Limassol, Cyprus (or Lemesos as it’s called locally) curves around a sandy bay on the south coast of the island, the spine of the hazy Troodos Mountains in the distance.
The city itself has an attractive old center of narrow streets tangled around a medieval castle. There’s a chic marina, too, and no end of fine restaurants and arty shops. But Limassol is also an easy starting point from which to uncover the many factors that make Cyprus so enchanting.
History, natural beauty, long beaches, superb food and wine, and above all, the hospitality of the Cypriot people are all compelling reasons to explore this sunny corner of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Why Visit Limassol, Cyprus?
A busy commercial port and thriving vacation resort, Limassol is the perfect introduction to Cypriot history, cuisine, and culture.
The city is within easy reach of the pine-clad Troodos Mountains, which form a rugged spine along the center of the island, and lies at the heart of the wine-growing area. Both make a perfect day trip. Antiquities, natural wonders, and some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean are within easy reach, too.
Trips to other cities are an option, whether you’re interested in exploring ancient tombs and Greco-Roman mosaics of Paphos to the west, or a day in Nicosia, Europe’s last divided capital.
What’s most captivating about Limassol, and Cyprus itself, is the contrasts you’ll find. Within minutes of leaving the city, you’re plunged into rolling landscapes of vineyards, snow-capped mountains, sun-dappled forest, and sleepy wine-growing villages where time appears to have stood still.
Hiking, swimming, exploring history, tasting wine, and feasting on delicious Cypriot food are all delightful ways in which to pass your time here.
History & Culture
Century upon century of visitors have criss-crossed Cyprus, thanks to its strategic location in the far eastern corner of the Mediterranean, a bridge between Europe and the Levant.
All have left their mark, from Neolithic settlements to the Bronze Age copper mines that gave the Mediterranean island its name, to ancient Greeks and Romans with their intricate mosaics, and crusaders who constructed solid castles. The Venetians left a series of graceful stone bridges in the mountains and the walls that encircle Nicosia, the capital.
Modern Cyprus is a divided island. In 1974, Turkey invaded the north in response to a military coup. Turkey to this day occupies the northern third of the island, while the southern two-thirds is the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot side.
The island is divided by the “Green Line”, patrolled by the United Nations. Reunification talks continue, and you can cross over to the Turkish side on a day trip to Nicosia if you wish.
Cyprus is a successful tourism destination, thanks to its year-round sunshine, hospitable people, most of whom speak English, and high standard of living. Many Europeans choose to retire here, or escape the cold northern winter.
The remote island also earns an income from agriculture, exporting potatoes, citrus, and olives to countries in the European Union. You’ll pass silvery olive groves and carob trees wherever you go.
Wildlife & Nature
You’d have to head into the countryside to look for wildlife, but there are some areas of great natural beauty near Limassol. One of the most beautiful mountains in the world, the Troodos Mountains are cloaked in old-growth cedar forest and pine, with walking trails through the trees and along splashing streams.
You could spot mouflon, a beautiful wild sheep with magnificent horns, and griffon vultures, which are endangered but are becoming re-established in Cyprus. Bonelli’s eagles also nest in the mountain forests.
Book a 4WD adventure to the Troodos if you want to immerse yourself in nature. As well as exploring the forest and the ancient Venetian bridges, you’ll be whisked to the dizzying, 6,404-foot peak of Mount Olympus, the island’s highest point.
Most day trips also stop in the pretty village of Omodos, the epicenter of the wine business, its cobbled streets lined with tavernas and wine bars.
Tips for Visiting Limassol
Limassol, Cyprus is a big, sprawling town, having extended way beyond its original fishing harbor. The old center, spreading around Limassol Castle, is relatively compact and easy to walk around.
Other than this, you may want to unwind at the yacht marina or explore the shops.
Realistically, though, many of the island’s most interesting attractions are outside Limassol. The city serves as a convenient base thanks to its central location on the south coast on the plains below the Troodos Mountains.
If you only have a day in Limassol, you’ll have to make some choices. One combination that works is to visit Kourion and Kolossi Castle in the morning, and then return to the old center to see the castle and settle down in the shade for a long, late, lazy lunch.
Things to Do & Attractions in Limassol
Wander Through the Old Town
Limassol has an enchanting old center, spread around a medieval castle close to the old port. The castle is where, in 1191, Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre, making her Queen of England.
What you see today is actually an Ottoman fortress, built in 1590 over the original castle. The fortress houses the Medieval Museum of Cyprus.
In the streets around the castle, you’ll find everything from Greek orthodox churches, their interiors festooned with gold icons, to Turkish baths and ancient minarets.
Browse local artists’ studios, shop for sea sponges, olive oil cosmetics, and donkey milk soap at the Sea Sponges exhibition, and take refuge under a shady umbrella at Karatello, right in front of the castle, for meze and beers from the microbrewery.
Explore Historical Sites
Built in the second century BC and impressively preserved, Kourion, or Curium is a beautiful Greco-Roman amphitheater perched on a limestone promontory, overlooking the sea just outside Limassol.
When Kourion was a thriving city-state, the theater sat 3,500 and was used for gladiator fights. A massive earthquake in 365 AD, however, saw the end of the community and the amphitheater itself wasn’t excavated until the early 1930s. Today, it is a magical setting for music and dance performances in the summer months.
Nearby, you can visit a couple of villas to admire beautiful mosaics. The House of Eustolios retains the original bathing complex, while the House of Achilles and the House of the Gladiators display mosaics depicting scenes from the time in astonishing detail.
Skip forward a few centuries and drop in on nearby Kolossi Castle, too. Now an empty shell, Kolossi was the headquarters of the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in the 13th century.
It’s where the island’s sweet dessert wine, Commandaria, was first produced. You can still buy it today—it’s one of the oldest named wines in the world.
Head for the Beach
While Limassol has its own strip of urban beach, if you’re in search of something more wild and remote, there are a couple of options within easy reach.
One of the best beaches in Cyprus, Lady’s Mile Beach is a long stretch of sand just 10 minutes’ drive from the center, with shallow water and plenty of facilities, including tavernas for toes-in-the-sand refreshment.
Kourion Beach, just below the Kourion archaeological site, is almost a mile of pebbles and sand, backed by chalky white cliffs, the water dappled shades of turquoise and aquamarine. You’ll find facilities here, as well as three or four tavernas.
Further west, at Pissouri, Avdimou Beach is a wide, windswept arc of pebbles, framed by the white cliffs of Cape Aspro, where wild falcons wheel overhead on the thermals. Wind and kite surfers zip back and forth in the clear water.
There are some great restaurants in Pissouri. Melanda Beach Restaurant is a rustic fish tavern where the day’s catch is delivered by boat. Pissouri is about 35 minutes’ drive from Limassol, and if you choose to go under your own steam, there are dozens of car rental companies in town.
Hike the Caledonia Trail
The pine-clad Troodos Mountains are crisscrossed with wonderful marked walking trails, and a day here is a blissfully cool contrast to the heat of the coast.
The one-way Caledonia trail is easy, as you typically follow it downhill, following the path of the Kryos Potamos (“Cold River”) through sun-dappled forest. You’ll have to cross the stream on stepping stones at various points, which is all part of the fun.
Eventually, the river tumbles 43 feet over a rock face into a very cold pool, in which you can swim as a reward for your efforts. Day trips from Limassol include transport and lunch at a nearby farmhouse; the mountain trout in the Troodos is magnificent, so try some if it’s on offer.
Admire Antiquities in Paphos
Paphos is an easy day trip from Limassol, located on the island’s southwest coast, under an hour’s drive away. The reason to visit is the impressive Kato Paphos Archaeological Park, sprawling across a promontory near the harbor.
Here, you’ll see intricate mosaics dating from the 2nd to the 5th centuries AD, adorning the floors of former noblemen’s villas. Look out for references to Dionysus, the god of wine, and the ill-fated legendary lovers Pyramus and Thisbe.
Next door are the Tombs of the Kings, a cavernous necropolis hollowed out of the sandstone in the third century BC. Afterward, stroll down to the harbor and check out the Ottoman fort. There’s nothing inside, but you’ll have sweeping views from the top.
Trips to Paphos inevitably stop on the way at Aphrodite’s Rock, or Petra Tou Romiou—one of the most unique places to visit in Europe—a vast limestone sea stack at one end of a long, pebbly beach.
The foaming aquamarine water around the base is one explanation for the goddess of love being born here, emerging from the surf. Cyprus trades heavily on its claim to be the birthplace of Aphrodite; there’s even an Aphrodite trail via other beauty spots associated with the goddess.
Petra tou Romiou is undeniably the most romantic and beautiful spot, imbued with many legends. Swimming around the rock three times is reputed to bring anything from true love to eternal youth, although in fact, the water here is not especially safe.
Food & Drink
Cypriot food is robust, complex, and deliciously varied, taking inspiration from Greece, Turkey, and other neighbors in the eastern Mediterranean, including Lebanon and Syria.
The classic meal is a meze. While this means “small dishes”, you may well find that once you’ve sat down to your meze, more than 20 sharing plates arrive. It’s all too easy to fill up on just the starters of warm pitta bread, hummous, tahini, taramasalata, talattouri (yogurt, cucumber, and garlic), and a tomato and cucumber salad topped with salty feta and oregano.
Warm dishes might include octopus in red wine, snails or salty, grilled halloumi, as well as stuffed vine leaves, bell peppers and zucchini. Deep-fried calamari, crispy whitebait, spicy village sausages, and meatballs may come next.
A “light” main course might be chicken souvlaki (skewers) and fries, while for something more substantial, there’s moussaka, or stifado, beef or hare cooked in a casserole with spices and onions.
Or kleftiko, meat slow-cooked on the bone in a sealed oven. Just when you really can’t face any more, platters of grapes, melon, and cherries arrive, or delicious filo pastries filled with cheese and honey.
Any visitor to Cyprus should try a meze for authentic local flavor, and there’s no shortage of opportunities. One of the finest mezes is served in the hills, in the wine-growing village of Omodos, at Stou Kir Yianni.
You’ll dine in an old stone house. Specials on the menu include mountain trout, village sausage in red wine, beer-battered pumpkin (great for vegetarians), and cherries and peaches from the village orchards.
You can wash this down with local wines, and after your meal, visit the restaurant’s shop to buy olive oil, wine, or mountain herbs.
Not every meal has to be a meze, though. Limassol is packed with classy dining options. Try Pyxida at the modern marina, right on the water, for fish specialties. Cuttlefish casserole, swordfish skewers, and shrimps with tomato and feta are all unmissable.
Weather & Climate
Limassol has a long season; essentially, it’s almost a year-round resort, making it one of the best places to visit in the Mediterranean.
Come in early spring when the fields are bright with pinky-white almond blossom, or a couple of months later, when the roadsides are brilliant with wildflowers and the climate is perfect for walking in the Troodos.
High summer brings hot temperatures and long, balmy evenings. Early fall is a wonderful time to visit, with Limassol celebrating the wine harvest, temperatures manageable enough for sightseeing, and the sea still warm enough for swimming.
Interested in exploring history, natural beauty, and mouth-watering cuisine? Browse our luxury cruises to Cyprus and plan your visit to this enchanting island.