British and US passport holders do not need advance visas for North Cyprus (TRNC) and a 90-day stay is permitted to all visitors. Up-to-date requirements for entering North Cyprus can be found at mfa.gov.ct.tr. From March 2020, visitors from the UK and the EU no longer require a visa to visit Turkey. Nationals from these countries who are changing planes in Turkey on their way to or from North Cyprus still have to undergo a security check before boarding their onward flight, but will no longer have to concern themselves about any visa requirements. Despite various rumours to the contrary, a TRNC stamp in your passport does not in fact prevent a future visit to Greece or its islands. The TRNC stamp is simply cancelled with your permission on arrival in Greece.
Once the UK has completely left the European Union, documentation requirements for UK citizens may change. Check mfa.gov.ct.tr before travelling, not forgetting to also check any new requirements for the Republic of Cyprus if you are entering through the South.
Getting there and away
There are two distinct ways of reaching North Cyprus by air: either by flying ‘direct’ to the North (though ‘direct’ always means with a stopover in Turkey), or via the Republic of Cyprus (‘the South’) and transferring across the border. As available routes change frequently, some flights are seasonal and not all flights are daily, using a website such as Skyscanner is a good way of searching. This avoids having to search through each of the individual airline sites.
Direct to the North
TRNC’s airport for tourist traffic is Ercan (formerly called Tymbou). Small, but well equipped, it is situated some 24km east of Lefkoşa.
Flights from London to Ercan take a minimum of 6 hours, but don’t expect much in the way of in-flight entertainment. These flights, on a range of different aircraft, are operated up to three times daily from Stansted by Pegasus and from Heathrow and Gatwick by Turkish Airlines. The latter also fly to Ercan from Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Return fares on these airlines vary from around £160 to over £500 according to season, availability and time of booking.
Irrespective of which airline you choose, all flights to Ercan have to stop on the Turkish mainland, since TRNC is not recognised by any country except Turkey. From Europe, the touchdown point is usually Istanbul or Izmir, or occasionally Antalya or Dalaman. When touching down in Turkey, passengers for Ercan now have to leave the plane and undergo a fresh security check before alighting again, but no Turkish visa is required as long as you stay airside. During peak season, flights to North Cyprus fill up surprisingly quickly, so you need to book well in advance if you have specific time constraints on your travel dates.
Via the South
The second way of flying to the TRNC is to fly to the Republic of Cyprus, then cross the border. As it is now possible to move freely between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sectors, this alternative has become extremely popular. With healthy competition between scheduled and charter operators, and the recent appearance of budget carriers, it can be an attractive and cheaper proposition to enter North Cyprus by this method – and flights are direct, with no stopover. Again, flight schedules change constantly, but what follows is the position as of publication.
British Airways offers direct flights from Heathrow and Gatwick to Larnaca (4½ hrs), and flies to Paphos from Gatwick (4½ hrs). EasyJet covers Larnaca from Gatwick, Bristol and Liverpool; and Paphos from Gatwick, Luton, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh. Other airlines with flights from the UK to Cyprus include Wizzair and Blueair and you may also pick up a charter flight with Jet2 or TUI. Remember that some flights will operate in high season only. Return fares on some of these routes can be as low as £80 if you book far enough in advance, but rise to a totally ridiculous £550 for short-notice reservations in peak season. It’s worth shopping around though, as you or a tenacious independent travel agent could come up with return low-season charter seats to Larnaca for around £150, from a whole host of regional airports.
Fares and timetables for ferries are subject to frequent change, so check in advance if you are planning a trip that involves sea travel. The Cyprus Turkish Shipping Company operates a car ferry all year round from Mersin in southern Turkey to Gazimağusa. Currently they run three times a week in each direction, with a 12-hour journey time, departing Gazimağusa at 20.00 Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday and departing Mersin at 20.00 Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Single fares for foot passengers are currently TL450. Cars must be booked in advance. Main ferry companies include Akgünler Shipping, Cyprus Turkish Shipping (KTD) and Filo Shipping.
The stringent border regulations that for so long prevented free movement between the north and south sectors of Cyprus have eroded. Since 2003 both Cypriot locals and EU tourists have been able to cross at one of five designated checkpoints, open 24 hours. A further crossing at Locmaci Street/Ledra Street in Lefkoşa was opened to pedestrians in April 2008, and in October 2010 an additional crossing was unveiled by both presidents at Yeşilırmak. Two more crossings have opened in recent years, bringing the total to nine. The formalities are straightforward for pedestrians – simply present yourself with your passport and complete the minimal paperwork. The current crossings are Metehan, Akyar, Ledra Palace, Locmaci Street, Dhekelia, Derinya, Apliç, Güzelyurt and Yeşilırmak.
By public transport
Public transport in North Cyprus is somewhat limited and most visitors will hire a car for at least part of their stay. For those who do not want this extra cost, there is a network of dolmuş (minibuses) that is perfectly sufficient to get between the main towns, at least during daylight hours, provided you exercise a degree of patience. Most routes do not run to a timetable but instead set off from their start-point when the driver is satisfied that he has enough passengers. Lefkoşa is the main transport hub, and you’ll find dolmuş to all of the major towns from the bus station in the north of the town, or from in front of Kyrenia Gate. Fares are very reasonable: expect to pay TL20 (single fare) by dolmuş between Lefkoşa and Girne, for example.
Private taxis (with yellow TAKSI signs on the roof) are also reasonably priced, charging fixed official tariffs using a meter, but they do not cruise (officially, anyway) and can only be found at taxi stands, which close late at night. There are no functioning railways.
By far the best way to travel is by self-drive hire car. All you need is a UK, other national or international driving licence and your passport. Vehicles can be picked up and returned at Ercan Airport to avoid taxi transfer costs, which amount to at least TL650 one-way to Girne. The road network is generally good and is being regularly improved, with an increasing number of dual carriageways between the main towns. Car-hire rates are reasonable, especially off-season. Traffic drives on the left – a hangover from the British administration period. Nearly all cars are now right-hand drive, though you will see occasional left-hand drive vehicles, imported or visiting from Turkey.