Two fortresses, dozens of museums and galleries, and a gentle charm that has won over many literary luminaries, here’s how to make the most of a day in Corfu Town.
Corfu was one of the first package holiday destinations in Greece, seeing mass tourism transform the island from the 1960s onwards, but its enigmatic capital, Corfu Town, has always been in vogue. Venetian and British relics point to a recent past of colonialism, with the former empires successfully holding off Ottoman designs on Corfu for a few centuries. Meanwhile Ancient Greek ruins nearby suggest civilization has shaped this region for at least a few thousand years.
However, much of the old Corfu Town was lost to modern warfare, when Nazi blitz bombing destroyed many buildings. Earthquakes then took care of a few more. Walking around the old capital, particularly in the vicinity of the New Fort, is illuminating as to the city’s past iterations. Remnants of those older buildings still stand, here and there. Occasionally they are little more than a three-storey façade or a graffiti-encrusted shell of a building, looking like the faint pencil lines of a sketched design poking out beneath the final paint on a canvas.
The Venetian imprint remains firmly etched into the streets of Corfu Town’s centre. Although they are now lined with souvenir shops and restaurants catering to tourists, there’s still much to recommend about the charming, narrow grid of interlocking streets, broken every so often by a church or palace. It is a charm that has captivated many artists and writers through the decades and enhanced, in part, by the British connection with the island.
The late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was also born in Corfu Town, cementing Corfiot-British relations even further. But perhaps no outsiders have done more for Corfu than the Durrell family, in particular Gerald Durrell, whose three autobiographical books (aka The Corfu Trilogy) based on his childhood, living in various homes around Corfu, are still much loved today. Here’s how to experience Corfu Town at its best.
Things to Do
Churches and fortresses are the most notable historic buildings in Corfu Town. Both Venetian fortresses stand out. The Old Fortress (Agoniston Politechniou) includes more functional buildings than its newer, robust counterpart. Within its walls, you will find administrative buildings, a church and a former hospital. One building has even been repurposed as a music school. The Holy Church of St George, built to look like an Ancient Greek temple, and the lookout point atop a winding staircase, which offers expansive views over the island and across the water to Albania, are highlights.
The New Fortress (El. Venizelou 13) is free to enter. This sturdy bulwark, surrounded by outer walls and accessed by a meandering path, offers great views over Corfu Town towards the port and Old Fortress. The cellars and battlements date back to the 16th century, with this whole site feeling far more cohesive as a defensive installation than its older counterpart.
The religious focus of the island rests on Saint Spyridon’s Cathedral (Αγίου Σπυρίδωνος 32), dedicated to the island’s patron saint. Support for the saint is particularly fervent on the island, owing largely to the belief that he protected the island from a number of Ottoman invasions, as well as various other catastrophes. It is possible to touch the saint’s wrought silver coffin.
Come sunset, plenty of people can be found lounging on benches around the central pavilion of Spianada Square (Viktoros Dousmani 70). The leafy park borders the tight grid of pedestrian streets of the old town and makes for a great place for respite during the hotter hours of the day. On the northern end of the park lies the Corfu Museum of Asian Art (Palea Anaktora), a stunning former palace, which first served as residence of the British High Commissioner, and was used later by the Greek monarchy. The museum’s collection includes pieces from across the continent, with particularly large collections from Japan and China.
Tortoises lumber between the gravestones of the British Cemetery (Kolokotroni 8), seeking solace in the shade of cypress trees. It’s a curious throwback to an era when Corfu was part of the British Empire and is a peaceful space. Visitors can see evidence of the large British military contingent once based here and the ensuing Anglican presence on the island in the decades since.
Nearby is the Archaeological Museum of Corfu (Vrela Armeni 1), which offers an excellent overview of Corfu’s (aka Kerkyra) ancient history through 1,600 exhibits, including the pediment from the Temple of Artemis. To view a little piece of archaeology in situ, head a few kilometres south, where you will find a modest array of Roman and Ancient Greek ruins dotting the fields.
Where to Stay
As the capital of a tourism island with some serious pedigree, Corfu Town’s hotel offerings fill a narrow gap not occupied by the island’s plentiful apartments and all-inclusive resorts. Boutique hotels are a highlight of Corfu Town. One great example is Siora Vittoria Boutique Hotel (Stefanou Padova 36), housed in a 19th century mansion. Breakfast, which is included in the price, can be taken in the property’s pleasant garden.
At the upper end of the price scale, Corfu Palace Hotel (Leof. Dimokratias 2) offers five-star luxury with commanding views over the coastline towards the Old Fortress. There’s plenty of glitz to the amenities on offer, including a casino and a thalassotherapy spa (where treatments primarily use salt water and seaweed). There’s also an outdoor pool on site. Many rooms have sea view balconies and marble bathrooms.
Locandiera (Ioannou Gennata 8) on the other hand is a better value alternative that offers modern rooms, designed with strip lighting and earthy tones, right in the heart of the old town. Patches of exposed brick and ornamentation made from olive wood add a rustic touch. Despite the slightly lower prices, there’s no sacrifice on quality and the included breakfasts are particularly well liked by guests.
Eat & Drink
The breakfasts at My Habit (Leof. Alexandras 46-44) draw large crowds of people in the mornings, where you’ll get to see the kitchen staff work marvels with eggs that defy expectations. The pancake stacks are little works of art, dripping in Nutella, honey or berries. This is a place for those who like to indulge a little.
Lunchtimes in Corfu would not be complete without a delicious and filling gyro. When looking for a spot that wins over the locals, the bustle surrounding Pitta Pappou (Agion Panton 12) says it all, and while you may struggle to grab some of the limited streetside seating, there’s usually space indoors. It all starts with the bread: soft, chewy and charred to perfection, then crammed with paprika chips and other ingredients such as halloumi or various meats.
Naturally, tavernas are the best way to experience Greek cuisine at its finest, with modest Mouragia (Arseniou 15) being a time-tested favourite. Set on the waterfront, the menu is neatly poised to include diversity, including Corfiot specials such as sofrito, a veal dish sauteed with white wine and garlic. There’s also a moussaka which joins other items on a special vegan menu, or a bountiful selection of seafood, such as grilled sardines.
Jasmine Café Bar (Dionisiou Solomou 31) and its neighbour, La Tabernita Mexicana, are positioned at the entrance to the New Fortress, where a pleasant garden overlooks the surrounding rooftops. Jasmine Café is a great place for a refreshing afternoon drink, such as a cocktail or iced tea. La Tabernita presents rustic Mexican flair and cuisine with surprising authenticity. The margaritas are excellent.