The Byzantines, Venetians, French and British all ruled over Corfu. The result is a unique history that lives on through all the churches, palaces and squares and the architecture of the buildings located between the two Venetian fortresses of the Old Town.
The result is a cultural and artistic heritage that can still be felt today. Not just in the cafes, tavernas and trendy bistros and along the pedestrianised little roads called cantounia, but in the art and music for which Corfu is famed and in the spirit of the locals going about their daily lives.
The entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with an authenticity and romance that will leave you completely charmed.
You can mix and match according to your interests and time, but a walking tour covering the highlights would include:
We start at the Ionian Parliament, on Moustoxides Street (the widest of the Old Town’s cantounia), where representatives of the region voted for the unification of the Ionian Islands with the rest of Greece in the 19th century. Before that, Corfu had been a protectorate of Britain for almost 50 years.
Turn left into Guildford Street (named after the British philhellene who, amongst other things, re-established the Ionian Academy). You’ll reach a square housing the Town Hall, formerly a club for noblemen and the Theatre of St Giacomo. You’ll also find the 16th-century Catholic cathedral of San Giacomo. The square and surrounding roads are a hub for cafeterias and restaurants, with great shopping and nightlife.
Heading up to Nikiforou Theotoki Street is the Casa Parlante, a 19th-century mansion that’s now a museum recreating the life of a nobleman during this golden period in Corfu’s history.
Church of Agios Spyridon
Around the block is Agios Spyridon, a 15th-century church, with an impressive bell tower. It houses relics of the island’s patron saint, Spyridon, who is said to have expelled the plague from the island. The relics form part of a procession every Palm Sunday. Leave by the exit that takes you into the Agios Spyridonas cantouni, with its souvenirs and local products.
Cosmopolitan Liston and Spianada Square
The road you are on ends at Liston, part of the Spianada, the Old Town’s main square. With its 19th century colonnade modeled on Paris’ Rue de Rivoli, Liston is catwalk territory, perfect for an espresso and pose. But take a moment to walk through the grass-filled Spianada, with its fountain and café and open areas (where concerts and even cricket matches are played).
The Old Fortress
Built on a hill marking the eastern end of the city, the Old Fortress was started by the Byzantines and finished by the Venetians, when it was turned into an island. Walk over the canal, through the gates and on to the Church of St George. Now climb to the cross at the top of the fortress and enjoy the panoramic views. There’s is a public library, a Byzantine collection and a café within the grounds, as well as a small marina.
Boschetto Gardens & Garden of the People
Next to the Old Fortress are the Boschetto Gardens, perfect for a beautiful stroll with views of the fortress. If you want the greenery to continue, head to the Garden of the People, part of the Palace of St Michael & St George.
Palace of St Michael & St George
Originally the seat of the Order of Knights of Saint George and Saint Michael, this was once a British governor’s mansion and a summer residence for the Greek Royal Family. Today it houses the Museum of Asian Art. The palace sits above little Faliraki, with its tiny beach that’s perfect for a morning swim. It’s also a great spot for a summer evening cocktail with views of the lit-up Old Fortress.
Continue into Campiello, the oldest and most atmospheric quarter, with its labyrinth of narrow cantounia, carved wells, picturesque squares and tall buildings with balconies that are often decorated with bougades (pots) and ropes. Check out the Venetian Well opposite the Church of Panagia Kremasti and the Metropolitan Church.
Dionysios Solomos Museum
Heading north, you’ll find a museum dedicated to Greece’s national poet, Dionysios Solomos, whose Hymn to Freedom was adapted into the Greek national anthem. The house in which he lived, wrote and died was destroyed during World War II but has been restored and converted into a museum.
From here it’s a short walk west to the New Fortress (the Venetian’s 16th century Fortezza Nuova), built on the hill of St Mark above the old port and once connected to the Old Fortress by a wall. The surrounding area is a lovely place to eat.
Returning to the coast road, head down Xenofontos and then Velissariou streets, which flank the Old Town’s western side, until you reach the Synagogue. Corfu’s Jewish community, which dates from the 12th century, was persecuted during the Nazi occupation but played an important part in the island’s history and daily life. The area has some excellent tavernas.
The walk ends at the church of at Agia Sophia at the bottom of Velissariou, from where you turn left into Evgeniou Voulgareos St and walk to the 14th century Annunziata (you’ll know it from its Bell Tower). The Ionian Parliament and Spianada Square are just a few minutes away.
You can begin your walking tour wherever you like, but if you do choose the Ionian Parliament you can reach it by car, taxi or foot, depending on where you’re staying.
- From the Port
To the New Fortress: 1.9km (bus No16)
To the Palace of St Michael and St George: 2.8km (bus No2)
- From the airport
To the Old Fortress: 2.4km
To Spianada Square and Liston: 2.2km (bus No.15 to Saroko Square and from there by foot)
Corfu has a good bus network within the town and from around the island.
- The Old Town is magical at any time of year and takes on a different atmosphere in each season.
- It can get crowded in the summer so we suggest visiting in the quieter and cooler periods (May-June and September-October).
- If you do visit in the summer, start your walking tour early or in the afternoon to avoid the heat and crowds.
- Opening times and entry fees of museums and other cultural sites may vary between seasons.
- You can decide which sites to visit when you are there, or book a tour that includes entry to a selection (€40-€60).
- Private tours cost significantly more.
Museums and cultural sites:
- Casa Parlante: Summer opening hours 10.00-18.00 daily. Open in winter upon request. Not suitable for visitors with disabilities. More info
- Museum of Asian Art: More info
- The Old Fortress: Limited access for visitors with disabilities.More info
- Boschetto Gardens & Garden of the People: Opening hours: 9.00-sunset.
- Dionysios Solomos Museum: Tickets €1. Not suitable for visitors with disabilities.
Easter is a particularly special experience in Corfu.
- You will need a full day to complete the walking tour, with rests and lunch in between.
- Or you can spread it over a few days.
- Most organised tours last 3-4 hours and some private tours can last half the day.
Let’s all try to keep the magic of Greece’s villages, towns and cities alive for future generations.