The island nation of Cyprus is nestled in the Mediterranean Sea, just south of Turkey. While the entire country is beautiful and worth visiting, we chose Northern Cyprus as our first trip abroad with our children (ages 3 and 1 at the time), since we have family who live there. We discovered a hidden gem, unspoiled by hoards of sun-seeking tourists. While it is a popular destination for the British, Cyprus is not frequently visited by Americans.
We found Northern Cyprus to be safe and accessible, but to fly directly into Ercan airport in the north, we had to do so via Turkey. There are numerous options for flying into Larnaca airport in the south. From the south it is just a few hours drive to the north. According to the U.S. State Department, no visa is required to travel between the north and the south, or at all for Americans, but current requirements should be reviewed prior to travel.
(Bellapais Monastery, Kyrenia)
Part of the beauty of Northern Cyprus is that most attractions are operated with respectful visitors in mind and not groups of tourists. Ruins are not roped off and signs warning of danger or forbidden activities don’t litter the landscape. Our children were free to explore and to just be kids.
Yes, those are cannonballs and yes, my daughter could play with them.
The children enjoyed the exotic foods and smells in the markets. I was surprised at how willing they were to try whatever they were offered. Of course, every meal we had there was amazing. Lamb kebabs, a local grilled cheese (Hellim) and mezes (appetizers) were always on the menu.
We spent one unforgettable day at the ruins of Salamis, a beautiful ancient city that was once a thriving port. What is left of Salamis are remnants of the Roman occupation of Cyprus around 300 BC, although the history of this city dates back to the Late Bronze Age. Again, there were no lines, no uniformed employee telling us to be quiet or stay away from the ruins. We were able to get up close and really admire the details of this stunning piece of history.
(The ruins of Salamis)
The beaches in Northern Cyprus are beautiful and we enjoyed many days playing in the fine, dark sand. The pace of life is slow and laid back. The water is clean and warm. This trip was as relaxing as possible with two small children.
The port in Kyrenia offers spectacular views, casual/kid friendly restaurants and various opportunities to charter a boat or go paragliding. My husband and sister-in-law chose the latter. The pictures they took of the mountains and the sea captured how breathtaking this part of the country is.
A landmark of the harbor is Kyrenia Castle. Although no exact date has been determined, this well preserved historic site is believed to have been constructed around VII AD by the Byzantines to defend against Arabs raids. Over the next centuries, Byzantines, Lusignans and Venetians made additions in the form of towers and walls. Walking through the entrance is a thrill for kids since it requires crossing a bridge over a moat. Once inside this beautiful castle, you will find an incredibly well preserved Greek shipwreck from 4th Century B.C. It even has some of its original cargo, almonds in a clay jar.
I loved seeing my girls explore and try new things. They were surprisingly adaptable to every situation. Our trip to Northern Cyprus was so memorable that it made me realize how rewarding travel with my children could be.
Reality Check: There is a less romantic side to traveling with children, especially small ones. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the time change (7 hours) was rough on my 1 year old. She woke up in the middle of the night for several days and screamed until we got up. Also, my recently potty trained 3 year old had a bladder infection and insisted we stop every hour to go to the bathroom during the first leg of the trip, which included a 12 hour layover in Warsaw, Poland. In addition, in an effort to save money, we opted to take the extended route to Northern Cyprus, and our trip time totaled 33 hours. This trip taught us that it is better to take the most direct route.