Before our family started planning a five-month road trip through Eastern Europe and the Balkans, I hadn’t heard of Lake Ohrid, bordered by Northern Macedonia and Albania. As we started mapping out the section of the route that would take us from Greece back to Croatia through the Balkans, Ohrid not only became a logical stop, but one I was really looking forward to.
The town of Ohrid, Northern Macedonia sits on the edge of serene Lake Ohrid, Europe’s oldest natural lake and one of the oldest in the world. The Ohrid region is designated both a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site.
The town has ancient origins and is very compact, making it easy to explore on foot at a leisurely pace. Built on the hillside, the views of the rooftops, the lake, and the surrounding mountains are stunning from most places in town.
Our days in Ohrid flowed slowly with the sun peaking in through our windows as it rose from behind the mountains surrounding the lake. Mornings in Ohrid are quiet and tranquil, with mostly local people wandering around town, taking their dogs for walks, and enjoying coffee with friends.
I made a ritual of walking over to the iconic Church of St. John at Kaneo to watch the first rays of sunlight touch the church, turning it into a beautiful golden color. As the sun rose, the light fog cleared out from the lake, giving way to delicate shades of purple and blue. This popular church is bustling with people in the afternoons, but it’s mostly empty in the morning—if you don’t take the cats into account. Cats are everywhere in Ohrid (like in many parts of Eastern Europe and the Balkans!) and they are usually happy to get a gentle head scratch.
One morning we drove to the Springs of St. Naum which are located about two kilometers from the Northern Macedonia-Albania border. These springs feed Lake Prespa which feeds Lake Ohrid.
We took a rowboat ride over the springs and the water was so clear, we could see the bottom of the lake even in the deepest points! The boat ride was peaceful and the reflections on the lake were picture perfect. The ride was made better by our boat driver telling us bits and pieces of history about the springs and the lake.
On our afternoon excursions in Ohrid we visited some of the gorgeous churches and basilicas in town. At some point, Ohrid had an estimated 365 churches, earning it the name of Jerusalem of Europe.
As we wandered around town during the early fall afternoons, we watched a couple get married at a Greek amphitheater that is over 2,000 years old (later used as a gladiator arena by the Romans and still used for concerts today). We also encountered a couple getting hitched at the Church of Sophia, which is one of the most important monuments in Northern Macedonia with art dating back to the Middle Ages. Love was in the air!
Most days, as the sun started to go down, we made our way down to the lake to see the fishermen coming home and the sailboats disappear into the setting sun. Sunsets in Ohrid are magical. The way the lake and the sky transition from golden into pink and purple is breathtaking. During our five days in Ohrid we never missed a sunset!
Once the sun went down, we walked back uphill, two tired parents with two tired kids, but all of us with our hearts full and our minds inspired by the beauty of the place we were in. Around us, the only light left in the sky was the soothing blue of twilight.
Ohrid is only a three-hour drive from the city of Thessaloniki in Greece and it’s world away from the fast-paced Greek city. It provides a good alternative to a beach vacation, especially on shoulder season when the tourists haven’t flocked to its shores. For us it was a great place to slow down, recharge, and explore—and for that it will always hold a special place in our hearts.