Arriving at Lake Ohrid in Macedonia was a bit of a shock to us. Not only because of the regular earth quakes up to magnitude 4 on the Richter scale that could be felt around the lake (1.100 in 20 days had been registered) but also because of the huge number of tourists and tour groups (many of them Dutch). But we could also immediately see why it is the touristic center of this part of the Balkans: there are so many beautiful sights around Lake Ohrid.
Ohrid town has the bulk of the sights – beautiful orthodox churches in particular – which can be visited in one day. For the more outlying sights around Lake Ohrid it’s convenient to have a car. Otherwise you’ll have to join an organized bus tour or take one of the boat tours that cross the lake. We don’t like organized tours and we were traveling with our own wheels, so guess what we did…
Sights in Ohrid
Ohrid itself is a nice town to explore on foot without a map. It’s small enough to risk getting seriously lost or making extra hectometers because of walking too far in the wrong direction. If you don’t like climbing cobblestone streets then it’s best to explore with a plan though. Some of the sights can only be reached by walking uphill.
In this post we try to map out the most straightforward way of visiting the most important sights in the Unesco World Heritage listed old town. There are plenty of signs in the historic center helping you to walk in the right direction. At the same time we give some tips for visiting the most important sights around Lake Ohrid.
Sveta Sofia Cathedral
After finding your way to the old town start with a visit to the 11th-century Sveta Sofia Cathedral. Although it’s the biggest church in Ohrid it’s not really remarkable from the outside – you’ll see prettier churches later on. It’s what on the inside that counts here. The cathedral has some beautiful, – sometimes faded, sometimes vivid – Byzantine frescoes. We’d like to show you, but unfortunately no photography was allowed inside.
Ohrid’s classic amphitheater
Archaeological finds indicate that Ohrid is one of the oldest settlements in Europe. The oldest reminder of that fact can be found after a steep walk up a cobbled street from Sveta Sofia: a classic amphitheater, the only surviving Hellenistic theater in Macedonia. It was later used by the Romans and when we were there a stage was put up for an international folk and dance festival held in Ohrid during our stay. So even today it’s still being used.
Church of Sveti Bogorodica Perivlepta
In a side street leading off the amphitheater is this pretty church whose name translates as ‘Our Lady the Most Glorious’. The church consist of two parts: the 13th-century core with recently renovated amazing frescoes and a 14th-century extension built around it. The terrace in front of the church has some great views of Ohrid and the mighty walls of Car Samoil’s Castle.
Car Samoil’s Castle
From the terrace you will have seen that it’s still a little bit of walking uphill to get to this 10th-century castle. But no worries, after this you only have to walk down. There’s not much to see inside the castle itself but the renovated walls and towers afford some nice panoramas of Lake Ohrid and the surrounding area.
From the castle it’s just a short walk down to Plaošnik, an archaeological and holy place. The absolute eye-catcher here is the beautifully restored exterior of St. Kliment’s Church that was built in the year 893. The area around the church is presently a huge construction site. They’re building a new monastery, theological school and library, which looks like it’s going to be a huge complex.
Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo
Walking almost down to the lake is the last significant church in Ohrid and the one with the most picturesque location, Sveti Jovan at Kaneo. The tiny church appears in most photographs you will probably have seen earlier of sights around Lake Ohrid and is a popular sunset spot, although the sun doesn’t set behind the church like we’d hoped for.
From here you can follow a route that takes you along some lakeside restaurants and small but crowded beaches. Time to take a refreshing dip in the clear blue waters of Lake Ohrid, take a short boat ride to see the town from the lake or eat a late lunch/early dinner. Or just hit the boardwalk around the small cape jutting into the lake to walk back to the old town for some aimless exploring and maybe visit the National Workshop for Handmade Paper.
Sights around Lake Ohrid
Besides short boat trips for a different perspective on Ohrid town there are several tour operators and privately owned taxis boats offering their services along the lakeside promenade east from the old town. Two lake trips to sights around Lake Ohrid are the one to the monastery of Sveti Naum on the lake’s east coast and the one to Struga, Kalista and Radozda on its western shores.
Sveti Naum monastery
The Eastern Orthodox monastery of Sveti Naum is built on the southernmost part of Lake Ohrid near the border with Albania, about 30 kilometers from Ohrid. The earliest beginnings of the monastery go back to the early tenth century, but most of what you see now dates from the 17th-19th centuries. The monastery’s stuffy church has some great, but faded frescoes.
Resident peacocks provide some entertainment to (or get harassed by) the often beach-clad visitors. This last can be explained by the several beaches around the monastery. When we entered from the parking lot we were seriously wondering if we’d arrived at a beach resort or a religious complex…..
Kalista and Radozda cave churches
Just south of the busy beach town of Struga on the southwestern side of Lake Ohrid are two lesser known but interesting cave churches near the lakeside villages of Kalista and Radozda. The cave church at Kalista is part of the Kalista monastery and is easy to enter. The one at Radozda can be reached by climbing a set of steep stairs to the cave. When we got to the cave entrance, however, we found the door locked. Bummer. The views across the lake from here compensated for it.
Lake Ohrid measures about 350 sq kilometers of crystal clear sweet water and reaches a depth of almost 300 meters maximum. All around the lake are numerous pebble beaches. The beaches around Struga on the western side of the lake were very busy as were the beaches closest to Ohrid. The most beautiful beaches could be found on the eastern side of the lake, but most of those beaches also had loud beach bars. Nice if that’s your thing, not so nice if you like your beach time more quiet. Not to worry: there are also beach spots without loud music. Beach chairs and umbrellas were cheap at 200 Denar (3,20 euro) for two.
Spotting vintage cars
Walking around Ohrid we noticed the large number of old cars driving around and parked all around the city. Old school Yugos, Zastavas and Ladas seemingly are still going strong here, something we hadn’t noticed before in our previous seven weeks driving across the Balkans. We couldn’t resist taking some pics of these classic socialist worker cars.