Kyrenia is a city in northern Cyprus boasting a horseshoe-shaped harbor, a cobblestoned old town, and various castles. This still undiscovered side of the island is perfect for getting away when you are tired from overcrowded coastal towns or cities elsewhere in Europe. If you are looking for a mixture of beach and cultural holiday, here are some of the best things to do in Kyrenia.
Understanding Cyprus – a short history lesson
Cyprus has been a divided country into the Greek and Turkish sides since 1974. Because of its location on the crossroads of the Eastern Mediterranean, many powerful countries tried to invade several times throughout its history. Each country did leave a trace that still survived to the present day, making Cyprus one of the historically rich and vibrant Mediterranean island.
Turkey’s invasion was a response to a Greek-supported military coup d’état that resulted in the eviction of most of the north’s Greek population, occupation of the area, and a division of the island. The Green Line, a physical buffer zone, divides the island in half, including its capital Nicosia. The UN created the zone to restore peace temporarily, yet the reconciliation is still under doubt.
Despite this political situation, the northern part of the island is absolutely safe to travel to. Similar visa processes apply here as it would for visiting Turkey, i.e. if you don’t need a visa to visit Turkey, you won’t need it here either. The same goes for the currency – Northern Cyprus uses Turkish Lira. It’s also possible to travel from the Greek side to the Turkish one on your own or with an organized tour.
Because of the division, the towns of Northern Cyprus have two names. For instance, Kyrenia is a Greek name, while Turkey calls it Girne, Nicosia is Lefkoşa, and Famagusta is Gazimagusa.
Top Things to do in Kyrenia
Start your day exploring Kyrenia Castle
One of the top things to do in Kyrenia is to visit its city castles nestled on the coast. Unfortunately, the exact date of construction is unknown, but it’s believed to be built around the 7th century AD.
This well-preserved castle still shows the influences of Venetian, Byzantine, and Lusignan styles. If the castle could talk, it would tell magnificent tales since its existence.
Spend at least an hour here to explore its dungeon, cistern, two small museums, and a chapel. And make sure to visit the Shipwreck Museum, home to a 2,300-year-old Greek trading vessel – the oldest shipwreck in the world.
Stroll down the Old Harbor
Right below the Kyrenia Castle, you’ll find charming old Harbor, an ideal place to explore any time of the day. Enjoy the views of various boats and yachts docked at the harbor and walk along the cobblestone streets.
Come here in the evening to have a delicious dinner at one of its lined restaurants offering fantastic views, or to watch a sunset and relax after a long day of exploration.
See the Chain Tower
Often mistaken for a lighthouse, the Chain Tower is part of the Kyrenia fortification used by Venetians for defense. They would raise a chain between the tower and a fortress to block the entrance.
Walk towards the tower for different views of the castle, harbor, and the Mediterranean.
Enjoy views from St. Hilarion Castle
St. Hilarion Castle is another well-preserved fortification of Northern Cyprus. This fairytale castle is believed to be the inspiration for Disney’s Snow White citadel.
Unfortunately, there is no public transport going to the castle, so you either need to rent a car or hire a taxi.
To get to the top, you start at the bottom of the hill and walk up to the castle to enjoy fantastic views of the town. Note that you’ll be climbing on a steep hill, but don’t exclude it from your itinerary as it’s one of the best things to do in Kyrenia.
Entrance fee: 9 TL
Explore Bellapais Monastery
Located in the small village of Bellapais, the monastery is also referred to as Bellapais Abbey. This gorgeous gothic-style monastery is worth visiting as it’s only 10 minutes drive from the city.
Unfortunately, most of Abbey’s parts are in ruins today, but if you look closely, you’ll notice somewhat preserved frescoes, arches, pillars, and stairways.
Entrance fee: 9 TL
Pay a visit to Buffavento Castle
Like Kyrenia Castle, this one was also built for defense purposes at 950m above sea level with picturesque views of the bay. Walk around the hallways and look out from big stone windows typical for the 11th century Byzantine architecture. Visiting the castle would definitely be one of the best things to do in Kyrenia that you won’t regret.
Entrance fee: FREE
Sunbath at its sandy beaches
If you plan a relaxing summer vacation, then one of the best things to do in Kyrenia is to enjoy as much time on its sandy beaches as you can. The Kyrenia coastline has all facilities and restaurants if you’ll need anything during the day.
The most popular beach in Kyrenia is Acapulco Beach offering rental sunbeds and a bar. Many come here for windsurfing, so you might also consider doing some fun activities too.
If you are looking for a more natural environment, then visit Alagadi Turtle Beach. As it is a turtle nesting shore, there are no sunbeds available. However, you can rent an umbrella, and there are toilets and a bar if needed.
Water sports lovers can enjoy their time at Escape Beach, which offers canoeing, jet ski, diving, and banana boats, to name a few. If you get hungry, there’s a bar, restaurant, and even a beach club.
How to get to Kyrenia
Depending on where you are coming from and in which airport you are flying to, getting to Kyrenia isn’t a big deal. However, it can be a bit time-consuming.
The easiest would be to fly to the Ercan International Airport in Nicosia, which is also part of Northern Cyprus. You will go through the visa and entry requirements here. As I said above, it’s very almost the same as if you’re arriving in Turkey.
Sometimes, the passport control officer gives out a piece of paper instead of a stamp in your passport. This is to avoid possible problems with other countries, especially if you plan on visiting the Greek side and need an EU visa. However, I have read that some get a stamp in their passport, but they never had issues anywhere. I got a paper instead of a stamp.
To get to Kyrenia from the airport, you can either take a public bus, rent a car, hire a taxi. If you’d prefer to take a bus, the only company that takes passengers from the airport to the city is Kibhas. Do note that they don’t run after midnight.
If you are flying to other airports such as Larnaca or Paphos, then the only option to get to Kyrenia is via a rental car or public transport to change in Nicosia.
Where to stay in Kyrenia
Kyrenia has a great selection of hotels, resorts, and villas very similar to Turkey’s. Those accommodation types do cater to every budget traveler, so find the one that best suits your budget.
Hotels & Villas
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Cyprus travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Georgia, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking and Agoda, or find a cool apartment on Airbnb and get $34 off on your first stay (my invite expires in 30 days after you sign up! )
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
– Book in advance some of the best city walks, cultural experiences, and day tours to maximize your stay and experience here