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Nicosia or Paphos

Nicosia or Paphos: Which Cypriot City Gets Our Pick?

The island country of Cyprus, located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, is an enthralling holiday destination and the sunniest island in Europe. Cyprus straddles two continents and is a cultural melting pot to match, boasting years of ancient history. Deciding to vacation here might be easy, but picking between Nicosia or Paphos, two of Cyprus’ most energetic cities, is a different story. 

Nicosia is Cyprus’s cosmopolitan capital and largest city. The vibrant student population helps afford its unique atmosphere and Nicosia is also the last remaining European metropole divided by a border. In contrast to urban Nicosia, Paphos is an ancient town steeped in history and mystery. As legend has it, Paphos is the birthplace of the Greek goddess of love and many of the sites are associated with the cult of Aphrodite.   

Our guide looks at all the things that make these cities unique, from the history to the nightlife to just how much your vacation will cost. Will the bustling capital or romantic beach town come out on top? Let’s find out. 

Nicosia or Paphos: General Vibe

village in Cyprus
Photo by Satura_ on Envato Elements

Pronounced “Lefkosia” in Greek, Nicosia is Cyprus’ divided capital city located in the center of the island around an hour’s drive from the coast. It’s Cyprus’s only big city without direct access to a beach, but for this reason, its become an industrial, commercial, and business hub instead of a resort, with all the main textile, leather, and food production factories located here. 

The city is home to the best university in Cyprus and has a thriving student population. Nicosia is the center of urban life and most professionals in Cyprus live and work here. You’ll find name-brand restaurants and high street shopping, great nightlife, and plenty of museums and galleries.

It might be the modern pulse of Cyprus’ heartbeat, but Nicosia is also steeped in history and culture. From the Gothic-style cathedral to the 16th-century Venetian walls with eleven bastions, there are reminders of Nicosia’s rich past at every turn. Not to mention, half of the city is geographically located in Northern Cyprus, a separate nation altogether but only recognized by Turkey

On the other hand, Paphos is Cyprus’ ancient capital. It might be located on the coast, attracting a steady stream of holidaymakers and ex-pats, but it’s much more than another Cypriot beach resort. Paphos is Cyprus’ most historic city and as well as being the birthplace of Aphrodite, its welcomed other notable residents like Orator Mark Tullius Cicer, the Proconsul of Cyprus, as well as Apostle Paul who memorably preached the word of God here in 51 BC.  

From Aphrodite’s Rock to her baths, temple, and even the fountain of love, many of the attractions in Paphos are centered around its legends. You’ll also find the royal tombs, the catacombs of Saint Solomon, and the mosaic of Theseus’s villa in the city. Paphos became Cyprus’ first UNESCO World Heritage Site and was also voted Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2017. 

Formerly an ancient port, modern Paphos is a busy mooring dock for ferries and private yachts, and it’s not all history and old tales. Life centers around the sea just as much as it does in any of Cyprus’ other beach towns and visitors can score the perfect balance between cultural exploration and a seaside getaway here. 

Winner: Draw

Nicosia or Paphos: Getting There

roundabout in Nicosia
Photo by mpalis on Envato Elements

Although Nicosia is the capital of Cyprus, the largest and busiest international airport on the island is actually located in Paphos. The main airport for Cyprus was originally situated close to Nicosia. However, following the Turkish invasion, activity ceased and the airport is now largely disused. Flying over Cyprus you might even be able to look down on the eerie graveyard of abandoned airplanes around the old port. 

The nearest international airport to the capital is Ercan (ECN), located around 30 minutes from the city. Still, it resides on the Turkish side of the island, meaning you’ll have to cross the border that divides the city if you want to enter Greek Cyprus. 

Even though Paphos is around 150 kilometers from Nicosia, amounting to a near-two hour drive, many holidaymakers choose to fly into Paphos’ busy international airport and arrange onward travel or private car hire to reach the capital. Crossing the border in Nicosia, also known as the “Green Line”, is safe and relatively easy for EU citizens, but you will have to wait in line, show your passport, and maybe even answer a few questions, which can be bothersome after you’ve just done all of this at the airport. 

Cyprus might be a Mediterannean Island, but it’s closer to Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and even Egypt, than it is to mainland Europe. After Turkey, the closest European destination to Cyprus is Rhodes Island in Greece and that’s still around 8 hours away by boat. For this reason, it’s unlikely you’ll arrive by ferry, but still, Paphos’ coastal location means it is often included in cruise ship itineraries, while Nicosia isn’t. Although uncommon for a capital city, Nicosia’s unique geography means Paphos is probably the easier city to reach.  

Winner: Paphos 

Nicosia or Paphos: History

Paphos roman site
Photo by LightFieldStudios on Envato Elements

Like much of the Med, Cyprus has been ruled, invaded, overthrown, and changed hands many times throughout the ages. This, along with its ties to ancient mythology, means it’s blessed with some incredible history that both Nicosia and Paphos are a testament to. At the heart of Nicosia’s history is its division. So how did it come to be this way? 

Greeks, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Venetians, Ottomans, and even the British, have all controlled Cyprus. The Ottomans actually passed Cyprus over to the UK in exchange for protection against the Russians in 1878, and Cyprus remained a member of the British empire until discontent came to a violent climax in the 50s and 60s and Cyprus was granted independence. 

Following independence, some Greek Cypriots wanted the island to be united with Greece and they staged a military coup in 1974. Five days later, Turkey invaded and captured the northern territory, displacing 200,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots and forming a separate state for Turkish Cypriots that only Turkey would come to recognize. The state split the capital in half, and although the walls that prevented Cypriots from moving between states have now been replaced by a border, tensions are still high and North Cyprus is not recognized by any other country but Turkey. 

The old city of Nicosia, on the Cypriot side, is still surrounded by its well-preserved Venetian walls that are punctuated by eleven bastions named after Italian aristocratic families who donated to their construction. The bastions make the city look like a star or sun from above, and the 16th-century walls are the longest of their age in Europe. 

You can also explore Neolithic and Byzantine archaeological finds in the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia, like the Aphrodite Soloi Statue. Paphos might be the center of Greek ancient history in Cyprus, but Nisosia’s galleries are a great place to learn about it. There’s also a marble mausoleum next to the 19th-century Faneromeni Church inside the old walls. 

Still, Paphos is a treasure trove of ancient history and hard to compete with. Its been inhabited since the Neolithic times and has been the center for the following of Aphrodite and pre-Hellenic fertility deities for thousands of years. The Myceans built the sprawling Aphrodite temple in the 12th century. It was used until the Roman period but today the remains can still be explored along with a host of other fantastic archaeological sites. 

Nea Paphos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains the ruins of a Roman city, an ancient Greek hospital, and tombs of Cypriot nobility dating back 2,000 years. The Old Town of Paphos, perched on a hillside away from the beachfront esplanade, is also a monument in and of itself. Medieval churches, narrow lanes, remnants of Roman walls – the historic center tells a different story at every turn. 

Still, Petra Tou Romiou has to be the most popular historic landmark in all of Cyprus, combining Paphos’s fascinating past with beachside childish fun. Directly translated as “Rock of the Greek”, but better known as “Aphrodite’s Rock”, the Greek goddess of love was thought to come out of the sea foam at the beach here. 

It’s just 15 kilometers eat from Paphos city on a little pebbly beach that is frequented by tourists all year round. Locals have visited the rock for thousands of years and legend says that those who swim around it three times will receive eternal beauty. We wouldn’t recommend it due to the currents and strong waves, but visitors can take a dip in the enchanted waters below for good luck. 

Winner: Paphos   

Nicosia or Paphos: Accomodation

beach in Paphos
Photo by Satura_ on Envato Elements

Encompassing the sought-after resorts of the west and southwest coasts, the Paphos region is home to some of Cyprus’s most coveted accommodation. From Coral Bay to Yeroskipou, there are plenty of places to indulge yourself in Paphos’ rich culture but with all the modern luxuries of a resort escape. 

The city itself is also peppered with midrange B&Bs, rental apartments, and even hostels among the boutique hotels. There’s a lot of variety in Paphos and so something for everything. Check out some of these options for your trip:

Katsikantaris Homes ($$) – Convenient, self-contained apartments in a charming white-washed traditional house, with modern decor, charming outside space, and in easy reach of Kefalos Beach, Lighthouse Beach, and Paphos City. 

Roman Boutique Hotel ($$) – Built on a preserved archaeological site just 450 yards from Paphos’ Blue Flag Faros Beach, Roman Boutique offers unique stays with bohemian rooms, serene gardens, and even a small outside pool. 

Annabelle ($$$) – The epitome of true luxury, Annabelle Resort looks over the Port of Paphos and its tropical landscaped gardens, with fabulous fine dining options, beach access, multiple pools, and a state-of-the-art well-being spa.   

You might find a bit less diversity in Nicosia, without the beachfront resorts and rural stays. Still, the hotels range from the bottom end to the very top of luxury and you’ll probably pay half the price for a five-star hotel than you would in Paphos. From raucous hostels to unique boutique apartments, the capital has a lot to offer:

Costas Hostel Action ($$) – With mixed dorm rooms, a shared kitchen, charming garden, terrace, and free bikes for hire, Costas is a sociable budget option in Nicosia. 

Kamari Studio ($$) – An elegant studio apartment with a modern mezzanine floor in a charming traditional building located just 13-minutes from all the sites of the Old Town. 

Hilton Nicosia ($$$) – Five-star luxury with an outdoor pool, private balcony rooms, stylish decor, marble bathrooms, and various on-site dining options in the center of Nicosia City. 

Winner: Draw

Nicosia or Paphos: Nightlife

Nicosia nightlife
Photo by mpalis on Envato Elements

Attracting strong crowds of tourists, all summer long, Paphos has a lively nightlife to match with something on most nights of the week in the high season. The city’s evening entertainment is a heady mix of gimmicky bars, elegant lounges, live music performances, and a handful of nightclubs. You don’t have to look too far to find sophistication, especially on hotel rooftops and within the artsy cocktail scene, but there are still a lot of Mediterannean discos tailored towards tourists and Paphos’ younger population. 

Paphos is hugely popular with ex-pats, thanks to its appealing mix of history and lusted beach life. This means you’re likely to find crowds of foreigners enjoying Paphos after dark and even some traditional Irish and English pubs dotted around, but this can steal from the authenticity. 

Cyprus’ premier nightlife spot that has put it on the map as a party destination is Ayia Napa on the east coast. Unlike Larnaca and even Nicosia, it isn’t efficient to travel to Ayia Napa from Paphos just for one night of dancing, with the town being two hours’ driving distance from Paphos. So if you’re planning on just visiting Paphos, you’ll probably have to wave goodbye to your chance at clubbing in one of Europe’s most iconic resorts. 

On the other hand, Ayia Napa is just one hour from Nicosia, and hoards of visitors have been known to crowd onto party busses in the high season to spend a night outside the capital in Cyprus’s nightlife hotspot. Still, with all the entertainment on offer in Nicosia, you won’t need to leave.

Thanks to the vast student population here, the nightlife in the bustling capital is a year-round affair, unlike Paphos’ seasonal perks, and you can find somewhere to dance until the early hours every night of the week. Grungy bars, basement jazz cafés, rooftop cocktail lounges, and acclaimed nightclubs, all open late into the night and hosting house, techno, hip-hop, and trance DJs all year, there’s something for everyone. 

Winner: Nicosia

Nicosia or Paphos: Cost

halloumi plate
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Capital cities might traditionally be more expensive than anywhere else in a country, but with Cyprus’ luxurious beach towns and, specifically, Paphos’ upscale appeal, could you actually save money by staying in Nicosia?

The truth is, Nicosia is a very cheap city to live in when compared to other European capitals. The property prices and rent costs are much lower in Nicosia than in sun-soaked Paphos. Apartment rentals, even those right in the city center, are often targeted at students with reasonable price points to match, while developments on the Cypriot coast can incur premium charges for the ex-pat audiences. Hotels are also cheaper in the capital, even with the limited diversity. 

Three-star hotels start at just €35 a night in Nicosia, and four-stars from just €65 and up, while you might struggle to find a budget hotel for less than €40 a night in Paphos, averaging at around €70 a night. Luxury comes at a lower price tag in Nicosia too, with five-star hotels going for around €250 a night while some of the beachfront five-star resorts in Paphos can cost as much as €900 for just one night. 

Travel is cheaper in Nicosia as well with more public options and lower taxi tariffs. In fact, the starting price for a taxi is only around €4 in Nicosia, compared to €9 in Paphos, where you’re limited for choice anyway with less extensive bus networks.  

However, it might come as surprise to know that Nicosia is the more expensive choice when it comes to consumer prices, overall, coming out at around 10 percent more pricey than Paphos. It’s important to remember that Nicosia is still a cosmopolitan commercial hub. Restaurant prices are around seven percent higher in Nicosia than in Paphos, and groceries can cost as much as 16 percent more. 

A meal for two in an inexpensive restaurant would cost around €45 in Paphos, but €50 in Nicosia, which might not seem like a lot, but it can all add up. And while some local products can be cheaper in the capital’s supermarkets, items like alcohol, cheese, and even meat, tend to be marked up.

Winner: Draw 

Is Northern Cyprus safe?

Although political tension has been rife for decades, and there’s also often a noticeable military presence that can be unnerving, Northern Cyprus is perfectly safe and there’s no reason for tourists to experience any trouble during their visit. Tense does not mean violent, and the northern territory of the island is actually an underrated vacation spot with amazing beaches, low prices, history, culture, and a lot of sunshine. Crime rates are higher than in the south, but crimes against tourists are uncommon and it’s definitely still worth visiting. 

When is the best time to visit Nicosia?

The warmest months in Nicosia are July and August with highs of 90 degrees Fahrenheit and plenty of sunshine. However, this is also the most expensive time to visit the capital, and with such an agreeable climate, there’s no reason to avoid the shoulder seasons. Average highs hover in the 80s until late October, and Nicosia is generally very dry all year round. 

Are earthquakes common in Cyprus?

Cyprus is surprisingly earthquake-prone, but the island has sufficient infrastructure to deal with tremors. The coastline, from Pafos to Famagusta, is especially vulnerable although most quakes are minor and often not felt by the population. Cyprus lies in an active seismic zone, namely the Alpine-Himalayan belt, where around 15 percent of the world’s earthquakes occur. Such quakes have caused widespread damage on the island in the past, as well as in Greece, Sicily, Crete, the Nile Delta, and Northern Libya.