Kyrenia Travel Guide
Most travellers who visit Cyprus spend time in the Greek Cypriot south. However, for those who visit the Turkish-controlled north, Kyrenia is a must-visit destination. The town retains much of its Venetian architecture, while Byzantine-era castles sit atop the hills.
The beaches might not be the highlight, but you’re bound to enjoy your visit here, just the same.
Come check out our Kyrenia travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Kyrenia, Cyprus.
Start your time in Kyrenia with a visit to the Bellapais Monastery. A Catholic religious order known as the Canons Regular built it in the 13th century. The Canons Regular dates back to the first centuries after the resurrection of Christ.
The order that built the church in Kyrenia was the Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre. They arrived in the area after Saladin conquered Jerusalem in 1188. For several centuries, it served the religious needs of those in Northern Cyprus.
At its peak, King Hugh IV used much of the abbey as his home. As time passed, though, conquerors took their toll. The Genoese raided the church in the 15th century, taking anything of value. And when the Ottomans invaded, they gave over the Roman Catholic cathedral to the Greek Orthodox Church.
Surprisingly, they let the church fall into a ruined state. The British partially restored the monastery in the early 20th century, but today, it lies mostly in ruins. The refectory is the most intact part of the structure. As such, it hosts a restaurant, cafe, and performance space. If you’re likely, you may be able to catch a concert during your visit.
During the heyday of Kyrenia, it served as a key defensive point for much of Northern Cyprus. In the mountains above its coast, you’ll find Saint Hilarion Castle. The Byzantines named it after an obscure saint who fled the Holy Land after the Arab conquests.
During its tenure, it surveyed the coast and surrounding area for threats from the 11th century onward. It, however, was more than a defensive point. Indeed, historians maintain that Cypriot kings used Saint Hilarion as a summer residence.
Then, in the 15th century, the Venetians took control of the area. Unwilling to pay for its upkeep, they allowed Saint Hilarion castle to fall into ruin. Today, visitors of decent physical fitness can hike up to this keep. However, do wear sensible shoes – and no, flip-flops won’t cut it.
Kyrenia Castle is next on your castle hit list. Unlike its alpine cousin, Kyrenia Castle sits on the waterfront in Kyrenia Town. A former Crusader castle, it was in a state of ruin from the time the Genoese attacked.
They rebuilt the structure and expanded it. Sadly, the Venetians didn’t get to hold onto this keep for long – in 1570, they lost it to the Ottomans. From that point onward, its owner maintained it, straight through to the British period.
Today, its rooms, from the ramparts to the dungeons, remain in excellent condition. Within its walls, you’ll also find an interesting Shipwreck Museum. Its centrepiece: the raised remains of a Greek ship from the 4th century BC.
If you have time, also make a trip out to Buffavento Castle. Like Saint Hilarion, it sits up in the mountains, high above the coast of Kyrenia. Its builder is somewhat unclear, as it contains both Byzantine and Frankish architecture.
However, the cause of its fall into ruin was the same as Saint Hilarion. Once the Venetians took over, they couldn’t afford its upkeep, so they abandoned it. Like Saint Hilarion, you must climb to reach it. Take plenty of water and use sunscreen before starting the climb.
Those looking for an exciting attraction during their time in Kyrenia will want to visit Mavi Kosk. On the surface, it was the Cyprus estate of Italian lawyer Byron Pavlides. In reality, it was a front for one of Cyprus’ most prolific gun runners.
This elaborate mansion contained secret escape tunnels, a mirrored prayer room, and other defensive measures. Mr. Pavlides was so paranoid, assassins murdered all its construction workers and the architect killed after its completion.
He managed to escape during the Turkish invasion of 1974. However, he couldn’t outrun his past – in 1986, he was assassinated by the Italian mafia back in Italy. As you walk through this unique place, try to put yourself in this infamous character’s shoes.
The north coast of Cyprus is a favoured nesting ground for sea turtles. If you’re lucky, you might get to see them on a visit to Alagadi Turtle Beach. Here, you can watch as volunteers work to help the turtles that come here to lay their eggs.
Are you visiting out-of-season? This isolated beach makes for a lovely walk, and the on-site cafe a great place to end your stay.
Cap your stay off with an evening spent on Kyrenia Harbour. After admiring the fishing boats, sit down at a restaurant. Here, you can watch the world go by as you enjoy Turkish and Cypriot favourites.