I’ve come to love the place that’s been my home for just over a year now. Second largest city in Macedonia, Bitola is steeped in a history that is visually evident. Whether you’re planning on visiting or just passing through, these are the top 5 things you definitely shouldn’t miss.
1. Strolling down Shirok Sokak
I always like to think of Shirok Sokak* as the heart of Bitola- the place where the entire city gets its life- force. Be it early morning or late afternoon, the street is always buzzing with life.
Charming little shops, cafes and restaurants line the pedestrian street- most offering outdoor seating, making it a great place for enjoying fresh pastries and cappuccino.
Summer evenings are always glorious- as you can see the city in full swing. There are literally hundreds of people milling around watching buskers playing traditional music, artists painting portraits, and tons of people buying homemade, traditional souvenirs from the pop- up stalls. And because the street is so wide, one never feels claustrophobic.
If you’re planning on staying, there are a number of hotels right in the midst of it all. There is no better way to experience the energy that is Shirok Sokak*.
Stay in the heart of Shirok Sokak:
2. Bitola City Park
Conveniently situated at the end of Shirok Sokak*, Bitola City Park is the perfect place to unwind after a long day of shopping and people- watching.
If you’re travelling with young children, there are a number of park facilities and rides available- all within close proximity to sandwich and ice- cream shops.
You can stay in shape by jogging or using the outdoor gym. Or you can sit back, relax and enjoy a book in the shade.
When winter comes rolling in, the park is transformed into a magical wonderland- the stuff dreams are made of.
Whatever your fancy, Bitola City Park is a great way to reconnect with nature.
3. Absorb some History
If you’re interested in the history of Macedonia, and Bitola in particular, head over to the Bitola museum. Centrally located between Shirok Sokak* and Bitola City Park, browsing around the enormous museum is a great way to spend an afternoon.
You’ll discover everything from ancient artefacts and traditional clothing to an entire section dedicated to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who founded modern day Turkey.
If you prefer to see the unearthing of an ancient civilization in action, visit Heraclea Lyncestis. An archaeological site not far from Bitola City Park, where you’ll find well- preserved mosaics from the Early Christian period to a two- thousand year old Roman theatre and everything in between.
4. Eat, Eat, Eat & Drink
Macedonia is a food lover’s dream. You won’t find any big fast food chains in Bitola, but what you will find is fresh, organic ingredients in plenty.
Sample traditional dishes such as tavche gravche (baked beans in paprika) and a myriad of pepper based fare at any of the restaurants. My favourite dish is baked red peppers, stuffed with rice and meat.
You’ll also find an assortment of Pizzerias serving typical Italian food from pizza to lasagna but with a Macedonian twist.
You can’t visit Macedonia without trying Rakija. Typically a homemade drink, but served everywhere- from the tiniest cafes, to the biggest restaurants.
Made from grapes, this potent drink ranges from clear to yellow in colour, and whichever one you decide to try, do know that it packs a punch! You have been warned.
If you find you are like me, and Rakija is just too strong a drink to be enjoyable, opt for one of the fruity Macedonian wines. There is a huge selection to choose from, including everything from Chardonnay to Merlot. It also makes for an excellent souvenir.
5. Take A Hike
After all the eating and drinking, you might feel the urge to get out there an ‘be healthy’.
Just a short ride from Bitola city centre, you’ll find Pelister National Park where there are various hiking trails all year long and skiing facilities in the winter. Just for a quick pick- me up, I usually take a short hike up to the ski lodge**, taking in the view as I go along.
If you’re not looking to get active, the park is a great place for picnics, relaxing, and just spending quality time with friends and family in bountiful nature.
Let me know in the comments, what are your favourite things to do in Bitola?