This is the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC
) that takes up just over one third of the island of Cyprus, the remainder being the Republic of Cyprus
, the EU member state that is primarily inhabited by Greek Cypriots. The TRNC, in contrast, is not recognized by any nation other than Turkey, on which it also heavily depends, both economically and militarily. De jure this is an “illegally occupied” territory, as especially the Greek Cypriots say, but de facto it is now a separate country, with a different population, language and currency. Hence it is given its own entry on this website, also for organizational reasons (without that constituting a political endorsement of the TRNC).
The dark destinations within Northern Cyprus that are covered on this website in their own separate chapters are the following
(Maraş), near Famagusta (Gazimağusa)
In addition there are several war-related monuments dotted over North Cyprus, often in a typical OTT modern Turkish style (see Famagusta). On my short five-day trip to the TRNC in January 2023 I didn’t have the time for all those and just concentrated on the sites listed above. But I’m sure one could find more dark elements.
The flag of the TRNC is like a colour-inverted version of Turkey
’s flag, plus two red lines above and below the crescent and star, and the two almost always appear together (as in the photo above, taken in Varosha
The TRNC was unilaterally declared a separate state in 1983, but it has come about because of the ethnic tensions between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, especially after Cyprus was granted independence from Britain
in 1960, through the UN
intervention that created the “Green Line
” buffer zone between the north and the south, and especially after the Turkish military invasion of 1974.
This was launched after a Greek nationalist coup in the capital Nicosia
(helped by the then right-wing military junta of Greece
– and the CIA
). The Turkish military intervention was intended primarily to forestall the prospect of rapid ‘enosis’ (the Greek Cypriot wish for unification with Greece
), which could have left the Turkish Cypriot minority ostracized. So from their point of view the invasion by Turkey
was a rescue operation, if not a liberation. That’s also how it is portrayed in the north (see especially National Struggle Museum
), while the Greek Cypriots in the south see the Turkish military presence in the north as an ongoing illegal occupation.
The division is pretty much complete – Greek Cypriots who had lived north of the Green Line fled or were driven south in 1974, while Turkish Cypriots in the south (were) relocated to the north. In the north, Turkish is the official language and the Turkish lira is the official legal tender (though these days the euro is also widely accepted – see below
For decades the division was also absolute, with hardly any contact between the people on either side. All attempts at overcoming the partition and achieving reunification have failed, not least because of the hard-line stance of Northern Cyprus’s president of 31 years, Rauf Denktaş. Then in 2003, Denktaş (two years before he stood down as president) surprisingly announced that border controls would be eased so that southern Cypriots could visit the north and vice versa. And people have enthusiastically embraced that new freedom ever since.
Today it’s really easy to cross from one part to the other, either on foot, especially in Nicosia
, or by (one’s own) car (but not by hire car – see below). North Cypriots also benefit economically, many of them cross the border daily to get to work they found in the south. At the same time, the northern population has been bolstered by migrants from mainland Turkey
, especially Anatolia, who came to settle in North Cyprus. Since the 2000s, North Cyprus has also caught up more in terms of the economy, but dependency on Turkey remains high, as international embargoes are still in place.
Tourism is a major part of the economy and there are also many expat foreigners owning property in North Cyprus.
If you only want to go to North Cyprus, then you could fly in to its own airport, Ercan, less than ten miles (14km ) outside North Nicosia
, but flights have to go via Turkey
. Alternatively you can even get there by ferry, from the Turkish mainland, to either Famagusta (Gazimağusa in Turkish) or Kyrenia (Girne).
If you’re visiting from the Republic of Cyprus
, note that car hire companies generally do not allow their vehicles to be taken across the border! But you can simply get across at the pedestrian checkpoint at Ledra Street in the Old Town of Nicosia
and once on the other side take a taxi or walk to a car-hire point on the northern side. That’s what I did in January 2023 (taxied there, walked back); I used a company called Sun, and their office is just outside the walled Old Town, two blocks into the New Town. They were highly professional, the vehicle in perfect condition, and it all went really smoothly. I found the roads I used in very good condition (some were apparently brand new, so it may be a recent development). As in the south, driving is on the left!
Of course you will only need a car if you want to get to Famagusta
. If you only want to see North Nicosia
, that can be done on foot, even as a day trip or two from South Nicosia.
Officially, the legal tender of North Cyprus is the Turkish lira, but thanks to all the cross-border traffic, the euro has become widely accepted in the north too. In fact I never needed any lira during my five days there.
Food & drink:
Culinarily the north is noticeably more influenced by Turkish cuisine than the south, meaning kebabs or köfte, made from lamb, are dominant, as are things like lahmacun and the typically colourful sweets you can see piled high in the relevant shops. Fast food is also widespread. But if you look around you can also find other cuisines (including African) and vegetarians can also get by despite the omnipresent meaty staples.
As in Turkey
, strong tea and coffee are popular, as are the usual sugary chilled soft drinks. Despite being a Muslim-dominated culture (though at the more secular end of the spectrum), alcoholic drinks are easily obtainable practically everywhere. I was pleasantly surprised that even a craft-beer brewery has sprung up in the north, which makes more than decent American-style IPAs and Belgian-style dubbels and triples. These are served in a dedicated English-style pub in the heart of North Nicosia
(The Walls Inn), but are occasionally available elsewhere too. Otherwise the Turkish lager-beer mega-brand Efes dominates.
North Cyprus also continues to make wine – and when I was in Famagusta
and visited a wine bar I accidentally ordered a Chardonnay (normally a grape type I avoid), which surprisingly turned out to be the by far most impressive wine I had on the entire trip, better than anything I had in the south. I really would not have expected that.
Whether tap water is safe to drink in the north is disputed; most sources I found did not recommend it, so I played it safe and drank only bottled drinking water while I was there.