Northern Cyprus is a land of stunning beaches, rich history, and vibrant culture. Separated from its southern counterpart, Northern Cyprus offers a unique blend of Turkish and Cypriot influences that make it an ideal destination for travelers seeking something off the beaten path. In this travel guide, we will delve into the top attractions, the best time to visit, local cuisine, outdoor activities, and everything else you need to know to make your trip unforgettable.
Top Attractions in Northern Cyprus
Kyrenia Harbor and Castle
Nestled along the northern coastline, Kyrenia Harbor is a picturesque site featuring a beautiful marina, historic buildings, and charming cafes. The adjacent Kyrenia Castle offers a compelling journey through the island’s history and provides panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Located in the mountain village of Bellapais, this stunning 13th-century abbey is an architectural marvel that offers tranquility and a glimpse into the past. The abbey has been beautifully preserved and is a must-visit for anyone interested in history or architecture.
Known for its well-preserved medieval architecture, Famagusta is a city that transports you back in time. From the impressive Venetian walls to the hauntingly beautiful ruins of churches and palaces, Famagusta is a city that history buffs will not want to miss.
A haven for nature enthusiasts, the Karpaz Peninsula features some of the most untouched beaches in the Mediterranean. It is also home to a national park where you can see wild donkeys and numerous species of birds. The region is perfect for hiking, camping, and stargazing.
St. Hilarion Castle
Perched high in the Kyrenia mountain range, St. Hilarion Castle offers one of the most breathtaking views in Northern Cyprus. The castle was originally a monastery and later served as a military fortress. A hike to the top is a rewarding experience that offers stunning vistas and a journey through a fascinating history.
Another impressive mountaintop fortress, Buffavento Castle is less crowded than St. Hilarion but offers equally stunning views. The castle has a mysterious aura, heightened by the frequent mists that surround it, making it a unique and compelling place to visit.
One of the most significant archaeological sites in Northern Cyprus, the ruins of Salamis offer a glimpse into the ancient civilizations that once inhabited the island. From Roman baths to ancient amphitheaters, Salamis is a treasure trove waiting to be explored.
These attractions only scratch the surface of what Northern Cyprus has to offer. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an outdoor adventurer, or someone simply looking to relax, you’ll find something to love in this hidden gem of the Mediterranean.
Best Time to Visit Northern Cyprus
Spring Months for Mild Weather and Blooming Flora
Spring, specifically from April to June, is a wonderful time to visit Northern Cyprus. The weather is mild, the skies are mostly clear, and the landscape is dotted with colorful wildflowers. It’s a perfect season for outdoor activities such as hiking and bird-watching.
Summer for Beach Lovers
If your idea of a vacation is lounging on the beach with a cocktail in hand, then visiting between June and September would be ideal for you. However, it’s worth noting that temperatures can soar during the peak summer months, so make sure you’re prepared for the heat.
Autumn for Fewer Crowds
September to November offers a reprieve from the busy summer tourist season. The weather remains pleasantly warm, and the seas are still inviting for a swim. This is also an excellent time to explore the historical sites without the crowds, giving you a more intimate experience.
Winter for Indoor Attractions
While the winter months from December to February can be quite chilly and not ideal for beach activities, this is a good time to explore museums, dine in local restaurants, and engage in indoor activities. Some areas in the mountains may even offer the rare sight of snow, adding another layer of beauty to the landscape.
Each season offers its own unique attractions and drawbacks, but no matter when you choose to visit, Northern Cyprus is sure to offer an unforgettable experience.
Local Cuisine and Dining
Traditional Turkish-Cypriot Cuisine
Northern Cyprus offers an eclectic blend of Turkish and Cypriot flavors, creating a unique culinary landscape. Staples like grilled meats, fresh vegetables, and seafood are commonly featured. Kebabs are especially popular, often made with lamb, chicken, or beef and served with a side of fresh vegetables or rice.
Must-try Foods in Northern Cyprus
When in Northern Cyprus, there are several dishes you shouldn’t miss. “Halloumi” is a semi-hard, unripened cheese often grilled and served in a variety of dishes. “Molehiya” is a unique green leafy vegetable cooked with chicken and a special blend of spices, offering a taste you won’t find anywhere else. For dessert, try “Künefe,” a sweet pastry made of thin noodle-like strands filled with cheese or nuts and soaked in syrup.
Given its location on the Mediterranean Sea, it’s no surprise that seafood plays a significant role in the diet of Northern Cyprus. Fresh fish such as sea bream and sea bass are common, usually grilled or fried and flavored with a variety of local herbs and spices. Octopus and calamari are also popular choices, typically served in a simple olive oil and lemon dressing to allow the freshness of the seafood to shine through.
No meal in Northern Cyprus would be complete without sampling some of the local beverages. Turkish coffee, prepared in a special pot called a “cezve,” is a must-try. For something stronger, “Zivania” is a grape-based spirit that packs a punch. It’s often served as an aperitif or after meals.
Dining Atmosphere and Tips
The dining experience in Northern Cyprus is generally relaxed and unhurried. It’s common to see families and friends sharing multiple courses. Many restaurants offer an “al fresco” dining experience, where you can enjoy your meal outdoors in the pleasant Mediterranean climate. Service is often included in the bill, but it’s customary to leave a small tip for good service.
Whether you’re a foodie seeking to try new and unique dishes or someone who enjoys classic Mediterranean flavors, Northern Cyprus has a wide array of dining options to satisfy your palate.
Outdoor Activities and Adventures
Hiking in the Five Finger Mountains
The Five Finger Mountains, also known as the Kyrenia Range, offer excellent hiking opportunities for those looking to explore the natural beauty of Northern Cyprus. Trails range from beginner to advanced, many leading to historic sites like St. Hilarion Castle or offering panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
The waters surrounding Northern Cyprus are a paradise for divers and snorkelers. With several shipwrecks, underwater caves, and an abundance of marine life, the region offers an underwater adventure like no other. Popular dive spots include the Kyrenia Reef and the Zenobia Wreck, one of the top 10 wreck dives in the world.
Water Sports in Famagusta Bay
If you’re looking for adrenaline-pumping action, Famagusta Bay offers a variety of water sports, such as jet skiing, windsurfing, and parasailing. Equipment rental and lessons are readily available along the shore, making it convenient for both beginners and experienced enthusiasts.
Paragliding from Buffavento Castle
For an aerial adventure, consider paragliding from the heights of Buffavento Castle. The experience provides breathtaking views of the coastline and the surrounding countryside, making it a truly unforgettable experience.
Birdwatching in the Karpaz Peninsula
The Karpaz Peninsula is a haven for birdwatchers, with several indigenous species and migratory birds passing through the area. Whether you’re a seasoned ornithologist or a casual observer, the region offers a peaceful and rewarding birdwatching experience.
Mountain biking is gaining popularity in Northern Cyprus, with a range of terrains suitable for all skill levels. Whether you prefer steep, challenging slopes or more leisurely rides through forested paths, there are numerous trails to explore.
Enjoy the scenic landscapes of Northern Cyprus on horseback. Several stables offer guided tours through beautiful trails, offering a unique and relaxed way to explore the countryside.
Kayaking and Paddleboarding
For a serene water experience, kayaking and paddleboarding are available in several areas, particularly around Kyrenia. The calm, clear waters make it an ideal activity for people of all ages.
Whether you’re an adventure-seeker or simply looking to enjoy the great outdoors, Northern Cyprus offers a wide range of activities that allow you to experience the natural beauty and excitement the region has to offer.
Luxury Hotels and Resorts
For travelers looking for a lavish experience, Northern Cyprus has a range of luxury hotels and resorts, often located along the beautiful coastlines or in the heart of bustling cities like Kyrenia. These establishments typically offer a wide range of amenities such as swimming pools, on-site restaurants, gyms, and spas.
If you prefer a more intimate setting, boutique hotels are an excellent choice. These smaller establishments often offer personalized service and unique design features that reflect the local culture and history of Northern Cyprus.
Guest Houses and Bed and Breakfasts
For a homey and authentic experience, consider staying at a guest house or bed and breakfast. These are often family-run establishments that provide a warm, local atmosphere. Breakfast is usually included, and you may even get the chance to sample some homemade Cypriot dishes.
Hostels for Budget Travelers
Budget travelers will be pleased to find a variety of hostels available, particularly in popular tourist destinations like Kyrenia and Famagusta. Hostels are an affordable way to stay in Northern Cyprus and offer an excellent opportunity to meet other travelers.
If you’re traveling with a group or looking for a longer-term stay, vacation rentals such as apartments or villas can be an economical and convenient option. These usually come fully furnished, with cooking facilities that allow you the flexibility to prepare your own meals.
For the adventurous types, camping is also an option, especially in the more rural areas like the Karpaz Peninsula. Some campsites offer basic amenities like showers and picnic tables, while others provide a more back-to-basics experience.
Whether you’re looking for the ultimate in luxury or just a simple place to rest your head, Northern Cyprus offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets.
Currency and Money Exchange
The currency used in Northern Cyprus is the Turkish Lira (TRY). It’s advisable to exchange some currency before arriving or withdraw cash from ATMs that are readily available in cities and tourist areas. Credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, restaurants, and shops, but it’s good to have some cash on hand for smaller establishments or rural areas.
Turkish Lira current exchange rates
- 1000 TRY = $34.60 or $1 = 28.90 Turkish Lira
- 1000 TRY = €31.78 or €1 = 31.46 Turkish Lira
- 1000 TRY = 27.25 British Pounds
- 1000 TRY = 51.90 Australian Dollar
- 1000 TRY = 46.71 Canadian Dollar
- 1000 TRY = 360.96 Swedish Krona
- 1000 TRY = 137.53 Polish Zloty
- 1000 TRY = 771.76 Czech Koruna
- 1000 TRY = 44,775.34 South Korean Won
- 1000 TRY = 244.71 Chinese Yuan
- 1000 TRY = 5,080.48 Japanese Yen
Public transport in Northern Cyprus mainly consists of buses and shared taxis. While they are cost-effective, their schedules can be irregular. Renting a car is often the most convenient way to explore the island, especially if you plan to visit multiple destinations.
The official language in Northern Cyprus is Turkish. While many people in the tourist industry speak English, it’s always appreciated if you learn a few basic Turkish phrases.
Safety and Health
Northern Cyprus is generally a safe destination for travelers. However, it’s always wise to take basic safety precautions like safeguarding your belongings. In terms of health, tap water is usually safe to drink, but bottled water is recommended, especially during the summer months.
Local Customs and Etiquette
When visiting religious sites such as mosques, it’s important to dress modestly and adhere to any posted guidelines. Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially in rural areas.
Tipping is not mandatory but is generally appreciated. In restaurants, it’s customary to leave a tip of around 10%. For taxis, rounding up to the nearest lira is usually sufficient.
Shopping and Souvenirs
Bargaining is common in local markets, so don’t be afraid to haggle to get a better price. Popular souvenirs include local handicrafts, olive oil, and Turkish delight.
- Go North Cyprus (www.gonorthcyprus.com) – This website specializes in holidays to Northern Cyprus and offers an extensive list of hotels, flights, and package deals.
- TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com) – Search for Northern Cyprus to read traveler reviews on accommodations, attractions, and restaurants, making it easier to plan your trip.
- Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/cyprus/northern-cyprus) – Provides comprehensive travel guides on what to see, things to do, and where to stay in Northern Cyprus. Also offers downloadable e-books.
- Cyprus Paradise (www.cyprusparadise.com) – Another dedicated site for holidays in Northern Cyprus, it offers package deals, hotel options, and even guided tours.
- Skyscanner (www.skyscanner.net) – Excellent for comparing flight prices to Ercan International Airport in Northern Cyprus or Larnaca Airport in the south which is also commonly used by travelers to the north.
- Wikitravel Northern Cyprus (wikitravel.org/en/Northern_Cyprus) – Offers a community-based approach to travel information, with tips on local customs, attractions, and budget options.
- Northern Cyprus Tourism Centre (www.visitncy.com) – The official tourism website for Northern Cyprus. It offers travel guides, event calendars, and practical information.
- Rome2Rio (www.rome2rio.com) – Handy for planning how to get from one place to another, whether it’s from the airport to your hotel or from one city to another within Northern Cyprus.
- Booking.com (www.booking.com) – A reliable platform for hotel reservations, with plenty of options in Northern Cyprus, from luxury resorts to budget accommodations.
- XE.com (www.xe.com) – Useful for currency conversion to Turkish Lira (TRY), providing real-time exchange rates.
Whether you’re an adventurer eager to explore rugged landscapes, a history buff fascinated by ancient ruins, or a foodie keen to indulge in unique culinary delights, Northern Cyprus has something to offer for everyone. With a range of accommodation options to suit all budgets and practical travel tips to ensure a smooth journey, planning your trip to this Mediterranean gem has never been easier. Experience the rich cultural tapestry, natural beauty, and warm hospitality that make Northern Cyprus a truly unforgettable destination.