I have been planning to visit the island country of Cyprus with my family for a while now. This is something that we have been thinking of for years but our plans would always hit some roadblocks. Not this time though!
I love to do my detailed research before I visit any place to be well prepared and know my way around town. Hey! I don’t want to miss out on anything fun because I didn’t know. Let’s be honest, I enjoy the research too!
What is Cyprus famous for? Cyrpus is an Island Nation in the Mediterranean known for its beautiful beaches, round the year amazing weather, wine, and food culture. Cyprus also has a huge history dating from prehistoric times to medieval ages and colonial times. Cyprus is divided into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the remainder of the Island called the Republic of Cyprus.
The natural beauty combined with the rich history and perfect climate makes Cyprus a dream holiday destination.
In this blog, I list a few things that Cyprus is famous for, places to visit, things to do and some really interesting facts about Cyprus that not many know about. Read on!
Birthplace Of The Goddess Aphrodite
The Goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure as per Greek mythology, Aphrodite came to life in Cyprus according to legends. In the magnificent southwest coast of Pafos lies Petra Tou Romiou or The Rock of the Roman, a sea stack considered to be the birthplace of Aphrodite.
Waves hitting against the rock create sea foams on impact and it is believed that Aphrodite was born of these foams and she arrived on the beach on a shell.
Cypriots believe that even now on certain days the waves crash among themselves forming a foam that resembles the shape of Aphrodite.
It is said that if one swims around the rock, they will be blessed with love, fertility, fortune, and beauty.
The site is also associated with the legend of the hero Digenis Akritas who is said to have thrown these rocks at the enemy with his brute strength. The rock is named after this famed Byzantine idol.
Wine History of Cypern
Cyprus has a winemaking history dating back 6000 years. In fact, Cyprus has been producing wine for so long that wine is an essential part of the country’s diet.
Winemaking contributes majorly to the Cypriot economy. Cyprus is also home to the oldest wine label on the planet – Commandaria named so by Knights of the Crusades and first made 5000 years ago which supposedly tastes like a rich sweet liqueur.
Cyprus has a must-visit wine museum located in the winemaking village of Erimi where ancient wine dating back to 3500 BC was reportedly discovered, giving winemaking in Cyprus an unparalleled legacy.
Xynisteri, Mavro, Maratheftiko, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Mataro are some of the popular wine varieties here.
NOTE: A visit to the wine Villages with their scenic beauty, heritage value, traditional arts, crafts, and nature is also recommended. Some famous wine villages are Kathikas, Omodos, Koilani, and Ayios Amvrosios.
Kypria International Festival
One of the leading cultural events of the year in Cyprus is the famous Kypria International Festival. The Ministry of Education and Culture aggressively started the Festival in 1993 to combat a phase when cultural events were almost nonexistent.
The festival then took a life of its own and became a movement in its own right bringing together some of the top creative minds from music, dance, and other performances.
Events like Theatre, Opera, Ballet, Art and Photography exhibitions consisting of artists from Cyprus, Greece and the international Arena make this festival an event to be not be missed in Cyprus.
Some of the big names that have performed at the Kypria International Festival are:
- Oxford Philomusica
- New York Contemporary Ballet
- Joaquin Cortes, Effman Ballet
- Dulce Pontes
- Mario Frangoulis
- John Malkovich
- National Symphony Orchestra
- Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
- Batsheva Dance Company
Every year the festival is looking to top the previous year in terms of diversity and scale, making it one of the most anticipated events in Cyprus.
Cyprus is an island and hence it has got to have abundant beaches but what makes the Cyprus beach experience unique is that its beaches are highly rated amongst beaches world over, especially Europe for their quality and cleanliness making beach trips in Cyprus a delight.
From hidden unknown gems to popular crowded beaches to adventurous rugged coastlines Cyprus is a beach lover’s buffet.
Some of their exciting beaches are:
- Nissi, Ayia Napa– Soft white sand with clear Mediterranean waters, this beach in the party town of Ayia Napa is a beeline of tourist activity with exciting watersports options available.
- Porto Pomos, Pomos– On the rigorous western coastline at the tip is Porto Pomos, an unexplored beach with minty blue waters and just a couple of tiny establishments for a quaint seaside experience.
- Coral Bay– The bay surrounded by cliffs guarding it against strong currents along with the deep blue waters and fabulous restaurants make it a haven for the sunbather.
- Aphrodite’s Rock– A drive to this pebble laden beach is picturesque and the sunset here with multi-colored hues is a sight to tell your grandchildren.
- Blue Lagoon– Lack of commercialization has helped this beach retain its charm and freshness. To get here one needs a boat and the view from the mountains of this beach known for snorkeling friendly environment is not to be missed.
On July 20, 1974, amidst rising tensions between the Turkish and the Greeks, the Turkish army entered the seaside area of Varosha in the city of Famagusta ordering Greek Cypriots to evacuate.
40,000 Greek Cypriots, residents of the town left everything instantly fearing for their lives in what was thought of as a temporary situation and 45 years later, it is now a ghost town.
Before 1974, Famagusta was the top tourist destination of Cyprus famously frequented by celebrities with uncontaminated, virginal beaches, bars, nightclubs, top-end restaurants, and hotels.
Today the town is an abandoned city not unlike the deserted towns of “The Walking Dead” or any post-apocalyptic show/movie.
Residents reminisce about the glory of this famed town. The town has been closed for the public but tours of certain areas have supposedly started recently which if true would make for a soul searching experience into a very prominent chapter in the history of Cyprus.
No trip to Cyprus is complete without a visit to the famed, party – resort town of Ayia Napa or Agia Napa.
Blessed with a beautiful shoreline with warm blue waters and an equally blue sky the town was once a small village that became a partying and clubbing hotspot in the 90s with many clubs, pubs, and bars being set up in a short period.
In recent times the city authorities have realized its potential and taken progressive actions like improving public infrastructure, adding more hotels, restaurants, festivals and shutting down sketchy businesses to make the town more cosmopolitan and of international standards.
They aim to make the town a top experience in Europe for beach activities, Nightlife, and as a general holiday destination.
What to do when here? Plenty – Other than Partying and visiting beaches, one can also taste some delectable Mediterranean cuisine here or visit the national parks, sculpture parks, Waterworld Water park or get a tour of Cypriot history at the Markonissos Tombs of the Ancient Monastery.
Cyprus is widely considered to be the birthplace of the famed Haloumi cheese traditionally made of Goat’s or Sheep’s milk though nowadays it’s even prepared using cow milk.
Haloumi or Halloumi is a very special kind of cheese known for its high melting point making it suitable for grilling and frying unlike other kinds of cheese.
Cypriots have been traditionally making Halloumi for centuries and it was one of the major sources of protein for the natives.
Haloumi making is a community activity, in fact, every village has its own variation in recipe and technique that makes their version unique.
The importance of Haloumi in the Cypriot culture can be understood by the fact that many families in villages have surnames named after the cheese-like Hallumakis or Hallumas owing to their involvement in the business of Haloumi production.
Halloumi’s chewy and springy texture, salty taste and high melting point have made it extremely versatile as it can be had raw, or in salads, fried or grilled and it is now a prime ingredient in many top-class restaurants world over.
NOTE: Halloumi tours are available where one can see as well as partake in the entire process of making this special cheese locally.
Cape Greco National Park
While Ayia Napa is the party central, a little further away from Ayia Napa lies the beautiful picturesque Cape Greco National Forest Park which covers 385 hectares of area.
The springtime bloom here, especially the orchids are a sight to remember and one is bound to see foxes, hares, and more than 80 various bird species and a lot of plant species.
Here’s a list of things to do here:
- Sea Caves visit– Hiring a boat and visiting the gorgeous sea caves some of which are more than 80 ft deep inside the rock or kayaking through the coves are just one of the fun activities here.
- Walking and Hiking Trails – With a lot of well-marked trails, this park is suitable for hiking or just plain walking, soaking in the sights of the beautiful sea, marine fossils, and rugged peaks depending on how much adventure one wants to have.
- Picnic Spots– A bunch of sheds with neatly organized tables and benches overlooking the sea from a cliff. Perfect spot to unpack our sandwiches or lunch and chill.
- Cycling along the marked trails– How cool is that!
- Ayi Anagyrii Chapel– White walled Chapel on a cliff, blue roof, the sea as its backdrop and little steps to sea caves below, this quaint little place is a famous wedding spot!
- Diving– Obviously the coastline has to offer diving and snorkeling options. There are quite a few companies offering diving adventures in this area also famed for its marine life.
Kato Pafos Archaeological Park
Cyprus has an ancient history and it has been the site of prominent historical civilizations at various points of time, one of the major proofs of which is the Kato Pafos Archaeological Park, situated in the coastal city of Paphos within a section called Nea Pafos.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, this must-visit park is the site of a vintage Roman and Greek city.
The monoliths and tombs discovered here along with other artifacts go back to the prehistoric ages and some to medieval times.
Nea Pafos is said to have been built by King Nicocles of Palaipafos in the 4th century B.C. A few of the major discoveries made here are.
- House of Dionysos, House of Aion, House of Theseus, House of Orpheus, all villas made of Orpheus Mosaic floors.
- A theatre
- A Basilica
- And the Tombs of Kings which we will talk in detail about in the next section
The Tombs Of The Kings
The Tombs of the Kings, also a UNESCO World Heritage site is essentially a huge cemetery within the site of Kato Pafos Archaeological Park. Though it is called the Tomb of the Kings, no Kings or Queens were actually buried here but the tombs are that impressive!
They are the burial sites of many High-end Officials and members of the court/Government and the tombs are cut out into a single rock. Many of the tombs resemble residential Villas and houses.
What makes these tombs extra special is that one can decipher the dates and times of the materials discovered here thanks to the practice of including Rhodian Amphorae or Jugs as part of the offerings in the burial.
These Special Jugs have stamps or seals of manufacture on their handle which helps archaeologists assign them a date.
Grave robberies in the past and proximity to the sea has resulted in a loss of a lot of information and decay of bodies respectively hindering archaeological progress. Nevertheless, the heritage value of this site is not lost on the population.
Pharos Arts Foundation
Pharos Arts Foundation is a prime testament to Cyprus’ commitment towards promoting arts and humanities.
The foundation aims to make Cyprus the melting pot of artists, musicians, dancers, writers, theatre performers, composers, and thinkers from all over the world and making their work available to the local population thereby promoting excellence in arts.
The foundation has hosted 500+ musical concerts under their Music festival and Concert series while the Pharos Center for contemporary Art has showcased some of the major Photography, videography and performance works of international artists.
Their educational programs are aimed at developing a refined taste in various arts among Cypriot students by exposing them to works, exhibitions, lectures, and masterclasses by some of the renowned masters of their respective fields.
The Troodos Mountain ranges are Cyprus’s largest with the famed Mt Olympia being its highest peak.
The geology of the Troodos is very unlike any other place owing to the presence of ophiolite or Oceanic crust formed by the eruption of an underwater volcano that rose from the sea over the years giving rise to the island of Cyprus and is hence a geological marvel.
The mountain ranges are home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the 9 painted churches of Troodos and one monastery, dating back to the Byzantine Empire.
Village visits are available to the villages in Troodos which have an old school style of living and known for their folk architecture, cuisine, hospitality and not to forget – the beautiful scenery.
NOTE: Ski resorts are aplenty here and the winter season is a beehive of activity attracting winter sports enthusiasts and travelers from the world over.
The small island of Cyprus provides both snow and Sun making it such a perfect holiday destination!
Other attractions here are- Walking in the Nature trails, Cycling along the designated paths with their scenic beauty, Museum visits, Dam and Waterfalls, and the diverse wildlife!
What does Copper have to do with Cyprus? The name for starters – The word Copper is derived from Greek word Kyprius meaning Cyprus which was the site of all the world’s copper mines at one point of time!
Copper mining in Cyprus is accounted for from 4000 B.C and the island was known for its rich copper deposits especially in the northern parts of the Troodos.
In fact, Cypriots were known to be skilled metalworkers and during the Roman Empire provided most of the copper needs of the world.
Currently, copper mining has gone down in Cyprus and does not contribute much to the economy but let’s not forget that this was the nation that literally gave copper its name.
Tours of ancient and current copper mines with copper museums etc are available and give a deep insight into how copper is/was mined and produced.
Cyprus’ history dates back to the prehistoric period and KhiroKitia is the classic example of that.
One of the most important, and well maintained Prehistoric sites in the world, KhiroKitia provides evidence of the level of evolution that was present in the society of that time.
Evidence of Subsistence agriculture, farming practices, animal herding, pottery, walled boundaries with specific entry points have been found along with round-shaped buildings with roofs and possible cooking spaces indicating intricate construction.
Burial grounds have also been found with offerings indicating early signs of religion or rituals.
NOTE: The settlement is believed to be from the Neolithic Aceramic period and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998 and rightly so if I may add.
Located in the city of Limassol, the Limassol Castle is one of its top attractions.
The current version of the castle is said to have been built in 1590, the period of the Ottoman empire’s rule but archaeological evidence suggests that the building’s history dates back much earlier.
The Castle is believed to possibly the first Cathedral of the city while there is evidence of a Basilica and Byzantine monuments too dating back to7th Century CE and 11th Century CE respectively.
Historically this is also said to be the site where Richard the Lionheart and Berengaria exchanged their wedding vows. The castle has a somber history and is surrounded by many cafes and taverns.
Currently a museum, it used to be a prison at one point in time and King Henry I was one of the famous prisoners here. The castle has seen many attacks and wars and has been restored many times over the centuries giving it a historical heritage that deserves to be experienced.
There are more cats in Cyprus than human beings! They are all over the place and it is attributed to the fact that domestication of cats first started around here and hence in all probability, Cyprus perhaps was the first place to have domesticated cats.
Lack of funds for spaying and neutering programs has spun the population out of control.
But cats are admired in Cyprus so much that despite the large numbers every town has a “Cat Lady” who feeds and takes care of the cats from their own money!
Cat stations are also pretty popular where people can donate food for the feline population. Organizations like the Tala Monastery cat park with 750 cats are known to proactively take care of the stray and abandoned cats as much as they can even providing them with their own toys!
While the furry creatures can be cute and fun to play with (For those who enjoy cats), the aggressive population growth is a problem that the Govt is hell-bent on tackling asap!
Limassol Carnival is a major European festival held in Limassol, Cyprus 12 days before lent and is a 10-day event that is also considered one of the famous carnival events worldwide.
Processions, Songs, games, satire and gala balls are some of the events of this festival which is said to have originated as a festival in the honor of Dionysus, the god of wine and fun!
The festival starts on a Thursday with the King’s entry and the first week also called the meat week is the last week of eating meat before Easter and is also known as “Tsiknopempti” or stinking Thursday owing to the meat overload.
The second week is known as the cheese week and a lot of dairy products are consumed throughout the week which ends with the parade.
The parade has a lot of satirical themes while the children’s parade is one of the prettiest sights of the carnival. In the old city, people are known to play with foam during the carnival throwing it at each other!
Zenobia Wreck Diving
The Swedish Cargo Ship MS Zenobia capsized in 1980 off the coast of Larnaca in Cyprus and sank in its very first voyage with 200 million Pounds worth of Cargo. Today the wreck of the ship is constantly listed among the ten best wreck dives in the world.
Since fishing is not allowed around a certain radius of the wreck, the marine life here is thriving and abundant. The wreck is an experience of a lifetime for diving enthusiasts and provides a lot of challenges to divers since it capsized on its port side.
The travel from the starboard side to the upper deck and the almost inaccessible lower deck through the intricate interiors of the ship’s wreckage makes it one of the most challenging yet satisfying dives.
However, it is important to know that the lower deck and even the upper deck are meant for very experienced divers only and can be dangerous as 7 divers have lost their lives diving here.
BONUS INFO: The ship when it sank, sunk without any casualties.
Traditional Handicrafts practiced centuries ago are still preserved and practiced in the villages of Cyprus keeping their tradition and heritage alive.
Some of the techniques are not documented anywhere and are passed down across generations personally.
A visit to many villages and workshops gives us a rare glimpse into the traditional practices and one can see the locals make crafts from scratch while also educating the visitors about the history and the process of making them.
Some of the well known Cypriot handicrafts are:
- Pottery– The villages of Kornos and Foini practice the age-old red clay pottery and the handicrafts center also provides souvenirs.
- Lace– Lefkara village is known for its Lefkara embroidered handmade linen lace pieces. The traditional way of making it is listed by UNESCO in its Intangible List of World Heritage.
- Weaving– Byzantine era weaving and dyeing techniques can be found in the Fyti village in Pafos.
- Copper and Silverware – Copper pots and vessels like mbriki (for making Coffee the Cypriot way) and trifouri which is the art of twisting silver wires into beautiful jewelry are some common crafts too.
- Basket making– Ineia in Pafos, Lemesos in Akrotiri are villages known for their basketry skills and are also a good visit for their scenic beauty
The Wish-Fulfilling Tree
St. Solomon’s crypt in Pafos is known for the wish-fulfilling tree found at its entry. The tree is adorned with handkerchiefs, ribbons and other cloth items each accompanying a wish of a visitor and is a rare yet beautiful sight, something that is very similar to the wish-fulfilling trees of India wherein people tie sacred threads around the trees.
The tree is supposed to have blessed women with fertility and made long lost relatives meet each other when a kerchief was tied around it with the belief and intention.
This led to the popularity of the tree and today the tree is adorned with multi-colored ribbons and kerchiefs making it a very pretty sight in the somber catacombs of St Solomon.
Food is taken very seriously in Cyprus and the people love and care about their food deeply.
There have been major culinary influences on the Cypriot cuisine mainly:
- Middle Eastern
Along with these influences, the presence of fresh ingredients sourced mainly locally makes the Cypriot cuisine a haven for food lovers including me.
Food culturally plays an important role too in social occasions and Cypriots are known to have long lunches while dinners are usually late when the weather is just perfect.
Traditionally favored ingredients are
- Meats( Grilled usually) like- pork, lamb, beef, rabbit, and seafood
- Halloumi cheese
- Local fruits like oranges, melons, avocados, watermelons, and strawberries
- Local vegetables like beans, okra, grape leaves, artichoke, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and mint leaves
- Spices like pepper, cumin, coriander, parsley, thyme, and oregano
- A huge assortment of bread
The cuisine is so varied that it will need a separate article in itself. I am listing a few traditional foods that are meant to be tried – Meze of dips, Kebabs of grilled meat and seafood, sliced grilled meat or souvlaki with hummus, kleftiko made of lamb cooked for 24 hrs in an oven, rabbit or beef stew called stifado, moussaka with eggplant and lamb, Koupepia i.e minced meat and rice steamed in grape leaves, and for the sweet tooth – Kadayif which is a bread pudding and Baklava.
Food in Cyprus varies according to regions and seasons. It’s good to ask the locals what to try and since they love their food, I guess this would be a great conversation starter too!