Congress City – Nicosia / N. Cyprus
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC, Turkish Kuzey Kıbrıs Türk Cumhuriyeti) is a republic on the northern and eastern side of the island of Cyprus. Turkey is currently the only state which recognizes the TRNC. Cyprus itself is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Turkey. After Sicily and Sardinia, Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.
Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. Despite a constitution which guaranteed a degree of power-sharing between the Greek Cypriot majority and the Turkish Cypriot minority, the two populations – with backing from the governments of Greece and Turkey, respectively – clashed vehemently in 1974, with the end result being the invasion and occupation of the northern and eastern 36.7% of the island by Turkey. In 1983, the Turkish-held area declared itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. So far, only Turkey recognizes the TRNC, while all other governments and the United Nations recognize only the government of the Republic of Cyprus over the whole island. The UN operates a peacekeeping force and a narrow buffer zone between the two ethnic groups.
The climate of North Cyprus is a healthy one, typically Mediterranean. The summers are long and hot, while the winters are short with little rainfall. Cold winds, frost and snow are virtually unknown in North Cyprus. Precipitation normally takes the form of rain, but occasionally snow falls on the Girne mountain range, vanishing as quickly as it came. The coldest month is January which averages 10°C, while the hottest is July with an average temperature of 40°C. The annual mean temperature is 15°C.
Central plain with mountains to north and south; scattered but significant plains along southern area.
Note that Cypriot cities have a variety of historical spellings and writings, all in fairly common use, and which change according to the context, whether it be Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot or English. The following list emphasizes traditional English spellings, that will most often be encountered by the traveller.
- Nicosia (Lefkoşa / Lefkosia) – the divided capital, with the untouched beautiful historical buildings in the walled city and an increasingly vibrant city center outside the walls
- Famagusta (Mağusa / Ammochostos – Congress City ) is a city on the east coast of Cyprus. It is located east of Nicosia and possesses the deepest harbour of the island. During the medieval period (especially under the maritime republics of Genoa and Venice), Famagusta was the island’s most important port city and a gateway to trade with the ports of the Levant, from where the Silk Road merchants carried their goods to Western Europe. The old walled city and parts of the modern city presently fall within the de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in Gazimağusa District, of which it is the capital.
- Kyrenia (Girne / Keryneia) – a beautiful Meditteranean city with a historical harbor, a castle overseeing it, and under the beautiful Beşparmak/Pentadaktylos mountains, swarming with good seaside hotels, beaches and clubs
- Morphou (Güzelyurt / Omorfo) – the gateway to the greenest area of Northern Cyprus, surrounded by citrus trees, home to a historical church and a nostalgic town center
- Lefke (Lefka) – green and mountainous, home to beautiful date trees and seaview, and a historical mosque, gateway to Dillirga, the remote and beautiful part of Northern Cyprus
- İskele (Trikomo) – some may say that this is a city as it is a district capital – dont be deceived. Small and similar to any major Cypriot village, gateway to the Karpaz Peninsula, beautiful beaches and home to good traditional restaurants.
As Northern Cyprus is not an internationally-recognised state, the rules for entry are a little confusing, but far more relaxed than they were just a few years ago, and entry is certainly not difficult.
For stays of up to 90 days, visas are not required for any nationality except for citizens of Armenia and Nigeria.
Citizens of any country in the European Union and Turkey may enter using a national ID card in lieu of a passport.
All visitors to Northern Cyprus need to pass through TRNC immigration. At land border crossings, travel documents are not stamped. At TRNC sea/airports, foreign passports are issued with an entry stamp valid for 90 days, while foreign ID card holders fill out a white form (optional at Ercan airport), which is then stamped.
TRNC stamps are no longer a problem for later visits to Greece or Cyprus for EU citizens.
Beware that if you are not an EU/EFTA citizen and you enter the island at the north, the officials in the south may deny you entry, although they only perform spot checks that may be cursory (i.e. they may not check your stamps).
The Ledra Palace crossing, previously a pedestrian-only crossing for non-dplomats, can now be used by ordinary cars.
Northern Cyprus main airport is called Ercan Airport. All flights are connected from Turkey. This means all flights (including charters) must touch down in Turkey before continuing to Ercan. Scheduled flights on Turkish Airlines, Atlasjet and Pegasus connect via various destinations in Turkey, and countries such as the UK, Germany and Iran.
It is also possible to fly to airports in southern Cyprus (Larnaca is the closest) and take a taxi to the north, crossing the Green Line near Nicosia. It is best to have a travel operator arrange for a taxi from the north to collect you, since Greek Cypriot taxi drivers may not be willing to take tourists to the north.
You can pass through easily from Larnaca Airport to the North Cyprus by the Derinya Gate which started to used on last November. Your trip will be shorter by that way than others.
It is also possible to take a taxi to the Ledra Palace crossing and arrange for a rental car to be delivered to you on the northern side.
Going to and from the Republic of Cyprus
After the accession of Cyprus to the European Union, the restrictions on travel to the north from the Republic have been lifted. From the EU’s point of view, the entire island is a part of its territory and thus, there can be no restrictions on EU citizens (including Cypriots) travelling across the Green Line.
EU citizens may thus now cross the Green Line freely regardless of where they entered the island. Other nationalities may be arrested and deported by Greek-Cypriot authorities if they entered the island via the north.
The official language in Northern Cyprus is Turkish although a distinct Turkish Cypriot dialect is used in conversation. English is much less popular than in south Cyprus but could still be well understood, especially in the resort town of Kyrenia. However, the entire island is somewhat of a cultural melting pot and in villages off the beaten track, some elderly locals who lived among Greek Cypriots before 1974 still use the Greek Cypriot dialect as their first language, even though they are Turkish Cypriots.
Northern Cyprus is home to many fascinating sights, below is just a selection:
- Kyrenia Harbor and Castle – Kyrenia is often called the pearl of the Mediterranean, and for good reason. Under the scenery of the green Beşparmak Mountains, with its picturesque pier, many boats anchored on the harbor and full of bars and restaurants, continuing the adjacent Kordonboyu Street and the captivating sunsets, this is a complete must-see and the perfect place to take a promenade. It is impossible to see the castle overseeing the harbor, and the castle is well worth a visit with the beautiful views and the shipwreck museum.
- Castles – the Beşparmak Mountains are home to three picturesque and well-preserved castles, the St. Hilarion Castle, Buffavento Castle and Kantara Castle. St. Hilarion is just above Kyrenia, and Kantara is closer to the Karpaz Peninsula. All of them offer breathtaking scenery of the coastline and the mountains, and also some refreshing clean air and hikes.
- Walled City of Nicosia – this is the destination of the tourists who cross the Ledra Street into the north, even though they miss much more of Northern Cyprus! Nicosia is home to perhaps the most well-preserved city walls that belong to a capital in the world – they have even made their way to the municipal emblem as the symbol of the city. Be prepared to see a magnificent mosque… built in the Gothic style, the Selimiye Mosque (also known as Ayasofya or St. Sophia Cathedral). Enjoy your meal and traditional crafts under the shade of the historical Great Inn (Büyük Han) – a favorite for tourists. Wander around the streets to see the traditional architecture, especially in the Samanbahçe quarter, the 500-year-old and yet active Great Turkish Bath (Büyük Hamam), shop at the historical Bandabulya bazaar, greet the Venetian Column at the historical heart of the city – Atatürk Square – and beware of the historical buildings and museums popping out from every corner!
- Salamis ruins near Famagusta – this ancient Greek city is full of statues, agoras, and many more, including an amphitheatre where concerts and other events take place, and all of them right next to the see, with much of the complex still uncovered! This once-strategic great city is worth a visit.
- Walled City of Famagusta – Just like the walled city of Nicosia, historical buildings pop out everywhere in this walled city center. Another magnificent Gothic-style mosque, Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, once home to the crowning ceremonies of the Lusignan kings, the well-preserved city walls, the Othello Tower, where the Cypriot section of Shakespeare’s play Othello takes place, and many more!
- Bellapais village near Kyrenia – known for its ancient monastery, which consists of picturesque ruins with great Gothic arches and towering stone walls, and a great view of Kyrenia. Cultural events such as classical music concerts take place throughout the year.
- Apostolos Andreas Monastery, Karpaz National Park and Cape Apostolos Andreas – located at the tip of the Karpaz Peninsula, farther north than Dipkarpaz, this well-preserved monastery is an ancient site of pilgrimage. Karpaz is very unspoilt, and the only national park in Northern Cyprus is known for its wild donkeys, who are so free they can block the roads – make sure to take photos with them! Near the Apostolos Andreas Monastery is the geographical end of Cyprus, Cape Apostolos Andreas, known as Cape Zafer (Zafer Burnu) locally. And do not miss the idyllic Golden Beach (Altın Kumsal), perhaps the most beautiful beach in all of Cyprus!
Turkish-Cypriot cuisine is a fine blend of Turkish, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines featuring mouth watering seafood to kebabs, numerous mezes to delicious home made fruit preserves called macun (pronounced ma-joon). Go to any traditional restaurant and ask the local foods they serve.
Some of the key foods featured in the Turkish-Cypriot cuisine, and some of whom do not exist in mainland Turkish and Greek cuisines, include Molehiya, Enginar Dolması, Kolokas, Bullez, Çiçek Dolması, Magarina-Bulli, Pilav, Bulgur Köftesi, Mucendra, Hummus Çorbası, Hellimli and Pirohu, etc.. Some special meals are explained below:
- Halloumi, known as hellim in Turkish (use the Turkish name as some Turkish Cypriots may be offended from the use of the Greek name due to trademark disputes), is an important feature of the Cypriot cuisine. The Turkish Cypriots use it in many meals, such as Hellimli (a sort of cake with hellim), Hellim Böreği (a sort of pastry) or Pirohu (the traditional Turkish meal of mantı with hellim instead of meat)
- Şeftali Kebabı, made from lamb, is a very delicious must-eat
- Fırın Kebabı or Kleftiko is a mouth-watering local kebab made from lamb and the Cypriot potato, also known for its taste
- Magarına Bulli, is pasta with chicken, and hellim sprinkled all over it. Ask especially for hand-made pasta (el magarınası) and yahnili magarına
- Grilled hellim – if you come to Northern Cyprus and leave without trying this, your trip will be incomplete, as hellim is a rare sort of cheese that can be grilled without melting
- Çakısdez (pronounced chuck-ess-dez) – green olives, manually and onerously crushed using special stones, and added flavor using garlic
- Humus – mashed chickpeas, sesame paste, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, this is an excellent side dish for kebabs
- Samarella – dried meat
And here are some local desserts. Turkish Cypriot cuisine offers a huge variety of desserts so this list is far from complete:
- Pekmez – the Beşparmak/Pentadaktylos mountains are swarming with carob trees and this thick syrup of carob juice tastes exceptionally good in Cyprus. At traditional restaurants, you will find mouth-watering desserts made of pekmez, such as gullurikya.
- Nor böreği – nor is another type of cheese special to Cyprus, and this pastry with nor, cinnamon and sugar is almost addictive
- Katmer – there are two types of this, sini gatmeri and sac gatmeri (pronounced sach, NOT sak). Sac gatmeri is an exceptionally delicious AND light pastry made of sugar and dough.
- Ekmek Kadayıfı – soft, special sort of dough filled with the nor and sweet syrup – splendid with vanilla ice-cream!
- Macun – preserved fruits. Try especially ceviz macunu (walnut macun).
Of course, traditional European restaurants exist too, from the basic fish and chips providers up to expensive haute cuisine. More recently, Indian curry houses have been opening and there are some good Chinese and Thai restaurants also. The fast-food chain Burger City, directly linked to Burger King, has restaurants in all district capitals apart from İskele. Turkish food, such as döner, adana kebap and tantuni is also widespread.
For those self-catering, food of many types and nationalities can be found in the many supermarkets. Even pork cuts can now be found from specialist retailers.
For vegetarians and vegans, Northern Cyprus can be a tough place, but virtually all restaurants and cafes serve salad varieties in the cities, though the traditional restaurants in less touristy areas may not.
- Zivania – one of the most important local drinks, made from grape. Unlike the Republic of Cyprus, as Northern Cyprus is not bound by European regulations, there are zivania varieties with up to 95% alcohol presence, so take care! There is a saying among Turkish Cypriots which goes like “the best of zivania is the one that burns well when you set it on fire”. Do learn how much alcohol the zivania you’re buying contains.
- Brandy – popular because of its taste, the Cypriot brandy is well worth a try. What is more spectacular, though, is the local cocktail, the Brandy Sour, a mixture of brandy and the lemon squash, made from the lemons of the Morphou region.
- Wine – Northern Cyprus is not an important wine producer, but there are two notable local brands: Aphrodite and Kantara. Even though the official travel guide describes it as “light, fruity and palatable”, some travellers have reported that it is better to avoid it. It is still worth a try, though. Wines from the Turkish mainland are generally good and the average cost is about TL12 per bottle (2013). However imported wines from South Africa, Chile, Australia and Argentina are widely available and are fairly reliable and good value.
- Locally produced Rakı, which is the national drink of the Turks (similar to Ouzo which is the national drink of the Greeks, as they both have a strong aniseed flavor, but with different proportions) and all internationally imported varieties.
- Beer – The lager brand named Efes is ubiquitous and well worth a try, as are some bland European brands such as Carling and Heineken. English ales and Guinness are rare but can sometimes be found.
As for non-alcoholic drinks,
- Ayran – the Turkish classic
- Orange juice – Northern Cyprus is famous for its great oranges, so why not try their juice?
The electricity is 240 volt and the UK style 3 rectangular pinned plugs and sockets are used. Be warned that power cuts are fairly frequent and that the proper voltage is frequently over- or under-shot, which can be damaging to anything plugged in.
- There are many Gymnasiums situated in in the main cities such as Nicosia, Famagusta and Kyrenia.
- Only drink bottled water. The tap water is OK if boiled.
Dial 155 for police, from any phone without charge.
Northern Cyprus is a relatively safe place, as tourists do not have to worry much about crime. In Girne, British retirees often speak of how safe they feel there, and that they can walk down dark streets at any time of night and feel safe. Crimes such as pickpocketing are unheard of, even in the bigger cities and lively areas, such as the Dereboyu quarter of Nicosia.