Last Updated on 12th March 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
For those with an interest in history, perhaps Paphos is worth considering for your next European adventure. Though Cyprus has long been associated with a party vibe, fantastic nightlife, and countless beach resorts (and don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of that too!), there’s a whole cultural side of the island also worth exploring. Here’s a guide to the best things to do in Paphos!
Located along the east coast of Cyprus, in the Middle East, Paphos was once the capital of Cyprus during antiquity. Also known as ‘Pafós’ as there’s no direct translation for the Greek letter Theta, during Antiquity, there were actually two destinations known by this name. Old Paphos is now called ‘Kouklia.’ Over 10 km West of the Old City, New Paphos can be found…
Pafós: The UNESCO World Heritage Town
So historical and of such importance to the world is New Paphos, which is now simply referred to as Paphos, that it was the European capital of culture in 2017. The entire town and many surrounding sites are now designated a UNESCO world heritage site. As such, there are plenty of Paphos attractions that are well worth a visit while you’re in the area and Pafos is easily one of the best towns in Cyprus.
Home to a Mediterranean climate, countless days of sun each year, Paphos even has its own international airport and is easy to reach from the rest of Europe and beyond. So mild are the temperatures to be found in Paphos that during the winter time, it’s possible to go skiing in the mountains during the morning and spend the afternoon swimming in the sea!
Like its neighbour, Old Paphos, the town of New Paphos inevitably has its own founding myth. It’s said that Agapenor, present at the Siege of Troy and leader of the Arcadians, landed on the coast of Cyprus following a storm. Once on the island, he soon established a colony which thrived over the millennia into the metropolis you can visit today.
According to infamously inaccurate ‘historian’ Herodotus, the Arcadians did indeed establish a settlement. In truth, the town was probably founded by the final King of Palaepaphos. Post Roman and Ancient Greek history, the town gradually lost prominence. That was, until the 1970s when the town was ‘rediscovered’ as a touristic destination and became the true resort that Pafós is today.
The Tombs of the Kings
Visiting the Tombs of the Kings (a historic necropolis) is like stepping back in time. The archaeological site comprises of numerous tombs, all of wealthy people who lived during the Classical Era. Though it’s named ‘Kings,’ no one’s quite sure who is interred within the tombs. Looting has put paid to much of the evidence that would have been left behind!
Today, it’s possible to enter the grounds for a small fee and wander around below ground. Situated steps away from the sea, the tombs date back to around the 4th-century BCE (though people were buried there over the course of several centuries) and are now part of the designated UNESCO world heritage site of Paphos.
As the people living in Cyprus during Antiquity placed such an emphasis on the afterlife, many of the tombs were constructed like houses, complete with numerous chambers, albeit underground. Unfortunately, further information on the tombs is hard to find as archaeological excavations are ongoing- here’s hoping for more in the future!
One of the most famous archaeological sites in Cyprus is that of the Paphos Mosaics. Located close to the iconic harbour (which also happens to be home to the well-known fortress), the majority of the mosaics date from the 3rd century BCE to the 5th Century CE.
Highlights include intricate hunting scenes, as well as other depictions of mythology including of Narcissus (the man who loved his reflection so much that he was turned into a flower) and a black and white mosaic depicting Scylla. The oldest of all the mosaics, Scylla was a woman who was cursed by a jealous witch into a sea monster who was part woman, part creature.
Often thought to be some of the best examples of mosaics from antiquity to be found anywhere in Europe, the mosaics were actually discovered quite by accident by a farmer in the 1960s! Today, the Pafós mosaics are now designated a UNESCO world heritage site, in keeping with the rest of the town’s protected status.
After exploring all of the ruins from antiquity which the city has to offer, it’s well worth venturing down towards the harbour. Once there, the main focal point of the port is its spectacular fortress. Search for an online image of Paphos and you’ll likely be rewarded by an image of the great fortress, which is often incorrectly referred to as a ‘castle’.
I say rewarded because this building is quite literally bursting with history! Originally built by the Byzantines, the fort was then rebuilt in the 13-century before being largely destroyed once more by the Venetians in the 15th-Century. Reconstructed once more in due course, today this beautiful building makes for one of the best photo spots in town!
Incidentally, it was at this time that the Venetians settled plenty of the Mediterranean, including the Greek Island of Mykonos. Other highlights of Paphos Harbour include countless bars, restaurants, and shops. A pedestrian boulevard allows for long and lazy walks alongside the sea, while the natural harbour means that the town’s temperatures are quite moderate all year ’round.
Kourion Archaeoligcal Site
Truth be told, it must be said that Kourion is not within the confines of modern Pafós itself. Instead, the sprawling ruins of Kourion and Kourion Amphitheatre lie some kilometres to the West of the city in a beautiful hilltop location overlooking the sea. With this being said, the remains are still included within the UNESCO listing of Paphos.
The site comprises of the ruins of Kourion, one of ten city-states on the island from Ancient Times. Today much of the archaeological site is focused around the impressive Amphitheatre and offers unmatches views of the Mediterranean Sea. Originally constructed in the 2nd Century BCE and built to seat around 3,500, the theatre has since been reconstructed to seat around 2000.
During the warmer months, countless concerts and plays are hosted within the amphitheatre often with the bright moon lighting up the performances as the waves crash down in the bay below. Elsewhere on the site, there’s plenty of mosaics to admire, as well as an old agora, and several private villas turned public spaces to explore. So as to make the most of your visit to the Kourion historical site I highly recommend setting aside at least a couple of hours!
If you’re looking for a true taste of luxury, with a sprinkle of history, then be sure to check in to the five-star Elysium Hotel. This all-inclusive resort and spa was constructed in the early 2000s with a mix of architectural styles in mind; Byzantine, Hellenic, Roman, and Medieval elements are all encompassed in the structure of this impressive complex.
Truth be told, the real highlight of the Elysium is its location. Situated along the seafront, the hotel can be found right next to the Tombs of the Kings and not far from the historic harbour. Highlights of the hotel itself include an expansive pool area, mouth-watering breakfast buffet, and sumptuous rooms.
The Rock of Aphrodite
Rising out of the sea and visible from miles around (including the mountains which punctuate the Cypriot landscape), the Rock of Aphrodite is hard to miss. According to local myth and legend, this is said to have been where the goddess of love herself emerged from the sea.
In the town that is now known as Kouklia, an entire cult of Aphrodite was established, though she was of course worshipped across the entirety of Cyprus! Now, the Sanctuary of Aphrodite offers a greater insight into the worship of the goddess over the centuries.