North Cyprus is a year-round holiday destination, but unless you are a fan of extreme summer heat or cool winters, spring and autumn are the best times to visit. In recent years, the increasing numbers of visitors in these ‘shoulder seasons’ have ensured that prices remain almost as high as in summer. From late February until late April the island comes alive with thousands of colourful flowers, and in March and April the air is infused with the scent of citrus blossom. Rain is virtually unheard of between June and mid-September, with the midsummer months of July and August sending the mercury soaring, sometimes pushing towards 45°C.
The rainy season generally lasts from November until February, although occasional showery days do occur in October and even more so in March. December and January are the wettest months, while January and February are the coldest. April and May can yield terrific rainstorms, but you never have to wait for more than a day or two before brilliant sunshine breaks out again. If you are considering a winter visit, bear in mind that some hotels and visitor-orientated services may be closed from October to March. This is also the favoured season for restoration work on historic buildings.
North Cyprus enjoys hot, dry summers that last from June to September. Visitors can expect more than ten hours of sunshine daily, and virtually no rain, during these months. The air is humid between June and October, particularly so in July and August. By contrast, winter can be wet, particularly in December and January: annual rainfall is around 45cm. Rivers that fill up during the wet months will be dry throughout the summer, when reservoirs lie empty. January and February are particularly cold. Snow can fall on the higher parts of the Kyrenia Mountains, but very rarely lower down.
Festivals and public holidays
North Cyprus is well provided for in terms of festivals, and while you won’t find anything on the scale of Rio at carnival time, a visit to one or more of the events – taking place largely between March and December – will enrich your visit to the area and give you a better understanding of North Cypriot life and traditions.
The tourist board publishes a brochure of events each year, which you can obtain from any of the tourist information offices. It lists only the months in which the festivals occur, not exact dates, as many of them are dependent on the flowering or ripening of flowers or fruit and they can therefore only be finalised a few weeks in advance. Nevertheless, it is worth enquiring as to what is coming up, perhaps as soon as you arrive in North Cyprus. Some of the better-known events are described below.
Tulip festivals are held in both Tepebaşı and Avtepe in March, to coincide with the flowering of the Tulipa cypria, the dark crimson flower endemic to Cyprus. Although the flower is ostensibly the main event, it provides the two villages with an excuse for a bit of music and dancing, stalls serving traditional delicacies and handicrafts, and a few speeches by visiting dignitaries. The tulips themselves are protected, and to see them you’ll have to wander through some of the neighbouring fields. The sight of a small crowd of local people engaging in this ‘tulip hunt’ is in itself a novelty. A festival celebrating the orchid is held on the last weekend of March in the village of Hisarköy.
Esentepe holds a lively apricot festival, usually during the last week of May and first week of June. It’s a great chance to see colourful costumes and dancing, and to listen to traditional music late into the night. And to eat apricots, of course.
Also in May and June are the International Bellapais Music Festival, which showcases performances in the spectacular setting of the abbey, and the walnut festival in Lefke.
The Girne area celebrates its olive festival in October. It’s held in the little village of Zeytinlik, a few kilometres to the southwest of town, and lasts for nearly a week. It features all types of music from teen orchestras through to Turkish pop, with a dash of folk and Latin on the way. As well as the music, there are folk dance displays, darts and table tennis tournaments, free nibbles, plays, processions, olive branch burning and basketball competitions. And, of course, a chance to taste and purchase olives and olive oil.
Güzelyurt has an orange festival in June and there are folk dancing festivals, usually in July, in İskele, Lefkoşa and Gönyeli, while Mehmetçik hosts its grape festival in August.
Further east, the small village of Büyükkonuk justifies its status as North Cyprus’s first eco-village with two lively ‘Eco-day’ festivals, one in May and one in October. A day packed with folk dancing, music and speeches, as well as demonstrations of how to make baskets, olive bread, straw toys and headscarves, together with broom-tying, this is a true village festival that makes for an enriching experience. Up to 100 stalls now participate. Canadian Lois Çemal is one of the main movers behind the festivals and will be happy to advise of the festival dates.
The celebrated International North Cyprus Music Festival takes place in September/October, spread between Girne, Bellapais and Gazimağusa, with mainly classical music.
While many of the festivals are fairly recent in origin, they are often promoting and keeping alive age-old skills and traditions. Perhaps due to the scant information available from the tourist offices, foreign attendees are scarce, though happily increasing, but the locals will welcome you if you make the effort to attend.