Experience two completely different cultures in one commercial capital.
Tip! Bring your passport, you’ll need it crossing border control checkpoint. Also, bring different currencies since the Greek side uses Euros, and the Turkish side uses Lira.
Nicosia has been the capital of Cyprus since the 10th century. It’s not only the largest city, it’s also situated in the heart of the Mesaoria plain. It’s astounding to think that folks have been living here since 4,500 years ago, and it is now the most southeasternmost capital city in the European Union. Incredible, right? There’s more…
Nicosia hosts one of 9 border checkpoints in Cyprus that separates the Greek and the Turkish side. Separation between the North (Turkey) and the South (Greece) became official after 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus island and never left the north. Despite such political turmoil, Nicosia has risen to be Cyprus’ financial center and the 32nd richest city in the world.
Many travelers may arrive in Cyprus for the sun and its glorious beaches, but I highly recommend spending time in Nicosia to explore both the Turkish and Greek sides to further understand its cultural divide.
About the Green Line & the Buffer Zone...
The famous Green Line marks Nicosia as the only divided capital in the world. The Green Line was established after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, separating the North and the South through its ancient city.
The Buffer Zone refers to a 30-meter strip that was marked by the United Nations peacekeeping force. Unless you’re a diplomat or work for the UN, no one is allowed in Buffer Zone area around the Green Line.
Go through Nicosia's checkpoint.
Your hotel will most likely be in the South/Greek side, so I highly recommend choosing a day to explore the Turkish side. In the morning, arrive at one of two border crossings in Nicosia: 1) The Ledra Street Crossing – Pedestrian-only checkpoint where you’ll need to bring your passport or EU ID. This is very much like going through customs at the airport, the process isn’t too fussy. 2) The Ledra Palace Border Crossing – Pedestrian AND vehicles are allowed here. Located just outside of the walled city, the wait may be longer here depending on the time of day you’re traveling.
Check your visa requirements.
You’re essentially crossing two different countries, and the Greek side is part of the European Union. So make sure you check to have the correct visa requirements needed for both areas.
Your passport may or may not be stamped.
Depending on the kind of passport you have, you may also be given a small piece of paper. The process has been more relaxed over the years, but no photography is allowed and there may still be a wait.
Hire a guide or join a walking tour.
The two parts of Cyprus are vastly different, with contrasting architectures, religions, and people. We traveled with a private tour guide who explained the sordid history between the two sides, which was extremely helpful when it comes to understanding what we were experiencing. She also helped us cross the border checkpoints without much complications. If you don’t want to hire a guide, you can join a local walking tour for half a day, which can be helpful in comprehending local history and culture.
Photos: Jetset Times/Wendy Hung