Essential Guide to Crossing the Green Line in Cyprus by a Local

  • Author’s Note: I live about 12 km from the Green Line on the Greek Cypriot side of the island, and like all Cypriots who live in and around Nicosia, I have crossed the Green Line dozens of times.

Cyprus has been divided by the Green Line since 1974, making it into two separate entities: the Greek Cypriot-controlled Republic of Cyprus and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

However, if you want to visit both parts of Cyprus, there are some essential practicalities and legalities to remember. But don’t worry since below you can find everything you need to know to effortlessly cross the Green Line (and back again!)

Need to Know:

  • You cannot cross between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus without being processed at both sides of the international border that runs through the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia.
  • Perhaps most importantly, you cannot cross from Northern Cyprus into Cyprus as you will be deemed to have entered Cyprus illegally. You can, however, cross from Cyprus into Northern Cyprus on foot.

What is the Green Line in Cyprus?

Before we delve into the know-how of crossing the Green Line and the border between the two parts of Cyprus, you need to understand the history of the Green Line, what is it, and how it got its name.

Berlin Wall Bar in front of the border between Nicosia and North Nicosia, Cyprus
Berlin Wall Bar in front of the border between Nicosia and North Nicosia, Cyprus

Why is it called the Green Line?

Cyprus gained its independence from the British in 1960 after a 5-year war. But even after peace was restored, inter-communal fighting between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots began due to disagreements over political and legal issues.

The Green Line in Cyprus is the UN Buffer Zone
The Green Line in Cyprus is the UN Buffer Zone

So, the British, who even today continue to maintain a presence on the island of Cyprus (the UK Sovereign Base Areas in the map above), created the Green Line as a barrier between the two communities.

Major General Peter Young drew a line on the map with a green pencil, separating the island into northern and southern regions and creating the Green Line.

The United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus

Unfortunately, the conflict between the communities eventually led to the Turkish invasion on the 20th of July in 1974.

Since then, Cyprus has been divided by the Green Line, which expanded and is now separating the whole island into the Republic of Cyprus and the occupied northern part, the self-declared Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The UN Buffer Zone, Cyprus
The UN Buffer Zone, Cyprus

The Green Line is now a UN Buffer Zone, stretching over 180 km across the island. It crosses Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, making it the only divided capital in the world and many other parts of the island.

In Nicosia, the buffer zone is only a few meters wide, but in many other areas, it is a few kilometers wide, enclosing several villages within the Green Line.

Generally, the Buffer Zone remains untouched by time and human activity. For instance, at certain remnants of old villages, the shops, and other buildings are taken over by nature.

That’s why the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus strives to preserve both the native flora and fauna and historical and cultural attractions within the Green Line.

Life within the Green Line

Although the Green Line is considered a “dead zone,” as it is prohibited for people to enter freely, there are Civil Use Areas where people can live and work.

Medieval Pyla Tower, UN Buffer Zone, Cyprus
Medieval Pyla Tower, UN Buffer Zone, Cyprus

One of these areas is Pyla, a village located on the east side of the Green Line, and in Larnaca district, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots live side-by-side.

Pyla is governed by the Republic of Cyprus, but policed by the UN. It has become a popular resort town with a branch of the University of Central Lancashire there.

So, visiting Pyla allows you to experience the Buffer Zone in an alternative way.

The Green Line in Old Town Nicosia

As the Green Line crosses Nicosia, it makes Nicosia the only divided capital city in the world. Specifically, it passes through Nicosia’s old town within the medieval Venetian walls and traces the path of Ermou Street, which was once the main shopping street of the city.

North Nicosia streets, Cyprus
North Nicosia streets, Cyprus

So, today, while walking along Nicosia’s narrow streets within the Old Town, you can see reminders of the war, abandoned homes, shops, and cars and get a glimpse of Nicosia’s past through the barbed wire and walls separating the northern and southern parts of the city.

Crossing the Green Line

After decades of complete separation of the two parts of the island, in 2003, the Green Line, which became the de facto border of the unrecognized Republic of the Turkish Northern Cyprus, loosened up, and both locals and visitors could now explore both parts of the island.

Border Control, Green Line, Nicosia, Cyprus
Border Control, Green Line, Nicosia, Cyprus

However, there are some regulations and practicalities you’ll need to understand before crossing the border.

First of all, it is essential to remember that the northern part of Cyprus is a country only recognized by Turkey, making it an illegal nation in the eyes of Cypriots especially.

Thus, if you enter Cyprus through any airport or port in the occupied area of Northern Cyprus, you will have legal issues.

If you are not a European Union citizen, it is not possible to cross the border from the north part to the south part since to enter the Republic of Cyprus, you’ll need a valid stamp on your passport, something that the Turkish side does not issue.

However, if you plan to visit the north from the south part, you can easily cross from any checkpoint on the Green Line with a valid passport and visa for Cyrus or ID if you’re an EU citizen.

Kyrenia castle and old harbor, Northern Cyprus
Kyrenia Castle and Old Harbor, Northern Cyprus

With the valid documents, you’ll just need to fill in some paperwork so that the passport agent can enter your information into the system, and then you’re off to explore the north part of the island.

But don’t lose your papers, as they’ll be needed on your return too.

Additionally, if you plan to drive to the north part, you must have proof of insurance for Northern Cyprus. Therefore, if you’re renting a car, be sure to let the agency know that you’ll visit the north in advance.

I haven’t found any travel agencies that will allow me to take a car from Cyprus to Northern Cyprus, but it is easy to have a travel agency have a car ready for you on the Turkish side.

What are the main checkpoints across the Green Line

There are several checkpoints throughout the island, but the most popular among travelers are Ledra Street and Ledra Palace.

United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus

Ledra Palace is on the west side of Nicosia, just outside of the walls, and is the oldest crossing between the two parts of Cyprus.

It is mainly a pedestrian crossing point, as only diplomatic vehicles can pass from this checkpoint.

Buyuk Han, North Nicosia, Cyprus
Buyuk Han, North Nicosia, Cyprus

Ledra Street checkpoint is, in fact, one of the newest, but it has become the most central and popular on the entire island.

Located on the main shopping pedestrian street in old Nicosia, it has become an excellent point to explore the two parts of the capital city and discover beautiful monuments, such as the Agia Sofia church that is now known as Selimiye Mosque and the Buyuk Han.

Other crossing points include Agios Dometios, the major road and pedestrian crossing in Nicosia, Dhekelia in the British Eastern Sovereign Base area, and Astromeritis in the western part of Cyprus, near Morphou.

Final thoughts

Crossing the buffer zone or Green Line between the two parts of the island of Cyprus might seem complicated or even scary.

Ledra Street, Nicosia, Cyprus
Ledra Street, Nicosia, Cyprus

However, with this guide into the history, regulations, and challenges of crossing this politically charged border, you’ll surely cross effortlessly.

Simply remember to respect the regulations as an individual, and just as we locals, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, try to maintain peace and unity, as a traveler, contribute to the ongoing efforts for peace through understanding the meaning behind this “Green Line.”