From balmy temperatures to the magic of a Greek Orthodox Christmas, there’s as much to tempt visitors to Cyprus during the months of December and January as at any other time of year.
Just a four-hour flight from the UK, a break in Cyprus remains a popular mid-winter retreat with visitors from Britain – 136,000 Brits alone visited the island last winter.
Twelve of the top winter highlights for visitors to experience in Cyprus over Christmas and the New Year:
1. Winter warmth
Average winter daytime temperatures throughout Cyprus rarely dip below 20°C and with 340 days of sunshine a year there are still plenty of rays to catch throughout December and January. Balmy temperatures mean winter can be one of the best times to explore all the island has to offer.
2. Christmas Day dip
Adventurous beach lovers can even enjoy the island’s beautiful blue-flag beaches year-round with sea temperatures remaining in the high-teens throughout the Christmas and New Year period – perfect for an invigorating Christmas Day dip!
3. Traditional Cypriot Christmas
Christmas (pronounced Christouyenna in Greek) is celebrated with plenty of delicious Cypriot food and the honouring of age-old traditions. Unique to the region is the habit of hanging crosses wrapped in basil and sprinkled with holy water on the front door of a house to ward off the Goblin-like spirits known as ‘kallikantzari’, which are said to make mischief during the twelve days of Christmas.
4. Marvel in seasonal Byzantine spectaculars
Christmas is marked in towns and villages across the island with magical processions, usually accompanied by carols, called “kalanda”, which have been handed down from generation to generation since Byzantine times. The major festival on Christmas day is held in Nicosia in Eleftheria (Freedom) Square, while one of the most dramatic services is held in Larnaca on 5 January, when young swimmers dive for a cross, only to return it to the priest.
5. Make merry with live performance and song
Cyprus has a colourful year-round cultural scene and winter is no exception. Special concerts and events take place across the island, from local bands, choirs, orchestras, dancers and groups through to Viva Verdi – Moscow New Opera in Rialto, Liamssol (22 December). Nicosia’s Eleftheria Square is one of the main places to catch live acts with performances everyday from 17 – 30 December. At the entrance of the Pafos Mosaics near the harbour there is free entertainment every Sunday.
6. Treat your tastebuds
The heart of every Cypriot home is the kitchen so food plays a major role in the Cypriot Christmas celebrations. Loaves of Christopsomo (Christ Bread), normally accompanied by dried figs, nuts and honey, are eaten on Christmas Eve. Familiar dishes such as stuffed turkey, roast chicken and roast lamb are traditionally served on Christmas day. Also very popular are the traditional cakes such as ‘kourabiedes’, a delicious small almond cake coated in icing sugar, ‘melomakarona’, a traditional honey cake, and ‘finikia’, a kind of walnut pie.
7. A taste of home
For those for whom Christmas would not be Christmas without a proper dinner with all the trimmings, most hotels also observe UK traditions as well, with festive decorations and traditional British fare.
8. Celebrate New Year, Cyprus-style
New Year is an important date for families in Cyprus. The 1st January marks the Feast of St Basil, the region’s equivalent to St Nicholas, and the day is the main date for present giving. Some of the best parties on New Year’s Eve are around the town hall in downtown Limassol, but most big hotels also host parties. No visitor should celebrate New Year in Cyprus without a taste of Vassilopitta, or Saint Basil’s cake, baked with a silver or gold coin to bring good luck to the person who finds it.
9. Won’t break the bank
During the winter season accommodation costs in Cyprus are at their lowest. Shopping around should see lower flight costs as well, especially if you can be flexible with your travel dates. Many bars and restaurants in the island’s main tourist destinations offer discounted rates out of season, but with the same excellent levels of service you would expect in the summer months.
10. Drive time
Car hire is also exceptional value at this time of year. With a two-day hire from as little as €30, visitors have the perfect excuse to explore the island under their own steam. The Cyprus Tourism Organisation has teamed up with the Travel Foundation to create 6 self-drive routes guiding visitors to some of the most beautiful and special parts of the hidden rural interior of the island.
11. Boutique wineries
Six wine routes crisscross the island, taking in some of the best of the 40 or so boutique wineries which have sprung up on the island in recent years. Cypriot wine production dates back almost 5,000 years. Numerous boutique wineries with modern facilities have sprung up in the last 5 years. Highlights include local xinisteri and mavro grapes or the delicious Commandaria sweet white.
12. Return in better health than when you left
Wellbeing holidays are one of the fastest-growing areas of the tourism industry in Cyprus. The island has seen a number of exciting new high-quality spas and health farms open in recent years. With its year-round good climate and varied terrain, Cyprus offers every kind of activity and opportunity, from hiking and cycling to intense yoga stays and relaxing spa breaks. Added to this are treatments indigenous to the island, such as the chance to be immersed in the healing waters at Ayii Anargyri.