Paphos was the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite so you can be sure that you’ll have a lot of ancient archaeology on the agenda in this town in western Cyprus. Kato Paphos on the water’s edge is the ancient city where the mosaics of Roman villas are as vibrant now as the day they were laid.
It’s a guarantee that you’ll eat and drink well in Paphos, where you can feast on meze and sample the range of wines that are grown in the hills to the east of the town. And for the little ones: A water park, zoo and an almost endless array of beaches. Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Paphos!
1. Kato Paphos Archaeology Park
You could easily spend hours pottering around this fantastic attraction close to the harbour. There are structures here that go back to prehistory, but the most famous remnants are from the Roman era.
The ruins of four villas survive from this time and boast stunningly detailed mosaics, all dating to the year 100 and depicting scenes from Roman mythology.
From the same era is the Ancient Odeon, a small arena that is still used by the town as a performance venue, while the Tombs of the Kings is an underground burial complex, supported by intact Doric columns and dating back 1500 years.
2. St. Paul’s Pillar
This is one of Cyprus’ most significant pilgrimage sites. Back in 45 AD it wasn’t a great idea to try to spread Christianity to places that didn’t want it – if you were interested in self-preservation.
Paul the Apostle came to Paphos to convert the ruler from Paganism, and for his efforts got 39 lashes. In the grounds of Panagia Chrysopolitissa, a handsome Orthodox/Anglican church on the site of an ancient basicila, you’ll find the pillar to which the saint was tied for his punishment.
The pillar has been eroded down the years but is still standing amid two millennia of ruins that include some stunning mosaics.
3. Paphos Archaeological Museum
This museum documents human activity in western Cyprus from the Neolithic age to the 18th century.
The artefacts on display were excavated from as many as 15 archaeological sites, including the ancient settlements that predated modern Paphos and the neighbouring town of Kouklia.
You’ll get a real sense of location when you see the collection of coins that were minted right here in Paphos thousands of years ago.
Each room at the museum represents another stage in the area’s history, so after the Ancient Greek exhibits you can admire the wonderful marble sculptures of the Roman era: The Bust of Aphrodite is a real standout here.
4. Sit down to a Meze
In most of southern Europe Meze means an appetiser or something to go with a glass of wine. In Cyprus it’s a big meal and Mezes are often part of a social event or celebration.
At tavernas a series of enticing platters are served in a careful order that begins with olives before moving onto bread and dips like tahini, taramosalata, humus and skordalia.
After that you’ll move onto seafood and vegetable dishes, some grilled and some raw. Then get ready for grilled halloumi cheese and, if you opt for a meat meze, a variety of meat dishes, from keftedes (meatballs) and loukaniko (pork sausages) to grilled kebabs, chicken and lamb chops.
5. Medieval Castle of Paphos
This structure, guarding the mouth of the harbour has had a very chequered history.
Originally a Byzantine fortress stood on this spot and this was reinforced by the Lusignans, whose territories extended across numerous Mediterranean locations in the 1200s.
Later the Venetians dismantled the old stronghold, but when the Ottomans took Cyprus they built the castle that you see today.
It’s a squat, rectangular building that for the past few hundred years has served as a prison and warehouse for salt, but now it’s a cultural landmark and emblem for the city.
6. Aphrodite’s Rock Brewing Company
Beer and ale might not come to mind straight away when you think of Cypriot gastronomy, but the evidence shows that the west side of the island has been brewing beer for thousands of years.
On a rise outside Paphos is this craft pub and microbrewery that was the first to be located on the island and has imported English brewing traditions to create a choice of authentic artisan ales.
A brewery tour is available at 14:00 on weekdays, or you could visit for a meal paired with a hand-crafted beer made with local spring water.
7. Aphrodite Water Park
A family-favourite for those long summer days, Aphrodite Waterpark is the largest attraction of its kind on this side of Cyprus.
In all it has 17 rides and attractions with something for both the big kids and toddlers.
There are four high-speed plunges for people who want to get the adrenaline pumping, including Racer, in which you face off against your friends to see who can get to the bottom of this tube ride first.
More sedate is Lazy River, a mile-long float beneath waterfalls and fountains that drops you right back at your sun lounger!
8. Chrysorrogiatissa Monastery
Northeast of Paphos town in the foothills of the Troodos Mountains is this 12th-century monastery, which is beautiful in its own right but also contains a museum celebrating Byzantine art.
Some of the monastery’s own hagiographical art is exquisite, including the icons of Christ and Virgin Mary that are lacquered with gold and silver.
Within the museum collection is a sculpture of the Virgin Mary crafted from pure silver.
Part of the monastery’s appeal comes from its location in the Paphos Forest, gazing out over cedar and cypress-covered hillsides.
9. Paphos Zoo
This attraction was once the private menagerie and aviary of a local businessman and animal collector, Christos Christoforou.
At the turn of this century Christoforou decided to open his zoo up to the public with the aim of showing off his collection and educating visitors about animal conservation.
The zoo is situated in a landscaped environment of gardens and ponds, and houses monkeys, giraffes, tigers, white lions, kangaroos, meerkats and more.
The bird area is possibly the most interesting, with more than 200 species including a wide range of birds of prey.
10. Wine Tours
At higher elevations inland the conditions are ideal for growing wine grapes thanks to the many hours of sunshine each year and the gentle breezes that waft in off the Mediterranean.
Paphos could be your HQ for a holiday touring the wine country on this part of the island.
North is Laona where native Xynisteri grape produces some fantastic white wines.
Or you could set off into the back country to Vouni Panagias and Ambelitis, also known for Xynisteri as well as Mavro, a red grape that benefits from the cooler climes to create superb rosé wines.
11. Troodos Mountains
For a change of scenery you could always take to the Troodos Mountains.It’s the largest range on the island, with Cyprus’ tallest peak, Mount Olympus.
In the foothills the range has sleepy old villages next to terraced olive groves and vineyards, woven by chuckling streams that are ensconced in deciduous woodland.
As you go higher you’ll come to peaks forested with pine trees and here in winter you can even go skiing.
For culture keep your eyes peeled for Troodos’ UNESCO-listed Byzantine churches and monasteries. These medieval buildings may look modest from the outside, but have the most incredible painted murals within.
12. Akamas Peninsula
In Paphos you’re close enough to make a day-trip to a fabulous corner of the island. Akamas is less than an hour north along the coast and because of its rugged terrain of peaks and gorges has never been developed.
The upshot is an abundance of nature, with a third of Cyprus’ endemic plant species found here.
Akamas also is one of the Mediterranean’s key nesting areas for the loggerhead and green turtles.
At the remote Lara Beach you’ll be able to swim or relax on the golden sands, but will also get to see the areas that have been set aside to provide space for hatchling green turtles to reach the water.
13. Hit the Beach
The perfect way to recuperate from your adventures to ancient monuments and monasteries is a lazy day by the sea.
The Paphos district has more than 50 kilometres of coastline, where there are 27 beaches, 12 of which have been awarded the Blue Flag for their cleanliness and facilities.
The best ones for tourists are between Paphos Town and Cape Drepanon.
Beyond this point, on the way to Lara, there are some superb protected natural beaches that stretch out for a kilometre or more.
So visitors willing to travel a little further will find perfect seclusion in unspoiled bays.
14. Horseback Riding
If you’re visiting Paphos with kids and want to get away from the beach for a while then there’s no shortage of things to do.
One option that will go down well is a horseback ride or pony trek. There are stables just outside the town, like the Eagle Mountain Ranch with a range of trips into the lovely Mediterranean scenery just outside Paphos.
You could even saddle up for an overnight trip and camp out in the aromatic pine scrub and olive groves, while couples could take a twilight ride to see the sun go down off the western coast of the island.
15. Go underwater
Cyprus is up there with the best diving destinations in Europe, and Paphos can cater to first-timers, experts and everyone in between.
The reason why there are so many diving companies in Paphos is down to the clement water temperatures, which range between 16 and 27 degrees.
There’s vivid sea life off the coast here, together with historic shipwrecks and dramatic underwater seascapes of sheer cliffs and ravines.
For those who want the underwater experience without the training, Undersea Walkers is a company offering walking tours in specially-designed suits along the seabed.