The best things to see and do in Cyprus

The beautiful island of Cyprus is home to a wide range of festivals, historic sites and wonderful walking routes.

By Andy Stevens

Published 6 May 2024

Cyprus has always been major strategic crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean throughout its long, changing - and at times troubled - history.

This much-loved island nation and former British colony combines a wealth of inspiring historical sites dating back to deep antiquity with a lasting sense of place for its own culture, plus immense natural beauty from mountains and forests to lakes and beaches.

Cypriots don't shy away from putting on a bit of a festival. And there are plenty of excuses for fun and celebration throughout the year on this sunny island that you can join in, too, if you time your visits right.

Significant saints days and other religious events are commemorated with gusto on the island. But other fine aspects of the culture, such as food and drink, get their days in the Cypriot sun as well.

A great time is guaranteed every late August when people gather together in Limassol's municipal gardens for a celebration of all things wine and food. The festival has been a feature of Limassol life since the early 1960s, and it marks the onset of the September grape harvest on Cyprus.

With local wine flowing, tempting Cypriot culinary specialities on offer and rumbustious traditional music and dance, fun times are right there on tap.

The castle square in Paphos comes alive with the magic of opera every September when the city hosts its Aphrodite Festival. Lovers of the opera genre should make a note in their diaries for the first weekend in September, when operatic masterpieces are performed against a spectacular medieval backdrop. Previous great works have included Mozart's Don Giovanni , Carmen by Bizet, and Verdi's La Traviata.

Way up in the Marathasa Valley in Cyprus' Troodos Mountains stands the palatial Kykkos Monastery. Yes, palatial. If your general image of monasteries is that of an austere and ascetic affair where monks go around doing their quiet good works, then Kykkos bucks the trend. This is a bit of serious real estate, with lavish styling and clearly no expense spared. But Grand Designs spiel aside, the Greek Orthodox splendour of Kykkos always excites and delights visitors, who are capivated not just by its Byzantine beauty, but by the pastoral loveliness of its setting.

Legend has it that the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, emerged from the seas off Paphos in a dramatic swash of waves and foam, to leave in her wake the landmark which is now known as Aphrodite's Rock. Due to the lack of any conflicting evidence, we are happy enough to believe this tale.

Stretch the legend a little further and it's claimed that Aphrodite spent her time as a mere mortal in what we now know as Paphos. Either way, the mythical goddess' influence is everywhere, and a source of pride for Paphos and Cyprus as a whole.

Furthermore, people flock from far and wide for a glimpse of Aphrodite's Rock, hoping perhaps this spectacular geological outcrop might give them a little bit of whatever the goddess of love was taking!

Vying with Kykkos in their claim for magnificence - and doing very well at that - in the Troodos Mountains are its famous ten painted Byzantine churches. Exquisite decorations and iconography date as far back as the 11th century, from the humbler rural churches to the grander flourishes of the monastery of St John Lampadistis. And these precious and genuinely unique places of worship from the days of Byzantine rule on Cyprus have garnered each one of them Unesco world heritage status.

Traditional crafts are something to treasure and, whenever possible, keep alive for future generations.

A strong sense of such things importantly still ticks along in certain traditional villages on Cyprus.

Notable among these is the village of Lefkara, where the art of lacemaking has been practiced, perfected and passed down since the 14th century between generations of grandmothers, mothers and daughters.

This intricate and delicate skill still resonates in Lefkara with stylings picked up from techniques of the 15th century Venetians, Cyprus' then rulers, plus earlier artistic patterns popular with ancient Greeks and Byzantines.

As well as lacemaking, craftsmanship of other kinds adhering to traditional methods can still be seen in many of Cyprus' gentle, easygoing traditional villages, including rugs and silverware. Many of the villages of the Cypriot interior are themselves ornate little works of art, colourful dots of rural life as equally worthy of preserving as the time-honed artisan specialisms of their residents.

Many visitors to Cyprus will know Larnaca for its hotels and beaches, attractive palm tree-lined waterfront and... the airport.

Dig deeper, though, and you'll find so much more to recommend Cyprus' popular third city.

Larnaca is home to an ecologically important salt lake nature reserve, which serves as a welcome pit-stop for all manner of migratory birds on their journey south.

Between November and March, you'll see the stirring sight of thousands of flamingos and wild ducks stopping off for a refuel. There are also two sites of great religious significance you should witness while in Larnaca: the Hala Sultan Tekkesi mosque (alongside the salt lake), and the city's 10th century church of St Lazarus.

In the church crypt you can see the tomb of St Lazarus, while the church as a whole has numerous ornate artefacts to behold, plus archaeological finds in what is one of Cyprus' most important buildings from the Byzantine era.

Those of you who love to get out and about for a bit of a rousing yomp on your holidays will have picked the right place with Cyprus.

Keen walkers, from those who just want a gentle scenic stroll to those eager for something more challenging (and all points in between) are well served in Cyprus.

Cyprus' second city and biggest resort, Limassol, nowadays has a long coastal path starting at its castle, which is perfect for a promenade at your own pace.

But it is on designated walking routes, particularly out on the Cypriot coast and in the spectacular mountains and countryside, that you'll have the most stimulating communion with this island nation's natural beauty.

One such coastal walk takes in the unspoilt natural conservation area of Cyprus' south-east coast, including sea caves, pathways peppered with pine trees, panoramic views from clifftops and concluding at Konnos beach.

Another walking route will guide you through the atmospheric Troodos National Forest and its lush indigenous plant life, past the Kyros Potamos stream, with the goal at the end being the stirring sight of the Kalidonia Falls.

Or if your ante is well and truly upped, and challenging gradients are what you look for in a long walk, a mountain trail from Foinkaria village to see the magnificent Germasogeia Dam might be just what your walking boots were made for.

In the Kyrenia mountain range, clinging to a hilltop you'll find the inspiring village of Bellapais. And living up to its name, a place of great beauty and peace it is, too.

British writer Lawrence Durrell put Bellapais on the literary map in the 1950s thanks to his novel, Bitter Lemons of Cyprus. A place more devoid of bitterness is hard to imagine.

Bellapais village square is where the so-called Tree of Idleness from the book resides, as well it might. Beneath this shady tree is where the novelist reputedly whiled away the forgiving hours, sipping coffee and busily doing nothing.

Two trees in the village square apparently lay claim to the idle title. But you know, no worries...we think we'll just let that one slide.

Bellapais isn't the type of place where people fret if you're, ahem, barking up the wrong tree. Once you've finished said coffee in the square, a visit to Bellapais' wonderful abbey is a must on your busy itinerary. This dramatic 13th century abbey, complete with cloisters, is of French gothic provenance, and offers amazing views of Kyrenia and the Mediterranean shimmering in the distance.

Paphos Town in Cyprus is a UNESCO world heritage site in itself, symbolising the uniqueness and importance of its heritage places and spaces from antiquity, plus treasures including palaces, theatres, forts, mosaics and more.

If you're going to visit just one site in Paphos during your stay, make that the Tombs of the Kings, the famous necropolis within the town's archaeological park.

These vast underground tombs have their roots in Roman and Hellenistic times, and they remain a thought-provoking place certain to inspire awe among all who visit. Historians claim the tombs are likely to have been the final resting places of local aristocrats and officials, and not actually royalty. The architectural style of the burial chambers echo those unearthed in Alexandria, Egypt, hinting at fascinating cross-cultural connections.

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