The classic Greek island beauty that is Corfu has long drawn mariners, conquerors and artists to its shores.
Corfu today: this diverse destination in the Ionian Sea captures the hearts of travellers from around the world. Here you can relax on sandy beaches, swim in gin-clear seas, stroll through a fascinating Old Town, admire historical sites, visit museums, hike across forested hills, walk around traditional villages and indulge in hearty local dishes. The Venetians, French and English all ruled over the island and their legacy can be clearly seen in the island’s architecture, cultural attractions and gastronomy.
Families adore the island for the warm hospitality shown by locals, couples for its romantic capital and solo travellers for its breathtakingly beautiful landscapes and activities on offer.
Lush hills, sandy beaches and blue-green seas
Blessed with hillsides thick with pine, cypress and eucalypt forests that tumble down to blue-green seas, Corfu is a nature and beach lover’s dream.
Beaches on the west coast include unspoilt Agios Georgios Pagon, out-of-the-way Ermones, striking Paleokastritsa, Glyfada and remote Myrtiotissa. In the east, choose from laidback Barbati, tiny Kouloura and Dassia, whose translucent waters and striking mountain views rank it among the island’s finest. In the south is wild Arkoudilas and bohemian kite-surfer magnet Halikounas. Sidari, in the northwest, is known for the Canal d’Amour and its impressive sandstone formations.
Flamingos and other migratory birds pass through the Alikes salt pans and Korission lagoon.
Movie-star pretty villages
On the verdant northeastern coast, seaside villages worth visiting include upscale Agios Stefanos, insider secret Kaminaki and minuscule Kalami, where UK author Gerald Durrell once resided and penned books inspired by his time there.
Action and adventure holidays on Corfu
One of the best ways to explore the western and eastern coasts of Corfu is by motorboat. Rent a boat in Dassia in the east or Paleokastritsa in the west and spend the day motoring along the coastline and discovery small tranquil coves ideal for a refreshing dip.
Action aficionados can water ski in Gouvia Bay or try paragliding in Dassia. Divers head to Paleokastritsa, where Achilleon Diving Center offers diving in a sheltered bay brimming with sea life. Apollo Dive Centre in Nissaki runs PADI courses for first-time divers.
Horse riding is available in Gouvia and Avlaki. among other locations.
Take a day trip on a sailboat to swim and snorkel in secluded bays, or a tour of the nearby twin isles of Paxi and Antipaxi, whose aquamarine waters need to be seen to be believed.
Corfu has an excellent network of hiking trails, including the Corfu Trail, the Erimitis path and the route to Pantokrator Mountain.
An old town with Venetian grace
The moment you step into Corfu’s atmospheric Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage site, you will feel as if you have been transported to another era. Kings, countesses and noblemen and women once walked these cobblestone streets.
The Venetians and British left their mark in the form of stately neoclassical mansions that have been well-preserved.
Lose yourself in the narrow alleyways of the Campiello neighbourhood, which is reminiscent of Naples’ sleepy back streets.
Browse the stores selling handcrafted items, traditional local products, footwear and fashion. The island’s delicate honey, olive oil and kumquat liqueur all make welcome gifts for family and friends.
Take a seat at one of the open-air cafes at elegant Liston Arcade, built by the French, and watch the world go by. You might even catch a game of cricket on Spianada Square.
An island overflowing with history
Considered one of the Mediterranean’s major fortified port cities, Corfu town’s Old Fortress and New Fortress are must-sees and splendid locations to view the capital and Ionian Sea from above. Below the Old Fortress is Garitsa, one of the city’s two main ports in antiquity.
Hop across to the picturesque island of Pontikonissi and visit the Pantokrator monastery. Step into the royal shoes of Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary, known as Sissi, at the majestic Achillion Palace.
Amble through the botanical gardens of Mon Repos, the summer residence that British High Commissioner Frederick Adam built for his wife. In Paleokastritsa, scale the steps up to the 13th-century Monastery of Panagias.
Cultural attractions and traditions
Culture vultures can take their pick from an array of interesting museums and galleries.
The Corfu Museum of Asian Art, located within the Palace of St Michael and St Georgiou, hosts some excellent exhibitions. Situated nearby is the Garden of the People, where locals like to cool off beneath the trees.
Housed in a 15th-century church, the Antivouniotissa Museum features religious works representing six centuries of Ionian artistic expression.
The Solomos Museum, Kapodistrias Museum, Reading Society, Banknote Museum, Ionian Parliament and the Museum of the Philharmonic Society of Corfu are all worth a visit.
At the Casa Parlante museum, peek into the daily life of an aristocratic family in the 19th century.
If you happen to visit Corfu during Orthodox Easter, you might be lucky enough to witness the Philharmonic Society of Corfu’s solemn Good Friday performance and locals ceremoniously throwing clay pots from windows and balconies onto Spianada Square on Easter Saturday.
A rich culinary heritage
Corfu’s inhabitants are fiercely proud of their culinary culture, which bears a strong Venetian influence and hold fast to traditional recipes.
In the inland village of Doukades, Elizabeth’s taverna dishes out heart-warming local fare such as sofrito (pan-fried veal in a wine-based sauce).
In Corfu town, elegant Rex on central Kapodistriou St has been honouring home-style pastitsada (beef or rooster casserole with pasta) and other classic Corfiot recipes since 1932.
Klimataria taverna, in Benitses, is known for its succulent bianco, a fish-based dish, and other specialities.
Karydis taverna in Boukari, a fishing village in the south of the island, draws slipper lobster devotees.
Iliovasilema taverna in Paramonas, two kilometres from Agios Mattheos village in southwest Corfu, serves a delectably spicy bourdeto with scorpion fish.
In Agios Georgios Pagon, the taverna Fishermen serves superb fish and seafood meze accompanied by wild greens.
Taverna Agni, a family-run beachside taverna at Agni Bay on the northeastern coast, grills the catch of the day to perfection.
For simple, quality dishes, Karydia in Dassia is a cosy taverna with a dedicated clientele.
In Corfu town, foodies can sample creative Greek cuisine crafted with local ingredients at Pomo d’Oro on Skaramaga Square and Salto Wine Bar Bistro at the old port, while The Venetian Well in Campiello is infinitely romantic.
Vido Island restaurant, situated on an islet 15 minutes by boat from Dassia, offers a unique seaside dining experience.
In the Old Town, pop into the old school Papagiorgis patisserie for divine pistachio ice cream whipped up in-house.
Wine connoisseurs should plan a visit to Ambelonas Estate to sample Corfiot wine produced with the skopelitiko and kakotrigis varietals, as well as inspect the on-site olive oil and wine museum.
Day and nightlife
Step out first thing in the morning for an espresso and soak up the history and ambience of the old town at one of the cafes at Liston Arcade.
In the late afternoon, head to one of the chic beach bars, such as Pazuzu in Glyfada or Imabari in Corfu Town, where you can relax on a sun lounger and witness a glorious sunset with a cocktail in hand.
Post-dinner, the tiny, hip bars in Corfu’s old town, among them Kourdisto Portokali, Café Bristol and Piccolo, is where the action is, with music ranging from jazz to rock and house grooves.