Nicosia (Lefkosa)

Based around 20km southeast of Ercan Airport , North Nicosia is the capital of Northern Cyprus, and with its suburb villages is home to a third of the population.

It is also the last divided capital city in the world, occupied on one side by the Turkish Cypriots and the other by the Greek Cypriots.  The boundary known as the ‘green line’ running in an east-west can however be crossed with the appropriate passport/ID card and is open 24 hours at both Ledra Palace and Ledra Street (Lokmaci).

The old walled city of Nicosia is typically Turkish, however due to its rich history is filled with the characteristics and architecture of the Venetians, Ottomans, Luisgnans and British.

Full of museums, medieval buildings and churches built long-ago, amongst narrow streets, North Nicosia is abundant in character and transports you to a time when the Venetians built the 16th century wall around the city, to protect it from the Ottomans.

The walls have eleven towers, three gates and are around three and a half miles long.  The Kyrenia Gate, one of the three original entrances to the city, has undergone some modifications over the years and is well worth a visit, especially as it is now used as a tourist centre.

Other attractions include Sarayonu – Ataturk Square, in which stands a Venetian column at its centre; the beautifully designed Arabahmet Mosque; the Museum of Whirling Dervishes (Mevlevi Tekke); the ancient Selimiye Mosque (St. Sophia Cathedral); and the Lapidary Museum containing stone taken from the demolition of historic building.  These are a few among many sites and landmarks to see in the city.

If sightseeing isn’t your thing, there is also a bustling bazaar known as the Belediye Pazari where you can purchase local foods, delicacies, souvenirs and trinkets.  The impressive Buyuk Han (The Great Inn) situated in Asmalti Street is definitely worth a visit.  Built by the Ottomans and dating back to the 16th century, this ancient building centred around a square, was erected to house travellers.

Today you will find the rooms occupied by cafes, and handicraft shops selling pottery, paintings and trinkets.  The square however acts as a place for social gathering, where you can sit and have a drink and listen to live music in the evenings.

There are many places to eat and drink in Nicosia, with traditional soup and kebab kitchens and other restaurants and cafes offering traditional dishes such as molehiya (a dish made of chicken and leaves from the molehiya plant) and dolma (stuffed vine leaves).  Other cuisines including Italian, Chinese and French can also be found for those wanting a change.

Getting around North Nicosia can easily been done so in a day, and it is truly worth a visit to see this traditional and important (it is home to the main government headquarters, and seat for the United Nations and European Commission offices) capital city of Northern Cyprus.

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