North Cyprus travel guide: historical and natural wonders

January 12, 2024
January 11, 2024

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Table of Contents

Why go to Cyprus?

Cyprus is an island boasting a very complex and diverse history.

While wild Mediterranean beaches and constant sunshine may be a good reason for you to visit, don’t miss out on the incredible castles, archaeological sites, and ancient ruins.

This guide will be focusing on the northeastern area of the island ('North Cyprus' for simplicity). We have all the information you need to visit this underrated area of Cyprus.

The ruins of the church of St George of the Greeks in Famagusta, North Cyprus

The history of North Cyprus

As mentioned, a vast array of rulers including Romans, Assyrians, Lusignans (French), Venetians, Ottomans and British have controlled Cyprus over the past 2,000 years.

Currently four-fifths of the population are Greek Cypriots, descended from a mix of aboriginal inhabitants and Greek immigrants who arrived up until the 16th century. The remaining are Turkish Cypriots, descended from Ottoman army soldiers who conquered the island in 1571 and subsequent immigration from Turkey.

Cyprus became an independent nation, formally the Republic of Cyprus, in 1960 after the end of British rule. Due to the long-running conflict between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and the invasion of Turkey in 1974, the northeastern area of Cyprus was partitioned in 1975.

They declared itself an independent state in 1983, formerly known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Only Turkey recognises this state.

The government of the Republic of Cyprus, the European Union, the United States, and other nations want to unite Cyprus as a bi-communal federation. The Turkish Cypriots and Turkey are seeking a two-state solution (the status quo).

It’s important to learn about the history of the places you’re traveling to and be empathetic to everyone involved. We recommend you visit all areas of Cyprus.

We hope that both parties can reach an agreement for the unification of Cyprus, and find peace. Meanwhile we don’t want you to miss out visiting this part of the world. And we want to help you to do it the most sustainable way possible.

What languages do they speak in North Cyprus?

The main language in North Cyprus is Turkish. The Cypriot Turkish people also have their own dialect.

People working in tourism speak English fairly well. Generally other people's English skills can be very hit and miss. It's useful to have Google Translate on your phone to assist with communicating with locals.

Do I need a visa?

If you fly into Ercan International Airport, they will give you a 30, 60 or 90 day visa depending on your travel plans. If you're concerned about having your passport stamped, you will see slips of paper that you can fill in and use for your entry and exit.

If you're crossing from the southern side to the northern side, it appears they no longer use stamps to record the visa that has been issued to you.

When to visit North Cyprus

Visiting in May or June will ensure it's hot enough to swim in the sea without the harsh heat that arrives in July and can linger through August and into September. There are a number of local festivals during May and June, while it's also possible to witness nesting sea turtles from May to July.

October starts to get cooler and winter brings wet weather by December. But if you're keen to avoid the crowds and enjoy cheaper rates, it's worth considering these later months.

If your primary focus is to enjoy exploring the historical sites and nature on offer, the spring months of March and April can be ideal. There is less rain than in January and February and it hasn't become hot enough yet to affect your activities.

Jon laying on his back in a rock pool along the coast of North Cyprus in the middle of summer.

How to get to North Cyprus

There are three international airports on Cyprus.

Two are located on the southern (or Greek) side of the island. The first is Paphos International Airport, located about 6.5 kms south-east of the city of Paphos. It's ideal for people wanting to visit the western side of Cyprus.

The second and biggest one is Larnaca International Airport, located four kms southwest of the city of Larnaca. This airport is more suitable for exploring the others areas of Cyprus including North Cyprus.

The third one is Ercan International Airport, located in the north about 13 kms east of North Nicosia. While a lot of countries have flights to Larnaca airport, Ercan airport only operates direct flights with Turkey due to the geo-political situation explained above.

If you arrive at Larnaca and want to explore North Cyprus, you will have to travel across via one of the border crossing points. The border has been open since 2003 when Cyprus joined the European Union.

Some of the border crossings can be crossed on bicycle or foot only. You can see a list of the border crossings here.

Important note: It's technically illegal to enter Cyprus via Ercan International Airport or seaports located in North Cyprus. For non-EU citizens, this means you will likely be turned back if you try to cross over to the southern side. EU citizens don't have this concern.

Transport in North Cyprus

The best way to explore Cyprus is by car. The public transport here is either very limited or non-existent.

Rental car

Here are a few companies that we recommend using for a hire car.

Petsas Rent a Car

If you rent a car at Larnaca International Airport, this car hire company is the only one that we could find that would allow us to take the car through the border to North Cyprus.


Falak Rent a Car

If you rent a car at Ercan International Airport, you can try these guys.
They are just outside of the airport so you will have to contact them when you arrive and they will pick you up.

WhatsApp: +90 548 874 30 58

Pacific Car Rental

The only car rental company that we were able to find with a zero excess option. They can drop off the car at you accommodation and pick it up for a small fee. Like most of the car rental companies in North Cyprus, they have a minimum three days of rental.


WhatsApp: +90 542 852 19 20

Airport transfers

Our accommodation was about a 45 minute drive from Ercan International Airport, which cost us around 45-50 GBP for an airport transfer.

From Larnaca International Airport, it was about an hour away and we paid around 65-75 GBP for an airport transfer.

We used these two companies for our transfers.

Bellapis Taxi


WhatsApp: +90 548 848 90 46

Pacific Car Rental


WhatsApp: +90 542 852 19 20

Crossing from southern Cyprus to northern Cyprus by car

We highly recommend taking a taxi or organising a transfer if you want to go directly to North Cyprus.

It is possible to rent a car for a longer period of time to explore the rest of Cyprus along with North Cyprus. As we mentioned, you have to confirm with your car rental company that they will allow your car to be taken to the other side.

We rented our car from Petsas Rent a Car at Larnaca International Airpot and had no issues.

You should know that the car’s insurance policy will not cover you in North Cyprus as it’s not recognised by the insurance companies. So you're taking a risk! If something happens to the car while you are in North Cyprus, you are on your own. You can still purchase zero access insurance for the days that you will drive on the Greek side.

Third-party insurance

Once you're at the border, you will have to pay for third-party insurance to be able to drive on the northern side. This is mandatory and has to be paid in Euro. So make sure you have enough cash with you.
The minimum time you can purchase it for is one moth.

All crossing points are open 24 hours per day. We arrived at Pergamos (Beyarmudu/Dhekyli in Turkish) located in the British Eastern Sovereign Base area because it was near Larnaca International Airport. We arrived at night.

But little did we know that this crossing point doesn't have insurance staff members working overnight. We should have gone to the central Nicosia (Lefkosa in Turkish) crossing point of Agios Dometios (Metehan in Turkish) which offers 24-hour service to purchase the third-party insurance to drive in North Cyprus.

We ending up having to sleep in our car in a car park nearby until the staff member arrived in the morning. Please don't make our mistake!

Once you purchase the insurance, you can finally cross. In addition to the insurance, you'll also need to show your passport, car documents, North Cyprus car insurance (when you just purchased at the border) and driving license.

After finally crossing over the border, there was an ATM, convenience store and cafe. The ATM has really high fees and it actually chewed up my card! So if you can bring cash with you will be better.

Be aware that North Cyprus has strict regulations on speed limits. You will se a lot of speed cameras around, so drive carefully!

Money and connectivity in North Cyprus

Local currency

The local currency is the Turkish lira (TRY). You can often choose to pay in British pounds or Euro as well, but you'll be charged more with poor exchange rates for the Turkish lira.

We'd therefore recommend to always have some Turkish lira with you. Card payments are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants and shops, but cash is important at many tourist locations, smaller cafes, street food stalls and markets.

ATMs are available in the major towns and often near accommodation areas too. But be prepared to pay high fees to withdraw your money!


Wi-Fi is accessible for guests at some restaurants and hotels, but was often spotty and unreliable. Download speeds are generally poor - 20 mbps seemed to be the best available.]

SIM card

Unfortunately only 3G was available in North Cyprus when we were there. There was talk about introducing 4G, but this hadn't happened yet (as of October 2023).

We bought a 30-day SIM from TurkCell. This helped us communicate with locals and sometimes allowed us to use Google Maps.

We also had a SIM card with Spanish Vodafone, which still worked for us in North Cyprus on the 3G network.

What to do in North Cyprus

We stayed in North Cyprus for two months, from the end of July to the end of September. These are our top recommendations for things to do and see in North Cyprus.

Explore the capital city of Cyprus

A great introduction to this country is visiting the city of Nicosia (Lefkosia in Turkish).

An old wall with turrets running along the top of it in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Unfortunately, Nicosia has the dubious distinction of being Europe’s last divided capital.

Nicosia stands apart from other fortified cities, as its identity is not solely defined by its surrounding walls. While the old part of the city is enclosed by Venetian bastions, a newer barrier has taken precedence: the Green Line.

The green line separates the southern Greek Republic of Cyprus side from the northern Turkish side. This de-militarised buffer zone is patrolled by United Nations peacekeepers and bisects the city.

If you want to cross the border that divides South Nicosia from North Nicosia on foot, you will only need your passport. The crossing is located in a major shopping area on Ledra Street and is open 24 hours.

Nicosia's rich history is interwoven on both sides of the divide. The best way to explore this ancient city is on foot. The old town contains narrow alleys, mosques and restaurants.

A composite image of Janna walking down a narrow street and sitting n a doorstep under a flowering tree in Nicosia, Cyprus.
A composite image showing small balconies on the side of a building and a cat looking over the edge of a balcony in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Because of its rich history, there are a myriad of historical sites and architectural styles to discover in Nicosia. The first place of interest we discovered was a unique residential neighbourhood called Samanbahçe.

It was originally an early form of social housing, built at the beginning of the 20th century by an Ottoman council. There are 72 houses still occupied by local residents.

The middle of the residential neighbourhood of Samanbahçe with a well and street stall set up in Nicosia, Cyprus.
A composite image showing a street and cactus plant on the side of a street in the residential neighbourhood of Samanbahçe in Nicosia, Cyprus.

We walked through the old town a bit more and came across Büyük Han. It's a spectacular Ottoman building that was once an inn for travellers.

A composite image showing Janna standing in the courtyard and under an archway at Büyük Han in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Today you can wander its rooms filled with sellers of souvenirs and other local goods. We highly recommend to do your shopping here. We found most things were handmade by locals, so this is a perfect spot to do some sustainable shopping while in Cyprus.

We really loved the atmosphere of Büyük Han. There a few plaques explaining the history of the building and a cafe downstairs where you can sip on a Turkish coffee or tea.

A composite image showing stairs to the second level and the rooms on the second level at Büyük Han in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Besides the old town, the city is very busy and polluted. We therefore recommend heading towards the coast or mountains after a day or two.

The city of Kyrenia (Girne in Turkish)

Kyrenia is a coastal town rich in history. We highly recommend to spend a day exploring its old town, wandering thought its cobble streets, and visiting its harbour.

Part of the harbour in front of Kyrenia Castle in Kyrenia, Cyprus.

For lunch or dinner while in Kyrenia, we highly recommend Nima Restaurant and Lounge Bar. They have everything from traditional Turkish dishes to sushi or pasta, and everything is delicious. We are vegan, so we tried all their vegan dishes and they are all amazing. This place is very popular for brunch, so you may want to book a table.

At night, they have a very stylish bar on the second floor. If you are looking for a place to take a date out, this is the one!

Walk the ramparts of Kyrenia Castle

This is a great place to learn about the complex history of North Cyprus. A 7th century Byzantine castle originally built to fend off Arabic maritime forces, it was then expanded in the Lusignan era from the late 12th century and later took its present form under Venetians in the 16th century.

A composite image showing the front entrance and the side wall of Kyrenia Castle in Kyrenia, Cyprus.
A composite image of Jon standing inside and a close-up image of a wall at Kyrenia Castle in Kyrenia, Cyprus

The castle was never conquered, but Kyrenia surrendered to the Ottomans in 1570. They made some further modifications to the castle, but they were removed when the British used the castle as police barracks and for training.

A composite image of Jon walking up stairs and Janna walking in front of a door at Kyrenia Castle in Kyrenia, Cyprus.

It has some amazing views over the marina, mountains and the city from its ramparts. Make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun!

The entrance fee is 50 Turkish lira. Opening hours are Monday - Saturday from 8 am to 6 pm and it's closed on Sundays.

A composite image showing a rampart and looking out to the Mediterranean Sea at Kyrenia Castle in Kyrenia, Cyprus.
A composite image showing Janna standing in the middle of an archway and sitting on a wall on top of a rampart at Kyrenia Castle in Kyrenia, Cyprus.
A view of the marina from Kyrenia Castle in Kurenia, Cyprus.

Explore Bellapais Abbey and its nearby village

Just a 10 minute drive from Kyrenia is a 13th century monastery in the small village of Bellapais. The ruins of the monastery are well preserved and have been taken care of. The panoramic views over Kyrenia are definitely a bonus.

The entrance fee is 50 Turkish lira.
Opening hours are every day from 8 am to 6 pm.

A composite image of Janna walking under different eaves at Bellapais Abbey in Cyprus.
A composite image looking through a window to a mountain range and some ruins at Bellapais Abbey in Cyprus.

Make sure to wander around the village. There is a small store with local produce and handmade gifts as well as a fresh juice shop.

Next to the monastery there is a restaurant with amazing views over the town, but it’s been a while since we ate there. So we can’t say anything about the food.
There are a couple of smaller places to eat in the village too.

A composite image showing a street and local handmade goods at a shop in the village of Bellapais in Cyprus.

Marvel at the famous St Hilarion Castle

This is another castle that can’t be missed. The trip here is a great half-day adventure as there are many ruins, labyrinths and rocks to climb.

An view of St Hilarion Castle in North Cyprus, looking up from the car park below.

There are rumours that Walt Disney drew inspiration from the jagged contours of St Hilarion when he created the animated film Snow White. It also has some of the most outstanding views we have seen in Cyprus.

The entrance fee is 50 Turkish lira.
Opening hours are every day from 8 am to 5 pm.

A composite image showing a view from one of the windows and Janna and Jon sitting in front of a window at St Hilarion Castle in North Cyprus.
An aerial image of Jon and Janna standing in an archway leading to one of the uppermost sections of St Hilarion Castle in North Cyprus.

Adventure to the top of Buffavento Castle 

This is another castle near Kyrenia. But it's much lesser known and more adventurous.

The road to this castle is really windy and narrow and quite dangerous because it doesn’t have any fences along the road. So if you're not confident driving on roads like this, please reconsider a trip here.

An aerial image of Buffavento Castle in Cyprus.

Once you arrive at the base of the castle, your adventures don't stop there. You will have to hike up. The path is not as well mantained as other places, so you really have to watch your step.

Because this castle is quite remote and challenging, to get to it feels extra special. We watched the sunset from there and it was spectacular!

The castle is accessible at any time for free.

An aerial image looking from Buffavento Castle in Cyprus to the mountains below at sunset.
A composite image showing a close up of the sun setting behind mountains in front of Buffavento Castle in Cyprus and Janna standing and looking out at this scene.

Swim at the wild beaches of the Mediterranean Sea

You will find many accomodation options along the coast to the west of Kyrenia. In recent years, Cyprus has become a popular getaway destination for British and Scandinavians.

That led to many developers building resort-like homes along the coast for a fraction of the prices you pay in Europe. It’s quite rare to find empty and wild beaches in the Mediterranean just on the doorstep of your villa or studio apartment.

A composite image showing Janna laying on her back in a narrow rock pool and sitting down on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea with Jon standing behind her.

We invite you to stay in our little home in Cyprus. Our apartment is located in a newly built eco and wellness resort Dejablue. It features a spa, restaurant, gym and three pools.

The best part is that it’s only 10 minutes walking distance to our favourite beach rock pool. You can book it through Airbnb or by contacting us directly.

The location is also perfect if you have a car and want to explore everything North Cyprus has to offer. You can reach the nearby village of Esentape in 5 minutes and Kyrenia in 35 minutes by car.

Experience nature at Alagadi Turtle Beach 

Located just a 20 minute drive from Kyrenia and a 10 minute drive from Dejablue is a really picturesque beach protected by a bay. The water there is really calm and shallow. It has some stunning rock formations with a natural rock pool.

It’s a great place to snorkel and if you're lucky, you may spot a turtle. Note that because it’s a turtle reserve, please respect the protected nesting areas.

An aerial view of Alagadi Turtle Beach in North Cyprus.

The beach is closed from 8pm to 6 am to protect the nesting turtles. To see them, you can book a session through the North Cyprus Turtle Project or apply for one of their volunteer programs.

They can also be found on instagram as Cyprus Turtles.

Wander in the ancient walled city of Famagusta 

The walled old town of Famagusta, with huge amount of well-preserved medieval buildings is a perfect day trip destination.

A composite image showing a narrow street and Janna standing in front of an old building in Famagusta, North Cyprus.

There are informative maps introducing the sights, which are a great help for planning a walking tour around the walled city. There are many highlights in Famagusta, with our favourites listed below.

The Land Gate is one of the two original entrances to the city. Look for plaques to learn more about this place.

Othello’s Tower / Citadel is one of the most visited sites inside the walled city, but unfortunately we didn’t have a good experience there as a lot of trash was left behind. Please be a responsible traveller and always take your trash with you.

Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, also known as St. Nicholas Cathedral, was originally a medieval church later converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in 1571.

A composite image showing a close-up and a long-distance view of the exterior of Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, also known as St. Nicholas Cathedral in Famagusta, North Cyprus.

At the entrance you will be asked to take of your shoes. Women also have to cover their shoulders, legs and head. If you don’t have your own scarf, the friendly staff members will provide you with everything you need. It was really fascinating to see a cathedral from outside that has been transformed into a mosque inside. 

A composite image showing the roof and stained glass windows above a wooden door inside Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, also known as St. Nicholas Cathedral in Famagusta, North Cyprus.

The Venetian Palazzo del Provveditore (Venedik Sarayı Kalıntıları) was built by the Lusignan Kings of Cyprus and later used as a governors palace. Only the grand facade and back courtyard remain.

The grand facade of the entrance to the Venetian Palazzo del Provveditore (Venedik Sarayı Kalıntıları) in Famagusta, North Cyprus.
A composite image showing Janna walking in the courtyard and some of the remaining features in the Venetian Palazzo del Provveditore (Venedik Sarayı Kalıntıları) in Famagusta, North Cyprus.

Behind the palace you will also find the Sinan Paşha Mosque, an example of what the city would have looked like when it was originally built in the 14th century as a large Gothic cathedral.

While walking we came across the ruins of the church of St George of the Greeks. This was such a beautiful hidden gem. As photography lovers, we spent a good chance of time taking photos here. It felt very mystical exploring such old places without the crowds.

A composite image of Janna standing and Janna leaning against Jon in the ruins of St George of the Greeks in Famagusta, North Cyprus.

Explore Karpas (Karpaz in Turkish) Peninsula

This peninsula is famous for its beautiful deserted beaches and interesting wildlife. There are also some great cultural spots to visit in the area.

Read about our experience along the Karpas Peninsula including all the places we recommend to visit.

Admire the beauty of Affresco di Salamis

This is one of the coolest places to visit during your stay in North Cyprus. Affresco di Salamis easily wins a title of our favourite ruins.

Unfortunately there is no public transport, so you have to take a taxi or rent a car to get there. To find Salamis ruins on Google Maps, search for Salamis forest.

Salamis used to be the capital city of Cyprus in the past, but during Roman rule it was the second biggest city and had significant importance for trade.

The courtyard surrounded by columns at Affresco di Salamis in North Cyprus.

Built some time between the 1st century BC and 4th century AD, these Roman ruins were a kind of entertainment centre. 

The site contains a gymnasium, Roman baths, Roman amphitheatre and some other parts of the city that are less visible and still buried underground. The grounds arefairly big and we recommend spending at least two hours there to wander around, take photos and soak in the beauty.

A composite image showing Janna standing in front of a wall next to a headless statue and Janna and Jon standing in the middle of the courtyard with columns surrounding it at Affresco di Salamis in North Cyprus.

We came here just before 6 pm for the golden hour light and stayed till the sun was gone at around 7:30 pm (this was in August). It felt like we could have walked more, but it was getting dark. So make sure to come a bit earlier.

A composite image showing one of the boulevards with columns either side and an aerial view of the grounds at Affresco di Salamis in North Cyprus.

There were only a few people at the site, so sometimes there was no one else around us.

The entrance fee was 50 Turkish lira. We think that the entrance closes at 7 pm in summer, but it wasn’t very obvious. However, once you’re inside, no one will be chasing you out.

Down the road from the entrance where you can park your car, there is a beach club to grab a drink and a beach to take a dip.

Voyage Green tip: We recommend bringing your reusable water bottle to stay hydrated while walking around the ruinsas there isn’t much shade protection.

Travel back in time at the Soli ruins

The remains of the basilica at Soli is a precious part of Cyprus' rich history and cultural heritage. It is thought to be one of the earliest Christian churches in Cyprus, dating from the late 4th century AD, but is truly exceptional due to its beautiful surviving mosaics.

The mosaics feature different geometric patterns and animals, with the most famous one of a swan. The main site of the ruins is under a roof and has some informational plaques where you can learn more about the site and its mosaics.

A composite image of the amphitheatre and swan mosaic in the floor of the basilica at the Soli ruins in North Cyprus.

A restored Roman amphitheater built on the remains of an original Greek one is located just a short walk up a fairly steep mountain path behind the main site. You can look out to the sea and imagine what it was like for people centuries ago.

An aerial view of the amphitheatre at the Soli ruins in North Cyprus.

Scale new heights at Vouni Palace

Not far from from Soli high up in the mountains you will find the historical site of Vouni Palace.

It was originally established by a Persian-aligned ancient kingdom in 500 BC as a military settlement to watch over Soli. Some 50 years later, it was transformed into a royal palace by a Greek-aligned prince.

An aerial view of the site of Vouni Palace in North Cyprus.

Unfortunately there isn't much remaining on this site. There are few information signs and what we could find were hard to read due to sun damage.

But the view is quite awe-inspiring and there is a sense of the site's ancient history. It's therefore still worth making the trip up there.

A composite image of Janna sitting on a rock and an aerial view of the coastline behind the site of Vouni Palace in North Cyprus.
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