When most people dream of visiting Cyprus, they tend to conjure images of crystal clear water and soft sand beaches, maybe of Hellenistic ruins or of sprawling vineyards. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with planning a trip to Cyprus around maximising your time by the sea, you would be missing a lot of what the country has to offer if you ignore the central part of the island, and most notable, the capital city of Nicosia. Though it is the largest city in Cyprus and a dynamic and fascinating one at that, the Cypriot capital draws only a fraction of the international visitors that the coastal cities and towns do. This is a real shame as there are numerous things to do in Nicosia and the city really deserves tourist attention.
Nicosia is the largest city by population in Cyprus and is the commercial and legislative centre of the country. Split into two sides (North Nicosia and South Nicosia), the city is considered to be the last divided capital in Europe and it is a truly fascinating place to spend a day or two, especially if you want to get a well-rounded view on the history and culture of Cyprus as a country away from the coastline.
Is Nicosia Worth Visiting?
Though it is the capital city, many visitors to Cyprus will ask themselves ‘Is Nicosia worth visiting?’ especially due to its central location away from Cyprus’ famous Mediterranean coastline. However, if you’re interested in learning more about Cypriot culture and daily life while also learning more about the country’s fraught and complicated history, then Nicosia is most definitely worth a spot on your Cyprus itinerary.
Not only is the city lively and interesting to walk around, but the history and dynamic of the Cypriot capital is unlike anything you find elsewhere in Europe. Nicosia is the perfect place to visit if you want to get away from the tourist-centric atmospheres of cities like Paphos or Larnaca, experience more of Cypriot culture and hospitality, and garner a deeper understanding of the divided nature of this Mediterranean nation.
There are lots of things to do and see in Nicosia and the city really doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Even if you don’t have a number of days to devote to seeing the Cypriot capital, spending one day in Nicosia or visiting Nicosia as a day trip is adequate to be able to get to know this fascinating city.
So don’t let the lack of water and the higher temperatures (it does get REALLY hot…) compared to the rest of the island deter you — Nicosia is a wonderful city that is well worth visiting and exploring!
Getting To and Around Nicosia
Being the capital and largest city in Cyprus, it is pretty easy to get to Nicosia from other major cities in the country. Nicosia is well-connected by road and bus to cities like Paphos, Larnaca, and Limassol and you can also find direct buses to the Cypriot capital from the Larnaca and Paphos airports or you can book an airport transfer here.
Just like everywhere in Cyprus, it is easiest to get to and around Nicosia via personal vehicle, as it is very much a “driving” city, especially if you want to venture a little bit outside of the centre. While the Old Town and central area are fairly walkable (we managed to get around the city centre on foot), locals have a tendency to drive most places and it can be preferable in the summertime to beat the oppressive heat.
If you want to rent a car while visiting Cyprus, we recommend that you use RentalCars.com in order to find great prices across many available car hire companies. We also suggest taking out an excess insurance policy with iCarHireInsurance in order to avoid paying a high deductible should any damage happen to your rental car.
If you don’t want to hire a car and aren’t keen on walking around Nicosia independently, there are numerous guided tours that you could go on. If you are spending the night in Nicosia, you can go on a guided walking tour of the city that focuses on the history.
Top Things to Do in Nicosia
Now that we’ve covered why you should visit the Cypriot capital and how to get to and around the city, it’s finally time to dive into what to do in Nicosia. While there are numerous things to do in this dynamic metropolis, spending one day in Nicosia is generally sufficient to get a good feel for the capital.
This one day in Nicosia itinerary will see you going past the main sites of the city and crossing the border to the northern part of the city, as well. Because of this, make sure to bring your passport with you when you leave for the day as you will not be permitted to enter the northern part of the city without it.
If your accommodation doesn’t provide breakfast, begin your day at Giagia Victoria cafe, located right along the Green Line next to the Ledras Street checkpoint. Here you can experience a traditional Cypriot cafe, eat a delicious spinach pie or some other kind of traditional pastry. You can also kick start your active day with a coffee.
Walk Along the Green Line
Nicosia is unique in that it is the last divided city in Europe and one of the few places in the world where two sides of the same city are controlled by different governments, use different currencies and speak different languages. The southern part of Nicosia is under Greek Cypriot control and is part of the internationally recognised country of the Republic of Cyprus.
North Nicosia is considered by the Republic of Cyprus to be occupied territory and is the capital of the de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This country is only recognised by Turkey, nevertheless, the island of Cyprus and Nicosia remains divided because of this. The conflict between Greek and Turkis Cypriots is complex and complicated and it is worth doing more research about it before you go to gain a better understanding of recent Cypriot history.
If you are interested in seeing the border and how it divides the city of Nicosia, you can walk along the Green Line (the colloquial name for the border that divides northern and southern Cyprus). Start at the Paphos Gate on the western side of the old town and make your way, if you’re not too tired or too hot, all the way to Toufexis Park on the eastern side.
Nicosia Border Crossing
Though the majority of this one-day Nicosia itinerary takes place in the southern part of the city, you should consider heading to the northern part of the Cypriot capital in order to take advantage of all of the things to do in Nicosia.
Northern Nicosia is as safe as the southern side and many tourists cross the Green Line every day in order to see what that side of the city has to offer. You do need a passport in order to walk across, however, neither side will give you a stamp. Instead, they will just scan it, maybe look at you, and then hand it back.
We recommend walking across at the Ledras Street crossing, which is the busiest and most common crossing for tourists (it also is closest to all of the main sites in Northern Nicosia). Contrary to what is written on the Wikitravel page about Nicosia, the border isn’t just open to those with EU passports. I’m not sure about the exact border nuances between the two sides of Cyprus, but I was was able to enter Northern Cyprus with no problem on my US passport, with no questions asked. This was in September of 2019.
The Nicosia border crossing is incredibly straightforward and only takes a few minutes. You will first enter the Greek side, hand over your passport where they will scan it and return it to you, walk the 20 metres or so through the buffer zone to the Turkish checkpoint where they will also scan and return your passport. You will not get a stamp and the process will unlikely take more than five minutes.
Explore Northern Nicosia
Once you’ve successfully crossed the Green Line, now it’s time to explore what Northern Nicosia has to offer. Conveniently, all of the main sites of this side of the city are located within easy walking distance of each other and you can easily cover all of them within the span on an hour or two.
Make sure to head to the Buyuk Han, a traditional inn that is now home to local artisan shops in a beautiful setting. This is a great place to pick up some handmade Cypriot souvenirs that you won’t find in tacky, kitschy shops. Though Northern Cyprus uses the Turkish Lira for their currency, you will find that most places close to the Green Line (especially in the Buyuk Han) will accept Euro so it isn’t necessary to take out a new currency for a couple of hours in Northern Cyprus.
Next, head to the massive Selimiye Mosque, which was formerly the Roman Catholic St Sophia Cathedral. Though it is undeniably a mosque today, it isn’t hard to pick up its Christian roots. You can enter the mosque free of charge, however, keep in mind that you must remove your shoes, knees and shoulders must be covered, and women must cover their heads (scarves are provided outside should you not have one yourself).
You should also take the time to head to the marketplace to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables or traditional sweets like Turkish delight or baklava. Closer to the Green Line, there is also some great street art to check out if you’re interested.
Cross back over to the southern part of the city in the afternoon and try to take it a little bit more slowly if you’re visiting in the summer months as the heat can get really oppressive at that time of year.
Lunch at Mathaios
Only open for lunch (from 12-4 PM) and closed on Sundays, this local joint is the perfect place to get some traditional Greek Cypriot food at an affordable price. This family-run restaurant only has a handful of dishes on their menu but they are all incredibly delicious. They will also include some salads beforehand and some fruit for dessert free of charge.
If you happen to be visiting Nicosia on a Sunday, there are still a handful of places that you can go to for lunch, however, a good portion of businesses do close on Sundays. We recommend heading to Tsolias, which serves traditional Cypriot food at agreeable prices.
Stroll down Ledras Street
The main pedestrian street and the beating artery of the old town of Nicosia is Ledras Street, where you will find numerous cafes, shops and restaurants inviting you to pop in and browse.
It is impossible to wander through Nicosia’s old town and not to walk down this street, but give yourself some time for a leisurely stroll along it and enjoy the people watching and energy of the Cypriot capital.
After strolling down Ledras Street, take a break from the heat and duck into the Levantis Museum. This museums (which is free to enter) is a well-curated history of Nicosia from ancient times to the present day and it will give you a more broad understanding of the Cypriot capital and how it has been shaped over the centuries.
The museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday (it is closed on Mondays) from 10 AM – 4 PM. If you go through all three floors, you need about 1-2 hours to get through the whole museum, but that also depends on how interested you are in the historical artefacts.
Famagusta Gate and Aqueduct
If you’re up for a bit more of a walk in the heat after your visit to the Levantis Museum, then walk about fifteen minutes to the east to the beautiful Famagusta Gate and the remains of the aqueduct. The gate is part of the Venetian city walls that were originally constructed in the Middle Ages and the aqueduct, constructed under Ottoman rule, dates back to the 18th century.
Cool Off at a Cafe
After walking all over Nicosia, take some time to give you feet a break and cool off from the afternoon heat by chilling out in one of Nicosia’s many cafes. We recommend heading to Pieto on Ledras street, where you can people watch and sip on a coffee, tea, or even a cocktail while playing a chilled out game of backgammon or chess.
Alternatively, the Weaving Mill is a quieter (but air-conditioned!) option, that also operates as a coworking space if you need to get some online work done!
As the sun begins to set, head to the Shacolas Tower where on the 11th floor, you can find a small museum and viewing platform that will give you fantastic views over all of Nicosia, the North and the South.
The entrance to the tower is on the other side of the H&M just of Ledras Street and there is a lift that will take you to the 11th floor. Entry to the observatory is €2.50 per person and there are panoramic windows with plaques and some interactive screens that point out important landmarks in the Cypriot museums. S0 if you’re wondering what to see in Nicosia, this can also help you get your bearings.
We recommend visiting around sunset (the tower is open from 9 AM – 7 PM daily), as the views and lighting at this time are absolutely stunning. There is also a short film in many different languages that you can view that explains a brief history of Nicosia.
In the evening, take the time to enjoy the lively atmosphere of the city. Locals tend to come out in droves as the sun sets, taking advantage of the cooler temperatures. If you’re looking for things to do in Nicosia at night, here are a few of our suggestions:
Craft Beer at Pivo Microbrewery
If you want to cool off with a cold beer after all of the sightseeing, then you cannot go wrong with Pivo Microbrewery. This small craft brewery only has a handful of beers available, however, they are all of very good quality and some have even won some awards.
If you want to expand beyond just one brewery, consider heading to BrewFellas pub which also sells both Cypriot and international craft beers.
Dinner at Piatsa Gourounaki or Berlin Wall
After enjoying a beer, head to dinner at Piatsa Gourounaki. There are two locations of this popular restaurant in Nicosia’s old town and both serve high quality Greek Cypriot specialities at great prices.
If you’re looking for something a little less formal — though the aforementioned restaurant is quite casual — then head to Berlin Wall. This relaxed kebab and souvlaki restaurant is located directly on the Green Line and serves delicious Greek Cypriot fast food, has friendly service, and affordable prices.
Cocktails at Granazi Artspace or Lost & Found
If you’re not too exhausted from your day of Nicosia sightseeing and you want to experience some more of Cypriot capital’s nightlife, then head to one of the city’s trendy cocktail bars. Perhaps the most famous (it was named one of the 50 best bars in the world) is Lost & Found. This is located a bit outside of the old town and is known for it’s trendy and inventive cocktails.
If you want to get a bit more local though not as renown, then head to Granazi Art Space. This trendy bar has a range of cocktails available (including craft old fashioned’s, gin and tonics, and negronis) and they even host live music on some nights.
Have More than One Day in Nicosia?
If you have more time in the Cypriot capital and want to know what to do in Nicosia for two or more days, then here are a few suggestions:
First, you could head to a couple more of the city’s museums — like the Cyprus Museum located a bit outside of the old town. You also could spend more time exploring the northern part of the city and even take a day trip to other Northern Cypriot destination. Two top recommendations include the ancient coastal town of Kyrenia or the popular resort city of Famagusta. Both are reachable by bus from Northern Nicosia.
If you’re pressed for time, you could also drive south and explore some of the mountain villages nearby. These include the sparsely populated village of Fikardou or the Machairas Monastery.
Where to Stay in Nicosia
Nicosia is the financial and commercial capital of Cyprus and though it doesn’t get nearly the number of tourist crowds that other Cypriot cities do, there are still ample places to stay to choose from.
While you certainly can stay in the northern side of the city if you so choose, we believe it is less of a hassle if you stay in South Nicosia (especially if you have a car), so have only suggested accommodation on that side of the city. If you’re on the hunt for the best place to stay in Nicosia, then take a look at these suggestions:
The 3 Rooms Boutique Hotel — Located in the centre of Nicosia within easy walking distance of everything that the Old Town has to offer, this boutique hotel is the perfect place to stay for those looking for a bit of a romantic getaway in the Cypriot capital. There are a handful of clean, spacious, and comfortable rooms available, all equipped with air conditioning. Click here to see their latest prices
MAP Boutique Hotel — If you’d like another option for a chic and swish boutique hotel, then this one is a fantastic choice. Located within walking distance of all of the main attractions in the Nicosia itinerary, they have a few comfortable and air-conditioned rooms available and breakfast is included in the room rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Nex Hostel — If you’re travelling solo or on a budget, then this hostel is the perfect place for you. They have a range of both dorm and private rooms available, clean facilities, air conditioning, and good common areas to help you meet other travellers. It is also located in the centre of Nicosia, making it easy to see all that the city has to offer. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Nicosia hotels!
Though often overlooked in lieu of the sparkling coastline, there are so many fun things to do in Nicosia that make a visit to Cyprus’ capital city a worthy addition to any trip to this Mediterranean nation.
When travelling in Cyprus, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you wondering what to do in Nicosia? Have you been? Let us know in the comments!