The Greek islands are filled to the brim with beauty and are linked to mythology. We have already spoken about the best beaches in Corfu but the whole island is no less beautiful; we can now look at its treasures and its attractions. The attraction lies in its history, made of legends, starting with its name, which is said to come from the nymph Corfu, Zeus’ lover. Also on this island, as Homer told us in his writings, Ulysses fell in love with Nausicaa, who welcomed him into her palace and gave him a ship to return to Ithaca. Corfu’s present is not just about sea and a perfect climate, it is also about the monuments full of history.
The buildings are reminiscent of the past dominations of the island and still hold traces of them: from the Angevins to the Venetians, and then the English and the French. The charm of the island comes from its picturesque historical centre, but also from the main town, Corfu Town, with its Venetian style buildings, fortresses standing over the sea, and luxuriant partial views and monasteries. Read on to find out which attractions to visit in Corfu!
Corfu old historical centre
This is an obligatory stop on your trip to Corfu. The historical centre of the main town, Corfu Town, has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 2007, and includes Venetian and English influences. Imagine narrow roads full of colours and atmosphere that are reminiscent of Italy. The colours that dominate are yellow and pink, making you feel like you are in a fairytale setting. The main characteristic district is called Campiello. Here you can walk along marble-slab streets, go up or down elegant staircases and go and see the view from pretty terraces over the sea.
You can continue walking to the elegant squares that recall various styles and periods. You will be towered over by high buildings and be attracted by the old cellars where you will be able to buy local products. There is also a central point that attracts tourists and locals alike for its lines and rooms, this is the Liston Palace that looks out onto a beautiful square, surrounded by gardens, elegant fountains and paths that lead to the seafront. The square has an interesting history as the Venetians used it as a parade ground, while the English used it as a cricket pitch. Another building to visit is the Palace of St Michael and St George, a neoclassical symbol which is now the site of the Museum of Asian Art.
Don’t forget to walk along the bastions of the Old Fortress, on a headland that falls directly into the sea, you will see this fortified citadel. The New Fortress is reminiscent of Venice and has a St Mark's lion at the entrance. Today it houses exhibitions and cultural events, with an incomparable view over the port, the town and the coast.
One curious feature is found in the Filellinon district, where we can find the town’s oldest building, built a few years after the discovery of American in 1498. It is said that the balcony is exactly the same as the one used in Romeo and Juliet. Another attraction to visit in the centre is the Spianada in Corfù, a large area with no buildings, all dedicated to greenery, that separates the town from the old fortress. This is where both religious, cultural or social events are held.
This is one of the more famous places around Corfu town (about twenty kilometres away), thanks to its crystal-clear waters and its bay, that is shaped liked a three-leaf clover. It is the perfect place for snorkelling lovers. There are at least six bays and several beaches, some of which can be reached by boat alone. It is possible to hire boats or use a kind of taxi service to the numerous bays in the area. There are many surprises, including the hidden grottoes. There is also a specialised diving centre nearby.
According to the Odyssey, Paleokastritsa is the site of the former palace of Alcinous, King of the Phaeacians. The surroundings are filled with beauty, as there are dozens of beaches where you can relax on the sand and pebbles, and enjoy nature, but the area is famous for its greenery, with its lush woodland and olive groves. If you want to, you can dip into Hellenic culture, and allow yourself an afternoon of mysticism. You can visit Panagia Theotoki on the hill near the beach. This is a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary, dating back to 1200. Inside, there is a small church and a museum dedicated to the Orthodox religion.
Kanakades e Liapades
Here you will find two little jewels. Kanakades is an ancient agricultural village that developed in the Ropa Valley. It is a picturesque settlement with old brightly-coloured houses. There is a fortified palace on the top of a hill, that was the Baron’s home during the Venetian occupation. The farmers had to hand over olives, grapes and wheat as their “taxes”. In the village, you might get lost in the narrow lanes, admire the stone houses and the historical sights, including the church of Agioi Theodoroi, that was built - according to the inscription above the door - at the start of the 14th century.
Liapdes is in the west of Corfu, about 5 kilometres from the main town. It is a traditional village, that is very popular thanks to its famous blue beaches. The main one is called Gefyra and is a mixture of sand, gravel and pebbles. You can enjoy the clear waters here, and some sea caves. The village is split into two parts, an “old” part where you will find houses from as far back as the 18th century, the emblem of Ionian culture. The other part is more modern and is aimed at tourists. Here there are hotels and facilities, shops and restaurants where you can try the traditional Greek food dishes.
We must travel about 10 kilometres from Corfu Town to see this palace, known as “Sisi’s Palace” as it was built on the wishes of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. She needed an isolated, unspoilt place where she could withdraw when life in Vienna became too stressful and too much for her. The Achilleion was built by the architect Raffaele Caritto, by renovating a villa that the empress had been given as a gift.
The palace was built in Pompeii style. The elegant entrance and the white and cream colours recall the tradition and the legend, enhanced by an enormous bronze statue (dying Achilles, stabbed in his heel) that dominates the gardens. The best part is indoors where there are statues, frescoes, antique furniture and personal items that belonged to the empress, who lived here until 1898. On her death, the palace was bought by Wilhelm II of Prussia, who ordered renovations to be carried out. One of the changes was the installation of a new statue of a victorious Achilles, in a pose after fighting. Outside, you can walk around a well-cared for park of over 80 hectares filled with statues, fountains, columns and a botanical garden, that is an explosion of flowers and exotic plants. The balconies, complete the scene, with their unique view over the sea.
Vlachérna Monastery and Pontikonissi
The two most popular attractions in Kanoni are the Vlachérna Monastery and Pontikonissi. The former is one of the island’s symbols: a small white church, surrounded by the typical bell tower of Orthodox churches. It is located on a tiny island, connected to the mainland by a pedestrian bridge. Imagine its attraction when a glimpse of this kind mixes with the light of the sunset. You will find yourself in an enchanting place full of fascination. As it is close to the airport runway, it is the first thing you see as you land. The Monastery is dedicated to the Virgin Mary of Vlahernon, and was built in 1700.
On the Kanoni peninsula, we also find Pontikonissi island, that can be reached by boat. This is a green island, covered in cypress and pine trees, with a magnificent Byzantine chapel, the small church of Pantokratora, that dates back to 1100. According to Greek mythology, the island is actually Ulysses’ boat, that was transformed into rock by the god Poseidon. This isolated place so full of beauty was a favourite of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
San Spyridon Church
The Patron Saint’s church is the most famous, easily recognisable monument on the whole island, starting with its red dome that is the backdrop to the historical centre of Corfu or its large bell tower. Inside, there is a nave and it houses holy icons, relics, and several frescoes, chandeliers and candelabras. Gold and silver are the main materials, starting from coffered ceiling.
It has a troubled history, as it was built in 1528 and destroyed in 1577, then rebuilt soon after. The bell tower was built in 1590 and it has the same clock as the one found in San Giorgio dei Greci, in Venice. Each year, a procession is held with the relics of San Spyridon, in several periods of the year, starting from the Saturday before Easter.
Welcome to Pelekas, another village you must not miss, about 13 kilometres from Kerkyra. It stands at 270 metres above sea level along the western coast of Corfu. The village stands atop a rock and is surrounded by olive groves. The view it provides is one that captured the attention of Wilhelm II, who often came here to meditate. In Pelekas, you can climb up to the Kaiser's Throne, an observatory from where you will have a wonderful view over a large part of the island of Corfu. Do not look for any mass tourism, as the place is not very well known. There is a central square with some characteristic taverns and there are spaces all around where you can enjoy the amazing sunsets.
One of the favourite places is Kondogialos beach, a pure wonder with soft sand, crystal-clear water and a shallow sea bed. Do not forget about Myrtiotissa beach too, which is a joy. There is another small, pretty beach nearby, named Gialiskari. Lastly, you could go to Pelekas, a stretch of sand that ends at a small harbour. There are several taverns in the area where you can try Greek food.
Here, there are some hotels and several inns. This is the perfect place for anyone wanting to rest, escaping from the chaos, and wanting to be close to the sea, but with the possibility of also experiencing other types of landscape. As well as going for walks, you can go horse-riding or play golf.
We were missing an imposing fortress on the list: so here it is. Angelokastro stands in the north-west part of Corfu, on a rock. From this position about 300 metres above sea level, you will be able to enjoy an amazing view, even if the last stretch of the path leading to the fortress is not easy to walk along. It is particularly complex and winding. Angelokastro was built in the 13th century, commissioned by Michael II of Epirus. For centuries, it has provided protection to the inhabitants of Corfu, every time attackers approached these shores.
It also has another name, “Fortress of Angels”. Some people think this is due to the presence of a chapel within its walls that is dedicated to St Michael Archangel. Another version tells the story that it was Michael II of Epirus who dedicated the fortress to his father. In any case, it is one of the most important Byzantine castles in the whole of Greece. Just two kilometres away, we find the village of Makrades, famous and renowned for its herbs, but also for its honey and local wine.
This is the northernmost point on the island of Corfu. It is special, not just because of its position, but also for the shape of its cliffs, that alternate sandy area with tiny grottoes. It is a dream place to visit by boat: the beaches have soft white sand and clear waters with shallow sea beds. The clay cliffs are continuously polished by the sea and are forever changing. They fall straight into the sea and are surrounded by lush vegetation and olive groves. The beauty of this area is legendary. Lord Byron even compared the fascination of Cape Drastis to the White Cliffs of Dover. The sea sneaks into the free spaces in the rocks and offers moments of pure poetry.
The area can be accessed from Perulades, a town of just 800 inhabitants. To reach one of the best viewpoints, its is necessary to travel along a dirt track, after which you will enjoy an unrivalled view, and can take fantastic photographs. The comments of those who have visited the area are complimentary: “wonderful glimpses”, “extraordinary view”, “miraculous silence”.
Sidari, the channel of love
Another village, that has been transformed in recent years from a farming and fishing village to a tourist resort with hotels and facilities. It was a flourishing town in Roman times, due to its position at the centre of the shipping trade. Now it is a village full of charm, with a picturesque historical centre, a headland that offers great views and a wonderful setting.
One of the things not to be missed is the church of Panagia Kassopitra, built on the ruins of a temple, then later destroyed by the Turks and rebuilt by the Venetians. The port is simple, full of traditions and daily activity. From here you can spot the coastline of Albania, and there are also boat trips to enjoy. You will also be able to see a Byzantine castle. Historically, it was an important building as it stood and controlled the Strait of Corfu.
Set sail for Corfu with Costa Cruises
It is an island with many souls. Corfù has a lively nightlife, an interesting historical centre and many foreign influences. It will seem like you are reliving some Italian atmospheres due to the pastel colours, the alleyways and shop windows that merge with the French-inspired coffee shops and boulevards. It is a multiethnic island that offers unique, unmissable views, cliffs, dunes and trips into nature.
Its cuisine is also worthy of note and you can arrange a gastronomic trip to try everything from the hors d-oeuvres to the desserts, with their special tastes and traditions. You must try numbulo, a cold meat made of smoked pork, left to cure; bifteki, a special kind of meatball full of spices and herbs, papoutsakia, which are aubergines with a tasty meat filling. Add on churches, museums and several other sights to this menu. Now it is time to choose Corfu as your holiday destination and perhaps discover it on a Costa Cruises trip.