Day Trip to Nicosia (Lefkosia) and Crossing the Green Line

In all the years I have been coming to Cyprus I have never before visited the Capital city Nicosia. Well unless you count the time our flight was cancelled and we spent a few hours in a hotel there before being bussed back to Paphos airport.

Nicosia (or Lefkosia) is Europe's last divided capital city. According to Wikipedia The Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities of Nicosia split into the south and north of the city respectively in 1963, following the Cyprus Crisis, a period of political and violent turbulence which ran from1955 to 1964. 

building in northern (Turkish) Nicosia Cyprus

This segregation created a militarized border between the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus after Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus in 1974, occupying the north of the island, including northern Nicosia. 

Today North Nicosia is the capital of Northern Cyprus, a state recognized only by Turkey, that is considered to be occupied Cypriot territory by the international community. I'm not expressing an opinion on who owns what here, I'm just stating what the international community recognises.

From Paphos you can catch a bus from a number of stops around the city and a return ticket costs 13 Euro* for adults and there's a 50% discount for some concessions including children aged over 6. The bus takes around 2 hours direct.

You can of course book a coach tour and you could expect to pay around 65 Euros for that which usually includes stops at places of interest en route and possibly a tour of the northern side of Nicosia.

We took the car, a drive of around an hour and a half from Paphos airport and with current fuel prices it cost the equivalent of around £35. We parked in the Greek side of the city (3 euros for up to 7 hours) just off Ledra street (pictured below) where it's then just a short walk to the border. 

Led Street, South (Greek) Nicosia

You can drive over into Northern Cyprus but you have to take out extra insurance and there is anecdotal evidence of bogus fines being applied for alleged traffic infractions imposed on your return to the border.

Don't forget your passport if you want to cross the border!

You cross the Greek border control and then walk a short distance to the Turkish passport control. Then you are straight into a bustling shopping area which already looks very different to the modern High Street  just a few metres back in the south side.

Look up to spot bullet holes in the buildings, and look left and right down narrow streets leading off the shopping area to see dilapidated homes stuck in a time warp, rolls of barbed wire and blockades. If there are signs saying no photographs obey them! The military still patrol and you don't want to end up in a Turkish prison or with a hefty fine.

side street in North Nicosia Cyprus

We headed towards the municipal market (signposted) where old men played age-old table games while sipping tiny cups of strong black coffee or glasses of wine and apple tea. 

Piles of basins and ancient motorbikes, decades old tech and even older sewing machines made for a photographer's heaven. Watch out for signs demanding cash for the right to take pictures on some stalls.

basins in Nicosia North side municipal market

Sweet shops boasted many flavours of Turkish Delight. In the south side you will see Cypriot Delight on sale everywhere  made in the village of Geriskipou where you can visit the little workshops where it is made. A rose (sweet) by any other name....

Turkish Delight Nicosia Municipal market (northern side)

You will easily find the mosque walking towards the minaret (tower) and you are welcome to go inside if appropriately dressed. No shorts, strappy tops, short skirts etc. Women must cover their head- headscarves hang by the entrance door to borrow. No shoes allowed either but you can leave them by the door and step over the low barrier designed to prevent people wandering in without thinking.

I was interested to see a board with readings from their holy book - it was the story of Mary being visited by the Angel to tell her she would bear a child which of course is integral to my faith.

We wandered round streets behind the mosque marvelling at how different it felt to the south side, even with recent modernisation works.  If you are fan of  #DoorsofInstagram you will love it here!

door in north Nicosia Lefkosia

round window in building in northern Nicosia

doorway in northern Nicosia

Wonderful aromas wafted on the light breeze and we decided to stop at an outdoor cafe, Saraba, in the grounds of the mosque. It seemed less touristy than others and the menu seemed locally authentic.

It was an order by number system costing 6 Euros per dish but still we encountered some miscommunication and didn't get all the food we had ordered. However what we did get was tasty and portions were generous - stuffed vegetables, meatballs with just a hint of spice and stuffed vine leaves served with chips, bean salad and a tangy potato salad.

Homemade lemonade was very refreshing and tasty- you could choose beers or the usual fizzy soft drinks too. The clientele seemed to be mostly local professionals stopping for a quick lunch break.

lunch break with homemade lemonade

After lunch we walked towards a walled courtyard with little towers, formerly an inn but now housing cafes and little craft and souvenir stalls. I bought a necklace with a pendant of hand-made lace embroidered with tiny flowers. (6 Euros)

We didn't buy anything else - mostly on offer are fake designer bags, sportswear, watches, sunglasses and shoes and signs warning that pirated and fake goods will be seized are apparently enforced so unless you are prepared to lose your goods, don't buy them. The trade in illegal cigarettes popular a few years ago seems to have stopped altogether.

Don't be tempted to buy from the vintage and antique shops - bringing antiquities over the border is illegal and unless you are a real expert you might not know what constitutes an antiquity in the border guards eyes.

You can however buy beautiful lace and embroidered items, tablecloths and rugs and Turkish Hamman towels as souvenirs along with the usual tat you find in every holiday destination. 

Back down towards the border we stopped for Grumpy to have the ice-cream we had promised him (1 euro a scoop for handmade ice-cream - bargain!) and a mint and lemon tea for me although I was disappointed to see it was a tea bag in a mug rather than the homemade brew in a glass I had hoped for.

child with giant ice-cream model in Nicosia, Cyprus

 Time to get the passports back out to re-cross the border where as soon as we were in the south side Grumpy's face lit up at the sight of a KFC. Much better than dolmades in his eyes!

Twin Mummy and Daddy

blogger chart

TOTS100 - UK Parent Blogs