The capital and modern city of Skopje has everything that any other capital city can offer—fabulous churches, mosques, excellent museums, galleries, shopping, concerts, theater, opera, ballet and even casinos—but all on a smaller scale. And one of its greatest highlights is the biggest and oldest Turkish bazaar in Europe, originally rivaling the one in old Baghdad.

Skopje sits on the banks of the Vardar River, and much of its modernity is the result of an earthquake that leveled large sections of the city in 1963—the clock in the railway station has been preserved, forever stopped at 5:17 am, the moment when the quake struck. Fortunately for visitors, much of the old town survived. Cross the 11 arches of the Stone Bridge, built by the Turks in the 1400s, and you will find cultural and historical monuments that span centuries. Especially notable are the 15th-century Daud Pasha Turkish Baths, the largest in the region. But don't plan on getting your feet wet—today, the City Art Gallery occupies the premises. For a nice overview of the city, climb to the Kale Fortress, a ruined castle. Then visit the nearby Church of Sveti Spas (note the beautiful iconostasis). In the Mosque of Mustafa Pasha, look for the cracked dome caused by an earthquake.

A day trip can also be made to man-made Lake Matka, where you'll find a fantastic 22-mi/35-km canyon with a cliff-side footpath and numerous old churches surrounding the lake. There is also swimming, hiking, canoeing, climbing, cave exploring and great seafood restaurants there. Ohrid or Stobi, a colorful ancient town on the road to Greece, are also good day trips from Skopje. 120 mi/195 km northeast of Ohrid.

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