Nicosia (Lefkosia) is the capital of Cyprus. It is also the largest city. As the island’s administrative center, Nicosia is both a commercial and political hub. It is an active metropolis that serves as Cyprus’ financial center, but is a city that has remained divided since the Turkish invasion of 1974. The northern part of Nicosia is northern Cyprus’ capital, while the southern section of the city is Greek Cypriot territory. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nicosia became, and still is, the only divided city in the world.
Nicosia has been continuously inhabited since the island’s Bronze Age (2500-1050 B.C.) By the first millennium B.C., Nicosia had developed into a city-kingdom known as Ledra. Unlike the trading city of Kition (modern-day Larnaka), Ledra was an unimportant town with most of its inhabitants dedicated to agriculture.
By the time Christianity had spread to the island around 350 A.D., the city was known as Lefkousia. In the year 965, Cyprus was incorporated into the Byzantine Empire and Nicosia was made the official capital — a title it holds to this day.
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The subsequent five centuries brought many changes for Cyprus. The island was captured, sold and re-sold to several rulers including King Richard I of England, the Knights Templar and the Franks before coming under Venetian rule in 1489. With the ever-present threat of Ottoman invasion, Venetian governors fortified every city on the island. The 16th century Venetian walls of Nicosia remain in good condition and are one of Cyprus’ largest tourist attractions.
The historical center of Nicosia is a place where ancient and contemporary cultures coexist. Nicosia is home to luxury hotels, fascinating museums, Byzantine churches and bustling pedestrian streets. A visit to Nicosia is a visit to the past and a glimpse into the island’s future. Here are our top 10 things to do in Nicosia!
The Cyprus Museum of Nicosia is often regarded as the island’s number one museum because it houses an especially rare and extensive collection of Cypriot antiquities. The Cyprus Museum was founded in 1888 as a way to preserve the artifacts archaeologists were finding while excavating around the island. The Cyprus Museum may not have the ultra modern facilities found in Paris’ Louvre or London’s British Museum, but its collection is nothing short of impressive, with the oldest pieces dating back to the 8th millennium B.C.
The Cyprus Museum has 14 galleries showcasing Cypriot history, culture and art in chronological order. Beginning with the island’s Neolithic Period, visitors will see vessels and tools. Crude cruciform objects from the Chalcolithic Period are also on display. These picrolite figures are thought to be religious amulets connected to the worship of a fertility goddess.
Replicas of these figurines can be found in almost every souvenir shop on the island. Each room in the museum takes visitors on an incredible journey through the ages as they come across Bronze Age pottery, archaic vessels, clay figurines, religious objects, Roman busts, coins, bronze sculptures, jewelry, lamps and mosaics.
The Cyprus Museum is just a short walk from Eleftherias Square, which makes it easy to access from almost anywhere in downtown Nicosia. Do not miss out on the incredible exhibits this museum holds.
Museum opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Saturday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Eleftherias Square, or “Freedom Square,” is not really a square at all, but instead a four-lane one-way street. Overlooking this nontraditional plateia, perched on one of the Venetian bastions, is Nicosia’s Town Hall. Eleftherias Square has always been the center of Nicosia’s activities including political rallies, public celebrations, demonstrations and the everyday hustle and bustle of the city’s residents.
In 2005, a plan was put in place to revitalize the square and make it function as a gorgeous public space that connects old Nicosia to new Nicosia (pictured above). The world-renowned firm, led by architect Zaha Hadid, was chosen to redesign and rejuvenate Eleftherias Square. As of 2012, the project was put on hold due to archaeological findings. When it is finished, the area will be a contemporary, pedestrian-friendly park that Cyprus can be proud of. Some even say it will be the catalyst to reunify this city, but that remains to be seen.
Famagusta Gate forms part of the Medieval Venetian walls of Nicosia. Originally, Famagusta Gate was called Porta Guiliana and served as one of three main entry points into the city. Famagusta Gate offers visitors a unique glimpse inside the massive Venetian fortress. Once through the door, there are three large halls, which are now used for a variety of cultural exhibits.
Originally, they were used to store military supplies and ammunition. During the days of British Colonial rule the gate was used as a warehouse and fell into significant disrepair. In 1980, Nicosia city officials began its restoration process. Now, Famagusta Gate is not only the best preserved of the original three gates, but also the most photographed building in Nicosia.
Monday – Friday 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Like Valletta in Malta, Nicosia was susceptible to Ottoman attacks during the 16th century. Christian kingdoms had much to fear at time, especially since the Ottomans had already proved they could successfully overthrow port cities in Greece. In 1565, the Ottomans tried to take over Valletta in a battle known as The Great Siege of Malta. The Knights of Saint John (also known as the Knights Hospitaller) managed to thwart the invasion, but other Mediterranean nations took notice and began their preparations for a possible attack.
In 1567, the Venetians began building a fortress around Nicosia with the help of Italian engineers Ascanio Savorgnano and Francesco Barbaro. In less than three years they managed to complete the massive undertaking, which had 11 bastions, two public gates, one military gate (Famagusta Gate) and a moat. But despite their efforts, the city was captured on September 9, 1570, by Ottoman forces. Nowadays, five of the bastions are in southern Nicosia, another five are situated in northern (Turkish) Nicosia and one is occupied by the U.N. buffer zone forces.
Ledra Street, named after the ancient city-kingdom of Ledra, is Nicosia’s main shopping street. It begins in Eleftherias Square and runs from south to north, with a portion of it located within Turkish-occupied Nicosia. Ledra Street is always humming with activity. Coffee shops, boutiques, bookstores and restaurants line the edges of this pedestrian-friendly boulevard in the heart of the old city.
For the best home cooked food in Nicosia, look no further than Taverna Siantris. This contemporary restaurant, located in the heart of the old city, is a culinary gem thanks to the hardworking Siantris family. The décor may be modern, but the recipes are tried and true traditional dishes. Daytime brings in lunching ladies, famished businessmen and curious tourists. Everyone comes to sample the delectable daily specials.
Here, diners find nontraditional Cypriot dishes such as spaghetti with pork and hearty bean stews. The menu changes daily, but much of the clientele hasn’t changed much since the restaurant opened in 1969. Taverna Siantris serves the type of food one would find in a typical Cypriot household — rabbit, braised beef, pasta and legumes. Taverna Siantris’ dishes are varied and of superior quality. This place is a must!
Recommendations: Lentils, koupepia (stuffed grape leaves), rabbit, daily specials ~ Dishes €10 – 25 ~ Open Monday – Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.
The Dafermou Winery is the perfect place to channel one’s inner Dionysus. This luxurious estate is located high above the Lefkara Valley and features an ultra chic building that beautifully contrasts with the green hills surrounding it. General manager Mr. Phakoukakis and his team conceptualized the space as a New World meets Old World sanctuary. Although the building itself is quite impressive, what is being made inside is even more exciting.
Once through the colossal main entrance, visitors are given the opportunity to see the different rooms where Dafermou wines are processed and aged. Hundreds of massive barrels are on display in the ground floor aging room. Here, the wines develop their perfect flavors and distinct aromas. Visitors can sample the different wines, which are created by mixing international varieties like Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc with Greek varieties like Assyrtiko, and Cypriot wines like Maratheftiko. The combination of these yields Dafermou’s three signature blends: white, red and rosé.
Visitors are welcomed to take a tour and savor Dafermou’s uniquely crafted wines in the elegant tasting room — a space that is also perfect for private events and parties. Be sure to call ahead to schedule your visit and tasting. The Dafermou Winery is about a 30-minute drive from Nicosia on the Nicosia-Limassol Highway, which makes it an ideal day trip from the capital. Remember to designate a sober driver!
Fifty-five kilometers west of Nicosia, on the foothills of the Troodos Mountains, lies the pleasant village of Kakopetria. This quaint village is surrounded by lush greenery and has two rivers, the Kargotis and Garillis, running through it. Both rivers intersect in old Kakopetria to form the larger Klarios River, which extends through the Solea Valley and empties into Morphou Bay.
Kakopetria attracts visitors with its traditional architecture and scenic forest landscape. Archaeological evidence shows that the area has been inhabited since the seventh century B.C. Pieces found here include religious objects and pottery, all of which are on display in Nicosia’s Cyprus Museum. Old Kakopetria retains much of its medieval character with its narrow cobblestone streets and rustic homes.
Near the old part of town is the 11th century Byzantine church, Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis. The church is all that remains of the original monastery. Inside it has frescoes depicting the Virgin Mary, Archangels Michael and Gabriel, Saint Lazarus, Jesus Christ and Saint Nicholas. Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its significant value in Cypriot culture. It is open to the public every day except Monday. Entrance is free.
Apart from meandering around the old city, the most popular pastime in Kakopetria is … you guessed it … eating! The village has quite a few bed and breakfast hotels and tavern-style restaurants. For those who want to delve a little deeper in the great outdoors, there are campgrounds, hiking and biking trails near Kakopetria village in the Platania Forest.
For many, Kakopetria provides much needed respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. The village’s tranquil atmosphere and slower pace make it a great day escape from hectic Nicosia.
The Tamassos archaeological site is located about 20 kilometers southwest of Nicosia. Ancient Tamassos occupied an area where the villages of Episkopio, Pera and Politiko are today. Little is known about how the ancient city-kingdom of Tamassos was founded, but archaeologists have unearthed clues that suggest it was more industrial than cosmopolitan. Unlike ancient Kition, Tamassos’ economy depended heavily on copper mining. Unfortunately, many of the old mines are located beneath modern structures, making it impossible to excavate and learn more about them.
What is known is that the people of Tamassos worshipped ancient Greek deities. The Tamassos site has an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite. Visitors can also visit the royal tombs and copper workshops. Many of the artifacts unearthed at the Tamassos site are on display in the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia.
Monday – Friday 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday closed
*Site is accessible with a telephone appointment only
The Troodos Mountain range is one of Cyprus’ natural wonders. Who knew that you could go skiing on a Mediterranean island? We sure didn’t until we saw the snow for ourselves. The Troodos Mountains are located in southwestern Cyprus. At 1,952 meters above sea level, Mount Olympus is the mountain with the highest peak.
The Troodos Mountains are known for their pristine forests, Byzantine churches, charming villages, nature trails, ski resorts and vineyards. Depending on what you are looking for, the Troodos Mountains have endless possibilities for family fun, outdoor activities and cultural appreciation. The mountain range is divided into the following areas: Lemesos mountain resorts, Pitsilia (east), Solea Valley (north), Marathasa Valley (west) and wine region (south). Each area holds picturesque villages and expanses of natural beauty.
The Troodos National Forest Park covers an area of approximately 35 square miles around Mount Olympus. This is perhaps the best place in Cyprus to camp, hike, ski and have outdoor picnics.
The beauty of the Troodos comes from its breathtaking flora and diverse fauna. With several accommodations, ranging from basic village apartments to four-star hotels, there is no reason why travelers should not stay a night or two.
As capital city of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicosia doesn’t disappoint with its numerous museums, monuments and restaurants. Old Nicosia has a distinct architecture and is a great area to stroll around on foot. Laiki Geitonia, the neighborhood where the tourism office is located, is especially captivating. Though pricier than other areas of the city, the cafés here offer gorgeous views of the 200-year-old district. Most of the restaurants and businesses in Laiki Geitonia operate out of charming renovated homes.
Saturday mornings bring in vendors from the surrounding villages. Walking the city will reveal outdoor markets with produce, local crafts, honey, cheese and desserts. The Municipal Market, the market at the Constantine Bastion and St. Anthony’s market are the city’s main markets. Getting out of Nicosia offers travelers the opportunity to see the picturesque countryside of the region. The Troodos Mountains are a must-do! You can ski, hike, bike and camp, which makes it the perfect place for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The roads are moderately easy to navigate and the pine forest views are stunning.
Nicosia is a busy capital, but is fairly pedestrianized. The Cyprus Museum and Leventis Municipal Museum are regarded as two of the best on the island. Do not miss out on these two treasures! Nicosia is a city of opposites — old and new, Turkish and Greek. Considering it is the only divided city in the world, it has loads to see, do and eat! This top 10 things to do in Nicosia, will date at least four days to cover.
Time zone: GMT +2
Shopping: For high fashion, head to Makarios Avenue and Stasikratous Street. Here, high-end boutiques and big name fashion brands deliver the latest styles and trends. Popular stores include Amicci Boutique, Ermenegildo Zegna, Fogal, Gucci, Labels, Mango, Max Mara, Replay, Tiffany Louis Vuitton and Zara. Also on Makarios Avenue is the City Plaza Mall.
For souvenir shopping, browse around Laiki Geitonia. This traditional neighborhood is packed with shops selling traditional keepsakes and crafts. It is a pedestrian-only area with narrow, winding streets and renovated 18th century houses, so there is a lot of architectural charm and shaded walkways.
The Mall of Nicosia
3 Verginas Street
Shacolas Emporium Park
2025 Nicosia, Cyprus
+357 77 776 255
Hours of operation: Working hours can be a bit of a challenge in Cyprus, but as a general rule:
Currency: Euro (€)
Currency converter: XE
Best time to go: Cyprus’ Mediterranean climate means dry, hot summers (mid-May through mid-September). May and June are relatively pleasant months with little to no rainfall. During this time you can expect less heat and fewer crowds on the beach.
Crossing into northern Cyprus
If you plan to cross the border into northern Nicosia, here are some things to consider:
Larnaka International Airport (LCA)
+357 24 643633
Pafos International Airport (PFO)
+357 26 007 100
Anemayia Rentals (Larnaka) +357 99624726
Europcar +357 22878380
Sixt Rent a Car +357 25312345
Tours: The Cyprus Tourism Organization (CTO) offers complimentary guided walking tours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tours begin at the tourism information office at 10 a.m. and last about two and a half hours with a half-hour break. The CTO office is located at 11 Aristokyprou Street, Laiki Geitonia (East of Eleftherias Square).
Segway Tours are a great way to maximize your time in Nicosia’s old city. Tours last two and a half hours and cover all the main sights. Cost is €44 per person.
Cyprus Taste Tours is a fantastic small business that operates in Larnaka, Limassol and Nicosia. Cyprus Taste Tours was created by two young entrepreneurial women who wanted to showcase Cypriot culture through local cuisine. Tours, which are all-inclusive, last three to four hours and take people to five local restaurants for food, wine and ouzo samplings. Cost is €75 per person. Discount available for groups of four or more.
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