North Cyprus covers just a third of the whole island, but it still offers fantastic opportunities to discover more about empires of the past, as well as ruins and towns influenced by the Turkish minority.
With a population of about 313,000, it has been under Turkish control since 1974 when the Turkish army invaded, triggered by a Greek Cypriot-inspired coup seeking closer ties with Greece. Aside from the political divide, the Troodos Mountains also geographically split it.
Since then there have been diplomatic efforts to unite the island, the last being in Switzerland in August, but that broke up without resolution. North Cyprus is home to thousands of expat Europeans. The currency is Turkish Lira, but Euro and British Sterling are widely accepted.
Driving Rules in North Cyprus
Oddly, cars drive on the left-hand side, a throwback to when the island used to be a British protectorate. Petrol is around £1 to the litre. Speed limits vary between 65km to 90km per hour and there are speed cameras on most roads. Driving on smaller coastal or inland roads can be as low as 45 km per hour. Rental cars are not allowed to enter the South side of the island.
Places to Visit in North Cyprus
The third largest populated area in North Cyprus, the town is a delightful mix of Turkish and Western cosmopolitan flair, with bustling cobblestone streets filled with bars, restaurants and cafes. Wrapped around a horseshoe shaped harbour, Kyrenia Castle which boasts a dungeon and a shipwreck museum featuring a third century BC shipwreck dominates the town. The waterfront is tempting to sit and people-watch or simply to see the fishermen at work on their boats. A walk away is a restored Greek church featuring a host of religious icons.
The northern area of the island’s capital is always buzzing. It’s a step back into the past with some buildings in decadent decay, but more than matched by the modern shops of the tree lined boulevards. A trip across the North to South buffer zone, which divides the city, is also recommended. But Turkey’s influence exists here, with the minarets of the Selimiye Mosque, a former 13th Century French-built Cathedral. This side of the capital also packs in 16th century Venetian-built walls and the National Struggle Museum chronicling Cypriots battle against British rule.
One of the throwbacks to the days of the 1974 invasion is this sprawling city that is still off limits to the public. You can stand on part of a small beach and see rows of crumbling and bomb-riddled seafront hotels and apartments. However, Famagusta possesses a fascinating walled old town area, dating back to the 14th Century, that is dominated by the Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque. After spending a pleasant two or three hours here, you can wander up the coast and visit some breath-taking sandy beaches, and the ancient city of Salamis, which has a big semi-circular theatre.
About 45 minutes’ drive from Girne is the mythical looking, 13th-Century ruins of a Gothic monastery. The abbey has been restored, but it’s the views that will take your breath away as you look out towards the Mediterranean.
Proudly atop the Kyrenia Mountains, the Byzantine Castle is a majestic ruin that is worth the drive through pretty villages. Entrance is 7TL, but worth the visit to see the views and imagine what it was like to be guarding the Karpass Peninsula against marauders of ancient times.