Holidaying in lands that don’t exist: Northern Cyprus

Sascha Duerkop May 21, 2020
Holidaying in lands that don’t exist: Northern Cyprus

Despite being quite a popular holiday destination, especially for British pensioners, Northern Cyprus is considered as an occupied territory by the UK.

Confusingly, it is also considered part of the Republic of Cyprus and thus part of the EU. It is all a bit complex, as ever with places not on the map, but it basically provides the best of two worlds – being in a country that doesn’t exist, while hanging out in the good ol’ EU.

How do you get to Northern Cyprus?

Should you wish to fly to the northern half of Cyprus, you will have to connect in Istanbul, as only Turkey recognises it as independent and thus dares to fly there.

Your other option would be flying from London to the Republic of Cyprus and then walking or driving across the United Nations military patrolled buffer zone. In both cases, you will end up arriving in Nicosia, the divided capital of both island countries.

Nicosia: A city divided

The centre of Nicosia, which spans both administrations, is mostly a well-preserved historic Ottoman city, with a few medieval remains of the crusaders here and there. Sandbag barriers divide the lively bazaar in many of the narrow streets.

Leaving Nicosia, you would be well-advised to pay Kyrenia (or Girne in Turkish) a visit, a rather small historic port town that is full of life, largely thanks to large numbers of Turkish tourists coming by ferry.

However, there are three Northern Cyprus experiences that really stick out.

The three must-sees in Northern Cyprus

The remains of the ancient city of Salamis close to Famagusta, by Sascha Duerkop.

The remains of the ancient Greek city state of Salamis, close to the city of Famagusta (or Gazimagusa in Turkish), are among the most impressive of its kind and are almost empty most of the time.

You can freely wander around an area the size of a small town and jump around in the old theatre or climb some of the pillars standing close to the coast. While some of the highlights of the excavation were transferred to the British Museum in colonial times, the flair of the city and the unmet freedom and loneliness while exploring it are still one of a kind and cannot be transferred anywhere.

Varosha Beach by Seamus Travers,

Nearby this ancient city state is another very unique, although much more grim, place called “Varosha”. This part of the city of Famagusta used to be the prime holiday destination of the entire island, as the best beaches are found here. Since the war in 1974, it is entirely abandoned.

The weirdest experience visiting Varosha, though, is not a massive ghost city of five-star-hotels slowly crumbling away. What really is unthinkable is the fact that this is still a very popular beach with tourists! Seemingly unspoilt by the horror-scarred scenery behind them, thousands of tourists are happy sunbathing facing the sea and riding their banana boats every day.

Finally, and definitely my highlight of half the island, you might want to get yourself a rental car and go all the way up to the tip of the island. The Karpas (Turkish Karpaz) peninsula is home to a huge population of wild donkeys. Add hidden and unspoilt beaches and one of the oldest monasteries on the island and you will have a perfect day trip. Carrots are available at the monastery and should you dare to open your car windows, the donkeys will happily stick their head into the car to steal them off you.

The Golden Beach, one of the many unspoilt fine beaches along the Karpaz peninsula, by Sascha Duerkop.

When to visit?

Tourism in Northern Cyprus is going strong all year round. The summers can get very hot, while winters usually don’t get much colder than 20 degree.

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Sascha Düerkop is a German mathematician, economist, football maniac, geography nerd and traveller. He has travelled to most unrecognised countries and way beyond, organised football tournaments for not-quite-states and has over 500 football national team shirts in his wardrobe.