Located in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus is divided along the so-called Green Line between the Republic of Cyprus in the south (predominantly Greek Cypriot) and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, with each exhibiting distinct cultures and traditions. The island boasts an intoxicating history that stretches back to the Mycenean Greeks, with Persian, Crusader and Ottoman invasions prior to British annexation in 1914.
But it remains one of the Mediterranean’s favorite playgrounds, with beautiful beaches fronting azure blue seas, crumbling ancient ruins and captivating old towns where you can feast on mezze platters while sipping locally grown wine. Party until the early hours in the beach resort of Ayia Napa or escape to the remote landscapes of the Karpass Peninsula, then ski down the slopes of Cyprus’ highest peak, Mount Olympus. There’s ancient Greek and Roman ruins to explore and fortified towns surrounded by Venetian walls, together with spectacular Byzantine churches and Crusader castles.
Cyprus’ position at the crossroads of Europe and Asia has long been the source of its troubles, but the legacy of conquest and successive empires is also a large part of its undisputed tourism appeal.
When to travel - weather
Cyprus experiences a typical Mediterranean climate, with hot summers, cool winters and distinct spring and fall seasons. Winters can get quite chilly and some businesses close altogether, but this is the best time to hit the ski slopes in the Troodos Mountains. Temperatures peak in the summer months of June, July and August, when an air-conditioned hotel is highly recommended. This also coincides with the peak tourist season when Europeans are on their annual vacation and hotel prices tend to inflate. The shoulder months of April/May and September/October are both ideal times to visit, as prices drop, temperatures are more pleasant and there are far fewer crowds. Spring sees the landscape ignite in wildflowers and streams flowing in full force, while the Greek Easter celebrations are also a memorable Cypriot experience.
Food and drink
Cypriot cuisine draws on both Greek and Turkish influences, with distinct differences between the north and south of the country. The south is more Mediterranean, with fish and pork the most popular sources of protein, while the north draws on Turkish traditions, with lamb used instead of pork in many of the dishes. The popularity of kebabs shows the Middle Eastern influence, as does the used of cinnamon, cumin and coriander.
In the south you can try afelia - a pork stew marinated in wine and coriander seed - together with seftalia pork rissoles, loukanika (a spicy, fatty smoked sausage) and the famed souvlaki pork kebabs. In the north look for kleftiko otto (slow roasted lamb on the bone), tava (lamb stew baked with cumin, onions and potatoes) and imam bayildi (stuffed aubergines).
Don’t miss the opportunity to try what is Cyprus’ most iconic dish - hand-kneaded and grilled halloumi cheese. It is commonly featured on mezze plates across the island, together hummus dips and a range of small dishes like stuffed vine-leaf koupepia.
For dessert, there’s the almond fried pastries known as daktyla and lokmades (a fried ball of pastry in syrup), as well as soutzioukos made from grape juice and either almonds or walnuts. Fresh fruits are available in abundance from green grocers, together with preserved fruits, such as quince, orange and even walnuts.
For a tipple, try locally-produced ouzo - an anise-flavored aperitif made from grape juice - or the stronger zivania which is distilled from grape skins and local wines.
Popular vacation spots
Nicosia - Divided by the Green Line into the southern Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is the capital Nicosia (or Lefkosia as it is known to Greeks). Venetian walls surround ancient mosques and churches, while winding streets lined with stone houses make up its historic old town. Visit the stunning Byzantine Art Museum and Cyprus Museum, admire the architecture of 17th-century St John’s Cathedral and the Selimiye Mosque, and soak in the historic bathing house, Hamam Omerye.
Ayia Napa - The premier beach resort and party capital of Cyprus is Ayia Napa, located at the far eastern corner of the south coast. Its filled with hotels, restaurants and nightclubs where Europeans come to drink and dance away their vacation, with beautiful beaches and offshore diving on offer. But Ayia Napa is not without culture, and home to the Ayia Napa Monastery, Thalassa Museum, ancient Makronissos Tombs and Sculpture Park.
Akamas Peninsula - Situated on the northwestern tip of Cyprus, the remote Akamas Peninsula is a region of rugged beauty where hikers and mountain bikers can immerse themselves in the great outdoors. It is somewhat of a microcosm, with every Cypriot habitat represented here, together with many of the island’s endemic plants and an impressive array of bird and wildlife.
Petra tou Romiou - Located along the coast of Pafos in southwest Cyprus, Petra tou Romiou, or “Aphrodite’s Rock” is the legendary birthplace of the Greek goddess of love. It forms part of the Aphrodite Cultural Route where you can follow in her footsteps, visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palaipafos and the ancient kingdom of Amathus where the ruined Temple of Aphrodite lies.
Karpass Peninsula - The finger-like peninsula of Karpass stretches for 70 kilometers from the northeast of Turkey and remains one of the country’s most sparsely populated regions. Its pristine beaches are the main draw, where sea turtles come to nest on the remote shores, while the isolated Orthodox monastery of Apostolos Andreas stands at its furthest tip and is an important pilgrimage site for Greek Cypriots.
Gazimağusa (Famagusta) - Located in North Cyprus, the Venetian-walled city of Gazimağusa is one of Cyprus’ most charming and of significant strategic importance facing the Middle East. Its atmospheric old town is home to winding sandstone streets and elaborate Frankish churches, and it was here that Shakespeare’s Othello lived. Wander the beautiful Orthodox church of Apostolos Varnavas and the ruins of ancient Enkomi/Alasia, and relax on the endless beaches that line Gazimağusa Bay.
Girne - Formerly known as Kyrenia, this historic port town in Northern Cyprus is one of the country’s jewels. An impressive Byzantine castle overlooks the horse-shoe shaped harbor, where ancient warehouses have been transformed into modern cafes, restaurants and boutiques, and a captivating old town sprawls behind. Don’t miss a visit to the 16th-century Venetian Castle which now houses the Shipwreck Museum and exhibits a 4th-century BC Greek merchant ship.
Kykkos Monastery - The Kykkos Monastery is Cyprus’ largest and most famous, founded at the end of the 11th century by the Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos. It is nestled in pine forest to the west of Pedoulas and home to a highly revered icon of the Virgin Mary, together with ornate woodcarvings and religious manuscripts.
Troodos Mountains - Towering across the center of the island, the Troodos Mountains are home to Cyprus’ highest peak, Mount Olympus (1952m), together with UNESCO World Heritage-listed Byzantine churches, monasteries and medieval winemaking villages. In summer it’s an idyllic place to hike and mountain bike, with plenty of trails criss-crossing the range, while in winter its villages transform into ski resorts, including Platres, Kakopetria and Troodos.
Kourion - Situated on a rocky plateau on the southwestern coast of Cyprus, UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kourion is one of the island’s most impressive ancient sites. Its centerpiece is a stunning amphitheater which dates to the 2nd century BC, together with a 3rd-century agora (marketplace), the impressive Episcopal Precinct of Kourion and exquisite 5th-century floor mosaics.
The official languages in Cyprus are Turkish and Greek, with around 80% of Cypriots speaking a Greek Cypriot dialect that differs from mainland Greece. English, German and French are also spoken throughout many of the main tourist areas.
The official currency of southern Cyprus is the Euro (EUR), while in northern Cyprus Turkish Lira (TL) is the official currency. There are plenty of ATMs where you can withdraw cash and credit cards are widely accepted at most hotels, larger shops and restaurants. However, recent bank-imposed capital controls have seen a reduction in the amount you can withdrawal from banks and credit card payments, so carrying cash is a good precautionary measure. There are exchange counters at both Larnaka and Pafos airports if you want to change currency on arrival, and Euros, Pounds and USD are often excepted in the north if you run out of Turkish Lira.
Health and Safety
Cyprus is a relatively safe country to travel in, with low crime levels and violence in the streets. Some organized crime is starting to filter into the country from both Russia and Turkey, but mainly confined to certain bars and clubs in the larger towns. If you are self-driving, keep in mind that speed limits are enforced by police and driving under the influence of alcohol can result in strict penalties.
The level of medical care and health services in Cyprus are relatively high and EU citizens holding a European Health Insurance Card are entitled to some free treatment. Emergency treatment is free for all in both the north and south of Cyprus, but travel insurance is still highly recommended to cover any ongoing treatment.