Castles, castles, and a few churches here and there.
South Cyprus, or the Greek side, is filled with beaches, mosaics, archeological sites, and lots of Cypriot coffee. The relaxing atmosphere by the beach doesn’t mean its people have forgotten a sordid past with its Turkish neighbor in the north. Head to Omodos and you’ll indulge in small quaint village hailed as Cyprus’ wine region. Cats and empty wine bottles…dream much? Move to the urban Limassol, the island’s third largest city and you’ll feel a rhythm beating to the yearning for a growing city life. Paphos is where we end the list, the enormity of ancient mosaics might leave you wonder: how far have we come? Here are must-do’s to bring out the culturalti in you!
LARNACA – AIRPORT CITY
SEE: Hala Sultan Tekke.
Visiting Hala Sultan Tekke is on the list not only because it’s rare to see a mosque on the Greek side of Cyprus, but here, you can also see the tomb of Umm Haram – Prophet Muhammed’s wife. Her tomb was uncovered in the 18th century, now located after you pass through a small door inside the mosque.
DO: Watch the flamingos at the Salt Lake.
Hard to see these flamingos since they’re camera shy. But they flock to the island for brine shrimps especially during winter months. They’ve traveled here from Turkey, Sardinia, and Italy.
SEE: Church of Saint Lazarus.
Inside this little Greek Orthodox Church is a golden gem, quite literally. This late 9th century church named after Lazarus of Bethany who arrived in Cyprus and was appointed as the first Bishop of modern day Larnaca. His tomb is underneath the church, you can go and take a peek.
DO: Stroll along the palm-tree seafront.
Larnaca is what many believe to possibly be the oldest city in Cyprus, and it will possibly be either your first or the last stop since it’s where the largest Cypriot airport is located. Strolling along the marina along the palm-tree seafront during wintertime or sunbathing on its beautiful beaches are popular must-do’s.
NICOSIA – THE CAPITAL
SHOP: Ledra Street.
Nicosia is filled with outdoor cafes, and important museums highlighting Cypriot and Byzantine cultures.
The historical Ledra Street is now Nicosia’s major shopping area where you can find most mass market brands here. But I preferred local souvenir shops. Some are quite touristic, but you can still find some cool textiles and canvas bags to bring home.
Kathodon, means “on the way.” Restaurant owner Sakis told me, he could’ve chosen a trendy name for his eatery, but he wanted it to mean something significant to indicate Greek Cypriots’ will to freedom. So many famous people have eaten traditional meze here. Like any taverna, you’ll taste Greek salads, zucchini balls, to meat kebabs.
DRINK: Cypriot coffee.
Speaking of food, Cypriot meze is similar to Greek mezes or Spanish tapas. In Cyprus, it’s quite a social event, often with 30 mezes at the table. Expect lots and lots of seafood. You’ve gotta also taste the famous Cypriot coffee.
When drinking a cup of traditional Cypriot coffee, always tell the waiter whether you want it sweet or unsweetened, since sugar is added to the water and coffee powder when the water is still cold. Remember, don’t drink the residue at the bottom!
NIKITARI – TINY VILLAGE
SEE: Panagia Asinou Church.
In a tiny little village Nikitari, an hour west from Nicosia by car, you’ll need to see one of my favorite fresco churches. Panagia Asinou is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a 12th century church dedicated to Virgin Mary and depicts the story of the Bible through Byzantine mural painting.
OMODOS – WINE VILLAGE
EAT: Lunch at Katoi for lovely meze and kebabs.
Once you arrive in the heart of Omodos, you’ll need to stop and lunch at Katoi. This delightful find is full of charm and small town appeal serving delicious mezes and kebabs. I’m not kidding, the chicken kebabs were tender, juicy, slightly charred to the perfect degree. I had been eating kebabs non-stop on this trip, and Katoi perfected its chicken breasts to my utmost surprise. The wine cellar in the back of the restaurant is a proud corner for the owner, who kindly showed me where he stored his good bottles.
DRINK: Zivania, local liquor.
If you like the taste of raki, then you’ll love zivania which is a Cypriot brandy produced from the distillation of different grapes. The light aroma of raisins also carries 45% of alcohol content with neither sugar nor acidity.
SHOP: Nuts, textiles, olive oils in local boutiques.
Shopping in small towns like this means you’re going to get VERY high quality products at VERY low cost. As you stroll through small alleys, you’ll pass by several shops selling textiles, wines, olive oils, nuts and local honey. Here was where I shopped ’til I dropped, the thought of supporting local artisans and farmers made me smile REAL big!
SEE: Timios Stavros Monastery.
Timios Stavros Monastery is an ancient Byzantine church with stained glass and frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible. The main element in the interior is the three-tier, gold-plated iconostasis.
Besides entering the church, there’s a museum on the second level of the courtyard that’s worth checking out. The Museum of Struggle pays tribute to many locals whose lives were lost during their fight against British rule.
LIMASSOL – UP-AND-COMING CITY
SEE: Limassol Castle in Old Town.
Situated in the heart of historic quarter, Limassol Castle was rebuilt during the Ottoman empire around 1590. The Ottomans transformed the castle into a fort, turning the underground chamber and the first floor into prisons. The castle was used for such until the 1950’s. This is also where the Queen of England Berengaria of Navarre was crowned in 1191.
SEE: Ayia Napa Cathedral.
Ayia Napa Cathedral is a small Byzantine church that was completed in 1906, filled with marble iconostasis and frescoes. A must-see in Limassol because it plays such a significant religious role in the city.
SEE: The majesty of Kolossi Castle.
Kolossi Castle played an imperative role during the Middle Ages when Cyprus was known for exporting sugar and Kolossi held large factories producing sugar from local sugarcanes. The castle was built in 1210 by the Franks, who were Germanic people from the 3rd century and came to known as Western Europeans during the Middle Ages.
The castle we see today was built in 1454 under Kolossi Commander, Louis de Magnac, and his coat-of-arms can be seen throughout the castle, such as the fireplaces. There are 3 floors of empty rooms, but I highly recommend heading up to the rooftop where you can capture a gorgeous view of surrounding landscapes.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kourion is an ancient limestone acropolis by the sea. The Kingdom of Kourion goes back to 1050-75- BCE with tombs that indicate a flourishing society here with strong ties to Greece. Once the most powerful kingdom in Cyprus, Kourion carries history through the Classical and the Roman periods. Here, you’ll see The Temple of Apollo Hylates, sanctuary baths, a massive theater, basilicas, aqueducts, House of Achilles, and House of the Gladiators which features marvelous mosaic work.
SEE: Aphrodite’s Rock.
One of the best things to do in Cyprus, thanks to its accessible size, is to rent a car or hire a driver and cruise along the southern coast. Especially if you’re traveling between Nicosia (the capital) and Limassol (Cyprus’ third largest city,) there are certain sites you must not miss. One of them is Petra tou Romiou, aka: Aphrodite’s Rock. Legend has it that the rock is the birthplace of the Greek goddess of love – Aphrodite. And if you swim in the water, it’s said that you’ll be blessed with eternal beauty!
PAPHOS – POPULAR RETREAT
DO: Paphos Archaeological Park
Paphos Archaeological Park contains the important ancient Greek and Roman City. You can see large Roman villas and beautifully preserved mosaics and other excavations that were uncovered.