How well have YOU explored Kyrenia Cyprus? The Kyrenia district (known as Girne to Turkish Cypriots Keryneia or to Greek Cypriots) of Cyprus, can be reached by heading northeast of Nicosia. The town is built around Kyrenia castle which stands behind the curved harbour and is the hub of the tourist centre in North Cyprus.
Kyrenia castle was originally built by the Byzantines in the 7th century, but the building you see today was re-modelled by the Venetians.
There are dungeons to explore, and if you climb to the top you will have brilliant views of the harbour and coastline. If you can speak a little Turkish, the locals may let you into the castle for free or with a discount.
Be sure also to see the Shipwreck Museum next to the courtyard as is home to the Kyrenia Ship, the world’s oldest shipwreck – an ancient Greek cargo boat which sank between 33- and 280 BC. Pottery items and coins were found onboard. The shaded courtyard itself is a nice place to enjoy an ice-cream after seeing the castle. From here, the harbour is a relaxing and cheap place to have lunch. The restaurants here have a good variety of Mediterranean cuisine and fresh seafood, and a few of the boats double as restaurants.
Like most places in Europe, the restaurant owners will all try to entice you into their own place, but don’t feel pressured, just take your time and look around.
After this, head to one of the beautiful beaches in the area. The gorgeous beaches in the area are the main reason why more and more people are taking Kyrenia holidays!
Kyrenia is also home to one of the biggest attractions on the island – Bellapais Abbey. Bellapais (or Beylerbey in Turkish, above) was built in the 13th Century and is probably the most beautiful piece of Gothic architecture in Cyprus.
It has suffered much damage over the centuries, from looting villagers and Genoese and British vandals, but still retains its beauty and atmosphere, and international music concerts are held here every year due to the acoustics and setting. If you look out of the high bay windows on a clear day you can see the Taurus Mountains in mainland Turkey.
Travelling about 29 miles to the west of Kyrenia will take you to the town of Guzelyurt (Morfou to the Greek Cypriots). Here you will find the Byzantine church of Ayios Mamas, the patron saint of Tax Invaders.
There are also the ancient ruins of Soloi, including a 5th century basilica, which has beautiful floor, mosaics of dolphins and a swan.
The coastline in this area is not to be missed – there are lots of Kyrenia beaches, all offering something different from the last. If you are visiting Kyrenia harbour, look out for people handing out fliers for local watersports as these often offer discounts.
Acapulco Beach is a few miles east of Kyrenia. It is easy to find as it is well signposted and within a holiday complex. It has many facilities and offers some watersports. It is popular with tourists and can get quite crowded in summer. Be aware that is not always suitable for swimming as there is a strong current and sometimes an undertow here.
This a popular beach to the west of Kyrenia in front of Mare Monte Hotel. There are plenty of facilities and watersports.
Don’t get this confused with Lara Bay in the Akamas Peninsula! Lara Beach can be found a few miles east of Kyrenia. You can reach it by turning off at the by-pass road – you will see a signpost which tells you where to go. There are facilities such as sun loungers, and there is one restaurant.
Alagadi Turtle Beach
Carry on east from Lara Beach and you will see Acapulco Holiday Resort signs. Turn left here and follow the signs to the beach through the dusty road and past the farm. Parts of the beach will not be available in summer when turtles lay their eggs here. These areas will be clearly marked. There are not many facilities apart from toilets and a beach bar. There is also a island opposite but the area is extremely rocky.
St. Hilarion Castle
St Hilarion Castle is one of the most captivating and charming sights on the island and can be found in the five-fingered mountain range (known as the Besparmak Mountains in Turkish or the Pentadaktylos Mountains in Greek).
It was named after the Syrian hermit who took refuge there after fleeing the Holy Land and stayed there until his death. It was initially built during the Arab raids, as a look-out tower to spot incoming pirates from a distance. Richard the Lionheart also used the castle.
Aside from its strategic value, the castle later became the summer holiday residence for Lusignan nobility, and it is believed that royalty also stayed here. The castle you see today is a mixture of Byzantine and Frankish architecture. In the 10th century, a monastery was also built on the site.
The castle is open every day between 9am and 4.30pm.
Explore St Hilarion
No public transport goes here, so you will need to drive up the narrow road leading there. There is a car park, and from here you will have to walk up (you may find the walk up a bit steep so be prepared for this).
The castle has three levels; lower (the largest), middle and upper. You will need at least an hour to cover the castle, but it is definitely worth exploring every floor. Take comfortable walking shoes and bottled water to enjoy it properly.
The favourite part of the castle for most people is the Royal Apartments from the 14th century. These buildings are quite damaged but still attractive to visit, especially for the so called ‘Queen’s Window’, belonging to Queen Eleanor, that you can find on the second floor of the Royal Apartments.
There are steps to climb to the highest point of the mountain, which offers amazing panoramic views of the island, and especially the northern coastline. Other highlights to look out for include the stables at the lowest level and the Byzantine chapel.
The Legends of St Hilarion Castle
The castle is widely believed to have inspired Walt Disney’s famous ‘Sleeping Beauty’ story and castle. While there has never been any clear confirmation on this, it is easy to believe as the castle and rooms and towers definitely have a “Disney Princess” style about them! St Hilarion was even once described as “a picture-book castle for elf-kings” by the writer, Rose Macauley.
According to Cypriot myth, there is also a hidden 101st room of the castle where there is a magic garden holding many treasures. No one has yet found Room 101 of the castle, so keep your eyes peeled for it!