Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean, and with an incredible climate, fascinating history and more beaches than you could visit in your lifetime, it is also becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. However, Cyprus remains a divided country. In 1974, a Turkish invasion led to the division of Cyprus into two countries: Northern Cyprus (Turkish) and Southern Cyprus (Greek). And while the Greeks got both the larger half of the island and a bigger share of visiting tourists, the northern (Turkish) half of the island got some amazing beaches, beautiful cities, and much worth visiting.
The port city of Kyrenia (commonly known by its Turkish name, Girne) is probably the biggest tourist destination in all of Northern Cyprus. Built around a pretty curved harbour, the city is very much the cultural center of Northern Cyprus, with great museums and art galleries, and a lively nightlife. And while most visitors come to Cyprus for the great beaches and the sun, Kyrenia has much more to offer than sun-kissed sand.
Along the picturesque port is the lively and beating heart of the city. With excellent restaurants, quiet cafes and plenty of great places to shop, the port is the ideal place to relax and unwind after a day at the beach. Built behind the port is the old town, full of winding alleys and small hidden courtyards. Although the city itself is not very big, there are so many hidden gems built along its streets that you can spend days wandering through them.
Next to the port is also the famous castle of Kyrenia. The castle dates from the late 1300s and is a wonderful place to climb to get a panoramic view of the city and the island. And inside Kyrenia Castle you’ll find the Shipwreck Museum, which allows visitors to take a look at one of the oldest shipwrecks ever recovered from the sea.
Nicosia is the last divided city in the world. The areas of the city that had previously been reserved for the Greeks and the Turks were officially divided in 1974. And while the south (Greek) side of Nicosia is considered the rich and cosmopolitan side of the city, the north side also has a lot of to offer, that is, besides being the place where you cross into the south of Cyrpus.
North (Turkish) Nicosia has a truly timeless feel about it. It seems like not much has changed in the decades since the split, and walking the quiet, unassuming streets feels like a journey back in time. The best way to explore the city, especially the old town with its small squares and old-world charm, is on a walking tour. And no tour is complete without a visit to the city’s many Turkish baths, or hammams.
There are also two markets located near the center of North Nicosia, where you can find everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to shoes and hand-woven fabrics. And among them is the most important landmark of North Nicosia, the Selimiye Mosque. Probably the most fascinating mosque you’ll ever see, the Selimiye Mosque looks (and is!) a cross between a traditional mosque and a Gothic church.
Famagusta is worth visiting for anyone interested in history. Because this city has more history than some entire countries! Since it was founded in 285 a. C., has had more ups and downs than you could count.
Fortunately for visitors, Famagusta is definitely in an “up” stage right now. Although the famous walled city still maintains its medieval charm, a major restoration project that began there in 1996 has brought the city into the modern world. In the center, there are wonderful restaurants and small cafes sitting face to face with beautiful old buildings and quaint old streets where you can spend hours strolling.
One of the biggest attractions in Famagusta is the Othello Tower, which you can climb to get a view of the city and the port. This is the same tower mentioned in the famous Shakespeare play, and it is the tourist center of the city. Another must-see attraction in Famagusta is the ancient city ruins of Salamis, a city that was founded in the 11th century BC and abandoned in 650 AD. The city’s ruins also include an ancient port, now lying under the waters of the Mediterranean at Silver Beach. It is the perfect place to spend the day swimming and exploring the underwater ruins with a snorkel mask.
Guzelyurt roughly translates to “good land” in Turkish. And that is exactly what this area is. Guzelyurt and the surrounding countryside have some of the richest and most fertile land in Cyprus. Surrounding the city itself are miles of citrus groves, which bloom in spring and fill the air with the scent of fruit blossoms. This area is all about fresh food, quiet towns, and peaceful living.
While the city itself isn’t a Times Square of historical monuments, it does have St. Mom’s Church, which is one of the only places in Cyprus where the Greeks and Turks have always gotten along quite peacefully. Named for the patron saint of people who avoid paying their taxes (go figure!), the church is filled with beautiful early Christian icons. Around the church and throughout the town there are beautiful and rich gardens. You can spend hours wandering around and enjoying the greenery and beauty.
That is, unless you come on a Saturday, in which case it’s time to shop. If visitors to Kyrenia find the market cheap, they will be surprised by the prices at the Saturday market in Guzelyurt. On Saturdays the market takes up the entire town, more or less, selling everything from clothes and shoes to the wonderful fresh produce grown in the region. And because the market caters to locals rather than tourists, you can be sure you’ll get the best prices in Cyprus.
One of the best things about visiting Guzelyurt is not the city itself, but the countryside that surrounds it. If you can, rent a car and drive through the orchards and rich countryside and visit some of the sweet little towns around Guzelyurt, like Yayla. Or head out to sea and spend the day on a quiet, deserted beach.