Let’s face it pals, honesty is definitely the best policy, and so in the name of this policy I will tell you now: Paphos was a place that I wasn’t expecting to appreciate. Despite the fact that I was very much up for visiting the rest of Cyprus, the reputation of this little city is that it’s very much a second home for beer-swigging, fry-up-loving Brits. It’s even earned itself the nickname ‘Little Britain.’ Now don’t get me wrong, whilst I do love a good fry up once in a blue moon, I’m not such a fan of a good fry-up when not in England, so Paphos had never really appealed to me. When my pal got married there this Summer, I was sooo excited about the wedding, and the sunshine, and the relaxing, but wasn’t expecting too much from Paphos itself. Oh, how wrong I was! Whilst it’s true that there are areas of the city which do seem to have been taken over by Brits, there’s far more to this place than first meets the eye…and some of it is downright beautiful.
First, a bit about Cyprus…
Cyprus’ recent history is a mildly complicated one. So, briefly… Back in the early 1900s when the Ottoman Empire (that’s modern day Turkey), ruled the roost around these parts, the Empire secretly gave Britain control of Cyprus in exchange for protection that they potentially needed from the Russians. Obviously you can’t keep something like who’s in charge of an entire country secret for long, and add to that the complications of whether money is exchanging/not exchanging hands by various governments, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. In 1914, Britain declared that Cyprus was officially part of the British Empire. The Turkish Cypriots wanted a separate Turkish State, and the Greek Cypriots (who made up the majority of the country), seemed rather up for a Union with Greece. The one thing that everyone did seem to be in agreement about was that they weren’t really up for the English being there at all. What a downright terrible situation.
Finally after a great deal of commotion in the form of a whole load of Nationalist violence, in 1960 Cyprus finally got its independence from Britain. Thank goodness for that.
But. The Turkish Cypriots still wanted to be separate from the rest of the country, and so in 1974 the Turkish invaded Cyprus and captured the Northern part of the country, declaring it as its own state. The country is split to this day into two parts, with the Northern Turkish-ruled part of the country technically being an illegally-occupied part of Europe. And confusingly, although culturally Cyprus is exceedingly similar to Greece, nowadays the two countries are in no political or formal way connected at all. Just FYI.
Related: Our Big Fat Greek Road Trip
Enough about the modern, what about the ancient?
It turns out that Paphos is historically one super-important location, folks! A few thousand years ago, the Greek goddess Aphrodite was believed to have risen out of the sea here, and that mythological event kick-started the cult of Aphrodite-worshipping not just in Cyprus but across the entire Greek-world. (On a side note, whether or not that ever actually happened, I would love it if every town in the world had some kind of myth or legend surrounding its founding. The Ancient Greeks really did this well, didn’t they!?) Aphrodite’s Rock is the specific point that she’s believed to have stepped out of the ocean, just along the coastline from the city. Worshipping of the love-goddess continued until the Romans outlawed any ‘pagan’ behaviour in 391AD. And when those Romans arrived on the scene, they of course built a whole load of splendid Roman structures as well.
So pals- this place is an archeology-lover’s dream. Temples, mosaics, villas, amphitheatres…you name it, Paphos has it. (The archaeological remains of it, at least.) And so many of these historical places are in such good condition that Paphos is a UNESCO World Heritage location. So you see, whilst Brits may have started coming here for other reasons, the city is beginning to shed its reputation and become known for more than just cheap drinks and English-food-in-non-English weather. And rightly so, I say!
All those ancient sites
One easily-accessible archaeological spot within Paphos is the site of St. Paul’s Pillar, where old St Paul was flogged by a Roman Emperor for preaching Christianity to the locals. In the same location are three separate churches all in varying stages of standing or ruin- Agia Kyriaki, which was built in 1500 AD and is still heroically standing proudly amongst the rubble, pillars and mosaics of the Panagia Chysopolitissa, a Christian Byzantine church which was ruined in the 7th century, and another Gothic Church- which was at one point converted to a mosque- and destroyed around the 16th century.
Maybe there are times when this place gets busier, but when we visited the site at sunset, the only thing you could hear in the whole area was the chirping of cicadas in the trees. Granted, the cicadas are actually pretty full on loud, but they create a far more peaceful atmosphere than pushing through a crowd of fellow tourists on the seafront, so I really appreciated it.
The Kato Paphos Archaeological Park is a massive site right next to the harbour and contains the remains of the Ancient Greek and Roman city including some amazingly preserved mosaics. And about 2km from Paphos is the Tomb of the Kings- a series of tombs carved into the rock dating from the 4th century BC. I mean, guys- the quantity and quality of ancientness around here is astonishing!
Entry to Kato Paphos Archaeological Park is €4.50, plus an extra €2.50 to see the Tomb of the Kings. In summer hours are 8.30am-7.30pm; winter hours are 8.30am-5pm.
Entry to St. Paul’s Pillar and the church ruins is free.
The famous cats
Get ready for another legend, loves! Once upon a time Cyprus was completely infested with snakes; so a lovely lass named Saint Helena shipped a couple of boatloads of Egyptian cats over to the island to hunt the snakes and rid the locals of this terrible plague. Whether or not that actually happened I guess we’ll never know, but Cyprus as a whole is famous for its cats, and we saw hundreds of them roaming the streets of Paphos.
And let me tell you- these beauties are just downright lovely! The population of stray cats in Cyprus completely outnumbers the population of humans, and although I didn’t spy any particularly bony looking creatures roaming Paphos, I’m sure that with over one and a half million cats now resident on the island, the welfare of these furry friends could potentially not be brilliant. We spotted piles of dry food that people had left out on the street in the early mornings and early evenings, so clearly although there’s a problem with neutering these guys, there are people who look out for them.
My lovely pal had arranged a day on a boat for all the wedding guests, taking us from the harbour at Paphos round to a beach further down the coast. It was an absolutely beautiful day, filled with awesome food, jumping into the sea off the side of the boat (I’m not too good at that because of my strange mild fear of open water- but I did it anyway and lived to tell the tale), and to top off the marvellousness a couple of our party became very much seasick. True story. Unfortunately, the sea that day was rather on the choppy side and there was a fair bit of vomming going on as a result. AWKWARD.
But still, I’m always up for seeing things from a different perspective, so if you can get out and see the shoreline from afar then I fully recommend it ya know!?
What about that Brits-abroad area?
Let me reiterate- honesty is the best policy. The main strip of bars, pubs and clubs in Paphos is a confusing and not particularly pleasant location. However- I did find it an intriguing place to stroll down, despite the fact that nary a mosaic floor will you find around here. It’s more about the sticky floors that reek of stale alcohol.
In the daytime, the whole area is completely deserted, with shutters over the windows and not a soul to be seen…at night the road is a hodge-podge of neon signage, with promoters trying to entice you in with free shots and cheap entry. A combination of the sounds of music, a mixture of English accents yelling over the music, and TV screens blasting out football matches spills out onto the street, and it’s all a bit overwhelming even on a quiet night. Amongst all this there’s even a tiny church that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an isolated mountain village, still standing quietly like a librarian in a nightclub, amongst all the flashing lights of the bars surrounding it. As a person who appreciated observing all kinds of locations, I genuinely didn’t mind this strange strip, however I fully appreciate that it probs isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Also, it did explain why the Cypriots themselves might not be massive fans of this part of their country. Awkward.
Hitting the beach
Paphos has a length of about 50km of beaches, all with lifeguards present and many of them being very much a family type location. Ranging from the sandy to the mildly rocky, most of the hotels up and down the seafront have their own private beach directly in front of them, although of course it’s possible to find a public spot for swimming in too. Paphos is also a great location for diving, and I spotted several gangs of divers-in-training hanging about in the water as we walked along the seafront at various moments throughout the days.
Take a trip to the castle
Paphos Castle sits squarely at the far end of Paphos Harbour, and was originally built by the Byzantines to defend the harbour from possible attacks. Over time it was dismantled and rebuilt several times as various different civilisations came and went, with the English even rather disrespectfully utilising the historical monument as a place to store salt, but these days it’s one of the most well-known landmarks of the city.
Entry to Paphos Castle is €2.50. Summertime hours are 8.30am-7.30pm, winter hours are 8.30am-5pm
Eat Cypriot food
As a massive fan of Greek food, I knew that I would most certainly get on well with the food in Cyprus as well. For the majority of our time in Cyprus, a pal and I stayed at an Airbnb, and therefore we ate lots of meals at ‘home.’ (See below for a Greek yoghurt, Cypriot honey and local grapes and figs DELIGHT.) FYI there was an additional night at the beachfront Annabelle Hotel, but that’s another story.
However we also got out and about to several local restaurants to try some actual Cypriot-made food too. Halloumi was actually invented here in Cyprus, so it goes without saying that you should appreciate it while you’re here, either as part of a meze (which is a BIG DEAL in this part of the world), or as an ingredient in another dish like makaronia tou fournou, which is very similar to lasagne. Stuffed vine leaves and vegetables goes down a treat, courgette and eggs (true story) is another traditional dish, and the Cypriot version of souvlaki is downright delicious.
As long as you head to a local tavern or restaurant away from the seafront, you probably can’t go wrong, folks!
Before you go to Paphos
- A taxi from Paphos airport to the centre of town takes around 20 minutes and should cost between €20-€25 depending on the time of day.
- There are also buses available between the two, for significantly less money!
- Bear in mind that Cyprus is technically closer to the Midde East than Europe, and the weather reflects this! I visited in August and walking anywhere for too long was quite the mission if you forgot to pack your water bottle.
- So- don’t forget your water bottle or your sun cream.
- Currency is euros.
- I loved the fact that we stayed in an Airbnb for most of the week as it was not only a much more affordable option, but it was proper cute! For around €40 a night we got way more than we would have got for that price in a budget hotel.
- If we’d have had longer, I would have loved to explore the mountains outside of the city and see some of the villages away from the holiday-makers who stick to the hotels and beaches of Paphos. It’s a brilliant place to be for a few days (and it was incredible to be there for a wedding with a whole posse of compadres), but I know that there is way more to this beautiful island country than this pocket of ‘Little Britain’ and its secret UNESCO city.