Top things to do in Corfu

Here's your guide to a variety of fascinating places to visit and great things to do on your next trip to the Greek Island of Corfu.

By Andy Stevens

Published 6 May 2024

Corfu has long been a magnet for European royalty in its many and changing guises, who obviously knew a good thing when they saw one.

No more so than Austria's Empress Elizabeth, who in the 1890s commissioned the creation - by Italian architect Raffaele Caritto - of the lavish Achilleion Palace in Gastouri, a few miles south of Corfu Town.

This sumptuous summer palace, however, is more than just a 19th century exercise in building-based bling, had there been such a word at the time.

There are imperial and stately neo-classical flourishes throughout its rooms, courtyards and mannered gardens; these ancient Greek stylings and statues were something of a preoccupation of the Empress, we're led to believe.

And the palace is named in honour of Greek warrior Achilles, after all.

Achilleion Palace harboured a chequered but colourful history in the 20th century. Kaiser Wilhem II of Germany bought the palace from the Austrian empress, and in World War One it served as a military hospital.

In World War Two, Achilleion was used as a military headquarters; it has even had a stint as a casino and featured in the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only.

Now, this splendid place is a firm favourite among visitors to Corfu as a day trip destination.

Corfu's fortunate accident of a magnificent geographical location has blessed the island with a near-perfect climate when it comes to affairs of the noble grape.

Small-scale wine producers are in abundance. And we mean small; there's nothing new or faddy about the trend for manufacturing craft plonk in manageable amounts in Corfu - it's centuries old.

In fact, you'll find that many villages make their own wine, for locals and visitors to imbibe with a leisurely meal and, if it goes down well of course, to buy a bottle or two.

On a slightly grander scale, you can sup up the Corfiot vino vibe on your trip by visiting the island's best-known vineyard, the Theotoky Estate.

This 150-year-old family vineyard is, suitably enough, in the stunning setting of Corfu's Ropa Valley, not far from Giannades, with traditional buildings, a pine forest, olive groves and those all-important vineyards completing the look of this tranquil estate.

You can take tours of this friendly estate to see how they turn those Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Robolla and Kakotrygis grapes into things of bottled beauty.

Local meze-style nibbles are also available to complement your wine-tasting.

But we'll leave the last word to the estate's superlative olive oil, and its extra virgin variety. Happily, you can buy these oils to take home.

As cheffy types never tire of telling you: it's all about the olive oil.

As is the way with beauty spots, they can take a lot of finding. Paleokastritsa on Corfu's west coast is one such place that's well worth the extra effort.

It would be churlish to suggest that Paleokastritsa is some kind of tourist trade secret.

It is hugely popular, but no worse for that, with the beauty of its bays, beaches and nearby coves - not forgetting its serene monastery - ensuring visitors nurture a lasting love affair with the place.

Paleokastritsa's remote natural delights first came to the attention of a certain British chappy, High Commissioner Sir Frederick Adam, in the early 1800s.

In a burst of pioneering kinship with sunbathers of the future, Sir Frederick oversaw the building of a road to Paleokastritsa to make it more accessible.

Many people who enjoy walking holidays choose Paleokastritsa as a stopping-off point.

On our visits, however, the call of the seas have proved more of a lure, with relaxing beach days in the coves of Alipia, Platakia and Triada, and boat explorations from the village harbour out to its enchanting grottoes.

Time is very much not of the essence in the old villages of southern Corfu. Whatever the local Corfiot slang for 'mañana' might be, then these charming places have got that undervalued commodity down to a tee.

Traditional ways of life are very much the order of the long and languid days in villages such as Garouna and Sinarades.

Of the numerous villages of Corfu's charming south, these two are particularly feted as places where the time-honoured architectural styles of the island still exist, with brightly-coloured doorways and shutters on whitewashed and pastel-tinted houses for you to enjoy as you wander their narrow winding streets.

Sinarades takes the taste for keeping the traditional alive one step further with its absorbing museum of folklore. This museum is set over two floors in an old mansion.

On entering the first floor you'll feel you are taking a genuine step back in time, with its representation of a traditional Corfiot village home, complete with original artefacts, showing how people lived in rural Corfu from the 1860s to the 1960s.

The museum also houses a captivating collection of traditional musical instruments, ceramics, costumes and other ephemera from bygone days.

The period when the British ruled Corfu, from the end of Napoleonic wars through to 1864, left its mark on the island.

And not just with the always-splendid and trivia-friendly fact that there is to this day the surprising sight of a fully-operational cricket ground slapbang in the heart of Corfu Town's main Spianada Square.

The first cricket match played there was between the Royal Navy and the British Garrison, on April 23, 1823. St George's Day - of course. Sadly we don't have a Wisden at hand to check the result.

As well as the sound of leather on willow, also bestowed to Corfu by Blighty's shortlived colonial burghers was the summer palace of Mon Repos, south of Corfu Town.

This beautifully-appointed mansion was built in 1828 and was the brainchild of that man Sir Frederick Adam again (see earlier dispatches), the British High Commissioner who lived there with his wife for just four years until summoned for duties in the then Raj, India.

Many visitors to Mon Repos, set in the gentle seclusion of the Palaiopolis Forest, will these days better know the palace as the birthplace of Corfu's own gift to the British: Prince Philip, who was born there in 1921.

Mon Repos now houses a well-curated museum, which is home to a good collection of artefacts from the Ionian Islands and gives visitors an excellent insight into the history of the island.

The grounds and parkland surrounding Mon Repos are similarly well-tended, and an inspiring place for a walk on your visit.

If you're a fan of art and artefacts akin to many of the Far Eastern treasures you might see, for example, in London's Victoria & Albert Museum, then this island of surprises has another great one in store for you, in the shape of Corfu Town's world-class collection housed in its Museum of Asian Art.

A quick word, if we may, about the fine building which is home to Corfu's exciting collection of more than 10,000 artefacts from Asia.

The Palace of St Michael and St George is a suitably grand 1856 British colonial pile in the distinctive Regency style; a star turn in itself that visitors will find with ease between Corfu's old town district and the Venetian fortress.

The Museum of Asian Art was established in 1927, and its collection was almost wholly donated by visionary founder and one-time Greek ambassador to Austria, Gregorios Manos. Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian artworks are well to the fore, across a variety of artistic mediums including paintings, ceramics and sculptures.

Corfu's old town quarter is a delightful textbook tangle of atmospheric narrow streets, glimpses of history at every turn, and inspiring museums and churches to dip in and out of as you explore on foot.

There are no fewer than 37 churches dotted around the old town, many housing ornate frescoes and iconography.

But the one most visitors make a beeline for is the 15th century Church of Agios Spiridon.

Named after Corfu's patron saint, whose remains are buried in the church, it is an important site of pilgrimage for Corfiots and can be seen from afar, thanks to its distinctive 1620 Venetian bell tower.

And if you want to seize a picture-perfect treat or two from your visit to Corfu old town, we suggest a traipse up to the high ground, where its forts from the times of Byzantine and Venetian rule command spectacular views.

Discover our range of holidays in Greece, including a chance to explore Corfu on our Ionian Island Paradise tour.

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