Floating in the eastern Mediterranean, sits at a crossroads of three continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia. It isn't quite West, but it isn't East either. There's a Greek side and a Turkish side. It's steeped in ancient myth and history, but it attracts a horde of young, modern tourists every year. It's both beachside resort and mountainous terrain. The mix of influences and clashing identity is part of Cyprus's allure. Of course, you’ll want to spend time sunning and sampling the wine, but there’s so much more to this incredible island nation: ancient cities begging to be explored, untouched natural beauty, and remarkable Cypriot cuisine every step of the way. Check out nine of the best things for travelers looking to have an authentic, exciting experience in Cyprus.
1. Eat as much meze as you can.
Make sure you come to Cyprus hungry. Like the surrounding Greek islands and Balkan nations, Cypriots eat meze, a feast of small dishes served hot or cold. Meals start off with olives, salads, grilled vegetables, breads, and dips, then build to sausage kebab, souvlaki, and whole grilled fish. But the real showstopper is their culinary signature: halloumi. Don’t fill up on the eggplant, fava beans, tabbouleh, taramosalata, or tzatziki without sampling all the cheese you can. Typically made from sheep and goat milk, halloumi is served grilled with a squeeze of lemon. Meze is the kind of meal that brings people together and it’s an important part of the culture in Cyprus. Dishes are meant to be shared, like tapas, and savored, as you connect with the people and nature around you. If you go to a traditional taverna, you’ll choose between meat, fish, or vegetable and the chef will surprise you with the fresh options of the day. There’s nothing better than grazing on an endless supply of Mediterranean food as the sun sets.
2. Channel your inner archaeologist.
Though some tourists are attracted by beautiful beaches, plentiful sunshine, and party scene, Cyprus is a great place for history buffs too. There are several archaeological sites scattered throughout the country, many relating to the cult of Aphrodite. You’ll also find Neolithic dwellings, Venetian palace ruins, old tombs, Byzantine castles, ancient villas, former fortresses, and a ton of Roman mosaic tiles. You’ll want to start in Paphos, which is so culturally significant that it holds UNESCO World Heritage status and was chosen as a 2017 European Capital of Culture. You’ll get a sense of living history as you wander the city’s archaeological park. The site blends naturally into its surroundings, making for a stunning display.
Fun fact: No kings were ever buried at the famed Tombs of the Kings at Paphos Archaeological Park. They got their name from their impressive design.
A Luxury Hotel Pick in Paphos:
3. Walk the line.
To the north, Turkish territory. To the south, the independent republic of Cyprus. Smack in the middle sits Nicosia. It’s the only remaining divided capital. A visit to Nicosia offers a zoomed-in view of the cultural and political differences between these two parts of the country. Ledra Street is the major pedestrian thoroughfare that splits the city in half. It was only reopened for passage in 2008, when communities on both sides of the island decided to be more tolerant. Do some shopping at its markets or eat at one of the restaurants serving traditional Cypriot fare and watch as the diverse and chaotic city unfolds around you.
4. Trek the Troodos.
It may be hard to pull yourself away from the coast’s idyllic beaches, but the enchanting Troodos Mountains are worth the change of scenery. Known as the green heart of Cyprus, the range offers incredible vistas over the mighty pines, rushing rivers, and charming alpine villages all the way to the sea. There’s also a wide array of hiking trails, cycling paths, and camping facilities. The terrain is generally easy to cross, but the peaks do get covered in snow once winter hits. You can even ski if you opt for a Yuletide Cyprus trip. Since the island is so small, you’re never more than an hour away from a breath of fresh, mountain air. The mountains are also home to herds of wild mouflon sheep and nine UNESCO-protected, richly decorated Byzantine churches that date back as far as the 11th century. The exquisite murals will stop you in your mountain-traversing tracks.
5. Scale some sea caves.
The golden sand beaches of Cyprus aren’t just made for sunbathing. The reefs are great for snorkeling, the villages are great for eating fresh seafood, and the sea caves are great for climbing. Head to the idyllic Latsi beach near Latchi if ocean adventures are a priority. The town’s Blue Lagoon sits in a sheltered bay of unusually warm sea water. The fish are friendly, the clear waters and sandy bottom gives your photos a magical turquoise hue, and there are plenty of rocks to explore. RV rides and fishing tours are also available for hire.
An Upscale Hotel Pick in Latchi:
6. Brush up on your ancient mythology.
Cyprus’s mythological significance runs deep. It’s home to the Greek Goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. This made Cyprus a popular Hellenic pilgrimage. The site most visitors are clamoring to see? Petra tou Romiou, or The Rock of Aphrodite, where the goddess was supposedly born. Legend says that you’ll find true love and eternal beauty if you swim around the rock three times. Locals insist that you can see her through the crashing, crystal blue waves if you catch the right moment. Even if you aren’t entrenched with the stories, you’ll be stunned by the pebble beach’s natural beauty. Just be warned: waters are rough and this is not a safe spot for climbing. The Houses of Avion, Theseus, and Dionysus also offer mythological wonder. The wonderfully maintained mosaics within tell ancient stories you just may recognize. Some visitors even say they’ve been a monstrous sea creature off the Avia Napa shores. Since it’s one of the country’s biggest party spots, we suspect their judgment may have been altered.
7. Go chasing waterfalls.
The ocean isn’t the only water attraction Cyprus has to offer. The cascading waters throughout the island would lure even the most literal TLC fans. A popular favorite is the Adonis Baths. According to legend, this is the spot where Aphrodite and the god Adonis would meet. Today, there are statues of several mythological figures, a small museum, and photo gallery. Even if you skip the touristy angle, you’ll want to swim in the pools below the falls and hike the surrounding trails. You should also hit the Millomeris Waterfalls on your visit. They’re less mythologically significant, but at 50 feet, they’re some of the highest waterfalls in Cyprus. The site isn’t managed like the Adonis Baths, but it’s also steep and rocky so visit with caution — and proper footwear. The best way to reach the falls is by leisurely walk from the nearby Platres Church.
8. See a show.
The southern, cliffside city of Kourion was once of the island’s most important. Its history starts before the common era, but most of the city was destroyed by an earthquake in the fourth century. Cypriots have since excavated the Roman and Byzantine ruins and created an official archaeological site. At the center of it all lies the restored Kourion Theatre. It’s still used for open-air theatrical and concert performances, so you could see a show like the Romans did if you time your visit right. Most of the events take place in the summer. The nearby House of Achilles and House of the Gladiators are worth a stop too, especially if you’re craving more mosaic #selfeets.
9. Learn the art of lace making.
Though agriculture, cement, and pharmaceuticals are the biggest industries in Cyprus, it’s the textiles that you’ll want to take home. The wine is delicious and the cheese is incredible, but you can’t wear food. Plus, the history of the country’s lace tells a curious tale. It all centers on the village of Lefkara, where Venetian ladies taught embroidery to the local inhabitants. The methods have been passed down through the generations, from grandmother to mother to daughter, since the 14th century. It was such a famous textile producer that Leonardo da Vinci supposedly paid the town a visit in 1481 to purchase an altar cloth. Even today, you’ll see women creating beautiful patterns from imported Irish linen and French thread outside their shops and houses. Many would love the chance not just to sell their wares, but show you the delicate skills it takes to make it. Lefkara’s narrow streets are also filled with locally smithed silverware. The town’s Lace and Silverware Museum is a great place to learn more.
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