What To Do In Cyprus? 10 Ways It Surprises (And Shocks)

MikeachimCyprus36 Comments

What to do in Cyprus? Why is it anything special? Just another sunkissed Mediterranean island, you say?

Here are ten reasons why I beg to differ.


  • Cyprus is where cheese squeaks… If you’re bored with cheese being so cheesy, you need some Halloumi. It doesn’t taste like cheese. Imagine something salt-tangy with the mouth-feel of chicken, and you’ve a hint of its gastronomic magic. It doesn’t behave like cheese, having a melting-point high enough to allow it to be fried into crispy, chewy slabs of pure Wow. And it doesn’t sound like cheese. Wet your finger and rub it against a window: that’s what Halloumi sounds like. Eat some. You’ll see.


  • …and where dinner chirrups. Traditional Cyprus cuisine is generally magnificent (in the simple, effortlessly alluring way so characteristic of Mediterranean countries). Generally, but not universally. Because there’s a dark side, and it’s called Ambelopoulia. It’s illegal under EU law, and many modern Cypriots would love to wash their hands of it. Yet it endures. It’s vile. (Warning: bird-lovers may find following these links rather disturbing).


  • Cyprus has its own languages. If you’re learning either Turkish or Greek to prepare for a trip to Cyprus, be prepared for confusion: each language exists in Cyprus in a strongly dialectic form. In other words, you might still look an idiot (but hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing). Learning Greek from the online Kypros Greek audio course? Good, you’ll have a Cypriot twang – but if you bump into someone using true Cypriot Greek, well, best of luck. Oh, and if you know Greek already, beware of using the word malaka or malakas. In Greece, it means “mate” or “buddy”; in Cyprus, “wanker”.


  • It’s A Rapidly Parching Land. If you read Colin Thubron’s Journey Into Cyprus – and I really, really recommend you do so – and if you come away with the urge to drag your walking boots on and do something similar…remember to take a big water-bottle. Not only does Cyprus get very hot indeed (causing major problems for British Army troops stationed there), it’s also suffering water shortages – part mismanagement, part reduced rainfall since the ’70s. Walkers beware.


  • Cyprus can horrify. In December 2008 the former President of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, was buried in Nicosia after dying of lung cancer. Almost exactly a year later, someone lifted the 250kg marble slab capping his grave, dug up his coffin and stole his body. Since Papadopoulos had been a bitter opponent of the United Nations plans to reunify the occupying Turks with the EU-approved Greek government, political motives seemed likely. This was macabre even for Cyprus, an island that has endured half a century of human tragedy. However, 3 months later his body has been found – after an apparently unsuccessful attempt to extort money from his family.



  • Northern Cyprus Has Something To Prove. The south is the Republic Of Cyprus, enjoying all the benefits of European Union membership – and the north is the EU-illegal Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (unless you’re Greek, in which case it’s probably given a much less polite name). Northern Cyprus isn’t internationally approved. It relies on Turkey to stay afloat, and it’s often desperately stretched for resources. Cross the Nicosia-dividing border for the day and you’ll find the urban fabric visibly patchier, with rotting buildings aplenty. What you’ll won’t find is a frosty welcome, because Northern Cypriots want and need tourism and they’ve a lot to offer scenery-seeking visitors, from beach to abbey to mountain to monastery to harbour. And where else in the world can you see a flag that covers a mountainside (below)?


cyprus-map.gif (GIF Image, 521×358 pixels) - Mozilla Firefox 19032010 220154

  • Cyprus Is Almost In The Middle East. It’s 44 miles south of the Turkish coastline, 65 miles east of Syria. If that was all land, you could cycle it in a day. It’s an extraordinary place to find a British outpost, but that’s the case even today (more correctly, a British Sovereign Base Area – and Cyprus has the only two currently in existence). The Middle East over the horizon, the British garrisons, Greece ten times further away than Turkey…the geography alone makes things complicated.


  • A Social Rift You Can See From Space. Look at Nicosia on Google Earth and zoom in on the star-shaped wall enclosing the old city. You’ll see a grey smudge of a line winding erratically north-south. On either side, the city is bright and alive, but everything within this filthy ribbon of land looks sick, a wasteland dotted with shattered, roofless buildings. It’s called The Green Line, and it’s anything but eco-friendly. It’s what makes Nicosia the world’s last divided capital city – but it extends beyond, west and eastwards for 180 miles, dividing Cyprus from shore to shore. You can cross at the right places with the right papers but you have to be back before nightfall, (see comments) – even now, almost 30 years since it was first laid down with the scrawl of a crayon on a map. For 3 decades it’s drawn United National peacekeeping troops to Cyprus (including my father – so it’s part of the reason I grew up there). It’s time-travel history, ugly and fascinating.


The wine of kings and the king of wines.

– Richard The Lionheart

  • Cyprus is the home to the world’s oldest named wine still being bottled.In the foothills rising from Limassol to the Trooodos mountain range lies the Commandaria region: a collection of 14 villages authorised under Cypriot legislation to produce the sweet, voluptuously-bodied wine known as Commandaria. It’s made nowhere else. The name? At one time Cyprus was the property of Richard Plantagenet of England, better known now as “Lionheart” (and back then as “the absent king”). Being typically strapped for cash, he sold it to the Knights Templar who then flogged it to one-time king of Jerusalem Guy de Lusignan who  owned the large feudal estate known locally as La Grande Commanderie. Thinking it sounds a lot like Port? Legend has it that Commanderie grapes were exported to Portugal, and the rest is history. If you leave Cyprus without owning a bottle of your own, you’ll kick yourself for years. Believe me when I say this.
Images: Mike Sowden,  Allerina & Glen MacLarty, sarniebill1, chefranden, C’est La Gene, heurekaCrown Imports, Ian Sewell and placid casual.
  • Great post, Mike – really informative! I hadn’t thought of the Green Line being visible from space before. Totally get you on the friendly people in North Cyprus – I was really (and pleasantly) shocked. And it didn’t seem to be the false-friendly that you so often find among touts in tourist hotspots.

    And I finished Bitter Lemons, by the way! Great read – and well worth adding to a reading list for Cyprus.

    • Thanks, Nick. (And thanks for the articles to link to on Northern Cyprus!).

      When I crossed the border for the day in 2006, Northern Cyprus felt more hospitable, somehow. I can’t work out why I thought that at the time – nothing really stands out in contrast to the south, the waiters were as friendly, the people were as polite, I don’t know…but it just felt more welcoming. Perhaps this was because I knew of the political situation and romanticized it. I don’t know.

      Whether it was a true assessment at the time or not, I’ve since discovered from extensive reading that it’s probably right. So I’m sticking to it. ;)

      Bitter Lemons is a gorgeous read (and it’s a sod that the copy I sent you never arrived – although I like the idea of it kicking round Bellapais, getting well-thumbed). Lawrence Durrell’s writing is sublime and micshievous, and towards the end he captures the poignany and tragedy so well as the political situation falls apart. I found it very affecting, partly because sometimes it was so matter-of-fact.

  • serap

    You have perfectly summed up what makes Cyprus such a unique and fascinating place. The songbird thing is totally news to me though, and has horrified me to my core! I shall try to remember the word “Ambelopoulia” and avoid any restaurants where I see it!

    The border restrictions between North and South have relaxed quite a lot, and you now only need your a passport and appropriate car insurance if you’re driving. I live in the South and when we travelled to the North we were issued with a 90 day visa, but that may be because we are British citizens… I’m not sure. It is so strange to travel such a small physical distance and yet feel that you have travelled back in time, and over many, many miles.

    • Thank you. :)

      That would indeed be a very nasty shock to have arrive as a first course. Pickled eggs, yes. Pickled birds, oh so very No.

      90 days, eh? I knew about the opening of Ledra Street (http://www.grumpytraveller.com/articles/crossing-the-green-line-in-nicosia-the-world%E2%80%99s-only-divided-city/) which was blocked and guarded when I visited in 2006…but 90 days? Wow. So my dream of doing a lap of the island in the footsteps of Thubron might not be too far-fetched…maybe? I’ll have to investigate. 3 months across the border is plenty of time, definitely.

      How long did you spend in the North?

      • serap

        They think I’m funny at my local taverna for turning my nose up at the snail, quail and rabbit! And the fact that I don’t eat pork too… well, hopefully, they wouldn’t attempt to feed me little songbirds. I’m always reduced to ordering lamb, which I reckon is 50% of the time goat!

        I found this bit of info for you: http://northcyprus.cc/index.php/front/border-crossing. But I don’t think that’s quite right… we were only there for 5 days, as we were just having a little holiday, however, we sort of forgot (ok, we’re stupid) to get our passports stamped on the way back to the south. I then went back some 6 months later for a day trip, only to be told I was still officially in North Cyprus as an illegal immigrant! Luckily my father is Turkish Cypriot (and my mother is Turkish), so they were really nice about it and managed to convince themselves that I was a Turkish citizen (I’m not!) and let me cross freely. I asked them about my English boyfriend who was luckily not with me for the day trip, and they said “he can never come here”! So I had to write to the consulate and apologize and get our passports cleared… which is how I know that the info on that website isn’t quite right!

        Turkish people are very hospitable by nature, and I’m glad you felt that when you travelled to the North. Sometimes I think tourism spoils their hospitable nature, but I guess that’s inevitable. Also, North Cyprus currently has a lot of immigrants from poorer parts of Turkey, which has changed the feel of it a little (I spent a lot of time in North Cyprus and Turkey as a child, so I’m comparing to then… so it may just be a change in my perception).

        Anyway, come and lap the island… just not in the Summer, as you will frazzle!

        • Hmmm. Sounds a little more complicated that I initially imagined. Hmmm. Don’t want to have problems crossing back into Southern Cyprus. I know that some seasoned travelers suggest having two passports in such situations…hmm. I will have to do some serious digging to find out exactly what the situation is and possibilities are for us non-Cypriot-based Brits.

          So what are your memories like of Northern Cyprus when you were growing up?


          I’ve done some reading. It seems that if you don’t require a visa to enter Souther Cyprus, you can cross the border freely at certain checkpoints only – and stay as long as you want. However, you can’t take a car over the border that’s rented in Southern Cyprus – and if the Southern-side border guards search you and find any documents relating to owning Northern Cyprus property, you could be arrested. The reason is this:

          “During November 2006, the Greek Cypriot Administration has enacted a law that bans the sale, purchase or construction of any houses on property in Turkish Cyprus that was formerly owned by Greek Cypriots.”

          Otherwise…all looks very possible. And I had no idea. Which just goes to show how ignorant you can be when you’re thousands of miles away. ;)

          • serap

            Glad your research came out positive. I know a British couple, he lives near me, and she lives in Guzelyurt in the North, and they are constantly back and forth, no troubles at all. Why don’t you cycle instead though? It’d be much quicker!
            My childhood memories are so varied, but I remember a huge sense of freedom… roaming dusty roads with local kids, and eating figs straight off my Aunt’s tree!

  • What a fascinating post, Mike! A lot that I didn’t know about Cyprus, including the fact that you grew up there!

    I love haloumi cheese – it’s very popular in Australia. It’s great in omelettes or with eggs.

    • Thank you, Caitlin! It’s a place close to my heart and a foundation for my fondest (and most fragmented) memories. At some point I’ll have to try living there as an adult, or else I’ll always wonder just how biased I am about the place…

      Yes, indeed: British RAF child, 1975-1979. Brown knees emerging from a mop of blond curly hair, always falling out of trees. That was me. How things change. :)

      I always make up slabs of halloumi as appetizers for dinner parties, and then snaffle the lot before anyone gets a look-in. It’s a personal failing. I should work on it.

      • Brown knees emerging from a mop of blond curly hair

        I always thought there was something a little anatomically strange about you, Mike. ;)

  • I shared a house with a Cypriot guy in my first gap year. He introduced me and our other housemates to Halloumi, and I haven’t looked back since. I LOVE the stuff. It’s been easily available in London for a while now; harder to get in my parents’ neck of the woods and impossible here in Italy. Sigh. Cheese here is desperately disappointing. On the other hand, at least the Italians don’t torture songbirds. That’s horrific. I don’t believe that the birds can really taste that great, after dying in such a long drawn-out and stressful fashion, but clearly there’s *something* about them, given that the practice is still going on despite being illegal.

    • Yep. It’s the Class A drug of the cheese world. First one’s free, mate.

      In fact, I have to wonder: is there anyone out there who doesn’t like Halloumi? Because I know people who kinda hate cheese generally who nevertheless adore it (“ooh, it’s a bit like chicken”).

      Italian cheese is disappointing? In what way? I take it you’re not a Mozzarella fan? Parmesan, etc?

      • OK, that was a sweeping generalisation, but that’s what I *do*, dammit. Mozzarella = meh, but it does go delightfully stringy on a pizza, so I’ll forgive it. What I really miss is proper English cheddar. Or any strong cheese, really. All the cheeses here are kind of rubbery and bland. I did find a lovely pecorino at the market a few weeks ago, but it just can’t compete with a Westcountry cheddar or Stilton. Cor.

        • Mozzarella, blurgh. Always thought it’s like eating glue. I mean, if I’m severely cheese-deprived (say, I haven’t had any for at least 15 minutes) I’ll settle for a plate of stringly cheese-glue, but I’d much, much rather head towards the Parmigiano-Reggiano and other comestibles of its ilk. The really old, pungent stuff – without all that nasty blue penicillin, mind. (And yes, you can keep the Stilton, thankyouverymuchandgoodnight).

          I wonder if a well-wrapped block of Cathedral City cheddar would reach you in a fit state to be eaten? Hmm.

          So – England is better than Italy for cheese, you reckon? What about other cheese-related rivals to England, in your experience?

          • You can guarantee that the beggars at customs would snaffle it before it got anywhere near me. Sigh.

            A good pecorino or parmigiana is delightful – nothing like the dry offerings that you get, wrapped in plastic, in the UK. Grana Padana’s pretty good, too, although I managed to pick up a really duff block the other day, which I’m having trouble working my way through. That might have to be binned and put down to experience.

            So far as my ideal cheeseboard goes, I’d plump for a properly aged Somerset cheddar, strong yet mellow, a lump of Stilton/Gorgonzola (yes, all right – Italy can do cheese occasionally), and a Brie de Meaux. Cornish Yarg would have to appear somewhere, as would halloumi and a good Welsh goat’s cheese. Ooh! And Wensleydale.

            So many cheeses, so little time …

  • Good article and I loved the photos. When in Nicosia I didn’t get a chance to see the green although I wanted to cross the line and visit Northern Cyprus I never got the chance. The food is wonderful and sites are great……..Ayia Napa is one of a kind.

    • Thanks for stopping by!

      Yes, Ayia Napa is unique. And I remember visiting it in 1975 and going swimming off a little jetty, looking around, and there was…nothing. A few houses, that was it. Now it couldn’t look more different…

  • You have become my go-to guy for Cyprus, it’s true. Tell me, how long would it take for an ordinary person to walk the length of it? Or perhaps more interstingly, from the SE ports up to Nicosia and then down to the western port?

    • Months and months. Thubron’s route was 600 miles. Say, at a comfortable 15 miles a day average, that’s 40 days. And I couldn’t manage 15 miles a day for 40 days. at least, not without some training. I’m currently creaky after walking 35-40 miles a *week*. So if I’m an ordinary person in respect to walking (we know I’m a freak in all the other ways) then it’s 2-3 months.

      But it’s possible (see my comment against serap’s, above).

      So I’m a-thinkin’.

      • I know it can be done because I read a book in which it was done. I daydream about doing long walks that I’ve read about.

  • So interesting. I have never been to-or studied up on-Cyprus so this was mostly all new to me. Especially the birds … whoa!

    • My studying-up on Cyprus isn’t anywhere near as comprehensive as it needs to be – hence I missed the fact that since 2004 (when Southern Cyprus joined the EU) it’s become possible to cross the border and stay on the other side indefinitely – as long as you’re not daft enough to contravene a number of cardinal laws, including carrying paperwork relating to Northern Cypriot property or lugging around too many cigarettes.

      So it’s still kinda new to me too. ;)

  • I seriously need to spend some time in the Mediterranean islands, sigh. I think I’ll pass on the songbirds though.

    • Can’t say I blame you.

      And can’t say I blame you. ;)

      You’d like the Cyclades, I reckon. Sunsets that punch the breath right out of you, leaving you wide-eyed and unable to stand. Amazing, amazing colors.

  • What a great post. I’ve never given Cyprus much thought, but now I’m intrigued. I would definitely pick up some bottles of Commandaria – would make a nice gift!

  • Wow I definitely feel FAR more informed about Cyprus than ever before! Most excellent information, thoughts, and advice.

  • I know you’ve said loads here about Cypress, but I keep finding myself back at the cheese.

    My first thought is it doesn’t look like cheese either. It looks more like sweetbreads. Mollejitas, as they call them here.

    Now I must track down some haloumi for a try.

    Lovely post, Mike. I’ve learned a lot.

  • Alexy Flemming

    SOVIET UNION = 1 Armenia 2 Azerbaijan 3 Belarus 4 Estonia 5 Georgia 6 Kazakhstan 7 Kyrgyzstan 8 Latvia 9 Lithuania 10 Moldova 11 Russia 12 Tajikistan 13 Turkmenistan 14 Ukraine 15 Uzbekistan
    YUGOSLAVIA = 16 Bosnia and Herzegovina 17 Croatia 18 Macedonia 19 Serbia and Montenegro 20 Slovenia
    21 Namibia (South Africa)
    22,23,24 Marshall Islands, Micronesia Caroline Islands, Palau (separated from USA)

    CZECHOSLOVAKIA = 25 Czech Republic 26 Slovakia
    27 Eritrea (Ethiopia)
    28 East Timor Timor-Leste (Indonesia)

    SERBIA-MONTENEGRO = 29 Montenegro 30 Serbia

    31 Kosovo (Serbia)
    32,33 Abhasia, South Ossetia (Georgia)

    AND WILL GO ON….34,35,36,…Transnistria , Greenland, Quebec, Wallonia, Flanders, Catalonia, Basque, West Sahara, Somaliland, Scotland, North Ireland,Padova,…

  • Alexy Flemming


    1. Germans tortured Czeckoslovakian people in the World War II. After the WW II, Sudeten Germans were expelled from Czeckoslovakia. 3 millons Sudeten Germans have NO right for property and returning back. This was LEGALIZED BY LISBON TREATY OF EU (BENES DECREES IS NOW A PART OF ACQUIS COMMUNAUTAIRE).

    2. Serbians tortured Albanians in Kosovo War in 1999. After the Kosovo War, Serbians were expelled from South Kosovo. Serbians hav NO right for property and returning back. Until now, even 1 Serbian did NOT return to South Kosovo and canNOT return as well.

    3. Greek Cypriots ethnically cleansed Turkish Cypriots during 1963–1974. After Cyprus War in 1974, Greek Cypriots were expelled from North Cyprus. Greek Cypriots have NO right for property and returning back. Until now, even 1 Greek Cypriot did NOT return to North Cyprus and canNOT return as well.

    LAW canNOT be applied differently to the SAME CASES. Czeckoslovakians did NOT give even 1£ for Sudeten Germans. Greek Cypriots also have NO right for taking £.

  • Pingback: All Change At Cyprus | Fevered Mutterings()

  • Gee

    Tell you what, I love everything about the write ups of Cyprus, but, can you tell me some cons about this country?

  • Thanks for this great list! I am going to travel trough Cyprus next year. Therefore I am very thankful for these hints.

  • Nice article on Cyprus, I learnt heaps. I guess it’s just Southern Cyprus that’s getting stung from the EU bailout.

  • I don’t really agree with your characterization of the north. The south rejected the Annan plan to reunify the island, but the north approved it…yet they have something prove?

  • Very good article that highlights some of the best things Cyprus offers. I enjoyed reading it as well as the comments. I have to also thank Google+ which is how I found this. I think that it’s time to unite the island and stop the blame game. This is the most peaceful country and people and we need to get rid of the image of being at odds, the problem is the people in charge on both sides have never been able to agree even though it is what the people want now. 2004 is long gone and the world and Cyprus has changed since then.