Nicosia is famous as the capital of Cyprus, yet it deserves to be better known for its huge array of cultural treasures. Cyprus itself is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and Nicosia is located inland. It’s the last divided city in the world but it’s remarkably peaceful and safe. From world class museums to great local restaurants, we’re sharing the top things to do in Nicosia, Cyprus and hope to inspire you to visit.
Things to Do in Nicosia – Old Town
The Venetian Walls are a fascinating testimonial of when Nicosia was ruled by the Republic of Venice in the 16th century. Their circular shape was topped by 11 pentagons, named after Italian aristocratic families. Today, you can walk around many sections of the Venetian Walls, considered to be amongst the best surviving Renaissance fortifications in the world.
For an in depth look at the city, Nicosia Tourism Board offers free guided tours in English of old Nicosia and its walls every Thursday from 10 am to 1 pm. Our tour started at the CTO Information Office at Aristokyprou 11 in the picturesque area of Laiki Geitonia. The knowledgeable guide showed us around many of the best Nicosia attractions including The Archbishop’s Palace, Famagusta Gate and a local market.
A few days later, we went back to the Old Town and stumbled upon a colourful yellow mural, which appears to be a random pattern from a distance. However, look closer and you’ll discover that its actually a map of the historic city. Designed by Farhad Nargal O’Neill, the ‘Constructing the Past” mural was made with the help of young Cypriot artists.
Nicosia municipality also offers a free guided tour outside the Venetian walls every Wednesday from 10 am to 1 pm. Also departing from the CTO in the Laiki Geitonia area, it offers a fascinating insight into the history of the city. There are some impressive old houses on quiet leafy avenues and the walk will also take you through one of the main parks and to St Paul’s Cathedral
Another interesting place within the old Nicosia city walls is Hamam Omerye on Tyllirias Square. This historic building is a great place to get a massage in Nicosia, with stylish decor and two lovely courtyard gardens. We had a relaxing body and head massage before relaxing in the hamam, or steam bath itself.
Visitors to Nicosia will find excellent museums, from archeaological treasures to contemporary artworks. Shacolas Tower Museum & Observatory on Ledra Street is a good place to get an overview of the city before you start your exploration in earnest. From the 11th floor of the tower there are far-ranging views of the city and a documentary film explains key moments in its history.
The A.G. Leventis Foundation has an outstanding collection of European art, which is displayed in the A.G. Leventis Gallery on Anastasios G Leventis Street. The Cyprus Collection includes artworks created between 1884 and 1930, such as The World of Cyprus by Adamantios Diamantis. The Greek Collection showcases paintings such as Harmony by Nikolaos Gyzis, on the top left below. Finally, the Paris Collection displays Old Masters by El Greco and Murillo, 17th century still lifes and masterpieces by Renoir, Monet and Chagall. There’s an interesting temporary exhibition until mid January 2018: The Venus Paradox. The building itself is a contemporary work of art, designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. A.G. Leventis Gallery is open daily except Tuesdays and public holidays from 10 am to 5 pm and until 10 pm on Wednesdays.
The Leventis Municipal Museum on Ippokratous Street is also well worth a visit. It presents an overview of the city’s history, with some artefacts being over 4,000 years old. There’s an interesting collection of traditional Cypriot costumes, jewellery and furniture. It’s open from 10 am to 4.30 pm, Tuesday to Sunday.
One of the highlights of our Nicosia trip was a visit to The Cyprus Museum, which is the oldest and largest archaeological museum on the island. It houses some incredible treasures in 14 galleries, ranging from 8000 BC to the end of Antiquity. The early Bronze Age pottery is very impressive, whilst the terracotta army unearthed in Agia Irini deserves to be better known. There’s also a beautiful marble statue of Aphrodite – according to legend, the goddess of love was born on the island. There are free guided tours which place every Tuesday and Friday from 11 am to 12.30, with the museum entrance as the starting point.
The Loukia and Michael Zampelas Art Museum is known for its collection of modern Cyprus art. With over 1,000 works from 1877 to the present day, it also hosts regular lectures and cultural events. The large painting that you see below is by Vangelis Rinas, entitled Spring Dream in the Garden of the Butterflies. The building itself was designed by Athos Dikaios and is light and spacious, with a bridge connecting the different sections. The gallery, café and gift shop are open from 10 am to 1 pm and 3 pm to 6 pm, Monday to Friday. It’s located in Kaimakli district which has a nice church, St Barbaras that’s also worth a visit.
The Centre of Visual Arts and Research, known as CVAR, on Ermou Street is another great place to learn more about Cypriot art. It is home to the Costas and Rita Severis collections, which include antique costumes as well as over a 1000 paintings. In fact it’s the largest collection of paintings of Cyprus by foreign artists, giving an interesting perspective on the island. There’s a library and research centre and CVAR regularly screen films and hold workshops. Take a break in Balthazar courtyard cafe or head to the roof for great views over the surrounding area. The Centre is open from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm in Winter and closed on Mondays, and 10 am to 6 pm in Summer and closed on Sundays.
We have one final suggestion for you – the Cyprus Classic Motorcycle Museum on Granikou Street. Whether you’re a fan of motorbikes or not, this is a fascinating place. The owner, Andreas Nicolaou, started his collection over 20 years ago and has amassed over one hundred models dating from 1914 to 1983. There are famous names like Norton, Triumph and BMW and many more lesser known models. Andreas is often at the museum himself and personally shows visitors around. He’ll explain how he finds the motorbikes and restores them to their former glory.
Restaurants in Nicosia
When is a gym not a gym? When it’s a restaurant, late night bar and shop! The owner of The Gym on Onasagorou Street prefers this kind of gym, and frankly so do we! They serve up delicious cocktails, homemade burgers, linguine and other tasty dishes. There’s a large outdoor terrace at the front and a charming courtyard to the rear.
Valtou Rigani on Prevezis is popular with locals for its very reasonably priced food. We tried their village salad, as well as their charcoal-grilled platter for two. It was a succulent mix of sausage, pork and chicken burger, potato salad, halloumi, fried potatoes, hummus, yoghurt beetroot dip and pitta bread. Desserts are also excellent – try the warm chocolate pie as well as the kateifi with cream served in a jar.
Matheos Restaurant on Onasagorou Street is a good option for a light lunch overlooking an elegant college. We particularly enjoyed the kleftiko aka oven-baked lamb with rice and potatoes – double carb alert!
Head to Pantopolion Kali Orexi on Vasileos Pavlou Street for contemporary Mediterranean cooking. The sautéed mushrooms were a triumph, as was the grilled squid with ouzo, onion and tomato. Leave room for their chocolate dessert topped with cherries, it would be rude not to!
Piatsa Gourounaki on Ledra Street was one of our favourite Nicosia restaurants. The waiters are friendly and the portions are huge so come hungry. We loved the graviera cheese in pastry, manouri cheese with honey and balsamic glaze and the meat platter with chicken and pork souvlaki, chicken and pork kebab, salad and fried potatoes. Dessert is on the house and they may well offer you some liqueur too! No wonder this place came so highly recommended by several people that we met during our stay.
For a healthy lunch in an airy decor, Zest Coffee + Kitchen on Vasilisis Frideriks Street fits the bill perfectly. We tucked into homemade lasagne, salmon pie and fresh salad with chocolate cake to finish.
Kokouvayia Bistro and Bar on Sastiscratous Street is another hidden gem that’s popular with locals. It’s open until 1 pm every day and serves a luscious menu of Italian specialties. They do fantastic pizza, salads and fish dishes, washed down with some excellent cocktails.
Vino Cultura is one of the best restaurants in Nicosia. Located on Kyriakou Matsi, they focus on tapas and small plates accompanied by an amazing selection of wine. We were lucky to be there for their Burgundy wine tasting. They also have a Happy Hour from Monday to Friday from 6 to 8 pm, giving you a 30% discount on all wine, beer and cocktails. We were impressed with all the dishes we tried, such as the local sautéed mushrooms with a toffee caramel sauce, tuna steak with sesame seed and herb crust, prawn tacos and halloumi croquettes. A friendly sommelier recommended wine to go with our meal, making it even more pleasurable.
Most of the restaurants that we mentioned above stay open until late – for example, Vino Cultura has regular jazz nights. There are two other great options that we recommend, the first of which is Skinny Fox on Menandrou. This atmospheric cocktail bar has an extensive list to choose from.
Nicosia Day and Night
Finally, COFFEEHOUSE TasteHabitat at Πάργας 9 is a very stylish spot in which to enjoy specialty coffee cocktails as well as sandwiches, salads and sweets such as acorn cookies. If you’re not a coffee drinker, they also do great hot chocolate, teas and fresh juices. There’s a huge outdoor terrace with comfortable seating and a modular space inside with eco-friendly design. Since opening their first coffee shop in Athens in 2012, the brand has gone from strength to strength. They have 8 stores in total including this flagship one, another in the Old Town on Onasagorou Street, 2 more in Nicosia, 1 in Larnaca and 2 in Athens.
The temperature in Nicosia varies throughout the year, with there being quite a difference between day and night temperatures. It can get as hot as 37°C in July and August, dropping to 22°C at night. The coldest months are January and February when temperatures average 16°C in the day and 6°C at night.
There are quite a few good places to stay in Nicosia. We chose the Classic Hotel on Rigenis Street, which is very conveniently located close to the old town, museums and restaurants. It has a lovely indoor courtyard, large bar and separate restaurant and some quirky artworks dotted around the ground floor. There was complimentary high speed broadband, a safe and mini bar.
Getting Around Nicosia
It’s best to get around on foot if you can, although Nicosia buses are also a good option. If you have a hire car, as we did, you can pay to leave it all day in a car park for a reasonable cost.
Getting To Nicosia
From Larnaca International Airport it’s a quick 50 minute transfer by bus or car. Car rental in Cyprus is quick and easy – we chose Manos Car, who delivered the car directly to us at the airport.
The capital of Cyprus is a fascinating place and it’s easy to combine with a Cyprus agrotourism or beach stay. It feels very safe, the local people are extremely friendly and there are so many cultural attractions! We hope that this list of the best things to do in Nicosia makes you want to visit. Have you ever been to Nicosia or Cyprus?
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In association with Visit Nicosia