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Top 10 things to do in Cyprus

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Cyprus is an island located in eastern Europe, rich in culture and history. Due to its strategic position, it has been influenced by many civilizations who have conquered it. Cyprus known as the "Jewel of the Mediterranean" and legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, the ancient goddess of love and beauty, certainly lives up to the exacting standards of its divine patroness. A stunning Mediterranean island steeped in legend, myth, beauty and romance that enjoys more than 340 days of sunshine a year, Cyprus is attracting visitors from across the world. Enchanted by the island's endless stretches of golden sands, secluded bays and rocky coves, today's tourists are also drawn to Cyprus for its fascinating history and culture, its exquisite Mediterranean cuisine and its glorious mountains and verdant countryside that prove that Cyprus is much more than just a "sun and sea" destination.

A “golden-green leaf thrown into the Sea” and a land of “wild weather and volcanoes,” in the words of the Greek Cypriot poet Leonidas Malenis, Cyprus comprises tall mountains, fertile valleys, and wide beaches. There's definitely lots of things to do and see on the island of Aprhodite - and here are the top 10 things you should do when you get there:

 

1. Visit the “Last divided capital city of Europe”

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Nicosia (Lefkosia in Greek) is the capital city of Cyprus and its largest city. Being continuously inhabited for 4,500 years, it has been the island’s capital city for almost 10 centuries. The city’s initial name was Ledra; a name, which has been altered during the 4th century a.D. The old city of Nicosia is surrounded by walls, which have 3 gates. According to mythology, Lefkosia was a siren, the daughter of Acheloos (a deity of the rivers) and Melpomeni, one of the Nine Muses.

Visiting Nicosia can be a very intense and particular experience for tourists. This is because the northern part of the city, along with the northern part of the island, is under military occupation by Turkey. Not only the city, but also Cyprus itself is literally divided by the “Green Line” (which is the UN Buffer Zone that keeps the peace on the island). The visitors who wish to see the side of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (only recognized by Turkey) can cross over to the other side of the UN Buffer Zone.
The two sides of the Old City are connected by Ledra Street, a road which is a historical monument on its own. Passing to the nicosia_1.jpgTurkish Cypriot part of the Old City, the visitor can find the Sarayönü Square, which is the centre of the city, the “heart of Nicosia” and admire the huge Venetian Column, mostly known as “the Obelisk” – which was brought to the city by the Venetians on 1550 from the ruins of the ancient city of Salamis. Another important parts of the city are the Selimiye Mosque (the most central religious part for the Turkish Cypriot community) and the Bedesten (an old Greek Orthodox Church, which was built around the 14th century aD was used as a marketplace during the Ottoman period. Cyprus Museum is a must-visit place: the island's rich history and culture depicts on the huge collection of artifacts displayed there. 

 

 

 

2. Explore Limassol
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Limassol is the second biggest city of Cyprus and the southest city in Europe. Being known as “Neapolis” during the Byzantine era, the city is estimated to be inhabited for the past 2000 years, based on archaeological burial artifacts. The history of the city is largely associated to the Third Crusade after being captured by the King of England, Richard the Lionheart on 1190 (one year later, it was sold to Guy de Lusignan, a fact which started the establishment of the Medieval Kingdom of Cyprus). In the years that followed, Limassol changed many rulers; Venetians, Ottoman Turks and, finally, British. In the modern years, Limassol has undergone a rapid development in economy and culture, which has made the city a very popular tourist destination. The first hotels in the city were opened during the end of the 19th century (two of the most popular ones were Europe and Amathus), while press underwent a significant growth already since 1880.Apart from its beautiful marina, the city’s Medieval Castle, the Archaeological Museum and the Oleastro limassol_1.jpgOlive Park & Museum are among the city’s top attractions. Close to Limassol, the tourists can also visit the archaeological site of Kourion, the Sanctuary of Apollo and the Akrotiri Salt Lake (which is one of the few wetlands of the eastern Mediterranean).

 

 

 

 

 3. Have a taste of the local wines
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When it comes to wine, Cyprus has a long and important tradition in winemaking. Its fertile soils and good climate conditions have contributed to the island’s wine producing history, with archaeological evidence proving that Cypriots used to produce wine and cultivate vines even 6000 years ago. One of the most famous products of the island is “Commandaria”, a sweet dessert wine, made from sun-dried grapes of two different varieties. It is said that the Troodos range is home to the wine villages
dated back to 800 bC, which makes this type of alcoholic beverage the oldest named wine that is produced until today. Commandaria is mostly produced in the foothills of Troodos Mountain, to the north of Lemessos – the small, beautiful villages that are located on the slopes of the Troodos range are called “Krassochoria” (wine villages) because of their long tradition of vinery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Visit Larnaca and its surroundings
larnaca.jpgOne of the biggest cities in Cyprus, Larnaca, is built on the ruins of the ancient city of Kition, which was the birthplace of the Stoic philosopher Zeno. The city owns some of the most popular seaside resorts in Cyprus.
The city’s old town is home to the church of St Lazarus, which was built under the commands of the byzantine emperor Leo VI. The legend has it that, after being resurrected, Lazarus fled to Cyprus, in the city of Larnaka, where he lived as the Bishop of Kition and died there. Close to the church, the Byzantine Museum of the city hosts many religious artifacts and relics, while the visitors of the city’s Archaeological Museum can see finds from the Neolithic Period and Choirokoitia settlement to the Roman Era.
One of the most interesting corners of the city is the old Turkish Quarter (better known as Skala) – it has been habited by the Turkish population of the city for centuries and has been abandoned by them after the Turkish invasion of 1974. However, there is a revival of this spot in the past years, after some artisans have moved their ceramic workshops there. Remains of the Turkish presence in the area can also be found in the surroundings of the city of Larnaca. The Hala Sultan Tekke, built on 1816 by the Ottoman Turks, remains an important pilgrimage for Muslims - it honours the memory of the Prophet Muhammad’s wet nurse. Apart from its religious importance, the Salt Lake has also a unique beauty, with flamingoes and ducks residing the lake during spring.


5. See the city of Paphos and its famous mosaics
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Paphos is one of the biggest cities in Cyprus. According to the myth, after her rise from the sea, Aphrodite landed to Paphos – where her worship was introduced from Syria or Phoenicia. The founder of the new city is believed to be Agapenor, a hero of the Trojan War. Its decline has started after the founding of Nicosia and the development of the port of Larnaca – the city has regained some of its old glory many centuries later, after the Turkish invasion of 1974, when it started attracting visitors from other countries. The modern city of Paphos has many luxury tourist resorts and the second international airport of Cyprus. 

The city of Paphos is enlisted in the UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List. The beautiful mosaics in the Houses of Dionysos, Theseus and Aion, well preserved after 16 centuries, the Tombs of the Kings and the ancient Odeon Theatre catch the eye of the visitors, while the area around the city is home to many important sights, such as the Saint Neophytos monastery (Encleistra), the “Rock of Aphrodite” (Petra tou Romiou) – where Aphrodite was believed to have paphos_1.jpgbeen born, the village of Lemba and Old Paphos are included in the huge variety of sights the place has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Take a glimpse of the Neolithic settlement of Choirokoitia
choirokoitia.jpgThe settlement of Choirokoitia is being dated form the Neolithic Age. It has been discovered in 1934 by Porphyrios Dikaios and is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1998. The settlement is considered as one of the most important and well preserved ones in the eastern Mediterranean. It is estimated that, apart from the settlement of Choirokoitia, 20 more similar settlements have been found throughout the island.
Being settled in the valley of the Maroni river, the Choirokoitia settlement and the evidence found there show that it was an absolutely organized society, with a kind of fortification surrounding it for protection. Inside the fortifications, the buildings of the settlement were round and gathered one really close to the other, while, at its peak, it was home to 600 inhabitants. According to the archaeological finds, the people who lived in the settlement were involved in cultivating the land and hunting; however, they had a low life expectancy and the infant mortality was very common. It is believed that the settlement has been abandoned for reasons unknown on 6000 b.C.

 

7. Go swimming to Agia Napa and Protaras

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Unarguably, Cyprus has some of the best beaches in the east Mediterranean, with crystal clear waters and modern infrastructures.

Perhaps the most famous destination of the island is the Agia Napa area and Nissi beach. Being found during the medieval times, it owes its name to a monastery that has been discovered by accident by a hunter, as the local legend says. Agia Napa is the largest tourist resort in Cyprus, with many resorts and hotel complexes, attracting many visitors and being famous for its vivid life and club scene.
Almost 10 kms from Agia Napa, Protaras is the ideal solution for those who prefer quiet, relaxing holidays. The most famous beach of the area is the Fig Tree Bay. Protaras is among the most popular diving destinations in the East Mediterranean, with some of the best dive sites in Cyprus being located there.

 

8. Discover the Caledonia Falls
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One of the highest waterfalls of Cyprus, Caledonia falls are located in Platres village, Troodos mountains. The waterfalls were discovered in 1878 by a Scottish expedition and, after noticing the resemblance of the area to their homeland, named the waterfalls after the Latin name of Scotland (Caledonia). Its height is approximately 12 m and can be reached easily by a trail surrounded by lush forest. The area is ideal for hiking, since it displays a variety of local flora and the hikers can enjoy the beautiful sounds of nature in an unspoiled environment.

 

 

 

 

9. Cross the borders to the other side

The fact that Cyprus still remains divided after the Turkish invasion is a rather sad reality for both Greek and Turkish Cypriot side. After the summer of 1974, everything has changed for the locals, no matter their ethnicity, religion and personal beliefs. Moving towards the 21st century, both sides have tried to heal their wounds; and the northern part could not be an exception.
Crossing the Ledra’s street, the visitor enters a “no man’s land”, protected by the UN peacekeeping forces. This central, shopping thoroughfare is a kind of “corridor”, linking the north and the south parts of the divided capital.

Exploring the north part of the island, one can find many beautiful places of great importance. The two main tourist attractions are the cities of Girne and Famagusta:

a) Girne:
girne.jpgGirne (Kyrenia in Greek) is located to the northern part of Cyprus. Belonging to Northern Cyprus since the Turkish invasion of 1974, Girne is considered the cultural and economical centre of the Northern Cypriot regime, being popular not only for its historical harbor and Venetian castle, but also for its marina, numerous resorts and casinos.
According to archaeological finds, the city has been first habited thousands of years ago – with its finders probably being Achaeans from Peloponnese after the Trojan War. As most of Cyprus, the city has changed many owners throughout the years – Romans, Ottomans and British to name but a few, to end up under the control of the Turkish Cypriot government since 1974.
Some of the city’s most famous sites are the Kyreneia Castle, the Anglican Church of St Andrews right behind the castle and the Agha Cafer Pasa Mosque – all three are a rare example of how the owners of the island have influenced the city’s architecture. In the wider area of Girne, you can visit the Castles of Buffavento, St Hilarion and Kantara; all constructed during the Byzantine times, in order to protect the city from the Arab raids.

b) Famagusta:
famagusta.jpgFamagusta, a historical city from the ancient times, is being located east of Nicosia. It has been a very important port city during the medieval times, since it was one of the trade routes connecting the Silk Road to Western Europe. Its ancient name was Arsinoe (named after the Greek queen Arsinoe II of Egypt) and was founded around 274 BC, after the devastating earthquake of Salamis. Famagusta’s days of glory have began after 1192 and the Lusignan rule and, after a long-time occupation by Latins (from Genoa and Venice), the city was captured by Ottomans on 1571 and the British, to end up under the North Cypriot rule after 1974.
Many historical sights and monuments are located inside the fortifications of the old city, which was mostly built by the Venetians during the 16th and 17th century; the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque (which formerly was the Church of Saint Nicholas) is the largest medieval building of the city, while the Ganchvor monastery is an Armenian Apostolic Church built from Armenians of Cilicia, Asia Minor, in 1346. A sight of a great beauty and a rare example of the Renaissance architecture in Cyprus, the “Palazzo del Provveditore” used to be the royal palace, built by the Lusignan Kings. Close to the city of Famagusta, the visitors can see the ruins of the ancient city of Salamis.
Perhaps the most chilling part of the area of Famagusta is the quarter of Varosha. Varosha was a really popular tourist resort during the early 1970’s, with many VIP visitors, such as Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; until the invasion of 1974. The inhabitants, fearing for their lives, have fled to nearby areas like Dheryneia, Larnaca and Paralimni, evacuating Varosha . The Varoshans thought that this is a temporary measure and the time of their homecoming would not be late; in fact, they never came back to their houses, which remain untouched as their owners have left them up to this day. The access for visitors, or even photos and videos taken from the place, is not allowed in Varosha – however, the ghost city is visible behind the barbed fences, with decaying buildings and nature taking over the ground of the once cosmopolitan destination.

 

10. Get a chance to see the Akamas peninsula
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The Akamas Peninsula is located in the west side of Cyprus. According to the myth, this is where Aphrodite met her lover, Adonis. Having indeed an idyllic scenery, Akamas is an area of great environmental importance. Most of Akamas has been given a protection status from the European Authorities; Its National Park covers an area of 230 square kms and displays valleys, gorges and beautiful, picturesque bays (such as the Lara Bay, famous for its sea turtle hatchery). The park hosts a big number of flora and fauna, mostly endemic to the area, while the overall area is ideal for visitors who wish to experience an alternative and relaxing holiday – a fact that, according to environmental organizations, threatens the unspoiled nature of Akamas and measures must be taken in order to protect the peninsula.

 

 

No matter if you decide to visit it during summer or winter, the island of Aphrodite will offer you unforgettable experiences. The famous Cypriot hospitality will immediately win your hearts, while the veautiful scenery will make you craving for some more of it - the result? You'll wish to visit it again and again.

 

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