Visiting Sveti Naum Monastery & The Bay of Bones

Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 03:34 pm

No trip to North Macedonia’s lakeside city of Ohrid would be complete without visiting Sveti Naum Monastery. Also known as St. Naum, the scenic monastery is situated about 29 km south of town, just next to the Albanian border. While there are a few different ways to get there, you can’t go wrong with a ferry ride along the lake.

As we’ll go over below, visiting Sveti Naum is about more than just seeing a single medieval monastery. Don’t miss the secret walking trail to additional smaller churches and the nearby spring. And the area also happens to be home to one of Lake Ohrid’s best beaches. The unique archaeological site Bay of Bones, meanwhile, can be visited along the way.

After learning about all there is to see and do at Sveti Naum, be sure to check the end of the article to learn more about transportation and where to stay in Ohrid.

The Ferry Ride

There are a number of ways to get to Sveti Naum from central Ohrid, including bus and private taxi (learn more below). But the best option by far is the ferry. Not only is it the most scenic option, but it only costs €10 for a full-day excursion.

Visiting Sveti Naum

The relaxing cruise along Lake Ohrid takes about 90 minutes each way. And to make the day even more interesting, look for a company that stops at the Bay of Bones archaeological site on the way to Sveti Naum.

To arrange a boat tour, simply show up at Ohrid’s main pier before 10:00 in the morning and pay on the boat.

Visiting Sveti Naum

Note that there will also be touts advertising smaller ‘exclusive’ boats for €20. For double the price, they’ll tell you, you can visit the Bay of Bones and Sveti Zaum Monastery. But as mentioned, some big ferries do indeed stop at the Bay of Bones, although not at Sveti Zaum (more below).

The Bay of Bones

The Bay of Bones is rather unique as archaeological sites go. Thousands of years ago, local inhabitants of the Lake Ohrid region built settlements atop the water that were supported by thousands of wooden beams.

Archaeologists believe that the settlement at this particular spot flourished between 1200 and 600 BC. 

Visiting Bay of Bones Ohrid

Underwater excavations of the lakebed commenced in the 1990s. Over the years, archaeologists discovered enough evidence to help them conjure up an image of how the settlement here probably looked.

Visiting Bay of Bones Ohrid
Visiting Bay of Bones Ohrid
Visiting Sveti Naum Bay of Bones

While everything visitors see today is a modern reconstruction, it was carefully created based on found evidence. Archaeologists determined that there were at least two dozen huts made of wood and plaster and covered with thatched roofs. 

And that’s the number on display today, though there were likely many similar settlements all along the lakefront.

While the rectangular huts represent residences, the round huts were likely used as religious structures.

Visiting Bay of Bones Ohrid
Visiting Bay of Bones Ohrid

The nearby museum displays some of the findings from the excavations, including ceramic plates, flint knives, stone grinders, axes and fishing nets.

As for bones? Plenty of animal remains were discovered as well, though the site’s name choice is still a little misleading, and clearly chosen for dramatic effect.

Whether it’s open or not is unclear, but there’s also a small Roman fortress on a plateau above the lakefront.

Visiting Bay of Bones Ohrid

As mentioned above, most ferry tours do not make a stop here, though all boats will go past it to and from Sveti Naum Monastery. If the Bay of Bones sounds like something you’d like to see, be sure to choose the right tour.

I went with the Christina Nova company, as their sign specifically mentioned a stop at Bay of Bones. A few other companies, such as Alexandria, stop here as well.

Also note that the entry fee, around 120 MKD at the time of my visit, is not included in the price of the ferry tour. Whether you decide to visit or not, the boat will wait at the site for around 30-40 minutes.

Visiting Bay of Bones Ohrid
Visiting Bay of Bones Ohrid

The Boat Ride, Cont.

Back in the boat, we passed by charming lakefront villages and beach resorts. And above them in the distance are the green mountains of Galičica National Park. 

If you’re into hiking, it’s well worth setting aside an extra day in Ohrid to explore Galičica, which you can learn more about here.

Before arriving at our final destination, we passed by a smaller church known as Sveti Zaum, or the Church of Holy Mother Zahumska. While the original was built in 1361, it was later demolished in 1898 and rebuilt from scratch.

The church is only accessible by boat, and most larger ferries won’t stop there. As mentioned above, the only way the average visitor can go is to pay €20 for one of the smaller boat tours.

Simply judging from the outside, though, it doesn’t look too terribly impressive. Having glimpsed it from the boat, I had no regrets about choosing to take the larger ferry for half the price. 

If you’re looking for something similar while in the Ohrid region, the lakefront church of St. John the Theologian is an easy walk from the town center.

Visiting Sveti Naum

Before long, our final destination, Sveti Naum, came into view. Arriving a little past noon, we’d have until 15:30 to freely explore the area before the return trip. As I’d soon learn, this was more than enough time.

Visiting Bay of Bones Ohrid

Visiting Sveti Naum Monastery

Sveti Naum, or Saint Naum Monastery, is named after the Bulgarian writer and educator who lived from 830-910. Together with St. Clement of Ohrid, he spent time as a Christian missionary in Central Europe before returning to the Ohrid region.

Both Naum and Clement were disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius, inventors of the Cyrillic script used throughout Slavic countries to this day. Quite fittingly, this monastery long functioned as an educational center.

Visiting Sveti Naum
Visiting Sveti Naum
Visiting Sveti Naum

Around the year 905, St. Naum established a church here that was known as the Church of the Holy Archangels. It was eventually destroyed by the Ottomans in the 15th century, however. 

The Church of Sveti Naum was later built from the 16th-17th centuries to take its place, with a new tomb for St. Naum being built inside.

Constructed with multiple domes, it takes on a clear Byzantine architectural style. While it’s indeed a beautiful church, it was smaller than I’d expected given all the hype it gets as Ohrid’s top attraction. The real highlight, however, is its stunning frescoes.

If you’ve just entered North Macedonia as I had, you may be surprised to learn that foreigners are charged an entry fee at most Orthodox churches here. But paying  100 MKD to see the frescoes and iconostasis of Sveti Naum is well worth it.

Visiting Sveti Naum

While a sign outside states that no photography is allowed, I asked the man at the ticket booth if I could use my camera, and he said it would be fine. As I’d experience at many places throughout North Macedonia, simply ask and you’ll likely be granted permission.

Visiting Sveti Naum

The highlight of the nave is the elaborate wooden iconostasis that was created in 1711. The colorful frescoes adorning the rest of the church, meanwhile, were added later in the 19th century 

Visiting Sveti Naum
Visiting Sveti Naum
Visiting Sveti Naum

Sveti Naum’s tomb can be found in one of the rooms to the side. It too is adorned in vivid frescoes, some of which appear to depict his funeral. 

Interestingly, some visitors even claim to hear a faint sound of a heartbeat when they place their ear next to the tomb!

Visiting Sveti Naum
Visiting Sveti Naum

Also be sure to explore the outer garden. A highlight of the visit for many is the community of peacocks hanging out around the church. And overlooking the lake, one can get a clear view of Pogradec, Albania in the distance.

Visiting Sveti Naum
Visiting Sveti Naum

Around Sveti Naum

Finished with the church, there’s still plenty to do around the area. One of the main activities is a boat ride through the nearby springs. But if you’re visiting alone and on a budget, you might as well forget about it.

Visiting Sveti Naum
Visiting Sveti Naum

The ride costs 600 MKD per boat. It’s not a bad deal if you’re splitting the cost with other people, but you’re unlikely to find other solo travelers visiting Sveti Naum. As nice as it sounded, I wasn’t willing to pay as much as the ferry excursion itself cost for a 30-minute ride.

But what the boat owners won’t tell you is that there’s a free walking trail that takes people to many of the same landmarks.

Visiting Sveti Naum

Southeast of the main monastery is a small church called St. Petka. With modern frescoes, it’s not especially interesting. But it’s from behind this church that the walking trail begins. Be sure to check the app for details.

Visiting Sveti Naum
Visiting Sveti Naum

The trail will have you walking parallel to the Springs of St. Naum, but trees obstruct the view for the most part. Eventually, you’ll arrive at another small church, behind which you can get a nice view of the water.

Moving on, you’ll get a few more opportunities here and there to look at the spring. Despite the large crowds present at Sveti Naum on the day of my visit, I didn’t encounter a single other person on this trail.

Eventually, I made it to a third church called St. Athanasius, the most impressive of the bunch. Unfortunately, it was locked, but the views were great nonetheless.

Visiting Sveti Naum

Arriving back at the main area, I still had a couple of hours to kill before the return boat’s departure. Only then did I realize my major mistake.

While I’d read that Sveti Naum’s beaches were ideal for swimming, the thought of taking a dip in the lake hadn’t crossed my mind that day. What with the stop at Bay of Bones, a visit to the main church and the nature trail, I wasn’t anticipating there being much time for relaxing.

Visiting Sveti Naum

If you’re visiting Sveti Naum on a ferry tour from Ohrid, learn from my mistake and be sure to bring swimwear. There will be plenty of time to swim and there are even small wooden shacks on the beach in which to change.

Not knowing the dress code at churches in Macedonia, I’d come dressed in jeans. But entering Sveti Naum in shorts, it turned out, was no issue at all. And so on this sweltering summer day, I jealously sat and watched the other visitors enjoying the cool water.

I would, at least, get my chance for a dip in the lake at a later point in my stay.

Visiting Sveti Naum

Sveti Naum is also home to a couple of restaurants, one of which is situated on a small island. As you’d expect, they’re a little bit pricier than what you’re going to find in town.

Having brought my own snacks, I didn’t try either of them but made another visit to the main church to kill the time. Finally, it was time for the boat back to Ohrid, throughout which I sat enjoying the scenic mountains of Galičica National Park.

Additional Info

Ohrid is arguably North Macedonia’s number one tourism destination. Accordingly, you’ll find direct connections with most Macedonian cities.

You can take a direct bus from Skopje or nearby Bitola. Just be sure to check the schedules at the bus station in advance. Buses were running on a reduced schedule due to the pandemic during my visit, and for some routes there were only a few buses per day.

If you’re coming from Bitola and no bus is about to depart, you can take a shared taxi from outside the bus station which will cost the same (around 200 MKD).

You can also take direct buses to Ohrid from neighboring countries, with buses coming in from as far away as Belgrade.

If you’re coming from southern Albania, figuring out the bus routes can be a bit tricky. There’s no direct bus from Korçë, despite its proximity to the border. Instead, you’ll need to take a bus to Pogradec (just across from Sveti Naum) and then another bus to the border.

After that, you’ll need to walk across the border and then find another bus or taxi for Ohrid on the other side. If you don’t have much luggage, you can even stop at Sveti Naum on the way.

While I’d planned to enter Ohrid from Korçë/Pogradec, I ended up needing to go pick up a package in Vlorë, where I’d previously been living. Fortunately, there was a direct bus from Vlorë to Ohrid that also made stops in Durrës and Elbasan.

I went with a company called Senad Tours, which took us through the border crossing to the north of the lake rather than the one near Sveti Naum. It was one of the easiest border crossings of my life, with none of us even needing to exit the minibus.

Ohrid’s bus station is a few kilometers out of town, and you’ll need to take a taxi to your hotel if they’re not willing to come and pick you up.

For those coming from farther away, Ohrid’s St. Paul the Apostle International Airport has direct connections with various cities throughout Europe.

Ohrid consists of the Old City area and the modern city just southeast of it. Ideally, you’ll want to stay within or as close to the Old City as possible. As Ohrid isn’t very large, staying somewhere in the modern city near the lake should be fine, as long as you’re within walking distance of the main attractions.

If you’re not on a tight budget, some of the highest-rated options in the historical center include Tito’s Place, Galeb Apartment and City Center Apartment.

As I was on a budget, I stayed in a place called Surban, situated just next to the ancient theater. For around €10 a night I had a private room with a shared bathroom. But as I was the only guest for the first few nights, this wasn’t a big deal.

While the room was rather small and simple, the host was incredibly helpful and kind. She even picked me up and dropped me off at the bus station for no extra charge.

In summary, there are three options for visiting Sveti Naum: taxi, bus or ferry.

A taxi will cost around €16 one-way, and you’d also have to negotiate wait time.

Public buses are the cheapest option. But at the time of writing, only a few seem to be departing each day due to the pandemic.

The ferries, on the other hand, have been running regularly at full capacity. With so many companies competing with one another, the ferries are cheap at only €10 roundtrip.

They typically depart around 10:00 in the morning, with the return boat leaving Sveti Naum at around 15:30. This gets you back in town around 17:00.

As mentioned above, not all of them stop at Bay of Bones. And it seems like not each company operates every day, either. Upon arrival in Ohrid, be sure to take a walk near the lake where you can find the signs for each company along with their schedule for that week.

Then, simply show up on the morning of the ferry ride of your choosing. I went on a boat called Christina Nova and had a good experience with them.

Alternatively, if budget is not a major concern, you may also want to consider a private and more intimate tour like this one.

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