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Today, visitors love Cyprus for its warm weather, lively beach resorts and wild, mountainous interior. But this Med stalwart was popular long before tourism arrived. Its strategic location attracted powers from Greece, Egypt and Rome, who variously settled, influenced and tussled over it for thousands of years. Hence Cyprus' other big draw: a treasure trove of historical sights, including the sprawling ruins at Paphos and the hilltop castle of St. Hilarion. If you're looking for a holiday that blends beach time with cultural attractions, you can't do much better.
The divide between the Turkish north and Greek south of the country means that each end of the island has a distinctive feel, and offers a different flavour of holiday. The south coast is famed for its luxury accommodation, and is where you’ll find the densest concentration of hotels, villas and all-inclusive resorts.
A number of popular coastal resorts dominate the sun-and-fun market here. Limassol has a picturesque old town, the biggest zoo in Cyprus and a medieval castle, as well as seven miles of beautiful beaches to lounge on. It’s a great spot from which to explore the rest of the island – if, that is, you can tear yourself away from that fresh, squeaky Cypriot halloumi!
To the west, the harbour town of Paphos is one of the oldest cities in the world. Uniquely, the entire place is a UNESCO Heritage Site, thanks to a sprawling mix of ancient palaces, villas and underground tombs close to the modern harbour. The nearby village of Kouklia is Aphrodite’s mythical birthplace, and home to some stunning mosaics.
Other popular destinations on the south coast include ancient Kourion, the buzzing city of Larnaca, and far out on the eastern tip the bars and clubs of Ayia Napa, the formerly peaceful fishing village where you’ll find the famous, blue-flag awarded Nissi Beach. Head beyond that and you reach the remote Cape Greco National Forest Park, a brilliant spot for hiking and snorkeling.
If you’re looking for something quieter, try Polis, on the island's west coast. It's a smaller resort that is close to both the central Troodos Mountains and the Paphos Forest.
With so much to do, it’s perfectly possible to base your holiday solely on the coast – although if you do, you’ll be missing out. Head inland to the island's mostly rural interior and you’ll find a terrain filled with greenery and dominated by the Troodos Mountains, whose cool foothills are ideal for escaping the heat of the coast, and for hiking, biking and climbing.
For a wholly different vibe, base yourself in Turkish Cyprus, which attracts far fewer tourists. As well as being surrounded by a different language and cooler temperatures, you’ll discover mosques instead of ancient ruins and bazaars instead of boutiques and malls.
The pretty harbour town of Kyrenia is a popular choice, with good nightlife and plenty of sights to take in, including a shipwreck museum and a 7th century castle. Head a few miles inland to discover Bellapais Village, whose narrow streets are dotted with characterful cafes and restaurants, and lead up to the ruins of 13th century Bellapais Abbey.
The peak tourist season in Cyprus runs from April to October and, as with so many European holiday destinations, August is the most expensive time to fly. It’s also the hottest time of year, with average temperatures reaching 26°C.
If you’re looking for cheap flights to Cyprus, it's also worth avoiding Greek Orthodox Easter, when flights are often packed with Greek Cypriot expats flying home to celebrate. Dates vary each year, so check before you book. On the flip side, the event brings lively celebrations across the island, with a real local flavour – so if you don't mind the higher prices, it can be an interesting time to visit.
Spring is arguably the best time to visit Cyprus, with tourists still enjoying warm temperatures of around 17C in April. But if you’re looking for an authentic taste of Cypriot life, save money and visit during winter, when the cooler weather means tourists are few and far between and hearty local dishes are the order of the day (try a warming, slow-cooked kleftiko, a delicious roast lamb dish).
A festival of performing arts set near the castle of Paphos, expect operatic performances in an impressive, grand setting.
Taking place during spring in Larnaca, this colourful flower festival has links to ancient Greece. Today, it involves beautifully decorated floats, elaborate costumes and lots of fun.
Cyprus has two international airports, both in the south of the island: Larnaca International and Paphos International. Flights from all London airports run regularly through the summer, and there are also flights available from Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast, Newcastle, Liverpool, Cardiff, Birmingham, East Midlands, Bristol and Glasgow at peak times.
Limited public transport means car hire in Cyprus is a good idea if you want to explore the island.
Most car hire companies in the north don’t allow travel from north to south for insurance reasons. There are rental companies at the border, known as the ‘green line’, but it’s easier to hire a car at one of the two airports in the south, as travel from south to north is permitted.
If you plan to travel between the Turkish and Greek areas of the island to enjoy the different tastes of Cyprus, you’ll have to pass through one of the five checkpoints across the green line and show your passport.
The north requires an additional six months’ validity on your passport, and there are also limits on the number of certain items you can take across the border. If you’re planning on shopping in the north, check the allowances first.
There is a cheap but hit-and-miss bus service on the island that is best relied on for journeys between major cities and airports. Taxis are more reliable and are easy to find, particularly in the south, where they are metered.
Cyprus has been producing wine for longer than any other country in the world. Look out for tours of the Limassol region's krasochoria ('wine villages').
The Zenobia Wreck is widely renowned to be one of the best recreational dives in the world. It lies just off the coast of Larnaca, where divers can easy arrange tours.
The Med's sunniest island is best known for its beaches and vibrant nightlife. But beyond the big resorts there's much more to experience in Cyprus' hilly hinterland and around its shores.Read more