CORFU Island – A Lush Paradise in the Ionian Sea

Corfu island (Kerkyra, Κέρκυρα) is rich in history and culture, it has beautiful old towns, excellent beaches, and a lush interior that has made it one of the top destinations in Greece. It is located on the northwest part of the country, and it’s part of the Ionian islands grouping.

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Introduction

Corfu does not fit the stereotypical mold of the dry landscape that most people have in mind when they think of “Greek islands”.

It is a bit cooler than the southern Ionian and Aegean islands, more wet in the winter, and a lot greener all year long.

It is also a large enough island to require either a long vacation or a second visit to experience it in its totality.

Just minutes away from the main tourist centers you will be engulfed in lush green mountains, tiny traditional villages, and even places to get away from it all.

Beautiful beaches lace its every shore, and abundant joy drives the night life of small towns.

Corfu island has an extensive tourist infrastructure that includes luxury or budget hotels, marinas, an international airport, and a mature tourism philosophy that has managed to retain the island’s unique Greek character.

Although its soil seems to be overrun by tourists, its size allows visitors to find holiday spots that still retain their traditional character despite the crowds.

Corfu Old Town is full of life and it’s adjacent to the new town where the local Greek rhythm dominates the atmosphere. If you have wheels to explore the rest of the island, Corfu old town is a wonderful place to stay on your holiday.

Some beach towns  seem to have gladly accepted the role of the holiday resort for the large British (and other) groups that visit every summer to enjoy the hot sun and beautiful beaches. You will find most of them on the north and west coast of the island.

Corfu island is perfect for exploring and getting lost on its serpentine roads up the mountains in search of the perfect view. It is the perfect place to find the narrow dirt roads that could lead to the perfect landscape photograph, a lazy mountain village, or to an isolated swimming spot.

What to See and Do in Corfu

Corfu is a large island and there are plenty of destinations that cater to every taste and travel style. From classy resorts to party towns, Corfu has it all

Stroll Around Corfu Town

Corfu old town is a very charming place with beautiful cobblestone streets and old buildings.  It has all the charm of old world to go with it’s casual atmosphere. There is a small beach in town but to visit some of the best swim spots of the island you will need a car. Corfu town offers plenty to do on its own.

Spend at least one evening strolling through Corfu old town after 10 PM, and sit for a drink and people-watching at the Liston.

Near the Liston, the large, and well mentioned part is a place of gathering for the islanders, young and old alike.

Go Swimming in one of Corfu Beaches

Rovinia beach panorama
Rovinia beach is one of the best beaches in Corfu

You will find the best beaches Corfu has to offer on the west coast. The coastal resort towns of Glyfada, Ag Georgios ton Pagon, Ai Gordis, Chalikounas, and Marathias have very good beaches.

If you are a beach enthusiast, with your own wheels you will definitely find your own beach paradise no matter your personal preference.

Some of the most popular beaches include: Acharavi, Agios Gordios, Ag. Georgios Pagon, Agios Stefanos, Benitses, Dasia, Glyfada, Kalami, Marathias, Peroulades, Porto Timoni, Roda, Rovinia, and Sidari among many more.

Click here to see our detailed Corfu beach reports and ratings

Take a Day-Boat Around Paleokastritsa Coast

Take one of the small boats for a scheduled cruise from Paleokastritsa. The departure point is at the beach under the monastery.

Sailing around Paleokastritsa’s sea cliffs and caverns is a nice way to experience the coast from a different point of view.

The boats cruise to several different caves and coves: The Blue Eye cave, La Grotta, Nausica’s cave.

Along the way, they make short stops at some excellent secluded beaches only accessible by boat: Limni beach, Rovinia beach, and the seductively named, Paradise beach.

If you prefer more independence, or as a more leisurely alternative, you may rent a small motor boat and sail around  the coast yourself. Most boat rental places will provide brief training on the boat operation for novices.

For an even more leisurely day, you may also rent a paddle boat or a canoe for a slow sail around the immediate vicinity.

Paleokastritsa is also one of the best known snorkeling and scuba diving spots  in Greece, so if that is your passion, you will be hard pressed to find a better diving spot in Greece.

Visit Paleokastritsa Monastery

The monastery of Paleokastritsa was founded in 1225, while the buildings in their present state date back to the 18th century. It is a great place to enjoy a peaceful sunset overlooking the Ionian sea.

There is a small museum in the monastery with Byzantine and Post-Byzantine icons and I was surprised to see a skeleton of a mammoth (or some other prehistoric fossilized beast) in the center of it.

Archaeological Sites and Museums

Despite it’s deep roots in history, there are relatively few archaeological sites of note on Corfu island. The only exceptions are the Funeral Monument of Menekrates and the scant remains of Palaiopolis (both in Corfu town). Neither site warrants anything but a casual short visit.

For a more spectacular Ancient Greek Archaeological site, visit Butrint in Albania. You can get there on a day-long trip from Corfu town. It is an extensively excavated hill of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine ruins near Sarante (Ag. Saranta).

Archaeological Museum of Corfu

The Archaeological Museum of Corfu contains an extensive collection with finds unearthed in excavations around the island.

Most important of all the artifacts is the magnificent “Gorgo Pediment” from the temple of Artemis (590-580 BCE). If you have seen this artwork in small reproductions in your college Art History books, you will be awed by its scale and its sheer presence.

Click here for the museum’s hours and ticket information

The Old Fort in Corfu Town

The old Venetian fortress that dominates the landscape near the park is worth a visit for the views from the top, or to visit the Byzantine museum near its gate. The cafe inside the fortress is also a nice place to have a drink.

Byzantine Art

Byzantine painting
Byzantine fresco

The Byzantine Museum is near the Liston and it houses important artifacts from that era, and The Byzantine Collection of Corfu, at the entrance of the Old Fort, houses a collection of similar religious artifacts. Near the Liston you will also find the Museum of Far Eastern Art.

Angelokastro

Angelokastro is a spectacular Byzantine castle that was built in the 13th century by Michael Angelos, Despot of Epiros, and provided shelter for the local population during many invasions. The fort protected the local population from slaughter during the Turkish invasion in 1537.

It is built on a steep hill about 150 meters above the sea, and it is surrounded by water on three sides while a narrow land bridge provides the only access to the castle from land. The view from the castle is very picturesque, and the drive to the castle is beautiful.

The Achilleion

The Achilleion is one of the most popular destinations in the island of Corfu island.

Achiles dragging dead Hector
Painting of Achilles pulling Hector behind his chariot. Achillleon, Corfu

Visitors are attracted to the estate of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria (and later a summer residence of Kaiser Wilhelm II) probably more by the mystique and glitter that accompanies royalty, rather than the palace’s marginal historical significance.

In itself, the palace is a pleasant estate with beautiful architecture, gardens, and views of the surrounding Corfu landscape.

It is laced with some historical images and documents, and adorned with a multitude of statues and artworks that revolve around the theme of Achilles and ancient Greek mythology.

All the artwork at the Achilleion was created in the 19th century in the Neo-Classcial style that mimics ancient Greek art.

Most imposing of the art on the palace are the statue of Dying Achilles that is the centerpiece of the garden, and the large painting of Achilles dragging the dead Hector behind his chariot at the top of the main staircase.

Also of note are the collection of statues representing muses, and the huge bronze statue of Achilles that was commissioned by Wilheilm.

The Ancient Greek Ruins at Bouthroton in Albania

From Corfu you can go on day-long cruises to Paxos/Antipaxos, to Parga, and to Sarante/Butrint in Albania. Sivota is also nearby but there are no direct cruises/ferries to it.

Visit Albania (Sarante) on your own or with a day-cruise from Corfu town if you are interested in the archaeological site of Butrint, or for the novelty of visiting another country. But we found the trip too long and of little interest outside the ancient Greek, and later Roman, town of Bouthroton.

Instead, we would recommend a day cruise to Paxos and Antipaxos, for a more fun experience.

Better yet, stay on Corfu island and explore more of the interior land and the villages in the mountains.

History of Corfu for Travelers

Corfu fortress
The imposing fortress, built by the Venetians in Corfu town

Corfu’s history reaches back to early antiquity. Based on Strabo’s writings, Corcyra is believed to be the νησι των Φαιακων (Island of Cercyra, Scheria, or Land of the Phaecians) that is mentioned in Homer’s Odysey.

Since then, Corfu has seen its share of invaders, most of which left their impression on the island’s culture.

Ancient Corfu

Corfu itself was founded by colonists from Corinth around 730 BCE.

With it’s strategic location and naval power, Corfu island was a major player in ancient Greece. It was a major stop for sea commerce between Greece and the western trading centers of the western Mediterranean.

The islanders founded many colonies around the Mediterranean shores during the Archaic Era (700-480 BCE).

The island played a pivotal role in the beginning of the Peloponnesian war that was fought in the second half of the 5th century BCE between Athens and Sparta.

Finding itself on the losing side of that war, Kerkyra came under Spartan control and later joined the Episodic alliance before it became a subject of the Roman empire.

After 395 CE it became part of the Byzantine empire.

A Long Stream of Invaders Followed

Given it’s strategic location between Italy and Greece it was the subject of desire for all naval powers that emerged in Italy and suffered frequent attacks in the Middle Ages.

The Genoese took their turn in occupying the island for a brief time, but Corfu stayed under Venetian control for over 400 years (about 1400-1800 CE).

After the Ottoman empire occupied the entire Greek mainland, Corfu remained the last Christian bastion, resisting numerous attacks and sieges between 1431 and 1716.

The island remained under Venetian rule from 1386 to 1797 BCE.  This long-lived connection to the Venetians can still be traced today in the island’s unique language, food, and architecture. Strolling through Corfu old town has the unmistakable feel of a typical Italian place.

Corfu island changed hands several times over the centuries with the Italians, the French, the British, the Ottomans, and finally by the Germans in World War II. The island was liberated and reunited with Greece in 1944.

Practicalities

Best Time to Visit

Corfu Old Town would be an excellent destination even outside the traditional holiday season, but if games by the sea are your priority, summer is the best time to visit Corfu.

St. Spyridon Litany

Four times per year, the town of Corfu celebrates its patron saint, St. Spyridon.

On Greek Orthodox Palm Sunday, Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday, on August 11, and on the first Sunday in November the mummified remains of the saint are carried in procession through the old town.

It’s an experience not to be missed. The streets of old Corfu town are literally packed with solemn devotees eager to catch a glimpse of the saint.

Most bow in respect, and many kneel, as the procession of Greek Orthodox Christian priests in their most elaborate clothing, music ensembles, and other officials parade slowly on the prescribed route in old town.

During these times, Corfu and its hotels are packed with Orthodox Christian pilgrims from all over the world. We found the time to be a unique experience, but the large crowds might not be to everyone’s liking.

Where to Stay

In the old Corfu town we had good experience in two hotels: hotel Konstantinouplis with its old-style charm, and hotel Arcadion for the location right around the corner from the Liston.

Sidari, Agios Stefanos, Ai Gordis, and Paleokastritsa would be excellent vacation choices for families and young couples who prefer a bit more quiet near a beach, without missing mild, nightlife outings.

Paleokastritsa

The landscape around Paleokastritsa is as beautiful as you will find in all of Greece. The lush green vegetation intrudes all the way to the shore line where rugged rocks and Ionian waves do their best to repel it.

The rocky Corfu island shore is a great place for seaside activities with numerous beaches nestled among abrupt cliffs. There, you can either relax under the sun, or explore picturesque grottos and coves a bit further out at sea with paddle boats or canoes.

The peaceful scenery is frequently interrupted by the engines of small boats that perform short cruises around the spectacular coast.

There are a number of hotels and restaurants built right on the beach, but they are incapable of disturbing the beauty of the landscape as they are often hidden behind lush greenery.

Paleokastritsa’s rocky coves are a popular diving destination, and has plenty of secluded beaches and coves to explore.

The West Coast of Corfu offers the most spectacular scenery, and the best beaches in Corfu. Even though the entire coast is packed with tourists during the summer, the western resorts feel a little less crowded than the East coast.

For beautiful beaches choose one of the west coast resort villages (Ai. Gordis, Marathias, Ag. Georgios, Glyfada, Ag. Stephanos), and for family vacation choose Corfu town and explore the large island with a car/moped.

The resorts of the northern and especially the eastern coast of Corfu island, around Dasia, receive large crowds and offer more nightlife. In the past few years, Lefkimi has replaced Benitses as the wild and cheap “party town”.

The northeast coast of the island offers more quiet and refined vacation spots in the midst of lush green hills and mountains.

Ag. Stefanos

Ag. Stefanos is a tourist resort overlooking a wide beach with crystal clear water. Only 110 people inhabit the small fishing town, but during the summer the numerous hotels and apartments allow the population to explode. Nearby Arrilas is also a popular resort beach which is less crowded.

Party Towns

Corfu island has several towns that provide youthful excitement, bar-hopping, beaches, and nightlife. Dasia, Benitses, and Lefkimi have already built a reputation as the wild party towns (with many negative reports about extreme behaviors often appearing in the media).

They don’t have the best beaches, architecture, or landscape on Corfu, but they do offer what any college-age vacationer needs for a memorable vacation.

Those who need more quiet, usually choose different Corfu venues for their holiday.

Beach Towns

Glyfada sports one of the best beaches in Cofru. The paved roads to it provide easy access for thousands of tourists every day, and the large hotels built right on the beach provide the bulk of the local population during the summer months. Glyfada’s sandy beach receives a huge amount of visitors every day, but it’s so vast that it does not feel overcrowded.

Ag. Gordios: One more spectacular beach on the west coast of Corfu, Ag. Gordios combines its sandy shore with the drama of rocky cliffs and green mountainsides. It is a popular tourist destination, and along with Glyfada, it is a favorite swim spot for Greeks.

Sidari: The seashore around Sidari was spectacular before it got inundated with all the hotels, bars, and cafes that were built right on top of them.

Despite that, the wind-carved coves of Sidari are enough of an attraction to make it one of the most popular Corfu destinations.

There are several beaches within walking distance, and most hotels make their swimming pools available to anyone who orders a drink. So a bar-hopping round can include a quick dip in the hotel’s pool if one so desires.

Getting to Corfu

You can fly to Corfu airport which receives frequent flights from Europe. Most flights from abroad have a connection in Athens, but the airport receives a large number of charter flights in the summer.

Ferries from Angona and Venice dock in Corfu daily.

If you are in Greece already, you can catch a ferry to Corfu from Igoumenitsa.

In the summer, ferries leave Igoumenitsa just about every hour, and it would cost you 11 € per person, and 40 € for a passenger car–drivers also pay a “passenger” ticket in addition to the car fare.

Igoumenitsa ferries also sail to Lefkimi every day in the summer.

Cruise ships dock on Corfu daily and disembark thousands of visitors each day. They flood the streets of Corfu old town starting at 10 am.

If you arrive by cruise, we recommend you use a shuttle service to get to the Old Town.

The large cruise ships dock at the farthest points of the dock, and from there it’s a 30-40 minute walk through a bleak part of town with no shelter from the mid-morning sun. The walk would be especially difficult for people with mobility issues.

Getting Around

To get around Corfu island you can use the bus service, but if you really want to explore more of the island beyond the bus service route, we would recommend renting a car.

While in smaller Greek islands renting mopeds and four-wheelers makes for fairly comfortable getting around, we would not recommend them for Corfu.

The island is too large, and the roads too treacherous for safe driving of such small vehicles. The constant switchbacks of the mountainous interior, the narrowness and bad condition of the roads, and the fast driving of the locals, at the very least will make you a mental wreck by the time you reach your destination.

If you can’t rent a car, it would be best to pick one part of the island close to the things you are interested in doing. Then use the bus service or taxis to move about.

Map

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