Since its spell as the Mediterranean’s wildest resort in the early-noughties Ayia Napa has grown up a little. If you’re in need of pulsating nightlife you’ll still find it in Ayia Napa square, and there are plenty of rowdy activities by day for party people.
But families will also be pleased with this corner of Cyprus. There’s a modern water park and permanent funfair, while Ayia Napa has the highest concentration of Blue Flag beaches for any stretch of coastline in the world. Really, Ayia Napa’s beaches, with their soft white sand and crystalline waters, are almost worth the flight alone!
Here are the best things to do in Ayia Napa:
1. Ayia Napa Monastery
This is Ayia Napa’s oldest landmark and mostly dates from the 1400s when Cyprus was controlled by the Venetians.
Although now part of the town, when it was built the monastery would have been remote and hidden within pine forest.
The church, flour mill, cloisters and courtyard fountain were all built with honey-coloured limestone by the Venetians, but the cave and well adjacent to these buildings suggest Byzantine origins.
After the Ottoman invasion in the 1500s the monastery remained intact and has survived the intervening years, although no monks have lived here since the late-19th century.
2. Thalassa Museum
Despite being a party town, Ayia Napa does have one the best museums in Cyprus.
The Thalassa Museum opened in 2005 and claims to be the only major attraction in the Mediterranean devoted to the sea.
Given the catalogue of seafaring civilisations that settled in Cyprus, this is the ideal place for such an attraction.
The museum covers 7,000 years of human maritime history, with exhibits starting in the Neolithic age and moving through the Bronze age to the Classical period.
Complementing these artefacts are natural exhibits of fossils and shells, alongside preserved turtle, fish and starfish specimens.
3. WaterWorld Water Park
There are 18 plunges, pools and side attractions at this mythology-themed water park a few minutes along the coast from the resort.
Like much of Ayia Napa, WaterWorld will appeal to families with young children, teenagers and young adults.
For younger kids there’s the Trojan Adventure, a sort of water-based adventure playground with slides that end gently in a shallow splash-pool.
For thrill-seekers there’s the Drop to Atlantis a high-speed plunge complete with special effects.
4. Konnos Bay
The best local beach if you want to get away from the resort and back to nature, Konnos has a narrow semi-circle of powder white sands and gleaming, clear waters.
This bay is bookended by long rocky spurs that help protect the beach from currents and prevailing winds.
Yachts often moor in the bay and these shallows are perfect for snorkelling and swimming.
Facilities are a little sparser than Ayia Napa’s resort beaches, but you can still rent jet-skis here or grab a bite at the beachside snack bars.
5. Nissi Beach
As beautiful as it is lively, Nissi Beach is great for party-goers and families alike. For party people there are beachside clubs with pools and djs.
Other sources of fun come from the cliff-jump a little way along the headland that pokes into the sea on the west side of the beach, as well as the endless choice of water sports available.
Visitors with kids can find a sunbed away from the hubbub and simply delight in those white sands and crystal-clear aquamarine waters.
6. Cape Greco
East of Ayia Napa is this rugged headland protected as part of a nature park.
Approaching Cape Greco from land you’ll be able to step along paths edged by wild herbs, poppies and long grass.
At the top of the cliffs are benches from which you can admire the cobalt-blue Mediterranean and the stark, rocky landscape around.
A little way west are the four soaring radio masts of the medium wave broadcasting station.
You can also venture down to the water to check out the system of sea caves beneath the cape, which we’ll talk about later.
7. Sculpture Park
The Sculpture Park is a contemplative cultural attraction on a rise looking over the sea just east of Ayia Napa.
Twenty sculptors from around the world were invited to contribute their work to the park. Their sculptures, numbering almost 40, combined with a classic Mediterranean seascape, make the park a handy place for a peaceful amble.
The pieces are carved from local white marble or limestone, and they range from abstract forms to statues inspired by the island’s ancient civilisations.
The park is free to enter and the collection is growing all time.
8. Makronissos Tombs
Although rock had been quarried at this site for centuries going back to ancient times, nobody had any idea that there was a Hellenistic and Roman tomb complex just outside Ayia Napa until in 1989.
Cyprus is a place that is constantly unearthing remnants of its early civilisations and these tombs are worth a little tour.
There are 19 rock chambers in total, each with a large rectangular entrance that would have been sealed with a large limestone slab.
Inside are benches and a central trench, while pyres discovered on higher ground prove that Ancient Greek rites were performed here.
9. Sea Caves
Also part of Cape Greco, these caves have been carved over time by the currents and can be accessed from the water or via a walking path that cuts underneath the headland for a way.
It’s an excellent place for photos as erosion has created all kinds of strange rock formations.
There’s a natural arch and cavities that go deep into the honeycomb rock, so you could spend hours exploring this strange but beautiful place.
Most days the seas are also calm enough for diving and swimming and at these times the water is almost transparent.
There are seven PADI-approved dive companies based in Ayia Napa alone, which illustrates the excellent conditions for this activity, and its popularity on the eastern edge of Cyprus.
The caves that you can see from dry land at Cape Greco continue under water; there’s also deep canyons, an abundance of sea life including turtles and wonderful visibility extending for 50 metres on a sunny day (most days are sunny!).
Nearly all the business comes from beginners, so Ayia Napa is a good place to take to the water for the first time, but serious divers can get certified or set off for the gargantuan wreck of the Zenobia, which sank off Larnaca in 1980.
11. Boat Trips
Setting sail from Ayia Napa’s harbour are all sorts of cruises.
Party people could book a ticket for something that resembles a floating club, with a bar and djs.
The Pirate ship is also in this vein, with on board entertainment and lots of swimming stops.
If you’re after a more tranquil day on the water, there are catamaran cruises for people more interested in soaking up the sun and gazing at Cape Greco from the comfort of a sun lounger.
If you’d like to see what goes on beneath the waves then there’s a choice of “submarines”, vessels with glass panels beneath the waterline that often stop for snorkelling breaks.
12. Ayia Napa Square
A clubber’s paradise, Ayia Napa Square squeezes all of the resort’s top bars and nightclubs into a surprisingly small area.
If you’re worse for wear this is great, as you’ll never have too much trouble navigating from one nightspot to the next.
What’s refreshing about the square is that there isn’t a great deal of antisocial behaviour going on, and the atmosphere is raucous but mostly friendly.
As with most Mediterranean party towns the clubs stay open until the sun comes up and things don’t really get going until almost midnight.
13. Parko Paliatso Luna Park
With 25 attractions to choose from, Park Paliatso is the largest funfair in Cyprus.
By day there are a few rides and games that the little ones will love, but the park is most frequented by Ayia Napa’s party crowd.
If you’ve browsed the internet enough you’ll have seen, or at least caught wind of, the Sling Shot. This was installed in 2010, and it’s Europe’s highest ejection seat ride, catapulting a small capsule into the air at high speed.
The g-forces are so strong that a small handful of riders have temporarily blacked out, coming to no long-term harm it must be added!
14. I Love Ayia Napa Sculpture
One for Facebook or Instagram, this new photo opportunity has been installed a few paces from the central bus station in the touristy heart of the town.
Day or night people queue up to have their picture taken next to the marble sculpture, which dwarfs almost anyone who stands here.
The monument was clearly inspired by “I Amsterdam”, and if it works for Amsterdam then why not Ayia Napa?
North of Ayia Napa, in an area of small villages with whitewashed houses, Protaras is another resort replete with family-friendly attractions like a waterpark, an aquarium, stables for horseback riding and of course a host of beaches.
The Church of St. Elias here was only built in the 1980s, but merits a visit for its location, at the crest of a hill more than 150 steps above the town and with sumptuous views all around.
Best not to try it on a summer afternoon, but it’s a fab way to see the sunrise if you’re up early enough.