In a far-flung corner of the European Union, the island state of Cyprus boasts a singular culture, breathtaking buildings and stunning scenery. Geographically speaking, the country belongs more to the Middle East than Europe, and this location continues to shape culture and politics on the island.
The southern portion of the country remains Greek-influenced, while Turkey claims that the northern part of the island is an independent state under the influence of the Turkish government. This means that, although the entire country is part of the European Union, EU law can only be guaranteed in the southern areas. For some time now, however, it has been possible to travel from the south of Cyprus to the north without any problems. Despite the complicated political situation, Cyprus is an inviting and unique holiday destination. Come and explore the island with us!
Greek Influence and Southern Cyprus
One of the most beautiful destinations for a holiday in Cyprus is Paphos, known as the shimmering jewel of the island. The city nestles along the cobalt blue waters of the Mediterranean in the breezy southwest of the island. Kato Paphos is the pretty and visitor-friendly centre of the city. It is complete with esplanades shaded by palm trees and seafood restaurants. The colourful fishing boats at the harbour add to the Greek flair.
Paphos certainly has no shortage of sights. From the stone archways of the Byzantine castle Saranta Kolones to the medieval walls of the Paphos Fortress, we definitely recommend history buffs put Paphos high on your itinerary. The architectural highlight of the city is the House of Dionysus. Home to an incredible collection of preserved mosaic floors, depicting scenes from Greek mythology, Dionysus is part of the larger archaeological site of ancient Paphos. Just two kilometres north of Paphos harbour, you can find an enchanting World Heritage Site. Here at the Royal Tombs, you can visit a breathtaking underground monument carved out of solid rock. The name is somewhat misleading, as kings were not buried here, but high officials. Nevertheless, the tombs are true masterpieces of the 4th century BCE stonemasons and attract visitors from all over the world.
After time spent admiring wonders of the ancient world, the glittering beaches at Coral Bay and Blue Lagoon are the icing on the Paphos cake.
Exuding a relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere and authentic Cypriot character, Pissouri will stun you with its petite tavernas and rustic whitewashed houses. Nestled halfway between Limassol and Paphos, this terracotta-coloured village remains largely untouched by mass tourism. Local farmers and wine producers make up the population here. The town is worth a visit, particularly for its half gravel, half sand beach that curves under the dramatic cliffs.
For more of a holiday vibe combined with cultural sights and modern Cypriot energy, get yourself down to Limassol. Wander through the low-rise bungalows of the charming old town and the lively seafront promenade. Limassol is home to the busiest port in the entire Eastern Mediterranean, so you are always guaranteed to find something exciting going on. The palm-dotted gardens of Akti Olympion Park and the grandiose Byzantine castle are not to be missed!
The Ancient Site of Kourion
Close to Limassol, you’ll find the ancient site of Kourion, one of the country’s most beautiful ancient sites if you ask us! This enchanting place is perched atop a cliff and offers you a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape as well as the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. Cultural highlights include the Byzantine basilica, the theatre and the House of Eustolios, the latter containing gorgeous, well-preserved mosaics.
Just a stone’s throw from Limassol, you’ll find the magnificent Kolossi Castle. This ancient fortress is a reminder of Cyprus’ strategical importance to Europeans during the Crusades to the Holy Land. Over the course of its long history, the stronghold was owned by the Knights of St. John and later taken by the Knights Templar. Nowadays, visitors enjoy the stunning views and the local sweet wine, Commandaria.
The Troodos Massif
The Troodos Massif in the southwest of the island is packed with pretty, sundrenched villages, home to traditional stone houses and quaint cobbled streets. This hill region is best reached from Limassol or Nicosia. However, we would recommend saving yourself the drive and staying in one of the many small boutique hotels in the picturesque villages. In these mountain villages, you’ll be also able to admire some of the most amazing churches and monasteries in Cyprus. Housing vivid frescoes and Middle Age murals, these churches are so historically important that nine of them have even been granten World Heritage status by UNESCO. The Church of St. Michael the Archangelin the small village of Pedoulas should be at the top of your list.
Nicosia, the Once-Divided City
Nicosia, the Cypriot capital, was the scene of many turbulent political upheavals over the last century. Since then, the city is slowly but surely regaining its balance. The old divisions can still be seen pretty clearly. On the Greek side, you’ll find a romantic old town with Venetian-style palazzi and sun-kissed squares. In addition, the labyrinth of windings alleys is home to numerous elegant bars and cosy cafés. In the north of the city, on the other hand, you’ll find the Turkish quarters. This area is characterised by busy Ottoman bazaars and Byzantine houses. The landmark of this corner of Nicosia is the Selimiye Mosque, whose wonderful minarets you can see from almost every corner of the city.
The two sides of the city are connected by Ledra Street, which was reopened not too long ago. This lively strip not only leads from the Greek south to the Turkish north, but is also home to numerous shops, bars and bistros. Precisely because the street connects a city once completely split in two, it is something of a one-of-a-kind landmark for modern Nicosia.
If you want to learn more about the history of the island, visit the Cyprus Museum. The superbly curated exhibitions take you on a journey from the Neolithic to the Ottoman era. Our highlight is the epic collection of terracotta statues dating back to the 7th century BCE.
Turkish Influence and Northern Cyprus
The Ruins of Ancient Salamis
Just a day trip away from Nicosia, you’ll find ancient Salamis. This huge archaeological site is home to a great number of marble ruins and is one of the most important historical sites on the island. Here you will find large, headless Hellenistic statues. Sadly, these statues were decapitated by Christian missionaries. You can also visit the immense ruins of two Byzantine churches amid fields of wild fennel.
St. Hilarion Castle
Northern Cyprus has three major castle ruins, but St Hilarion is by far the best preserved. This ancient Crusader bastion is home to many myths and legends. According to local lore, the castle was built by a fairy queen who enchanted the local shepherds on the surrounding slopes.
The castle’s extensive ramparts and chambers wind their way up the mountain. A path leads through the lower castle buildings with soldiers’ barracks and stables, before leading to the remains of the towers, royal chambers, and chapels. If you climb all the way to the top, you can also enjoy the phenomenal view over the hills and down to the coastal plain. The castle is definitely a hidden gem for all intrepid explorers!
Possibly the most beautiful of all Cypriot regions is the lonely and rugged Karpas Peninsula. Located in the little-visited north-east of the country, the peninsula is the perfect starting point for many walks. Here you can discover many charming villages and hidden historical sites.
Of course, you can also go on some interesting day trips around the peninsula. For example, visiting the mosaics of Agia Triada in the village of Sipahi or exploring the ruins of the church of Agios Filon make for exciting days out. As public transport is almost non-existent in this area, we recommend hiring a car to do your exploring.
Needless to say: Cyprus is a great destination for your next trip. Its blend of European and Asian culture is a serious pull factor and sets it apart from many other European countries.
Cyprus’ South is greatly influenced by Greek culture, and the most popular cities you can visit here are Paphos and Limassol. You can also visit the ancient site of Kourion and the castle of Kolossi. If you like hiking, you could also consider spending some time in the Troodos Massif. The country’s capital, Nicosia, represents the division of the island like nowhere else. Today, it is thankfully much more relaxed, and you can travel between the two sides without any problems. The northern, Turkish part of Cyprus is also a splendid holiday destination. The exotic landscape is simply breathtaking. Adventurers will love exploring the Karpas peninsula, the ruins of the ancient city of Salamis and the castle of St. Hilarion.
For those seeking ancient wonders and shimmering seas, Cyprus is the ideal holiday destination. We are sure it’ll gain a special place in your heart, just as it did in ours. Happy travelling!