Skopje acts as the cultural, economic, political, and academic center of Macedonia, which is a rising force after declaring independence from Yugoslavia just over 20 years ago.
Skopje is located close to a lot of other European capital cities, but transport links between them are not great, especially by road. Although Sofia, Pristina, and Tirana are all less than 200 km away, they cannot easily be reached from the Macedonian capital. Skopje is at the crossroad of two Pan-European corridors, Corridor X and Corridor VIII, linking it to the rest of Eastern Europe.
The Belgrade-Thessaloniki and Skopje-Pristina international rail lines are of huge strategic importance to Macedonia, but the city of Skopje itself lacks its own local rail network.
Skopje bus station, which opened in 2005, is the main transport hub in the city, giving expats living in Skopje the chance to travel on to locations such as Istanbul, Sofia, Prague, Hamburg, and even Stockholm. An international airport named after Alexander the Great is located in Petrovec, some 20 km out of the city center, accommodating up to four million passengers per year and offering flights to cities including Vienna, Zürich, Brussels, Budapest, and Rome.
Plans are in place for a tram network to be built to serve Skopje, but the first line is not due to open until 2019, meaning expats living in Skopje will have to rely on the bus for now. There are also plenty of taxis, which are quite affordable to use.
Skopje is undoubtedly the cultural capital of Macedonia, with the National Theatre, the National Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Macedonian Opera and Ballet all based in the city. It is also home to important institutions such as the National and University Library "St. Kliment of Ohrid" and the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Contemporary art by young adults is showcased at the House of Culture Kočo Racin.
The Museum of Macedonia is one of the country's most important cultural landmarks, giving visitors a detailed guide to the history of the nation. A relatively new opening is the Macedonian Archaeological Museum, while the Contemporary Art Museum of Macedonia and the National Gallery of Macedonia are both well worth a visit for expatriates living in Skopje.
Further cultural sites of importance include the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia and the Macedonian Museum of Natural History. Skopje is famous around the world for being the birthplace of Mother Teresa and there is a small museum dedicated to her, too.
Skopje has its own zoo, which is home to about 500 animals representing around 100 species, and is located in Gradski Park. Improvements have been made after the zoo started working with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.
There is a diverse and exciting nightlife in Skopje, with the city center and the City Park both home to a wide choice of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Casinos are a big part of the culture in Skopje and a lot of the bigger hotels in the city have their own casinos.
Sports enthusiast will be glad to hear that handball, basketball, and volleyball are very popular in Skopje along with soccer, with local teams FK Vardar and FK Rabotnički both playing in the top national league. The Boris Trajkovski Sports Center is the largest leisure complex in Macedonia.
Skopje is widely thought to be a relatively safe city, but there can be some criminal activity at night, especially around the old square area. Crime levels in Macedonia overall are low, however. Petty street crimes such as pickpocketing and theft can happen and there are also plenty of beggars, but violent crime, especially against foreigners, is very rare in the city center.
Road conditions in general are quite poor and factors such as bad lighting, poor vehicle maintenance, and uneven road surfaces can make it quite dangerous to drive in Skopje, especially at night. Horse-drawn carts and livestock can sometimes be spotted using the roads outside of Skopje's city center.
In case of an emergency, expats living in Skopje can contact the local police force at 192, the Ambulance Service at 194, and Roadside Assistance at 196 and 9159.