Is Skopje the European capital of air pollution? Unfortunately, yes. In my home country Germany, people almost only talk about Stuttgart when it comes to cities with high levels of particulate matter – air pollution in general. But, Stuttgart is far from being a worldwide negative example. In fact, Skopje, the capital of northern Macedonia is even worse here. Similar to Stuttgart, Skopje is located in a “cauldron,” in a valley surrounded by mountains. The airflow can hardly pass through here anyway. Especially in winter, as many people in northern Macedonia still heat their homes or buildings with wood (or coal), not to mention all the “smelly old cars”, which of course also contribute greatly to the air pollution in Skopje!
Through this, yes, during my visit to Skopje in early February of 2020, I could already perceive the slightly sweet smell of burnt wood in the taxi on my way from the airport to the city. Just by driving by, coming closer to the city, with closed windows. In a tunnel, through the lighting, you could clearly see how the exhaust fumes and fine dust amassed in it. Also the next day you could see the light grey smog in the air, and how the sun was only dimly shining behind it. Additionally you might want to learn more about electricity and power sockets in northern Macedonia.
How to check how bad the air pollution in Skopje is
Whether the air pollution will be “bad” during your visit to Skopje is always difficult to say beforehand. However, there is an official website which always gives up-to-date information about the current air condition in the Skopje and the region.
Have a look at the overview directly here: aqicn.org/city/macedonia, additionally I can recommend this general website for weather forecast in Skoje.
If the air quality in Skopje during your visit is always in the yellow to a red colour scale, it is recommended to wear a kind of breathing protection, masks in the meantime very well known by everyone. These are available in pharmacies in the city, it’s best to ask for “Респиратор” (“respirator” / respirator mask), or in the meantime, masks are available at supermarkets as well. For fine dust and general air pollution the “simple” masks are already suitable, only for viruses stronger masks are needed (FFP2 and better).