It’s not much of an exaggeration that we wanted to visit North Macedonia because of Lake Ohrid in the first place. (And because 85% of its territory is covered in mountains in the second place.) Is it really that beautiful? Yes, it is! We’ve seen quite some amazing lakes, and it’s not that easy to knock us off our feet anymore, but Lake Ohrid managed to do just that.
We spent an entire week there, slowly exploring the area and the beaches. Whether you have a week or less, this post helps you choose the sights and activities that’ll make your visit unforgettable, too.
The lovely old town of Ohrid
Ohrid is not only the name of the lake, it’s the name of a city, too. Together they were accepted as Cultural and Natural World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. We definitely recommend having the old town of Ohrid as your base while visiting the area, because it’s undoubtedly the most impressive place to stay!
But what to see there? If you’ve seen any pictures of North Macedonia ever, there’s a high chance it was one with the Church of St. John at Kaneo (or Sveti Jovan Kaneo in Macedonian), overlooking the lake:
Familiar? Among many other Macedonia Orthodox churches, St. John at Kaneo is located in Ohrid, and it offers the best views. You can take a look at its tiny interior for a small fee, but it’s the outside views that are truly astonishing! Several terraces look over the pure blue water of the lake, and you can walk up to the viewpoint above the church for that iconic view.
Trails of the Old City Park
Once you’re up there, you’ll notice that trails continue further into the Old City Park, and it’s worth exploring them! Our favorite trail was the one running along the edge of the hill. In addition to those amazing lake views, it also gives access to secluded Labino Beach.
The trail in the center took us to 10th-century Tsar Samuel’s Fortress through the quiet pine forest.
The legend says that Ohrid once had one church for each day of the year. The number today is significantly smaller than 365, but we still found a surprising number of churches there, and it felt like we bumped into one wherever we walked in Ohrid.
Church of St. John at Kaneo has undoubtedly the best views, but there are some more special ones. Like the Church of St. Sophia with its pretty garden. It was actually converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire, and the same happened to the Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon that dates back to the 9th century.
The Mother of God Perybleptos church is close to the Upper Gate of the old town, and the square in front of it treated us with lovely views of Samuel’s Fortress and the old town from above.
Cobblestone streets and ruins of the old town
The Upper Gate is the best preserved of the gates that lead to the narrow streets of Ohrid old town. It’s built on a hill, and every street ends up at the lakeshore at some point.
The ancient theatre of Ohrid is not far from the Upper Gate either, and it dates back to 200 BC. Once it was home to performances and gladiator fights, then it was used for executions, and then was abandoned for a long time. Now it’s nicely renovated, and energetic little toddlers (like ours… khm) enjoy climbing its steps.
We also liked the boardwalk over the lake that connects the old town with Potpesh Beach. This small, pebbly beach is worth a visit, anyway, both for swimming and sunset views.
As for sunset views, there’s another perfect place to enjoy them: the pier and the waterfront promenade of Ohrid. It’s already outside of the old town, and this means you’ll have views of both the lake sunset and the old town.
This is the place you surely won’t miss, because it’s the main walking street and the busiest shopping street in Ohrid. That’s precisely the reason we didn’t like it that much, but it has one good thing: it ends at the waterfront promenade. 🙂
The best beach in the city of Ohrid: Labino Beach
Between the port of Ohrid and the Church of St. John at Kaneo you found several small public beaches. But our favorite was a bit beyond the church, accessible from the pathway running along the cliffs in the Old City Park. It led us down to Labino Beach, a secluded pebbly beach that was solely ours.
Best beaches at Lake Ohrid
When it comes to our absolute favorite beaches at Lake Ohrid though, they’re all a bit further from Ohrid town. Drive about 20-40 minutes southwards from there, and you’ll stumble upon bays that remind you of the Adriatic Sea, and can choose from a wide selection of the most stunning beaches!
Gradishte beach consists of four crystal clear, perfectly turquoise bays, and they were our absolute favorites! The beach belongs to the Gradishte campground, but anyone can access it. At the camping entrance there’s a gate that the kind receptionist opened for us, and when we asked him if we could just visit the beach, he said “Sure” with a big smile. We were charged no entry fee or parking fee, but parking space for daytime visitors is limited. It wasn’t a problem for us as our car was the only one when we arrived, but it might be busier towards mid-summer.
The four bays are separated by large rock boulders, and water boardwalks were built around the rocks so that you can walk from one to the other. You can also find bars and deck chairs at each bay.
The color of the water is incredible, and to get the best views of the bays, walk up to the small hill on the southern peninsula of the campground, and take your seat on one of the benches. And enjoy.
Also, Gradishte beach was the only one at Lake Ohrid where we haven’t seen any trash on the beach. Sadly, on other beaches we found empty cans, plastic bags or bottles. Sometimes they were collected into one pile and tucked behind a tree or bush, sometimes a few were just buried in the sand. It’s just disappointing. Not the beaches, they were still beautiful, but can’t we all just take better care of them? If you could bring a bottle of anything, you can surely take it home with you, too, even if there’s no trash can.
Hidden bays after the Bay of Bones
As far as we know these bays don’t even have names. But beaches without names should be fabulous, shouldn’t they? (They are!)
How to find them? Park at the dirt/grassy area right after the Bay of Bones parking lot. You’ll immediately find yourself on the top of a rocky plateau that offers amazing views of Lake Ohrid. Once you walk around, you’ll notice that some paths don’t lead to a viewpoint, but down to a small, pebbly cove. We found three of them, two very small ones, and one that’s suitable for several families. Feel free to choose yours.
Nicknamed as the “Saint-Tropez of Lake Ohrid”, Trpejca beach has truly romantic views. It’s a long, pebbly bay with some cliffs in the water. It’s accessible by stairs, and you need to park your car in the parking area at the top of the stairs. Or on any of the streets where there’s space.
It’s also a bay that belongs to a campground but accessible for anyone. We parked our car in the paved area before the entrance gate. The long pebbly-sandy beach is backed up by lush green hills, and there’s a beach bar, as well.
The first beach in Lagadin
Or we should say right before Lagadin, if you drive from Ohrid. We don’t know if it has a name, but you can park your car in a paved parking area before the signpost that indicates the town of Lagadin. A few steps take you down to the beach from there.
Barely anyone knows about this lovely, pebbly bay which has clear, beautifully blue water, and trees give some shade on the beach.
Bay of the Bones: a unique open-air museum
The best museum we visited in North Macedonia? The Bay of the Bones at Lake Ohrid. On Lake Ohrid, I should say, because it’s a museum built on water. To be fair, I also need to add that this was the only actual museum we visited in the country, because this was one that all three of us could enjoy.
Our almost-2 years old Tomi is way too young for museums, but the Bay of the Bones made him excited. It’s a reconstruction of a prehistoric pile dwelling settlement, and he liked peeking into the houses and spotting fish in the water under our feet. If you’re more adventurous, you can sign up for a scuba dive to the underwater archeological site of the original settlement.
North of the reconstructed village there are ruins of a Roman fortress on top of a hill. While the ruins are probably not the most astonishing you’ve ever seen, we got stunning views of Lake Ohrid and the green mountains of Galičica, so they were definitely worth the walk. (And that’s where we spotted the turquoise bays of Gradishte, and we liked the views so much that we visited the beach the following day.)
Monastery of Saint Naum
This is the only thing we missed at Lake Ohrid. It’s a huge miss as this Orthodox monastery established in 905 is one of the most attractive sights in the country, and also a popular day trip from Ohrid.
Why did we not visit it then? We just felt it would have been too much for us with Tomi. He’s (understandably) not interested in visiting a monastery, he’s too young to comply with rules, and we didn’t want to spend our time looking after him instead of enjoying our visit. The days we spent at Lake Ohrid were hot, anyway, so we thought that the whole family would have much more fun on the beach. The beach it was, and no regrets there.
Despite the fact that all we’re able to tell you about this monastery is our reasons not to visit it, we encourage you to do so nevertheless. 🙂 You can also take a boat ride to the source of Lake Ohrid from the monastery grounds.
Hiking in Galičica National Park
Galičica Mountains tower above Lake Ohrid, and it’s also a popular thing to hike in Galičica National Park while you’re in Ohrid. Some local companies offer guided hikes, but you can also hike there on your own. Trail maps are posted at most trailheads, and trails start from the towns of Peshtani, Elshani or Trpejca, and along road P504.
P504 is a zigzagging road that took us through the park, and it connects Lake Ohrid with Lake Prespa. It’s a toll road, the road quality is varying from good to still acceptable, but the views are great! The famous trail to Magaro peak also starts along this road, and it was the only hike we’ve done in the park.
It’s an amazing, 7 kilometres scenic loop trail that took us through wildflower meadows and snow fields, and rewarded us with a panorama of the two large lakes and all the mountains of Galičica below us.
Parking and road tolls
First of all, the only toll road is P504 through Galičica National Park. North Macedonia has motorways, but they don’t reach Lake Ohrid. That also means you shouldn’t expect a motorway quality road. The road along the lakeshore is fine, but narrow and has lots of curves, so drive carefully. However, if you’re not the one driving, you can enjoy the nice views.
Parking is only a problem in Ohrid. You’re not allowed to drive into the old town – unless your apartment owns a space that you can use. Since the old town of Ohrid is the best place to stay, we recommend booking accommodation with free parking there.
Otherwise, paved or dirt parking lots are free to use on the lakeshore, and you can also park on the streets in the smaller towns if there’s enough space. Parking fee is charged at the Monastery of Saint Naum though, where you can use a large, paved parking lot in front of the building complex.
So… are you ready for a visit? What else would you like to know?
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