Cafe culture and beautifully curated museums in Nicosia!
Tip! Everything listed is walking distance, except for the Famagusta Gate which is 20 minutes by foot from Ledra Street. Make sure to wear comfy shoes.
The Greek side (or South of the Green Line) of Nicosia boasts a completely different atmosphere than the Turkish North side. The rising commercial capital of Cyprus is laidback yet lively, featuring its main vibrant street: Ledra, located in the middle of the walled city.
Also known as “The Murder Mile,” Ledra Street was where British colonists were often attacked by Greek Cypriot nationalists guerrilla organization which aimed to end British rule during the EOKA Struggle in 1950’s. A decade later, after the outbreak between the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots, the latter group decided to stay in the northern part of Nicosia and Ledra Street was blockaded. In 1974, when the Turkish troops invaded Cyprus, a Buffer Zone running through Ledra Street was established allowing the street to reopen in 2008.
Today’s Greek side of Nicosia is filled with outdoor cafes, and important museums highlighting Cypriot and Byzantine cultures. Here are some of the best things to do on the South side of the Buffer Zone.
1. SEE: Cyprus Museum.
Cyprus Museum has the country’s largest and the most complete archeological collections. If you’re curious about the island’s complex history, then spend a few hours at Cyprus museum full of artifacts from the Stone Age, the Roman Periods, to the Ancient Greek Tombs of Salamis. You’ll be up close and personal with sculptures, art pieces, and household items used during various eras.
2. EAT: Pyxida Fish Tavern for lunch.
Pyxida is often referred to as the best fish restaurant in Nicosia, it’s conveniently situated next to the Cyprus Museum. Making it the perfect lunch spot after a few hours of intense history lesson. Get the sea bass meze, and don’t forget the oyster bar next door! There’s always a crowd so the ambiance is quite lively, but it doesn’t get any better inside a 1930’s home converted into a popular eatery.
3. SEE: Byzantine Museum.
Featuring 1,500 years of Byzantine art, the Byzantine Museum can’t be missed especially if you’re an art history fanatic. Here, you’ll see seven mosaic fragments from the Church of Kanakaria that was once sold to foreign countries then brought back to Cyprus. There are also 230 beautifully adorned icons from the 9th to 19th centuries, presented in the form of books, vestments, sacred vessels, and paintings.
4. DRINK: Have a pint at Pivo Microbrewery.
As Nicosia’s sole brewery, Pivo was started by a family who learned about lager in the Czech Republic. Here, you can taste four varieties, including: Pilsner, Bavarian weiss, dark lager and IPA. Just when you think Cyprus is all about wines and the local KEO beer, there’s something so authentic about brew-tasting in a 100-year old marbled manor.
5. SEE: Famagusta Gate.
One of the main attractions of the city, Famagusta Gate, was constructed in the 16th century and has remained as a significant remnant from Venetian’s defense preceding the Ottoman invasions. There’s a vaulted passage, with a spherical dome in the style of Rome’s Pantheon. Don’t be surprised if you see exhibitions shown here throughout the year.
6. SHOP: Ledra Street.
The historical Ledra Street is now Nicosia’s major shopping area, but it’s also the site of the previous Ledra barricade that boasts UN buffer zone separating the Greek south and Turkish north sides. After the barricade was replaced by the Green buffer line, Ledra Street became the 6th border crossing and a major street for shopping. You can find most mass market brands here, including: H&M, Parfois, Accessorize…etc. But I preferred losing myself in the alleys zigzagging around Ledra Street, where I found local souvenir shops. Some are quite touristic, but you can still find some cool textiles and canvas bags to bring home.
7. EAT: Traditional Cypriot cuisine at Kathodon.
Located right next to Eleftheria Square (Freedom Square), owner Sakis named the restaurant Kathodon, which means “on the way.” Sakis told me, he could’ve chosen a trendy name for his eatery, but he wanted it to mean something significant to indicate Greek Cypriots’ will to freedom. Upon entering Kathodon, the walls are embellished with numerous photos with local and international celebrities. Even former President Bill Clinton has feasted on famous meze here. The menu is just like any traditional taverna, with dishes that vary from salads, zucchini balls, to meat kebabs.
8. DO: Sip on Cypriot coffee at a street side cafe.
One thing you’ll notice that’s truly Nicosian is the street side cafe culture. These places are the best to taste a cup of traditional Cypriot coffee. They’re typically brewed in a tall pot made from copper, attached is a long handle so you can move the pot on the stove. Always tell the waiter whether you want it sweet or unsweetened, since sugar is added to the water and coffee powder when the water is still cold. Once you finish drinking your coffee, you’ll see residue at the bottom. And that’s when you say: STOP!