Over the Easter 2022 school holiday, we took our kids on a Cyprus road trip taking in highlights of both the south and the north of the island. We loved exploring Cyprus by car. Our 12 day Cyprus itinerary included the capital – Nicosia – along with days spent exploring the coast and mountains of Northern Cyprus plus the Troodos Mountains and the Paphos coast in the south of the island. We also hired an all terrain buggy to drive along the Akamas Peninsula.
If you’re tempted to see more than the beach on your visit to Cyprus, I urge you to consider even just a few days of exploring Cyprus by car – the Troodos Mountains in particular are a wonderful part of the island to visit.
If you want to explore a bit more of the island, it’s worth making the effort to visit both the north and the south of Cyprus – some of the most interesting places to visit are in the Turkish occupied north. If you’re unsure how to go about doing this, I’ve detailed our experience of car hire in Northern Cyprus below.
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Visiting Cyprus for a family holiday? Check out my guide on the best things to do in Cyprus with kids.
South and North Cyprus: some context
The island of Cyprus has a population of around one million. About 75% are Greek Cypriots who live in the south – the Republic of Cyprus, and 20% Turkish Cypriots who live in the north – the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The south – the Republic of Cyprus – makes up around two thirds of the island.
Cyprus has a long old history – if you have a keen interest in getting to grips with the current situation in Cyprus, you’ll need to read many books and newspaper articles and visit several museums to do island’s history justice.
But for now, here is my take on it: Cyprus has been occupied for thousands of years – the Greeks settled in around 2,000 BC and over the centuries the Persians, Egyptians, Romans, and Ottomans have all laid claim to the island.
The UK, Greece and Turkey have been involved in the more recent history of Cyprus. The island was under British colonial control during the first half of the 20th century, a situation which caused unrest for many years. The desire for independence from the UK increased after the Second World War – with the majority of Greek Cypriots preferring unity with Greece, and Turkish Cypriots desiring partition.
Independence was gained in 1960 but the conflicting aspirations – Greek unity versus partition – continued. The divisions across the island came to a head in 1974 when the Greek army staged a coup d’etat, prompting the Turkish army to invade. The north of Cyprus was subsequently partitioned by the Turks, displacing some 200,000 Greek Cypriots in the process.
Today, the Republic of Cyprus is part of the EU while the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey – not by the rest of the world. Talks on unity are ongoing.
If you plan to visit Northern Cyprus, please check UK Foreign Office advice (or your government’s advice if you’re reading this outside the UK) and ensure your travel insurance covers you.
How to get to North Cyprus
It is not possible to fly directly from the UK to Northern Cyprus – you need to go via Turkey. However, it is pretty straight forward to reach the north of the island from the south. The easiest option is to fly into Larnaca and take a taxi to the border – you can book a hire car in advance which can be collected once you’ve crossed the border.
Northern Cyprus is a lot cheaper than the south so it’s a good destination for a low-budget holiday.
Our Cyprus road trip itinerary
We spent the majority of our holiday in the Republic of Cyprus but I was so intrigued by the island’s split and by the historical sites of the north that I convinced the rest of the family to spend a few days in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
This is how we divided our time in Cyprus:
- 2 nights in Nicosia at the Centrum Hotel
- 3 nights near Kyrenia at the Almond Village
- 3 nights in the Troodos Mountains at Casale Panayiotis
- 4 nights in Paphos at the Almyra Hotel
Although this did involve quite a bit of packing and unpacking it did allow us to properly explore the island rather than doing day trips to the various regions.
Tips on exploring Cyprus by car: flights
It’s a good idea to check flight availability before you spend too much time researching your Cyprus itinerary. You might find your plans are dictated to a certain extent by the flight schedules and flight prices. Many UK flights arrive into Cyprus late in the evening so it’s worth bearing this in mind if you’re travelling with small children or you’re considering staying some distance from the arrival airport.
We decided to have the beach part of our holiday in the Paphos area as opposed to one of the eastern resorts because there were decent timed flights home from Paphos at the right price on the day we needed. There are two airports in the Republic of Cyprus – Larnaca in the east which serves resorts sunch as Ayia Napa and Protaras, and Paphos in the west which covers Paphos beach areas such as Coral Bay and Latchi.
Limassol is midway between the two airports. If you’re keen to visit the Troodos Mountains, Paphos is marginally closer but both airports are under 90 minutes away.
Cyprus by car: what to expect
Exploring Cyprus by car is relatively easy – particularly for us Brits as driving is on the left. The only hurdle for exploring Cyprus by car is crossing the border – I’ll explain more about that below. We did find that the driving styles in the north and south were quite different – the Northern Cypriots drive in a rather more assertive manner which took a little while for us to adjust to.
Our children are currently obsessed with cars so they were fascinated by the expensive cars on the road in North Cyprus. We were rather intrigued too – food and accommodation was very cheap in North Cyprus compared to the south so where was all this money for expensive cars coming from? After chatting to a few people we learned that there is a lot of expat money in both the north and south and the cars are mostly Japanese exports. I got the impression that the local North Cypriots live in a rather frustrating state of low income while foreign money is channelled into the sprawling hotel casinos and property market. Gambling is illegal in Turkey – but not in Turkish controlled North Cyprus.
Recommendations for car hire in Cyprus
We decided to use local firms for our car rentals in Cyprus. In the North we used Pacific Rentals – on the recommendation of a friend in the UK who has family from the north.
In the Republic of Cyprus we used Petsas as they had an office in Nicosia (where we needed to collect the car) and in Paphos.
We also used a really reliable taxi firm – Antreas Taxi – in Nicosia who we found through the Centrum Hotel – if you need the details please let me know.
Car hire in North Cyprus
I had read that it wasn’t possible to hire a car in the south and drive it into the north without encountering problems with insurance cover. So we opted to fly into Larnaca and take a taxi from there to Nicosia.
I prearranged car hire in Northern Cyprus with Pacific Rentals. We met a representative at the Ledra Palace border and collected our car from him. We dropped the car off in a car park at the border three days later – with the keys left under the foot mat. Everything went smoothly and the car was fine.
Crossing from South Cyprus to Northern Cyprus
We crossed the border between south and north Cyprus a couple of times. During our two day stay in the capital, we walked across at Ledra Street – a quick check of passports on each side was all that was required and there was no queuing.
After our stay in Nicosia, we walked across the border at the Ledra Palace Hotel crossing. It was again easy and straight forward. The southern side checked our passports, then we dragged our suitcases a couple of hundred metres through the UN-controlled no man’s land (past boarded up buildings and barbed wire) to the northern checkpoint where our passports were checked again.
Our stay in Nicosia
Nicosia – Lefkosia in Greek and Lefkosa in Turkish, is a vibrant city. In the south glitzy shopping malls and all the usual international brands overlook the 16th century Venetian walls. The north by contrast has none of the big names (except knock-off versions in the market stalls just across the border) and it feels rather provincial.
We stayed in the aptly named Centrum Hotel Nicosia. It was good value and we had a spacious family room with a balcony overlooking a side street. The hotel is right in the centre of Nicosia so I suspect it could have been quite noisy in the evenings if we’d been there on a weekend.
When I was researching where to stay in Nicosia, I was disappointed that the accommodation on offer was mostly business-style hotels in the south. The north by contrast had some really interesting looking bed and breakfast style accommodation – family run – which I would have preferred. However, as our flight arrived quite late and covid was rampant in the UK I didn’t want to risk any problems trying to cross the border late at night.
The location of the Centrum is perfect for a quick stay in Nicosia – particularly for families. It’s a two minute walk to Ledra Street which is packed with shops (and ice cream parlours) and there are plenty of restaurants close by.
Our kids loved exploring Eleftheria Square which was five minutes walk from the hotel. This newly created public space (designed by the Zaha Hadid group) has transformed the moat area of the city’s Venetian walls next to D’Avilla Bastion. There are shady spaces, a small open air theatre, cafes and a play area. At night, the square is lit up and our kids loved dashing about leaping on the seats which looked like glowing surf boards.
We spent two nights in Nicosia – it’s a small capital but there are plenty of sights to take in if you have an interest in the history and culture of the island. The Cyprus Museum covers the rich history of the country while there are churches, mosques and smaller museums which are worth seeking out to gain an understanding of this fascinating island. I would have liked to visit the National Struggle Museum to remind myself of the less palatable British part in Cyprus’s history but I didn’t quite get my timings right.
As it was our first trip out of the UK for three years, our kids were happy just to wander through Ledra Street and to wind their way along the narrow streets of the old town. It was brilliant being so central and stepping out of the hotel right into the heart of the city. Each evening we found a bar with live music so we had a lovely time listening to the local music.
Cyprus by car: driving from Lefkosa to Kyrenia
Once we’d collected our hire car in Lefkosa we set off out of the city and headed for the Kyrenia Mountains. As you leave the city, there are flat plains of cultivated land interspersed with clusters of holiday homes.
The road climbed steeply into the mountains and then passed between them to drop back down to the heavily developed Kyrenia coastal strip on the north side. There’s a main road which runs along the coast which is packed with holiday villas (some luxurious, others in need of a bit of attention), shops and restaurants. There are many huge hotels proclaiming their five star status but I was delighted with our more modest choice of accommodation when we arrived.
Where to stay in North Cyprus
There are plenty of good value places to stay in Northern Cyprus – tons of self catering Airbnb properties as well as lots of cheap hotels. I’ve read rather mixed reviews of British holiday makers’ experiences at some of the larger resort-style hotels – those with casinos and big swimming pool complexes.
If you’re looking for a good value beach holiday with a back to basics feel – warm, old fashioned hospitality and off the beaten track beaches, I would recommend heading to the Karpaz Peninsula, the long narrow stretch of land sticking out of the east of the island. During my research of places to stay in Northern Cyprus, I came across some lovely looking places – but they were a bit too remote for our trip.
Based on several recommendations I received from the We Love Cyprus Facebook group, we stayed at the Almond Village Hotel – a family owned and run property a short drive from Kyrenia. This small independent hotel has managed to weather the covid storm and the hotel looked amazing during our stay. They explained that they kept their staff on during the pandemic (no furlough scheme there unfortunately), as good staff are so difficult to find. The staff were all indeed lovely and it was refreshing to see several generations of a family working together at a hotel.
The Almond Village looks quite big on its website but it is actually quite small. It consists of a collection of villas dotted across well maintained gardens with a small farm behind it where vegetables in the hotel restaurant are sourced. Our kids loved playing with the resident dogs and cats as well as visiting the chickens and ostriches which live on the farm.
The swimming pool was a little chilly in April but two out of four of us braved it for a swim – very refreshing on a hot day. The other guests were Brits – some from the UK, others visiting from the south of Cyprus, quite a few had visited the hotel before.
We stayed in a two bedroom villa which had a small kitchen and a living room – perfect for making a quick meal. However, eating out in Northern Cyprus is about a third of the cost of eating out in the south so we didn’t do very much cooking.
Things to do in Northern Cyprus
In between the mass of villas and hotels in Northern Cyprus, there are pockets of traditional Cypriot life. The village of Bellapais gave us a glimpse of a more simple way of life, albeit with quite a few shops selling honey, saffron and other souvenirs.
It was wonderfully quiet during our visit to Bellapais, even the famous abbey had just a smattering of visitors. The aptly-named abbey – of 13th century origins – has an air of calm and tranquility quite at odds with the modern sprawl of Kyrenia which it overlooks. Our kids loved exploring the ruins, although I fear that their imaginary games were somewhat less than holy – apologies to the other visitors we shared the experience with.
St Hilarion Castle
One of the highlights of our visit to Cyprus was St Hilarion Castle. One of three Crusader castles which stand sentry along the island’s north coast, St Hilarion alone warrants the journey from the Republic to the Turkish controlled north.
Driving the winding road up to 13th century St Hilarion, and clambering along the battlements and through the towers of this once-mighty fortress, you get the impression that little has changed for the international billionaire elite down the ages. This castle – used by the Lusignan crusader kings – must have taken incredible man-power to construct and maintain, such is its remote, lofty position on the ridge of the Kyrenia Mountains.
There were only a couple of other people exploring St Hilarion while we were there so we had it mostly to ourselves. It is a truly magnificent spot with the most incredible views over the coast below – there would be no excuse for missing an Arab invasion with a viewpoint like this.
Unfortunately, the site is not particularly well looked after – next to the signs suggesting people take home their litter are overflowing rubbish bins. I wouldn’t recommend bringing an inquisitive toddler to the castle, or anyone with a fear of heights – safety plays second fiddle to the drama of the place. We visited on a windy day and we all clung to the rails at the very top of the castle, admiring the incredible views.
The drive up to St Hilarion from Kyrenia takes visitors past one of many Turkish military bases. We decided to take the scenic route back to our hotel and followed an empty narrow road west along the cloud-covered ridge of the mountains. We didn’t pass a soul during this hour’s drive – save for a couple of goats as we dropped back down towards the coast.
What we did come across was one of the many Turkish propaganda devices, Mucizevi Türk Tankı – an abandoned tank sitting just off the road at rather an alarming angle. It was accompanied by memorial plaques in Turkish and English offering an explanation as to its siting at this place.
Northern Cyprus beaches
The coast to the east and west of Kyrenia is very built up and commercialised. We visited a couple of beach clubs close to the city but they hadn’t really opened up for the season and although there were small stretches of sand which our kids were delighted with, it all felt rather drab and sad. No doubt covid has decimated the beach businesses but I wonder how much the Turkish control of the north has hindered the development of tourism here (for better and worse).
So, we decided to drive along the east coast in search of a decent stretch of sand. Around half an hour from Kyrenia the hotels, shops and restaurants which line the main road become more and more spread out until the coastline becomes an empty rocky landscape with the sea glinting tantalizingly in the distance.
We ended up at what is probably a very well known spot in the summer months – Alagadi Beach. However, in April it was really peaceful. There is one beach restaurant (with a really friendly owner who looked after one of our boys when he got a splinter in his foot) and not much else, it’s a very chilled out spot. The food was great and there was a lovely atmosphere. It was a wonderfully warm day and it was heavenly – after several cool UK summers – to be contemplating putting on sun cream in April.
Alagadi consists of two arcs of sand – one beach sits directly in front of the restaurant and another is a short drive away over a rocky headland. The latter is best for those who want that perfect uninterrupted view of the sea as the one next to the restaurant did have a view in one direction of a distant factory.
Alagadi is a popular nesting site for green and loggerhead turtles who come to lay their eggs during the summer. A programme is in place to help release the hatchlings into the sea.
Road trip Cyprus: Northern Cyprus to the Troodos Mountains
After three days exploring Northern Cyprus, we drove back to Lefkosa, deposited our car with its keys in the not very official looking car park and walked across the border. We were briefly asked if we had anything to declare as we entered the Republic – they’re after cigarettes – before locating our taxi driver and heading into Nicosia to collect our next car.
Driving out of Nicosia is fairly straight forward. Our destination – the Troodos Mountains – was well signposted and the roads were pretty quiet (it was a Sunday). We found a good value roadside eatery for lunch on the way – Louis restaurant – where the B9 and F928 meet.
Where to stay in the Troodos Mountains
There are plenty of places to stay in the Troodos Mountains – cheap self catering, very good value hotels, traditional mountain hostels and a rather special village accommodation project in Kalopanayiotis which we decided to investigate.
There are various villages to choose from as your base in the Troodos. If you’re visiting in the summer, Platres would be a good option as it sits at an altitude of 1,200 metres so it’s noticeably cooler. From Platres you can access some of the most popular hiking trails and it’s a short drive, or a decent hike to Troodos village (altitude 1,750 metres).
If you’d like to have a proper hiking holiday in the Troodos Mountains, the one organised by Cyprus veterans Sunvil sounds really good – they can arrange for your luggage to be carried for you as you walk from village to village.
I was glad we opted to stay at Kalopanayiotis for our April visit. The village sits at a much lower altitude of 700 metres in the Marathasa Valley. While it was zero degrees up at Troodos and not much warmer in Platres, down in Kalopanayiotis it was a balmy 15 to 20 degrees during our stay. Also, although the ski slope had shut, Platres and Troodos had yet to fully awaken from their winter hibernation. Quite a few attractions, shops and restaurants were closed but the sun was shining and the hiking trails were wonderfully peaceful.
We spent three nights at Casale Panayiotis. More of an ongoing village project than a standalone hotel, Casale Panayiotis has been developed by former childhood resident John Papadouris who, after making his fortune elsewhere in the world, returned to his village and helped to bring a new style of tourism to the area.
Casale Panayiotis is not a traditional hotel. There is a main hub in the centre of the village where you’ll find the reception area, the main restaurant and the spa. However, the “hotel rooms” are artfully scattered across the village. We stayed in a two storey, two bedroom unit. We had a little kitchen / living room area with the bedrooms and bathroom accessed via a spiral staircase. Outside, we had a terrace from the living room and a large balcony reached through the bedrooms. Both of these sun-filled outside spaces had views over the village and mountains. If we had visited without the kids we could happily have spent the duration of the stay on the balcony watching the house martins performing barrel rolls across the blue sky.
Casale Panayiotis is not ideal for families with little children or babies – there are lots of steps and the village is set across a very steep hillside. There is an elevator to take visitors between the lower and upper parts of the village but this isn’t much help if you’re staying half way up the hill. Some rooms are quite a distance from the restaurants.
However, it worked perfectly for our family – the kids loved exploring the narrow pathways, wandering along the streets to breakfast, clambering to the top of the village to find the ice cream shop and discovering the play area which, just like the rest of the village, is situated on a series of terraces overlooking the valley.
The Troodos Mountains were doing Airbnb-style lodgings long before the internet helped us find a cheap room to stay in. As the owner of a little museum next to our accommodation explained to me, the villagers in Kalopanayiotis have a long tradition of taking in summer visitors escaping the heat of the capital and other lower lying cities. The village was famed for its thermal springs and the frescoes in the monastery. Local residents would move out of their homes or sleep on the sofa in order to accommodate guests and earn some vital income – the region has traditionally been very poor.
As we drove through the various villages we noticed there were quite a few empty and derelict hotels, partly due to the advent of air conditioning I was told but also no doubt as a result of the covid pandemic too. The Troodos Mountains, the villages and the overall landscape are stunning – I do hope some of these tourism businesses see an upturn in fortunes in the future.
If you’re interested in staying in Kalopanayiotis – do check out Casale Panayiotis or have a look at some of the good value alternatives in the village on Booking.com.
Highlights of the Troodos Mountains
We spent three nights in the Troodos Mountains. As I am outnumbered three to one by petrolheads, I booked my family a quad biking adventure for our first full day. Along with another family, we were taken off road along mountain tracks – my fear of narrow hairpin bends with dramatic drop offs was well and truly tested. The kids loved the drive through the river valley, delighted by the highlight of splashing through the river.
Painted churches of the Troodos villages
After the petrolheads had had their fill of adventures, I managed to convince them to accompany me to the St John Lampadistis Monastery. The Troodos Mountains are famed for their painted churches – modest stone structures which hide within them quite remarkable frescoes.
Medieval Cypriots fled to the mountains in search of refuge from Arab invaders. Despite the tough conditions in the Troodos, they farmed the terraces and continued their Orthodox faith with the construction churches and monasteries – simple stone structures belying the incredible artwork hidden within.
The paintings at UNESCO-listed St John Lampadistis monastery have been restored so the scenes from the bible are displayed in surprisingly vivid colours.
Hiking in the Troodos Mountains
We enjoyed a really lovely circular seven kilometre hike from Kalopanayiotis, the path weaved its way up the rocky mountainside to reach the Lampadistis winery – another project by John Papadouris – before winding its way back down again through lush countryside, with wonderful views and countless wildflowers all around.
We passed the delightful little 12th century chapel of Theoskepasti which sits in the shadow of a 700 year old oak tree. The tree holds the chapel’s bell.
On another day, we drove up through the Troodos villages, passing through the remaining snow and over to Platres where we wandered along a trail to reach the Millomeri waterfall. (There is also a rather ugly shortcut route for those who don’t fancy the modest one kilometre walk from the village church). Despite the steep return leg, our kids loved this little hike which takes you along a narrow mostly wooded path. We arrived at about 5pm so it was quiet but I imagine it gets pretty busy in the summer.
Cyprus by car: driving from Troodos to Paphos
The drive from the Troodos Mountains south to Paphos passes through lovely scenery. Once you have dropped down far enough for the pine trees to disappear the landscape is given over to vineyards. There are signs everywhere inviting you to pop in to taste the wine.
Against my better judgement, we decided to skip the wine and head for the little olive oil museum Oleastro, about half an hour south of Platres. This is a good stop for a quick lunch – we enjoyed bread, oil (obviously) and cheese and tomatoes whilst watching a short film about the history of olive oil production. There’s a little play area and some animals to feed.
Where to stay in Paphos
As we hadn’t left the UK for three years and our kids were in dire need of some swimming practice, we pushed the boat out with a four night stay at the Almyra Hotel in Paphos. We booked interconnecting inland view rooms which handily backed onto the play area.
For most of our stay we enjoyed swimming in the heated pools – there’s an indoor one at the spa which families can use in the morning as well as the main heated outdoor pool. The hotel overlooks the sea although there is no beach – just a rocky seafront.
There’s a boardwalk in front of the hotel which takes you into the main tourist area where there’s a multitude of restaurants and shops.
Driving in the Akamas National Park
We managed to drag ourselves away from the swimming pools for a brain-rattling ride through the Akamas National Park. If you’ve heard of the Cyprus Blue Lagoon, this is where you’ll find it. The Akamas Peninsula is a surprisingly wild and undeveloped area to the west of the Paphos urban sprawl. It consists of a rocky coastline, very rocky roads and some rather spectacular views. Hidden along the coastline are some fabulous places for a swim.
I expect, like everywhere else we visited in Cyprus, the Akamas and its famous beach – the Cyprus Blue Lagoon – will be packed with day trippers come the summer but in April we had it almost to ourselves. There was just one tourist boat disgorging visitors from its stern whilst we were there.
Not content with having spent a day whizzing about the Troodos Mountains on quad bikes, we decided to take an ATV buggy out on the Akamas Peninsula. We hired a four seater buggy from Petrides Rentals, a friendly car hire firm in the small seaside resort of Latchi, about 45 minutes’ drive north from our hotel in Paphos.
The buggy comes complete with goggles (essential for when you pick up speed on the main road as there’s no windscreen) and a cool box for drinks and food. There are seat belts and a bar to hold onto for when you’re going over particularly bumpy terrain.
I had heard and read rather mixed reviews about the road conditions in the Akamas National Park so I was a little bit apprehensive about this particular outing. However, the suspension on the buggy was unlike anything I’d come across before – we drove along some ridiculously bad tracks which the vehicle tackled easily.
We came across a couple of normal vehicles which had tried to reach the infamous Blue Lagoon – I don’t think the drivers will be getting the excess back on their insurance. The road to the Blue Lagoon is not suitable for anything other than a 4WD.
Have you enjoyed a Cyprus road trip? What were your experiences of exploring Cyprus by car? Let me know in the comments below.
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