As for today, Nicosia is the only divided capital in the world. This city, with its mixture of cultures, architectural and historical landmarks, active urban life is a wonderful place for tourists of all ages. What to do in Nicosia? You can explore the Medieval fortress, visit some unusual museums (for example, the Cyprus Police Museum or the Cyprus Classic Motorcycle Museum), go to the zoo, try extreme sports and enjoy a traditional Cypriot meal in one of the restaurants.
Nicosia is the capital of the Republic of Cyprus and the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey. It is also an important financial and business center of the island. In 2004 the Greek population of the city was 270 thousand people, while the population of the Northern part was 85 thousand people. In this review, we cover only the southern part of Nicosia.
Nicosia was founded in the 11-12th centuries BC as an ancient Greek polis, which had gradually lost its significance by the beginning of the Hellenistic period and had turned into a village.
In 965 AD, in the end of the Byzantine period, Nicosia became the center of the Theme of Cyprus, and in 1191 Richard I of England's handed it to the Lusignan dynasty. At that time Nicosia became the administrative center of the Republic of Venice.
In the following years, Nicosia was occupied by Turks and Englishmen. In 1960 the city was finally declared the capital of the Republic of Cyprus.
The city was divided into two parts in 1974 as the result of the invasion of the island by the Turkish army and self-declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The border within Nicosia is referred to as the Green Line.
Museums and historical landmarks in Nicosia
Nicosia is known for its historical, ethnographic and unusual museums and cultural sites that attract visitors from all over the world.
The Leventis historical museum is located at Hyppocrates 15-17. The museum collection includes more than 10 000 objects related to the history of Nicosia and Cyprus: clothes, books, arms, household items, jewelry and other. The permanent exposition is divided into several galleries titled in accordance with main historical periods: for example — «The Byzantine Gallery», «The Ottoman Gallery» and «The British Gallery». The modern history of the city is also reflected at the museum.
There is also a library with rare publications and old manuscripts on the territory of the Leventis.
The Cyprus Museum in Nicosia is the largest and the oldest archaeological museum on the island. Objects found during excavations in different parts of Cyprus are exhibited here.
The museum was founded in 1882, during the period of British occupation. Its collection had seriously expanded after the Swedish archeological expedition of 1927-1931.
Today the museum consists of 14 halls, which chronologically describe all the periods since Pre-Pottery Neolithic times until the Roman era. There is also a lab, a library and a warehouse on the territory of the museum.
The LEDRA observatory is located in the Old Town at Lidras, 171. The observation deck occupies the 11th floor of the Shakolas tower, from where visitors can see the whole city and explore some of the landmarks in detail with the help of modern technologies: touch screens and audiovisual projections. Ticket to the observatory costs 2 euros, admission is free for children under 6 years old. The LEDRA is open every day from 10 am to 19 pm.
The Tsirides Foundation is a museum of natural history in Nicosia (Leoforos Strovolou, 120a). Fossils, minerals, meteorites and antiquities are exhibited here. A young mammoth's jar, the skeleton of the fish eating other fish and the egg of a giant fossilized bird from Madagascar are among the most interesting exhibits here. Educational programs for children, students and teachers are also held at the museum.
More than 150 motorcycles are exhibited at the Cyprus Classic Motorcycle Museum (Granikou, 44). Military and police motorcycles, the first Cypriot champion's sports model, lots of historical photographs and other objects from the museum collection. There is also a mini cinema and a gift shop at the museum. Photographing (in some cases even on motorcycles) is allowed.
The Byzantine Museum in Nicosia is a part of the Archbishop Makarios III Foundation. The address of the museum is Plateia Archiepiskopou Kyprianou, 4a. It features about 230 icons (the earliest date back to the 9th century), mosaics, wall-paintings and other examples of Byzantine art, brought from the territories occupied by Turks. The permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of Turkish occupation is also on display here. The statue of Archbishop Makarios III, who was elected the first president of the Republic of Cyprus, is placed at the entrance to the museum.
Admission fee is 2 euro for adults and 50 cents for kids. The working hours are Monday – Friday from 9 am to 4.30 pm, 8 am – 12 am on Saturdays. Sunday is a day off.
Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios Mansion is located at Patriarchou Grigoriou V, 20, in Saint Antonios district of Nicosia where the most prosperous citizens of Nicosia used to live. The mansion itself is a bright example of the urban architecture of the last century of Ottoman rule. Kornesios, who owned the house, worked as a translator for the sultan and was executed in 1809. There is a hammam and a garden with fountains on the territory of the mansion. Inside visitors can see household items from the end of the 18th century, coins, furniture, icons and other objects. The interior of the mansion is left untouched since the time when Kornesios and his family lived there.
The historical center of Nicosia is surrounded by the Nicosia Wall fortification. The Venetian Walls and 11 bastions were built in the 16th century. Paphos Gate, Famagusta Gate and Kyrenia Gate were used to get on the territory of the fortress. A half of the fortress is nowadays located on the territory of the the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey.
The crosswalk to the Ledra street, that connects the two parts of the divided capital, is located in the fortress. If you want to visit the Northern part of the city, be ready to show your documents at the United Nations guarding point.
The Cyprus Police Museum in Nicosia is located at Evangelos Floraki, not far from the city police department. The museum was founded in 1933 during the period of British occupation. It features photographs, uniform, police documentation, guns and even musical instruments. Visitors can also have a look at instruments of famous crimes and war documents. Working hours are Monday – Friday 9 am – 1.30 pm. Admission is free.
The Fikardou is an open-air agricultural museum in 40 kilometers from Nicosia. From 2 to 6 people, according to different sources, constantly live in this mountain village in the south-eastern Troodos. There are a lot of wonderfully preserved historical buildings in the village. Visitors can explore them from inside and from outside. There is also a town-hall, a post office, a museum and a restaurant in the village.
Attractions for children and adults in Nicosia
Being a capital and one of the largest cities on the island, Nicosia offers almost all attractions of a modern city.
The Rota Children's Museum is located at the renovated historical building in the Old Town (Thiseos, 68). Educational and entertaining programs for kids 4-12 years old are held at the museum, and its fully interactive exhibits contribute to emotional and sensory development. The museum also houses art workshops, seminars and other events for children, parents, and teachers.
Nicosia zoo is called the Melios. It started as a private collection of birds, created by a boy, Menelaus Menelau. Today such animals as a kangaroo, a mini-deer, a lama, monkeys, skunks, raccoons and many others and such exotic birds as cranes, parrots, flamingos, marabous and pelicans live at the zoo.
Animals and birds occupy spacious enclosed areas among flowers and trees. There is a cafe, a children's playground and a pet store on the territory of the zoo. The address of the Melios zoo is Korinthou Street , Ayios Trimithias. The working hours — Tuesday – Sunday 9 am – 9 pm.
The Papaphilippou Luna Park is located at 28 Oktovriou, 3 in Nicosia. It is an indoor entertainment center with a merry-go-round, videogames, a children's playground, a motordrome and a cafe which serves drinks and ice-cream.
The Kykko bowling (Theodosi Pierides 3) is the only bowling center in the city. 16 lanes are available for children and adults. A birthday party and other events can be held here. There is a restaurant and a cafe at the bowling center.
The Extreme Park is the biggest entertainment center in Nicosia with attractions for kids 1 through 13 years old. The park is divided into three sections: the outdoor area (which is open only during summer season) and two indoor zones. The first is called «Underwater adventures», and the second, for older kids, is called «Plus 2». There is a climbing wall, a Medieval bouncing castle, a soccer field, a safe playground for the smallest kids and lots of other attractions at the center. Each section has its own cafe, where parents can wait while their kids are having fun. If you want to organize a birthday party, decoration with air balloons will be provided. The Extreme Park is located at Leoforos Strovolou, 149a. It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5.30 pm until 10 pm.
The Mall of Cyprus shopping mall houses such popular shops as Zara, Lacoste, Gant, Zara Home, TopShop, Next, Ecco and other. There is also a grocery store, a supermarket, parenting rooms, a free parking and a cinema at the mall. Family festivals and other events are held here on the regular basis. The mall is located next to all the main highways, at Verginas 3.
The Athalassa National Park is located in North of Southern Nicosia and surrounded by residential districts. Both tourists and locals like to spend time here, enjoying walking and bicycle trails, birds watching and a botanical garden. Ponds of the park are inhabited by fish, turtles, and ducks. There are also children's playgrounds here.
The Segway Station at Aischylou, 77a offers segway tours around Nicosia. Depending on the program, a tour lasts two or three hours, which is enough to explore the Old Town and all the main landmarks of the city. Two hours long tour is 32 euro, three hours will cost 44 euros.
There are two K Cineplex cinema halls in Nicosia. One of them is located at Makedonitissis, 109, and the other — at The Mall of Cyprus, at Verginas, 3. Cartoons and family movies are displayed at both locations every day. Kid's birthday parties are also held in both cinemas.
The Escape Room located at Theokritou 3 is another popular attraction in Nicosia. The idea is simple: participants (a group of friends, coworkers or parents with children) have 60 minutes to solve the mystery of the locked room and get out of it. Team work is really a key to success here, but logic and breadth of knowledge are also crucial. Visitors can choose one of three plots: «To save the Pope», «Grandmother's testament» and «A cell». Online booking is available.
Restaurants and cafes in Nicosia
Nicosia is known for its traditional restaurants and cafes where tourists can order the dishes they have already fallen in love with or broaden their gastronomical horizons by trying new combinations of flavors.
For example, the tavern at the Peiragmena hotel serves traditional meze sets «with a twist». Cooks tranform recipes they have been using for years by adding seasonal produce and their rich imagination. The menu here changes several times a year depending on the season. The summer terrace is available.
The Mylos Restaurant at the Mill Hotel located at Kakopetria mountain village (50 kilometers from Nicosia) is one of the most popular places in the region. The menu here is impressively diverse: different kinds of pasta, burgers, steaks, seafood dishes, traditional Greek appetizers and sauces (tahini, tzatziki and other), pancakes, vegetarian meals and more than 10 types of desserts are offered. Advance booking is advisable.
The Barrique Wine & Deli is a wine restaurant located at Menandrou 4. In spite of the stated wine profile, the kitchen also makes this place worth visiting. Fresh vegetable salads, cheese and meat appetizers for 2 or 10 persons, sandwiches and pasta go really well with a glass of wine.
The Pyxida Fish Tavern seafood restaurant at Menandrou 5 opened in 2004. Here you can try 19 fish dishes in one meze set, order seafood pasta, fish balls, fish broth or just choose your future meal in the huge fridge full of fish. There is also a bar here. The restaurant was nominated for «the best seafood restaurant» award by Timeout magazine in 2015.
Where to try French cuisine in Nicosia? Visit the Brasserie Au Bon Plaisir restaurant located at Larnacos 87. It offers frog legs, beef bourguignon, onion soup, fresh mussels and classical creme brulee baked in front of visitors. Vegetarian and Mediterranean dishes are also on the menu. We recommend reserving a table at the restaurant in advance.
The Moondog's Bar & Grill at Mykinon 7 has its own motto which sounds like: «Perfect food, wonderful music, great sport». Tasty hamburgers, steaks, barbecue ribs and, of course, beer create a context for watching football with friends and denizens. When sport is not an issue, live music concerts are held at the bar. Beer, ale, and other alcohol drinks are offered.
The Uncork Wine Shop & Wine Bar is a restaurant and a shop located at Pargas Street, 7. A collection of wines from Argentina, Chile, Italy, Greece, New Zealand and Cyprus is what this place is known for. Here you can order a private dinner for 4-12 persons or sign up for training in wine. Degustations are also held at the restaurant. Appetizers and snacks are on the menu.
The Greco's Nest is a traditional Greek restaurant that offers meze sets and popular Cypriot dishes. Cheese plates and desserts are often served as a compliment here. The address of the restaurant is 4-6 Themistokli Dervi.
The Cook Shop is a small restaurant at Pindarou 6A in Nicosia. The Chef here prepares some of the ingredients for the dishes (pickles, tinned food, and even cheese) according to his own recipes. These home-made ingredients are sold at the restaurant. Catering service is also available.
The Boys cafe is located in Nicosia city center, at Themistokli Dervi. Breakfasts are served here. Visitors can try several types of omelet, pancakes, pies, croissants, yogurts, sandwiches and other food perfect for both early and late breakfasts along with strong coffee at the cafe.