There are so many things to do in Nicosia that the city begs a visit. Known mostly for its sunny climes, gorgeous beaches, friendly folk and delicious food, the majority of tourists forgo a trip here – collecting their bags and heading directly to the beach. If you make that special effort, there are tons of things to do in Nicosia – especially the old town. It is the capital after all.
The old town of Nicosia, i.e. everything within the Renaissance Venetian walls, is thriving – the food keeps getting better and the cocktail bars are internationally renowned. The ancient buildings lend themselves to secret trysts – what looks like a plain doorway on a nondescript building invite you into back gardens, fountains, and courtyards.
(Nicosia has the burden of being the last divided city in Europe since the Berlin Wall fell – literally split in two parts: the North (Turkish) and South (Greek). Here I can only comment on the south, as I have not been able to spend much time in the north.
THINGS TO DO IN NICOSIA
The Famagusta Gate
A little history lesson – Venice gained controlled of Cyprus in 1489 and built walls around Nicosia to protect it from invaders. One of the original “Porta” into town is still intact and that is the Famagusta Gate. You have to see it because it’s number one on the things to do in Nicosia. My suggestion is to go at night, when it is atmospherically lit. Sit at one of the surrounding cocktail bars and bask in its Renaissance grandeur. Then head down the street to Aegeon Taverna, or to the new Tequila Bar, Sinners!
If you visit the Famagusta gate during the day, don’t miss NiMAC (Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre). It’s hard to miss it, as it was once the Old Powerhouse. It’s complimentary to get in, so putter in a take a look at the latest exhibition there is.
Cyprus Archaeological Museum
Whatever Luigi Palma di Cesnola, American consul to Cyprus in 1865, didn’t steal to start the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is presented here. (According to the Met: The Cesnola Collection remains a wonderful storehouse of ancient art and artefact, and it is by far the most important and comprehensive collection of Cypriot material in the Western Hemisphere.) Well, it’s never coming back, so be thankful there is something left to see! (A new museum is being built, so make sure you visit this one before everything changes.)
Hatzigeorgakis House & Museum
One of my favorite sites in Nicosia, this former house, belonging to Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios, is a study on how the wealthy lived in Nicosia in the 1700’s. He did splash around his power and money causing him to be beheaded in 1809, but he did leave a wonderful example of Ottoman Architecture and snapshot into life in the city.
SHOPPING IN NICOSIA
Most of the shopping in Nicosia happens between Ledra and Onasagorou Streets. In olden days, fabric was sold up and down Onasagorou and you can still see vestiges of it remaining. All the action is around those streets and the streets in between them including some of the places to eat in Nicosia . Here are a few highlights!
A cultural foundation masquerading as a shop, Phaneromenis 70 was founded by the artist Kyriaki Kosta as a center of contemporary art, science and philosophy. He collaborates with local jewelry and fashion designers, artists and artisans and their creations fill the lively store.
Walking from the Famagusta Gate into the old town, we happened upon Meres Bookstore. Located in one of the ancient stone buildings, MERES has a wide range of books on art, architecture & design, fashion, and culture. They also have a small event space, so you never know what you get when you pop in.
This “everything Cyprus” shop has moved from its small shop in old town to a much larger shop outside the walls. Overflowing with local herbs, sweets, soaps, oils, Bakali is your one stop shop for gift getting in Nicosia. I always get my soutzoukkos there!
COFFEE IN NICOSIA
Coffee here is not about latte art or the origin of the beans – it’s about sitting for hours chatting while drinking a frappe (shaken coffee drink) and eating a sweet. There are coffee houses everywhere, but these are my favorites!
This institution has been here since forever! You step inside and smell everything you want to smell in a Cypriot bakery. If the weather is a little too hot to sit outside, have a coffee and baklava here and then head out into the heat.
It’s not just about the setting here…but it could be. In an irresistible square overlooking a gorgeous classical building, Tria Fanaria is one of the most popular coffee spots in Nicosia. Frappe time is all the time here, but I love it in the afternoon. Order one of their home-baked goods and treat yourself while the sun goes down.
There are a few bakeries in Nicosia (without coffee), but Vienna takes the cake – I had to use that cliché. There is nothing they don’t do well: olive bread, cheese bread, spinach and feta pie, baklava, kataifi (my favorite!), ice cream, cookies, rice pudding…can you tell my mouth is watering just writing this. They pack stuff up so you can take it on the airplane too!
RESTAURANTS IN NICOSIA
Zanettos Cyprus Tavern
My first intro to Cyprus cuisine – loud, casual, touristy but it’s got to be done. Meze is served – the Middle Eastern style of eating thousands of small dishes that keep coming whether you are full or not – so pace yourself. If you want hip and trendy, head somewhere else!
Karvounomageiremata (literally ‘food cooked on charcoals’)
You would pass by this restaurant without even knowing it was there – except in summer, when there are few tables street-side, but don’t sit there. Walk past the charcoal grills straight into a true outdoor garden taverna – wooden chairs, linen table cloths, souvlaki, live music, sometimes a bit little louder than it needs to be. The night we were there, the playlist was old Greek love songs belted out by a bearded Adonis-like character playing his own acoustic guitar – if that wasn’t worth the trip, I don’t know what is!
The Market Company
Trendy and written up in every article in town. You really must book as there are about twenty tables inside and out and who wants to be inside when the summer evenings cool down. In a little alley way linking two main streets sits The Market Company. Hip cocktails like Berry Mojitos are perfect for feeling on holiday. The menu uses Cypriot ingredients like halloumi, calamari, and figs in tapas-like dishes for all to share. Definitely the place to be!
Here are a few other restaurants in Nicosia I wouldn’t miss!
Prodromou Park Bar & Cafe
Prodromou Park, keeping walking and you will find it!
I did think while being led here late at night through the woods, that this might be it for me until we came upon about twenty tables filled with revellers. The smells emitting from this tiny shack of a restaurant were intoxicating. There is not much choice, but what they serve is some of the most wonderful Lebanese/Cypriot food in town. Order a beer and chow down on the Cypriot salad, the best I have had.
Ektoros 40, Nicosia, Tel: +357 22 433297
Spitting distance from the Famagusta Gate is this really wonderful taverna. Set in the sunken garden of an ancient Cypriot house, Aegeon is everything a taverna should be: lively, delicious and atmospheric! Their specialty is Meze – the never ending parade of the best bits of Cypriot cuisine, but here you get to choose what you want, so much less waste as there is nothing brought to you that you did not order!
The Venetians are back in Cyprus, after how long? Let’s just say a long time and now they finally have some please to enjoy their Aperol Spritz. I promise I wasn’t looking for a touch of Venice in Nicosia, but it came to me. The Venetian owner has been in Nicosia for about 20 years and now everyone has caught up to the wonders of the Bellini and the Spritz. If you MUST have Italian food, skip Pizza Express and come here. You know you are in good hands!
It’s not about the quality of food here – it’s about atmosphere. Lunchtime – it’s the place to be. You could not get more local that this. Everyone eats here: doctors, lawyers, I was brought by an architect. You are in and out, but the cuisine is pure old time…chunks of lamb, pork, chicken, grilled potatoes, fried halloumi – always exactly what you might expect from traditional cooking and never disappoints.
Every culture has its after hours treats: smoked hot dogs in Scandinavia, chips in London, pizza slices in NYC – here in old town, there’s Lahmadjoun – a pizza topped with minced meat cooked with onions, tomatoes and herbs. It is the perfect combination of ingredients to soak up all the cocktails you’ve had the Market Company. The best part is – it costs about €2.
BARS IN NICOSIA
Lost + Found Drinkery
It’s not an overstatement to say that Dinos Constantanides created the cocktail scene in Nicosia and to visit Nicosia without sipping one of his cocktails should be a crime. His combination of inherent creativity and business savvy have made his bar Lost+Found Drinkery one of the World’s 50 Best Bars. I love that if you’re a frequent customer, you can invest in your own Tiki glass, which is kept under lock and key on the wall.
Notes & Spirits
When I asked Dinos to recommend another spot in town for a drink, he suggested Note & Spirits. They have the same attention to detail, as Lost+Found and the drinks taste great. The bar is lit perfectly for an instagram photo – so I expect to see those from now on!
So hip it’s insane…the literati of Nicosia pass untold hours eating Feta flavoured Lay’s and drinking Ouzo while playing chess in this tea house/bar. Sinking into the sofas, it’s hard to motivate so make it the last stop of the night.
I would only do a tour of the Historic Centre – not the other parts since you will be spending most of your time there.
or GetYourGuide is another tour company with great choices:
Read up on Cyprus before you go: