Bitola, the second largest city in Macedonia, seems to have teleported to our days straight from the Middle Ages. Here you can spend hours walking along the narrow streets with a slender row of mansions of the 18th and 19th centuries, and not suspecting that the rest of the world is in the 21st century. Bitola is for Macedonia what St. Petersburg is for Russia: the cultural capital and the “certificate of authenticity” of the Macedonian intelligentsia. During the Ottoman rule, diplomatic institutions of different countries were located here, for which Bitola was nicknamed the city of consuls. It is also a very lively and direct city, where it is so pleasant to contemplate the imperial past of Macedonia while sipping real Turkish coffee in a cozy coffee shop.
How to get to Bitola
According to 800zipcodes, Bitola can be reached from Skopje by bus or train. From the Macedonian capital, intercity buses leave for Bitola approximately every hour. Along the way, they also stop in Prilep and Veles. The journey will last about 3.5 hours, the ticket will cost about 500 MKD. There are four trains a day from the Skopje railway station to Bitola, they also run through Veles and Prilep. You can also arrive in Bitola by bus from Ohrid, as well as from Sofia and the nearest Greek city of Florina, located just 30 km away.
The railway and bus station of Bitola are located about one and a half kilometers from the city center (Clock Tower). This path can be done on foot with pleasure – it passes through a picturesque park.
Transport in the city
The sights of Bitola are easy to see on foot. They actually lined up in a straight line: the old bazaar, the main city square, the central Broad Street, the city park and finally the ruins of the ancient city of Heraclea.
It makes sense to cover longer distances by taxi: a trip within the city will cost no more than 3-4 EUR. And for those who are not averse to saving money and joining the “people”, we can advise you to use municipal buses: for only 0.37 EUR you will drive through the city from end to end. The most desirable route from a tourist point of view is No. 1.
Bitola is a large city and a popular tourist destination, so there are more than enough accommodation options here. Pensions, private hotels and hotels of Bitola are located in the city center. On the outskirts of the city and in nearby villages, you can also stay in private villas converted into guest houses – a great way to relax in nature close to the city’s attractions. The cost of accommodation in guest houses starts from 25 EUR. “Dvushki” and “treshki” will cost about 40-50 EUR for a double room, and you can stay in style for 90-100 EUR.
The old bazaar of Bitola once had more than three thousand shops and was considered the largest in the Balkans.
Cuisine and restaurants
The main transport artery of Bitola Wide Street is the location of numerous cafes, bistros and restaurants. You can have a quick bite to eat with a pan-Balkan puff pastry with filling – burek, as well as grilled cutlets of minced meat in Turkish style. And of course, pizza, burgers and various sandwiches that have become international.
For a real Macedonian-style dinner, you should go to one of the most pompous restaurants in Bitola – Belvedere, located in the Glass House. Here everything is decorous, noble and old-fashioned, and the prices are by no means ruinous: from 4 EUR for snacks and up to 25 EUR for local traditional dishes. Among the best democratic establishments are El Greco and Bure pizzerias, Art Cafe, Kus Kus and Manaki restaurants.
Shopping and stores
Shops for everything that a tourist in Bitola might want to buy stretch on both sides of Broad Street. It makes sense to look into boutiques of clothes and shoes, bookstores, wine and antique shops, art salons. Here you can also find an excellent selection of souvenirs – textiles and embroidery, embossing, ceramics, woodcarving and various little things for memory: magnets, key chains, etc. Another must-see place is the Old Bazaar, one of the most charming, neat and ancient markets of Macedonia.
Entertainment and attractions of Bitola
It is worth starting your acquaintance with the city from the main street of Bitola – Shiroka. This is a pedestrian street, on both sides of which there are neoclassical and romantic buildings – private mansions and municipal buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is also worth seeing the Catholic Cathedral and the old barracks, which today houses the city museum, and a little further away there is a picturesque and well-groomed city park. The architectural dominant of Bitola is the 30-meter Clock Tower, built in the 17th century and given its present appearance two centuries later.
The fountain at the end of Broad Street entertains city residents and tourists with an evening light and music show (beginning at 21:00).
Consulate mansions are another attraction of Bitola. They all cluster at the beginning of Shirokaya Street and on adjacent lanes. Among the most beautiful buildings are the Russian, Serbian, British, French, Greek and Austrian consulates.
The legacy of the Ottoman era is the Old Bazaar mentioned above, several mosques and a Turkish hammam. The old bazaar once had more than three thousand shops and was considered the largest in the Balkans; today there are about seventy left. Among the most interesting mosques is Novaya, built in the middle of the 16th century, with a 40-meter minaret and an impressive central dome with a diameter of 19 meters. Now the city art gallery is located here. It is also worth seeing the mosque of Isak-bek and Adjara-kadi and visit the Turkish hammam of the 17th century.
The main temple of Bitola is consecrated in honor of St. Demetrius. This is a three-nave basilica with five chapels and large-scale choir stalls, which is primarily interesting for its magnificent 19th-century iconostasis, rich frescoes and skillful wood carvings. And the miniature Church of the Holy Mother of God (19th century) is famous for its fantastically beautiful carved wooden iconostasis.
Ruins of Heraclea
The ruins of ancient Heraclea are located on the outskirts of Bitola. The city was founded in the 4th century BC, but most of the buildings that have survived to this day date back to the Roman and Byzantine periods. Here you can see the ruins of a theatre, two fountains, administrative buildings, thermae, a priest’s house and two early basilicas. The Pearl of Heraclea is a magnificent mosaic from the 5th century depicting a map of the world according to the version of that time. It uses natural stones of 27 shades. More flowers can only be seen on the mosaics of Pompeii. The small museum exhibits artifacts from the excavations and a model of Heraclea during its heyday.