Matka Canyon is a stunning gorge and lake just outside of Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. It’s proximity to the capital makes it a popular day trip (or half-day trip) for both locals and tourists. Offering plenty of outdoor activities, from hiking to kayaking or taking a leisurely boat trip, visiting Matka Canyon is a great way to get outdoors and away from the bustle of the city.
Why Visit Matka Canyon?
Simply put, Matka Canyon is spectacular!
The stunning scenery and the chance to escape into nature makes a visit to Matka Canyon a perfect day trip when visiting Skopje.
Matka Canyon is actually a gorge filled with an artificial lake, which was created when a dam was built on the river Treska in 1938. This makes Lake Matka the oldest artificial lake in the country.
And while the lake isn’t entirely natural, surrounded by high mountains, it’s still an impressive site to see.
This is the Matka Canyon.
Where is Matka Canyon?
Just 15km from the capital city of Skopje, you’ll find the Matka Canyon. Covering around 5000 hectares of breathtaking scenery. and it’s a popular spot for locals to escape from the city.
What to do at Matka Canyon
There are a few trails at Matka Canyon. Although we enjoy hiking, these trails were a bit challenging for beginner 4 year old hikers, but if your kids are older, or if you are visiting without kids, go try one (or a few) of the trails!
One trail goes all the way to the end of the canyon. Starting at the hotel and restaurant, the 10km trail runs along the side of the canyon, passing churches and monasteries along the way and featuring some impressive views of the Matka Canyon.
Rent a Kayak
Renting a kayak is a great way to see the canyon yourself. The water is perfectly calm, making it easy to kayak. Single or double kayaks are available to rent, either by the hour or for 30 mins. I would LOVE to do this when my kids are a bit older. What a fantastic way to explore the canyon!
Take a Boat Tour
A popular activity is to take a guided boat tour of Matka Canyon. There are two different places that offer a boat tour. The first spot is less busy, a tad cheaper but it’s just a tour of the canyon and doesn’t include a visit to the caves.
Boat trips around the canyon take about 30 minutes and cost 3.30EUR (200 Denar). Even if you don’t visit the caves, it’s a fantastic ride as the scenery is just spectacular!
Visit the Caves
If you choose the second boat tour, it’s the one that also includes a tour of Vrelo Cave. Our taxi driver recommended we do this tour, and I’m glad we did!
The guided tour starts with a boat ride through the Matka Canyon and heads over to the caves.
Once you reach the entrance to the caves, there is a fairly steep staircase from the boat up to the cave. It’s pretty tricky with little kids, but with two adults, or help from someone on the boat, it’s not too bad!
A guide takes you on a short walk though Vrelo Cave, pointing out the stalactites and stalagmites. You can see the rocks dripping and some parts are even illuminated by coloured lights. Some say it may be the deepest underwater cave in the world! It’s even included in the list of top 77 natural sites of the world in the New 7 Wonders of Nature Project. Cost when we visited was 400 MKD.
Visit a Monastery
There are a few churches and monasteries in the Matka Canyon. Starting from the other side of the lake, it’s possible to hike up to St. Nikola Šiševski monastery. It’s a good, steep climb, taking about 30 mins, but (apparently) the views from the top are worth it! (I didn’t think it was a good idea with two little kids!)
From behind the hotel, there are also a few trails that lead to other churches and a monastery.
Have Lunch or a Snack at the Restaurant
Right on the edge of the canyon, just a few steps from the boat tour spot, is a restaurant serving lunch, dinner, snacks and beverages. While we did not eat there, our driver said it was too pricey, being a popular tourist spot BUT it was good food. (It was his suggestion to stop somewhere on the way home for a snack instead).
Stay the Night at the Canyon Matka Hotel
If you want to really experience the canyon, why not stay the night? The Canyon Matka Hotel offers overnight accommodations in a fantastic setting. Nestled along the edge of the canyon, the Canyon Matka Hotel has a terrace featuring panoramic views of the canyon. Accommodation includes breakfast, free wifi and free parking, and prices range from 30-40euro/night. Check availability here.
I WISH I had known about this hotel before we planned our visit! Next time….
How to get to Matka Canyon
You can take bus #60 from the Central Bus Station or any of the stops along Boulevard Partizanski Odred. The trip takes about 45-60 minutes. You will need to buy a prepaid Skopska card, which comes preloaded with 3 trips and may be useful if you are using it throughout Skopje. Just be aware that you cannot purchase single tickets anymore.
Taking a taxi is probably the best option! Fares usually run around 10EUR (650MCD) each way. There are lots of drivers waiting at the canyon to take you back to Skopje as well (even in off-season).
Another option is to hire a driver, which is what we did. We booked one through our hotel and it was just under 20EUR (1200MCD) for a drive there and back.
I had heard that hiring a taxi would cost different amounts and you could use your bargaining skills, but we booked a recommended driver through our hotel for a fixed price (and then he even ended up giving us back money “to buy a treat for my boys”)
Tips for Visiting Matka Canyon:
- Entrance to Matka Canyon is free
- The parking lot is about a 10 minute walk to the start of canyon. It’s an easy walk to do with young kids, and suitable for strollers, although once past the hotel, there are some spots where the path is close to the edge.
- Although the main path is fairly accessible, we still recommend suitable shoes (and if you are taking the boat tour to the caves, you will need shoes that don’t slip).
- It can get chilly on the boat tour and especially inside the caves! Blankets are provided to cover your lap on the boat but be sure to wear appropriate clothing, even in the summer, and be aware that it will be chilly inside the caves all year round.
- There’s a restaurant serving food and snacks or bring your own and enjoy a picnic
- Matka Canyon is a popular spot and will be busy in the summer! Go early or on a weekday to avoid the busiest times.
If you are travelling through South Eastern Europe and planning to visit North Macedonia, make sure to put Matka Canyon on your itinerary!
(If you’re looking for ideas and inspiration on an itinerary, check out our 6 weeks in South Eastern Europe!)