There's a great deal packed onto the small island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. It's most popular for its deep blue Mediterranean waters, seasideresorts, and silver beaches. In addition, it's riddled with relics of ancient history: beehive huts of primitive peoples, classical Greek and Roman ruins, and everything in between.
The charms of Cyprus are many and varied. For a start, the weather is sunny and dry for most of the year and the encircling sea is blue, clear, and enticing. There are modern luxury hotels in the coastal resort towns, historic restored city precincts to explore, taverns, and nightlife aplenty.
The country has remote and picturesque mountain villages and monasteries, beautiful churches, Crusader castles, and fascinating museums. The local people are extremely welcoming of tourists, happy to share their innate love of life and camaraderie.
In Cyprus, it's possible to mingle with the crowds or seek isolation off the beaten track, even in peak holiday season. For this reason, the island is also a favoured destination for honeymooners. It has the reputation for being where Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, is said to have risen from the sea.
While the fascinating history of Cyprus is worth exploring, many tourists come to enjoy the country's beautiful beaches and resorts. Cyprus is home to 49 Blue Flag beaches, which offer fun in the sun that includes snorkelling and scuba diving, waterskiing, quad biking, and windsurfing. The top beaches have excellent facilities, with restaurants and bars, hotels, and other amenities within easy reach of those on the shore.
Steeped in ancient culture, it's no wonder Cyprus offers some of the most exciting and fascinating sightseeing opportunities in Europe. Highlights include a visit to the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia to view artefacts dating back over 8,500 years, as well as exploring the site of the first discovered Neolithic ruins of Choirokoitia, just north of Larnaca.
Tourists can also marvel at the striking mosaic floors in Paphos, dating from the third century AD, before visiting the mystical catacombs of Agia Solomoni Church, where visitors are greeted by a pistachio tree laden with pieces of cloth.
Another favourite for visitors is taking a romantic excursion from Paphos to visit the natural grotto on the Akamas Peninsula near Polis, 30 miles (48km) north of Paphos. Legend has it that the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, used to take her baths in the waters.
The public transport system in Cyprus is reliable enough to get to most major cities. However, one of the best ways to get a real feel for the country and to explore everything it has to offer is to hire a car or moped and take a leisurely tour round Cyprus.
Kition was an ancient city-state on the southern coast of Cyprus in today's Larnaca. Some of the ruins can still be seen, featuring the remains of five temples dating back to the 13th century BC. Of particular interest is the Phoenician Temple of Astarte, which was built on the ruins of an earlier Bronze Age temple. The lower part of the northern city walls are also still visible, built of huge stones resembling Mycenaean cyclops. Residents in Larnaca are still finding artefacts all over the city, and a number of building projects have been abandoned due to fresh discoveries.
The 9th-century Church of Saint Lazarus stands in Larnaca as an important religious institution on Cyprus. Lazarus is believed to have lived at ancient Kition for 30 years after his resurrection by Jesus Christ, and was ordained the Bishop of Kition by Saints Barnabas and Mark. The church was built by the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI above what was believed to be the empty grave of Saint Lazarus. Subsequently, there are those who believe his final resting place to be in Marseilles, France. Eight days before the annual Greek Orthodox Easter, the Baroque wood-carved icon of the saint is carried in a procession through the streets of the town.
This fascinating and well-stocked museum is housed in the upper level of the Larnaca Castle on the city's seafront. The castle itself is the main attraction, built in 1625 by the Turks to defend the city from invasion. There is still a Turkish inscription above the doorway. Later it was used as a prison during the early years of British rule. One of the most popular attractions in Larnaca, the castle also operates as the Larnaca Municipal Cultural Centre during the summer and hosts local cultural events. The museum contains displays from the early Christian, Byzantine, Lusignan, and Ottoman periods.
About 20 miles (32km) from Larnaca on the Lefkosia-Lemesos Road, archaeological excavations at Choirokoitia have revealed one of the oldest Neolithic sites on Cyprus, dating back to around 7000 BC. Also known as Khirokitia, it was home to primitive farmers who cultivated wheat and barley. Visitors can explore the settlement's defensive wall, circular houses, and tombs. The site was first excavated in 1934 and work continues to this day. Four of the beehive-shaped houses made of mud and stone have been reconstructed to show how these early farmers lived. Most of the finds from Choirokoitia are displayed in the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia.
Perched atop a solitary mountain is the oldest monastery in Cyprus, Stavrovouni Monastery was founded in the 4th century by Saint Helena. Its most treasured relic is a supposed fragment of the holy cross, encased in a silver cross which is not visible to the public. Another artefact left by Helena at the monastery is the Cross of the Good Thief, which includes the nail and part of the rope said to have tied Jesus to the cross. The monastery is perched upon the eponymous mountain that used to be called Olympus. Reached by a winding steep road, the monastery is considered the spiritual centre of Cyprus and now houses an order of monks.
The Cyprus Archaeological Museum was established to collect, study, and display archaeological artefacts from all over the island. Located at a different site, the first museum was established in 1888 and some of the exhibits are some 8,500 years old. The museum is arranged in chronological order: the first hall contains pottery and implements from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods whilst the other rooms trace the history of Cyprus through the Bronze Age, Hellenic Period, Mycenaean times, Roman Period, and early Byzantine. A unique feature of the museum lies in the basement where several graves rest in a dark cellar, complete with skeletal remains and reconstructed adornments.
The Byzantine Museum in the Old City of Nicosia displays the largest collection of art on Cyprus. The museum contains an art gallery exhibiting oil paintings, maps, and lithographs, giving visitors insight into Cypriot culture and history. There are around 230 icons on display, dating from the 9th through to the 19th centuries and salvaged from all over Cyprus. They are beautifully preserved and make a strong impact on visitors, especially those interested in religious art and iconography. The museum also has fragments of 6th century mosaics, taken from the apse of the Church of Panagia Kanakaria at Lythrankomi.
There is no royalty buried in the Tombs of the Kings, a grand mausoleum found one mile (2km) northwest of Paphos Harbour towards Coral Bay. Rather, it's the final resting place of about 100 Ptolemaic aristocrats who lived and died in the city between 3 BC and 3 AD. The tombs are carved into the solid rock of the cliff above the sea and are beautifully situated, with some featuring Doric pillars and frescoed walls. Archaeological excavations are ongoing at the site, which also features a church known as Paleoekklisia, sporting traces of Byzantine frescoes. The Tombs of the Kings usually feature very high in tourist reviews of Paphos and are thrilling to discover.
The Mosaics of Paphos are a series of striking floors in a number of ancient Roman villas, dating from the 3rd to the 5th centuries. The sites are still being excavated on around 300 metres from the Paphos Harbour. The mosaics featuring mythological scenes are visible in the Houses of Dionysos, Orpheus, Aion, and the Theseus. There are also stunning mosaics to be seen in the House of Four Seasons. All the mosaics were made from small cubes of marble and stone, called tesserae, with glass paste added to widen the range of colour.
A large pistachio tree marks the entrance to the underground catacombs of Agia Solomoni in Kato Paphos. A strange sight, it's usually festooned with cloth tied onto it by the faithful as offerings in the hope the sacred tree will cure various ailments. The catacombs were carved into Fabrica Hill in the 4th century BC, below the ancient Roman wall. Underground chapels feature frescoes and graffiti left by 13th century crusaders, and there are numerous legends and stories attached to the patron saint Ayia Solomoni. There's little to no guidance or information on offer at the site so it is best to do some research before you go to understand what you are looking at.
Near the modern Paphos Lighthouse is the Cypriot Acropolis, a complex of ancient buildings which includes a 2nd century Roman odeon restored and now used for summer orchestral and stage performances. South of the odeon are the remnants of the Roman Temple of Asclepius, the god of medicine, and north of the lighthouse are the ruins of the ancient town walls. One of Cyprus's world-renowned ancient treasures is the stunning set of mosaics of the acropolis near the harbour. These incredibly well-preserved artworks often top the list of Cyprus attractions and have been delighting visitors for decades.
Built in the 14th century, Limassol Castle stands guard over the old harbour on the site of an earlier Byzantine castle. Today it houses the Cyprus Medieval Museum with a host of fascinating exhibits dating back to the Early Common Era (384-650). The museum's collection boasts an array of weaponry and armour, including swords, helmets, and the 500 year old canons which still adorn the battlements. The castle is most renowned for being the place where crusader King Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre and crowned her Queen of England in 1191.
Within the interior of Cyprus and north of Limassol, the Troodos Mountains offer beautiful scenery, ski trails, and walks for nature lovers. The Troodos Mountains are the largest mountain range in Cyprus, so it is no wonder that they are also a popular winter destination. They are one of only a handful of places in the world where visitors can ski in the morning, and swim and sun tan in the afternoon. The main ski slopes are on the 6,401 foot (1,951m) Mount Olympus, roughly an hour's drive from Nicosia or Limassol, and the ski season extends from the beginning of January to the end of March.
In the foothills of the Troodos Mountains, Patsilia is renowned for its fine wines, honey, and cheeses. There are a couple of wine routes in the area and this is a fun way to explore the countryside and hop from town to town. There are four noteworthy Byzantine Churches in the area which have been jointly declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is beautiful, heavily forested, and mountainous, making it enticing for hikers. Known as the 'Orchard of Cyprus' due to its wealth of fruit, one of the best times to visit the region is in spring when everything is in bloom.
Perhaps one of the most famous attractions on the island of Cyprus, the Rock of Aphrodite is an ocean outcrop surrounded by myth and legend. Said to be the birthplace of the Greek goddess of love, it was also supposedly put there by the Byzantine hero Basil to keep out invading Saracens. Seeming to bubble with divine energy, the waves are quite forceful and so tourists are encouraged to neither swim nor climb the rock formations. The area is also known as Petra tou Romiou, meaning 'Rock of the Roman'.
The natural beauty of Cape Greco makes it one of the first locations in tourists' itineraries. The unique headland stretches out into the gorgeous blue ocean, with fascinating shapes peeling off from the cliffs into the shore waters. There are also trails which will appeal to hikers, exploring the surrounding national park filled with a wide variety of flora and fauna. For those more inclined to adventure, there are also opportunities for cliff jumping, diving, and swimming in sea caves.
Also referred to as Lefkosia, the bustling city of Nicosia in the northern interior has been the capital of Cyprus since the 12th century. It stands today as Europe's only divided city and is split in two by the Green Line, a United Nations buffer zone that divides the government-controlled Republic of Cyprus in the south from the Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus. The favoured tourist sector is the Old Town, which is being extensively renovated. The Old Town is a picturesque fusion of 16th-century walls, pedestrian precincts, pavement cafes, and squares, brimming with charm, character, and sightseeing opportunities. The city, on the Mesaoria Plain, is the centre of the Nicosia District that includes the valleys of Solea and Pitsilia and parts of Marathasa, with its mountain villages, orchards, hill resorts, and plethora of Byzantine churches and monasteries. These are within easy reach and make for pleasant day trips from the city. While Nicosia doesn't have the stunning Mediterranean beaches to offer visitors, it is a great base from which to explore the mountainous regions of Cyprus, which are very beautiful in their own right and offer numerous hiking trails.
Believed to have been founded by the Argives, the ancient city of Kourion is one of the most beautifully-positioned ancient sites in Cyprus. It has passed through different phases, including the Hellenistic, Christian, and Roman periods, the (market place), Christian Basilica, and large public bath bearing testament to this city's impressive list of inhabitants. The restored Greco-Roman theatre hosts open air performances and is one of the venues for the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama. Attractions around the complex include the House of the Gladiators, the Roman baths, the House of Achilles, and the Temple of Apollo.
If you are visiting Limassol and need a break from sightseeing and the Cyprus heat, you should splash in the cool waters and enjoy the fun slides at Water Mania. The water park is suitable for travellers of all ages and is a great attraction for the whole family. If you are travelling in Cyprus with kids, then this is the ideal way to let them blow off some steam. The park has a somewhat cheesy Polynesian theme but it provides good wholesome fun and a safe environment. Don't forget the sunblock.
Cyprus enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with abundant sunshine all year round. Long, dry summers and mild winters are separated by short autumn and spring seasons. Summer is a time of high temperatures with cloudless skies, but the sea breeze creates a pleasant atmosphere in the coastal areas. Winters are mild, with some rain and snow on the Troodos Mountains.
Cypriots are fond of saying that 11 out of the 12 months are sunny in their country and it is no idle boast: the 'summer' holiday season lasts about eight months in Cyprus, beginning in April with average temperatures of 70-73°F (21-23°C) during the day and 52-55°F (11-13°C) at night; and ending in November when average temperatures are 72-73°F (22-23°C) during the day, and 54-57°F (12-14°C) at night. The remaining four months of the year are by no means freezing either, with temperatures still sometimes exceeding 68°F (20°C).
These enviable statistics make Cyprus a year-round holiday destination, particularly as European winter sun-seekers often choose to vacation here even in the cooler months. However, peak tourist season is summer (June to August).
The official currency is the Euro (EUR). Major credit cards are accepted in most establishments. Money can be exchanged at banks, open from Monday to Friday. There are ATMs spread throughout the island, operating 24 hours a day.
The majority of Cypriots speak Greek, and a small percentage speaks Turkish. The Greek Cypriot dialect differs from mainland Greece. English, German and French are spoken in tourist areas.
Electrical current is 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style three square-pin plugs are used.
US nationals must have a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in Cyprus. A visa is not required for a stay of up to 90 days.
British passports must be valid three months beyond period of intended stay. For holders of passports endorsed British Citizen, no visa is required for 90 days. No visa is required for a touristic stay of up to 90 days for holders of passports endorsed British National (overseas), British Overseas Territories Citizen (and containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom and UK residence stamp), British Subject (and containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom and UK residence stamp), or British Overseas Territories Citizen issued to residents of Gibraltar.
Canadian nationals must have a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
Australian nationals must have a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
South African nationals must have a passport valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay. A visa is required, except for those carrying multiple-entry Schengen C visas that have already entered the Schengen area or been issued by Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania or a Schengen Member State. This exemption lasts for 90 days.
Irish nationals must hold a passport valid upon arrival. No visa is required.
US nationals must have a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in Cyprus. A visa is not required for a stay of up to 90 days.
New Zealand nationals must have a passport valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
Travellers, except EEA nationals, should hold an onward or return ticket and documentation necessary for that journey, as well as sufficient funds for the period of intended stay in Cyprus. It is also advisable to have a hotel reservation. Extensions are available to visa-exempt nationals. Travellers should note that foreigners entering Cyprus north of the UN-patrolled 'green line' are deemed by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus to have entered illegally, and can be fined when crossing to the south (EU). Policies and procedures are subject to sudden changes, and visitors should check on the current situation before departing for Cyprus. It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
No vaccinations are required for travel to Cyprus but hepatitis A and B vaccinations are always recommended for travellers by health authorities. Health services on Cyprus are of a good standard. UK citizens should bring with them a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which enables them to receive free emergency medical treatment. Medical fees are reasonable in Cyprus, but supplies are expensive and it is probably a good idea to take with you any important prescription medications you may require (with the appropriate notes from your doctor to get them through customs). Travel insurance is advised.
A 10 percent service charge is levied in hotels and restaurants so a tip is not obligatory, but small change is always welcome. Taxi drivers and porters appreciate a small tip.
Crime against tourists is rare and the area is generally safe.
Avoid taking photographs near military establishments. Religious customs such as Ramadan should be respected, particularly in the north where most of the Turkish Cypriots are Muslim; avoid eating, drinking, smoking and chewing gum in public during the holy month. Women should dress modestly.
Business in Cyprus is best conducted face-to-face, as developing a working relationship based on trust is important. Business is conducted formally, and dress should be smart and conservative (a suit and tie are the norm). Greetings are usually made with a handshake, and business cards are exchanged. It is common for women to hold high positions and they are generally well respected in the business world. Punctuality is important, but meetings may not begin on time. Business hours can vary according to the season, but are usually 8am to 1pm and 4pm to 7pm Monday to Friday in summer, closing at 5pm in winter.
The international access code for Cyprus is +357. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). Area codes are required.
Travellers to Cyprus over 17 years arriving from non-EU countries do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g smoking tobacco; 1 litre spirits with higher than 22 percent alcohol volume or 2 litres spirits or aperitifs with less than 22 percent alcohol volume, or 2 litres of wine; 50g perfume or 250ml eau de toilette; 500g coffee; 100g tea; medicines for personal consumption; and other goods to the value of €175. Prohibited items include fresh fruit, meat, and dairy products.
Cyprus Tourist Organisation, Nicosia: +357 2269 1100 or www.visitcyprus.org.cy
Cyprus Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 462 5772.
Cyprus Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7321 4100.
Cyprus Consulate General, Toronto, Canada: +1 416 944 0998.
Cyprus High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 346 3298.
Cyprus High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6281 0832.
Cyprus Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 676 3060.
United States Embassy, Nicosia: +357 2239 3939.
British High Commission, Nicosia: +357 96 390076.
Consulate of Canada, Nicosia: +357 2277 5508.
South African Embassy, Athens, Greece (also responsible for Cyprus): +30 210 617 8020.
Australian High Commission, Nicosia: +357 2275 3001.
Irish Embassy, Nicosia: +357 2281 8183.
New Zealand Embassy, Rome, Italy (also responsible for Cyprus): +39 (0)6 853 7501.