Nicosia

For other places with the same name, see Nicosia (disambiguation).
House of the Dragoman Hadjigeorgakis

Nicosia (Greek: Λευκωσία) (Turkish: Lefkoşa) is the centrally located capital of Cyprus and by far the largest city on the island. It also acts as a separate administrative capital for the Nicosia district. The municipality of Nicosia governs only the central portion, but the city now sprawls for several kilometers and has engulfed surrounding villages and settlements. Its population hovers around 250,000 (a third of the total population of Cyprus) but the city has a feel of one much larger. It is the administrative and financial hub of the island as well as home to several universities, colleges and other educational establishments. It also hosts most foreign embassies and offshore companies (a big industry in Cyprus nowadays). Along with its international students and foreign workers it has developed a truly cosmopolitan feel.

This article covers only the southern side of the city under control of the Republic of Cyprus; see Nicosia (North) for the Turkish-Cypriot capital on the northern side.

Understand

The Green Line

Nicosia is one of the very few divided capitals in the world. The barbed wire and guardtowers of the Green Line cuts the town in two, with the northern side being the capital of the self-proclaimed Northern Cyprus and the southern half being the capital of the Republic of Cyprus.

Politics aside, Nicosia is a little short on both the archaeological treasure troves and beaches with pulsating nightlife that bring most visitors to Cyprus. But the Old City with its museums and churches is pleasant enough, and precisely due to the comparative lack of tourists, the city retains more of an authentically Cypriot air than the resorts of the southern coast. Fantastic little cafes invite you in for a Cypriot coffee, so just walk around and see the many woodworking shops that are deep within the City, and take a walk down to the Green Line, the boundary that now divides North from South. Being the financial and administrative centre of the island, it is by far the best place for shopaholics.

Get in

By plane

Nicosia International Airport has been closed off since the partition of the country. Larnaca Airport (code LCA) (40 km, 30min drive) has scheduled flights to all major European cities. An airport shuttle bus operates between LCA and Nicosia . Further away, the smaller Paphos Airport (code PFO) is a 140 km (1h40m) drive from Nicosia.

By boat

Limassol (80 km away) and Larnaca (40 km away) ports both have passenger terminals with ferry and cruise ship services to the Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and Greece. Timetables vary considerably with the summer season being the busiest.

By road

Nearly all visitors arrive via the southern highway from Larnaca (43 km) and Limassol (83 km). Regular, cheap and reliable intercity taxi and bus services connect Nicosia to the centre of Cyprus' other cities. Private hire taxis are considerably more expensive. Car hire is also affordable and all major car hire companies are represented at both the afformentioned airports. Cyprus By Bus provides information about buses in Nicosia.

To/from North Nicosia

People going through Northern Cyprus immigration at the Ledra Street crossing.

Until recently, entry from Northern Cyprus to south Nicosia was close to impossible. However, following a recent thawing in relations, it is now possible for EU citizens to cross the border at official crossing points, regardless of their point of entry to the island. It should be noted however, that this pertains to EU citizens only, and there have been cases of people from other parts of the world being turned back at crossing point. For full details on how you can cross from south to Northern Cyprus or vice-versa, please see the Cyprus page.

On 3 April 2008, the new Ledra Street crossing (as opposed to Ledra Palace Hotel crossing) was opened, allowing people to cross again from North to South Nicosia and vice-versa for the first time since 1964. The crossing actually traverses the United Nations Buffer Zone dividing Southern and Northern Cyprus. The (Greek) Republic of Cyprus does not maintain an immigration post at the crossing but merely conducts ID checks while Northern Cyprus maintains an immigration and customs checkpoint on their side of the border.

If you're taking a taxi to North Nicosia before crossing, do not say "Ledra" because everyone in Northern Cyprus will assume the Ledra Palace crossing, which is outside the city walls to the west.

Get around

Greater Nicosia sprawls for kilometers on end, but the Old City is small enough to navigate on foot. Traditional Greek Cypriot shops line the streets of the Old City, and with very narrow footpaths/walkways, traffic must always be observed. GPS Satellite navigation systems (see TomTom, Garmin and family) have yet to hear that Cyprus exists, so don't go looking for the Cypriot version. A paper map can be picked up (free of charge!) from the Nicosia CTO (Cyprus Tourism Organisation) Information Office (in Laiki Geitonia) which should more than suffice.

Nicosia is developing a more extensive network of bus services that connect the ever expanding sprawl. Transport is inexpensive, however timetables remain unreliable and only a few buses are air conditioned.

Private taxis abound, they are usually diesel Mercedes cars, and always have a number plate starting with the letter T. Some even have a yellow TAXI (or ΤΑΞΙ in Greek) sign above. Unlike other world cities, they are not in a distinctive colour. Make sure the meter is turned on the second you enter, as tourist expoitation is as common here as everywhere else in the world!

A cheaper alternative to buses and taxis is to use the bike sharing system Bike in Action. Smart card needed.

See

Nicosia's sights are concentrated in and around the Old City, surrounded by a picturesque star-shaped city wall whose moat has been converted into a pleasant park. Wandering around the Old City is an interesting experience in itself, although some buildings (esp. those near the Green Line) are derelict and crumbling. Note that many sights in the Old City close early, so try to get an early start - also a good idea for beating the heat in the summer.

Museums

Front façade of the Cyprus Museum

Performance arts

Sport

Do

Explore the smaller City Streets, small enough to easily do this on foot. Visit a traditional Cypriot Cafe, and sample a Cypriot Coffee. Greet the locals. Make sure you visit the green Line and view all of the City from the Watch tower, into both North and South Nicosia.

Spa

Hamam Omeriye, Nicosia

Cinema

In bygone times Nicosia was dotted with dozens of open air and closed cinemas offering films from local, Greek, Turkish and Hollywood producers. The advent of the video player and other home entertainment systems has strangled this industry and now only a handful of cinemas remain, none of which are open air. These offer the latest blockbuster movies from Hollywood and occasionally the odd arthouse European film. Most will be screened in their original language with Greek subtitles. The annual Cyprus International Film Festival is the local Cannes equivalent. Expect to see great movies, but not the same calibre of stars.

The Friends of Cinema Society was the first to bring forward to the Cypriot viewer, films from countries as diverse and distant as China, Iran, and Japan. With the popularity and recognition of Greek cinema, the Cypriot viewer was able to finally view modern, Greek productions by distinguished artists. Through various festivals (European, French, Spanish, German), Cyprus is able to admire films which are awarded important prizes by international critics, thus bringing state-of-the-art trends of world cinema to Cyprus.

Buy

The traditional shopping district runs along Ledra street and its tributary roads within the medieval walls of the city. A bustle of traditional jewelers, shoe and fabric shops give a blend of Middle Eastern and European feel. Laiki Geitonia is a pedestrianised neighbourhood that has been preserved in its original architecture and is the best quarter if you are after souvenir shops. Big chains (e.g. Marks and Spencer, Zara etc.) line the more modern Makariou Avenue. Stasikratous street has evolved into a mini local version of 5th Avenue/Bond street with expensive brands such as Armani and Versace stores. All the above are within walking distance of each other.

There are no real department stores in a purist sense, but Ermes (this chain inherited and re-branded the old local Woolworths) has several mini department stores across the island and a couple on Makarios Avenue. Alpha-Mega and Orphanides are local hypermarket chains (worthy equivalent of a Tesco or Wal-Mart) where it would be difficult not to find what you were after. Most of their stores however, are located in the suburbs.

International newspapers and periodicals (especially in the English language) are widely available but you can inevitably find them at the large kiosks (periptera) planted at the two corners of Eleftheria Square. These kiosks are open 24/7.

Eat

Traditional Cypriot cuisine is a melting pot of south European, Balkan and Middle Eastern influences. You will find most Greek, Turkish and Arabic dishes, often with a local name or twist. It is now decades since Cyprus has established itself as a tourist hotspot and as a consequence many of the local chefs have trained in Europe and elsewhere, bringing their experiences back home with them. As such most international cuisines are well represented (but unfortunately so are McDonalds & gang). In summary good food is not difficult to come by and most westerners will find dining quite affordable.

The shopping district is dotted with local tavernas and the likes of KFC and Pizza Hut. Virtually all restaurants allow smoking, (and unfortunately some don't even have a non-smoking area, and most restaurants with the non-smoking area don't enforce it). Al fresco dining is a luxury that can be enjoyed for over half the year. It would be a crime not to try (at least once) a mixed pork kebab with a chilled local KEO or Carlsberg (which is brewed locally and tastes different to the same brand overseas) beer. Carnivores are spoilt for choice, whilst vegetarians might find it a tad difficult.

The food is high quality and somewhat cheaper than in the most Western capitals. Snacks should be available from €2-4, kebabs from €7 and whole meals from €15-20. Local KEO beer costs around €4 a pint in bars, local wines starting from €10 a bottle. Hygienic standards are followed and even foods that usually are not recommended in the Mediterranean destinations, such as mayonnaise and salad-based foods, can be safely eaten.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

The substantial student population supports a flourishing industry of bars, pubs and nightclubs which keep the old city alive. Cypriots are true socialites and spend most of their time out as opposed to at home. In line with other south European countries going out is unheard of before 10-11pm. There is no official nightlife reference point but Makarios avenue turns into a catwalk cum cruising strip for Porsche owner show-offs. If you are after a more traditional flavour (generally catering for an older population) you could try a bouzouki bar.

Bars will stock the usual international brands of spirits. Local giants KEO beer and Carlsberg (the only other brand brewed on the island)also Leon beer, the first Cyprus brew, was relaunched 4 decades after it was last produced and traded in the market of Cyprus. Based on the original Leon recipe that was used in 1937, Leon is a pure all malt beer characterised by a rich and strong taste and aromahave a universal presence. Local wines are now making a comeback after years of medioaracy and decline. Commandaria is the pride of Cyprus' dessert wines. The local spirit zivania (very similar to grappa) is usually drank as shots straight from the freezer. Cyprus brandy was introduced about 150 years ago and differs from other continental brandies in its lower alcohol content (around 32%). As such it is often drank by locals whilst eating (and before and after) and is the basic ingredient for a local cocktail, The Brandy Sour. Local Ouzo is also another favourite.

Cafés

Coffee culture is a way of life in Nicosia. It is the place to see and be seen in the afternoon to early evening. In the summer months, tables spill on to the streets. The posh cafés line Makarios Avenue, intertwined with shops. Starbucks and Costa coffee have invaded the island but local equivalents also survive. For a change don't stick to the latté/cappuccino, try a Greek coffee. In the summer you must order a frappé (iced coffee).

Bars/Pubs

There is not much of a distinction between the two, most will serve beer, wine, cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages. Many will now serve food too, but kitchens usually close earlier than the bar.

Babylon Bar & Restaurant

Clubs

Sleep

There is a Youth Hostel on the edge of the Old City. It has an age limit of 35.

Being more of an administrative city plus the financial hub of the island, hotels tend to cater more for business travelers. Accommodation choice is more limited than the purely tourist destinations that line the coast.

Cope

Embassies

Go next

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