Off the West Coast of Greece and in the Ionian Sea is an island called Corfu. Its buildings bear signs of Venetian, French, and English influences. Its history is long and rich. It holds many churches & museums, several forts & palaces, and Greece’s first university. Nature has blessed it with lots of greenery, some interesting rock formations, ample beaches and blue-green waters of the Ionian Sea! Here is a list of top 10 things to do in Corfu when you are holidaying in the northernmost Ionian island:
1. Walk through history at the Old Fortress
The Old Fortress of Corfu, which dates back to the early 15th century has withstood the test of time and several events in the history of the island. It has changed hands from the Byzantine empire to the Venetians and the English before becoming a tourist attraction in present-day Greece.
The citadel lies on a piece of land that is naturally protected by the Gulf of Kerkyra, the Garitsa Bay and the Ionian Sea itself. And when the Venetians took over the area, they built a moat on the fourth side and fortified the area. The ancient city that thrived there managed to keep the Turks at bay and is a thing of great pride to Corfu. Visit the fort and you will see that the moat and a marina from those old days still stand testimony to that. Today, the area also houses landmarks like the Corfu Library, Ionian University’s Hellenic Music Research Laboratory and Church of St. George.
2. See if you can visit the New Fortress
Further inland and to the west of the Old Fortress is the New Fortress of Corfu. This one stands on St. Mark’s Hill and was built by the Venetians in order to protect the parts that lay outside the old fort city. The stone walls, buildings and bastions were built to defend the area from Ottoman sieges.
Later the fort was used by and further expanded by the British and French who took over these parts. Now, Corfu’s Naval headquarters is based here.
If the fortress is open during your visit to Corfu, you will get to see sweeping views of the old fort, Corfu Town and the Ionian Sea from there. It’s definitely one of the top 10 things to do in Corfu. (The fortress seems to have a lot of closures for one reason or another. You might want to call the tourist office to make sure it is open before you drive all the way there.)
3. Admire the buildings of the Old Town
The main city and capital of the island of Corfu is the city of Corfu that lies sandwiched between the Old Fortress and the New Fortress. A walking tour through the town is a must, to see and enjoy the architecture of the island.
Corfu, locally called Kerkyra wears a very European look with clear stamps of Venetian influence in particular. The buildings are tall and multi-storied and crowned with tiled roofs. The English and the French who came by later have also left their marks on Corfu. Landmarks to see in Corfu include the Palace of St. Michael and St. George, Saint Spyridon Church, Archaeological Museum, Casa Parlante Museum and Serbian Museum.
4. Marvel at the collections at Achilleion
Achilleion is another of Corfu’s most-visited buildings, so it’s easily one of the top 10 things to do in Corfu. Situated in Gastouri, south of the Old Town, Achilleion was a palace built for Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The Empress was said to have been fond of Greece and its culture and this palace with views of Corfu’s greenery and the Ionian Sea became her summer palace.
The building came to be called Achilleion after Achilles. The hero of the Trojan war seems to occupy a very important place in this palace. Walk through the palace and you will see that there are several statues of Achilles both within the palace as well as its outdoors.
Today, Achilleion is a museum showcasing all the opulence it was known for: its grand staircase, its ornate ceilings, frescoes, a large collection of statues and its rich gardens. On exhibition here are several pieces of art that the empress and Wilhelm II — who later owned the palace — seem to have left behind.
5. Take in the views from Angeleokastro
This is another one of those historic citadels that kept Corfu safe from the Turks. This one, referred to as the Castle of the Angel is situated in the northwestern part of the island. These parts are known to be rocky and this castle enjoys a vantage point on the top of a cliff that is over 300 meters above sea level. The views from here are not just of Corfu and the Ionic Sea but even the South Adriatic Sea. Now it must come as no surprise that this castle too played a part in keeping the Ottomans out of the island.
Up on the cliff, you will also find a church with some ancient frescoes and some graves. This fort is closed on Wednesdays.
6. Drive to the top of Pantokrator
If you like hilltop views, there should be no missing a trip to the top of Mount Pantokrator. The scenic drive through several switchbacks ends in a birds-eye view of Corfu, the other islands of the Ionian Sea & even parts of Mainland Greece. All that from a height of 900-odd meters above sea level.
You can either opt for a bus tour that takes you to the top of the mountain or drive to the top. You will also find a Cafe & a Monastery there.
7. Swim through Canal D’Amour
If you are interested in places known for their natural beauty, you might want to put Canal D’Amour on the top of your itinerary. Located in the northern part of Corfu, Canal D’Amour, also known as the Channel of Love is a much-photographed area. This natural spot is one of the top 10 things to do in Corfu.
It’s in Sidari. Here you will find light-colored rock formations and pretty beaches adorning the coast. The biggest attraction here however, is a canal that was carved out when the sea eroded the rocks here. It is believed that couples who swim through the it are likely to tie the knot soon after. It is a popular swim spot! Rock diving is another activity practiced here.
8. Explore Mouse Island
Yet another thing you can do on the periphery of the island is explore the tiny little island of Pontokinisi, also known as Mouse Island. It is a green spot south of the Corfu airport. You can take a boat to the island and see the monastery over there and pop into the cafe and souvenir shop on the island.
9. Relax on Corfu’s Beaches
Being an island, the beaches are in plenty around Corfu. However, let me leave you with some of the popular beach spots around the island: there’s the Paleokastritsa Beach in the northwest, Mirtiotissa Beach towards the middle of the west coast, the Issos Beach in the southwest and there’s the Paralia Kavos on the east coast! Visiting one of these beaches is certainly one of the top 10 things to do in Corfu.
10. Sample some Koum Quat liqueur
Corfu is the only place in Greece that grows Koum Quat, a citrus fruit that is native to China. It was brought to Corfu by the British and it grew well here in the northwestern part of the island. ‘The golden oranges’ are used to make jams and candies but it’s most popular in the form of a liqueur. A tasting of Koum Quat Liqueur is something you don’t want to miss while in Corfu! It’s easily one of the top 10 things to do in Corfu!