“The last divided capital city in the world”
Continuing our tour on this second day of the weekend in Cyprus and after visiting Larnaca and Limassol the day before which take you not even two hours at each place to visit anyway, we continued towards the capital city, Nicosia: the last divided capital city in the world. Now if you ask me, especially after the disappointing feeling with the other cities, I must confess that my expectations were somehow high, only to find they lowered pretty down and too quickly. Almost all of the old Ottoman houses are gone and in it’s place, tasteless ugly buildings, like the ones you find in mainland Greece everywhere. I do not judge the country after these feelings though, after all, I’ve only been to the major cities and nowhere else, and yes; there are other nicer places to go and sights to visit in the island, for instance, Paphos which will have to wait for another trip to Cyprus.
So, if your plans are coming to Nicosia, or Larnaca and Limassol, then save the hassle, the money and over all, the long flights to reach these destinations. It is unfortunately not worth it if a cultural trip is what you are looking. In the other hand, beaches, yes of course there are. But again, why would you even get on this long flight when you have nicer beaches nearer, also in the Mediterranean Sea? As of now, this trip has merely been for us a tick off the list of places to be and countries to visit.
Take a look at the city’s map, the old walled town core. Dating from the Venetian times when they captured the city in 1489, demolishing churches and palaces to use the masonry for the construction of these fortifications, it is a perfect circle formed of 11 bastions, all of which preserved at a rather good state. Another unique fact is the division of the city in two halves. The north side is Turkish, the south side is Greek. The UN Buffer Zone is what lies in between, basically a no one’s land of derelict buildings and ruins acting as the border between both countries. The buffer zone continues both sides, splitting the island.
There are few crossings within the city but the main one is by the principal thoroughfare linking north and south, Ledra Street, which since 2008 it was reconnected and restored. Only the relevant checkpoints are in place to cross from one side to another. Simply hand your ID or passport and off you go; no queues, no troubles, all straightforward both sides.
While the Greek side is quite run-down, mostly ugly and not much really of a value, the Turkish side in the other hand is much nicer. You can see some Ottoman old houses, mosques and churches. Even the main square there is very pretty. It does definitely has more sights and better ones than the Greek side, while is more vibrant and lively. But no one argue that finding a nice place where to have food is easy anywhere you are. No matter if Greek or Turkish sides, both cultures have a fine reputation for their cuisines as some of the best in the Mediterranean.
It’s easy to find a restaurant where to get fantastic grilled meats with fresh salads, tzaziki, hummus, taramasalata, bifteki… just name any Greek dish and you have it; but in the same way and merely meters from you, there you have delicious kebabs such as the traditional doner or iskender, lahmacun, kofte, plenty of fish and salads, all very similar to the Greek (ie. tzaziki, hummus, taramasalata) but with name variants.
For more information about Nicosia check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Cyprus currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Nicosia:
- Venetian walls Surrounding the entire old town, forming a perfect circle, together with the 11 bastions was the principal system of protection.
- Eleftheria Square The Freedom Square, sandwiched between the Tripoli and D’Avila Bastions is the heart of city in the Greek side, home to the main bus station, town hall, library and central post office.
- Ledra Street The main street in the Old Town crossing from north to south and acting as the main checkpoint between the two sides. In the Greek side it starts by the northeast side of Eleftheria Square.
- Onasagorou Street Parallel to Ledra, is the next important thoroughfare with some of the nicest buildings.
- Faneromeni Square North along Ledra Street, it is surrounded by the Faneromeni Church, Faneromeni School, Faneromeni Library and the Marble Mausoleum. Only meters ahead is the UN Buffer Zone and checkpoints to enter the Turkish side.
- Archbishop Kyprianos Square The finest sights in Greek Nicosia are to be found here around, in nicely restored Ottoman houses now turned into museums. Located towards the east, near the Podocatoro Bastion.
-Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios Mansion Towards the south in a little parallel street. Built in 1793 is a perfect example of what a manor house for a wealthy merchant used to look like.
-Archbishop Kyprianos House Along the south side of the Cathedral and much larger than that, in Venetian style.
-Saint Johannes Cathedral Dating from 1662, perhaps the smallest Cathedral you’ve ever been.
-Archbishop Makarios III Foundation Built in 1960 in neo-Byzantine style along the west side of the Cathedral, it is one of the best museums about the history of Cyprus.
-Folk Museum Just along the north side of the Cathedral, in a 15th century Gothic building.
- Famagusta Gate The easternmost gate to the city, right by the Caraffa Bastion. Built in 1567, it is one of three built along the fortifications, and the current best preserved.
- Old Aqueduct Next to the gate and Caraffa Bastion. It was built by the Ottomans in the 18th century.
- Buyuk Han Already at the north side, Turkish, meters ahead on Ledra Street. This former 17th century karavanserai has been transformed into a handcrafts shopping arcade, preserving its beautiful Byzantine architecture.
- Buyuk Haman Next to the Han, is a historical Turkish bath still in operation and open for visitors.
- Koumarjilar Khan The Gambler’s Inn is another former 17th century karavanserai, transformed once again into a handcrafts market.
- Selimiye Mosque The former 13th century Gothic Agia Sofia Cathedral, turned into a mosque. It is the major sight within the Turkish side.
- Bedesten Church Side by side with Selimiye Mosque, this Byzantine church was built in the 12th century. Over the centuries it managed to survive, and has been cleverly restored to serve once again its purpose.
- Bazaar Just south of the Bedesten, is the largest covered market in the island.
- Haydar Pasa Mosque Built in the 14th century as the second largest church in the city, the former Gothic Saint Catherine’s Cathedral was turned into a mosque in 1570. Located along the main road Kirlizade, just a block east from the Selimiye Msoque.
- Atatürk Square Or Saray Square. Heading towards the northern side along the main Şaban Paşa Street. Here you can see the column erected by the Venetians in 1550.
- Kyrenia Gate The northernmost gate within the former city walls.
The nearest airport to Nicosia are Larnaca in the Greek side, 55 kilometres to the south; and Ercan in the Turkish side, actually very near the city itself just to the east. No doubt 99% of tourists do come via Larnaca, a large international airport serving plenty of destinations especially on low cost carriers. In the other hand, travelling via Ercan means you will first need to stop-over at Istanbul, hence quite inconvenient and also expensive.
Renting a car during your stay in Cyprus is the best you could do in order to visit as many places as possible, however, not everyone wants to drive during their holidays, or simply not having a driving license. That’s the less of a problem. Buses from the major cities criss-cross the island and connect everywhere very reliable, fast and cheap, especially when that involves linking Nicosia. From Larnaca is approximately one hour (55 kilometres), while from Limassol is hour and a half (87 kilometres). Coming from farther west, say Paphos, is already a much longer journey of around 3 hours.
Within the city there is no need for any transportation, furthermore, most of the streets are actually pedentrian only. Walking is generally the only option, but considering distances are really minimal, it is the best in order to visit every sight, and move from one side to another.
Although we cannot say anything about the hotels situation in Nicosia since we came as a day trip from our base back in Larnaca, something is sure, most of the major chains are present, and although smaller properties, the choice seems more than expected. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.