Without doubt the jewel in the Ionian crown, this really is one of the most beautiful and fascinating towns in the Greek islands. It’s certainly busy – 40,000 people live here before the tourists even arrive – but it’s well worth a visit to check out the way different cultures have left their influences over the centuries.
Take a stroll through the extraordinary paved alleyways and explore the maze of streets and squares to get a real feel for the place and its complex history. The Old Fortress, which stands 0n a twin-peaked headland on the eastern side, was started by the Byzantines in the 6th century. The Venetians took over from 1386 to 1797 stamping their architectural mark on Corfu town with multi-storey buildings and characteristically narrow streets (kandounia) and the French made a stunning contribution by building The Liston, an elegant arcade, around the end of the 8th century. Of course, us Brits have left an impression too – not least by introducing Corfu Town to cricket and ginger beer for the first time when the Ionian islands came under British protection in 1815. On the Spianadha (Esplanade) you can find Greece’s oldest cricket ground where spectators can still join players to drink ginger beer made to an original Victorian recipe!
Although Corfu Town fell victim to Nazi bombing raids in World War II and suffered extensive damage, major renovation work for the European Union summit held here in X994 has restored this beautiful town to its former glory.
The red dome of Aghios Spyridon Church is possibly Corfu Town’s most famous landmark. It’s also home to the ornate casket holding the mysteriously preserved remains of the Island’s patron saint whose embalmed body is paraded through the streets four times a year. According to Iegend, St Spyridon regularly slips out of the church for a stroll around town and to save wear and tear on his embroidered slippers they are replaced every year. The people of Corfu believe the saint has repeatedly saved their bacon -from a famine In 1553 and several other plagues and invasions – and literally thousands of Corfiot children are named Spyros In his honour. You’ll find the church one block behind the Liston in Aghios Spyridon square. Open dally gam to 2pm, admission is free but visits during a service are discouraged.
The Palaio Frourio – or Old Fortress – dates back in part to the early sixth century. From 1550 the Venetians extended the fortifications and dug a moat but many of the buildlngs’ inside were built by the British for military use, including St George’s Church in 1840. The entrance is from Esplanade Square and the church is open Tuesday to Sunday 8.30am to 3pm and closed on Mondays. The Neo Frourio – or New Fortress – can only be described as ‘new’ if you consider 1576 as recent It is made up of a complex arrangement of cellars, dungeons and battlements which are great for exploring. Spectacular views from the top, as well as a small gallery and cafe, make the steep climb up a metal staircase worthwhile. Open dally from roam to 4pm depending on the time of year, the entrance is just after the Tenedos church in Solomos Street.
The Liston, a row of arcaded buildings built by the French, overlooks the Spianadha and Is still one of the main places to see and be seen. It’s home to a large number of upmarket cafes where Corfu Town’s young and old, as well as tourists, come to take their morning coffee or enjoy an evening stroll or ‘volta’.
The recently restored Mon Repos is an elegant villa built for the British High Commissioner, Frederick Adam, In 1824. It later became a summer residence for the Greek royal family and Prince Philip was born here in 1921. The estates wooded grounds are well worth a visit and though not sign posted, you can gain access through the green iron gates opposite the ruined Palaiopolis basilica.
The octagonal-domed Church of St Jason and St Sosipater is dedicated to the two bishops who brought Christianity to Corfu during the 1st century. It’s open all day, every day, admission is free but donations are welcome. Visitors should keep covered up as bare legs and arms are considered disrespectful. To get there when walking back from Mon Repos to Corfu Town, take a left turn before the Marina Hotel.
The Achilleion Palace is a colourful and exotic villa which attracts a huge number of coach tours. Built for Elizabeth, Empress of Austria, who told her architects “I want a place… worthy of Achilles” (hence the name) it was used as the location for the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. The Empress lived in the palace until her assassination by an Italian anarchist in 18g8 when it was bought by Kaiser Wilhelm II The terraced gardens are particularly impressive with excellent views over the town. Because of its popularity, the palace is extremely busy between gam and midday. Try to go early – it opens at Sam – or later in the afternoon as it doesn’t close until 7pm. The Palace of St George and St Michael looks rather like an English stately home and was originally built for British High Commissioners to live in. It is now home to the Museum of Asiatic Art and Municipal Art Gallery. The palace is open Tuesday to Sunday 8.30am to 3pm.
The British Cemetery features some remarkable military memorials including one marking the death of 44 seamen killed in a naval incident in 1946. Even so, it’s a quiet and peaceful place to stop for a moment and in spring and summer is full of wild orchids. The cemetery is south of San Rocco Square and open all day, every day.
The Byzantine Museum is housed in the restored church of Antivouniotissa and is home to a particularly fine collection of sculptures, religious artefacts and 15th to 19th century icons. It also boasts a picturesque little garden with its own bell tower – you’ll find it just off Arseniou Street. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday 8.30am to 3pm, Sunday 9.30am to 2.30pm.
If you’ve ever fancied seeing a real Greek wedding, head for The Greek Orthodox Cathedral close to the old port which goes marriage-mad during the summer months.
The arcaded avenue of Nikiforou Theotoki, situated west of the Spianada, is the place to go for olive wood, jewellery and clothes. The Corfu Leather Market has stacks of good-quality leather goods – from belts to bags – at reasonable prices. It’s near the old port, on the corner of 7 Dona Street and Nikiforou Theotoki Street. For beautiful, if pricey, replicas of ancient sculptures as well as some more affordable glass bowls and kitchenware, try Hercules Vlachos, an upmarket craft shop set one street back from the Liston. The stylish Kamidron on Nikiforou Theotoki offers a chic and unusual range of goods including chunky handmade silver jewellery with a designer touch, shoes from Bali, summer dresses and wind chimes. Terracotta specialises in the work of contemporary Greek artists and sells unique and exclusive items of jewellery as well as wall hangings and statues. Whilst undoubtedly the place to go for something special, prices are not as high as you might think. It’s on Filarmonikis Street. There’s nothing like a trip to the local market to find out what a place and its people are really like. Get up early and head for the fruit and veg market in the moat of the new fortress. It’s worth the effort just to see the old Corfiot ladies making sure they get a bargain.
Open Sat to 2pm and closed Sundays. Opposite the cricket ground you will find the Espianada jewellery shop specialising in fine quality handmade jewellery.
To mingle with Corfu Town’s young and fashionable set, hang out in Cafe au Chokolate, a very trendy Liston cocktail bar. Enjoy a meal at Aegli Restaurant on the Liston the most unique place in Corfu town. Located on the elegant Liston, this restaurant has been offering Greek and International cuisine cooked in the traditional way for over 4o years. If you feel like a break from Greek salads and moussaka, treat yourself to an Italian meal at the up-market and rather romantic II Giardino. Near the Archaeological Museum and open in the evenings only. The views from the candlelit roof terrace of Hotel Lavaliere on 4 Kapodistriou Street make it worth the little bit extra they charge for their cocktails. Pizza Pete serves superior pizza and delicious oven-baked prawns in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s on the main road past the old port. The oldest restaurant in old Corfu town just behind the cricket square. They serve all the best Greek specialities.
Corfu Town has a host of bars and restaurants for guests with a spectrum of tastes. The main street in Corfu Town is where the main selection of restaurants is situated al fresco, which provide a hub of activity early and late evening. For those guests wishing to dance the night away, Corfu Town will not disappoint, there are a number of bouzouki nightclubs, discos, bars and tavernas, which will provide entertainment into the early hours of the morning!