The Amazing Heraclea Lyncestis Ruins in Bitola, Macedonia

Heraclea Lyncestis

The archaeological site of Heraclea Lyncestis is the ruins of an ancient Macedonian/Greek and later Roman settlement near Bitola in (North) Macedonia. The city dates back to the 4th Century BC and was founded by Philip II of Macedon.

The city of Heraclea Bitola was named after the Greek mythological figure Heracles, son of Zeus (check out my guide to the Temple of Zeus in Greece). In the year 148BC Macedonia became a Province of Rome and the city took on all the trappings of Roman life from thermal baths to theatre.

The site at Heraclea has been remarkably well-preserved and you can still see ancient pillars, a large amphitheater and some beautiful floor mosaics in the basilicas. All this is set beneath a stunning backdrop of mountains.

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I visited Heraclea while living in nearby Ohrid, Macedonia in late 2022. It is one of the most impressive ancient sites I’ve visited set in gorgeous mountainous surroundings. As it’s relatively off the beaten path wasn’t overcrowded (in fact I had the entire place to myself).

Where is Heraclea Lyncestis?

Heraclea Lyncenstis is located a mile south of the small North Macedonian city of Bitola in the very south of the country. Bitola is just 12 miles (20km) north of the border with Greece. See the location on Google maps.

Heraclea Lyncestis Opening Times

The site is open daily from 9:00am to 6:00pm in summer and 9:00am to 4:00pm in winter.

I visited at opening time on a Sunday out of season and had the entire site to myself.

Heraclea Lyncestis Tickets

A ticket for the archaeological site, ruins, museum and theatre is 150 Dinars ($2.60). Tickets can only be bought with cash as there is no card machine.

There is a small gift shop at the entrance selling postcards and books. I bought a book (mostly pictures, but text in English) for 300 Dinars ($5.20).

How Long Should I Spend at Heraclea Bitola?

I spent a leisurely two hours exploring the site on a beautiful sunny, winter morning in November 2022. You can see everything in an hour but two is better to get the most out of your visit.

The archeological site and theatre can be walked around freely and the three-floor museum can be explored in under 30 minutes as it just houses a few important artifacts, statues and pieces of mosaic.

How to Visit the Greco-Roman Ruins at Heraclea Macedonia

View of Heraclea from the Theatre
View of Heraclea from the Theatre

You can take a full-day tour from the capital Skopje which is an excellent way to explore Heraclea Macedonia and the city of Bitola. Book your tour with Get Your Guide.

If staying in Bitola the site is a 20-minute walk from the centre of town and 10 minutes from the main bus station.

There are daily buses to Bitola from Ohrid. I took the early bus at 6:00am and arrived in Bitola at 8:00. I had a coffee in one of the cafes at the beginning of the main pedestrian street while waiting for the museum to open.

Delfina Turs run the buses and you can buy tickets at the bus station in Ohrid. The last bus back is at 18:30, but it was very full (even in October) so make sure you buy your ticket in advance. The cost was 570 Dinars ($10.00).

What is There to See at Heraclea Lyncestis

Therma (Thermal Baths)

Thermal Baths
Thermal Baths

There were three Thermal baths at Bitola Heraclea; hot water baths, warm water baths and cold water baths. You can see the excavated therma and associated furnaces used to heat the hot and warm water pools.

Porticos

Roman Porticos at Heraclea Bitola
Roman Porticos at Heraclea Bitola

The main portico of the courtroom is located in the far north of the site. During the excavation, a statue of Titus Flavius Orestes with a Greek inscription was unearthed. Orestes was a Roman General and benefactor of Heraclea and father of Emperor Agustulus.

Basilicas and Mosaics

Roman moasaics in the basilicas of Heraclea
Roman moasaics in the basilicas of Heraclea

There are several basilicas across the site where you’ll find the incredible floor mosaics. Despite being uncovered, they are in excellent condition. Each mosaic incorporates different designs with the addition of animals and other motifs.

Roman Theatre

Roman Theatre
Roman Theatre

The Roman theatre seated up to 2,500 people and occupies the north-western side of Heraclea Macedonia. It’s one of the most impressive and well-maintained examples found anywhere.

The theatre dates back to the time of Hadrian (117 to 138AD) and was designed by Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius. It is located on a natural slope overlooking the entire site and nearby mountains.

It’s possible to climb up the steps to the top of the theatre which I did and the views were amazing. As with other such Roman theatres there are stone sections for the “plebs” and a section made of white marble for the rich.

Roman Street

Heraclea Lyncestis
Roman Street at Heraclea Lyncestis

There is a Roman street running through Heraclea North Macedonia from the entrance and past the basilicas, columns and museum. The street has retained its shape and is remarkably well-preserved considering it’s over 2,000 years old.

Heraclea Lyncestis Museum

There is a museum attached to the site with artifacts from the excavations at Heraclea including statues, mosaics, reliefs and other sculptures and artworks. The museum is spread over three floors and exits in front of the theatre.

How to Get to Bitola Heraclea

I took the bus from Ohrid which took three hours and was very scenic. There are three or four buses daily at around 6:00am 3:00pm and 7:00pm. Check at the Ohrid bus station and preferably buy your ticket the day before travel for exact times as the winter schedule is different to summer.

The bus station in Bitola is very close to Heraclea and can be walked in around ten minutes.

You can also book a tour like this one from Skopje.

What Else is There to do in Bitola, Macedonia

Bitola is a charming little town close to the border with Greece. It’s definitely worth spending a day or two exploring the old town, parks, churches, mosques and many streetside cafes.

Here are some of the best things to see in Bitola aside from Heraclea.

  • Walk along the pedestrian Shirok Sokak street with its many cafes
  • See the old clock tower
  • Haidar Khadi Mosque
  • Walk along the river

Check out this guide to backpacking Bitola from my friend over at Nomadic Backpacker!

Places to Stay in Bitola

Budget: Goldy Hostel – Book on Hostelworld

Mid-range: Hotel Bulevar – Check prices on Booking

Luxury: Grand Central Hotel – Reserve your room on Booking

Conclusion

I have a huge interest in Roman history (probably something to do with being born in Colchester, the once Roman capital of Britain) and I always scout out interesting Roman places on my travels.

Heraclea Lyncestis is definitely one of the best I’ve been to, along with Baleo Claudia in Spain, Pompei in Italy and Dara in Turkey. Book your trip to Heraclea with Get Your Guide today!

Read my other articles about North Macedonia:

Things to do in Ohrid

Bay of Bones Museum on the Water

Backpacking the Balkans

Dunhuang, Gobi Desert, China

About the author:

Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has travelled to over 60 countries, lived in China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.

Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of Europe and Asia by train, bus and boat.

Where I am now: Armenia 🇦🇲

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