SKOPJE IS ...
• The capital of FYR Macedonia.
• Named after the nearby Roman colony Scupi; no one knows what the name means.
• A multi-ethnic and multilingual city, with Albanian and Roma spoken as well as Macedonian.
• Twinned with Dresden, Pittsburgh, Istanbul, Ljubljana, Zaragoza and Zagreb, among others.
• The birthplace of Mother Teresa, Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great and 1991 European Golden Shoe winner Darko Pancev.
WHERE IT IS
Located in the north of FYR Macedonia, on the banks of the river Vardar, Skopje is roughly halfway between Belgrade and Athens, and around 7,500km from both New York and Beijing.
• The venue is a redevelopment of the former national arena – the Gradski Stadion – and is home to the Macedonian national team and local clubs Vardar and Rabotnicki.
• Reopened on 12 August 2009 when FYR Macedonia lost 3-2 to then European champions Spain in a friendly.
• Staged five games during the 2010 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, including the final won by France.
• Its illuminated outer façade was completed in 2013. The arena has been adapted to hold concerts featuring the likes of Pink, David Guetta, Carlos Santana and Julio Iglesias.
• Seated capacity is about 33,000, though 61,000 were able to attend a 2012 concert celebrating 21 years since independence.
By air: Skopje Alexander the Great Airport is located 17km southeast of the capital and has regular connections to a number of major European cities, including Brussels, Istanbul, London, Rome, Vienna and Zurich, plus Dubai. Shuttle buses and taxis can take you into the city.
By road: European route E75 (M1 in Macedonian terms) is the main road into Skopje, providing a direct link to such major cities as Gdansk, Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade, Thessaloniki and Athens. Several more European capitals are reasonably close by: Prishtina (90km), Sofia (250km) and Tirana (300km).
By rail: Skopje's main railway station is on the international line that connects Belgrade and Thessaloniki, with a major route also heading north to Prishtina.
Walk: The city is easily navigable on foot. Plenty of walking tours are available, both accompanied and unaccompanied.
Bus: Skopje has no tram or metro network, but buses are a cheap and effective way to get around.
Taxi: Keep an eye out for the city's official white-and-yellow cabs.
Bike: Skopje is keen to increase its number of cyclists, with cycle paths increasingly common. Bicycles are available to hire.
WHERE TO STAY
Skopje has plenty of places to stay – budget hostels as well as hotels. See useful links below.
WHAT TO SEE
For culture: Divided into archaeological, historical and ethnological sections, the Macedonian National Museum gives a great sweep of Skopje's history.
For atmosphere: Skopje Fortress (Skopsko Kale) has survived various earthquakes and dominates the city skyline. The Old Bazaar, on the eastern bank of the Vardar River, from the Stone Bridge to the Bit-Pazar (flea market), is one of the oldest marketplaces in the Balkans and has been a commercial hub since at least the 12th century.
The city's Zelen Pazar (green market) and Bit Pazar (flea market) are worth visiting.
For fresh air: Gradski Park (City Park) is close to the national stadium and home to Skopje Zoo. Further out, a cable car trip to the Millennium Cross – on top of Vodno Mountain – offers drama.
EATING AND DRINKING
Tavche gravche – a type of heavy, baked bean stew – is regarded as Macedonia's national dish and is a great advert for the wealth of vegetables, herbs and fruit available locally.
Assorted dishes nod towards Skopje's Ottoman past – burek, musaka, sarma – and there are Balkan favourites too, like skara (grilled meat) and ajvar (bell pepper sauce). Salads also come highly recommended, with regional favourite Shopska salad – featuring lots of tomatoes and topped with cheese – a good place to start.
Coffee, Turkish-style – thick and incredibly strong – is still widely drunk, while local wine is celebrated, and mastica (a distant relative of Greek ouzo) is the spirit of choice.
FOOTBALL IN SKOPJE
The 2017/18 Macedonian top division will include four teams from the capital, but Shkupi and FK Skopje are dwarfed by the big two – Vardar and Rabotnicki. Formed in 1947 by the merger of two local clubs, Vardar – named after the local river – have won ten national titles since independence and were a substantial force in the former Yugoslavia too. Railway club Rabotnicki boast four Macedonian championships and share the national stadium with Vardar.
The city's most celebrated footballing export may be Darko Pancev, the ex-Vardar forward who won the 1990/91 European Cup – and that season's European Golden Shoe – with Belgrade side Crvena zvezda before transferring to Internazionale Milano in 1992.
GET OUT OF THE CITY
Matka Canyon has a 6km walking trail between two dams and – a 30-minute bus ride out of the city – is one of the main destinations for Skopje residents on a hot day. A little closer in, the remains of the ancient Roman city of Scupi lie just north of the river Vardar, while not too far from the city is Tumba Madzari – a Neolithic settlement, suggesting Skopje's history could date back 6,000 years.
Skopje Aqueduct, 2km northwest of central Skopje, is the only one of its kind in Macedonia and one of three largest and best preserved aqueducts in the former Yugoslav nations.
YOUR MACEDONIAN PHRASEBOOK
English is reasonably widely spoken, but a few polite words in Macedonian may be appreciated ...
Hello – zdrah-voh
How are you? – kah-koh steh
Please – veh moh-lahm
Thank you – blah-goh-dah-rahm
Goodbye – doh-vee-doo-vah-nyeh
Exploring Macedonia – Skopje: http://www.exploringmacedonia.com/skopje.nspx
Lonely Planet: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/macedonia/skopje
Skopje City portal: http://www.skopje.gov.mk/en/
Skopje Airport: http://skp.airports.com.mk/default.aspx?ItemID=345
Football Federation of Macedonia (FFM): http://ffm.mk/en