Locally known as Lefkosia, Nicosia is Cyprus’ capital and largest city. The old city, at the heart of which is the distinctive many-sided Venetian citadel, is home to a wealth of history and tales dating back to the 16th century. However, it is the cultural depth running through the veins of the city that is fuelling an urban and cultural revolution.
With new regenerated neighbourhoods teeming with cafes and restaurants, a range of new and exciting art galleries showcasing work both contemporary and from eras gone by, through to the arrival of British architect Zaha Hadid with her upcoming creation of an Urban Recreational Park in Freedom Square, Nicosia now offers a blend of cultured charm, fascinating history and modern quirks.
Visitors who enjoy nothing more than to eat and drink their way around town, should head straight to The Market Company - nestled in the heart of the walled city, in an alleyway off Onasagorou Street, it is one of the new wave of eateries giving the old city a face-lift. A typical kafeneio coffeehouse by day, and one of the area’s busiest restaurants and a chosen hangout for the town’s new wave of hipsters. Its chef is one of the many reinventing traditional Cypriot food for its new audiences: think grilled halloumi dressed in a rich fig sauce and fresh rocket salad to accompany homemade filled ravioli. http://tinyurl.com/mvrypcg.
Whilst Kala Kathoumena café, serving cold beer alongside hot and ice-cold coffee, is a vine-covered coffee shop – under the shadow of Phaneromeni Church - gathering writers, poets and backgammon enthusiasts who come to while away long muggy afternoons and stay through the evening. A Zivanomelo (local Cypriot Zivania wine with honey) is a must and the ideal accompaniment to kick-back for an evening of serious people-watching.
Shopping wise, two new concept stores in the old city are now part of a thriving community embracing its own local artists. STAART SHOP is a contemporary art shop, featuring useful design objects and small art pieces from Cypriot creative individuals - from industrial to fashion designers and artist with some of the biggest names of the Cypriot art scene. Whilst the walls at Phaneromenis 70 are adorned with unique contemporary art pieces from Cypriot and Greek artists, as well as an eclectic mix of hand-made jewellery and designer clothes items.
Travellers with an eye for art will enjoy the growing number of cultural offerings across the capital. Early 2014 saw the unveiling of the new AG Leventis Gallery - designed by British architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, the gallery displays the substantial art collection amassed by the late Cypriot entrepreneur Anastasios Leventis to the public for the first time. For just €2 visitors can enjoy over 800 works by the likes of Monet, Pissarro, Chagall and Renoir – a substantial Greek collection of the 19th century as well as two full rooms devoted to famous Greek Cypriot painters born in the early 20th century such as Kissonergis, Diamantis and Kanthos. Pioneering technology includes daylight-protecting screens which lift as viewers approach, while visitors can also enjoy a full reconstruction of Leventis’ wood-panelled library in Paris. www.leventisgallery.org.
Those with a penchant for all things contemporary, Zambelas Art Gallery is a must. Built from three separate houses, it has been transformed into a contemporary home for a series of rotating exhibitions. Each of the three floors offers a different collection, including Cypriot art, as well as more widely recognised talents, such as photographer, Steve McCurry. The building has noticeable nods to its past, including installations using a tapestry of original window shutters on one of its exteriors walls. www.zampelasart.com/museum.
Whilst culture vultures will be drawn to The Shoe Factory, run by the Pharos Art Foundation – a unique venue for performance, events and concerts. The space is a spectacular example of how the ubiquitous crumbling old buildings that populate the old city are so lovingly and artistically restored to surpass their former glory. www.pharosartsfoundation.org.
Other visitor must-dos when in Nicosia, include:
Royiatiko Hotel – newly opened within the heart of the city’s cultural centre, along with an outdoor heated swimming pool. Rooms available from £70 per night, on a bed & breakfast basis (www.royiatikohotel.com.cy)
Getting there: Return flights with Cyprus Airways from London Heathrow to Larnaca, from £220 (inclusive VAT) per person. For more information, visit www.visitcyprus.com
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