Aphrodite’s Rock jutting from the Mediterranean Sea along the coast of Paphos is probably the most iconic view in Cyprus.
According to legend, this is where the goddess of love and beauty was born, before floating to shore on a clamshell.
The sea stack is one of many outstanding natural attractions in the Eastern Mediterranean island country, which has been divided since Turkey invaded in 1974.
From soaking up the sun on its beautiful beaches, trekking to the Troodos Mountains, hiking and biking in the gorgeous Akamas Peninsula, to bathing in sulfur spas, here are some of the best things to do and see in Cyprus when you travel here.
With more than 300 days of sunshine a year and there’s no better place to soak up the sun on the island than one of its fine beaches.
The most beautiful beaches for swimming, all with fine white sand and crystal clear water, are situated to the east of Larnaca.
Complete with a teardrop-shaped island to swim out to, Ayia Napa’s Nissi Beach is a party paradise at the height of summer, but much quieter off season.
Konnos Beach and Fig Tree Bay, located in the resort of Protara, both have more of a family feel to them, plus the water is warm enough to swim in from May to November.
Cape Greco is a rugged outcrop of limestone caves and arches, perfect for kayaking and daredevil dives.
This area is also home to the wreck of the Zenobione, one of the world’s most highly regarded diving sites.
Cyprus is engrained with history. In fact the entire town of Paphos, located in the southwest, is a designated UNESCO Heritage site.
Most of the archeological attractions in the city, which has been inhabited since Neolithic times, are easily accessible.
Its glorious Roman mosaics, first discovered in 1942 by British soldiers digging an air raid shelter, are just a stroll from the bustling harbor and part of a wider archeological park.
The eerie Tombs of the Kings, a large necropolis for high ranking officials and aristocrats from the third century BC to the fourth century AD, are a short drive from the main tourist area.
Meanwhile just half an hour from the city lies the pretty harbor village of Latchi, gateway to the wild and beautiful Akamas Peninsula at the western tip of the island.
Akamas Peninsula is home to Baths of Aphrodite, a shaded natural pool and shower where the goddess beautified herself (according to myth.)
A hike up five or six kilometers from the mythological site reveals a glorious view of the stunning Chrysochou Bay.
Visitors can also rent a boat for from Latchi Watersports for the day to reach some spectacular beaches and lagoons that are inaccessible by land and snorkel around sea caves.
Mezze and wine
The pace of life in Cyprus is laid-back and mellow. Chatting over coffee, short, strong and sweet in winter and long and iced in summer, is a national pastime.
Travelers can pick up great fresh grilled sea bass, sea bream and octopus in most of the beach side tavernas along the coast.
However, the best place to eat in the Paphos area is Seven St. Georges Tavern in Yeroskipos village, positioned just outside the city.
Its larger-than-life owner George Demetriades, who champions slow cooking, forages for fresh herbs and vegetables every day in the surrounding countryside.
A world away from the standard set mezze and souvlaki served in the tourist hubs, diners here are served up delicious little plates of fresh salads, intricately flavored meat and vegetable dishes and homemade bread in a beautiful courtyard seating area .
There are also plenty of vineyards to visit on the island, which has a winemaking history that dates back around 5,000 years.
Commandaria, the sweet amber-colored wine made from over ripe dried grapes, is produced in the fertile slopes in the southwest of Cyprus.
Vineyards in the region, such as Tsangarides Winery in Lemona village, produce dry reds and whites from traditional grapes that appeal to modern palates.
Seven St. Georges Tavern; Anthypolochagou Georgiou M. Savva 37, Yeroskepos, Paphos; +357 99 655 824
Positioned nearly 2,000 meters above sea level, the Troodos Mountains are always cooler than the rest of Cyprus.
When the British ruled from 1878 to 1960 they would move their administrative center from Nicosia to Troodos village during the sweltering summer months.
Less developed than the rest of the island, the area is made up of pine-covered slopes, picturesque villages and wine routes.
Visitors can also stop off at some of the region’s simple wooden lodge restaurant to sample Troodos trout, a fresh water cultivation that’s produced in hatcheries on the mountains range, cooked with garlic and lemon.
From January until about the end of March visitors can ski at the range’s highest point, Mount Olympus, before driving to cosmopolitan Limassol on the coast for some winter sunbathing.
Restored village houses
Cyprus isn’t short of hotels, from budget to luxury options, but over the past 20 years the government, through the Cyprus Agrotourism Company, has been offering grants and incentives for people to renovate old houses in the countryside.
These can be up to 300 years old, they’re comfortable and characterful and they give you a real feel for village life and the freedom to cook with the island’s super fresh produce.
Meanwhile hotel Casale Panayiotis, which boasts spectacular mountain views, offers a somewhat similar experience, with guest rooms made from the restored houses of a once almost derelict village.
It also has a healing spa, fed by the nearby natural sulfur spring, air scented by nothing but woodsmoke and complete tranquility.
Casale Panayiotis, Markou Drakou 80, Kalopanayiotis, Nicosia 2862; + 357 22 952 444
The last divided capital
In many ways Cyprus is the perfect holiday island, but division still dominates. Its northern third is recognized as a state only by Turkey, and reunification talks are ongoing.
The events of 1974 are still very much within living memory, and this is felt most keenly in Nicosia, which is the world’s last divided capital.
The division between the two sections of the island, the Green Line drawn by the British in 1963, runs right through the city.
Along with the famous Venetian walls fortified with 11 bastions, the Old Town boasts Frankish, Ottoman and British colonial architecture, all remnants of the regimes that have ruled Cyprus since the 12th century.
You can even hear the call to prayer from the Selimiye Mosque on the Turkish side of the city blended with Orthodox chanting from the Faneromeni Church on the Greek side.
In fact, author Lawrence Durrell wrote of teaching English in the Greek Pancyprian Gymnasium, the oldest high school still in operation on the island, in the morning before enjoying a lunch time kebab in a market in the Turkish sector in his 1957 autobiographical book “Bitter Lemons.”
While the two spots are just 10 minutes apart, visitors now have to make a detour to the pedestrian border crossing point on the main street, Ledra, to move between them.
Leventis Museum in Laiki Geitonia, the tourist hub of the Old Town, presents a small and well organized collection that puts the history and social development of the city into context.
Meanwhile the blue and white oil drum and razor wire barrier with buffer zone beyond, overgrown and dotted with crumbling, bullet-pocked buildings lies just around the corner.
Visitors need a passport to cross over to the northern half of the city, where they can see the barriers from the other side.
The main attraction in the north of the city is restored Ottoman caravanserai the Buyuk Han, now an arts and crafts market with a cafe in its center.
A 40-minute drive south leads to the lovely village of Lefkara, where locals make delicate embroideries in the narrow streets and sell traditional Cypriot lace and silverware.