Baffling, unique and seemingly cut off from the outside world, Skopje is one of Europe’s last last hidden gems, with friendly people, a buzzing nightlife and a carpe diem attitude.
Embedded in the Skopje Basin, with thick fog settling during winter, the North Macedonian capital can feel like somewhere separated from the rest of the world. Skopje, one of the least visited cities in Europe, can seem confusing, enchanting, overwhelming, frustrating and exciting all at the same time. Located in the heart of the Balkans, it is a place that sometimes struggles to know what its own selling point is, but, perhaps because of this, it also boasts an intriguing and exciting nightlife that rings with insouciance. The city is a mixture of bizarre neo-classical buildings and statues added ten years ago – making Las Vegas look like a well-judged exercise in tastemaking – weather-beaten Willy Wonka Brutalism, clattering Zastava 600s and dazzling mosques. This just adds to the eclectic nightlife; it’s impossible to know what is round the next corner, whether it’s glitzy (and at times empty) upmarket bars with a strip-club aesthetic, tumbledown local dive bars, hard-working Irish pubs, or pulsing, grimey cocktail terraces underneath rusty tower blocks that are enough to make Kreuzberg look twee. In short, Skopje is a place like no other, and somewhere you absolutely must visit. Here are seven of the best bars in Skopje:
Hidden away near the Cathedral, this relatively new cafe, bar and sometime dance floor is a holy grail for the liberal pockets of Skopje society. With the owner’s background in yoga and meditation, it is a calm environment and a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as offering the best ginger lemonade and intimate techno parties in town. What really makes this a nice spot is the terrace, strewn with plants and antique furniture, it harks back to memories of those great hostels from travelling of yore. That and the fact that at ShortBus, inclusive means inclusive – there is no hierarchy of cool here, just a warm, friendly vibe.
Blvd. Partiazanski Odredi, br. 17 1000
Located 5km out of Skopje centre, it’s easy to miss Badu Bar. Located among the betting shops at the base of one of the apartment blocks at Porta Vlae, a residential and commercial complex that seems to combine brutalist architecture with a nautical twist, this is a small bar with a huge concrete terrace, specialising in cheap beer and strong cocktails. It’s also the centre of Skopje’s hip hop scene, with DJ sets and live MCing, but manages to somehow be neither clicky or try-hard – it’s just a normal bar with great music and quality drinks. The fact that it feels like you’re having an Aperol Spritz underneath Scampia just adds to the experience.
Мраморец 141, 1060
Van Gogh Bar
Open since 1986 and seen by many locals as the bedrock of the Skopje bar scene, Van Gogh is still the place to go for authentic nightlife in the city. That is: a good dose of rock music (live bands play more often than not in the week), flowing local beers and an almost constantly jubilant clientele. Located a stone’s throw from the leafy 450,000 sqm City Park, Van Gogh Bar has a great central location and is the place where all the demographics of Skopje come together.
Mihail Cokov, Br.4
Irish Pub Saint Patrick
Sure to elicit groans from the hostel guidebook warrier, but Skopje’s Saint Patrick Irish pub is a worthy mention. By and large, much like the architecture, food and drink in Skopje can be both hit and miss and spread out, so this Irish Pub, with an excellent view of the absolutely bonkers Art Bridge, is a good base if you are staying the city centre. On the inside it’s gone so authentic Emerald Isle that it seems to have come out the other side and ended up looking like a wild West saloon – you half expect Michael J Fox to come moonwalking through. The menu is extensive and cheap and the Guiness isn’t half bad either – when the snow or heat of the Skopje Basin gets too much, it’s a worthy place to retreat.
G.T.C. River Vardar Quay
Bar La Kaña
Found in the the Old Bazaar (which has been rebuilt a number of times), La Kaña is a laid-back alternative space that opens late and stays open even later. It is moody only in appearance, all dark lighting and exposed brickwork, but the atmosphere is friendly, with a musical backdrop of postpunk, shoegaze and goth, as well as some more obscure Macedonian bands to discover. Outside is a chilled seating area in an antiquated-feeling alley, where bar people whisk around bringing local beers and shots.
Street Azem Hajdari 6, 1132
Appearing like a tiny jungle in the city centre, with cats walking through for added effect, this plant-filled venue is a great place to escape to day or night. Located on a quite street off one of Skopje’s main roads, the atmosphere at Izlet Kafe is serene and calm for early coffee but later on Izlet starts to warm up, especially when the exclusive house cocktails start to flow. The aesthetic is industrial, with a hint of art squat. Expect intelligent electronica, with international DJs making appearances and a special affection for Detroit techno.
Guro Gakovich 25
Old Town Brewery
Opened in 2009, Old Town Brewery lays proud claim to being the oldest craft brewery in Macedonia. So, if this is to be believed, craft beer was a bit slow on the uptake, but now Old Town Brewery has four on offer (the usual IPA, Pilsner, Porter and Weiss) and a grand wooden shack-like pub in the old town. This is not one of those craft brewery joints where you empty your wallet for a thimble of froth either, the 500ml beers start at less than two euros.
Str. Gradishte 1