Cyprus Holiday Planning Guide
From sandy beaches to stone castles, and from bustling nightclubs to romantic tavernas, a Cyprus vacation offers a complete Mediterranean experience. Many civilizations have left their mark on the island's long and vibrant history, and consequently on its customs, cuisine, and architecture. Beyond the divide between the predominantly Greek south and Turkish north, throughout the island you'll recognize Venetian, Genoese, British, and Middle Eastern influences. Of course, the main attraction that draws tourists from all over the world is the sunny coast, dotted with historical cities and fully equipped beaches. There is also a selection of peaceful villages, both inland and by the sea, where those looking for a more secluded Cyprus holiday can retreat. A visit to the country's capital Nicosia, with its vibrant art and culture scene and numerous sightseeing opportunities, is definitely worth adding to your itinerary wherever you're staying.
Places to Visit in Cyprus
Regions of CyprusFamagusta District
: A tour of Cyprus's Famagusta District yields more than just the ancient city of Salamis and party-capital Ayia Napa--it reveals the cultural differences between north and south, as it spans the border between these two entities.Paphos District
: Most Cyprus holidays include a trip to Paphos District, an area distinguished by unparalleled natural beauty, inviting beach towns, vibrant nightlife, and the birthplace of Aphrodite. Limassol District
: Experience Cypriot traditions in Limassol, the culturally rich region known for its long coastline, stunning port cities, verdant wine country, and medieval castles and churches. Nicosia District
: The border between northern and southern Cyprus extends through Nicosia District, whose environmental and cultural diversity offers visitors a chance to view scenic landscapes, stroll around urban centers, and tour impressive historical sites. Larnaka District
: A region known for its popular holiday destinations, secluded beaches, fantastic hiking, and charming villages, Larnaka District makes a fantastic getaway, while the city of Larnaka itself allows tourists to delve into the island's unique mix of Ottoman, Byzantine, Greek, and Arabic influences.Kyrenia District
: Perhaps the most beautiful part of Cyprus, Kyrenia District is beloved by scuba divers and golf enthusiasts and famous for its seaside towns, castles, and monasteries.
Cities in CyprusNicosia
: Combining the ancient and the modern, the national capital features Venetian walls enclosing an intriguing old town, while just beyond lies a vibrant cafe culture.Paphos
: If you're looking for things to do in Cyprus, you'll find a healthy range in Paphos, the storied birthplace of Aphrodite and capital of Western Cyprus. Visited by party-goers and historians alike, it's home to beachfront entertainment, important archeological sites, and an amazing Byzantine palace. Limassol
: For sunny beaches and vibrant nightlife without the frenetic party atmosphere found elsewhere on the island, head to Limassol, the country's second-largest city boasting streets lined with cafes, bars, and the like. Ayia Napa
: Over the years, Ayia Napa has transformed from a quiet fishing town into a European party hub, while its archeological sites and massive water park continue to attract a wide variety of visitors to its shores. Larnaka City
: Stroll along the famous shoreline promenade in Larnaka, the island's 6,000-year-old city, or head to its historical center for a look at the neighborhood's Turkish influences, Byzantine sites, and medieval fort. Kyrenia
: During your Cyprus holiday, consider visiting Kyrenia, a coastal town in the northern part of the island famous for its old Venetian architecture, Byzantine attractions, buzzing promenade, and gorgeous natural beauty. Protaras
: Known as the island's top family-friendly resort town, Protaras makes a perfect addition to your Cyprus itinerary if your kids enjoy swimming, biking, or hiking.
Things to Do in Cyprus
Popular Cyprus Tourist AttractionsTombs of the Kings
: A short walk from the beaches of Paphos, Tombs of the Kings boasts Hellenistic and Roman burial sites dating back to the 3rd century BCE. Coral Bay
: Discover the limestone cliffs and sea caves surrounding Coral Bay, a pristine Blue Flag beach known for its safe, shallow waters. Kato Paphos Archaeological Park
: Add ancient monuments to your Cyprus itinerary with a visit to the Kato Paphos Archaeological Park, a World Heritage Site with remnants of mosaics, Roman fortresses, and amphitheaters. Nissi Beach
: One of Europe's main party hubs, Blue Flag-rated Nissi Beach is a coastal destination known equally for its beautiful sands and fantastic nightlife. Aphrodite's Rock
: Get your camera ready for a trip to Aphrodite's Rock, the sunny site where the legendary goddess of love was said to have risen from the Mediterranean Sea. Fig Tree Bay
: If you're in search of water sports, family-friendly shores, or relaxation on golden sands, head to this Blue Flag beach tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Ayia Napa. WaterWorld Waterpark
: Among the top attractions in Cyprus if you're traveling with children, thrilling WaterWorld Waterpark was voted one of the world's best by CNN Travel. Kyrenia Harbour
: Picturesque Kyrenia Harbour features Mediterranean water, a mountainous backdrop, a 16th-century Venetian Castle, and cobblestoned streets lined with cafes, shops, and outdoor markets.Paphos Harbour Castle
: Explore centuries of history at Paphos Harbour Castle, a medieval palace that served multiple empires, including the Byzantine, Ottoman, Greek, and British.Bellapais Monastery
: Along lush Kyrenia Mountain lies Bellapais Monastery, a Gothic structure with French, Genoese, and Venetian features dating back to the 13th century.
Planning a Cyprus Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Cyprus with Kids
When planning your family's Cyprus holiday, you have plenty of choices in terms of destinations. In addition to the pristine beaches packed with activities, kids and teens can enjoy exploring ruins from past empires and archeological sites that look like something out of a film. Pick a place that offers a solid balance of attractions and family-friendly things to do. In or near Paphos
, kids of all ages can roam around ancient ruins and timeless monasteries for a glimpse into the island's rich cultural past. You can just as easily hit one of the many beautiful beaches here, like Coral Bay
, while the nearby zoo offers even more entertainment. In Ayia Napa
, you'll have access to Europe's largest water park as well as natural places to enjoy the sun and sea. The city also boasts great cultural attractions, like Church of Profitis Elias
. In Kyrenia
, your family can enjoy exploring the picturesque harbor, as well as discovering several historical sites.
Things to Do in Cyprus with Kids
Certainly the easiest way to entertain kids in Cyprus is by bringing them to the beach, where they can swim, play in the sand, search for seashells, snorkel, and even participate in water sports if they're old enough. Blue Flag beaches like Nissi Beach
and Fig Tree Bay
are noted for their cleanliness and safety. Enjoy a number of outdoor activities along any of Cyprus's famous shorelines, and then head to the nearest old town, promenade, or harbor (such as Kyrenia Harbour
) for a taste of the local street life, cafe culture, and seaside cuisine.
All along the coastline you'll find a number of archeological sites like Kato Paphos Archaeological Park
, as well as churches, mosques, castles, and fortresses. If you prefer to spend your Cyprus vacation in more urban environments, head to Paphos
for world-class shopping, dining, interactive museums, animal exhibits, and more. In the summer months, you can also spend a day or two checking out the thrilling slides, kiddie pools, and other rides at one of the island's popular water parks (try the reigning favorite, WaterWorld Waterpark
Tips for a Family Vacation in Cyprus
Tourism in Cyprus is a major industry, so the island is fairly easy to navigate and experience with a family. Use your judgement when considering staying at one of the major party hubs, like the center of Ayia Napa
; while they may be loud, some of these popular nightlife spots offer a plethora of activities for children and teens by day. If you decide to give one of these destinations a try, you may simply want to avoid staying overnight near the clubs and choose a family-friendly resort instead. For an even quieter family Cyprus vacation, look for an apartment or home rental, which offers more privacy and accommodates larger groups. Luckily, this island offers a variety of attractions and activities to keep every child entertained and engaged during their time here.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Cyprus
Cuisine of Cyprus
A blend of Turkish and Greek cuisines, Cypriot food is a perfect reflection of the country's cultural influences. Mezes, or small Mediterranean appetizers, are an important start to Cypriot meals, although some restaurants serve them as the main course. Mezes range from black and green olive and fish dishes to hummus and tahini. During your tour of Cyprus, be sure to try halloumi, a favorite cheese among locals, often served grilled. Fresh, locally caught seafood and grilled lamb are popular proteins here. "Taramosalata" is a traditional dish made with bread crumbs or potatoes, parsley, onion, lemon juice, olive oil, and salted roe of cod. Enjoy sipping on the country's most common beverages, including "ayran," a traditional milk drink; "zivania," a spirit made from grapes; brandy; and beer, like the classic Turkish brew Efes.
Shopping in Cyprus
For the best selection of international shops in Cyprus, head to the capital Nicosia
, where the two main streets, Makarios Avenue and Stassicratous Street, offer world-class shopping at major stores and smaller boutiques. If you'd like to take home a Cypriot treasure, consider a domestic wine, like Commandaria, or a stronger libation like zivania, the island's most popular spirit. While leather goods, jewelry, and other handmade crafts can be found in Nicosia
, Larnaka City
, and Paphos
, you must go to Larnaka City
for the country's renowned lacework. It would be advantageous to shop before 4 p.m., as many of the shops close earlier than in other European countries.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Cyprus
History of Cyprus
After from Sicily and Sardinia, Cyprus is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The earliest human settlements in Cyprus date back to the Neolithic Era and, luckily, plenty of archeological remains are still present from this period on the island today. Due to its strategic location near the Middle East, many powers occupied this land over the centuries, including Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Venetians, and Ottomans. You're likely to see evidence of this almost anywhere your Cyprus trip takes you. The old town of Nicosia
, for example, bears witness to these changes, and Cyprus Museum
preserves artifacts dating back many millennia.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Cyprus was under British Rule, and it wasn't until 1960 that the island gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Although the constitution in place guaranteed a balance of power between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, relations between these two groups were fraught with tension. In 1974, after over a decade of fighting, Turkey occupied both northern and a large portion of eastern Cyprus. In 1983, the area declared itself a republic.
Though conflict has long since ceased, especially with the island's entry into the European Union, the United Nations still operates a peacekeeping force along the buffer zone between the two regions. In places like Famagusta District
, which straddles north and south, the differences coexist in very close proximity to each other--and it is precisely this mix of cultures, languages, and cuisines that makes Cyprus a unique destination, whose spectacular blend of attractions and activities reflect its diverse inhabitants and history.
Customs of Cyprus
If you plan to visit religious sites during your stay in Cyprus, be sure to bring appropriate clothing, as many of the churches and mosques here require you to cover your shoulders, knees, and head. You can typically expect to dress casually, unless attending an important function or religious ceremony. Although punctuality isn't an essential part of the culture, it is considered rude to make someone wait for you, so do your best to arrive on time for reservations, travel, and tours on your Cyprus vacation. A handshake is the common greeting, unless meeting a very religious member of the opposite sex. Always respect elders while traveling and remember that, although most people speak English or another second language, locals appreciate it when you learn to use a few key Greek or Turkish phrases in everyday conversation, such as "nice to meet you" and "thank you." As in both Greek and Turkish cultures, it is considered rude to refuse a gift or offering of food or drink from any host. Most importantly, you should feel comfortable asking someone at your hotel or a tour guide if you need clarification on any of the country's customs.
Holidays & Festivals in Cyprus
A guide to Cyprus's yearly holidays and festivals must be broken into two sections: the south and the north. In the south, Easter is the most significant holiday of the year because of its Greek Orthodox roots, and includes a procession and night of eating and drinking. Christmas is celebrated through songs, feasts, and ceremonies; Epiphany ("Phota") is a massive festival in January remembering the baptism of Christ; and the Flood Festival ("Kataklysmom") incorporates religion, pagan tradition, and water activities into a celebration that takes place 50 days after Easter. The celebration of Anthestiria dates back to Ancient Greece, ushering in the arrival of spring with parades and fresh flowers. If your Cyprus vacation falls in August, you may be lucky enough to witness some of the local village festivals throughout the south.
In the northern (Turkish) region, Muslim holidays are observed at the same time as in the rest of the world, including Mevlud in February or March and the three-day Seker Bayrami at the end of Ramadan in September. Secular celebrations include Labor Day (May 1), Peace and Freedom Day (July 20), TMT Day (August 1--celebrating a Turkish paramilitary force), and Victory Day (August 30). Turkish National Day on October 29 and the very important Independence Day on November 15 celebrate landmarks in the history of Cyprus's Turkish republic.
Cyprus Travel Tips
Climate of Cyprus
One of the things that makes a Cyprus holiday so enjoyable is the famous Mediterranean climate. The island typically has hot, dry summers that last from mid-May until mid-September, making it a prime beach destination. In the winter, Cyprus experiences mild, cool weather with some rain.
Transportation in Cyprus
You can get to Cyprus by plane or through regular ferry services from Greece and Turkey--though, perhaps surprisingly, budget airlines can often offer more affordable options. Once on the island, car rentals are the easiest way to do your Cyprus sightseeing, though they are also the most expensive mode of transportation. Note that it's usually cheaper to rent a car once you've arrived rather than booking it in advance, and shared taxis are another option if you're simply looking to get from point A to point B. Buses are the most affordable way to tour Cyprus, especially between cities, with the northern region boasting the most frequent stops. Be sure to keep your passport on hand when traveling over the border between the Turkish and Greek parts of the island.
Language of Cyprus
Not surprisingly, there are two official languages in Cyprus: Greek and Turkish. If taking your Cyprus vacation in the south, you will encounter more Greek speakers, while Turkish is predominant in the north. Due to the country's booming tourist industry and a previous history of British rule, English is widely known throughout Cyprus among people of all ages. Some Cypriots may also know French, German, or Russian--though only a minority of the population.
Tipping in Cyprus
In many touristy areas people have begun to expect tips from visitors, so be mindful of this when on holiday in Cyprus. While lots of restaurants will include service in their bills, be sure to check; if they haven't, it is considered polite to leave a couple additional euros (or around 10 percent if using Turkish liras). Taxi drivers have also become accustomed to tips, and passengers usually leave around 10 percent for their drivers. If you take a tour, consider leaving the same 10-percent tip for your guide, or a bit more for superb work. While hotel employees don't always expect tips, it is a kind gesture to give a euro or so for assistance with luggage or housekeeping.