From exploring the ancient ruins of Salamis to hanging out with the wild donkeys on the Karpaz Peninsula, here are the best things to do in Northern Cyprus!

The lesser-known neighbour of the ‘real’ Republic of Cyprus, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus might be an unrecognised nation-state, propped up politically and financially by the Turkish government across the Aegean Sea, but it’s also got some of the greatest beaches and wildest landscapes, not just on Cyprus, but in the entire Mediterranean.

Northern Cyprus is home to some epic scenery. It’s untouched and rugged; perfect for the traveller who’s looking to get firmly off the beaten track. Due to its isolation after the 1974 Turkish invasion and division of the island, compared to the popular southern side there are few visitors here.

High mountains are peaked by crumbling Crusader castles, an entire, isolated peninsular has been swarmed by wild donkeys, and of course war-torn and abandoned holiday resorts line the coast.

This is where Turkish and Greek cultures collide (sometimes with deadly consequences), and it’s a country where you can really get away from it all and explore a lesser-known part of the world!

But enough, read on for the top things to do in Northern Cyprus!

The best things to do in Northern Cyprus

You can cross a divided capital city, explore the isolated Karpaz Peninsula, visit abandoned holiday resorts and road trip across an unrecognised nation. Here are the best things to do, and the best places to visit in Northern Cyprus:

1. Stroll across the Ledra Street Border Crossing in Nicosia

Unless you make a ridiculous overland journey through Turkey to then take the long, painfully slow ferry across the Mediterranean Sea, you’ll probably be walking into Northern Cyprus from the south.

But don’t worry, it’s easy these days. The UN has been holding the Turkish and Greek sides apart for years, and relations have warmed enough to allow easy crossings between the two entities.

In Nicosia – the world’s last divided capital city – from the south you can take a simple stroll down Ledra Street, the main shopping boulevard, flash your passport, and you’re in the north. Take Turkish Lira of course, and be prepared for an instant culture shock once you’re over the dividing line of the city.

Nicosia the world's last divided capital city
Ledra Street border crossing to the northern side of Nicosia.

Read more: The Ledra Street Border Crossing in Cyprus

2. Road trip across Northern Cyprus

Once you’re on the other side of the border, the easiest way to see the island is by getting yourself behind the wheel of a car. There is a Turkish dolmus, or minibus, system of public transportation operating, but to really explore, you need your own transport, as the buses only go so far. So hire a car, or bike and hit the road.

Why not make your way to Kyrenia, then tackle the following five-day road trip itinerary?

Day 1: Begin your journey in Kyrenia (Girne), a charming port town. Explore its historic harbor and visit the Kyrenia Castle.

Day 2: Drive east along the coast to the city of Famagusta. Visit the ghost town of Varosha and the walled city, featuring Othello’s Tower.

Day 3: Head north to the Karpaz Peninsula. Enjoy the Golden Beach, one of the most beautiful in Cyprus.

Day 4: Visit the ancient city of Salamis, an archaeological site with well-preserved Roman ruins.

Day 5: Head west to Guzelyurt, an area known for citrus groves and archaeological sites like the ancient city of Soli.

Day 6: Return to Kyrenia, exploring the stunning St. Hilarion Castle on the way.

The Top Things To Do In Northern Cyprus

Read more: These photos will inspire you to rent a car and road trip North Cyprus!

3. Find wild donkeys on the Karpaz Peninsula

The Karpaz Peninsula is the most isolated, yet the most beautiful part of Northern Cyprus. It’s rugged and wild and inhabited only by the wild donkeys which made this place their home after being released during the 1974 Turkish invasion. The donkeys are everywhere, on the roads, the beaches and they’ll even find a way into your car.

Donkeys aside, the Karpaz Peninsula also has some of the most stunning coastline, as well as glorious golden beaches (there’s literally a beach called ‘Golden Beach!). And the best part is you’ll only be sharing it with the donkeys, and the few travellers intrepid enough to make the same journey.

Make your way to the far end of the peninsula, and you’ll find a giant Turkish flag overlooking the strait leading to the mainland. It’s quite the political statement, but quite the view, too.

The Karpaz Peninsular Northern Cyprus Travel

Read more: The wild donkeys of the Karpaz Peninsula

4. Hang out (and drink!) at the Kyrenia (Girne) Harbour!

Girne- or Kyrenia- is a laid-back seaside harbour town. This is where you can get a ferry to Turkey if you are brave enough. If not, you can sit back at the quaint harbour and enjoy the pleasant sea views. If you’re thirsty then there’s plenty of drinking being done here (which I found out to my demise, right before taking the ferry!), with many a bar and English style pub.

Kyrenia is also known for its captivating history. Explore Kyrenia Castle, with its shipwreck museum, or hike up to the dizzying heights St. Hilarion Castle, a Crusader fortress overlooking the town. Whether you’re strolling through the cobblestone streets or enjoying the Mediterranean views, Kyrenia offers a delightful taste of Northern Cypriot culture.

The Top Things To Do In Northern Cyprus
Beautiful scenes in Northern Cyprus.

Read more: 11 Best Things to Do in Kyrenia (Girne), Northern Cyprus

5. Enjoy the view from the ramparts of St Hilarion Castle

If the Girne harbour castle wasn’t enough to fill your aching castle void, then head up into the mountains just outside the city to see St Hilarion.

The history of St. Hilarion Castle in Northern Cyprus dates back to the 10th century when it was established as a monastery. It was later fortified by the Byzantines and expanded by the Lusignans in the 12th century to serve as a royal residence and military fortress. Named after a monk who allegedly chose the site for his hermitage, the castle played a key role in the island’s defence against Arab pirates.

Today, its well-preserved ruins offer a window into its illustrious past. What’s left is still spectacular. And the views from the lofty position are possibly more spectacular than the ruins.

The Top Things To Do In Northern Cyprus
St Hilarion Castle, Northern Cyprus

6. Find more Crusader castles in the mountains (including Kantara Castle)

And if St Hilarion still hasn’t satisfied your castle craving, then atop the Kyrenia mountain range is the Kantara Castle. There’s a long, winding road to the top and if you dare to summit the mountain range, the ruins of the Crusader castle of Kantara offer incredible views from one coastline of Cyprus to the other.

Kantara Castle dates back to the 10th century. Built by the Byzantines as a defensive lookout against Arab pirates, it became a crucial vantage point overseeing the northern and eastern coastlines. It gained prominence under the Lusignan rule in the 12th century and played a key role in the political struggles during the reign of Isaac Komnenos.

The Top Things To Do In Northern Cyprus
Kantara Castle, Northern Cyprus

7. Explore the ghost resorts of Famagusta

Famagusta- or Gazimagusta as it might also be called- was once the busiest, most popular tourist resort in Cyprus. When the Turkish army invaded, the Greeks who ran the resorts fled south, and the military has kept the holiday resorts empty and abandoned ever since.

When I visited a few years back, you could only see the ruins from the beach next to the city. The border between north and south literally extends out into the water, and there are check points and armed guards next to the sunbathers – so don’t try and swim along to the old hotels as you might get shot at.

Recently, though, the old ghost town has been opened up to tourism again. Rather than sunseekers, however, it’s dark tourists who are now visiting!

Famagusta Abandoned Holiday Resort Cyprus

Read more: Famagusta: The war-torn holiday resort of Cyprus

8. Walk through Famagusta’s Old Town

If you’ve had enough of the beach at Famagusta, then the old town is a relic just waiting to be explored. Historically, this was originally a Greek city, and this is glaringly obvious when you see the old cathedrals that have been turned into mosques.

Enclosed within Venetian walls, its narrow, winding streets are brimming with heritage. Key highlights include the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, once a Gothic cathedral, and the ruins of the medieval Royal Palace. Don’t miss a stroll along the city walls for panoramic views, and the chance to explore the Othello Tower, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s tragedy.

The Top Things To Do In Northern Cyprus
Famagusta, Northern Cyprus

Read more: 12 Things to Do in Famagusta, Northern Cyprus

9. Delve into the ancient ruins of Salamis

A short drive along the coast from Famagusta, are the ancient ruins of Salamis. This city was once a thriving Greek, then a Roman settlement, and the ruins have been partially excavated, leaving temples, theatres, and grand marble columns for visitors to wander around and be transported back thousands of years.

As one of the most significant archaeological sites on the island, it dates back to the 11th century BC. Visitors can explore the Roman-era ruins, including a grand amphitheatre, stunning marble columns, vast gymnasiums with bathhouses, and mosaic-tiled floors. The site is extensive, so take your time to wander around and imagine life in this ancient city. The nearby sandy beaches provide a perfect spot for relaxation after your exploration.

The Top Things To Do In Northern Cyprus
The ruins of Salamis

Read more: The ancient ruins of Salamis

10. Be awed by the scale of the Soli Ruins

The Soli Ruins are an important archaeological site located in the Guzelyurt region of Northern Cyprus. This ancient city, founded in the 6th century BC, reached its peak during the Roman period. Today, the site offers a fascinating glimpse into the past, showcasing a range of Roman and early Christian architectural styles.

One of the key highlights of Soli is the Roman theatre, capable of accommodating up to 4,000 spectators. Visitors can climb the theatre’s steps to take in sweeping views of the surrounding landscape. Another significant feature of Soli is the Basilica of Soli, famous for its intricate mosaics that depict various birds, animals, and geometric designs.

The site is spread out over a large area, dotted with remnants of old columns, the forum, public baths, and a necropolis. Visiting Soli offers a chance to walk through the pages of history, visualizing life in a bustling ancient city. It’s a must-visit for history enthusiasts travelling in Northern Cyprus.

11. Lounge on deserted beaches!

If you’ve had your fill of ruins and castles, then it’s time to wind down on a deserted beach. Drive literally anywhere, in any direction along the coast and you’ll stumble across a deserted beach.

My particular favourite was the huge and empty Golden Beach in the Karpaz Peninsular. Another favourite is Alagadi Turtle Beach, so-called because it’s an incredibly important nesting ground for several species of turtle. You can even join a ‘nightwatch’ tour during nesting season, to see the baby turtles hatching.

There are so few places left in the world can you have such an untouched coastline all to yourself, so make the most of it in Northern Cyprus!

The Top Things To Do In Northern Cyprus
You’ll have to find this beach for yourself!

Read more: The Cyprus Buffer Zone (What It Is and How to Visit).

12. Check out the dividing line between north and south

You can drive almost all the way along the border, and the UN buffer zone which separates the north from the south. Close to the checkpoints, there are abandoned villages and war-torn buildings in the military zones.

The dividing line between North and South Cyprus, known as the Green Line, is a demarcation established after the 1974 Turkish invasion. It stretches approximately 180 kilometers across the island, from the east coast to the west. Monitored by the United Nations, it separates the Republic of Cyprus in the south from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Several crossing points along this line allow passage for locals and tourists under certain conditions.

Years after the war and the divide, these are the starkest and most visible reminders of the effects and the cost that the conflict still continues to have on the island of Cyprus.

The Top Things To Do In Northern Cyprus
The dividing line between north and south

Read more: Why is Cyprus Divided? Everything You Need to Know.

How to travel to Northern Cyprus?

Travelling to Northern Cyprus is most commonly done by air or sea. Ercan International Airport, located near Nicosia, is the main entry point by air, with flights usually connecting through Turkey.

Alternatively, you can fly into Larnaca or Paphos airports in the southern part of the island, and cross the border by car or shuttle bus.

If you’re already in Turkey, another option is to take a ferry from cities like Tasucu to Kyrenia. Upon arrival, rental cars, taxis, and public buses are available for getting around. Always check visa requirements prior to travel.

Read more: Slow Travel: The ferry from Turkey to Northern Cyprus

Map of the best things to do in Northern Cyprus

Here’s a map of the best places to visit in Northern Cyprus:

Northern Cyprus FAQ

Here’s a quick FAQ on the best things to do in Northern Cyprus:

Q1: What are the top attractions in Northern Cyprus?

A1: Northern Cyprus is known for its historic sites such as the Kyrenia Castle, St. Hilarion Castle, and Salamis Ancient City. The charming port town of Kyrenia and the walled city of Famagusta are also must-visits.

Q2: What outdoor activities can I do in Northern Cyprus?

A2: Northern Cyprus offers many outdoor activities including hiking in the Kyrenia Mountains, exploring the Karpaz Peninsula, swimming at the Golden Beach, and sailing around the Kyrenia harbor.

Q3: Are there any unique experiences in Northern Cyprus?

A3: Yes, you can explore the ghost town of Varosha in Famagusta, visit the sea turtles at Alagadi Beach, or taste the delicious local cuisine in the traditional markets.

Q4: What can history lovers enjoy in Northern Cyprus?

A4: History lovers will enjoy visiting the archaeological sites of Salamis and Soli, exploring the numerous castles, or wandering through the historic streets of Kyrenia and Famagusta.

Q5: Is Northern Cyprus a good place for beach holidays?

A5: Absolutely! Northern Cyprus is home to beautiful beaches, including the Golden Beach on the Karpaz Peninsula and the beaches around Kyrenia.

Q6: What local foods should I try in Northern Cyprus?

A6: You should try local delicacies like halloumi cheese, lamb kebabs, and the traditional dessert, Lokma. Enjoy fresh seafood in the coastal towns too.

Q7: Are there shopping opportunities in Northern Cyprus?

A7: Yes, Northern Cyprus offers plenty of shopping opportunities, from modern shopping centers in Kyrenia and Famagusta to traditional markets selling local crafts, produce, and textiles.

Q8: Can I engage in any cultural activities in Northern Cyprus?

A8: Definitely. You can attend local festivals like the Olive Festival in Kyrenia or visit the local museums. Also, traditional music and dance performances are common, offering a glimpse into the rich Cypriot culture.

Q9: Are there any specific places for nature lovers in Northern Cyprus?

A9: Nature lovers will enjoy the pristine Karpaz Peninsula, known for its wild donkeys and diverse bird species. Alagadi Beach is another destination where you can observe sea turtles in their natural habitat.

Q10: Is Northern Cyprus suitable for family trips?

A10: Yes, Northern Cyprus is a great destination for families. From sandy beaches and outdoor activities to historical sites and kid-friendly attractions, there’s something for everyone. The local people are known for their hospitality and are generally welcoming towards families with children.

There we have it, the best things to do in Northern Cyprus! Let us know your favourite place to visit in Northern Cyprus in the comments below!