Anyone who wants to enjoy clear blue waters, sandy beaches and warm weather has Cyprus on their bucket list. With a vibrant culture and charming traditions, there’s more than meets the eye on this little Mediterranean island. Here’s how to make the most of Cyprus’s spectacular non-touristy experiences during your trip.
Though there are over 100 dams in Cyprus alone, there are fifteen which are a key source of water on the island. A number of these picturesque water sources offer peaceful views looking out over nearby valleys, and are equipped with picnic sites. For a different kind of activity while here, grab a picnic basket, fill it with fresh local goods, and explore Cypriot nature with delicious food in hand – the temperatures are usually fresh around the dams, making it the perfect environment to enjoy a picnic. The most well-known sites by dams are Xyliatou dam (Nicosia district) and Prodromou dam (Troodos district). Pro tip: keep in mind that this is popular activity with locals during public holidays.
Running on Wednesdays and Saturdays from as early as six in the morning, the farmers’ markets are a colourful way to see Cypriot products, fresh on display. Dozens of farmers sell their fruit, vegetables, eggs and traditional sweets at bargain prices here. Paying a visit to the local markets is a unique way to chat with the island’s land workers, taste delicious products and purchase some for your picnic basket. If you’re in Nicosia, head to OXI farmer’s market, right on the roundabout of the same name.
Food is a huge part of Cypriot culture, and the chances of leaving the island without trying the local cuisine are slim. Renowned for its taverns, serving delicious meze, Cyprus also offers a lesser-known type of eatery, mostly visited by locals. And although taverns are equally as recommended, eating at a mageirio is another experience. These smaller, more casual establishments serve only a few home-cooked meals of the day, andv are definitely worth a visit. The food will please both your stomach and your wallet, as the dishes are relatively cheap.
Water sports lovers can find a variety of activities to tackle on the island. One that has seen a rise over the last few years is kite surfing, and the ideal place to do it is in Larnaca due to wind conditions that make it a kite surfing hub. With numerous surf houses in the area, adrenaline seekers have a lot to choose from.
Take a trip to the countryside of Nicosia’s suburbs and discover a farm resting quietly on a hilltop. Riverland Bio Farm is home to chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, horses and many other animals. The farm grounds provide a playground area for kids to enjoy, as well as a charming cafe serving snacks, beverages and breakfast, all made with produce from the animals.
Another fun activity you can do whilst at Riverland Bio Farm, is to go kayaking at the nearby Tamasou dam. A perfect experience for thrill-seekers, it still remains under the radar even for locals. Rent out a kayak from the farm for as little as €7 – 8 (USD$8.35 – 9.55), and the dam is yours to explore.
Ditch hotel reservations and venture up to mountain villages for a more traditional view of Cyprus. Book in at one of the refurbished houses, part of the agro-tourism scene that’s been built up in recent years to maintain and promote the traditional character of the country. Explore what the villages have to offer, visit ancient monuments and churches, and most importantly engage in conversation with the villagers for mesmerizing tales.
Backgammon, or tavli as it is known in Cyprus, is hugely popular among locals and is played by all age ranges. Take a walk around the villages or the old towns here and you’ll see people playing tavli and sipping their Cypriot coffee. Kids start learning to play from a young age, and it’s a game that accompanies all occasions. It is common that people meet for a coffee and play tavli in the old part of towns, so for a truly local experience, learn how to play tavli and all its tricks and charms.
The local production of wine has been around for many years, with dessert wine Commandaria considered to be one of the most ancient wines. Numerous charming wine villages decorate the slopes of Cyprus, with wine museums and wineries offering wine tasting sessions for people to try the grape varieties and learn about the fermentation of wine.
Considered by many to be the national cocktail of Cyprus, a brandy sour is an alcoholic beverage consisting of Cypriot brandy, angostura bitters, lemon and soda water. It’s a refreshing drink during the hot summer months, and it is believed to have been invented in the early fifties at a hotel in Troodos. So whilst out and about, take a break from mojitos and cosmos and go for a Cypriot cocktail.
The start to any perfect morning calls for brunch. Instead of hitting the many tasty brunch places in towns across the island, head to some of the more remote villages that serve unique brunch dishes for a taste of rural life. Kika’s Garden in the quiet village of Kallepia in Paphos offers a plate of delicious homebaked breads, fruit, homemade jams and a skillet of eggs, all with stunning mountain views. Similarly, Jar Jams Preserves in Kato Drys village only has one table, so booking is necessary, and serves homemade pastries, cakes and eggs. Go there to jump-start your day before unraveling the treasures of Kato Drys.
Situated in the Famagusta district, Cyherbia Botanical Gardens is an informative and fun break away from the sun-kissed, seaside area of Avgorou, offering a chance to learn more about local herbs and the many ways they can be used. Popular with locals and foreigners alike, a trip to Cyherbia’s beautiful fields is the ultimate way to discover local herbs, with many educational activities for children.