For many visitors crossing into Turkish-controlled north Cyprus is akin to time travel. Gone are the busy resorts, malls and familiar international chains of the south, replaced by remote villages and a slower place of life – “the Mediterranean as it used to be” in the words of the local tourist board. This sense of suspended animation can be dated precisely to the Turkish invasion of 1974, when the north, stripped of its Greek Cypriot population, became cut off from the rest of the world, a self-styled republic recognized by no one but Turkey itself (see the section The state within a state).
While tourism in north Cyprus remains a sore point in the south, it is now commonplace – Greek Cypriots themselves come in their thousands, both on day-trips and for overnight stays. This is largely due to the gradual opening up of the Green Line, the de facto “border” between the two communities. Consequently, it is perfectly feasible for travellers staying in the south to see as much of the north as they wish, with many attractions little more than half an hour’s drive away from the south’s major resorts. Others choose to spend their whole trip in the north, though this necessitates travelling via Turkey.
There is certainly plenty to draw you here. North Cyprus boasts two of the island’s best-looking towns (Girne and Gazimağusa), half the capital city (Lefkosia/Lefkoşa), three of its mightiest crusader castles (St Hilarion, Buffavento and Kantara), and arguably the island’s most significant archeological site at Salamis. Its wilderness areas, particularly the Kyrenia Mountains, are a hiker’s paradise and many of its beaches remain mercifully free of high-rise resorts. Furthermore, any visit to Cyprus which includes both sides of the island offers the unique experience of two very different cultures: Orthodox, Greek Cypriot and Muslim, Turkish Cypriot. There’s also the small matter of cost – being outside the Eurozone the north can feel a cheaper place to means that visit than the south, while its tourist infrastructure is gradually improving.
As for sightseeing in the north, you might find that many museums and other places of interest seem rather neglected and old-fashioned (dusty old mannequins seem to be a particular favourite), while its hotels and restaurants lack the sophistication of the south. You might also come across a cavalier attitude to published opening times – if something’s really important to you, if possible phone ahead or check with the tourist office. Finally, if you haven’t had a chance to obtain Turkish Lire, don’t worry: euros and dollars are widely accepted.