Corfu Old Town is a magical place, with a character unlike anywhere else in Greece. Even if you’re staying elsewhere on the island, here’s why Kerkyra (as the city is also known) is well worth a visit.
Corfu Old Town’s Venetian streets
Although Corfu is a Greek island, the streets of Corfu Old Town seem far more Italian in their aesthetic. For around four hundred years, the Venetians ruled Corfu, and it’s clear just from a wander through the labyrinthine alleyways. The narrow paved streets are devoid of any cars, and the old townhouses are several stories high, providing plenty of shade for the crowds of people who wander through the warren and into open squares. The shuttered windows, peeling pastel walls and downright marvellous stone archways all combine to create a strong sense of faded Venetian elegance.
The best thing to do in Corfu Old Town is, without a doubt, to just walk around and see where your eyes and ears and whiskers lead you. And the atmosphere is so so different at different times of the day! From early morning, when the streets are empty aside from the odd local heading to open up their shops, to the middle of the day with people bustling past each other and examining leather sandals or olive wood products stacked outside doorways. As the sun begins to set and the cruise ships sail away, people gather outside restaurants and bars in the centre of the town, swallows swoop and twitter overhead, and the street lamps start to twinkle on, illuminating strings of washing swaying in the breeze between the buildings.
Liston and Spianada Square
Of all the streets of Corfu Old Town, the Liston is the most famous. This covered arcade with its beaut arches- in front of a wide promenade- was actually built when the French were briefly in control of the island, during Napoleon’s times. The Liston is the place to people watch like there’s no tomorrow, and it overlooks Spianada Square.
And, curiously, Spianada Square is home to something rather full on English: a cricket pitch.
The British controlled Corfu (as part of the United States of the Ionian Islands) for 49 years, and during this time cricket took off in a big way. So, despite the fact that the sport is barely known about across the rest of Greece, on Corfu the legacy lives on.
Check out another Ionian island: Exploring the Incredible Island of Lefkada
Corfu Old Fortress
Corfu Town is built on a piece of land which juts out into the Ionian Sea, which is a strategically brilliant location. Kerkyra regularly had to defend itself against Ottoman or pirate attacks, and so the Venetians built a big old fortress (on top of the old Byzantine one) to help with the defence efforts. The fortress was a massive success, as it survived three whole sieges.
Well done, those Venetians. That’s a lot of sieges.
Things took a darker turn during World War 2, when the Nazis occupied Corfu and ordered all the Corfiot Jews to gather in the fortress before being transported to Auschwitz. Out of the 1,800 Jews who were deported, only 120 returned to the island after the war.
Off-the-beaten-path in Corfu: Staying in a secret Corfiot village
It’s definitely worth visiting the Old Fortress in Corfu, and you’ll need at least an afternoon to explore it as the whole sight is a lot bigger than it seems. Nowadays you can climb all the way to the top in about 20 minutes. Although a word of advice on your footwear- the cobbled slope which leads up to it is incredibly slippery, so wear something with grip!
One of the most brilliant things about the Old Fortress, in my humble opinion, is the fact that the Ionian University’s music department is housed here. Turn left after you cross the bridge into the fortress and head towards a big white building. At most times of the day, you’ll hear music students practicing through the open windows- and it’s downright lovely to hear someone warming up or rehearsing over the chirrup of the cicadas.
Entrance fee for Old Fortress: €6 per person. Discount for cruise ship crew.
Beaches in Corfu Town
Bad news, guys. Officially, Corfu Old Town doesn’t have any beaches. But that’s only officially. There are places to swim in Corfu Town, if you only know where to look.
Faliraki Beach is the easiest ‘beach’ to reach, and also doesn’t cost a penny! A small strip of sand with a view of the Old Fortress and a few bars and restaurants make a chilled location which can get busy occasionally. This beach is popular with locals who live nearby as well as visitors.
A tale of Greek kindness: Saved by a Stranger in Corfu
My favourite place to hang out in the whole of Corfu Old Town, however, is the beach at the Old Fortress. To reach the beach, keep to the left as you enter the fortress, and continue past the music school until you reach a slope downwards with directions to the Corfu Sailing Club. Just before the Sailing Club there’s a tiny beach which barely anyone knows about. And those that do might be slightly put off by the fact that you have to pay to enter the fortress in order to reach it, let’s be honest.
The beach might be tiny but the sea is so incredibly turquoise and BEAUTIFUL, and the atmosphere so relaxed compared to the busy Old Town streets, that I am a big fan. You can also just stroll on over to the Sailing Club for a drink or bite to eat (or alternatively just to use the loos), whenever you fancy.
Museums in Old Town Corfu
There are plenty of museums to visit in Corfu Old Town, if you fancy getting your learning cap on. (And so you should.)
Casa Parlante is right in the heart of the Old Town (and easy to walk past without even realising). The museum shows what life was like on the island for a wealthy 19th Century family, and although it only takes around half an hour to get around- it’s still worth a visit.
You’ll be able to see the Corfu Museum of Asian Art from a mile off. This museum is housed in the old house of the British Lord High Commissioner. Although frankly the building is less of a house, more of a palace. The magnificent structure is at one end of Spianada Square and is worth seeing as much for the beaut architecture as for the collection within its walls.
The Serbian Museum
The most interesting museum is one which I actually walked past three times before I even realised it was there. The Serbian Museum of Corfu is inside an old town house in a quiet back street, and is free to visit. It tells the story of 150,000 Serbians- soldiers, women and children- who were given refuge in Corfu during the First World War. Fighting against the Austrians and Germans, the allies promised support which never came, and the Serbs were forced to retreat through Kosovo and Albania in the middle of winter. Thousands of them died of starvation en route to Greece, many of them were barely alive when they finally did make it, and many more died within days of arriving in the safety of Corfu.
The tiny island of Vidos- which is mere minutes away from Corfu- became a quarantine and was the final resting place for over a thousand of the Serbian arrivals.
It’s harrowing to see the photographs and hear the stories of that tragedy, but it’s also incredible to see how willingly the Corfiot people welcomed them. Humans can be terrible creatures, but they can also be pretty downright brilliant, and this is a story which shouldn’t be forgotten.
I left the museum feeling rather emotional about this piece of history I’d previously known absolutely nothing about, wandered into the tiny shop next door, and absentmindedly thanked the lady at the till with a ‘hvala.’ (I don’t speak Serbian, I just know a few words and recognised that the people in the shop were all speaking the language.) The woman was so delighted that she proceeded to speak only Serbian to me, tested me on all of my phrases, and was so delighted that she thrust several magnets into my bag ‘as a gift!’
Churches in the Old Town
Like all Greek islands, Corfu is full of churches, and Corfu Old Town has at least twenty. They just can’t get enough!
The most famous is Saint Spyridonas Church. Outside the church, people light candles in prayer, and inside are the relics of Saint Spyridonas. This guy is the patron saint of Corfu, and he’s said to have protected the Corfiots from two plagues, one famine, and a whole load of Turks. What a guy. Four times a year, the relics of the Saint are paraded around the city for all to see, in memory of the miracles.
There are plenty of other churches of all shapes and sizes to stumble across, and stumbling across them is definitely the best way. Just remember if you want to go into an Orthodox Church, you have to be covered up, and that means no bare shoulders and no tiny shorts either.
It would just be plain disrespectful, you know!?
Where (and what) to eat in the Old Town
There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in Corfu Old Town. Squares and alleyways are overflowing with tables and chairs and delicious food, and whether it’s a traditional taverna you’re after or a modern restaurant, the options are endless.
For a casual eatery with some of the most delicious grilled fish I ever tasted, head to Mare Misto. For a boujis cocktail bar get on down to Sway, just behind the Liston. And for dinner with a view head on over to the Corfu Sailing Club.
And if you want a detailed guide to the best places to eat in Corfu Old Town, plus a whole load more ideas, head to this lovely guide I wrote earlier.
Traditional Corfu dishes you should try include pastitsada and sofrito- both meaty dishes involving all the red wine- and anything with fish and seafood, as you know it’s going to be the freshest of all. And bright orange kumquat liqueur is sold all over the island, although the kumquat isn’t a native fruit. It was brought to Corfu over a hundred years ago and stuck around; and now the lucozade-hued alcohol is one of the most famous Corfiot beverages of all.
Eating out in Corfu: The Best Restaurants in Corfu Old Town
Where to stay in Corfu Old Town
Corfu Old Town has an incredible selection of AirBnbs, and I loved staying in this one in a quiet street near the Church of Saint Spiliotissa. The studio apartment was compact but well equipped with everything I needed for a few days in town. Staying within the Old Town means getting to see the streets of the city in all its many guises, and I’d definitely recommend staying there as opposed to further out.
AirBnbs are a popular option when staying in Kerkyra and tend to book up quite far in advance- especially during the summer months- so it’s worth planning ahead.
Popular hotels include the Bella Venezia– in a restored Venetian mansion with a beautiful terrace to eat your breakfast on. And the Puppet Guest House, an incredibly decorated B&B with an equally incredible bar and coffee shop downstairs. (Seriously pals, click the link. They’ve done a brilliant job with the decor and are eco-friendly to boot)
Getting to Corfu Town by public transport
Corfu Old Town is extremely walkable, which means the only transportation you really need to worry about is how to reach the Old Town in the first place, if you’re not already staying there.
It’s not possible for vehicles to drive into the actual Old Town, as the streets are so crazily narrow. So if you’re heading into Kerkyra by bus, you’ll probably arrive at San Rocco Square, from where it’s super easy to walk. Blue buses run around the city, and these also go to the port and the airport (technically speaking, you can walk to both. But you might not want to do that with luggage). For blue bus timetables head to the Corfu City Bus website.
Fancy a day trip: How to get the ferry from Corfu to Albania
And green buses head out to the towns and villages across the island. These depart from the bus station just outside the centre of town, and come less frequently and at a more relaxed kind of a ‘schedule.’ Truth be told I once missed a bus here by a mere 30 seconds and had to spend the next two hours in the bus station eating dry croissants and trying not to need the loo so I didn’t lose my seat. It was very glamorous. For green bus schedules and routes, head to the Green Buses website.
There are always plenty of taxis waiting at the port or airport, and both are only about ten minutes drive from the Old Town; although buses are also available.
I love Corfu Old Town. Despite the fact that it’s clearly a popular place for tourists, it hasn’t lost its character and is still very much a ‘lived-in’ city, with as many locals as visitors. I was lucky enough to visit it several times between August and October, and loved getting to explore new nooks and crannies, working out my own favourite hang-outs as I went.
And when I go back, I know I’ll find a hundred more!
Corfu, you’re a dream.
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