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The second-largest of the Ionian Islands was the first Greek destination to embrace mass tourism. Even before the Union of the Ionian Islands (May 21st, 1864) with the rest of the then recently liberated continental Greece, the island used to be a top destination for the foreign aristocracy. It is located on the northwestern part of the Greek mainland. Shaped like a sickle, with its hollow side facing inwards, the island is about 90 kilometres long, with a 217 klm coastline.
Yet, Corfu has far more to offer than just sun, sea and pastitsada (famous local dish). Anyone venturing inland will find that the interior has at least as much to offer as the shore. Much of Corfu is mountainous. At 906 metres above sea level, its highest peak, Mount Pantokrator, is visible from most places on the island.
Of course, when we refer to Greek islands the first and foremost image that takes form in our mind consists of summer leisure instances. Corfu offers indeed more than a bunch of marvellous beaches, varying in size, formation, geology and…crowds!An indicative list of…must-sea places follows next. They are sorted geographically from south to northwest and then to northeast.
A duney sandspit dividing the open sea from Korissíon lagoon, Halikounas is one of the wildest, most unspoilt beaches on Corfu, stretching 3km southeast to the little Venetian-dredged canal joining the lagoon to the Ionian. Halikounas is an alternative beach destination for naturists (clothing is optional once well away from the northeast end), birdwatchers (Lake Korissíon is a rare avian ecosystem) and kitesurfers as well as for any typical visitor.
2. Agios Gordis
Agios Gordios is one of the most popular beaches on Corfu. It is situated on the west coast of Corfu, within good proximity to the I.Kapodistrias airport (roughly 15 km). Set in the middle of Corfu Island, Agios Gordis location is ideal for exploration by car. It’s coastal line composes of verdurous rock formations from one side to the other. On the southern half of the beach there are many cafes and tavernas, providing also sunbeds and umbrellas. Water sports are also on the menu. The northern half is quieter, with essentially no establishments other than private properties and rental houses.
Maybe the most famous landmark of Corfu, along with Pontikonissi, particularly among Greeks. Paleokastritsa itself is a rocky, densely wooded land around of which nestles a variety of different beaches and coves. Each beach offers different facilities, varying from diving schools to boat hiring or boat trips to many hidden small beaches, otherwise inaccessible. Most of the trips depart from the harbour of Alipa, an ex-NATOic navy base. The buildings that are scattered on the hillsides are a mixture of rooms for rent and small hotels, almost each one with a path down to the beach. Perched on a rock above the main beach is Paleokastritsa Monastery, founded in the early 13th century, which opens 7am-1pm and 3-8pm from April to October. Inside the gate is a lovely courtyard filled with plants, and a small, intricately decorated orthodox church.
4. Arillas – Porto Timoni
The beach of Arillas is probably the most beautiful among the peaceful and easy-to-get-there beaches on Corfu. It boasts about the blue flag awarded to that lovely bay every single year. Its coastline consists of sand and pebbles. Water sports facilities are there for those who care. Wind conditions during summer (especially in August) offer many opportunities to surfers. All along the road that stretches parallel to the sea, there are a lot of small taverns and accommodation units. In a short distance off the beach, the waters are quite shallow, suitable for carefree playing of the children. Right opposite to Arilla’s shore three islets rise from the sea (Sykia, Gyneka, Kravia) where experienced swimmers can swim towards. If you fancy a nice short trekking, then try this and you shall be fully compensated for the fatigue, if any. At the small square of Afionas (the picturesque village that overhangs Arillas), begins a downhill path. Although narrow, it’s quite easy to walk along it. After about 20 minutes the path opens wide and offers a great view of St. George beach while a little further on there lies the unique natural formation of the twin-beach cape of Porto Timoni. You may either try each one of the eastern or the western inlets to have a swim or carry on with your trekking along the rest of the peninsula.
In a 45-minute drive from Corfu town, Sidari resort welcomes its visitors. One of the most photographed summer spots of Corfu and one of the most traditional tourist destinations, outside Corfu town. Since the local infrastructure efficiently supports mass tourism for three decades, one may find anything that falls in the category of summer leisure. The landscape of this lively place is uniquely characterized by a coastline of softly eroded clay rocks that shape a scenery of unrivalled beauty, consisting of many swimmable coves. By far the most famous part of it is Canal d’ Amour (Channel of Love). Rumor has it that if one manages to swim along it will soon meet the love of his/her life (provided he/she hasn’t already found it)! Moreover, in a few minutes drive, the visitor can reach the breathtaking Sunset beach (Logas), in the nearby village of Peroulades, where probably the most idyllic sunset of the Ionian Sea can be enjoyed. Last but not least, excursions to the overseas islands of Mathraki, Othoni (the farthest point of the Northwestern Greece) and Erikousa are scheduled daily.
Kassiopi is the largest village in the north east of Corfu, situated at a small peninsula, roughly 35km far from Corfu town, a typically picturesque Greek island village based around a harbour. Kassiopi doesn’t have a beach in the village itself but there are a number of beaches nearby, such as Avlaki kai Kerasia. On the left hand side of the harbour, a ruined castle overlooks the pastel-coloured buildings while, at the same time, the coastline can be explored by amateurs or experienced divers, since there is one of the best diving center on the island where a variety snorkelling and diving packages is offered. In Kassiopi you’ll find plenty of restaurants and cafe-bars with great views but the most visited attraction still is the 14th century monastery of Santa Maria di Cassopo (Panagia i Kassopitra) which underlines the rich history of this place.
The resort of Barbati lies on the north-east coast of the island, about 18 kilometres to the north of Corfu Town. Barbati has a long beach of white pebble and shingle, as well as a very impressive mountain backdrop with Mt. Pantokrator rising up steeply behind the beach. The village itself lies on the main road that runs high above the beach. Different sections of the beach are accessible via plenty side streets that branch off the main road and run towards the coast. The bay is well sheltered from the summer winds (especially the northwestern “maistro”) and the water is clean and clear. There are a few beachside tavernas and bars and plenty of sunbeds along with other tourist facilities, such as boat hire and watersports.
1. CORFU MUSEUM OF ASIAN ARTS
The Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George, situated on the northern part of the Spianada, the Corfu town historical centre square, is the largest and the most significant building of the English rule period (1818-1864), built upon request of the British Lord High Commissioner, Sir Thomas Maitland. Since 1928, the Palace houses the Museum of Asian Art, literally one of a kind in Greece, solely dedicated to the art and antiquities of the Far East and India. Its collection, as to date, comprises of approximately 15.000 works of Asian art form private collections and individual item donations and it is regarded to be one of the most rich and important collections outside Asia. The Museum is open daily Monday to Sunday, 08.00 – 20.00
2. ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
Corfu town’s archaeological museum finally re-opened in late 2018 (open Tue–Sun 8.30am–2.45pm but better check beforehand) after a five-year restoration. Exhibits from ancient Korkyra (Corfu) returned to view. The most famous attraction, the Gorgon pediment (c.585 BC), has its central Medusa shown with winged shoulders and sandals, plus serpents at her waist. She is flanked by her offspring, Pegasus, the winged horse, and the hero Khrysaor. The pediment, Greece’s oldest known monumental sculpture, was discovered in 1912 at the Artemis temple of Paleopolis, south of the modern town. Not so colossal – but as important archaeologically – is the exquisite Archaic Lion of Menekrates. This late 7th-century BC sculpture, dug up in near-perfect condition in 1843, probably adorned the grave of a warrior during Korkyra’s struggle for independence from Corinthos. Among other treasures is a small pediment from 500 BC, showing the god Dionysos and a youth reclining at a symposium. A dozen statuettes of Artemis in her avatar as mistress of beasts were probably votive offerings at the goddess’s temple.
3. MON REPOS
The Mon Repos estate was the birthplace of the Duke of Edinburgh and formerly a summer residence of the Greek royal family. It is situated on the eastern edge of Corfu Town, and is easy to reach by following the coast road around Garitsa bay and turning inland when it does. It is a lovely place to wander, with its paths meandering through the shady gardens that are garnished with Doric temples and in their end lead to a couple of remote small beaches. The grounds open 8am-7pm daily; the museum opens 8.30am-3pm daily, except Monday.
4. KANONI – PONTIKONISSI – AIRPORT
The postcard view from Kanoni to Vlaherena islet and Pontikonisi is clichéd, but still unmissable. The belvedere, once defended by a canon (thus the name), now includes two cafés. Vlaherena, tethered to the main island with a causeway, is completely covered by the Venetian-era white monastery of Panagia Vlahernon.
From the base of the jetty, excursion boats chug out to Pontikonísi (Mouse Island), home to dense stands of trees and a tiny Byzantine chapel, plus a seasonal caretaker with his cats. Along with several other islets around Corfu, this claims to be the petrified, ancient Phaecian ship, returning from ferrying Odysseus home to Ithaca, so rendered by Poseidon in revenge for Odysseus’ blinding of his son Polyphemos the Cyclops.
Either from a vantage point in a cafeteria up in Kanoni or from the cement walk-only bridge that drives across the Chalikiopoulos lagoon from Vlacherena to Perama area, one may enjoy the sensational audiovisual experience of airplane landing to Ioannis Kapodistrias airport from as close as a mere spectator can get!
One of Corfu’s most popular inland destinations is Aqualand Water Park in Agios Ioannis, about half way across the island heading west from Corfu Town, less than a fifteen minute drive. Contained within the park is a selection of lengthy slides, challenging tubes, extra-large sized pools, rafts, pirate adventures – anything that can be turned into a water-related attraction. The park opens 10am-6pm daily May-October, until 7pm in July and August.
6. ACHILLION PALACE
Corfu regal associations began with the Bavarian Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who chose the island and specifically the village of Gastouri (10 km southwest of the town of Corfu) as the location for a summer palace in the late 19th century. She had the Palace (prior named as Villa Vraila) bought from a Corfiot diplomat and philosopher, Petros Armenis Vrailas, but after Sissy (Elisabeth) died, it was sold to the King of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who visited it regularly until the First World War.
On the grounds of the Palace the grand and imposing statue of Victorious Achilles dominates the surroundings, except for his alter ego, the statue of Dying Achilles! Of course, there is undoubtedly so much more to see in this luxurious Palace, now operating as a museum. From the lush and eye-soothing royal gardens, rife with sculptural excellence to the perfectly retained interiors which sets you back in the luxuriant past of the Prussian royalty.
Open 7 days a week, from 8am to 8pm.
Right above Paleokastritsa lies the village of Lakones with the astonishing and awarded view of Bella Vista (nearby cafe and restaurant). Further north from Lakones one may find Angelokastro, a medieval natural fortress. As the road winds through the picturesque villages of Makrades and Krini, reaches the final slope to a rocky promontory on the top of which is the ruined castle. Angelokastro was at the frontier between the Byzantine Empire and the West, so it was one of the most important strategic fortifications on the island. Traces of the castle battlements can still be seen, but the real reason to clamber to the top of the hill is for the excellent views over the southern Adriatic
8. DAILY TRIPS TO PAXI – ANTIPAXI
Paxi, a paradise of its own, takes great pride in the crystal clear waters and the folklore image of its few little villages that is successfully preserved through time and tourism. Since the last decade the fame of its incomparable beauty is well spread continent-wide and now regularly attracts the yacht-set of Europe and beyond. Antipaxi, the little brother of Paxi, is accessible only by boat trips from the port of Gaios, on Paxi. The islet has no permanent residents or residences to rent but has a permanent contestant for the title of the best beach in the world (Vutumi).
Both islands can be visited by boat from the Port of Corfu Town, with daily trips from early morning till afternoon during summer period.
Corfu expands your visiting period options.
Corfu being an island, the most expected time of the year for a visit is summertime. Indeed it is then when the island takes greater pride of its merits and shows them off without any unneeded modesty. However, any local or foreign connoisseur of the place would firmly urge you to pay a visit or two (or three) any time of the year!
Autumn months on Corfu are still warm and enjoyable, given the fact that there is an abundance of sunny, yet not too hot, days. Many locals and surely many visitors, especially from less Mediterranean climates, might as well enjoy the quieter version of the beaches till early November, given the chance. Nevertheless, if the weather gets grumpy there are still all these places to visit, architecture to watch, trails to walk, music to listen to. Museums, fortresses, old churches, philharmonic orchestras, folklore villages, lush scenery etc., all hold firmly their posts throughout the year. And if one meets a typical Corfiot raining period, let this be no holdback! Just wait for the night to come, then put on your artistic, romantic or you-name-it mood, stroll through the narrow, dimly-lit, sparsely populated streets of the Old Town and you shall be treated with a subcutaneous sensual extravaganza, as close to poetry as a night stroll can get, an experience of temporal misconception offered equally to guests and hosts.
Springtime on Corfu is anything but harsh, although intermittently rainy. But then again how could it be any different in such a verdurous paradise! The dominant experience during that season of the year is, of course, the celebrations of the Orthodox Easter (Pascha). Corfu is virtually synonymous with Easter in Greece, and rightfully so, since that prominent holiday of Christianity is highly venerated in this place by a long-lasting and (inter) nationally esteemed tradition. Easter Sunday is preceded by an eventful week, full of sounds, colours and scents bursting from various festivities that culminate in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, when Holy Saturday meets Sunday.
Tens of thousands of visitors, from Greece and abroad, gather up to experience the unique customs of Paschal Corfu, which genuinely combine religious humbleness with celebrational magnificence. There shouldn’t be any “live it or leave it” dilemma for thee, stranger…