Nicosia was our first stop on our trip to Cyprus and left a strong impression for a variety of reasons. Located in the middle of Cyprus is straddles the border of North and South Cyprus with a thin strip of 'no man's land' running through the middle. Tourists can easily cross between the sides on foot at one of the two main border crossings. The two sides have different languages, currencies and even time zones!
Formally a British colony, Cyprus announced independence in 1960. This was quickly followed by disagreements between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. As a result, Nicosia was split along the middle by the United Nations. The line on the map was drawn in green pen and is now known as 'The Green Line'.
2003 marked the opening of the Ledra Palace crossing and people could walk between the two sides of the city for the first time in nearly 30 years. Today there is still some tension between Greek and Turkish Cypriots but most people we talked to (young and old) were keen to see a united Cyprus.
This bustling part of the city has a much more 'European' feel. With chains such as H&M, McDonalds and Starbucks lining the main streets. You can also get lost in the cobble-stone streets and eat you fill of olives, feta and souvlaki. There is not much going on outside the walls but there is plenty to fill a couple of easy-going days in the old town.
You'll find the entrance to this on a side street next to H&M. Take the lift to the 11th floor and for €2.50 you can enjoy some stunning views of the city. There is also plenty of information about the buildings in and around the city. As well as timelines of Nicosian history and maps.
We found the border between North and South Nicosia utterly fascinating. They seemed to have just picked a point and then blocked off all the streets. So you can be walking along a lovely little lane and then suddenly there's a barricade covered in barbed wire and a couple of armed gunmen. It's really interesting to walk along the line and see this as well as the cute houses and graffiti .
After a recent trip home to Wellington, world cafe capital, I rekindled my addiction to cosy, funky cafes. South Nicosia really fulfilled my cravings. We spent a couple of days cafe hopping. Enjoying homemade lemonade, Cyprus coffee and relaxing with a book. Check out Kafeneio Arsinois off Ledra Street, Pieto and The Weaving Mill Book Cafe.
The entire old town of Nicosia is surrounded by a Venetian Wall. While most of the action happens in the middle, the wall itself is nice to walk along. Particularly the South Eastern section starting from the Famagusta gate. If you are in town on a Saturday you might be lucky enough to catch a local football match and the farmers market in full swing.
LEDRA PALACE CROSSING
This is a little out to the East of the old town. The Ledra Palace Hotel used to be, you guessed it, a swanky hotel in the heart of Nicosia. When the city was divided the hotel fell in 'no man's land' and is now the head quarters for the UN. It is also the venue for many peace talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. You can cross the border here and take a stroll through no man's land including taking a peek at the hotel.
Arriving in North Cyprus you will notice a few differences. Firstly, if you're there at certain times of year, you will have time travelled forward an hour. Next, everyone speaks Turkish. While the currency is technically the Turkish Lira, Euro is widely accepted. There is a distinct lack of chain stores and all of the churches have been replaced with mosques. North Nicosia is a little more rough around the edges but you'll find the people just as welcoming, the food just as delicious and just as many things worth exploring.
SELIMIYE MOSQUE AND BELEDIYE BAZAAR
Heading East from the Ledra Street crossing you will find the a huge mosque. This used to be St Sophia's Cathedral but was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman siege in the 1500s. Next to this is a small bazaar and many other shops selling scarves, souvenirs and an abundance of sports clothing!
FOLLOW THE BLUE LINE
From the mosque you can follow a blue line along the road which will take you through the city passing all the major sights. The whole line takes about 1-2 hours. The most interesting area for us was from the mosque to the small streets which are the oldest council housing in Cyprus.
TEA AND SNACKS
Along the way we stopped at some cute little cafes. Our favourite snacks/meals in North Cyprus were lamacun and borek. Lamacun is Turkish pizza, a thin base covered in mince meat. It is served with fresh parley and lemon juice which you sprinkle on and then roll the pizza to eat. These cost about 10TL (€2.50) each. Borek is a pastry filled with cheese or meat, best washed down with a Turkish tea in the adorable glasses. The price averaged around 12TL or €3 for one borek and two teas.
There is a hamam (Turkish bath) on both sides of the city. The one is the North is supposed to be cheaper and more authentic. For €10 you can use the hamam and for €30 you can enjoy a proper soap and peeling scrub. Buyuk Hamam is open for tourists (mixed genders) from 4pm-9pm every day (closed Monday). Scrubs and massages require an appointment. Nothing beats the feeling of sweating everything out and being scrubbed smooth! Ok maybe a slight exaggeration but it's a pretty great feeling.
We loved our time in Nicosia and even went back for another day during out road trip. It's an easy and affordable flight from Europe and has great weather all year round! What more could you want in a city break?!