Nicosia or Paphos: Which Cypriot City Gets Our Pick?

Nicosia or Paphos

Calling all travelers caught in the delightful dilemma of where to start their Cypriot journey, Nicosia or Paphos. This guide will delve into both towns to weigh up where’s best for you and your travel crew, by comparing everything from the general vibe to the ease of travel to the history sights and more.

Nicosia is Cyprus’s cosmopolitan capital and largest city. It’s often called the most divided city in Europe, since it’s split by a highly patrolled border between Cyprus and Turkey. But it’s still got lively streets filled with tavernas, shops, and student bars, plus oodles in the way of cultural sights – think Ottoman bathhouses and Byzantine-era churches.

Paphos is an ancient town steeped in history and mystery. It clings to the western shoreline of the island, so is often seen as a beach vacay hotspot. But there are also UNESCO sites that date back millennia and enchanting old districts that ooze authentic Cypriot charm. Tempted? We can hardly blame you. Let’s get to it…

Nicosia or Paphos: General vibe

village in Cyprus
Photo by Satura_ on Envato Elements

Nicosia is the country’s divided capital city, located in the center of the island around an hour’s drive from the coast. It’s actually Cyprus’s only big city without direct access to a beach. For that reason, it’s become an industrial, commercial, and business hub instead of an out-and-out resort.

The city is also home to the best and biggest university in Cyprus and has a thriving student population. The upshot? Nicosia is very much 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. Most of all, it’s lived-in and authentic in a way beach towns simply can’t be.

On the other hand, Paphos is Cyprus’s ancient capital. It might be located on the coast, attracting a steady stream of holidaymakers and expats, but there’s more to it than a standard beach resort. For one, there’s history everywhere. The town is famed as the birthplace of Aphrodite, and hosts enthralling UNESCO sites like the Tombs of the Kings. 

The actual town of Paphos is split into two halves. You have the modern area along the port. That’s known as Kato Paphos and it’s where you’ll see the yachts, hit the buzzing bar streets, and get that resort feel. Up above is Upper Paphos, which seems more like a timeless Mediterranean village. Go there to sip coffees on quiet squares and enjoy a bit more peace and R&R.Winner: Draw. This all depends on what you want: City of seaside town.

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 in this comparison is actually in Paphos. Cue PFO, the second-busiest airport on the island (after the Larnaca International Airport). There are now oodles of low-cost seasonal flights heading there with names like Ryanair and easyJet, meaning it’s typically A LOT easier to find a flight into the west-coast beach town.

The nearest international airport to the capital is at Ercan (ECN), located around 30 minutes from the city. But that’s 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. The better option is usually flying to Larnaca International Airport and making the one-hour transfer from there.

Cyprus might be a Mediterranean 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 eight 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. 

Winner: Paphos.

Nicosia or Paphos: History

Paphos roman site
Photo by LightFieldStudios on Envato Elements

Pretty much anywhere you go on Cyprus will be steeped in history. Greeks, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Venetians, Ottomans, and even the British have come and gone from this isle over the centuries, leaving layer upon layer of building and ruin in their wake. Both Nicosia and Paphos have their fair share.

Take the old city of Nicosia. It’s still surrounded by well-preserved Venetian walls that are punctuated by eleven bastions named after the aristocratic Italian 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, which include treasures like the Aphrodite Soloi Statue. There’s also a marble mausoleum next to the 19th-century Faneromeni Church inside the old walls, and – of course – the rich Ottoman-era districts that lie over on the Turkish side of the city. Explore those to find incredible mosques and enticing hammam bathhouses.

Paphos, though, is a real treasure trove of ancient history. It’s 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 Myceneans built the sprawling Aphrodite temple in the 12th century BC and it was used until the Roman’s banned pagan worship in the 4th century.

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. That’s probably the overall highlight of a trip here and requires at least a half day’s exploration. Then there’s the Old Town of Paphos, perched on a hillside away from the beachfront esplanade. Go there for Medieval churches, narrow lanes, remnants of Roman walls.

Winner: Paphos  

Nicosia or Paphos: Hotels

beach in Paphos
Photo by Satura_ on Envato Elements

Encompassing the sought-after shorelines 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’s plenty in the way of beachside hotels and big resorts for the whole family.

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 but our top picks would probably be…

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.   

Without the beachfront resorts and rural stays, there’s certainly less diversity of accommodation in Nicosia. Still, the hotels range from shoestring hostels to the very top of luxury and you’ll probably pay half the price for a five-star hotel than you would in Paphos. These would be our top picks…

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

Paphos has a lively nightlife that runs in line with the peak tourism season (May to August). 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 Mediterranean discos tailored towards tourists and Paphos’ younger population to boot.

The main drag to know about is Agiou Antoniou. Also known as, simply, Bar Street, it’s the designated strip here. Up and down its length, you’ll find dance bars like Notorious and karaoke spots like Boogies and even sports pubs that play the Premier League. It’s very much your classic 18-30s Euro party scene.

The nightlife in the island capital of Nicosia is much, much more local. It’s driven on by the student crowd that attend the local university, which is great because that means it’s almost as lively in December as it is in June. However, there is a peak here when the tourists come and the summer arrives, especially as the bars spill out onto the main walking streets.

The main vena cava is the walking strip of Ledras, which connects the Cypriot and Turkish sides of the town. It’s more of a shopping lane truth be told, but has lots in the way of bumping café bars that roll on until the evenings. Most of the serious clubs are located south and east of modern Eleftheria Square. They’ve got multiple floors, chic lounge bars, and open-air rooftops where DJs play until the early hours.

Winner: Paphos probably wins because it’s a party town, but Nicosia is the option for more local nightlife.

Nicosia or Paphos: Cost

halloumi plate
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The general rule with travel is: Capital cities are more expensive than anywhere else in a country. But that’s not actually the case when it comes to Paphos and Nicosia.

The truth is that the capital is a relatively cheap city to live in when compared to other European capitals. Property prices and rent costs are much lower in Nicosia than in sun-soaked Paphos, too. 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 expat audiences.

Three-star hotels start at just €35 a night in Nicosia, and four-star options from just €65, while you might struggle to find a budget hotel for less than €40 a night in Paphos, averaging at around €70 a night in all. 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, coming out at around 10% more pricey than Paphos by most estimations. 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% more.

The upshot? A meal for two in an inexpensive restaurant would cost around €45 in Paphos but €50 in Nicosia.

Winner: Nicosia is likely to be the cheaper trip.

Nicosia or Paphos: Day trips

Nicosia city centre
Photo by Envato Elements

Here’s the rule here: Nicosia is the gateway to the central and eastern parts of Cyprus; Paphos is the gateway to the western side of the island. Both of those have their joys, but, for us, it’s the western side that just about tips it, mainly because it’s laced with some of the most stunning beaches and national parks in the country.

Yep, Paphos itself sits plum on the southwestern shore of the isle. The location is fantastic for breaking away to oodles of salt-washed resorts but also into the mountains and reserves. Some of the best day trips would include:

  • Akamas National Forest Park – A gorgeous section of the northwestern coast of Cyprus, this park is riddled with pine forests and remote beaches. It’s also home to the legendary Baths of Aphrodite, where the goddess herself is said to have washed.
  • Coral Bay – Most rate this as one of the finest beaches on Cyprus. It’s got shimmering yellow-white sand and a backing of cool hotels and beach bars. Warning: You might want to hang around longer than just a day.
  • Troodos Mountains – It might take 1.5 hours to drive up into the heart of the Troodos Mountains from Paphos but boy is it worth it. These soaring ridges are home to dense cypress forests and even ski fields. There’s epic hiking and lonely villages topped by Orthodox shrines.

Nicosia is the better day-trip base if you’re into a) off-the-beaten path destinations or b) party towns. Here’s why…

  • Ayia NapaThe undisputed party hub of the whole island and an EDM/house mecca to rival Ibiza, Ayia Napa is on the eastern coast of the isle and is just 1.5 hours’ drive from the capital.
  • Turkish Cyprus – It’s relatively easy to cross into Turkish Cyprus and that half of the isle is way more rustic, less developed, less busy. We especially love the north coast, which is a string of super-remote beaches running up the Karpass Peninsula.
  • Troodos Mountains – The eastern side of the Troodos can be accessed in under 1.5 hours from the capital but you’ll need your own car as it’s the remoter, less seen side of the range.

Winner: Paphos.

Nicosia or Paphos – our conclusion

There’s loads to be said for making a trip to both Nicosia and Paphos. If you can – do both! They’re only a few hours apart and are connected by regular buses. Plus, you’ll get to see the more local side of life on the island and enjoy the sunny beaches.

Because that’s what it really comes down to: Paphos is the gateway to the coast, while Nicosia is a bustling city. There’s probably more in the way of ancient history in Paphos, though, while Nicosia has the lion’s share of the medieval history.

If we had to pick just one and were visiting Cyprus for the first time, it would be Paphos. The town is not only easier to get to on account of Paphos Airport; it’s also close to some lovely Mediterranean beach resorts, has a pumping summer nightlife scene, and an historic area that’s as enchanting as they come.

Reece Toth

Reece is the creator and editor of Travel Snippet. He has visited more than 38 countries over a 10-year period. His travels have taken him through the majestic mountains of Italy, into the cities of central Europe, across the islands of Indonesia, and to the beaches of Thailand, where he is currently living. He is passionate about travel and shares his expertise by providing the best travel tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure.

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