Discover Cyprus: a culture, beach & nature guide

At the crossroads of three continents, Cyprus is an ancient treasure that lures people in with its multifaceted personality. Beyond sun-drenched stretches of sand, discover an island with a compelling story, captivating culture, rugged landscapes and mesmeric tales of mythology all woven within its rich tapestry. There’s a long and complex modern-day history, too – after an invasion by Turkey in 1974, the island was split in two, and it remains that way today. 

The island might be small, but it sure is mighty – it was part of the fallen Ottoman and Byzantine empire, and it’s the birthplace of Aphrodite after all! From warm Cypriot hospitality and mouthwatering culinary traditions to picturesque scenery, ancient sites and sleepy mountain villages, experience all that Cyprus has to offer with our fascinating guide.

The traditional mountain village of Gourri. iStock/Kirillm

Picture-perfect beaches

Caressing sunshine is one of Cyprus’ greatest natural resources, and where better to bask in the sun than on the beach. Enjoy endless summers in all corners of the island, starting with Paphos in the southwest. Coral Bay Beach is a beautiful Blue Flag gem popular with surfers and relaxation-lovers alike, just over 10 kilometres from the centre. If you fancy escaping the tourist trails to enjoy something a little more unspoiled, head to the awe-inspiring Akamas Peninsula – one of the least inhabited areas on the island. Embark on a boat ride to the beguiling Blue Lagoon or scenic Latchi, where you can embrace the unending blue-aquamarine waters. 

The eastern part of the island also offers stunning stretches. On the edge of Cape Greco National Park, you’ll find Konnos Bay, with its craggy cascades leading down to crystal-clear blue waters, while slightly further along the coast is Fig Tree Bay, with 500 metres of soft sands and watersports aplenty. Then, cross the ceasefire line and embark on a long yet scenic journey to the pristine Karpaz Peninsula: from Famagusta to the island’s northernmost tip, discover 80 kilometres of deserted stretches and abundant nature.

The beautiful Akamas National Park. iStock/alenkadr

Ancient history 

For a tiny island, Cyprus is home to a grand history, with nearly 12,000 years of human activity. There’s a generous sprinkling of archaeological sites, fine Byzantine churches, and monasteries among the island’s landscape, not to mention tales as old as time. Aphrodite’s Rock in Kouklia is one such enthralling tale, where legend has it the goddess of love and beauty rose from the water in 1,200 B.C. to begin her life. Further west along the coast in the village of Episkopi, you’ll find the ancient kingdom of Kourion, famed for its mosaics and amphitheatre. Next up, discover the Monastery of Kykkos, located in the mountainous region of the Marathasa Valley. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, this is the wealthiest and most lavish monastery on the island. 

A trip to the fortified capital, Nicosia (Lefkosia in Greek), is a lively history lesson in itself – it’s the world’s last divided capital, with the south being Greek Cypriot and the north an occupied Turkish territory. There is much to see here: take a step back in time with a visit to Kyrenia, the jewel in the crown of the occupied north. Here, be sure to explore the postcard-perfect harbour, the ruins of Bellapais village, and the hilltop Saint Hilarion Castle. 

The ancient kingdom of Kourion. Getty/lucky-photographer

Cosmopolitan cool

It’s not all about sprawling in the sunshine and brushing up on your history here. City slicking is made easy thanks to a number of cultural hotspots across the island. Limassol (known as Lemesos to the locals) is Cyprus’ good-time town and focal point of the wine industry. Its vivacious character is easy to absorb: cosy bars and traditional restaurants line the authentic old streets of historic Saripolou Square, while the striking new Limassol Marina is a step into the future, with its superyachts, villas and international eateries. 

Next up is Larnaca. Most people treat this town as a fleeting pit-stop before moving on to other parts of the island, but it’s a destination in its own right. Alongside its history – think Agios Lazarus Church and the Larnaca Fort – you’ll find an alluring contemporary flair. Stroll along the beachfront Finikoudes Promenade, stretching from the marina to the fort, before heading to Old Market for cocktails in a lively setting. Then there’s Mackenzie for sleek wining and dining, as well as late-night entertainment and music events.

The cosmopolitan Limassol Marina. iStock/f8grapher

Natural beauty

Outstanding beauty abounds across the island, from protected national parks colliding against the coastline to pine-clad mountains and rugged wine-growing regions juxtaposed against fabled ruins. Snow-capped in the winter and a break from the searing heat in the summer, epic adventures await in the Troodos Mountains. Visit charming villages, like Omodos and Kalopanayiotis, before discovering the Millomeri Waterfall and Caledonia Falls in Platres, plus the pretty architecture of Kakopetria. Then head to Mount Olympos for sprawling views – it’s the highest point in Cyprus.

Wine has been part of Cyprus’ identity for over 5,000 years, with legendary Commandaria – the world’s oldest wine – taking centre stage. Be sure to head to the stunning Pitsilia wine region, where you can savour a taste of the lauded grape at the family-run Tsiakkas Winery, and the Ekfraseis Winery. Fancy a change of scenery? Steer yourself south to Larnaca, where you’ll get the opportunity to witness migratory birds, flamingos and swans at the expansive Larnaca Salt Lake, as well as the natural, protected wetlands of Oroklini Lake.

The waterfall of Millomeri in Platres. Getty/mpalis

Traditional cuisine

Local Cypriot life revolves around food, and what better way to get to know the country than through your tastebuds. Healthy, rustic and hearty, Cypriot cuisine combines European and Middle Eastern influences, which you’ll find across the island. Perhaps the most famous product and a huge hit around the globe is halloumi, which is so versatile it can be fried, grilled or devoured cold.

Other dishes worthy of your attention are koupebia (the Cypriot variety of dolmades), vine leaves stuffed with rice, mince and herbs – or for something more veggie-friendly, try stuffed vegetables known locally as gemista. The king of all meat dishes is souvla, which is slow-cooked on a charcoal foukou barbecue. Further foodie highlights to savour include kleftiko, calamari and octopus on the barbecue, ravioles and pilafi with natural yoghurt. 

For those with a sweet tooth, bourekia are a must – these filo pastry parcels are filled with anari, a type of mild cheese that’s sweetened with sugar and cinnamon. Don’t leave the island without sampling dhaktyla, pastry fingers filled with almonds and walnuts and doused in syrup, or loukoumades ‘donuts’ – fluffy and sweet, bite-sized honey balls. 

Homemade loukoumades. Getty/dinosmichail