What is it that draws over four million tourists to Cyprus each year? Maybe its sandy beaches and long hot days, or perhaps the nature trails and rock formations? It could be the first-class Cypriot hospitality that the island boasts, or the food and coffee shop culture. For a small island, there’s no need to compromise what you need from an ideal getaway. Cyprus is mainly known as the birthplace of Aphrodite from mythology so it has developed the nickname of ‘The island of love’.
It is also packed full of rich history and culture which is especially felt when you visit any number of the ornate orthodox churches dotted around the island, or if you happen to cross over to the Turkish side at one of the official checkpoints in Nicosia. As well as having the only divided capital city left in the world, they also are famous for their halloumi cheese.
Despite its small scale, each district of Cyprus has something special to offer to travellers who are looking to take something more than a tan away from their holiday. You could get from one side to the other in less than three hours.
Below are some major locations you won’t want to miss when visiting Cyprus.
Paphos is already well-loved by British tourists for its glittering pebble coasts, especially Coral Bay, and is a popular destination for abroad weddings. Famously, Paphos is home to ‘Petra tou Romiou’, which is said to be the birthplace of Aphrodite. However, there is also a huge amount of history and culture that can sometimes be missed. Two significant parts of the Paphos district (Kato Paphos and Kouklia) are a UNESCO world heritage site, with ruins and astonishing mosaics dating back thousands of years. These mosaics are valuable and are stated on the UNESCO site to be ‘extremely rare and (…) considered amongst the finest specimens in the world; they cover the Hellenistic period to the Byzantine period.’ The Akamas peninsula also has a particularly breath-taking nature trail including views of the Mediterranean ocean and a visit to the baths of Aphrodite. If you want to pair history with your holiday, Paphos is the place to be.
Lefkosia (known as ‘Nicosia’ in English) as a city truly reflects the Cypriot way of life. The laid-back lifestyle is represented in the number of coffee shops and bars you will find just strolling down Ledra or Anasagorou street. There is a huge appreciation for local art in the city and many of the Cypriot art shows and theatre performances are available to the public for free or with a small entry fee. If you’re lucky you can catch an art show in the Nimac cultural centre or grab a leaflet to check for live theatre performances. If you prefer to kick back in bars and coffee shops, there are plenty to find around the old town and near Faneromeni church. The versatility of the night scene is expanding in terms of music genres, too. Neverland bar is a great find for rock music lovers. It is something a bit different for Nicosia, so it is likely you’ll find the locals in there. A great variety of beer and live music nights make it an ideal spot for a casual fun night out. For more of a club feel, head to Patio just off Ledra street. The quality of the cocktails is top notch, and It is tastefully decorated with coloured shutters to create a vibrant atmosphere. Nicosia is also the only divided capital left in the world. If you want to cross over between the two sides, you can do so using the official checkpoints and bring your passport along with you.
Cyprus is abundant with shores stunning enough to spoil any beach-lover but the beaches in Protaras must be up there with the best on the island. Protaras offers up shore-hugging national parks right next to sandy coves and stunning turquoise-blue waters that are a cut above the rest for an idyllic beach escape. It’s no surprise that the best snorkelling in Cyprus can be found along the Protaras coast from Fig Tree Bay up to Cape Greco National forest park. The coastline between them is dotted with small sandy coves that each have their own quirks. A local favourite is Green Bay which is one of four bays situated within beautiful rock formations and, though small, always has loungers available. It also has a water sports and snorkelling/scuba facilities hut in case you want to take a break from sunbathing.
Don’t Miss Out On…
Cape Greco National Forest Park
Situated between Ayia Napa and Protaras, this park lines the edge of Cavo Greko and is packed full of unmissable experiences and unique natural creations. You can do the hiking route or take your car or quad bike to do this trail. Kamara tou koraka is perhaps the most well-known of the formations, it is a naturally fashioned bridge which leans into the Mediterranean Sea. Due to erosion, this statue is one of the only ones in the national park that you are not allowed to climb, but it is still worth a stop to see it. For a more hands-on experience, we suggest bringing along your snorkel because just minutes along the hike you can stop off at Agioi Anargyroi sea caves. They are an excuse to bathe in crisp clear waters and explore the caves and the ocean inhabitants below. We recommend ending at the Cavos view point (also known as Cape Greko view point) for the sunset golden hour to fully take in the panoramic cliff top views (plus it’s not bad for a photo opportunity, either).
Eat at Zorbas Bakery
These bakeries are well-loved by Cypriots everywhere and for good reason. They provide a huge range of both sweet and savoury Cypriot delicacies, so it will be easy to find something you fancy. We recommend the Δούκισσα (pronounced thoukissa) which is the Cypriot name for a long chocolate log with pieces of shortbread biscuit inside. It’s very indulgent and hard to resist. Because of the chain’s popularity, Zorbas Bakeries are very easy to find especially in the main cities of Cyprus.
Take a trip to Troodos Mountains
Troodos is the largest mountain range in Cyprus and has huge historical and cultural value to Cyprus. Some locals head up to Troodos in the peak of summer, escaping to cooler climates and the stunning mountainous villages that are nestled in its peaks. If you’re more of an adventure seeker, you may prefer heading there in Spring because Troodos hosts four ski slopes at its highest peak. Alternatively, if you love history, you’ll be able to explore many Byzantine churches in Troodos, most notably Kykkos monastery which is famous for its ornate decorations and religious relics.
Visit the birthplace of Aphrodite
Petra tou Romiou is a rocky beach near Paphos thought to have been the birthplace of Aphrodite in Greek mythology and, because of this, it is a popular tourist destination with many amenities close by. The rocks are all unique in shape, size and colour so they make for a beautiful contrast to the azure blue hues of the ocean and the large impressive rocks. Don’t just head to this coastline for Petra tou Romiou though, the entire coastline is more than worth your time.
If you’re a foodie, you will want to stop off in a village or two to check out the incredible local dishes that are on offer. Many villages have their own specialty depending on where they are based on the island. For example, Athienou is particularly known for its exceptional bread and halloumi, but if you stop by to eat at one of their local tavernas they also have their own staple on the traditional Cypriot Kleftiko dish (slow-cooked lamb). Often these villages are stops between some of the major locations listed above, and the food they prepare is something they have perfected over many years. They’ll serve up generous portions with renowned Cypriot hospitality.
Getting there and when…
One of the best things about Cyprus is the warm weather guarantee. It receives sunshine for more than 300 days during a year. That being said, the best time to visit is just off-peak holiday season.
Many Cypriots living in the UK like to visit between September and October to catch the more bearable but still scorching sun. In this economy, Cyprus can be very pricey during the peak holiday season. Luckily, Hungarian airline ‘WizzAir’ provides economy flights direct from Luton or Stanstead. I can guarantee you’ll have an entirely new experience of Cyprus in Spring. March – June is just as picturesque if you want to catch the lush green hills, snowy mountains in Troodos and beaches all at once.