Northern Cyprus is a paradise for the traveller who’s looking to get off the beaten track.
The lesser known neighbour of the ‘real’ Republic of Cyprus, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus might be an unrecognised nation state, propped up politically and financially by the Turkish government across the sea, but it’s also got some of the greatest beaches and wild landscapes, not just on Cyprus, but in the entire Mediterranean.
Northern Cyprus is home to some epic scenery. It’s untouched, and rugged. Due to its isolation after the 1974 Turkish invasion and division of the island, compared to the popular southern side there are few visitors.
There’s high mountains peaked by crumbling Crusader castles, an entire, isolated peninsular that’s been swarmed by wild donkeys, and of course a few war torn and abandoned holiday resorts.
This is where Turkish and Greek cultures really collide, and it’s a country where you can really get off the beaten track and really explore a lesser known part of the world!
But enough, read on for the top things to do in Northern Cyprus!
Stroll Across The Ledra Street Border Crossing In Nicosia!
Unless you make a ridiculous overland journey through Turkey to then take the long, painfully slow ferry across the Mediterranean Sea, you’ll probably be walking into Northern Cyprus from the south. But don’t worry, it’s easy these days. The UN has been holding the Turkish and Greek sides apart for years, and relations have warmed enough to allow easy crossings between the two entities. In Nicosia- the world’s last divided capital city- from the south you can take a simple stroll down Ledra Street, the main shopping boulevard, flash your passport, and you’re in the north. Take Turkish Lira of course, and be prepared for an instant culture shock once you’re over the dividing line of the city.
Once you’re on the other side, the easiest way to see the island is by getting yourself behind the wheel of a car! There is a Turkish dolmus, or minibus, system of public transportation operating, but to really explore, you need your own transport, as the buses only go so far. So hire a car, or bike and hit the road!
Find Wild Donkeys on the Karpaz Peninsular!
The Karpaz Peninsular is the most isolated, yet the most beautiful part of Northern Cyprus. It’s rugged and wild, and inhabited only by the wild donkeys which made this place their home after being released during the 1974 Turkish invasion. The donkeys are everywhere, on the roads, the beaches and they’ll even find a way into your car.
Donkeys aside, the Karpaz Peninsular also has some of the most stunning coastline, as well as glorious golden beaches. And the best part is you’ll only be sharing it with the donkeys.
Hang Out And Drink At The Girne Harbour!
Girne- or Kyrenia- is a laid back seaside harbour town. This is where you can get a ferry to Turkey if you are brave enough. If not, you can sit back at the quaint harbour and enjoy the pleasant sea views. If you’re thirsty then there’s plenty of drinking being done here. There’s bars and English style pubs on every corner. There’s a small castle too by the harbour.
St Hilarion Castle!
If the Girne harbour castle wasn’t enough to fill your aching castle void, then head up into the mountains just outside the city to see St Hilarion. The castle dates back to the 10th Century when it began life as a monastery, before the Byzantines realised they could fortify the position. What’s left is still spectacular. And the views from the position are possibly more spectacular than the ruins.
Find Crusader Castles In The Mountains!
And if St Hilarion still hasn’t satisfied your castle craving, then atop the Kyrenia mountain range is the Kantara Castle. There’s a long, winding road to the top and if you dare to summit the mountain range, the ruins of the Crusader castle of Kantara offer incredible views from one coastline of Cyprus to the other.
The Ghost Resorts Of Famagusta!
Famagusta- or Gazimagusta as it might also be called- was once the busiest, most popular tourist resort on Cyprus. When the Turkish army invaded, the Greeks who ran the resorts fled south, and the military have kept the holiday resorts empty and abandoned ever since. You can see them from the beach by the city. It’s a creepy affair, and don’t try and swim along to the old hotels as you might get shot at.
Famagusta Old Town!
If you’ve had enough of the beach at Famagusta, then the old town is a relic just waiting to be explored. Historically, this was a Greek city, and this is glaringly obvious when you see the old cathedrals which have been turned into mosques. You can also see Othello Castle, which forms part of the city walls. This fortification is traditionally the supposed location where the events of Shakespeare’s famous play unfolded.
The Ruins Of Salamis!
A short drive along the coast from Famagusta, are the ancient ruins of the town of Salamis. This city was once a thriving Greek, then Roman settlement, and the ruins have been partially excavated, leaving temples, theatres, and grand marble columns for visitors to wander around and be transported back thousands of years.
Find a deserted beach!
If you’ve had your fill of ruins and castles, then it’s time to wind down on a deserted beach. Drive literally anywhere, in any direction along the coast and you’ll stumble across a deserted beach.
My particular favourite was the huge and empty Golden Beach in the Karpaz Peninsular. No where else in the world can you have such untouched coastline all to yourself.
You’ll have to find this beach for yourself!
Check Out The Front Line!
You can drive along the border and the UN buffer zone which separates the north from the south. Close to the check points, there are abandoned villages and war torn buildings in the military zones. Years after the war and the divide, these are the starkest and most visible reminders of the effects and the cost that the conflict still continues to have on the island of Cyprus.