Explore ancient historical sites, relax on pristine sandy beaches, and hike up pine-scented mountains. Cyprus has a lot to offer for such a small island and Larnaca is the entry point for most visitors. It was first settled by Greek colonists in the 14th century BC and its far-reaching history is evident all around. It’s also less than an hour’s drive from the Cypriot capital, Nicosia, and Ayia Napa, the party capital of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Cyprus has a turbulent history and a beautiful landscape, which the locals continue to enjoy as much as visitors do. Having been repeatedly settled and conquered, the island is rich with culture, and anybody looking for a deeper understanding should head straight to the Cyprus Museum and the Ethnological Museum, both in Nicosia.
Known as Lefkosia to the locals – Nicosia is the world’s only divided capital city, straddling the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot border. There you’ll find many theatres, including the Cyprus National Theatre, and many cultural events hosted in the city’s outdoor spaces.
People and Traditions
Cypriots are a pretty informal bunch by most standards. Expect strangers to initiate conversation quite casually with wildly varying approaches to personal space.
Greek Cypriots are Greek Orthodox while Turkish Cypriots are Sunni Muslim, although the people on both sides hold mostly secular beliefs. The subject of the island’s long-standing division remains highly controversial, so it’s generally a good idea not to bring it up unless you’re prepared for a fierce discussion. However, there are considerable numbers of Cypriot unionists on both sides.
Cyprus enjoys a subtropical climate and some of the warmest winters in the European Mediterranean, particularly in Limassol. Summer lasts from April to November and sees very little rain. In July and August, expect temperatures to repeatedly exceed 30ºC during the daytime.
Enjoying the beautiful beaches and clear Mediterranean waters shouldn’t even need to be mentioned, but Larnaca’s palm-dotted seafront is one of the island’s best. However, if it’s truly exceptional scenery you’re after, head to Cape Greco. Located close to Ayia Napa, the cape is a national park and game reserve surrounded by turquoise sea. There are several hiking trails that visitors can follow, along which they’re likely to see foxes, hares, hedgehogs, lizards, butterflies and multiple bird species. If you believe the rumours, Cape Greco is also home to the friendly Ayia Napa sea monster.
Alternatively, hike the Troodos Mountains or grab some food from Old Nicosia’s open market before heading south to the Athalassa National Forest Park – the perfect picnic spot. Then there’s the west-coast resort city of Paphos, home to the ancient Tombs of the Kings and the Paphos Archaeological Park. It’s also a great place to go scuba diving. All of Cyprus’ cities offer great shopping options but leather goods and jewellery are especially good value.
Larnaca’s historical landmarks include its 14th-century fort, the 18th-century Kamares Aqueduct, and the 9th-century Church of Saint Lazarus, erected over the supposed tomb of the saint famously resurrected by Christ, according to biblical lore. Then there’s the Hala Sultan Tekke, situated on the tranquil shores of Larnaca Salt Lake. Home to the tomb of Muhammad’s wet-nurse, it is one of the holiest shrines in Ottoman Islam.
Nicosia may be a modern city but it retains its 16th-century Venetian walls and can be entered by three grand city gates. West of Larnaca lies the coastal city of Limassol, built between the two ancient cities of Amathus and Kourion, the ruins of which can still be visited. Limassol itself boasts two Medieval castles, old British colonial architecture, the Fassouri Watermania water park and a small but excellent zoo.