Balkans

Visiting North Macedonia’s Painted Mosque: A Day Trip from Skopje to Tetovo

Tetovo Mosque and the Arabati Baba Teke Dervish Monastery are two of North Macedonia’s most celebrated religious sites. Here’s how you can visit both on an easy day trip from Skopje by bus.

When choosing your Skopje day trips, make sure Tetovo, North Macedonia’s third-biggest city, is on your list. Just 50 km from Skopje and accessible by bus in a little over an hour, it’s an ideal side trip for anyone who’s interested in local culture and religious history.

Looking for an easy day trip from Skopje? Here's how to visit 2 of the country's top religious sites, Tetovo Mosque & Arabati Baba Teke, by bus | First glimpse of Tetovo Mosque through the gate that surrounds the property.
First glimpse of Tetovo Mosque through the gate that surrounds the property.

Here are my full instructions for visiting Tetovo from Skopje by bus, plus a short guide to the top things to do in Tetovo, including the famous painted mosque, Tetovo Mosque (Šarena Mosque), and the Arabati Baba Teke Dervish House.

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Why visit Tetovo?

The more I travel, the more I realise that small towns are where it’s at. In the week we stayed in Skopje, North Macedonia’s capital, I fell in love with the big city – but I’m still glad we took the time to visit Tetovo and experience a slightly different side to the country’s north.

It only takes about an hour each way and some pocket change to travel from Skopje to Tetovo. In a couple of hours on foot, you can see the two main attractions, have lunch, and get a good look at Tetovo – itself a rather pleasant, leafy city.

There are two things people travel to Tetovo for: The Tetovo Mosque, also commonly referred to as The Painted Mosque and officially called Šarena Mosque or The Pasha’s Pied Mosque, and Arabati Baba Teke, Tetovo’s Dervish Monastery.

Both are impressive, especially the mosque, and unique to the region – you can see mosques and Dervish tekes in lots of Balkan countries, but nothing like Tetovo’s. I highly recommend carving a few hours out of your own Skopje itinerary to see them.

Skopje Tetovo bus instructions

It’s easy and cheap to travel between Skopje and Tetovo by bus. Inter-city buses depart regularly (every 30 to 40 minutes) for Tetovo from Skopje’s main transport hub. (Note that most buses will be bound for Gostivar, which lies a 30 km further south of Tetovo.) The first bus goes from Skopje at 4.15am, and the last bus leaves Tetovo at 9.55pm. The journey takes between 50 and 75 minutes, depending on traffic in the city.

Tickets to Tetovo cost 130 denar and return tickets cost 120 denar, bringing the grand total for transport to $4.50 USD. It’s a small price to pay to see one of the most beautiful mosques in the Balkans, if not the entire world.

After purchasing tickets at the cash counter inside, we boarded a Gostivar-bound bus – a large coach with onboard toilets and luggage room – at Skopje bus terminal. It made a few more stops (including out the front of Skopje City Mall) before leaving the city and heading for Tetovo via a well-maintained stretch of road. On the way, you pass by fields and small villages. The road includes two tolls – good to know if you’re self-driving. If you’re on the bus, you don’t need to do anything. In Tetovo, we jumped off at the roundabout near the green market.

Check bus times for the Skopje to Tetovo route here.

The return journey: Tetovo to Skopje

To get back to Skopje, we walked to Tetovo’s main bus station (marked on the map) and jumped straight on an already full coach. As mentioned, the return ticket was 10 denars cheaper, probably because it was a peak hour bus that only serviced the Tetovo to Skopje route. Buses terminate at Skopje’s transport terminal – or you can get out early at Skopje City Mall or any one of the stops along Bulevar Partizanski Odredi.

Check return bus times for Tetovo to Skopje here.

Visiting Tetovo Mosque, the famous ‘Painted Mosque’

Your first stop after arriving in Tetovo should be the Tetovo Mosque. Officially called Šarena Džamija (‘Decorated Mosque’), it’s an exquisite example of Ottoman baroque architecture and incorporates many features that make it unique in Southeast Europe. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful mosques in the Balkans and the Middle East and let me tell you, this is by far the most impressive I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Looking for an easy day trip from Skopje? Here's how to visit 2 of the country's top religious sites, Tetovo Mosque & Arabati Baba Teke, by bus | The majestic Tetovo Mosque!
The majestic Tetovo Mosque!

History of Tetovo Mosque

The Tetovo Mosque was originally constructed as part of a complex, which included the adjacent hamam, stone bridge, and a caravanserai that no longer exists, in the year 1495. The mosque was designed by Isak Bey and financed by two sisters from Tetovo – unusual for the time, as religious buildings were typically sponsored by male politicians.

In 1833, after the mosque sustained serious fire damage, it was rebuilt and given a new name, Pasha’s Mosque. This was a tribute to the second benefactor, Adurahman Pasha, an Ottoman politician of Albanian descent who owned land in Tetovo.

Looking for an easy day trip from Skopje? Here's how to visit 2 of the country's top religious sites, Tetovo Mosque & Arabati Baba Teke, by bus | Miniatures painted around the dome.
Miniatures painted around the dome.

According to inscriptions found in the mosque, the Pasha’s two daughters, Hoorshide and Mensoureh, had some input into the re-design. There’s conflicting information about just when and by whom the decorations were installed, but one thing’s for sure: They reflect a woman’s taste and attention to detail. Local craftsmen from Debar, a town near Ohrid, were contracted to complete the mosque’s frescoes. A stone mausoleum was also constructed at this time to house the two sisters’ remains.

In the intervening years, Tetovo Mosque has undergone various renovations. It’s incredibly well preserved for a building of its age – the paintings are probably just as vibrant as they day they were created.

Tetovo Mosque frescoes

What makes the Tetovo Mosque so unique is its ornate wall paintings, which feature both inside and out. Created using a ‘secco’ technique, where pigments are combined with an organic binder – in this case eggs – and applied directly to dry plaster. It’s said that more than 30,000 eggs were used for the paint and glaze.

Inside, the mosque is covered from dome to carpet with bright patterns. Floral, geometric and arabesque characters feature in the place of the usual Islamic motifs, and the dominant colours are earthy golds and reds. Curved lines, fleur-de-lis-like shapes, bouquets and grapevines are almost Austro-Hungarian in appearance.

Looking for an easy day trip from Skopje? Here's how to visit 2 of the country's top religious sites, Tetovo Mosque & Arabati Baba Teke, by bus | Detailing on the interior dome.
Detailing on the interior dome.

Encircling the dome are round medallions containing miniature depictions of different landscapes and buildings – similar to those we saw on houses in Plovdiv. The stand out among these is a depiction of Mecca, thought to be the only fresco of its kind in Southeast Europe.

Patterns are traditionally added to mosques to augment the spiritual ambiance and heighten worshipers’ focus to enhance the rhythm of prayer. The paintings inside Tetovo Mosque are certainly hypnotic – it must be a transcendent experience indeed to pray inside such a magnificent work of art.

Other features of Tetovo Mosque

The mosque’s Mihrab (prayer niche) is made from white stone, a clever visual contrast to the walls and dome. Above the mosque entrance, there are three rounded balconies with beautifully carved wooden banisters. The mosque is lit by a central chandelier surrounded by a set of four smaller hanging lights.

Thirteen windows line both sides of the mosque, each with its own set of painted wooden shutters. In places where there’s no window, ‘false’ shutters have been painted onto the wall to ensure perfect symmetry. In the window niches, you’ll probably see Rehal (wooden stands used to hold the Quran) and Misbaha prayer beads laid out in neat rows.

Outside, the mosque is defined by similarly intricate but less vivid frescoes. The sides of the mosque are covered with uniform panels that resemble a spread of playing cards from a distance. Also on the mosque grounds is a Sahn (front courtyard), ablution fountain, and stone mausoleum, called a Türbe.

Looking for an easy day trip from Skopje? Here's how to visit 2 of the country's top religious sites, Tetovo Mosque & Arabati Baba Teke, by bus | The entrance to Tetovo Mosque.
The entrance to Tetovo Mosque.

Another curious element to the mosque’s design is that the Qubba dome, so prominent on the inside, is not really visible from the outside. The roof appears flat – another thing that makes Tetovo Mosque unique among its peers.

Tetovo Mosque: Visitor’s tips

  • There is groundskeeper at the mosque who unlocks the door for visitors. He doesn’t speak much English, but you can find a few information panels scattered throughout the mosque grounds.
  • Tetovo Mosque is an active mosque, so you might not be permitted to go inside during prayer times. If this is the case, come back later.
  • Entrance to Tetovo Mosque is free. Visitor’s are encouraged to leave a donation in the box on the left as you enter.
  • You must remove your shoes before entering the mosque and stow them on the racks outside. Women are also required to cover their hair. If you forget your own, there is a box of scarves at the entrance.
  • Photography inside and outside the mosque is permitted and welcomed.
  • There is a set of public toilets at the front of the mosque. They are clean, and cost 20 MKD to use.

Visiting Arabati Baba Teke, Tetovo’s Dervish Monastery

Arabati Baba Teke, Tetovo’s Dervish Monastery or Dervish House, is another iconic religious building in Tetovo. It’s not as visually impressive as the mosque, but it does have a fascinating history. Despite a challenging history, it’s also considered the largest and most well-preserved teke in the western Balkans.

Looking for an easy day trip from Skopje? Here's how to visit 2 of the country's top religious sites, Tetovo Mosque & Arabati Baba Teke, by bus | The Dervish Monastery in Tetovo.
The Dervish Monastery in Tetovo.

The teke is a vast walled complex comprised of an inn, library, kitchen, fountains, prayer rooms, towers, a cemetery, lodgings, and other buildings. We were lucky enough to meet and spend time with the head of the teke and leader of the Macedonian Bektashi community. One of the things he told us was that the complex used to be much larger. Sadly, many of the wooden buildings are abandoned and ruined, but restorations are underway. The Sunni mosque is functioning, and we saw about a dozen people arrive for afternoon prayers when we were there.

Looking for an easy day trip from Skopje? Here's how to visit 2 of the country's top religious sites, Tetovo Mosque & Arabati Baba Teke, by bus | Detailing on the wooden building that houses the Dervish fountain.
Detailing on the wooden building that houses the Dervish fountain.

History of Arabati Baba Teke

The teke was built in 1538 – just 30 years after the Tetovo Monastery – around the türbe tomb of Sersem Ali Baba, an Ottoman Dervish. It was augmented in 1799 and turned into a large precinct for the local Bektashi community. The Bektashi were expelled from the area in 1912 and the teke was left in ruins. Later, it was designated state property of Yugoslavia and turned into a hotel and museum.

Looking for an easy day trip from Skopje? Here's how to visit 2 of the country's top religious sites, Tetovo Mosque & Arabati Baba Teke, by bus | One of the buildings inside the Dervish complex.
One of the buildings inside the Dervish complex.

Tetovo’s Bektashi community has fought hard to regain ownership of the teke and is currently in the process of restoring the buildings. The gardens and cemetery are beautifully maintained and a nice place for a short walk. If you’re lucky, you might find Benny (the community leader) strolling around – he’ll surely invite you for a cup of coffee.

Arabati Baba Teke: Visitor’s tips

  • Entrance to the Teke is free. We couldn’t find a place to make a donation – if you really want to leave a token of appreciation, just ask one of the grounds staff.
  • There is an active mosque inside Arabati Baba Teke so as with the Tetovo Mosque, you might not be permitted inside during prayer time.

Other things to do in Tetovo

  • Stone bridge: Tetovo’s single-arched stone bridge is thought to have been built in the 15th century. It still links the two sides of town; you have to pass over it to reach the mosque.
  • Tetovo Hamam: Located directly opposite the mosque on the bank of the river, this is a really impressive stone bathhouse, with prominent domes. Like in Skopje, the hamam now houses a museum, The Gallery of Visual Arts. It’s free to enter and I recommend having a walk through so you can see the domes from the inside.
  • Tetovo Fortress: Like most towns of its size, Tetovo also has a stone fortress built in a strategic elevated position. Tetovo’s fortress was built in 1820 by Adurahman Pasha, the same man who sponsored the mosque’s rehabilitation.
  • Green market: There is a pleasant undercover green market in the centre of Tetovo, right at the roundabout where the bus drops passengers off. If markets are your thing, you might like to take a walk through before continuing on to the mosque.
  • Cafes & restaurants: One of Tetovo’s main street, Boris Kidrikj, is lined with cafes from the roundabout all the way down to the river. There are a fair few local restaurants, too. We ate lunch at Restaurant Sedra, a Tetovo institution that’s been serving up kjebapčinja and grilled meat since the early 1950s.
Looking for an easy day trip from Skopje? Here's how to visit 2 of the country's top religious sites, Tetovo Mosque & Arabati Baba Teke, by bus | A room inside Arabati Baba Teke. The teke is known to take visitors – you never know, they might have a room available!
A room inside Arabati Baba Teke. The teke is known to take visitors – you never know, they might have a room available!

Where to stay in Tetovo

If you want to stay longer in Tetevo or maybe stop off for a night on your way from Skopje to Mavrovo National Park or Ohrid (it’s perfectly positioned for it), there are a couple of hotels in town, including a Mercure. Hotel Lirak, Tetovo’s first hotel, is a bit more retro but budget friendly, with rooms starting from $22/night.

Skopje Tetovo map

On this map I’ve marked the key Skopje Tetovo transportation points (bus stations and stands), plus a recommended walking route for exploring Tetovo.


Have you been to Tetovo Mosque or Arabati Baba Teke? What’s your favourite religious building in the region?


Tetovo Mosque: Pin it!

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