Travel guide to North Cyprus
I know North Cyprus is not an internationally recognised country and I shouldn’t be counting it as one but honestly who cares… The northern part of the island is a beautiful hidden gem in Mediterranean Sea waiting for you to be discovered. My brother lives in North Cyprus and I’ve been there for three times so far and every time I was there I was lucky enough to explore something new thanks to my brother who is an officially recognised tourist guide in North Cyprus.
Most of the international tourists come from the southern part of the island for day trips with organised tours. But there is plenty of possibilities to do it on your own and to stay for 3-4 days in the northern part.
Things to do and see in North Cyprus
You’ll be surprised how multifaceted your stay can get. Here are only some of the many things you can do in North Cyprus.
- Visit the beautiful historic towns Kyrenia (Girne), Famagusta (Gazimagusa) and Nicosia (Lefkoşa)
- Visit Crusader Castles, St. Hilarion, Buffavento and Kantara
- Go snorkelling / diving with sea turtles
- Watch turtles hatching
- Explore ancient history in Salamis Ancient City
- Visit a ghost town in Varosha (Maraş)
- Hike in Besparmak (Five Finger) Mountain range
- Eat Çiçek Dolması and halloumi cheese and drink turkish coffee
North Cyprus Travel Itinerary
Here are my personal highlights you should consider adding to your North Cyprus itinerary.
Kyrenia – Girne
Kyrenia is my favourite town in North Cyprus. This town has it all… History, nature, culture, beaches and peace… Take a walk in the narrow cobblestone streets and forget the time.
Kyrenia Harbour, where the tired boats rest, is the best place to have a delicious dinner while watching the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea. In the Kyrenia Castle, at the east end of the harbour, you can see how torture and imprisonment was in 12th century.
This idyllic small village with its beautiful narrow cobblestone streets is a perfect escape from real life. It is only 10 minutes away from downtown of Kyrenia and thanks to its location at the top of the hill you have beautiful views of the Taurus Mountains in the South coast of Turkey.
The gothic Bellapais Abbey dating back from 13th century is a must see attraction in North Cyprus. Its acoustic make this church a perfect place for classical music concerts. In the centre of the village there is the famous Tree of Idleness which is mentioned in Lawrence Durrell’s Cyprus Travelogue ‘Bitter Lemons’.
St. Hilarion Castle
Ever wanted to see the Castle of Sleeping Beauty? This is your chance! It is only a short drive from Kyrenia. St. Hilarion Castle dating back 7th century is the best preserved one of the three Crusader Castles.
The views from the top (approx. 700 metres) are simply breathtaking. Have a cold drink in the terrace of the souvenir shop enjoy the views of Kyrenia under the blue sky.
Turtle Bay Beach
The untouched empty beaches in the northern coast of the island offer the perfect conditions for the green and loggerhead turtles to lay their eggs. August and September are the best months to watch the turtles hatching. During summer Turtle Beach (Alagadi) is protected between 9pm and 5am to give the turtles space to lay their eggs and help the hatchlings to find the way to sea.
Nicosia – Lefkoşa
Nicosia is the last remaining divided capital in Europe since the war in 1974. Here in the border between these two lands, you can witness one of those absurd consequences of politics.
My highlights are the gothic Selimiye Mosque, which was once the St. Sophia Cathedral and the Great Inn (Büyük Han) which represents the typical Ottoman architecture for their commercial centres. The rooms on the ground floor were shops or storages while the rooms on the upper floor were used as bedrooms. Other important historical sights in Nicosia are the Bedestan and the Arab Ahmat Mosque.
Famagusta – Gazimagusa
Famagusta in the east of the island, played an important role in the European medieval history. Already in the 3th century there was a commercial market in Famagusta.
The city walls whose construction was advised by Leonardo da Vinci, Othello’s citadel in the harbour and Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque – St. Nicolas’ Cathedral are the most important sights in Famagusta. Especially the beautiful gothic cathedral from 13th century which turned into a mosque in 16th century is one of the most impressive buildings in North Cyprus.
Varosha – Maraş
Not far from Famagusta you have the chance to see a real No Man’s Land. The destroyed empty buildings at the empty beach have witnessed once mass tourism and the war in 1974. The sandy beach just in front of those buildings is probably one of the most beautiful ones of the whole island. What a contradiction… The ghost town of Maraş is today a border zone controlled by the UN between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.
St. Barnabas Monastery
This monastery near to Famagusta is named after St. Barnabas, a missionary for Christianity, whose followers buried him with a copy of the original Bible made by St. Mathews himself. Bishop Anthemios found his grave and the original Bible in 477 A.D. and built a church which later became a monastery. The St. Barnabas church has also a rich collection of icons dating back from 18th century.
Salamis Ancient City
OK, this is now the place to go back to 12th century BEFORE Christ. The city of Salamis witnessed many kings, wars and earthquakes till the people of Salamis abandoned the city in 7th century and settled in Famagusta. Have a time travel while wandering around the remains of the Salamis.
Karpaz is still on my list and my brother promised to take me to Golden Beach in Karpaz next time I visit him. Karpaz is in the tip of the island and has kilometres long lonely sandy beaches. I hope I manage to visit it before it gets discovered by mass tourism.
Good to know before you go to North Cyprus
North Cyprus is NOT in the Euro Zone and the local currency is Turkish Lira (which makes everything even cheaper). Although you can pay with British Pound, Euro and US Dollar almost everywhere I recommend you to bring local currency. Check XE.com for the current rates.
Crossing the border
There are several ways to cross border, the so called Green Line. I guess the best is via Nicosia which is central for both parts of the island. The most convenient way is as pedestrian which saves a lot of bureaucracy thanks to the easy procedure. You can cross the border in Nicosia in Ledra Street/Lokmaci in the Old City. With vehicles you can cross the border in Agios Dometios/Metehan (beware of long queues at weekends).
Bring your passport. EU and US citizens get a paper with a visa stamp on it which is valid for 90 days. Don’t loose it! Although there shouldn’t be any problems anymore, don’t let your passport get stamped. It might cause problems when entering Greece or even the South again.
Getting Around in North Cyprus
Between the main cities there are buses but they don’t drive after 6pm anymore. “Doltish” (shared taxi) is also an option. One ride between Nicosia and Kyrenia costs about 5 Turkish Lira, but they don’t drive in later hours either.
Due to poor public transport network hiring a car is the most efficient and convenient way of getting around in North Cyprus. If you hire the car in the South side you will need to buy an extra insurance when you cross the border. It costs something like 20€ per week. At Cyprus44 you can find detailed driving directions from Larnaca Airport to Kyrenia. If you hire the car in the North, keep in mind that you can not take the car to the South side. Before I forget… traffic moves on the left side.
What to eat and drink?
I always thought the Turkish-Cypriot cuisine would be the same like in Turkey, but it isn’t! There are lot of different things to try.
Çiçek Dolması for example! If you’re familiar with Turkish cuisine you probably heard of stuffed peppers (dolma). Well, this is also stuffed, BUT this time it’s stuffed blossoms of flowers on a zucchini plant. The speciality is that the blossoms wilt at the same they are picked. So they need to be stuffed before they wilt. It’s really a special meal!
Halloumi, Hellim in Turkish, is the most consumed cheese in Cyprus, I guess. This cheese made of goat and sheep milk can be consumed in many variations. Grilled, fried, as complimentary in a pastry (Hellim Böregi) and many more ways…
The whole island is famous for its citrus fruits and they have various ways of preparing fresh fruit drinks. It’s the best thing to drink as refreshment in these temperatures.
What is the best time to go to North Cyprus?
Hot! Avoid the months from June to September if you don’t like temperatures over 40˚ C. April and May can also get hot but still manageable. From November to March the temperatures are averagely 15˚ C. If you ask me the best months to visit are April and September/Oktober.
You can easily find any type of accommodation from Luxury Hotels
to family run B&Bs, depending on your budget. Check booking.com for the best deals.
For more insights I recommend Lonely Planet's Travel Guide for Cyprus. Don't forget to check my Pack List for useful travel items.
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