capital of Northern Cyprus
Europe > Northern Cyprus > Nicosia (North)

North Nicosia (Turkish: Lefkoşa) is the Turkish Cypriot side of the divided city of Nicosia, and the capital of Northern Cyprus. In 2011 the population was 61,378.

Understand

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This ancient city was Leucotheon (Λευκοθέον) or similar names meaning "white deity" until the 13th century, when the "L" morphed into "N". It was the capital of the island from the 10th century, ringed by walls and a moat in the 16th to try to repel the Ottomans, and became capital of the Republic of Cyprus on independence in 1960. But inter-community tensions and violence persisted, leading to the Turkish invasion of 1974, and the eventual ceasefire line split Nicosia through the middle. And so it remains, a strange example of a divided city, in an era when Berlin, Jerusalem and Sarajevo have re-combined, and the Greek-Turkish partition of Cyprus is a "frozen conflict" blighting the entire island. The border however is straightforward to cross for individuals - vehicles, goods and pets are another matter - so many tourists in the south get their first taste of life in Northern Cyprus by strolling across at Ledra Street.

Most sights and amenities are within the sturdy walls of the Old City. Restaurants and shops also extend northwest along Dereboyu Street, also known as Mehmet Akif Cd.

Get in

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Map of Nicosia (North)

By plane

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1 Ercan International Airport (ECN  IATA), Kırklar (13 km east of Nicosia), +90 392 600 5000. The main point of entry into TRNC, this has regular flights from Istanbul (IST and SAW) connecting with Turkish Airlines and Pegasus international flights, and from Ankara. Seasonal flights from north Europe make a brief touchdown in Istanbul to work around international non-recognition of TRNC. The airport is small but adequate with the usual facilities, including car hire, which you'll need to see much of the north island, but don't hire here if you're touring the south. Kibhas bus runs to Nicosia otogar every hour or two, taking 30 min; change there for Kyrenia and other destinations.    

Travellers to the south fly into Larnaca (LCA IATA) or Paphos (PFO IATA). The former Nicosia Airport 8 km west of the city saw heavy fighting in 1974 and now lies marooned in the UN buffer zone. It's mostly derelict but is a base for the UN Peacekeeping Force, and you can take an online tour.

On foot

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Ledra Street (Λήδρας) pedestrian border crossing is the easy way for visitors from the south to stroll into Northern Cyprus. It's open 24 hours and is friendly and efficient. Your only difficulty may be in finding it in the narrow bazaar alleys: here are are the cheap jeans, here are the cheap vapes, oh here it is. Don't confuse it with Ledra Palace aka Paphos Gate crossing west edge of Old Town, also for pedestrians only plus a few authorised vehicles.

By road

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Highways and buses from all corners of TRNC converge on Nicosia. Buses from Kyrenia run every 15 min and take 30 min.

2 Lefkoşa Otogarı is the inter-city bus terminal, at the corner of Gazeteci Kemal Aşık Cd and Atatürk Cd two km north of Old Town. It's grubby but functional; on Sundays there's a farmers market here, be grateful they don't herd goats.

Dolmuşes bring you closer in, to Kyrenia Gate, so you might prefer to take one of these to the city if you don't mind sitting on the handbrake next to a vast woman with market wares.

The vehicle crossing from Nicosia South is Paphos Gate, aka Ledra Palace, next to the city walls to the west. It's open 24 hours.

Get around

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The Old City of northern Nicosia is easy to explore on foot.

Kuzey Kibris Taxi are on +90 539 103 3131.

 
Selimiye Mosque
  • 1 Selimiye Mosque, Selimiye Sk. This was built as Hagia Sophia Cathedral from 1209, probably replacing a Byzantine church. It was constructed in Gothic style in fits and starts, just about keeping ahead of the major earthquakes, and consecrated in 1326. It was again rebuilt by the Venetians after the earthquake of 1491. The Ottomans captured the city and cathedral in 1570, slaying the bishop and refugees within, scouring it of Christian items and converting it to a twin-minaret mosque. It's been a Sunni mosque ever since, the focus of Islamic life on Cyprus, and a city landmark. Refurbishment since 2022 has cloaked it in scaffolding and closed off some areas. Free.  
  • Bedesten on the south flank of the mosque was the basilica of St Nicholas, dating back to the 6th century but rebuilt in the 12th / 13th. The Ottomans converted it into a covered market and it's now a cultural centre.
  • Eaved House (Saçaklı Ev) is on Kütüphane Sk just east of Selimiye Mosque. It's a fine old mansion, nominally a museum, but you're unlikely to find it open.
  • 2 Büyük Han (The Great Inn), Asmaaltı Sk. Atmospheric caravanserai built in 1572 shortly after the Ottomans conquest. Modelled on the han in Bursa, it has two storeys around a courtyard, where the little mosque is reached by steps to discourage beasts of burden from ambling in. Under British rule from 1878 it was a prison, then from 1903 cheap accommodation. In the 1990s it was restored as a craft market, and it's a condition of tenancy that the vendors make their own wares. There's also a handful of cafes.    
  • Kumarcılar Han is a smaller caravanserai just north of Büyük Han. It was built late 17th century and was a ruin by the 21st, but is now restored as a craft market.
  • 3 Lusignan House, Yenicami Sk. Tu-Su 08:00-12:00, 13:00-17:00. The Lusignans were French barons of the 13th-15th century who got embroiled in the Crusades and came to be rulers of Cyprus, the Levant and Armenia. They murdered each other in any spare moments between unsuccessful attempts to re-capture Jerusalem, until the dynasty died out in 1487. This 15th century mansion was refurbished as a museum from 1995; its ground floor is in Lusignan style and the upper floor is Ottoman.    
  • Haydarpaşa Mosque is on Kirlizade Sk, 50 m south of the Lusignan House. It was built in Gothic style in the late 14th century as St Catherine's Church and converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest. It's only intermittently in use as a mosque and has also been an art gallery.
  • 4 Sarayönü   or Atatürk Square is the heart of the walled city. Most of its historic buildings have been lost, to be replaced with humdrum modern low-rise. So it's not scenic, but the Venetian Column was erected in 1550 (probably pilfered from the ancient Temple of Zeus at Salamis), and there's an Ottoman-era fountain, no longer connected.
  • 5 Dervish Pasha Ethnography Museum, Beliğ Paşa Sk. Merchant's mansion built maybe 1801, a fine example of Ottoman architecture. In 1979 it was tumbledown but restored as a museum. Derviş Paşa was the name of half-a-dozen Grand Viziers of the Ottoman Empire: this mansion is probably named for the one in office 1818-20, but a shrewd merchant would try to keep all of them sweet in this life or the next. Adult 10 TL.    
  • 6 Arab Ahmet Mosque, Şerabioğlu Sk. Built late 16th century after the Ottoman conquest, and named (like its neighbourhood) for one of the commanders, and rebuilt in 1845. There are a few scraps of the predecessor church, and tombstones of Venetian nobles. Free.    
 
Kyrenia Gate
  • 7 Armenian Church of Our Lady of Tyre, Şehit Mehmet Hüseyin Sk. Daily 09:00-17:00. This was the church of a Benedictine Abbey, renovated in 2012. Free.
  • Holy Cross Catholic Church is just south of the Armenian Church on Ali H Mulla Sk, but from here you only get to admire its walls. The entrance and interior are in Nicosia South, where they call it Καθολικός Ναός του Τιμίου Σταυρού.
  • Mevlevi Lodge Museum, Girne Cd (by Kyrenia Gate). This was the tekke or lodge of the Mevlevi, the mystical Sufi sect known in the west as Whirling Dervishes. Atatürk suppressed the order in mainland Turkey but they continued here under British rule until 1954 and in Syria under the French. It's an attractive building of 1607 but signage and explanation is poor, and no-one gyrates in a fez.    
  • Samanbahçe is a photogenic neighborhood just south of Mevlevi Lodge.
  • Walled City Museum (Surlariçi Şehir Müzesi) on Girne Cd by Kyrenia Gate is a ramshackle collection of Islamic art and this 'n that.
  • City walls were built in the 14th century, but rebuilt by the Venetians from 1567. There are 11 bastions, each named for a Venetian family that put up the money: Roccas, Mula, Quirini, Barbaro and Loredon are in the north, five others are in the south city and one is in the buffer zone. Pedieos River was diverted to fill the moat. The walls were still incomplete when the Ottomans captured the city in 1570. They defined city limits until 1880 and are well preserved right around their 5 km circumference, though border sections are off-limits.
  • 8 Kyrenia Gate   (Girne Kapısı) was built by the Venetians in 1567 as a portal through their new walls, and restored by the Ottomans in 1821. It's tiny and must have been an infuriating bottleneck for travellers to and from the port at Kyrenia; in modern times the adjoining city walls were taken down so it now perches on a traffic island. Dolmuşes from other towns drop off here and the gatehouse was formerly a Tourist Information Centre. The nearby National Struggle Museum (Milli Mücadele Müzesi) has been closed for years.
  • 9 Museum of Barbarism, Mehmet Akif Cd 118, +90 392 227 1425. M-Sa 08:30-15:00. In 1963 this was the home of Dr Nihat Ilhan, an army major. On Christmas Eve he was away but his wife and three children were dining with visitors. Greek-Cypriot terrorists broke in: the family hid in the bathroom but were gunned down. There were many atrocities that month but this one especially caught media attention. The murder scene has been turned into a shrine-cum-museum. Free.  
  • 10 Church of Panagios on Şehit Osman M Benli Sk is Greek Orthodox. It's mostly used as a cultural centre.
  • 11 Republic Park   (Cumhuriyet Parkı) is 300 m south of Concorde Tower. Its main feature is the mausoleum of Rauf Denktaş (1924-2012), founder President of TRNC. He was politicised by EOKA terrorism in the late 1950s, which sought to merge Cyprus with Greece to the detriment of Turkish Cypriots. A Grecian coup in 1974 led to the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, the partitioning of the island, and his presidency of a statelet recognised only by Turkey.
  • Theatre: Nicosia Municipal Theatre (Lefkoşa Belediye Tiyatrosu) is 2 km north of Old Town on Şehit Osman M Benli Sk. It's a bit cramped so big events are staged further out on Near East University campus.
  • Büyük Hamam Turkish baths on Irfan Bey Sk are 500 years old, but closed for renovation in 2024.
  • Football: 16 teams play soccer in K-Pet Super League, the top tier in Northern Cyprus, and many are based in Nicosia, so you should find a game any weekend Sept-April. There isn't a national team as TRNC isn't recognised by FIFA.
  • Casinos are often sleazy cover for gabareler ("cabaret"), code-word for brothels.
  • Gönyeli Festival is a music event in September by Concorde Tower.
  • Supermarkets: lots of little stores in Old Town, mostly open daily 07:30-21:30.
  • Town Market (Bandabulia) is on Kuyumcular Sk, 100 m south of Selimiye Mosque and open M-Sa 08:30-17:30.
 
An alley in Samanbahçe
Traditional specialties include Molohiya, the local name for Mulukhiyah, a gloochy broth of jute leaves in tomato and garlic, often with lamb or chicken, and Yalancı dolma, vine leaves stuffed with rice, onions and tomatoes. Yalancı means "fake" as there's no meat. Plus the usual East Med dishes such as shish kebab (skewered lamb), döner kebab (carved from a vertical rotisserie), köfte (meatballs) and musakka (a bake of layered mince, potato and aubergine). Leave room for dessert.

Budget

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  • Kiosks: kebab and sandwich shops are everywhere.
  • 1 Simit Dünyası, Girne Cd. Daily 08:00-22:00. Bakery with pastries, sandwiches and desserts, best in the morning when it's fresh.
  • 2 Ömer Pide Lahmacun, Tabak Hilmi Sk. Daily 10:30-23:30. Decent food, cards accepted.
  • Barasta Cafe, Ç Mustafa Sk (50 m west of Büyük Han), +90 392 227 1447. M-Sa 09:00-02:00, Su 10:30-01:00. Burgers and similar fare and good selection of beers. They're close to Ledra St border post and accept Euros.
  • Merkez Restoran, İsmet İnönü Meydani (Next to Mevlevi Museum, by Kyrenia Gate). Daily 10:00-22:30. Consistently good kebabs.

Mid-range

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  • 3 Californian, Mehmet Akif Cd 74, +90 392 444 7070. Daily 11:00-23:00. Popular restaurant for filling meals, service and attitude variable.
  • Asmaaltı Köftecisi, within Büyük Han, Asmaaltı Sk. M-Sa 12:00-23:00, Su 12:00-21:00. Good quality trad fare within the Great Inn.
  • Sabır Lokantası, Kurtbaba Sk (west flank of Büyük Han). Daily 10:00-18:00. Good dining in the heart of Old Town.
  • 4 Eziç, Rauf Denktaş Cd, +90 533 873 8888. Daily 08:00-00:00. Chain restaurant with a wide menu choice.
  • 5 Meyhaneci, Kurtuluş Meydanı 8, +90 533 871 0871. M-Sa 17:30-02:00. Great range of mezes and a slowly-served menu of kebabs.

Drink

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  • Most cafes serve alcohol.
  • Brewery: Double O Brewing makes a range of craft ales at Müftü Raci Efendi Sk 18, near Arab Ahmet Mosque. The taproom is open Su-F 06:00-00:30, Sa 16:00-01:00.

Sleep

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Rauf Denktaş rests in Republic Park
Nicosia has limited accommodation for a capital city, as it's within a short travel time from the resort hotel strip on the Kyrenia coast. Pansiyons are clustered in Old Town. Several places calling themselves "hotels" are just tacky casinos and brothels.
  • 1 Aksaray Pansiyon, Mecidiye Sk 63, +90 392 228 4648. Clean welcoming small hotel. B&B double 2500 TL.
  • Djumba Hotel, Mahmut Paşa Sk 1 (by Arab Ahmet Mosque), +90 533 840 2940. Welcoming hotel in a traditional house near Old Town. B&B double 3000 TL.
  • 2 Merit Hotel, Bedrettin Demirel Cd, +90 392 600 5500. Friendly comfy hotel and casino 2 km from Old Town. B&B double 5000 TL.
  • 3 Grand Pasha Nicosia Hotel, Dereboyu Cd, +90 392 610 5050. Scruffy outdated place heavy with tobacco smoke. With casino and spa. B&B double 5000 TL.
  • 4 Concorde Tower, Yağmur Sk 11 (Main highway interchange), +90 392 630 0000. Friendly comfy place in tower block north edge of city, with casino. Aircon erratic. B&B double 5000 TL.

Connect

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As of March 2024, Nicosia and its approach roads have 4G from KKTC Turkcell and KKTC Telsim. 5G has not rolled out in Northern Cyprus.

Coverage by Cyprus Republic carriers extends for a km or two into Old Town, with 5G from Cyta Vodafone and Epic, and 4G from PrimeTel.

Go next

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Everywhere in TRNC is within an hour or so's drive of Nicosia.
  • The historic port of Kyrenia is 20 minutes by car, with frequent buses. St Hilarion Castle is an interesting detour along the way.
  • Famagusta has a walled old city like Nicosia, but is rather run down.
  • The west edge of TRNC around Morphou and Dillirga is a 90 minute drive or dolmuş.
  • Nicosia South is an easy day trip providing you have eligibility to enter the EU without a visa - other passport holders may not enter from TRNC.


This city travel guide to Nicosia is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.