It is a well known fact that North Cyprus is full of history with plenty of must-see places where you will be able to take a trip back in time and discover some of the places that must not be missed in North Cyprus:
The small town of Kyrenia (Girne) is surely the most undeniably beautiful part of Northern Cyprus, with its historical narrow streets, glorious Byzantine castle by the twinkling waters harbouring motionless colourful boats and the breath taking horseshoe shaped little harbour lined by dozens of small cafés, bars and restaurants with unusually friendly atmospheres. Day or night time, you can feel the peace and beauty of the small town with its friendly people and let yourself go in this charming town where time does not seem to exist.
Kyrenia was founded by Achaean settlers in the 10th century B.C. and was for many centuries one of the ten kingdoms of Cyprus. In the 7th century it was fortified by the Byzantines who built the original Kyrenia castle – which now hosts plays and concerts, and is also the home to the Shipwreck Museum, which displays the oldest shipwreck ever discovered believed to date from 300 B.C. – in order to protect the city against Arab raids and was later expanded by the Lusignans followed by the Venetians. The town remained a small port under Ottoman rule then later under British rule; the harbour and quay were built as the town was used as a resting place for captains, officers and their families due to its beautiful harbour and leisurely, romantic atmosphere that still remains.
With many small restaurants and bars surrounding the typical Mediterranean harbour, the town retains its original character. The entire region is now an attractive holiday resort, boasting many holiday villages and hotels. The area provides stunning mountain and sea views, amongst the many historic sites worth visiting. Some of these include the Kyrenia Castle, Shipwreck Museum, St. Hillarion Castle which is believed to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, and the Abbey at Bellapais that`s immortalised in Laurence Durrell’s book Bitter Lemons.
Constructed in 1580 during the Ottoman period, the Agha Cafer Pasha Mosque can be found just behind the harbour. Named after the Turkish landowner who funded its construction, the mosque has a rectangular main building housing a three roomed main hall and has a single minaret. Built in 1841, the Hasan Kavizade Huseyin Efendi fountain lies beside this mosque.
The enchanting village of Bellapais lies just five minutes’ drive from the historical Old Harbour. This tiny village full of charm is set high in the hills overlooking Kyrenia and the azure Mediterranean Sea and houses its world famous thirteenth century abbey which was immortalised by Lawrence Durrell in his classic “Bitter Lemons of Cyprus” and has hardly changed since his time. You can explore the ruins of the beautiful Bellapais Abbey and take in the superb views or sit under the enchanting ‘Tree of Idleness’ and watch the afternoon gently slip away. Make sure to have afternoon tea within the walls of the abbey which you will find a truly memorable experience.
Not too far, clinging precariously to rocky outcrop you will find the ‘fairytale’ castle of St Hilarion. Those intrepid enough to brave the long walk to the castle battlements will be generously rewarded with mesmerising views of the whole of the northern coastline. Built during the Crusades, the castle is named, not after St. Hilarion the Great, the founder of monasticism in Palestine who died near Paphos about A.D. 371, but after a later saint, of whom only little is known.
According to local tradition, he is counted among three hundred saints who sought refuge in Cyprus when the Arabs overran the Holly Land. According to an English visitor in the 14th century, his relics were preserved in the castle and “kept right worshipfully”. It may be presumed that he retired to this hill-top to live the life of a hermit and that as the hermitage of St. Neophytes near Paphos, a monastery was established to shelter those who should follow his example, as well pilgrims to his tomb.
Lapta is situated 15km west of Kyrenia where the green mountains meet the blue sea. With its abundance of historical sites, natural beauty, restaurants, hotels and beautifully restored buildings; Lapta reflects its past glory into its role as one of the jewels in the crown of North Cyprus’s tourism industry.
Lapta which can be described as both a coastal town and mountain village; lies on the narrow strips of land that stretches from east to west between the Five-Finger Mountain Range and the sea.
Lapta and its surroundings offer some of the most charming scenery on the island. This rather large village perched on the northern slopes of the Five-Finger Mountains and facing down towards the Mediterranean and famous for its mountain springs has been blessed with such pure water and fresh air that locally produced fruit, vegetables and meat cannot help but be mouth watering.
The abundant water supply also enabled tree planting in the mountains around the village, which resulted in a strong tradition of carpentry. The quintessential Cypriot-style wooden chests, still produced in Lapta, are famous throughout the island and have long been a standard feature in houses.
Along with its rich historical heritage, natural beauty and range of social facilities, the relative largeness of Lapta makes it one of the liveliest towns of Northern Cyprus. Besides the locals, the area is extremely popular with the English and other nationalities, who come to stay in the many hotels, and usually end up choosing to buy houses to settle in this beautiful village.
Lapta and its surrounding villages are still a symbol of wealth as they were centuries ago. There are many hotels and holiday villages ranging from 5 stars to more humble premises to suit every taste and budget, along with countless bars and restaurants. During the summer, the area bursts with life, tripling the population from 6,000 to around 18,000 in no time.
Organised Tours and Day Trips
There is so much to do and see in North Cyprus from boat trips on the Med, day trips to Karpaz, shopping trips to Nicosia or organised castle tours, that you’ll be hard pressed to fit it all in!
There are many companies all offering day, half day and even night time boat trips on the Med, you can find most of these by simply taking a stroll down the Old Harbour where they will be more than happy to assist you. Alternatively you can ask your hotel to arrange a trip for you. You can sail out to Escape Beach or Turtle Bay Beach, sunbathe on deck and snorkel before enjoying mouth watering lunch on deck. You can also have a sunset cruise with dinner included, which is sure to take your breath away.
Should you wish to get closer to the Mediterranean and explore all its hidden beauties, then consider a diving tour. There are a large number of fully licensed dive centres that offer tuition here in North Cyprus where you can do a try dive if you have not dived before and then you will find that as soon as out of the water you will be signing up to a full week`s course which will allow you to get your very own PADI qualifications.
Another day-trip-favourite for visitors to North Cyprus is Famagusta where you can explore this beautiful town and learn about its interesting history, visit Othello’s tower and look down on the Venetian walls then head off to explore the impressive and stunning remains of Ancient Salamis.
You will find that most of the holiday villages and hotels in North Cyprus will help you arrange your preferred organised tours and day trips. Alternatively you can take a trip into Kyrenia and visit one of the many local travel agencies for more information or speak to the helpful people in the tourist information office in the Old Harbour in Kyrenia where they will help you with up to date events and show you many brochures and leaflets showing what’s new in Northern Cyprus the whole family to see or do.
You can also take part in organised hiking and walking tours, exploring the mountains, plains and beaches on the island depending on the time of year you visit Cyprus, not forgetting the occasional bird watching tour, shooting and hunting trips.