LEFKOŞA (the northern half of what was, before 1974, Nicosia) is the capital city of north Cyprus. As with its southern counterpart, the old town is hemmed by Venetian walls, with the majority of Lefkoşa’s modern buildings and administrative machinery located outside the walls, and most tourist attractions to be found in the old town within the walls. Compared to the southern part of the city, Lefkoşa has noticeably less vitality, with the air more of a sleepy provincial town than a national capital. While the city feels safe, wandering in areas away from the centre is best avoided at night.
Foreign tourists usually enter from the south through the Ledra Street crossing. Once across, you’re faced with an attractively pedestrianized area packed with shops, cafés and restaurants. Clear signposts indicate where the nearest attractions lie. Beyond here the main street – Girne Caddesi – leads north to the Girne Gate, the best place to start a walking tour of North Lefkoşa. If you’re short of time, though, it’s probably worth heading straight to the Büyük Han, a beautifully renovated sixteenth-century merchants’ inn. Museums to look out for include the Mevlevî Tekke and Lapidary museums and the Dervis Paşa Mansion, each worth an hour or so of your time. Other places of interest include the Samanbahçe Quarter, an early experiment in social housing, and the dishevelled but improving Arabhmet Quarter. Religious sites include the huge Selimiye Mosque, visible north and south of the Green Line. Beside it is the ornately Gothic Bedestan, once a Christian church, now a performance venue. Other sights, among them the National Struggle Museum, the Museum of Barbarism and of course the giant flags looming on the hillside behind the city, provide uncomfortable reminders of the island’s division.