Larnaka is a rugged, charming town, with a melancholy and seductive character. The main promenade, lined with tall palm trees, is full of cafés and bars; the old Turkish quarter is a maze of quiet streets, small whitewashed houses and ceramics studios; the streets around the old market area have shops with the oldest crafts in Cyprus. Small niches hide ancient men making gigantic church candles. Peep into the dark, shady antique shops, see the ironmongers and pitta-bread makers at work. Nearby, on the city centre’s main street, young Larnaka girls get their outfits from chain stores like Zara or Top Shop. So, as the cliché goes, the old and the new meet in Larnaka. But it might be fairer to say that the new is trickling into this sleepy town, and for the most part, it fits in around the old.
Larnaka is also home to Cyprus’ largest community of foreigners. Many Lebanese Christians took refuge here during that country’s troubles in the 1980s and never went home. In the past, foreign governments tended to use Larnaka as a base for their consulates in preference to the inland and less easily accessible capital of Lefkosia (North Nicosia). Before 1974, the city was also home to a large Turkish Cypriot population that, following the division of the island by their mainland compatriots, was obliged to flee to the North.
Many visitors to this sunny island fly straight to Larnaka. This is the case now more than ever, with visitors to the North preferring to fly here and cross into the North by taxi.