Last Updated on September 12, 2021 by Jim Ferri
You’ll find plenty of things to do in Corfu, a wonderful mash-up of the island’s British, French and Italian past…
Estimated reading time: 14 minutes
By Jim Ferri
In northwest Greece, off the Ionian Coast, Corfu is one of the best Greek islands to visit.
When you arrive, however, it doesn’t take long to realize just how different it is from Greece’s other islands. Step off the plane or the ferry from the mainland, and you immediately sense the difference.
First of all, it’s much greener than the islands of the Aegean and the Cyclades to the east. And then you also realize something even more apparent: its architecture is more Italian than Greek. That’s the result of 400 years of Venetian occupation after Corfu was cleaved from the Roman and Byzantine Empires.
Following the Venetians, the French and the British occupied the island, both of whom also left their imprints. That all ended with the unification of Greece in the 19th century.
However, this colonization mash-up has had a pleasant consequence. Corfu is now embedded with a unique blend of cultures found nowhere else in Greece. It is a destination catering to Europeans who come for a beach holiday, rather than to see traditional Greek life as you do on other Greek islands.
That’s not to say Corfu has turned into a party island. It hasn’t. But surprisingly, it does have enough to interest a variety of travelers. While some resorts cater to those who enjoy bars and clubs, others cater to families looking for a quiet resort or a stay in a small village.
If you plan to visit the island, and sometimes you should, here are some of the best things to do in Corfu. Along with info on the best time to visit Corfu to enjoy the best weather and bargain prices.
First Thing to Do in Corfu: Explore Corfu Town
While visiting the island for a few days, I stayed in old Corfu Town, the little cosmopolitan capital. The entire old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a perfect location to explore the island.
I stayed at the lovely little boutique Bella Venezia Hotel in the old city. On the first morning of my visit, I enjoyed breakfast below a wisteria arbor in its garden. Then, over eggs and coffee served from a little garden kitchen, I planned my day. I also quickly found how many things there are to do in Corfu.
Shortly, I was down the steps of the Bella Venezia with a map in hand. I crossed the street and cut across a bit of park to Gilford Street, a cobblestone pedestrian street lined with restaurants, cafés, and many shops.
I soon found the entire area was a maze of zigzagging streets and narrow lanes, much like a medieval village. Above the streets, housewives hung their laundry, giving it all a colorful and Old-World atmosphere. There were colorful buildings all about and little cafes tucked in everywhere.
It was 9 o’clock in the morning, and the town was still tranquil, the only noise that of chattering children on their way to school. I soon began passing people out walking their dogs and an occasional shopkeeper opening for the day.
The city began to rouse as I neared Spianada Square, the city’s main square. Its name is derived from spianare (Italian: to flatten), and it’s the largest square in Greece. Adjacent to the Esplanade and the British cricket pitch, and other attractions, it’s the central gathering place for local Corfiots. The shops in the French-built colonnaded building on its periphery provide more than a nuance of Paris’s Rue de Rivoli.
If you go:
Bella Venezia Hotel
Napoleontos Zampeli 4
Tel: +30 2661 046500
A Perfect Thing to Do in Corfu: Wander Aimlessly
A cruise ship was in port, and by 9:45 am, a few tour buses had arrived. Their passengers were soon swarming through the shops in the warren of souk-like lanes nearby.
I milled about, taking in the scene before being lured further up one street by the sound of singing. Following my ears, I found it coming from St. Spyridon Church, the city’s main church. It was built in 1580 and named for St. Spyridon, the island’s patron saint who was actually from Cyprus, not Corfu. However, numerous males in Corfu are still named “Spyros” in his honor since it’s said he saved the island several times.
The saint’s remains are in a silver-leafed-plated, double sarcophagus in the crypt of the church. The church’s interior is beautiful, and its red domed bell tower the highest point in old Corfu Town.
I walked back towards the Esplanade and the Cricket Ground, still used by local teams. Within minutes I was at the Palace of St. Michael and St. George.
The oldest official building in Greece, the Palace was built by the British for its High Commissioner in Corfu. It later became home to the Ionian Senate and Parliament and the Greek Royal Family when the British left Corfu. Today it’s home to a few governmental offices and, almost unbelievably, a museum of Asiatic art.
The Corfu Museum of Asian Art, founded in 1928, is a favorite among Corfiots and travelers. The collection encompasses more than 15,000 pieces and includes Central Asia textiles, Chinese pottery, Japanese antiques, Buddhist sculptures, etc. It was gifted to the community by a local collector and added to by diplomats and others.
Close by is the Old Fortress, built by the Venetians in the 14th century. At one time, all of the citizens of the city lived within its walls. Today, however, it is almost totally in ruins.
If you go:
St. Spyridon Church
Αγίου Σπυρίδωνος 32,
Tel: +30 2661 033059
Corfu Museum of Asian Art
Palace of St. Michael & George
Tel: +30 26610 30443
Open daily 8am – 8pm
Admission: standard ticket €14 / discounted €7 (Greek citizens and citizens of other EU member states over 65 years of age, on presentation of ID card or passport, and parents accompanying primary school educational visits).
Old Fortress (Palaio Frourio)
Open daily 8am – 8pm
Admission: Full: €6 per adult/children free
South of Corfu Town, the Vlacherna Monastery sits on an islet at the end of the small Kanoi Peninsula. You’ve likely seen a photo of it since it’s the subject of some of the most famous images of Corfu.
The monastery sits on a tiny island that juts out into the sea, linked to the larger island by a walkway. The chapel, which you can enter beneath the bell tower, was built in 1685. Tombs in it have been dated to the 18th century.
While it is likely interesting to visit (I haven’t), here’s a hint if you’re only interested in a photo. You’ll find the best place to take a photo of it is from one of the restaurants on the top of the hill across the water to your north.
And one other thing worth mentioning: the restaurants are adjacent to the runway of Corfu’s Ioannis Kapodistrias International Airport. That means, at times, you’ll be watching (and hearing) large jets landing or taking off.
One afternoon I drove south down the coast about a half hour to the famous Achilleion Palace. It was built in 1890 for Empress Elizabeth of Austria, it’s said, as a getaway from the pressures of the Hapsburg court. In the 1980s, though, it became even better known for the casino scenes in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.
Achilleion was designed as a Phoenician palace with colonnades and sculptures about its grounds and dedicated to the Greek god Achilles. The interior is a museum dedicated to Elizabeth, Franz Joseph II, and Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser is included because, after Elizabeth’s death, the estate went to her daughter, who sold it to Wilhelm II.
It’s an interesting museum, made more so since there are no signs around saying “no flash” or “don’t touch anything.” Out in the Imperial Garden, you are greeted with beautiful views of the valley about you and the Ionian Sea. There’s also a beautiful view out over Corfu from the terrace amid the busts and statues of famous Greeks.
It’s a rather fascinating place, and if you enjoy history, it’s one of the best things to do in Corfu.
If you go:
Achilleio 490 84
(In the Village of Gastouri, 10 km’s southwest of Corfu)
Tel: +30 2661 056210
Open daily 8am – 8pm
Admission: General admission: 7€ / Reduced admission fees: 5€
More Things to Do in Corfu: Drive to Palaiokastrítsa
The next morning, following another wonderful breakfast in the garden, I decided to drive northward to Palaiokastrítsa. It’s a popular resort area on the island’s west coast. And since Corfu is so small, it was a relatively short drive across the island, only about 10 miles.
I had been to Palaiokastrítsa years ago and remembered it as a beautiful area…three small coves separated by a forested headland with an ancient monastery atop it. Fortunately, at that time there were few tourists and no hotels.
I lay on the beach in a cove with only a dozen or so people around me. At the back of the beach was a taverna. Under its grape arbor, I could sip cool local wine and have a bite to eat.
On this visit, however, I found that civilization had arrived.
The area has been taken over by resorts catering to the British and Germans. However, thankfully, the beaches weren’t packed with tourists. With its beaches and watersports and beautiful setting, it is now pretty popular with families.
I looked around for a half-hour or so and then drove up the headland to Moní Theotókou. This was the 17th-century monastery I had seen from below years earlier. It stands on the site of the original monastery, built in the 13th century. And unlike the coves below, it turned out to be just as I had imagined it.
Although it is no longer home to monks, the 17th-century Moní Theotókou is a beautiful place. In its church, there’s a carving of The Tree of Life on the ceiling; outside, bougainvillea cascades everywhere. There’s also an interesting little museum that contains everything from ancient religious icons and vestments to a giant clamshell.
If you go:
Palaiokastritsa 490 83
Tel: +30 2662 041210
Open: daily 7am – 1pm / 3pm – 8pm
Admission: Admission is free, but you can make a donation or purchase the monk’s handmade olive oil in the gift shop.
Up Through the Mountain Villages
Instead of heading back to Corfu Town, I continued exploring the area.
One option was to drive to 13th-century Angelokastro (Angel’s Castle) about a half-hour further along mountain roads. But since it is almost totally in ruins, I decided to go up through the mountains to Lakones. I heard it provided a spectacular view of the coast.
I reached the village after a three-mile ride, with beautiful wildflowers cascading out onto the pavement all along the way. The town was tiny, and the road became one lane as it wove through it.
Along it were a few cafés where people sat sipping and chatting as they whiled away the day. All about was a view down the coast that was nothing short of stunning.
I continued through Lakones and several other tiny villages, passing through ancient olive groves terraced on the mountainside. In the tiny village of Makrades, every family seemed to be selling olive oil and honey on their front steps.
I continued along the road through small olive groves that wafted into little vineyards and then into the forest that climbed to the top of the mountain. After a while, I came to a sign that said Corfu Town was 20 km away. I looked around and thought the two areas were so different they could easily be 200 kilometers away.
Undoubtedly, one could easily succumb to lingering in these mountain villages and the coastal towns below. And I did consider it…
But I decided to stick with my original plan and headed directly back to Corfu Town. The day before, I had found a restaurant whose menu had been calling me to dinner all afternoon.
It was a Corfu Town experience I didn’t want to miss. And, that evening, I was glad I didn’t.
The Best Time to Visit Corfu
Corfu follows the same tourism calendar as do most Greek islands. That means starting its tourism season at the end of March and ending it at the end of October / early November.
Remember, however, that temperatures in March and April can be cool with rain. The best weather starts in May, with July and August being the hottest months. Remember though, with the school holidays come rising prices and more significant crowds.
The best time to potentially enjoy the best weather and bargain prices are April / May and September / October.
If you go:
Greek National Tourism Organization
305 East 47th Street
New York, NY 10017
Tel: (212) 421-5777