Nicosia Car Hire
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Nicosia, also known as Lefkosia, is the largest city in Cyprus and the island’s capital city, government centre, and the southernmost EU capital city. It has been divided—like Cyprus in general—between Turkish and Greek peoples since the Turkish invasion of 1974 and the preceding Cyprus Crisis of 1964. Specifically, North Nicosia is the self-proclaimed capital of (Turkish) North Cyprus, a state only recognised internationally by Turkey. Nicosia has established itself as the industrial and financial centre of Cyprus, something which has contributed to its position as the 32nd richest city in the world. While the island of Cyprus has evidence of historic riches and ancient living throughout, it’s definitely worth crossing the Green Line (the border that separates Turkish Cyprus and Greek Cyprus and North Nicosia/Nicosia ̶ remember your passport!) in order to really experience the different lifestyles and their fascinating comparisons. Enjoy will find you the best prices and vehicles so you can enjoy your Nicosia adventure totally stress-free. For example, a Suzuki Alto or similar mini-size car starts at just €10.33 (£9.32) per day in the off-peak season, economy-size cars like the Ford Fiesta are only €10.62 (£9.59) a day, while a roomy, standard-size Ford Mondeo (which seats 5 people comfortably) starts from just €18.41 (£16.62) a day. Pre-book your hire car online with Enjoy and look forward to air-conditioned, independent driving around Nicosia and Cyprus, travelling to your own itinerary and enjoying the freedom of the open road.
Guide to Nicosia
Divided and conquered
Nicosia has been continuously inhabited since at least 2500 B.C. Later it became one of 12 city-states known as Ledra after the Trojan War. Like the rest of Cyprus, the history of Nicosia is one riven by factionalism, religious fighting and power struggles ̶ but it’s also built on Greek myth, Arab development, Byzantine and Frankish rule, and of course Christian Crusading. The 12 quarters into which Ottoman Nicosia was divided were named (and still are) after Ottoman generals - Nicosia had an estimated population of 21,000 before the Ottoman conquest in 1570, however according to the Ottoman census data of 1572, the population had been reduced to just over a thousand after a siege which killed 20,000 residents (Its current population is around 250,000). Thereafter, the Greek inhabitants generally remained south of the old river, while the Turkish inhabitants stayed north, a division which remains. Cyprus also experienced British colonial rule from 1878 until its independence in 1960. Today Nicosia is a thriving hub of culture, archaeology and the arts, a welcome change from touristy parts of Cyprus. The city boasts the largest and oldest archaeological museum in Cyprus among many top-class museums (check out the Mevlevi Tekke Museum, which is associated with the Whirling Dervishes sect) and art galleries, theatre and performance spaces, not to mention eight universities, which speaks volumes on the city’s vibrancy! The precise number of visitors to Nicosia per year remains uncertain due to its division, but tourism has boomed since the 70s in Cyprus overall, and the island now welcomes an estimated 4 million visitors annually.
Historically, Nicosia is associated with Crusaders and The Knights Templar bought the island in 1191, but their excessive taxation provoked a revolt. A French knight then took over and Cyprus enjoyed several centuries of prosperity began. In 1570 AD the Ottomans invaded and took over, remaining until the British took over in 1878. The island then benefitted from some of the more positive aspects of British rule, such as restoration to buildings and implementation of transport and communication infrastructure. These improvements in time led to a renewed interest in the ancient culture of Cyprus alongside the development of a lively contemporary arts and culture scene.
As you’d expect from an ancient Mediterranean island, Cyprus is full of myth and legend, including being the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love. Less known are the traditional crafts in leather and wood, especially prevalent in the north. Nicosia lacks both the archaeological sites and pristine beaches with pounding nightlife that bring most visitors to Cyprus. But due to the reduced number of tourists, the Old City retains more of an authentically Cypriot feel than the resorts of the southern coast. Bijou cafés invite you in for a strong Cypriot coffee so you can continue to browse the many woodworking, crafts and boutique shops located deep within the City and treat yourself to something special or pick up unique souvenirs for loved ones back home.
What to do in Nicosia?
Nicosia may not be your first choice for travel in Cyprus, but this historic city is well worth visiting to escape the beach crowds and soak up the authentic Cypriot vibe – there are activities for all here.
Nicosia’s main sights are in and around the Old City, which is surrounded by a picturesque star-shaped city wall whose moat has been converted into a nice park. Wandering around the Old City is an interesting detour in itself, although some buildings are derelict and crumbling. However, Nicosia is well known for its fine museums ̶ The Cyprus Museum is the oldest and largest archaeological museum in Cyprus and showcases the best of Cypriot archaeology from the 9th millennium BC to the end of Antiquity. The Byzantine Museum has a giant statue of Archbishop Makarios standing outside, plus one of the world's finest collections of Orthodox icons and other artworks, mostly ranging from the 9th to the 16th century AD. House of the Dragoman Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios is an ethnological museum housed in a perfectly restored 18th Century manor house, while the Leventis Municipal Museum has exhibits dating from 2300 BC to the present and was voted European Museum of the Year in 1989. The Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre is a converted power station which is now an art gallery, Ledra Observatory Museum is a 12-storey skyscraper dumped right in the middle of the Old Town from where you can see the division of the island. For something a bit different but equally impressive, try the Cyprus Classic Motorcycle Museum, which has motorbikes from 1914 to 1983.
No more museums!
For those who have had their fill of museums and bygones, there are plenty of activities to fill the gap. As the financial and industrial heart of the island, Nicosia boasts plenty of shops to delight the shopaholic - start at Ledra Street. The Cyprus national football team plays most games in Nicosia, as do a number of accomplished local teams. Cypriot tennis players hold their Davis Cup matches at the Field Club, where the clay courts are on top of a former moat. Nicosia Race Club has horse racing every Wednesday and Sunday for those who like a flutter, while a dip in the Hammam Baths will rejuvenate after a day’s sightseeing ̶ these Turkish-style baths are in a 14th-century renovated former church!
Nicosia used to have literally dozens of open-air cinemas showing Greek, Turkish and Hollywood films. Sadly none remain, but there’s still a strong cinema culture here and even a Cyprus International Film Festival. There’s a Cineplex (much like you’d find anywhere) called K. Cineplex. However, check out the old charm of the Zena Palace Cinema or the arthouse feel (and films) of Infantourgio, an atmospheric converted factory.
Eating out in Nicosia
Nicosia has restaurants of all stripes (and qualities), and in high season it can be challenging to find the tasty gems amidst the typical tourist fare. Not to worry, we’ve got you covered with some of Nicosia’s best eateries so you can immerse yourself in quality Cypriot cuisine.
Greek and Cypriot
Piatsa Gourounaki is a contemporary-style souvlakeri (souvlaki restaurant) which dishes up the freshest Greek tastes in town, with friendly service too. Pick the number of perfectly grilled meat skewers you'd like and then choose from the long list of tasty meze and sides, including bouyiourdi (oven-baked feta and vegetables) and pickled peppers to tirokefteri (spicy cheese dip). There’s no reservations here, so arrive early.
Zanettos Taverna is our top choice for Cypriot food in Nicosia. This is the real-deal meze dining spot, and it’s very popular with locals (a great sign). There's no menu, just a meaty parade of meze, usually including pork belly, calf liver, sheftalia (grilled sausages wrapped in caul fat) and snails. Come hungry, pace yourself, book ahead!
The Syrian Arab Friendship Club is a meze heaven which gives your taste buds a tour of Levantine cuisine's greatest hits. However, if you know your Arabic dishes, you can go à la carte and cherry-pick your own feast. Highly recommended is the batinjan makle (aubergines soaked in yoghurt and pomegranate molasses), kibbeh nayeh (Levantine-style lamb tartare) and fattoush (salad with fried pita). It's one of the most popular places to eat in Nicosia, and also has plenty of vegetarian/vegan options. It has a large garden which is great for the kids.
Despite the name, Sham is a Middle-Eastern kebab restaurant, basically ̶ it serves Syrian-style shawarma (meat sliced from a rotating spit, like a kebab), stuffed with all the salad and sauces you want, plus falafel and haloumi sandwiches. It's cheap, filling and tasty. If you want the lamb or mixed (lamb and chicken) shawarma, get here before 3pm, because the popular lamb is nearly always finished by mid-afternoon.
Inga’s Veggie Heaven ̶ Inga is a friendly Icelandic chef who prepares rich vegan and vegetarian dishes of the day, such as stuffed peppers, eggplant and feta lasagne, and roast beetroot and chickpea falafel, all of which are always served with salad and warm, homemade bread. The lovingly created cakes are high point, and don’t forget to check out the surrounding arts and crafts studios afterwards.
Transport in Nicosia
The international airports on the island are Larnaca (LCA), the main international gateway to the island, and the smaller Paphos (PFA) on the southwestern coast. This is commonly used by tourists visiting the west of Cyprus, and both serve as airports for Nicosia, 50 km (31 mi) away. Nicosia International Airport closed in 1974 and is now the HQ of the UN peacekeeping forces.
There are plenty of reasonably priced, new buses in Nicosia in summer (fewer in winter). They connect all major towns on the island. There are no trains on Cyprus.
Drive on the right-hand side of the road in Nicosia, and very carefully. The speed limits are 130 km/h (80 mph) on the motorway, 90/110 km/h (55/70 mph) on normal roads and 50 km/h (30 mph) in built-up areas.
Roads can be narrow here and in rural areas rockfalls and crossing animals are not uncommon, so please observe the speed limit stringently and be extra vigilant in order to stay safe.
When driving in Cyprus you’ll need to carry your valid driving licence, proof of insurance, proof of ID (passport) and car rental documents. Furthermore, whenever you get behind the wheel here you should carry headlamp beam deflectors, a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit and a warning triangle.
Another good tip is to avoid driving west in the late afternoon if possible, because the sun can be blinding ̶ keep a pair of sunglasses in your glovebox to stay safe.
Cyprus isn’t a big island, and you can drive from one side to another (Oia to Akrotiri) in less than an hour. However, what it lacks in style is compensated by stunning scenery and there’s lots to see by road. Here are just a couple of recommended road trips:
The Troodos Forest National Park is one of 10 on Cyprus and it encompasses the Troodos Mountains—home to Mount Olympus (1,952 m/6,404 ft) and the largest mountain range on Cyprus. You’ll find mountain resorts here, Byzantine monasteries (Kykkos Monastery is sublime) churches perched on mountain peaks, and pretty villages peppering terraced hills. This area has been known since antiquity for its mines, which previously supplied copper to the entire Mediterranean. In the Byzantine era it became a centre of Byzantine art, showcased in churches and monasteries built in the mountains far from the vulnerable coastline. There are walking paths and hiking trails aplenty here.
The best way to explore Cyprus’ northeastern-most Karpaz peninsula is to head for Rizokarpaso (in Greek, Dipkarpaz in Turkish). Famous for its rich soil, carob, cotton, tobacco and grain all grow well in this fertile peninsula. This part of Cyprus is known for being one of the most unspoilt regions. The Karpaz National Park has some of the most pristine beaches in Cyprus, and it’s also home to the Karpass Donkey, a breed endemic to Cyprus, and some remnants of the earliest settlements on the island. You can travel between the north and south of the island with relative ease but please don’t forget your passport if you plan to do this.
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