Many people don't realize that although this country is still involved in a military stalemate, you can easily travel into both parts of the island, even if just for part of a day. For Americans and Canadians crossing does not require any kind of special visa or cost. You will have to bring your passport to the crossing; there you have the option of the Turkish-Cypriot "border guards" at the gate stamping a special document, instead of your passport if you wish. Rental cars do need extra insurance if you cross the buffer zone, it can be purchased when you cross for a nominal fee.
Crossing wise, the easiest way to get across for the average tourist is in Nicosia. Just walk up the pedestrian Ledras Street until you come to the Gris gate. You'll walk for about 20 meters through the buffer zone until you reach the other side. Show them your passport, and you're in Turkish-occupied Cyprus. When you're ready to leave, just come back to the same place, stop at the booths on the left, and walk through the buffer zone again, and you're back in the government-controlled area of Cyprus. Keep in mind that photography is allowed in some places while walking through the buffer zone, however there are certain areas where you cannot take photos, they are all fairly well marked. There are no crossings for cars in old town Nicosia, however there are several on the outer edges of the city and in other parts along the buffer zone.
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Cypriot Tips Part 2 - Photography On The Green Line
If you are to play strictly by the rules, photography of the Neutral Zone between North and South Cyprus is completely prohibited. There are many signs on the border telling you that photography is forbidden. Having said all of that, I have taken some pretty amazing pictures of this area. The first rule of photography that I follow in Cyprus is if there is a soldier, or a sign saying that you should not take any pictures in a particular area, you should not take pictures. There are a few places where you can see the Neutral Zone that have no signs up, or that there are no soldiers around. I've taken pictures in these areas with no trouble at all. I've also had several occasions where I thought there were no signs (or soldiers) taken a few pictures, and been yelled at by a hidden soldier. (Simply apologies and leave, there are rarely any problems.)
The reason this area is so fascinating to photograph is how the history from 1974 has been preserved. Since the neutral zone was set up, a certain amount of land between the North and South was abandoned, leaving a perfectly preserved version of Cyprus in 1974 remaining. There are cars, buildings, and stores that have been closed off from human contact for more than 35 years. There are also markers of the battles fought in this area preserved and untouched. Nature has taken its toll with trees growing up through houses and buildings, but it really is a beautiful place to see.
This area of the capital may only be a one or two day stop on your visit, but it's a place you really shouldn't miss. This Buffer Zone divides this city into two very different places. The Greek Cypriot side is much more Mediterranean while the Turkish occupied side is much more Middle Eastern. You'll also notice that the entire old town is surrounded by a Byzantine wall, some parts of it are more photogenic than others.
On the Greek Cypriot side you'll find many tourist shops that specialize in Greek Cypriot crafts and foods. Close to Ledras St you'll find many chains and higher end shops, as well as many tourist shops. Once you get further away from Ledras street you'll find a few more smaller shops, museums, and many small business that have been around for a long time. While the area around Ledras is nice, the real fun is to explore further along the Buffer and the Byzantine wall.
When you first cross to the north you'll find many clothing shops and restaurants, but more local than big name stores. The most prominent structure you'll see when you first cross over is Selimiye Mosque. This building used to be an Gothic church, but it was re-purposed into a mosque. Close to Selimiye Mosque you'll also find the Han, the market place, and many other small streets to explore. As you get closer to the Byzantine wall you'll find that the tourist shops end and some of the streets become a little more ragged, but they're still well worth exploring.