10 Reasons Why Corfu Town Is Worth More Than A Day
Corfu Town is often wrongly overlooked as the point of entry to the island of Corfu and nothing more. While the island’s many beautiful beaches are the main draw, as well as picturesque towns like Paleokastritsa, there are countless things to do in Corfu Town for culture lovers.
Corfu Town, Greece
As a capital of a Greek island, Corfu Town has a lot to compete against. What separates it from the capitals of Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, or any of the countless other Greek islands? If you need a little inspiration before you take the plunge and visit Corfu, check out our comprehensive guide to the island’s attractions.
If you’re already set on Corfu, you’ll know that Corfu Town is the capital of one of the largest Ionian islands. Its vibrant colours, narrow streets and ancient buildings are enough to teleport you back in time. And if you’ve seen the charming architectural style of Greece in pictures or in films like Mamma Mia, it’ll feel a little surreal to walk through the cobbled streets of the old Corfu Town.
With a population of around 32,000 people, Corfu Town is far from a large city. It has a somewhat cosmopolitan vibe compared to other Mediterranean towns, but the contrast between the old houses nestled in narrow lanes and the 21st century Corfu Town bars is something special.
A mixing pot for various cultures, Corfu Old Town is a unique blend of British, Norman, French, Italian and Roman influences. As well as Greek, of course. All these cultures have inhabited Corfu in the past in one way or another. You can detect their subtle presence in the historical landmarks, museums and churches, but also in the distinctive fusion cuisine. Not just Greek food, Corfiot food is a delicious blend of Italian, French, Greek and Turkish.
The old town of Corfu is a history nerd’s wet dream. But more than that, the town is perfeclty situated on the coast of the sparkling Ionian Sea, a mass of blue with an even richer history than the island itself. Tales of this great body of water date back to before Odysseus got lost on the way home from the Trojan War. When you visit Corfu Town, you can take a dip in the same waters as legendary Greek heroes while admiring a view of the two colossal fortresses of the Venetian period. It has something for everyone.
Corfu Town churches and religion
Corfu Town is a religious place. There are churches around nearly every corner and even the non-religious can appreciate their charming effect on the narrow streets.
Often visited by Russian orthodox christians (though far less since the war started as an easy route to and from Russia no longer exists), Corfu Town is the final resting place of St. Spyridon. As the patron saint of Corfu, his body is encased in a glass tomb in the St. Spyridon Church. Locals can often be found visiting to pray.
Revered by Corfiots, there are several parades and festivals held annually in his honour, especially around Easter time. Travellers are welcome to join in the celebrations.
In Corfu Town, you’ll find a majestic orthodox cathedral named Agia Theodora Mitropolis Orthodox Cathedral. Built in 1577, it was erected 19 years earlier than the more popular St. Spyridon church. The old town of Corfu Town is also home to the Byzantine Church of St Jason and St Sosipater. Filled with icons and frescoes, this church was built even earlier – in the 11th century.
Today, Corfu old town is lined with cafes, boutique shops, restaurants, and bars. Corfu’s Old Town is a dizzying labyrinth of picturesque and authentic Greek beauty. The old town is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its important cultural heritage. The two Venetian fortresses that dominate the skyline are the standout monuments, but all the little cobbled streets and the whole town as a whole are what constitutes its UNESCO listing.
If you’re in Corfu Town at night, you’ll find that’s when it really comes alive. A dreamy glow is cast all over the town and cafes and bars are bustling with happy people. The Corfu Town nightlife might not compare to the likes of Paris or London, but for its cute Greek setting, it’s a great place to hop from one bar to another.
If you prefer somewhere a bit quieter at night, you might want to visit Corfu Town on the bus (or with a rented car) and stay at one of the other villages on the island during the night. Benitses is a great option, just several miles south.
A Brief History of Corfu Town
As a chokepoint in between Greece and Italy, Corfu has always served as a strategic location. It literally acts as a stepping stone from Italy and the ‘West’ to Greece, the Balkans, and a bit further along, Turkey and the Middle East. Because of this, Corfu has combined influences from several different cultures.
The Old Fortress and New Fortress of Corfu Town are visible remains of the island’s intense struggle with foreign occupants over the centuries. Both the old fort and the new were designed by Venetian architects to protect the maritime trading interests of the Republic of Venice against the Ottoman Empire.
As time went by, the two fortresses deteriorated bit by bit. Over the years, they’ve been replaced and rebuilt several times with the most recent improvements occuring when Corfu was part of the British Protectorate in the 19th century. Because of its mighty castles, Corfu’s capital city has been officially declared a kastropolis (castle city) by the government of Greece.
For hundreds of years, Corfu Town was widely regarded as one of the most fortified places in all of Europe. The Venetians took advantage of the island’s natural defences and used it as a strategic line of defence against the Ottomans when they invaded Greece and the Balkans. Corfu also managed to withstand more than a few Turkish sieges before finally falling under British rule after the Napoleonic Wars.
It wasn’t until 1864 when Corfu was finally reunited with mainland Greece under what’s known as the Treaty of London.
As mentioned earlier, there is evidence of the many rulers that Corfu has had scattered throughout Corfu Town if you know where to look. The Museum of Asiatic Arts was originally a royal palace that the English built, for example. It was the official residence of the commissioner, but after British rule ended, the Greek royal family moved in. Today, the exquisite building is home to a large collection of Asian art.
While on the topic of royal families, Prince Philip was born in Corfu, not far from Corfu Town. The area called Mon Repos also features a large palace, as well as one of the only decent beaches in Corfu Town. He was baptised in St. George’s church inside the Old Fortress in Corfu Town centre.
In more recent history, Corfu Town was a target during World War II. Aound one quarter of the town was destroyed, but we’re fortunate that most of the medieval old city survived. Nowadays, Corfu Town is rightly recognised as being an integral and authentic part of Greek history and culture by UNESCO.
10 Things You Can’t Miss In Corfu Town
1. The Old Fortress
Arguably the most well-known castle in Corfu, the Old Fortress has played a crucial role in the island’s rich history. Located on a rocky peninsula, looking out at the Ionian Sea, the Old Fortress was built in the early 15th century and has changed hands many times. Built atop the grounds of the original Corfu city centre from Byzantine times, this majestic fortress was originally built under the reign of the Venetians.
Nowadays, the Old Fortress is a source of pride for the locals and it’s a tourist hotspot, visited by thousands of travellers every year. During summertime, there are concerts staged within the fortress walls.
2. The New Fortress
While named the New Fortress, this castle isn’t that much “newer” than the old one. Construction began in 1577, again under Venetian rule, and the first version of the fortress was completed by 1588. This stunning fortress is located near the old harbour, and while this castle is not comparable in size to the Old Fortress, it has a view that might rival it – plus, it’s free to enter.
Famous for its military history, the New Fortress protected Corfu island from the invading Turks in 1716.
3. The Royal Palace
Built in 1824 when Corfu Town was still under British control, the Royal Palace is host to the Museum of Asian Art, the Municipal Art Gallery, and the 5th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities.
Some of the most exquisite monuments on Corfu island are located here, as is the Municipal Art Café in the palace’s garden. The peaceful garden is pretty similar to the Achilleion Palace, another stunning architectural feat that lies just a 45 minute walk from Benitses, Corfu.
4. Quirky Cafes and Authentic Greek Eateries
When you’re strolling around the cobbled streets of Corfu Town, you’ll probably find yourself looking for a bite to eat or a place to sit and grab a drink. There are plenty of cute little cafes and authentic tavernas serving traditional Greek cuisine.
Corfu Town Best Restaurants
In Corfu Town, restaurants are easy to find. The Liston area has dozens to choose from, but there are others nestled into the backstreets of the central maze of Corfu Town. Generally speaking, restaurants in Corfu Town are more expensive than any other place on the island. The food isn’t always better either. However, that’s not to say you can’t find some good places, especially when it comes to scenery.
If you’re in Corfu Town, there are quite a few places that do rabbit stifado, a local’s twist on the traditional Greek beef stew dish. It’s one of my favourites as I’m a big fan of game meat. You can also find pastitsada, moussaka and other Greek delicacies like spanakopita and baklava.
5. Spianada Square (Esplanade)
Spianada Square, or the Esplanade as it’s often called, is the main square in Corfu Town. Lined with coffee shops, and right next to the Old Fortress, Spianada Square is a giant open area and a great place to come for a picnic or an afternoon coffee.
Corfu Town claims that Spianada Square is the second largest square in all of Europe, after Piazza del Marco in Venice, Italy. The style, as you’ll see, is very similar to Venice, too.
6. The Liston
The Liston is a row of archaic archways that lines one side of Spianada Square. It was built by the French in the early 19th century during their occupation of Corfu. It was originally a rich-only area and only noblemen from Libro D’ Oro were permitted to walk around the area. If you’re name wasn’t on a list, you couldn’t go. This guaranteed exclusivity and made the area a very fancy place for the “elite”.
Luckily, everybody is encouraged to visit now. It’s a romantic area full of hanging lanterns, traditional restaurants and small galleries.
7. The Square of the Saints
Three of the most important churches of Corfu all reside in the same square. While I’m not religious, there’s still something peaceful about the silence you get in churches. Not only that, but it’s a great place for people watching and understanding how the locals integrate religion into their lives.
The Church of St. Spyridon, The Church of the Blessed Virgin of Strangers, and St. John Church can all be found on the Square of the Saints. Orthodox travellers often travel long distances to see the Church of St. Spyridon in particular. It’s somewhat of a pilgrimage.
Corfu Town Churches & Monasteries
St. Spyridon Church
Saint Spyridon is the patron saint of Corfu. It’s believed that he saved the island from terrible danger on four separate occasions. The saint’s remains are kept inside the church and are often carried in procession during religious holidays.
The church itself is Venetian in style and its bell tower marks the highest point in the entire old town.
Other Religious Sites in Corfu Town
- Corfu Cathedral (houses St. Theodora’s remains)
- Platytera monastery (Kapodistrias’ resting place)
- Duomo – (the Catholic church in Corfu Town)
- Scuola Greca Synagogue
8. Corfu Town Museums
The Archaeological Museum of Corfu contains recent finds from the ancient citadel of Corfu. It’s a nice trip for history buffs interested in the region. Originally it was built to house finds from the excavations held at the Temple of Artemis.
MUSEUM OF ASIATIC ART, (PALACE OF ST MICHAEL AND ST GEORGE)
Holding a collection of over 15,000 words of Asian art gathered from private collections, this grand museum is worth a few hours of your time. It was founded in 1928 and it’s the only Museum of Asian Art in all of Greece.
Founded as early as the 15th century, this museum is a church that’s dedicated to the Holy Virgin “Our Lady of Antivouniotissa.” It’s the oldest and best-preserved example of a church completed in a basilica style. Inside is a permanent collection of significant icons and heirlooms that span the 15th to 20th centuries, notable for their artistic or religious value.
MON REPO PALACE MUSEUM AT KANONI (Prince Philip’s Birthplace)
Constructed under British rule, the Palace of Mon Repos is situated among beautiful gardens. In the past, it also served as a summer villa for Greece’s King George. Nowadays, there is a large number of exhibits including Byzantine remains, archaeological finds, as well as old British paintings, furniture, and traditional outfits.
The remains of the ancient city of Corfu, Palaeopolis, are located just around the corner and are open to visitors.
Famous for its comprehensive collection of banknotes that date from the nation’s founding all the way to the present day, this one-of-a-kind museum has been running since 1981. It’s located in St. Spyridon Square and is within easy walking distance from the other sites on this list. You’ll find all sorts of weird and wonderful information about money.
Another museum inside a church, the Byzantine Museum displays some great examples of religious icon art from the 13th to the 17th centuries.
9. Kanoni Peninsula
Home to the Mon Repo Palace mentioned above, Kanoni Peninsula is home to a bunch of archaeological sites, as well as a great area for hiking. It has some stunning views of Mouse Island and beyond, and it’s a perfect spot to go plane-watching. They come down super low in this area.
Only a thirty minute stroll along the sea from Corfu Town centre, Kanoni Peninsula is near the airport and only an hour or so walk from Benitses.
10. Visit a Corfu Town Beach
A little beach with three bars, Faliraki beach doesn’t compete with some of the world class beaches Corfu has to offer, but it’s a nice place to relax.
Kontra Fosa Beach
Secluded and isolated, Kontra Fosa beach is a tiny sliver of pebbles down the back side of the Old Fortress. It’s good if you’re visiting the fortress because you’ll likely be alone, but don’t expect anything crazy!
Mon Repos Beach
A bit of an upgrade from the previous two, Mon Repos beach is a quiet little place in the Kanoni area.
Where to stay in Corfu Town
Corfu Town is a pretty small place, and most of the accommodation will be within walking distance of all the attractions.
Corfu Town hotels will almost all feature free wireless internet access and all your other basic amenities, but I have to admit: they are a bit on the pricey side. While Corfu is a relatively expensive place in general, there are better options away from the capital.
Benitses is one such place, and it makes a great place to rent a car and see more of the island. If you do go to Benitses, drop Bella Vista Hotel and email and they’ll take care of you. Paleokastritsa is also a holiday-worthy location to spend your time, as is Kassiopi, and a handful of other Corfiot villages.
Enjoy Corfu Town for more than just a day
Corfu Town is a idyllic Greek town that’s well worth the time it takes to explore. Even if you do nothing in particular but grab an ice cream, browse souvenirs, and get lost in the old streets, you’ll still fall in love with the city’s vibrant charm.