No one but Turkey recognizes the Republic of Turkish Cyprus, which take up about 30% of Cypriot territory and is situated on the north of the island. But unrecognized or not, the division exists, and a visit to the capitol of Northern Cyprus, is an easy and interesting way to explore a culture quite different from that you can experience to the south.
Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960 and at that time a constitution was drawn up which was to guarantee a degree of power sharing between the Greek Cypriot majority and the Turkish Cypriot minority. Despite these best intentions, tensions arose and hostilities flared up in the 1970s which saw the creation of the Republic of Turkish Cyprus. Now, I’m no expert on the subtle (or even not so sublet) politics, histories, and tensions which resulted in this split, and I won’t go into that here. Instead I will talk about how to visit Turkish Cyprus as a day trip, and some of the things you can do and see there.
Getting to Northern Cyprus
The easiest way to visit Northern Cyprus, if you are just doing a day trip and want to explore the main city of Nicosia, is to cross the green line as a pedestrian. Rules have relaxed in recent times and a Northern Cyprus stamp in your passport will no longer cause you any problems with entering other countries, however the border guards are pretty relaxed and most people just walk right by them. We however were happy to get our passports stamped, since it was unlikely to cause us any future issue.
The pedestrian border crossing is at Ledra street and there is a large car park near by. We parked our car there and then walked across the border. Considering the green line is technically a disputed border, is was perhaps the calmest border crossing I have ever seen. As we walked across, while pushing our son in a pram, a bus dropped off a load of school children who also crossed at the same time. The border guards were not particularly interested in checking our documents, and halfheartedly stamped our passports.
Keep in mind that if you are visiting Cyprus and Northern Cyprus it is highly recommended that you fly in and out of Cyprus, as the Greek Cypriot authorities will consider an entry into the north by non-Eu citizens as an illegal entry and you may be arrested and deported.
How to Spend a Day in Northern Cyprus
Inside the historic walled city of old Nicosia, you will find a number of well preserved buildings of historic interest. This combined with the bustling market places and plethora of street vendors selling delicious Turkish food will surely keep you busy for the duration of your visit.
As you pass the checkpoint you will notice a blue line painted on the pavement. This is the blue line walking tour, and if you simply follow this line, you will be taken past most of the historic buildings and sights of interest in the old town. There are signs which will tell you what you are looking at. This is a great way to spend an hour or two, and will take you through out the walled old town.
We spent some time doing the blue line tour, before stopping off at the covered market of Bandabulya. Here you can find almost everything for sale. We stocked up on some Turkish Delight (as you do), baklava, and other delicacies before stopping at one of the nearby cafes for Turkish coffee.
We only had a half day to spend in Northern Cyprus, as our accommodation was a 90 minute drive away, but there is certainly enough to see to keep you busy for a day or two (or more).