My original plan was to take the bus from Larnaca to Nicosia, have lunch, and then walk across the border checkpoint to find a bus to get to Kyrenia on the northern coast. But since the bus schedule was altered due to a holiday, I ended up getting a ride (along with another couple) from a guy with a car service. It was more expensive but at least I didn’t have to worry about figuring out where to get the bus on the north side of Nicosia.
St. Hilarion Castle in Northern Cyprus
After a quick drive around Nicosia and dropping off the other couple, the driver stopped so I could get lunch before we continued on our way north. Normally crossing from the south to the north would’ve been fairly quick, but it was a holiday weekend in Cyprus and the line of cars waiting to get their passports checked at the not-quite-the-border was rather long.
The driver was, of course, interested in making a little extra cash, and he let me know he could take me to any number of attractions during my time in Cyprus. One that interested me was the St. Hilarion Castle, which is near Kyrenia. It’s not walking distance and there isn’t really any public transportation to get there, so my original plan was to get a taxi or something. Instead I worked out a deal with the guy driving me up to Kyrenia to make a detour to the castle, which saved me some hassle and freed up my entire next day to spend in Kyrenia itself.
I didn’t explore the castle because it was a really hot day and I wasn’t really in the mood to climb up that steep hill. Besides, I usually like the outsides of castles better than the insides, so I was happy to see this impressive view of it up on the cliff. The driver stopped a couple of times on our way up there so I could get out and take pictures from different spots, and he even shared some oranges from his yard that were in the trunk of his car. Later when he dropped me off at my hotel, he would not let me go without taking a bag stuffed with about six more oranges. Such a nice guy!
Kyrenia Castle in Northern Cyrpus
The castle here was probably my favorite castle of the whole trip. As much as I loved how impressive St. Hilarion Castle looked on the cliff, I got to spend a lot more time wandering around at the Kyrenia Castle. It’s in ruins but in decent enough shape to appreciate what it once was. It’s also really big, and most of the experience involved walking around on the walls and enjoying the views of the city, the sea, and the port.
Kyrenia was interesting but odd
Kyrenia sits on the northern coast of the island and has quite a few casinos. Apparently casinos aren’t legal in Turkey, so a bunch have opened up in Northern Cyprus, making it a popular vacation spot for Turks. From what I saw, it seemed particularly popular with guys in their 20s and 30s who may or may not have been on bachelor parties. I also heard plenty of English (and a few other languages) spoken by other tourists, and I even had a chance to practice my German with a couple who live just a few neighborhoods over from us in Berlin.
Overall it was an odd place. It was a nice change of scenery and I liked having a different cuisine for a few days. Food was cheap and the people were friendly. But it had a strange vibe with all the casinos. The town felt a little run down in some places but then overly swanky/tacky in others. (Of course, my experience was very limited to the area near the castle. I didn’t get to the lesser toursity areas.) My hotel was the most expensive one of my entire trip (which might have been due to the holiday weekend) but also the worst of my trip. But then it also had an incredible spread for breakfast, included in the price.
The streets were lined mostly with expensive boutiques and duty-free style liquor stores. I passed some interesting looking markets on the way to my hotel, but they weren’t really walking distance. That probably would’ve been more my speed, as opposed to the tourist-aimed restaurants and shops near the water.
After two days, it was time to go. The woman at the front desk gave me directions and drew me a little map to find the bus, although I still got a little turned around. Someone pointed me in the direction of a handful of buses parked in front of hotels, but the drivers there told me they weren’t going to Nicosia. I went back the other direction and found the big bus station, where an employee tried to send me back to where I just was. So I told him, “No, I just came from there, they aren’t going to Nicosia.” His response was, “Maybe try over there,” as he pointed to a bunch of minibuses through a gate about 100 yards away. Why wasn’t that his first response since those buses were, you know, at the bus station where he worked? Luckily one of those minibuses was the one I wanted.
Sometimes it’s nice being the only foreigner around. Most tourists there seemed to either rent a car or get a car service. (Could also be that it was still low season.) So I seemed to be the only non-local on this minibus. The driver made sure he knew where I was going, told me to sit near the front, chatted with me a little in broken English along the way, and gave me directions to get to the checkpoint in Nicosia when he dropped me off a few blocks away.
I’m glad I went to Kyrenia and got to see St. Hilarion Castle and Kyrenia Castle, but I’m not sure I’d make an effort to go back. There are plenty of other towns in the north that sound interesting, and I think I’d research trying out a new place. It was also really interesting to be able to visit both sides of the island, and I highly recommend it, especially beyond just northern Nicosia.
You might also enjoy:
- How Much I Spent Traveling in Cyprus and Northern Cyprus
- How to Travel to Northern Cyprus
- Photos of Limassol, Cyprus
- Visiting Nicosia, Cyprus