Located in the non-recognized country of Northern Cyprus, Famagusta (or Gazimağusa) is a historic gem. The old town bears witness to the city’s eventful history and delights visitors with a blend of architectural styles. On this basis, here are the best things to do in Famagusta, Cyprus.
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Welcome to Famagusta: an Incredible City for History Lovers
During the Middle Ages, Famagusta was the most important city in Cyprus. Its port served as the primary harbor for the various empires and republics that controlled Cyprus over the centuries.
Founded in the 3rd century BC, Famagusta’s rise began in the 14th century when the Genoans and later Venetians seized the city. The Italian republics relocated the capital of Cyprus to Famagusta and built several impressive structures, including the Royal Palace.
In 1571, the Ottoman Empire conquered Famagusta and added another layer of fortifications and civil infrastructure. The city remained under Ottoman rule until the late 19th century – when the British took over Cyprus.
After the Turkish invasion of 1974, Famagusta became part of a newly-formed state. Only Turkey recognized this new political entity in Northern Cyprus.
As such, the city is today still in a disputed country: the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”
In terms of tourism, Famagusta is one of the most fascinating places in Cyprus, thanks to its diverse history. The city’s structures adhere to contrasting architectural styles and date from different periods.
Here are the top attractions and best things to see in Famagusta, Cyprus.
Check out my vlog on the best things to do in Famagusta on Youtube.
The Top Attractions and Things to do in Famagusta
Famagusta works well as a base for day trips in Northern Cyprus. You can easily check off the top places to visit in Famagusta in a day but plan at least one more day to rent a car and explore the surroundings.
Stroll in the Medieval Old Town
The best place to start your Famagusta sightseeing tour is undoubtedly the old town. You’ll find remnants of different eras here, notably the remains of the Venetian Royal Palace and several other ruin sites.
The old town is also home to numerous restaurants, shops, and a few boutique hotels.
Visit the Stunning Mustafa Lala Pasha Mosque
When the Ottomans took over Famagusta, they converted various old Venetian structures to suit the town’s new Muslim population. One of these buildings was the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, completed in the 13th century. The Ottomans turned the city’s biggest cathedral into a mosque, just as they did in Istanbul, Turkey.
Today, Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque is one of the most beautiful buildings in Cyprus. If it weren’t for the carpet and the Islamic symbols, you’d still think it’s a church.
As such, admiring the city’s largest mosque is one of the best things to do in Famagusta.
Check out a Shakespearean Castle
In Shakespeare’s famous novel Othello, the title character was a Venetian military commander who fought against the Ottomans. The story happens in the 16th century, and today, you can visit Othello’s Castle in Famagusta.
The castle is part of the city walls and overlooks the Mediterranean sea. It’s nothing special as such. Nevertheless, the fact that Shakespeare used it for his story makes it one of the top places to visit in Famagusta.
Explore the Abandoned Ghost Town of Varosha
In recent years, the abandoned beach resort town of Varosha (Maras) has become of the top Famagusta tourist attractions.
Before 1974, Varosha was a thriving destination on the island of Cyprus. The city attracted Hollywood stars, celebrities, and other wealthy individuals from all over the world.
When the Turkish invasion happened, the town became a military exclusion zone. As such, the army sealed off Varosha. The Northern Cypriot government only reopened parts of the town in 2020.
Today, you can rent a bicycle or explore the ghost town on foot. There are abandoned hotels, large apartment buildings, restaurants, and shops.
If you are into abandoned places and dark tourism, do not miss Varosha. Three times as big as Prypiat in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Varosha is one of the largest lost cities on the planet.
In this vlog, I explore the abandoned ghost town of Varosha, Famagusta.
Head to the Best Beaches in Famagusta
There are lots of great beaches in the Famagusta District. You’ll need a car to get there as there aren’t many public transportation options.
Some of the best beaches in Famagusta (the Northern Cyprus part) include Silver Beach, Glapsides, Deniz, and Bafra.
Go on Day Trips
Many people visit Famagusta on day tours, but the city itself is also a great base to explore Northern Cyprus. What to do in Northern Cyprus depends on whether you have a car.
If you don’t have a car, you’ll only be able to go to Nicosia or Kyrenia (Girne). Both cities are worth a stop but Girne is more beautiful, thanks to its harbor fortress. Nicosia is fascinating because it’s the only divided capital city in the world.
You can travel to both cities from Famagusta via local minibusses. They leave every hour from Famagusta Bus Station. You’ll find the situation next to the Atatürk monument outside of the city walls.
Public transportation is limited in Cyprus, so I suggest renting a car. There are a lot of small agencies in Famagusta, but you won’t find international rental companies due to the political situation.
With a car, you can explore the Greek ruin site of Salamis, just north of Famagusta.
Another worthwhile excursion is Karpaz National Park, an unspoiled nature reserve with wild donkeys and pristine beaches.
Finally, Kantara Castle sits high up in the mountains, and on clear days, you can see the entire island from here.
Where to Stay in Famagusta
The best place to stay in the city of Famagusta is undoubtedly the Old Town. You’ll find a few small hotels and guest houses, as well as apartments here.
Find your place to stay in Famagusta here.
Things to do in Famagusta: Know Before You Go
Famagusta is a safe and tranquil place to visit, but it’s still located in a disputed country. Here are some crucial things to know before visiting Famagusta, Northern Cyprus.
How to get to Famagusta
By public transport, the easiest way to get to Famagusta is to take a bus from North Nicosia.
By car, you can cross the UN buffer zone. But be aware that you cannot drive a South Cyprus rental car into Northern Cyprus.
Famagusta doesn’t have an airport. The closest one is Ercan in Northern Cyprus. Ercan serves several destinations in Turkey. However, you cannot enter Southern Cyprus if you land at Ercan Airport. In the eyes of the Southern authorities, you’ll have entered Cyprus illegally as they do not recognize Ercan as a point of entry.
By plane, the best way is to land at Larnaca or Paphos. You can then travel to South Nicosia, cross the border on foot to North Nicosia, and hop on another bus to Famagusta. That might not sound efficient, but the distances are relatively short.
Language in Famagusta
Most Turkish Cypriots speak English. You won’t have any trouble communicating, but learning a few phrases in Turkish is nonetheless recommendable.
As mentioned before, only Turkey recognizes the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” Officially, there is still a conflict going on, but that won’t affect you as a tourist. There has been a stalemate for many decades – and the Turkish Cypriots have adapted to their situation.
Of course, you’ll have to make up your own mind about visiting a non-recognized state. Personally, I loved my time in Northern Cyprus, thanks to its authenticity, fascinating historic sites, and friendly locals.