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explore Nicosia, Cyprus

Nicosia, Cyprus

Explore Nicosia with its distinction as the only divided capital in the world. Nicosia and its surrounding region combine the heartbeat of the island’s commercial and businesses center with an interesting past, and rural areas where escape is possible in naturally beautiful, green environs.

The capital itself is steeped in history and culture, with a charming old city surrounded by massive Venetian walls, and the island’s largest concentration of museums, art galleries and religious and historical monuments, that all tell wonderful stories of the island through the ages.

Leaving the busy capital behind, the region then expands to the countryside, where a different side unfolds amidst orchards and olives groves, forests and hillsides.

Visitors will encounter the ruins of two rich city-kingdoms that also form part of the nicosia region; those of Tamassos  and Idalion (both south of Nicosia).
Tamassos was built near an important copper mine and prospered greatly during Roman times – when Cyprus was famous for its copper. At the site of Idalion, there is a museum with chronological exhibits from excavations of the area.

Stretching up into the pine forest of the Machairas mountains, the scenery becomes more and more picturesque, with significant sights, such as the ancient Machairas monastery and Agios Irakleidios Convent, where the relics of the saint are kept inside the church.

There are also an abundance of quaint, mountainous villages that form part of the rural areas of the region, with their cobbled streets and preserved stone and adobe houses, offering a glimpse of village life in Cyprus. Worth visiting is the village of Fikardou, which has been declared a national monument, and was awarded the Europa Nostra award in 1987 for its carefully restored 18th century houses with their remarkable woodwork and folk architecture. Other interesting villages include Alona, Prodromos, Pedoulas, Kakopetria and Palaichori.

Offering the best of two worlds; that of vibrant capital, and also of rural retreat, the two ‘faces’ of the region of Nicosia are both equally beguiling. 

The new city expands in to a modern European-influenced center of buildings, offices, pavement cafes and shops. Nicosia is an ideal place for shopping especially Stassicratous Street. 
Traditional villages with cobbled streets are spread throughout the rural areas of the Nicosia district. The village of Fikardou, declared a national monument, was awarded the Europa Nostra award in 1987 and is a must-see if you are in the vicinity and want a strong taste of the Cyprus rural life.

Nicosia is a great vacation destination with a beautiful Old City, fascinating museums, bustling pedestrian streets and great restaurants.

What to 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
 
Cyprus Museum, (west of the city wall, in between the Tripoli bastion and the municipal gardens). M-Sa 9-5pm, Su/public holidays 10-1pm, closed New Year’s, Easter, Christmas. Showcases the best of Cypriot archeology from the 9th millennium BCE to the end of Antiquity. There is a convenient café on the grounds. 20% discount for groups of 10 or more. 

Byzantine Museum, (Archbishop Kyprianou Square). M-F 9-4:30pm, Sa 8am-Noon, Su closed. Easily spotted thanks to the giant statue of Archbishop Makarios standing outside, has one of the world’s best collections of Orthodox icons and other artworks, mostly ranging from the 9th to the 16th century. 

National Struggle Museum, Kiniras 7. Daily 8am-Noon. Documents the history of the Cypriot independence movement (1955-1959), with a rather positive spin on the EOKA guerrilla movement. 

Leventis Municipal Museum, Ippokratous 17, Laiki Yitonia. Housed in a converted, two-storey house since 1984 the Leventis Municipal Museum has exhibits dating from 2300 BC to the present day. Voted European Museum of the Year in 1989. 

House of the Dragoman Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios, Patriarch Gregoriou St. M-F 8-3pm, Sa 9-1pm, Su closed. A beautifully restored 18th-century building now housing an ethnological museum. 

Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre, 19 Apostolou Varnava Str,. Housed in a converted old power station built in 1936. The building sat derelict for 20 years and reopened as a contemporary art gallery in 1994. Includes a decent cafe-restaurant with an imaginative Mediterranean menu. Winner of a 1994 Europa Nostra award.

Museum of the History of Cypriot Coinage, Bank of Cyprus Administrative Headquarters, 51 Stasinou Str., Agia Paraskevi,. M-F 8-2:30pm. Hundreds of coins on display, from ancient to modern spanning nearly 3,000 years of coinage history on the island.  

Ledra Observatory Museum, Ledra street, Shakolas Building. Daily 10-8pm. The Shakolas (the aged population know it by its former name The Mangli) building sticks out like a sore thumb in the medieval old city. Right in the middle of Ledra street a mini skyscraper of 12 floors, towers over other buildings not rising higher than 2-3 floors. On its penultimate floor you find the observatory, where it’s possible “to see” the division of the island. 

The Cyprus Classic Motorcycle Museum, 44 Granikou Str. M-F 9-1pm 3-7pm, Sa 9-2pm. Privately owned, this is the only such museum on the island and is tucked away in the medieval city. On display are about 150 classic (mostly British) motorcycles dating from 1914 to 1983.  


Performance arts

Famagusta Gate (Leoforos Athinon). One of Nicosia’s three old gates, it has now been turned into the Lefkosia Municipal Cultural Centre, used for various exhibitions and performances. 

The Nicosia Municipal Theatre, (on museum street, opposite the Cyprus Museum). A spacious theater built in a neoclassical style. It seats 1200 persons and has a continuous programme of cultural events throughout the year. The theater is contemporary out of order for renovation purposes.  

Sports

Horse Racing (Nicosia Race Club), Ayios Dometios. The small and picturesque race track has a colonial feel to it. Emotions run high here every Wednesday and Sunday. Check website or call them for race timetable.  

Tennis – Cyprus plays its home Davis Cup matches at the Field Club. Clay courts line the moat that was once covered with water protecting the city from medieval invaders. It has a colonial feel to it. Again, if you are lucky you might catch Marcos Baghdatis playing for Cyprus.

What to 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.


The Last Divided Capital – One Day Excursion. This activity starts with a walk along the buffer zone in the center of old town Nicosia. You’ll see abandoned streets, bullet holes in the walls of destroyed buildings, forgotten shops and an insight into the story of Cyprus and what the island suffered in 1974. You’ll be taken to the Turkish occupied North on foot to see some sights and then return to the South to explore the old town and the Cypriot cuisine through a walking snack tour. This will be followed by a Segway experience to further explore the old town of Nicosia and it’s history before you sit down for a traditional meze meal.  

Spa
Hamam Omeriye, Nicosia
Hamam Omerye. Located in the heart of the old town at: 8 Tyllirias Square, 1016 Lefkosia – within the ancient Venetian walls. Find your way to the ‘Ohi’ Round about, then head straight all the way until you find the Omeriye Mosque on your right – you can’t miss it. Turn right here and the Hamam Baths are on your left. 14th century building restored to operate once again as a Turkish bath. The site’s history dates back to the 14th century, when it stood as an Augustinian church of St. Mary, built by the Lusignan (French) and later maintained by the Venetians. In 1571, Mustapha Pasha converted the church into a mosque, believing that this particular spot is where the prophet Omer rested during his visit to Lefkosia. Most of the original building was destroyed by Ottoman artillery, although the door of the main entrance still belongs to the 14th century Lusignan building, whilst remains of a later Renaissance phase can be seen at the north-eastern side of the monument. Couples on Mondays, men only Tue/Thu/Sat, women only Wed/Fri/Sun. €20/two hours, incl. towels, disposable underwear, tea, sponge etc.

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.

What to 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.

What to Eat
Traditional Cypriot cuisine is a melting pot of south European, Balkan and Middle Eastern influences. You will find most Greek, Turkish 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. 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.

What to 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) have a universal presence. Local wines are now making a comeback after years of mediocracy 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 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.

Cafes
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 cafes 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 latte/capuccino, try a greek coffee. In the summer you must order a frappe (iced coffee).

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