This island has a grand history with archaeological sites, fine Byzantine churches, and monasteries and museums galore. It’s also a wonderful place to go hiking, with an incredible wealth of unique flora and fauna. Best of all, it’s so small that you can easily base yourself in one town and then explore the island.
There’s no shortage of ancient sites in Cyprus but Kourion is the pick of the bunch. Romantically situated across a coastal cliff with tumbling views of the countryside and Mediterranean below, it’s a magical place. The entire site is vast, but the most famous section is the theatre and the House of Eustolios, which holds a clutch of fine, well-preserved mosaics. For those with more time up their sleeves, the large Byzantine basilica area is wonderfully picturesque with its tumbled columns and scraps of mosaic floor.
Easy going Larnaca, on the island’s southeast side, may be a seaside resort, but it’s kept its local soul. This is by far the most laid-back base for holidaymakers here. All the facilities for sun- and sand-based fun can be found, but the old crumbling Turkish Quarter (called Skala) and ornate Agios Lazaros (Church of St. Lazarus) give the town an interesting historical edge, while the centre itself has retained the atmosphere of a proper workaday town rather than just a summer resort. Even better, the salt lake, just to Larnaca’s west, is packed full of flocks of pink flamingos during spring, and plenty of hill villages and cultural tourist attractions lie in the surrounding hinterland
This tiny but perfectly formed castle just outside of Limassol is an old Crusader stronghold and a reminder of Cyprus’ importance for the Europeans during the Holy Land Crusades. First held by the Knights of St. John, the castle was used as a commandery for the area, with an excellent location looking out over the coast line. Today, the castle’s appeal is mostly down to its dollhouse proportions and its tranquil position amid snooze Kolossi village.
Even along Cyprus’ buzzing south coast there are regions where you can escape the crowds. Cape Greco is an impossibly pretty coastal national park with a variety of walking trails that start just east of the resort of Agia Napa. There is a wonderful variety of local flora here, particularly many of Cyprus’ endemic wild orchids that bloom in early spring but the real highlight is the absolutely gorgeous coastal scenery with azure blue sea beyond. The trails stretch all the way to Cape Greco point which is the most easterly point in the south of Cyprus.
The Troodos Massif (Troodos Mountains), in the hill region of the southwest, are packed full of pretty villages full of stone-cut traditional houses and cobblestone alleys. They’re also home to some of Cyprus’ most amazing churches and monasteries that hold vibrant frescoes and wall paintings that date from the medieval era. The Troodos churches are so important historically that nine of them have been given UNESCO World Heritage status. Hire a car for the day and tick them all off, but if you only have time to view one, make sure it’s the Church of Archangelos Michail in the dinky village of Pedoulas.
House of Dionysus
The big-hitter site in the resort of Paphos is the House of Dionysus, home to an incredible collection of mosaic floors that are feted for their excellent preservation and vibrant colouring. Part of the larger Paphos Archaeological Site, with plenty of Greco-Roman ruins, the House of Dionysus is a wonderful example of the intricate artistry of the period. It’s named after the god Dionysus who crops up in many of the mosaics throughout the house, which mostly depict scenes of Greek mythology.
With so many archaeological sites, Cyprus is packed full of museums, but the Cyprus Museum in the capital Nicosia is where you go to pull together all of the island’s history. Extremely well-curated, the museum takes visitors on a journey from the Neolithic age right up to the Ottoman era using beautiful artefacts to show the sophisticated artistry of each period. The standout exhibits are the huge collection of terracotta votive statues that date from the 7th century BC. Even if you’re based on the coast, you should definitely make a half-day trip to the capital just to view the museum.