Last summer when I mentioned to people I was planning a trip to Cyprus (Northern Cyprus as well), I often received blank stares or the question “where is Cyprus”. A little geography is in order; the island is in the Mediterranean Sea – in the far eastern reaches south of Turkey and just west of Lebanon. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean after Italy’s Sicily and Sardinia.
I flew from Beirut, Lebanon – there are certainly plenty of other flights to the islands, especially from the UK. My flight was convenient as I had spent about a week exploring Lebanon prior; the flight was only about 40 minutes.
Like all of the island, the northern part is rich in history at one point involving the Greeks, the Romans and the Syrians and names such as Alexander the Great and Ptolemy. Today this part of the island is safe, laid back, still very rural with an agricultural feel at times and very friendly locals.
During my visit I was only able to explore parts of Nicosia and several beach towns; Nicosia in particular is highly worth exploring with it’s 4500 years of history (and serving as the capital of Cyprus since the 10th century). However there is far more to see in Northern Cyprus and with more time the following attractions should be on anyone’s visit list:
Must see sight number one: Walled City of Nicosia
Easily accessible by pedestrians from the south who cross into the north via Ledra Street. The original city walls were built in the middle ages and were later completely rebuilt in the 16th century. The walls are extremely well preserved and are certainly a highlight but there are numerous other attractions within the old city. Highly worth seeing is the Selimiye Mosque – originally built in the mid 1500’s. And for those wanting to experience a little culture and history at the same time – head straight for the Great Turkish Bath (500+ years old) and still operating. Shoppers can take note of the Bandabuliya Covered Bazaar – a mix of fruits, vegetables, meats and plenty of souvenir shops (mostly locals shop here).
Must see sight number two: Beaches
Sometimes you just want to go somewhere and do nothing – that was my intention when I came to Cyprus. And you can do this in much of the country – especially when you park it for a few days near a beach. The northern part of the island offers a diversity of beach options including beaches in front of larger hotels or smaller off the beaten path spots. Clear blue waters are mesmerizing – the warmest months for swimming or sunbathing are from June through October. Three noted beach areas are Kyrenia (including Alagadi Turtle Beach famous for it’s turtles that lay eggs on the sands in the summer), Famagusta Beaches (known for its long white sandy beaches) and Karpaz (wide sandy often empty beaches.
Must see sight number three: Castles
Get in shape for some hiking up to several ancient castles, all with excellent views. Three Byzantine/Crusader castles are St. Hilarion Castle (arguably the most picturesque in Northern Cyprus), Buffavento Castle (the highest of the castles) and Kantara Castle (probably the best preserved of the three).
Also highly worth exploring is the Kyrenia castle with its Venetian harbour. Ideal to visit either during the day or evening – activities include boat watching, dining at alfresco restaurants, or simply exploring on your own.
Have you been to Northern Cyprus? Any favorite beaches or parts of the island?