Nicosia (Lefkosia) is not just about strolling through the intriguing old alleys that wind through the old town. The Cypriot capital also has nearly a dozen museums that are well worth your time, even beyond the refuge they offer from the midday summer sun.
Learn about the life of the man who was the most powerful on the island until he lost his mind, savor the vast array of Cypriot art and archeology across millennia, and follow the twists and turns and drama of local history. Plus, get up close to architectural treasures dating back to the 12th century BCE.
See European art at the AG Leventis gallery
Three collections featuring European paintings and sculptures from the 16th to the 20th century are the highlights of this museum located just outside Nicosia’s Old Town. The Parisian collection features masters such as Dufy, Signac, Monet and Renoir, while the Greek collection includes important works by Greek artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, from Kriezis and Halepas to Tsarouchis and Tetsis. The highlight of the Cypriot collection is a monumental painting 17 m long, The world of Cyprus, by the famous Cypriot artist Adamantios Diamantis.
The museum is housed in a striking modern building. There are large spaces for temporary exhibitions and regular free tours of the curatorial-run galleries.
Take an archaeological dive at the Cyprus Museum
Just outside the old town walls, this fabulous museum houses the island’s largest collection of archaeological finds, as well as the largest collection of Cypriot antiquities in the world. Highlights begin in the Neolithic era, 9000 BCE, and continue to include a statue of the horned god from the 12th century BCE – believed to be the forerunner of classical Greek statuary – from the village of Enkomi. Other riches include the excavation of the Royal Tomb of Salamis, including a huge intricately decorated bronze pot and an ornate ivory and glass bed frame. Hall 4 features a remarkable exhibition of 2,000 terracotta statues and votive figurines, dating from the 7th and 6th centuries BC.
Other highlights include three limestone lions and two sphinxes, found south of Nicosia in the necropolis of Tamassos. Also look for the famous statue of Aphrodite of Soli, widely reproduced as the “goddess of Cyprus” on tourist posters. A huge bronze statue of Emperor Septimius Severus is the magnificent main exhibit in Hall 6.
To make sense of all this splendor, we highly recommend the free 90-minute tours organized by the Cyprus Tourism Organization every Wednesday at 4 p.m. and Tuesdays and Fridays at 10 a.m. and noon, starting at the museum entrance .
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Be modern at the Nicosia Municipal Arts Center
Known as NiMAC, this contemporary art museum has turned the focus of its distinctive location from kilowatts to creative power. The post-industrial setting in a former power station is impressive, with airy sloping ceilings and quirky amenities that blend well with the well-curated exhibits. The permanent collection includes paintings, photographs, videos, sculptures and other works from the famous Dimitris Pierides Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, Greece. The exhibitions change regularly and often focus on topical political and cultural themes.
The hotel’s restaurant, Old Powerhouse, has outdoor seating in the center’s pretty, shaded courtyard. It serves sophisticated Cypriot cuisine and is an ideal stopover for a break or lunch.
Explore the history of Cypriot art at CVAR
The collection of the Center for Visual Arts and Research presents the history of Cyprus. Galleries of paintings and other works of art depict Cyprus as seen by visitors through the ages, with works spanning centuries from the 1400s to the mid-20th century. Exhibits of remarkable photographs, books, artifacts and documents from the island’s colonial period plunge into the era of British rule. A library contains 10,000 books on Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Take a break from your tour – and take in views of the Old Town – at the rooftop cafe, Balthazar. It’s a good place to rest with a coffee after strolling through the galleries.
Focus on traditional arts and crafts at the Folk Art Museum
The Folk Art Museum contains the largest collection of folk art and ethnography in the Republic. The Gothic building dates from the 15th century and was used as the Archbishop’s Palace until it was replaced in the 1960s by the Modern Palace on the other side of the square. With its serene garden and inviting walkways, the historic building is worth a visit before you even enter.
The rooms contain exquisite examples of embroidery and lace, costume, pottery, ironwork, basketry, folk painting, calabashes and carved woodwork, the latter including intricately carved wooden dowry chests. The gift shop sells well-made local crafts.
Discover the history of Nicosia at the Municipal Museum of Leventis
Navigate Nicosia’s rich and dramatic history at this neoclassical mansion, where galleries surround a courtyard. The permanent collection features intriguing ceramic pieces from the Bronze Age to medieval times and maps dating back to the 16th century. It also shows photos and memorabilia from the turn of the 20th century, through the independence of Cyprus, then the division, and much more since. Well-written information panels contextualize the exhibits.
Discover ancient treasures at the George and Nefeli Giabra Pierides Collection Museum
Part of the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation, this beautifully preserved collection contains over 600 ceramic treasures from the Bronze Age to the 16th century. Highlights include ancient and extraordinary Mycenaean pottery dating back to the period between the 16th and 11th centuries BCE.
Elsewhere in the building, the small Cypriot Currency History Museum is more interesting than expected, thanks to the attractive information panels. And don’t miss a fascinating collection of Cypriot maps, which show the island and its features as depicted from the 16th to the 20th century.
Absorb the Ottoman style at Hatzigeorgakis Kornesios house
The ancient abode of Kornesios, who was known as the Great Dragomaniac of Cyprus, shows what a mere performer (or dragoman) can accomplish with a little moxie: through tax dodging and wise investments, Kornesios amassed enormous wealth and became the most powerful man in Cyprus. (But even power has its limits – jealous rivals had it beheaded in Constantinople in 1809.)
Kornesios owned this impressive mansion from 1779 to 1809, and it is a fascinating place to lose yourself in its life and times. Some rooms are furnished in a typical Ottoman style, while others feature Ottoman antiques and memorabilia. The courtyard on the ground floor and the vaulted passages are striking.
Discover Byzantine art at the Archbishop Makarios III Foundation – Byzantine Art Museum and Gallery
The over 300 icons and frescoes dating from the 9th to 19th centuries in this collection will challenge any preconception about Byzantine art – there is a much wider range of expression than the iconic stoic styles you might expect. Highlights include many beautiful works of art from churches now located in northern Cyprus which were seized after the Turkish invasion of 1974. It took years of legal battles to get them to come here. Don’t miss the frescoed dome of St Eufemianus and the elaborate 6th-century mosaic fragments from the Panagia Kanakaria, a small monastery in the village of Boltash in northern Cyprus.
Look for the icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary (12th century) from the Church of the Virgin Mary of Arakas in Lagoudera, and the Resurrection (13th century) from the Church of Saint John Lambadistis Monastery in Kalopanayiotis. Many icons from the Venetian era bear witness to the influence of the Italian Renaissance.
Nicosia is on our Best of Travel 2022 list. For more stories from some of the world’s most exciting destinations Click here.
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