Kyrenia town and castle, Northern Cyprus
Kyrenia (or Girne in Turkish) is almost certainly the best known place in Northern Cyprus and is at the heart of tourism here. It was originally settled as early as Trojan times and developed into a true city during Roman rule of the island, although archaeological digs in the area have uncovered evidence of people here as far back as the Neolithic period. Nowadays, the town is best known for its stunning harbour, which has been described as one of the most beautiful places in the world. With its entrance guarded by the magnificent Kyrenia Castle, the delightful horseshoe-shaped port was built by the Venetians in its present form and was the centre of commerce for the town, with a thriving maritime trade. The surrounding buildings were mostly originally built as warehouses, storing produce such as carob for export. Today, these ancient Cypriot buildings are home to restaurants, cafes and shops, with tables set out around the harbour front for customers. At least once during a Northern Cyprus holiday, dinner on the harbour front is a ‘must’, but it is best to arrive reasonably early to secure a table with a good view, especially at weekends. During the day, there are plenty of places for a snack, a coffee or a welcome cold drink, as well as some interesting shops.
Although life in Kyrenia tends to focus around the harbour and castle, there is, much more to the town. The narrow streets and alleys house numerous delights and Kyrenia is also an excellent place for shopping, in particular designer labels. Bring your prescription with you too, as glasses here are notably good value and of high quality. Within the town there are a number of museums. The castle houses the best known, but there are also an Icon Museum housed in the old Archangelos Church, a Decorative Arts Museum and a Cypriot Folk Arts Museum. Look out too for the Round Tower, now a great place to find antique souvenirs from your stay here.
Main Places of Interest in Kyrenia
Although there is evidence of occupation at the site dating back to before the tenth century BC, archaeological evidence suggests the first ‘proper’ castle was built by the Byzantines in the seventh century to protect the harbour from invaders. It subsequently fell to Richard the Lionheart before ending up under Lusignan rule, when it was enlarged and further fortified. The castle survived many subsequent attacks, but by the end of the fifteenth century the island came under Venetian rule and the castle was again enlarged. Today it remains almost exactly as it was after Venetian occupation. At each stage of works, much of the earlier building was retained, making the castle a real historical treasure. For example, the Church of St. George was built adjacent to the castle in the Byzantine period, but when the Venetians expanded the castle, the church was incorporated. Today the castle is in an excellent state of repair and the views from the battlements over the harbour are stunning, though you do need a good head for heights! The entrance to the castle is through an original tower and then across the gate building along a walkway. This then leads through to an enclosed corridor which dates back to the Lusignan period. Here, there is about the only evidence in the castle of the period of Ottoman rule in the form of the tomb of Admiral Sadik Pasha, one of the first to secure the island for the Ottomans. Within the very large courtyard there are entrances to various parts including the dungeons, chapel and royal apartments, as well as the shipwreck museum. There is also a small collection of archaeological finds on display, including items from excavations around the island.
The Shipwreck Museum
Housed within Kyrenia Castle, the museum contains the world’s oldest recovered shipwreck, along with much of its original cargo. The ship dates back to the fourth century BC and is believed to have sunk around a hundred years later. It was first discovered by a diver in the 1960s and had been kept remarkably well preserved due to being buried in the sands. It was only a storm that led to it being found and a major project was undertaken to lift and preserve it, piece by piece, before reassembling it. It was originally thought to have been sunk during rough seas, but it is now generally believed that it was actually the result of piracy, as much of the items that would have been expected to be found, were missing. The remains of the ship are displayed in the museum and despite the assumed piracy, the recovered cargo is extensive, including millstones and a variety of different amphorae, which have enabled researchers to work out the route the ship had taken and the ports it had visited. There are also preserved almonds, lead fishing weights and other items. Many artefacts from the vessel a’s crew were found and are also displayed, such as spoons, oil jugs, cups, cooking implements and dishes. The ship is of massive importance to marine archaeologists as it provides evidence of the construction methods used at the time. With this knowledge, three replicas of the original craft have subsequently been built and have sailed successfully. Although remarkable in itself, the museum is also an excellent place to visit in the height of summer. To ensure the preservation of the ship, the building is air-conditioned and held at a pleasant, cool temperature.
Originally built as a Greek Orthodox place of worship in the mid-nineteenth century, the high, brilliant white bell tower was added some years later and today stands out as a marker to the building. Close to Kyrenia harbour, the church was taken over by the Department of Antiquities and opened in the early 1990s as a museum. It now houses many religious icons from churches in the Kyrenia area. The icons date from the eighteenth to the twentieth century and it is considered to be an important collection. The building itself is also very attractive and worthy of a visit.
Cypriot Folk Arts Museum
The museum was first opened in the 1970s and is located close to the harbour. Refurbished in the style of an old Cypriot house, it is full of many antiques and interesting household items. Laid out over two storeys, the ground floor houses agricultural and work items, including an olive press, plough and other old agricultural implements. The upper floor has three rooms. A kitchen contains original cooking and preparation items. A second room is given over mainly to fabrics, including fine needlework items, bridal costumes and various embroidered items. The largest room is laid out as a traditional bedroom, with many interesting artefacts. The house offers a fascinating view into a way of life long past and is well worth viewing.
Places to eat in Kyrenia
Kyrenia is famed for places to eat and the streets and alleys are crammed with restaurants, as well as the harbour itself. Efendi’s Restaurant is a little tucked away, with interesting décor and a good international menu. Opposite the Dome Hotel close to the harbour, Niazi’s Restaurant and Bistro offers traditional Cypriot food as well as a wide alternative choice. Expect to feel full afterwards! Set Restaurant is in the backstreets behind the harbour. Serving Italian cuisine, the intimate courtyard setting is beautiful. Set a little way from the town centre with a superb seafront location, Peanuts is a quite large restaurant offering a large menu and a fantastic view. In the old part of the town, Ikmiz is an attractive, intimate restaurant offering traditional Turkish dishes. Near the centre, Passport is a good standard with both excellent food and a cocktail menu. Roxannes, close to the harbour, is a ‘happening’ sort of place with Mexican choices and a lively atmosphere. On the harbour itself, Carob restaurant, The Harbour Club and La Famiglia are all worthy of a mention, but it is almost impossible to have a bad meal here. All of the hotels in Kyrenia have restaurants as well, and many are notable for their high quality and very reasonable prices. Travelling a little way out of town, therer are so many restaurants that it is impossible to list them. However, the Address, Ambiance, The Hideaway Club, Bellapais Gardens, Blue Door, Altinkaya, Veranda, Erol’s, Rafters and Le Jardin all deserve a mention, but to be honest these are just scratching the surface of all that is available. You could literally stay here for much longer than a year and eat out somewhere different every day. And that’s not to mention that there are a dozen or so excellent Chinese and Indian restaurants as well!
Places to Stay in Kyrenia
A1 Cyprus has a number of hotels in Kyrenia itself and close by. Please visit our ‘Northern Cyprus hotels’ page in this guide section for further details. Alternatively, our experienced reservations staff will be pleased to discuss your requirements with you and make suitable recommendations to ensure you get the most from your North Cyprus holiday.