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With a prime spot on Cyprus’ south coast, Larnaca is certainly one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. The small city is best known for its beaches and nearby nightlife, two things that immediately make it popular with tourists. But what about when you’re visiting Cyprus in winter and things are pretty quiet? Turns out there’s enough sightseeing in Larnaca to keep you happily busy for a day or two.
While I don’t mind the odd night out or time at the beach, sightseeing is my priority when I travel. As such, I really didn’t mind that being my focus when visiting Larnaca. What I was pleased to learn was that there’s a nice mix of interesting cultural and historical things to do in Larnaca. So, if you’re also travelling out of season or just a like-minded traveller, here’s what to do on your holidays to Larnaca.
Church of Saint Lazarus
By far the most well-known of the Larnaca attractions and a spot you really can’t miss is the Church of Saint Lazarus. The Byzantine stone architecture of this 9th-century church immediately tells you it’s important, as does the open square that surrounds it. Step inside and you’re treated a refined and gently-lit interior that helps set a mood of reverence for this place of worship for the Church of Cyprus.
And yet, it’s the story behind this church that really makes it special. Lazarus was the biblical figure that rose from the dead. Following that resurrection, it’s said he fled to Cyprus and his “more-permanent” resting place is believed to be here in Larnaca. The story goes that the Church of Saint Lazarus was built upon his tomb before his remains were transferred to Constantinople. It’s really quite a monumental spot then for those of the Christian faith.
Old Town Area
To say that there’s an “Old Town” in Larnaca feels a little misleading. The historical centre of the city, centring on the Church of Saint Lazarus, doesn’t really look or feel like an “old town”. While it does have the scattered network of small streets you come to expect in such places, much of the area is actually home to more modern buildings.
There are exceptions though. One spot that does have a nice sense of character to it is a row of traditional shopfronts on the street running from the church to the beach. Although they’re freshly renovated, these shops near the traditional market area offer a glimpse into a different era of Larnaca.
Running right along the waterfront of Larnaca’s city centre you’ll find Finikoudes Beach. Lined with bars, cafes and restaurants, this is easily the tourist hub of the city. Finikoudes Beach offers plenty of space and seemingly sheltered waters, but it’s main selling point is just how accessible it is. Even in chilly January weather there were a few brave souls swimming and doing their darnedest to sunbathe. One unusual landmark by the beach is the above lion statue, a gift from sister city Venice.
After the Church of Saint Lazarus, the most impressive place to visit in Larnaca has to be the city’s seaside fort. Right at the southern end of Finikoudes Beach, Larnaka Fort is a window into the Ottoman history of the city. The Ottomans built this version of the fort in 1625, with older versions dating back to the 14th century.
After falling into disuse, the fort eventually turned into a prison and police station. Since 1948 the fort has housed museums, with a small display of artefacts from different eras found inside the gatehouse today. It really doesn’t take too long to explore the fort, with the views from the top of the fortifications easily its most impressive aspect.
Ancient Kition Ruins
The long history of Larnaca began with the ancient city of Kition dating from way back in the Bronze Age. What’s remarkable is that you can actually visit ruins of Kition in the city’s north. Cyprus is home to loads of impressive ancient sites, many of which pre-date better known European ruins by a thousand years.
This means that even when the sites aren’t visually dazzling like the Ancient Kition Ruins, they’re nonetheles important. That said, you can see the layout of buildings here, including the Great Temple, and old city fortifications. While the information boards are quite weathered now, there’s lots of interesting details on them about the ancient city and local mythology.
Skala Old Turkish Quarter
Venture south of Finikoudes Beach and you start entering the city’s Old Turkish Quarter known as Skala. The transition really is quite obvious thanks to the sight of the Djami Kebir Mosque. Walk past the pretty mosque into some of the backstreets and you’re treated to a whole new side of Larnaca. The streets of Skala are lined with a lot more greenery and are often only one storey. If you want the atmosphere of a laidback fishing village when you visit Larnaca, Skala is where you want to go.
Other Larnaca Beaches
Now, Finikoudes Beach may be the most popular and central beach, but it’s not alone by any stretch. Follow the waterfront boulevard south from the fort and you’ll spot several pleasant beaches. The shore along Skala has a narrow stretch of sand, but the real spots are over by Kastella Beach and Mackenzie Beach. I highly recommend a walk along the waterfront as part of your Larnaca sightseeing.
Other Sights of Larnaca
Like any brief blogger guide to a destination, there are places that I’ve left off because I never visited them. Two noteworthy Larnaca sights I missed were the Hala Sultan Tekke and the Larnaka District Archaeological Museum. If I’d had a car at this stage I would have definitely visited the mosque. As for the museum, I knew I had the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia to look forward to.
Then there are landmarks like the Panagia Chrisopolitissa church above and the Panagia Faneromeni church that I did visit. Neither are particularly major sights but you may want to visit if you run out of things to do.
Travel Tips for Visiting Larnaca
Besides knowing what there is to see and do in Larnaca, there are a few other things worth knowing for your visit. One is accommodation in Larnaca, which you’ll find a huge supply of in the city. There are just loads of hotels and apartments here, but my recommendation for a nice budget hotel is Alkisti City Hotel. It offers a perfect location at reasonable rates.
Then there’s the matter of getting to Larnaca and how to get about there. Larnaca has its own airport south of the city so getting flights here isn’t too difficult. Coming from elsewhere in Cyprus, there are regular bus connections with cities like Nicosia and Paphos. But honestly, public transport here does have its limitations and I wish I’d had a rental car the entire time in Cyprus. Not that you’ll really need one for the centre of Larnaca, more for day trips and outer attractions.
If you’ve ever had the chance to visit Larnaca what was your impression of the city? What other Larnaca things to do would you recommend for visitors? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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