Framed by green mountain slopes, the turquoise Ionian Sea sparkles in the winding bays of Corfu, giving its own touch to the vast colors of the local landscape.
In addition to its dramatic nature, the second largest island of the Ionian Sea, Corfu, charms with its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Corfu Old Town and its delicious traditional food!
The history of Corfu in brief
The Greek name of the island, Kerkyra, originates from the nymph Korkyra of Greek mythology, who was captured by Poseidon and taken to the island of Corfu. The name of the capital of Corfu is also Kerkyra in Greek. The name Corfu or Korfu, on the other hand, was born later, during the Byzantine or Eastern Roman period.
There's evidence of habitation on the island since the Stone Age, but Corfu is first mentioned in works dating back to ancient Greece. Corfu has been part of various Greek city-states, Rome and later Eastern Rome, after which the island was ruled by the Venetians between 1386 and 1797.
The period of the Venetians is still evident in Corfu in, for example, architecture, language, and food. Many of Corfu's traditional dishes, such as pastitsada, are Venetian heritage. Due to this, many may have feasted on, for example, pastisada during their trip to Croatia.
Corfu offers destinations for different types of vacations
With more than 100 beaches on the island, Corfu is known above all as a beach resort. The green and mountainous island is perfect for active vacations — along its countless hiking trails, you'll come across breathtaking landscapes and small monasteries. From Corfu town, you can travel by hydrofoil in 30 minutes to Saranda in Albania, which is a popular destination either for a day trip or a trip of a couple of days.
The island's most famous destination is the capital, Corfu town, which is the island's only city. Corfu’s only international airport, and the onward connection of tourists to other parts of the island, is located on the outskirts of Corfu town. The 64-kilometer-long and 32-kilometer-wide island of Corfu contains sleepy little villages as well as more popular destinations for package holidays.
The city of Corfu is usually referred to either by its English name Corfu town or by its Greek name Kerkyra. The Old Town of Corfu, which belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage List, is one of the most charming details of the island due to its architecture, attractions, and restaurant selection, which takes at least a day to explore.
The old town is undoubtedly commercial and aimed at tourists, but the fascinating architecture makes a walking tour interesting. Stalls selling souvenirs or leather goods are surrounded by narrow alleys that usually end in a picturesque square, lined with flower plantings and tavern tables.
It is an experience on its own to enjoy a daytime coffee at one of Liston street's cafes, while watching the tourist buzz go by. Liston was built on the prime spot of Corfu town, in the middle of the Old Town, during the French occupation (1807-1814), with the Rue de Rivoli in Paris in mind. The street still exudes the dignity of the old world today.
There are no beaches to mention in Corfu town, which is why many continue to spend their beach holidays around the island. Diving into the Ionian Sea can, of course, be done on the "beaches" of Corfu town, which are generally piers into the sea, though.
Sidari in the northwestern part of Corfu is the largest destination in the northern half of the island, and especially popular with English package tourists. Don't bother looking for a picturesque Greek village in Sidari. Instead, the town's restaurant and bar selection combined with a fine sandy beach make it a perfect destination for those looking for nightlife during their vacation. Sidari is popular mostly with families and couples, which is why it is known as a bit quieter destination compared to Kavos in northern Corfu.
Sidari's main beach is conveniently located behind the main street, and therefore you don't have to walk long distances in Sidari. There's a bus stop near the main street, which is conveniently referred to as Sidari Bus Stop on Google Maps.
Another area in Sidari with many bars and restaurants is to be found near Kanali tou Erota or Canal d'Amour, which is clearly a less busy part of the village. Canal d'Amour is a pretty cove and one of Sidari's top attractions. Cape Drastis with its dramatic rock scenery is also a beautiful sight. It is located a little further, but still within walking distance.
Paleokastritsa [or Palaiokastritsa] is a quiet seaside village located just over 20 kilometers from Corfu town, with picture-postcard scenery that cannot be beaten in Corfu.
The area's rocky coves hide rock caves and deserted beaches, which can be reached via boat trips organized from, for example, the beach of Agios Spiridon. The Angelokastro defense fortress, built in the 13th century on the highest peak of the mountain range, is also an impressive place with great views. The ascent to the fort is steep, and therefore a car ride is the easiest option to get there.
The restaurant selection in Paleokastritsa is quite modest. Therefore, if you want to try a variety of different restaurants, you might run out of ideas after a couple of days. For a day trip or a place to stay for a few days, Paleokastritsa is among the best Corfu has to offer.
Kavos, located in the northern part of Corfu, is known as the party capital of the island, and it is especially popular with young partiers. As night falls, neon lights light up the main street, and the bars of Kavos begin to fill up gradually. Restaurants and bars are located in a compact area near the beach, and therefore Kavos is suitable for an easy vacation.
The fine sandy beach of Kavos is one of the best beaches on the island, and the Arkoudilas beach, located within walking distance, is an impressive sight in itself.
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Things to do in Corfu
The sights of Corfu can be roughly divided into the beautiful natural landscapes located around the island and the historical sites found in the Old Town of the city of Corfu. The Old Town is already an attraction in itself with its pastel-colored facades and numerous churches, but a few of the other Corfu’s attractions are worth checking out with enough time.
Old Fortress - Corfu town
The Old Fortress of Corfu has stood in the same place since the 6th century, when the Goths destroyed the old city of Kerkyra and the fortress was moved to its current location. The stone walls of today's fortress were, however, built later in the Venetian era. Inside the fortress you can explore, for example, Byzantine art, old cannons, and enjoy views of Corfu town. There is an entrance fee to the fortress.
Homepage: Old Fortress
New Fortress - Corfu Town
The New Fortress of Corfu was built at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, during the Venetian era, to strengthen the city fortress of Corfu. After the construction of the new fortress, Corfu town was positioned between the New and the Old fortresses. While the fortress walls are the only attraction left to see in the New fortress, the views of Corfu town are even better than from the Old fortress. There is no entrance fee for the New fortress.
The Spianada square is a huge park in a prime location of Corfu town. It is bordered on one side by Liston, full of cafes and restaurants, and on the other by the Palace of St. Michael and St. George, which now houses the Asian Art Museum.
Completed in 1824, the building served as the home of the local ruler
during the period of the United States of the Ionian Islands (1815 - 1864) and later as the base of the Ionian Senate. During this era, Corfu, along with the other Ionian Islands, was a protectorate of Great Britain.
Corfu cuisine is of Venetian heritage
The roots of Corfu's traditional dishes go back centuries, to the Venetian era, when the Venetians themselves had opened the spice trade from Asia to Europe. Corfu, as part of Venice, was one of the most important trading ports in the Mediterranean region.
Asian spices such as pepper, cumin, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon live strongly in Corfu's classic dishes. For the most part, these are included in the spetsieriko spice mix, which is used, for example, to season pastitsada. The pastitsada dish includes chicken or beef accompanied by a tomato-based spicy sauce and pasta.
For those who love garlic, Sofrito will not disappoint - the veal steaks are perfected with garlic-rich gravy. Around Corfu and the rest of Greece, stifado, a red wine-tomato-based stew built around beef, is also a common dish, which is of Venetian heritage, too.
Fish lovers should try the fiery burdeto, where light fish is seasoned with a chili-tomato broth, or the milder bianco, whose broth consists mainly of lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic.
Gyro, or kebab, and souvlaki, or meat skewers, are served around the island, and the rest of Greece, as fast food. In some places, brown sauce is added to the gyro dishes, which gives this very Greek food a little local atmosphere.
Local drinks for both wine and beer lovers
Both white and red wines are produced in Corfu, but the island is especially known for its white wines. Grape varieties that can withstand the island's hot climate, such as Moscatel or Kakotrygis, make a light and sweet wine that goes well with spicy and light fish dishes.
Although Corfu offers both continental Greek and international beer brands, the island's own microbrewery, Corfu Beer, beats the others. Founded only in 2006, the brewery has grown explosively with the microbrewery boom and is now known throughout Greece. The brewery's beer selection includes ale, lager and bitter.
Like in the rest of Greece, ouzo or tsipouro (raki) is offered as a digestif, but the island's local specialty is kumquat liqueur. This orange-flavored fruit liqueur is made from the Chinese qumkuat grape, which was introduced to Corfu by the British Sidney Merlin in the middle of the 19th century. The liqueur is one of the hallmarks of Corfu, and you'll find it in souvenir shops as well as in cocktails in nightclubs.
Flights to Corfu
Direct flights to Corfu consist typically of holiday flights, taking place from early spring to late autumn.
Outside of the summer season, there’s a daily flight connection from Athens to Corfu all year round. You should combine your Corfu vacation with a stay of a few days in Athens.
Price level in Corfu
The price level in Corfu is generally slightly lower than that in Central and Northern Europe. The difference can be seen especially in restaurants, hotels and means of transport, although taxis are relatively expensive compared to car rental or public transport in Corfu. For more on the topic, read in the section “getting around in Corfu”.
The hotel selection in Corfu town is scarce and in high demand, which is why the price level of hotels in the island's smaller destinations is lower. Therefore, you should consider whether to stay overnight in Corfu town or just take a day trip there.
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Shopping in Corfu
While Corfu is not a shopping paradise, you can make some interesting discoveries there. 99% of the store selection is concentrated in Corfu town, and therefore you should focus your takeaway purchases there. In other locations around the island, there are souvenir shops selling lower quality products, and the selection is weaker that in Corfu town.
Clothing stores are concentrated along Georgiou Theotoki street in the Old Town of Corfu. In the narrow alleys of the Old Town, you can find local product shops, of which olive oils, kumquat grape products and leather products are the most common.
Getting around in Corfu
The most convenient form of transportation in Corfu is a scooter or a rental car, with which you can easily reach every corner of the island. In Corfu, the roads are mainly well-conditioned asphalt roads. Daily rents for cars and scooters range between €20-40. A motorcycle license is required to rent scooters, which is why many people with only a European Class B driver's license rely on a car or an ATV.
Green buses constitute the public transport in Corfu, and its buses can be used all over the island. Tickets cost approximately 2-4€ per person, depending on the length of the trip. There are several schedule buses a day to the biggest destinations, such as Sidari, Paleokastritsa and Kavos.
On the website of Green buses, you can see a bus line map, with the stops being marked for each scheduled route. Hence, you don't have to jump on the bus from the Corfu bus station, which is located a good kilometer away from the center of Corfu town. When coming to Corfu town from other places, buses usually stop at Georgiou Theotoki square, and hence there's no need to travel all the way to the bus station, if you plan to stay and explore the Old Town.
The downside of public bus transport is that outside of the summer schedules, all lines run through Corfu town. From about June 20 onwards, bus lines also run from village to village. At other times, a taxi is the smartest option. These special routes can be found separately on the Green buses’ website.
Taxis are quite expensive in Corfu, and there is no Uber or similar services. For example, a taxi from the Corfu airport to the city costs approximately €20 for a 3 to 4-kilometer trip. A taxi from Corfu town to Paleokastritsa, which is about 25 kilometers and takes half an hour, costs about €60.
When to travel
The holiday season in Corfu starts at the beginning of May and continues until the end of October. All bars and restaurants will have opened their doors by the beginning of June. The end of May and June comprise an excellent period to have a holiday on the island, since, during the time, the hotel prices are cheaper than during the high season in July and August; the tourist masses due the summer holidays in southern Europe have not yet arrived; and the temperature varies between 20 and 30 degrees in May.
Likewise, early autumn is an excellent time to go on a holiday in Corfu. September is still quite warm, and at the beginning of October, the peak temperatures of the day hover in the mid-20s to mid-30s. Similarly, the large tourist masses have disappeared, and hotel prices are also cheaper compared to the July-August high season.
Text and photos: Ville Ryynänen