Nicosia (Lefkosia in Cypriot) is one of the European capitals most unjustly snubbed by tourists. It is the last divided capital in the world: a geographical, political and cultural division between Greece and Turkey. For tourists, this fracture is an element that adds further fascination to this city with a millenary history, surprisingly rich in museums, monuments and cultural attractions.
Although the wounds left by the dramatic episodes of the Turkish occupation are still open, today Nicosia is a modern and lively city enlivened by cultural ferment and nightlife. It really doesn’t deserve the treatment that most tourists give it, which is a quick half-day visit.
Stay longer, taking advantage of the cheap hotel prices (much lower than those on the coast) and savor the magical atmosphere of this undiscovered capital. When the heat gets too much, the beaches are only an hour’s drive away.
Wear comfortable shoes because between cultural visits, shopping and urban walks Nicosia will keep you busy for several hours a day. Here are the top attractions of the Cypriot capital.
The Green Line is to Nicosia as the Wall is to Berlin. This name colloquially refers to the UN buffer zone that divides the city of Nicosia into two parts, one belonging to the Republic of Cyprus and the other to the unrecognized state of Northern Cyprus: a concrete reminder of the island’s division into two.
Just like the Berlin Wall, it has become one of the city’s main tourist attractions. However, it is not a dividing wall, but an area of the city within which you can walk.
A walk inside the Green Line is a surreal experience at times: you will come across streets that lead nowhere, bordered by barricades abandoned for decades and flanked by decaying houses. In some places you will see the Greek flag flying, in others the Turkish flag.
It is certainly not a picturesque area, but it is interesting to know the history of the island and try to identify with the lives of its inhabitants.
The Buyuk Han (sometimes referred to in guidebooks as the Great Inn) is a magnificent building in the Turkish part of Nicosia, considered one of the most beautiful buildings on the island: a caravanserai built by the Ottomans in 1572 that served as a place of rest and refreshment for merchants and travelers.
It looks like a two-story building with an inner courtyard accessed through two doors, one on the east and one on the west. In the center of the courtyard towers a tiny, very pretty mosque. With its ancient stone walls, Byzantine arches, and cool porticos adorned with plants and flowers, it’s a really nice place to take beautiful photos and get some rest.
Today the rooms and apartments where the merchants once slept house craft and souvenir stores and a cafeteria.
Lidras Street (sometimes referred to in guidebooks as Ledra street) is the commercial heart of Nicosia: a pedestrian street in the old town lined with stores and bars, where Cypriots flock to shop and socialize. In summer it is covered by tarpaulins hooked to the buildings on both sides of the street, creating a shady area.
Ledra street is a nerve center of the city life but it also has an important symbolic value because along the street there is a crossing point that allows to pass from the Greek to the Turkish side.
Opened in 2008, the crossing point of Ledra Street is the only pedestrian access inside the medieval walls of the city.
The walls built in 1567 by the Venetians encircle the old part of Nicosia. They were built to defend the city from invasions, but they proved ineffective because the Ottomans defeated the Venetians only three years later.
On the other hand, the walls resisted to the passing of centuries and still today we can admire them almost intact. A walk along the walls is one of the must-see experiences in Nicosia, and if you’re lucky you might even catch an outdoor show.
There are ten bastions along the walls, 5 of which are in the southern (Greek) area and 5 in the northern (Turkish) area.
One of the most characteristic areas of Nicosia is the Chrysaliniotissa district, a residential area that rises around the church of the same name, squeezed between the end of the Old City and the Green Line.
Its streets and alleys overlooked by pretty, tastefully restored early 20th century houses adorned with flowers and are perfect for a relaxing city walk.
The number of museums in Nicosia is truly impressive and testifies to the cultural vibrancy of this capital city that is still underestimated by tourists, ranging from ancient to contemporary art, folklore, national history, philately and more.
Here are the 5 most interesting museums in Nicosia:
If you have time, you can also take a look at these:
Even with regard to religious buildings Nicosia can boast a large number of interesting examples of high historical and artistic value. The religious architecture of Nicosia is also valuable testimony to the mix of peoples and cultures that have succeeded over the centuries on the island of Cyprus.
During your visit to the city take a look at its most beautiful churches and mosques:
The city of Nicosia is located in the hinterland of Cyprus, about 50 km from the nearest beaches on the Greek side and about thirty from those on the Turkish side.
The area of Ayia Napa is a little more distant and can be reached in a little more than an hour’s drive: it is known for the beaches of young people looking for nightlife, but along this stretch of coast it is also possible to find quiet beaches in a beautiful natural setting.
When it comes to choose where to sleep in Nicosia the doubt that assails tourists is: Greek area or Turkish area? The Greek area is the best choice for practical reasons (you are inside the EU, you can pay in Euros and you will not be asked for your passport), but you can find a good choice of hotels, b&b’s and apartments both in the Greek and Turkish areas.
Stay within the city walls if you want to comfortably reach the main tourist attractions. Lidras Street and the nearby Popular Quarter are the areas where most of the hotel facilities are concentrated.
Nicosia hotel prices are good, especially in the summer when the city empties out due to the heat.
The international airport of Nicosia, once very active, was closed in the seventies following the Turkish occupation.
Today the airport of reference for those who want to reach Nicosia is Larnaka, the closest one; alternatively you can take a flight to Pafos, which however is on the opposite side of the island.
From Larnaka airport it is possible to get to Nicosia with a shuttle bus in service 24 hours a day with runs every hour. The duration of the trip from the airport to Nicosia is about 35 minutes. Alternatively, it is possible to rent a car at the airport.
Local buses connect Nicosia to all major locations on the island.