There is no shortage of holiday sights in and around the pretty port of Kyrenia. The town is a delight with narrow twisting lanes lined with cafes and tavernas. The castle dominates the harbour while, in the distance, along the inland mountain range, sit a string of impressive castles.
Villages include Bellapais, a favourite of coach trippers, with its beautiful 12th century abbey while the wild coast of Kormakitis attracts those who enjoy open, empty windswept sands. Archaeological sights abound with impressive mosaics at Soloi and an ancient palace at Vouni.
Roads a generally good but public transport can be erratic in rural areas so transport is essential to see many of the sights on Kyrenia.
Kyrenia Castle and Museum
The huge Kyrenia Castle dominates the shoreline in Kyrenia. It was built on a headland in Byzantine times, overlooking the small harbour to the west and another bay to the east.
It was surrendered to the Ottomans in 1570 after the Venetians had been ousted from Nicosia. It looks as though the Venetians could have held out for some time within the huge rectangular structure with its four massive bastions at each corner.
Visitors can walk right around the ramparts, though the route can be tricky in places and you need a head for heights. There is a marked route around the whole structure and it's advisable to stick to it as stones can be loose and the going tricky.
Many rooms and chambers lead off the central courtyard which is now a small, shady park. To the west of the courtyard are the old prison dungeons where plastic mannequins of prisoners pose in various stages of neon-lit torture.
To the east is a temperature-controlled chamber that houses a notable Kyrenian shipwreck, one of the oldest vessels ever to be recovered from the Mediterranean. It is thought to be a cargo boat carrying almonds, grain and wine from Kos which sank off the coast of Kyrenia about 300BC.
It was discovered in 1967 by a local diver. A reconstruction shows what the vessel must have been like and the original timbers can be viewed in a special dimly lit room.
Folk Art Museum
The folk art museum is found at Kyrenia harbour and housed in a typical 18th century building. On the ground floor is an impressive oil press, some primitive ploughs and other agricultural instruments, artisan workbenches and some military artefacts.
On the upper floor are examples of traditional crochet, embroidery, bedspreads, table covers, head scarves and other household items that have been collected from various parts of Cyprus. Another room shows a traditional kitchen with water jugs, wooden and ceramic bowl and other domestic artefacts.
The third and largest room has a wooden bed, cupboard, and cabinets of clothes.
Most day tour visitors to the north will take in Bellapais, about 5km southeast of Kyrenia and also called Beylerbeyi, for two reasons. One is see the abbey, the other to visit the village that was home of the writer Lawrence Durrell in the mid 1950s.
The village is perched on the foothills above Kyrenia and may seem a little too twee and touristy for some tastes. The streets are too steep, narrow and winding to take the daily tour buses which disgorge visitors on the outskirts of the village.
This is the village described by Durrell in his book 'Bitter Lemons of Cyprus' but the original has long disappeared. The 'tree of idleness', under which many of his characters sat, is still there (although there is some dispute whether the actual site is a mulberry near the Abbey coffee shop or a maple at the nearby restaurant).
It now provides shade for tourists rather than locals and is littered with lager bottles and crisp packets instead of glasses of ouzo and metzes. A yellow plaque marks the door of the author's former home, which is still a private residence.
On the edge of Bellapais and overlooking the Kyrenian plain is the impressive Augustinian Bellapais monastery. It was begun in the 12th century by monks who fled the wars in Palestine. Cloisters and a large refectory were added in the following century.
The dark church interior is in a good state of repair, as is the cloister area. But much else has been lost over the years, though the complex still very beautiful and visitors can walk around the upper storeys for impressive views.
St Hilarion Castle Kyrenia
The lofty, fairytale castle of St Hilarion sits on a high bluff overlooking the coastal plain about 8km southwest of Kyrenia. Full of hidden rooms, tunnels and overgrown gardens it is a children's delight.
The castle is named after a monk who lived in a cave on the hillside and was begun in the 10th century with a church and monastery over his tomb. Its strategic position as a watchtower over the whole plain and between castles at Kantara and Bufavento saw it extensively extended both as a military outpost and a summer palace after the arrival of the Venetians.
There are three main parts, or floors (eciente), though the divisions are not immediately apparent.
Lower Enciente: This is where visitors enter through the barbican and is the main military garrison and stables.
Middle Enciente: Once protected by a drawbridge this area had barrack rooms, a church and royal apartments.
Upper Enciente: Guarded by a Byzantine tower the upper area has a central courtyard surrounded by royal apartments, kitchens and various chambers all topped by Prince John's Tower — not a climb for the less than fit — where the views are truly breathtaking. .
The name means 'blown by winds' and the lofty fortress of Bufavento Castle perches precariously 940m up the mountainside about 20km southeast of Kyrenia and overlooking the Mesarya Plain to the south and the Kyrenia Plain to the north.
Little known of its origins but it was captured by Richard the Lionheart in 1191 and later used as a prison by the Lusignans. The castle in not in a great condition and much lies in ruins.
There are a couple of good chambers in the lower part and stairs to the upper area have been renovated recently. Getting to the castle not easy. It is signposted from the beautiful village below but there is a 15 minute drive along a rough track before a steep walk of 30-40 minutes.
The attractive elevated village of Lapta, also called Lapithos, makes for a popular day trip from Kyrenia, about 15km to the east.
The village was fortunate in escaping a huge forest fire in the mid-1990s though much of the surrounding landscape still bears the scars of burnt out trees. The village itself ekes old world charm and its leafy streets are full of good craft shops and restaurants.
It was once one of the city kingdoms of Cyprus and a regional Roman capital. Lapta has some of the most beautiful scenery on the island. It sits perched on the northern slopes on the Five-Finger Mountains and the village is blessed with several water springs to feed huge citrus groves and vegetable plots — even a local water park.
As well as the delights of the village itself there are some decent beaches nearby and walkers will enjoy the many trails that snake through the hillside citrus groves and pine forests.
The Kormakitis or Korucam is a wild and barely populated area at the north west tip of Cyprus that ends at a rocky cape and is home to a little known Christian community known as the Maronites of Kormakitis who settled there in the 12th century.
The sect has dwindled over the years and barely 100 Maronites remain, centred around the church of Agios Georgios in the pretty hillside village of Kormakitis. The coast road runs west from the village at Vasiliea past the small but popular Horseshoe Bay before turning into a dirt track that leads out the wild and desolate cape.
South of Cape Kormakitis is the long sweeping bay of Morfou. Beaches along this stretch of coast are thin strips of shingle and pebble.
At the southern end of the bay is the former port of Karavostasi or Gemikonagi which served the now abandoned mines that scar the hillside behind. An imposing pier stretches out into the sea and a rusting old tug lies along the shore.
The town attracts its share of tourists and there are several restaurants and cafes here as well as a series of small sand and pebble beaches to the west including Zafer Gazinosu, and Asmali.
Inland from Karavostasi the road winds uphill to the popular and pretty tree-lined village of Lefke or Lefka which acts as gateway into the eastern edge of the forest area.
A few kilometres west of Karavostasi is the impressive archaeological site at Soloi, one of the 10 ancient city kingdoms of the island. Copper mines made the area rich before it was occupied by the Romans.
The site had two main areas: the 4th century basilica at the entrance and the amphitheatre found short hill path. The basilica church is noted for the remains of mosaic floors, particularly one with a swan enveloped in floral patterns and one of four dolphins.
This is reputed to be the place where St Mark was baptised. The Roman amphitheatre was carved into the side of the hill and has been restored as much as it can be given that the British carried away a lot of the stone to build the Suez Canal. In its heyday it could hold up to 4,000 spectators.
The palace at Vouni dates back to the 5th century BC and at one time there were nearly 140 rooms. Cisterns carved out of the rocks were used to meet the demand for water and there are examples of ancient hot-baths.
Excavations have uncovered earthenware jugs blackened by the fire that destroyed the palace containing gold and silver bracelets, ornamented silver cups, and hundreds of coins.
To the south of the palace are the remains of the temple of Athena built towards the end of the 5th century BC The temple has two courtyards and an enclosed sacred ground. Remains still visible include the entrance, a courtyard with columns, a kitchen courtyard, cistern, granaries, baths, living rooms and offices.
The palace was burned to the ground in 380 BC and was never reconstructed. There extensive complex sits on a hilltop with magnificent views over the whole area.