10 great things to do in Northern Cyprus

Giddy heights, calming walks and divine art

10 great things to do in Northern Cyprus Kyrenia harbour
By Michael Hodges

You could argue that the pace of life north of the border in Cyprus stems from a prolonged sense of limbo. Internationally, Turkey is still the only country that recognises the areas it occupies here as a legitimate state - the Greek and Turkish Cypriot parts of the island having been closed to each other following the Turkish army's invasion of 1974. But since the Republic of Cyprus's EU accession, the north has been considered EU territory with a disputed foreign military presence, resulting in a distinctive atmosphere. It may take a few days to adjust to the relaxed pace, but it will be well worth it.

1 Kick ass

Or rather don't, as one of the few things to bring Turkish and Greek Cypriots together is the campaign to save the population of wild donkeys on Cyprus's panhandle peninsula of Karpas. Home to a national park packed with rare flora and fauna, it also features miles of lonely beach and sand dune. It's not all wild, if you want to watch the super rich at play then Karpas Gate Marina was built primarily for their super yachts. But more fun, perhaps, to spend time with donkeys.

2 Scare yourself to death

The Kyrenia mountain range is a sharp and jagged outcrop that dominates the north of the island and has been used as natural defensive position by Byzantines, Crusaders, Venetian and Ottomans. The highest of the surviving fortifications, the castle of Buffo Vento (Venetian Italian for 'defier of the winds'), is reached by a tortuous track that lacks such innovations as a safety fence or even tarmac. The views are utterly sensational, but take your eyes off the road to look at them there's a good chance you'll find yourself hurtling down 1,000 feet of rock face.

3 Get idle

Few trees exert the same spell as the Tree of Idleness, the carob by the café the centre of the village of Bellapais which features in Lawrence Durrell's famous Cyprus travelogue 'Bitter Lemons'. The English novelist stayed here in the mid-1950s before the island was divided at the beginning of the Greek Cypriot revolt against British rule and renovated a farm at the top of the hill. You are more likely to be passed by a motor scooter than the heard of cattle that regular thundered through the village when Durrell was in Bellapais, but come for the near idyllic ruins of the medieval abbey and the views over the coast and out across the water to the hulking ridge of Anatolia's Taurus Mountains.

4 See a dummy

Few Turkish towns can long resist the urge to open an ethnographic museum and fill it with waxwork dummies in traditional Anatolian peasant dress. But Turkish Cyprus offers the fan of historical display through the medium of shop mannequins something different, in particular the gruesome display at Kyrenia (Girne) Castle showing the torture and imprisonment of a 12th century nobleman. There are waxwork prisoners with beards and loincloths, reproduction torture devices, wax work torturers with amusing hats, waxwork guards and, in one of the original pits, a particularly miserable waxwork victim of solitary confinement. On top of all that you can get an ice cream in the courtyard and there is a shipwreck museum in a separate part of the museum.

5 Eat fish

If the wax work torture scenes give you an appetite then you are only minutes away from the fish restaurants of Kyrenia harbour, which line the quayside underneath the Venetian warehouse at the spot where the fishing boats unload their catch. Stick to the castle end of the harbour if you like very fresh fish and chilled white wine, and the opposite end if you like bars where Russians smoke and listen to bangin' techno.

6 Follow St Paul

Not much of the eastern Med escaped the attention of Christianity's master propagandist but much of the ancient city of Salamis looks as it would have done when St Paul came here circa 45 AD. A port that silted up and then simply faded, it must be one of best-preserved ancient cities in the region. If not quite Leptis Magna, then certainly a match for Caesarea 150 miles away over the Mediterranean.

7 Take a promenade

Dusk in Northern Cyprus can be spectacular and you don't get a better view of the sun sliding into the sea than from the quayside in Girne (Kyrenia). In a Cypriot passarela, families comes out to stroll and enjoy the small playgrounds doted along the shore, the best of which, if you a parent nearing the end of his or her tether is at Kordonboyu Park, on the foreshore to the east of the harbour, where small bar overlook the swings and, over an ice cold gin and tonic - this did used to be a British island after all - you can catch one of the best sunsets in the Mediterranean.

8 Check out the front line

Head for Nicosia and the Ledra crossing point in the Green Line that, since the 1974 war, marks the UN patrolled no man's land between the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots in Europe's last divided capital. Look out for the bullet pocked Ledra Palace as you go through no man's land. But if bullet holes aren't your thing stay on the Turkish side of the line and enjoy the sensationally surreal Nicosia mosque, actually a gothic cathedral, which the Ottomans attached a minaret to when they took the city in 1570. 

9 See truly iconic art

Ironically given its situation on the Turkish side of the line, the Monastery of St Barnabas Icon museum, near Famagusta, contains one of the island's most impressive collections of Greek Orthodox and Byzantine Art. The deconsecrated main chapel is no longer home to religious services but serves instead to illustrate the genius of the icon painter. On a hot day escape into the cool dark church disturbed only by the rustle of bats above, find a treasure trove of orthodox religious art; saints and biblical scenes, some darkened by centuries of dirt and dust, others apparently as fresh and bright as the day they were painted.

10 Take it easy

No need to run around looking for boutique hotels - though they do exist - keep a lid on prices and book with a superior package provider like Green Island and stay at one of many hotels on the strip between the mountains and the island's northern coast. Although a Turkish 'Dolmus' taxi system operates in the island, car hire is the best option if you really want to make the most of the occasionally astounding scenery. Everything is pretty near, it's only half an hour to drive over the mountain to Nicosia and another hour east from there to Salamis and Famagusta and you'll appreciate cold drink by the hotel pool if things get a little too hot on the road - temperatures can reach 27 Celsius in August.

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By er - Feb 24 2016

jackal is in la la land. NORTH Cyprus DOES exist and is a fantastic place to visit.

By Jackal - Jan 13 2016

Sorry but nowhere is noticed that "North Cyprus" is an illigaly occupied territory NON-RECOGNIZED by any state in the world (except turkey) and if u going to have problems in fact noone can help you!

By Ian - Dec 30 2015

Information about Cyprus you can find here: www.theislandofcyprus.blogspot.com

By posse26 - Oct 20 2015

Car hire or travel
for Cyprus

By Altan Ali - Oct 8 2015

Ive regularly visited both sides of the island but my father was Turkish Cypriot and is buried on the island. This island will never have unification until the generation that witnessed the ethnic cleansing of the Greeks and subsequent invasion by Turkey have passed.

People are too precious about things that do not belong to them. For the record and in complete disagreement with some morons on this page, the Turkish Cypriots (Cypriots) are amongst the nicest and friendly people in the world as are the Greek Cypriots (Cypriots). That is all.

By John Crothers - Sep 15 2015

''Temperatures can reach 27 degrees in August''!! Has your reporter really ever been there in the searing heat of summer? We've just had 41 degrees in N Nicosia in September - and the average for July and August is more like 37 degrees!! The mid-forties are not totally unknown either...

By mary moomoo - Jul 14 2015

İve lived here safe n happy for yrs. İt was voted one of 10 safest places to live on earth. İ wud never go back to uk.

By stranger - Jun 24 2015

helo .. can someone help me for information? im not turkish or greek .. just a stranger who want to visit northern cyprus and maybe stay for long term.

with all the history of this island.. is it possible for a stranger visit cyprus from northern cyprus ? or is that some rules for it ? and what if i come to cyprus with some turkish friends ?

until now i can see some tension of 2 country still exist ... do i need to worries about this ?

im just hoping this all tension will not long last because this island is very very beautiful

By aliarsenal - May 25 2015

always the turks at fault..never the greeks...invaded by mainland greece butchered and buried alive and when we responde by fighting back and freeing ourselves we become butchers that illegally invaded cyprus..turkish cypriots have lived on the island long enough to have rights .....no more living under the greek cypriot law...long live kktc trnc..goodnight

By Uzi Sol - Mar 30 2015

You know guys if you have the power and courage to get back and unite the island why dont do so!!! Stop messing around. You killed Turks there and you should consider yourself luck cause we could easliy get the other part too. So stop crying like a baby be mature and try to admit that you did massacre and forced people to move be fair. do you remember EOKA if you dont let me remind you. Those terrorists were behind the massacre they killed many whom were your grandfathers stop lying and acting like innocent.

By KalFil - Mar 27 2015

This article is offensive since you recognize this illegal state and promote to people to visit an unsafe and dangerous area. Highly disappointing!

By nikolas - Oct 10 2014

Since you aknoweldge the fact that northen Cyprus is illegally occupied, do you find it appropriate to advertise an illegal state where people were killed (my uncle) and kicked out from their own homes (my mother and grondmother) and their properties where turned into businesses without the owners permition?
At least you should emphise the fact that since no other country regognise the illegal state, no other country has an empassy or any other official facility. Also, there is no control on any laws or regulations regarding safety, hiegene, hospitals, hotels, or human rights.

By Yonca - Jul 22 2014

Get your facts right Christos, peace will never been on this Island because of people like you get your facts right. Read blood on the Green Line written by one of your own, Mass graves woman and children, 3 children and mother shot in the bath has they hid from people like you. Know your history first before shouting out. My husband aged 5 with 7 brothers and sisters also lost their house and walked to the North so give up on your story because reality is whatever happened to GC happened to TC too...

By Christos - Cypriot - Jun 16 2014

Cyprus Facts:

Cyprus= 1x Island
No 'Turkish' part = You 'recognize it as a separate nation each time you say 'North Cyprus - Turkish Cyprus - or anything else)
The northern side has not been considered as a nation..by ANY other nation besides Turkey! (NO EU / NO US..None)

Yes it's a great place to visit, if you feel ok showing your passport to non- authorized ''authorities'', and therefor recognizing the north side as an individual nation...
After 40 yrs (approx.) that Turkey INVADED Cyprus and managed to get hold of half of the island, you have the opportunity of visiting those places but please don't...

You might not understand this but you are actually enabling Turkey to 'legally' own the island!

Please consider that my grandmother (86yo) refuses to visit her own house which was taken by the Turkish army in 1974, for the reasons pre-mentioned...

If you are visiting, at least don't spend money ..Turks will most probably use it to purchase more weapons.

By kaz - Apr 16 2014

well said Bella, my village of tokni was completely wiped out of all men from 14 years old and upwards the greek guard shot and killed 96 men from my village and this was going on all around cyprus at that time pre 1974 war, so Ani get your facts right Turkey did not invade they were merely protecting the Turkish cypriot people from the greek Invasion and ethnic cleansing. The island of Cyprus is truely a paradise island and is spoilt my ignorant peasants like you Ani, get over it that was over 30 years ago its people like you that keeps tourists away from OUR beautiful Island.

By bella - Feb 11 2014

Ani is either greek cypriot or a pig headed idiot that needs to get their facts straight.. Having had many holidays in greek cyprus and turkish cyprus I must say I enjoy both sides of the border. The greek side is far more set up for tourism than the turkish side, which is more relaxed and unspoilt. Having read a book named The genocide files, written by an unbiased man of neither turkish nor greek descent, and having had many conversations with people whose lives were affected by the so called invasion I think you will find out that the turks 'invaded' the island of cyprus to stop the slaughter of turkish cypriots. Children and adults of all ages being killed by greeks who wanted the island to be their own. That is a huge factor in why the turks retaliated. It is not a greek island and you will find that anyone that holidays on cyprus will be of the same opinion. And most of the world will agree. It is a turkish/greek island. I find the greek people in cyprus very bitter to this day towards the turks. The turks of cyprus are very peaceful people and are a great pleasure to be around. The greeks are also very nice but the turks are not just about making money through what little tourism they have compared to the greeks, they also want to make friends with their visitors. Perhaps Ani you should stop being so bitter and get both sides of the story. It is people like you that make me want to holiday in the turkish side of cyprus because of your attitude and hatred.

By AB - Jan 24 2014

Ani, Turkey Cyprus is a legitimate term used by locals on both sides of the border. For your information the Turkish intervention/ invasion in 1974 was a reaction to ten years of ethnic cleansing against native Turkish Cypriots by the Greek Cypriots. The un were first involved with the island in 1964, to try and prevent the murders and disappearances. With the Turkish army obeying orders to halt their advance by the un during the invasion. If it was British or American ex patriots being cleansed on a tiny island I think it would be far more likely either nation would take the whole island. The Greek Cypriots brought the situation on themselves. I think that you have responded too strongly to a legitimate term that you seem to believe is illegitimate.

By Cyprus Luxury Destinations - Nov 6 2013

Great tips! Cyprus boasts more than 300 days of sun a year and the climate is typically Mediterranean; long and hot summers, while the winters are short and with little rainfall. With this in mind, North Cyprus is also the ideal place to really relax and perfect if you are looking for somewhere lovely to get married. For more tips on why North Cyprus http://www.cyprusluxurydestinations.com/en/20775/north-cyprus-tourism

By Purple MENA - Oct 24 2013

A great advices that we loved to share on our social media!
We, at Purple MENA, will make Cyprus feels like home if you are planning to visit it!
Find more about Cyprus and our homes on : https://www.facebook.com/purplemena

By Traveller - Sep 20 2013

Excuse my ignorance but when was this article written?

By Cyprus Holiday Advisor - Sep 3 2013

Great list but I would also include a drive to Karpas Peninsula, Jeep Safari and Diving. Northern Cyprus has something to offer for everyone.