When you hear of Cyprus, it’s usually in the context of cheap sun getaways for Brits to the beach towns of Ayia Napa in the east and Paphos (also spelled Pafos) in the west. We were initially worried it would be similar to Albufeira (see our posts here), an extremely tacky destination filled with drunken Brits. There is definitely some of that, but if you pick the right destination, you can have a great beach vacation. So if you’re wondering what to do in Cyprus, and are debating “Paphos or Ayia Napa”, you’ve come to the right place.
Also see our post on visiting the interior of Cyprus.
After landing at the Larnaca airport, we rented a car and drove 45 minutes to Ayia Napa. We rented an apartment, which was only a 5-minute walk from the town center and 10 minutes from the water.
The archaeological attractions alone should draw visitors to Ayia Napa. We saw an entire building built into a stone outcropping, and a wheeled buggy dating back to ancient times. Oh wait, that was just the Bedrock Inn Flinstone’s themed bar in the city center! Yabba-Dabba-Doo!
Admittedly, and gladly, we were visiting in the shoulder season. During the day, the entire city center was a ghost town of shut fast food restaurants and large, tacky themed bars. With October temperatures in the mid to high 20s (Celsius, in case there are Americans reading this), any visitors in town were understandably at the beaches. At night things livened up, if only slightly. During high season, Ayia Napa looks like it would have a pretty wild clubbing scene.
The main street is lined with restaurants, many offering similar, if not identical, menus. There was underwhelming and overpriced food options running all the way down to the waterfront. Our tip is to shop around for some sort of deal – out of high season there are WAY more tables available than there are tourists to fill them. As you would expect, the restaurants are only interrupted by “Supermarkets”, which are really combination souvenirs shops / corner stores. Luckily, these tend to be fairly large so are great if you’re looking to pick up a few self-catering items (there are very few decent grocery stores in the area).
Beaches in the Ayia Napa area are plentiful and beautiful. Powdery white sand, crystal clear water, plenty of loungers and umbrellas for rent (€2.50 each), and lots of facilities so you barely need to leave the oceanfront. We’d briefly considered checking out the huge waterpark nearby, but entrance was €38 each, which seemed a bit ridiculous.
By walking along the waterfront in either direction, there are numerous beaches each with their own pros and cons. We found that even this late in the season, the better beaches were very full as most resorts don’t have a private area so everyone crowds onto the public beaches. But it’s hard to be too upset considering how beautiful it is, so we would just find an empty patch, lay down our towels, and hang out. The further you walk or drive from the city center, the less crowded. Our favorite was Makronissos Beach, which is just past the famous Nissi Beach.
For all the Brits missing Blackpool, there is also an amusement park right on the waterfront with rides and games. We had fun wandering around in the evening, once it opened after the beaches empty out.
Having a car was ideal, as many of the nicer beaches and other sights are accessible only by car. There are a few buses running between towns, but they seemed to always be packed. We were surprised by one thing though – many people rented ATVs/4x4s and dune buggies to drive around the area. There are a ton of places renting anything from electric powered tricycles to full 2-seater buggies, and that seemed to be the preferred method of transport for many people. However, they get annoying after a while as they’re very loud and can’t reach highway-appropriate speeds once you get out of town. But it’d be a great option for getting around Ayia Napa.
With a car, we were able to explore the nearby town of Protaras and Cape Greco National Park, which offered some walking trails and more beach options.
Roughly 90 minutes in the other direction from Larnaca is the other big touristic area of Cyprus, Paphos. Compared to Ayia Napa, Paphos is bigger, but with more of a pub culture vs Ayia Napa’s themed bars and rave scene.
The Brit influence is even more obvious here, with every pub advertising what Premiership matches they will televise each night and restaurants with names like “Tea for Two” and “The Brittania”. The city center has less of a theme park feel as well.
The waterfront is beautiful, but the beaches are not nearly as nice as those in Ayia Napa or Protaras. Rocky, pebbly, gritty sand – none of the beautiful white sandy beaches of the east coast. Coral Bay, a 20 minute drive north along the coast, is much nicer than the beaches in town and is one of the better beaches we visited in Cyprus.
We even went scuba diving in Paphos. Trevor is certified but hadn’t done a dive in a few years. This was a new experience for Christine. We’re going on a dive and snorkel cruise on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia this New Years Eve, so Christine wanted to give it a try before we get there.
What Paphos does offer is history. Just on the edge of town is the huge archaeological site that can be explored for the €4.50 admission fee. About 2km away is another site, the Tombs of the Kings, which is a series of elaborate tombs for the upper class of Hellenistic and Roman society (€2.50).
Between Paphos and Limassol (or Lemesos – another city in Cyprus with two names), a couple of other sights are worth a stop along the coast.
Just 20 mins outside of Paphos is Aphrodite’s Rock. Legend has it that this rock was the birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite. It is also called Petra tou Romiou (Rock of the Greek) after another legend that a Greek hero hurled the rock from the Troodos Mountains to fend off an invasion. While the narrow, rocky beach and the rough-looking sea weren’t very inviting for a swim, this beautiful section of the coastline is a great place to visit for some photos.
Closer to Limassol/Lemesos is the Archaeological Site of Ancient Kourion, probably the best preserved site from the Hellenistic/Roman periods (about 325BC to the 4th century AD) in southern Cyprus. Entrance is €4.50, and from there you can wander around the ruins independently. We found this site, an ancient city destroyed by an earthquake in the 4th century, is definitely worth an hour or two of your time.
So if we were to come back, where would we go? Ayia Napa or Paphos? Hmm…even though it’s more tacky in its development and geared more towards a younger crowd, we’d say Ayia Napa. And not because we’ve always wanted to party with Fred Flintstone. Ayia Napa has much better beaches, plus opportunities to find a secluded spot away from the crowds. The city center is more compact as well, making it a bit more pedestrian friendly. And the location is pretty great, being less than an hour drive from both the capital, Nicosia, and the Larnaca airport.
However, if you want a good mix of beach time and relaxation, and/or really want to avoid the clubbing scene during high season, you can’t go wrong with Paphos either.