The market is one of the best things to do in Nicosia

Best Things To Do In Nicosia Cyprus

Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, is the world’s only capital divided by two countries. It’s the Republic of Cyprus, on its southern side, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in the north. Also called Lefkosia, Nicosia was formally divided in 1974…but more about that later. For tourists, it’s safe to visit both sides to learn more about its history and explore its streets. It’s perfect as a day trip, rainy day excursion, or for when you’re nursing a sunburn. From seeing the old city walls and museums with artifacts from archaeological digs around the island, to crossing the Green Line to Turkish Cyprus for its old Ottoman architecture, street art, nostalgic market, and more, let’s explore the best things to do in Nicosia.

Nicosia Street Art (Turkish Side)

Best Things To Do In Nicosia Cyprus

Most of the sites noted below on the best things to do in Nicosia are within the old city walls and are very walkable.

See The Old Venetian City Walls

The old Venetian city walls surround the old town, consisting of eleven pentagonal bastions. All once fortified by a moat. The eleven arrow-like bastions each carry the name of the high-ranking Italian aristocrat that donated money for its building.

These walls, completely rebuilt when Cyprus was part of the Republic of Venice in the 16th century, replaced older walls dating back to the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, the Venetian’s reinforcements were not successful in stopping a siege and take over by the Ottomans in 1571. After this, the Ottomans ruled this area until 1878, when Great Britain assumed the provisional administration of Cyprus (interestingly, from the Ottomans).

The well-preserved city walls are well-hidden, as much of the old city sits on top of them. The best way to find one of the bastions is to zoom in on Google maps or (my preference) and navigate towards them. Or navigate to one of the 3 gates below, as there is bastions near each one.

The Tripoli Bastion

If you arrive in Nicosia by bus at the intercity bus station on the west side (below the Green Line), the Tripoli Bastion is just to your west. If you walk to the end of the parking lot, actually named the Tripoli Bastion parking lot, west of the station, you’ll see the top of it on the edge. As you walk closer, you’ll be able to see down the side of the wall. It’s not exactly impressive, located the parking lot, but it’s the closest one.

1597 Map of Nicosia | Cplakidas

I found the old map of Nicosia above and thought it was pretty cool. The design is quite beautiful, but it’s challenging to get this perspective and understand it on ground level.

Visit The City Gates

There are three gates to the old city, located roughly at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, and 9 o’clock on the old walls. The Paphos and Famagusta Gates are on the Cypriot side. The Kyrenia gate is only accessible if you visit the Turkish side of the city.

Kyrenia Gate

Built by the Venetians in the 16th century and restored by the Ottomans in the 18th, who added a lookout tower, this is the main gateway to the northern part of Cyprus. It’s located about a 10-minute walk north of the Ledra Street checkpoint. As noted above, it’s located on the Turkish side of the city. It is safe to walk to. At least I did it safely.

Today, the Kyrenia gate is a tourism information office.

Kyrenia Gate, Nicosia

Paphos Gate

The Paphos Gate is the smallest of the three gates, located on the west side of the city walls, not far from the Cyprus Museum. It’s located very close to the Green Line on the Cypriot side.

Famagusta Gate

This is the most significant gate as it’s the gateway to Famagusta, once the most important part of Cyprus (which, sadly, is now a ghost town). Restored in the 1980’s, it now acts as an important cultural center with performances and exhibitions throughout the year.

Top Museums in Nicosia

There are reportedly more than 50 museums, galleries, and archeological sites in Nicosia, so there’s a lot to see if you’re a musem enthusiast. If you just want to hit the highlights, choose from the museums below.

The Cyprus Museum

This museum houses the ancient artifacts found in the many archeological digs located around the island. It’s a portal to Cyprus’s rich history, starting from the earliest existence of humans on the island, in the Neolithic age, to the Roman era. You’ll see pottery, sculpture, furniture, jewelry, coins, examples of ancient languages, and more.

I found this museum fascinating, although I wished I had visited here before some of the archaeological sites on the island (as they are mostly razed). However, it works to see the artifacts afterwards as well. Either way, they go hand in hand.

The Cyprus museum is one of the best things to do in Nicosia
Cyprus Museum, Nicosia

Visiting this museum is one of the best things to do in Nicosia, especially if you’re a history buff, so don’t miss it. Making it even better, the entrance is free (as of September 2022). Expect to spend at least an hour here, more if you like to read all the details.

This museum is located on the west side of Nicosia, on the southern side. It’s less than a quarter mile, or about a 4-minute walk from the intercity bus station.

Cyprus Classical Motorcycle Museum

Established by Andreas Nicolaou, the Cyprus Classical Motorcycle Museum has over 350 motorcycles dating from 1914 to 1983. It’s located just east of the Cyprus Museum, on the southern side of the Green Line. There is a small entrance fee.

A. G. Leventis Gallery

The A. G. Leventis Gallery is an art gallery, showcasing artwork from Cypriot, Greek, and European artists, including some works by Monet, Renoir, Chagal, and more.

This museum is located about a 5-minute walk south of the Nicosia intercity bus station on the west side of the city (southern side). Entrance fee is a few euros.

Byzantine Museum

The Byzantine Museum contains the best Byzantine art on the island, dating from the 9th to the 19th century. I did not visit this museum, and unfortunately, Google now says it’s permanently closed. Although this seems strange being a top museum. If this museum is in your plans, make sure to look it up the latest details. It’s located on the southeast side of Nicosia, below the Green Line.

Cross The Green Line On Ledra Street

Crossing the Green Line on Ledra Street is definitely one of the best things to do in Nicosia. Formerly the main shopping street in Nicosia, it was severed by the militarized zone after inter community conflict in 1963 that resulted what’s now called Bloody Christmas. Then in 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus and took over the northern part of the island, including northern Nicosia. These events were tragic and life altering for everyone on the island, but I cannot get into the details behind them here. Not do I claim to understand them fully.

Ledra street was reopened in 2008, with the barricades and land mines removed. This crossing is for pedestrians and is the most common checkpoint for tourists on a day trip.

Although crossing may seem scary, with all the historical (and current strife), it’s actually easy and safe for tourists. Your passport is scanned and returned at the checkpoint on each side, which are just a few steps away from each other. They do not stamp your passport.

Note that if there are demonstrations, or if tensions arise between the two sides, avoid this completely.

Crossing the Green Lone is one of the best things to do in Nicosia
Ledra Street Checkpoint

Ledra street, south of the Green Line, is very formal and quiet, with a few shops, cafes, an ice cream store, and the Civil Rights Monument (pictured above) near the border.

Alternatively, the Turkish side is more touristy, as many tourists cross over. It’s very lively with cafes, kebab shops, and shops selling designers clothing and bags. Venturing further into northern Nicosia, you’ll notice that not much has not been updated, likely since the takeover in 1974, possibly earlier. Everything is a bit worn and ragged.

It really feels like you’re entering a different country, yet is not scary. And I found the locals to be very friendly.

Civil Rights Monument

Before you cross the Green Line, stop to see the Civil Rights Monument, The Resolution, in front of the checkpoint leaving the southern side.

Designed by Theodoulos Gregoriou, it contains multiple steel lances piercing the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, bullseye style.

Büyük Han

Büyük Han is a 16th century caravanserai, or roadside inn, for travelers from Turkey and other parts of Cyprus. Built by the Ottomans, after taking Nicosia from the Venetians, it has been recently restored.

Today, it’s a tourist attraction, with art galleries, workshops, studios, bookshops, cafes, and coffee shops. This truly is a charming place to visit and one of the best stops in Nicosia.

Visiting Buyuk Han is one of the best things to do in Nicosia

It’s composed of 68 rooms that open into a central courtyard, with 10 rooms that open to the outside.

Visiting Buyuk Han is one of the best things to do in Nicosia
Büyük Han

This Han is about a 2-minute walk northeast of the Ledra Street checkpoint. It’s on the Turkish side of Nicosia.

If you’re hungry, there are also several lively cafes and coffee shops around Büyük Han. They will take euros if you use cash. They probably don’t give the best exchange rate, but my simple lunch was only a few euro, so I didn’t even check it.

Kumarcilar Han

The Kumarcilar Han is a second, smaller, Han, built in the 17th century. Recently restored, it’s now a cafe and restaurant with a few shops. There was a musical performance here when I walked by, a solo singer of contemporary music. It looked like the perfect place for an afternoon beer.

Kumarcilar Han

This Han is located directly behind Büyük Han.

Selimiye Mosque 

This building, formerly the Cathedral of St Sophia, was converted to a Mosque after the Ottomans took the city from the Venetians. Originally started by the Lusignans (French nobles around the 13th century), you can see the flying buttresses and the traditional cathedral windows, with the minarets added after the Ottoman conquest.

Another thing I found interesting about this Cathedral/Mosque is that its name, St. Sophia is derived from Hagia Sophia, which parallels the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul in my mind.

Under Lusignan rule, this cathedral was used for coronations of the Kings of Cyprus.

Visiting Semiliye Mosque is one of the best things to do in Nicosia
Selimiye Mosque

Selimiye Mosque is located about a 2-minute walk east of Büyük Han. It’s on the Turkish side of Nicosia.

Bandabulya Municipal Market

Bandabulya Municipal Market is located about a 3-minute walk south of Selimiye Mosque. The building is unassuming from the outside, but nostalgically enchanting inside. It contains a mix of local markets and shops, tourist shops (and some closed shops), along with what look like interesting antiques laying around. When I was here, local men were playing backgammon, so it seems to be a local hangout too. It also has some of wild, but friendly, cats of Cyprus roaming around.

There’s really not a lot inside, but you can feel the grand history of this market when you visit, which makes it absolutely worthwhile. Make sure to walk around to the back as the architecture is lovely. I found this charming space there, covered in bougainvillea. A perfect place to enjoy any local produce you may buy inside.

The best things to do in Nicosia
Nicosia Municipal Market

In the marketplace, look for the artwork by Mattia Campo Dall’Orto below. It’s an image of a local historical figure, Ali Özyamacı, locally known as Uncle Ali.

Blind from childhood, Ali never let his disability get in his way. He reportedly came to this market daily to buy produce from wholesalers and resell it. This art is a beautiful tribute to his memory.

The market is one of the best things to do in Nicosia
Ali Özyamacı

Want To Read More About Cyprus?

Cyprus is a fascinating island with a unique, although troubled history. It’s dotted with beautiful beaches and natural landscape, attracting holiday-makers from Europe, Israel, and other nearby countries. There’s so much to see here, with spectacular sites scattered throughout the island, it’s tough to pick one area to focus on. If you do stay in one area, it’s best to have a car to easily see all the sites. Using the bus is possible, but is not 100% efficient and can be frustrations. Some buses are also not air conditioned.

My favorite city here is Ayia Napa, with Cyprus’s most beautiful beaches, liveliest nightlife, and some stunning coastal landscape features. It sits on the southeastern coast of Cyprus, which contains Cape Greco National Forest Park.

There’s also Paphos, on the west coast, which has beaches with sunsets and some great archeological sites, like an ancient Greko-Roman city and Tombs of Kings. There are also great day trips from Paphos to see Aprhrodite’s Rock and a Blue Lagoon.

Limassol is Cyprus’s second largest city, a mix of city life and beaches, along with interesting historical ruins, like ancient Kourion Archaeological Park and Kolossi Castle, from Crusader days.

There’s also Larnaca, which is the oldest city in Cyprus, with more beaches, known as party beaches, the church of Saint Lazarus, a charming old town, and Larnaca Castle.

I’ve listed them all in one place in Top Tourist Attractions of Cyprus. I also created a Travel Guide for Cyprus to see the highlights, as well as how to get around, safety, visa issues, money matters, and more.

Safe Travels!

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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