If you ever happen to make it to Cyprus, I’d highly recommend spending a day in Northern Cyprus to check out the awesome history.
Cyprus is an island off the coast of Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea. The country of Cyprus takes up the southern half of the island. The north half is Northern Cyprus – a dependent territory of Turkey. Nicosia is the capital on the island and is shared by Cyprus and Northern Cyprus, with the border running through the center of the town.
You can see a huge difference between both sides of the border; the Cypriot (Greek) half is far more developed than the Turkish half. At one time, Turkey was spending a lot of money to upgrade Northern Cyprus, but that stopped and now the country is severely underdeveloped with hundreds of half-finished buildings and projects.
During my week in Cyprus, I spent a day in Northern Cyprus with fellow travel blogger Sarah Funk and her partner, exploring the castle and monastery near the town of Kyrenia (or Girne as the Turks call it). Saint Hilarion Castle was built in the 11th century AD and was occupied as recently as the 15th century. You can explore the ruins and get some of the gristly legends, such as how Prince John of Antioch threw his two bodyguards from the highest tower when he suspected them of trying to assassinate him. Another legend claims he killed the entire army that way, one by one.
Bellapais Abbey is another interesting ruin to explore, dating back to the Crusades in the 13th century. The abbey was surprisingly large, and the refectory is now used for small concerts. You’ve also got some great views of Kyrenia from the hillside. The fee to explore the abbey is a mere $2.50, and St Hilarion Castle is free.
There are several more castles and ruins in the region to explore, including the 1st-century Roman fortress in Kyrenia Harbor. Some of them are more remote and take longer to get to. If you only have one day in Northern Cyprus, you minimally have to get to Kyrenia and visit Saint Hilarion Castle and Bellapais Abbey.
If you’re based in Larnaca (where the international airport is), you can get to Kyrenia by bus in about three hours. You’ll have to get up early, but it’s worth it. It’s not exactly easy, especially getting from one bus station to the other on either side of the border in Nicosia. And if you have more time on Cyprus, don’t forget to visit the Tomb of the Kings in Paphos.