As most people know, Cyprus is a divided island. The Turks live in the North, the Greeks live in the South, and the UN peacekeepers live inbetween them in an area known as the Green Line. The South is also known as the Republic of Cyprus, and is recognised around the world. The North is also known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), and is only recognised by Turkey.
Not only is Cyprus a divided country, but the capital city is also divided between North and South. For foreigners it can get confusing as one place can have several different names, as Greeks Turks and the British have all given the same place (Britain did at one point have sovereign territory over Cyprus). The capital city is a fine example of this. The Greeks call it Lefkosia, The Turks call it Lefkosa, and the British call it Nicosia.
Kyrenia Castle - a bit of a hotch-potch
Kyrenia Castle these days is considered Venetian, although it originally started off a Byzantine and then Lusignan, with each civilization adapting what had gone before. The walls are very thick, but this isn't due to the builders being master masons, more down to the Venetians filling in the gaps between the Byzantine walls and the Lusignans extended walls with rubble!
The castle has served as a hiding place, a defence and a prison. It has never been taken forcibly, with the incumbents either starving or surrendering. The Ottomans were the last people to conquer the castle, and this was by scaring the people inside into surrendering by sending in the severed heads of the Venetian soldiers in Nicosia who did not surrender.
Inside there is a small Byzantine chapel and a ship-wreck museum (see separate tip for this). The entrance to the castle is by a bridge which has been built in more recent times and goes over what would have been the origibal moat.
Kyrenia (Turkish name Girne) has a long history. It was founded in the 10th century BC by Greeks, and later became one of the island's city-kingdoms. There are Graeco-Roman tombs and cave houses (I do not think tyhese are visitable) on the outskirts of the more modern town, and two large cemeteries. The Roman harbour was to the east of the existing harbour (a superb shipwreck was discovered and is now exhibited in Kyrenia castle).
In the Medieval period Kyrenia was mainly focused around what is now the harbour area, and its castle (originally built in the 8th century as protection aganist Arab raids). The castle was enlarged over the centuries, and the old town walled (little remains of these walls)....a chain could be laid across the harbour to prevent entry.
There was a large British ex-pat community until 1974 (one of the nearby villages is referred to as 'the English village') and, although numbers subsequently dropped, the re-opening of the border resulted in a surge in villa/estate building for retirement and holidaymakers. Sadly (or perhaps not?), the present economic situation means many of these developments lie half-finished or empty.
The old town of Kyrenia is small but lovely, a warren of narrow streets and alleyways (more or less impossible for vehicles, although some do try!) leading down to the picture-postcard old harbour. Outside the old town Kyrenia is less attractive (mostly more modern buildings, a lot of traffic), but nevertheless a friendly, comfortable and very safe place to explore...a busy, living community.
Behind Kyrenia lie the beautiful hills......less beautiful, perhaps, since the devastating 1995 fires (deliberately-set) which destroyed so much of their endemic forest. but they are beiung replanted, and their slopes are far too steep for any real development to take place, so they will remain as places to walk, seek flowers and butterflies, watch birds and enjoy stunning views.
Topping them is the Crusader castle of St Hilarion...a must-see visit, although not especially easy to access. You won't be able to walk, because the steep and winding road passes through a military zone. And there's the beautiful, ruined Gothic monastery-abbey of Bellapais lying on the lower slopes, also a 'must-see'.
I really enjoyed wandering around Kyrenia in my 'time at leisure' (Kyrenia was the base for my first ever proper tour).
The old town has some interesting historical details to spot and wandering along the harbour wall (or sitting with a beer at one of the harbour cafes) is excellent for people-watching.
It was sad to see older buildings rotting away, a result of the land ownership issues which followed partition and have still to be addressed. Greek-owned buildings and land decay in the North, Turkish-owned buildings and land in the South (even whole villages). Not all has been allowed to crumble away though....on both sides land and buildings have been occupied even though the title is not truly available.
The newer part of town has the main shops (tourist tat, small supermarkets, chemists, clothes, bags.......everything one would expect from a busy town), cafes, bars, the schools, the hospital and the inevitable 'forbidden zones'. And the hotel/casinos and nightclubs, of course, although these tend to spread themselves westwards along the coast from the harbour.
A lot of traffic at rushhours (although there are pedestrianised areas) and a frequent and comprehensive dolmus services to everywhere within Northern Cyprus (and lots of taxis as well, obviously). Cars are both left and right-hand drive, and driving styles can be unusual, so watching the traffic is an interesting experience in itself. :-)
I enjoyed wandering around the shops (there was no pressure to buy). I was told that times are hard and sales very slow; that certainly seemed to be the case. There were really very few visitors in the North, presumably the result of the recession. Hopefully, numbers will pick up soon for the North really does need its tourist income; its lack of international recognition and acceptance, and all the embargoes which are still in force, mean that making a living is not easy and the cost of living is not cheap.
If you're thinking of visting N Cyprus, then Kyrenia really is a good base. It's easily accessible from Ercan airport (although you'll need to make a stop in Turkey first) and from Larnaca in the south (which has direct flights). You can make daytrips to anywhere in the North from Kyrenia without too much hassle and driving (perhaps a couple of hours or so max).
Crossing the border is very easy if you are from the EU: guards just stamp a piece of paper for your 'visa'. I think it may be more difficult if you are fom other countries, so that is something you'll need to check beforehand.
You can't usually take hire cars from the South into the North (and if you do you'll have to buy special insurance at the border), so landing at Larnaca and arranging a transfer to the North, then hiring a car makes more sense.
And, despite the excellent dolmus services, you do really need a car to explore properly...ideally a 4 wheel-drive, for the mountain roads are not in especially good condition and many are very steep with hairpin bends.
But it's worth making the effort to visit the North......and Kyrenia is a good place to be.