time including meat and alcohol). On this day people are greeting themselves whit one saying: Hristos se rodi (which means "Christ is born") and the other replies: Vistina se rodi (which means "Indeed he is born"). These greetings are exchanged throughout the three days or Christmas. At the evening the Christmas dinner usually consists of different roasted meats, cheese pies, salads and lots of bread, cakes, sweets and other festive traditional dishes.
Christmas Day is also a public holiday and a time for family. Despite the gradual moves by many (particularly the younger generation) who are away from the church in recent years, Christmas is still viewed with more religious significance than you might expect in your own country. As such, you can expect the vast majority of bars and restaurants to be closed on Christmas Day and the Second Day of Christmas (January 8th).
In Macedonian language, Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Srekjen Bozhik' (Среќен Божик).

Vodici

Vodici (Epiphany in English), is a Christian Orthodox holiday that celebrates the day on which according to Christian tradition Saint John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. It is celebrated on January 19 and this holiday represents the spiritual birth and beginning of the human life in faith.
This Orthodox custom is popular everywhere in Macedonia and you should try not to miss it. On this day in every bigger city the priests traditionally throw the ritual cross in a large water area and people jump in the frozen waters to catch the cross. There is a belief that the person who catches the cross will be blessed for a whole year. The biggest celebration in the country are happening in Skopje on the river Vardar and in Ohrid.

Saint Valentine/ Saint Trifun

While February 14 is best known internationally as St. Valentine's Day, Christians Orthodox believers in Macedonia celebrate it as the day of St. Trifun (Tryphon), the patron saint of the vine-growers and protector of vineyards. This holiday is traditionally celebrated with great feasts in the vine-growing regions in the country. On this day the vine-growers prune the vineyards to prepare them for the growth cycle and after the initial celebration in the vineyards, rich dinners are prepared with abundant wine and accompanied by traditional Macedonian music.

AIR QUALITY

If you're in Skopje in the winter months, you need to prepare for the air. Together with the expansion and the industrial grow of the city in the last couple of years, the air pollution is also leveling up. Skopje lies in a valley and in winter the smog stays over the city. So, planning your activities around the air quality in winter will give you a much easier time. If the weather is bad and pollution level is high, we recommend you to choose indoor activity (museums, galleries, coffee time...). For monitoring the quality of the air in Skopje and protect yourself with hourly forecasts and advice, click here.