Last updated on July 28th, 2021 at 12:15 pm
Corfu (Kerkyra) is one of the most important and beautiful islands in Greece, perhaps the greenest island with dense vegetation on a landscape full of wild colorful flowers, bushes, and more than 2 million olive trees.
The island is unmatched in natural beauty with dozens of sightseeing, beautiful beaches for you to explore on a coastline more than 215km long, and a well-developed road network.
The undisputed Queen of the Ionian islands is surrounded by the famous Ionian turquoise sea and therefore is called the Emerald Island of Greece.
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Where in Greece is Corfu?
Corfu is located in the northern Ionian Sea at the northwestern edge of Greece, opposite the coast of the Greek mainland and southern Albania, it is the westmost part of Greece.
It sits at a distance of 600 km northwest from Athens, and maybe nearer to Italy, but what it offers is well worth the visit.
Northwest of Corfu there are three small islands, named Othoni, Mathraki, and Erikoussa respectively, known as the Diapontian islands, and to the south are the islands of Paxos and Antipaxos.
All together they form the Prefecture of Corfu.
Brief Historic facts
Corfu is also an island with a long history and has been notable in Greek culture and tradition for over 3000 years.
Is inhabited since the Paleolithic era and later by the Phaeacians as mentioned in the Odyssey.
The island, due to its strategic position, had a turbulent history. Corfu has experienced many conquerors and had only very few quiet periods during its long historical course.
The greatest civilizations that existed on earth, such as Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, later followed by Russians and the great French and British Empires, wanted to control Corfu and eventually became part of its history.
The first Greek settlers from Corinth arrived here in 750 BC and created the first indigenous population of the island.
Later, the Goths destroyed the ancient city in 500 CE, followed by Andegavs, Byzantines, Venetians, French, Russians, and British.
All these came as conquerors and left their mark on the island, so Corfu has a multifaceted historical and cultural heritage that still exists today.
Culturally Corfu is very different from the rest of Greece as it was a vital part of the powerful maritime state of Venice when the rest of Greece was under Ottoman oppression.
The 411 years of Venetian rule had the more significant impact, something that can be seen in the culture of the island and its architectural features, in the local cuisine and food, in the musical tradition, and generally in every aspect of the Corfiot identity.
That era shaped and influenced the cultural character of the island and its residents. Because the development of arts and culture, in general, differentiates the landscape in complete contrast to the rest of Greece.
Corfu was influenced by the west, while the rest of the country was forced to look east.
The Venetian period was followed by the French dependencies.
First, the democratic French arrived, and later the imperial rule of Napoleon was followed by the Russians.
Finally, we had the English protectorate period until 1864, when together with the rest of the Ionian Islands, Corfu unified with Greece.
Where the name Corfu came from?
During the Middle Ages, the Latins gave the island and the town the name Corypho, derived from the Greek word Koryphai or Korphes.
Koryphai(ancient Greek) is the word for Tops or Peaks, paraphrased by the Latins to Corypho and later to Corfu, today’s international name of the island. So Corfu means the Island of Tops.
It is so because of the two peaks in the peninsula of the old fortress or more possible of the two tops of its highest mountain Pantokrator.
Since ancient times, Homer refers to this island as Scheria. But the island also carried the name Drepanon(sickle) because it has the shape of a sickle.
It is obvious that from the name Corypho the current international name of Corfu was derived.
The Greek name Kerkyra
The Greek name Kerkyra is derived from the nymph Corcyra, the daughter of the river god Asopos.
According to Greek Mythology, Corkyra was kidnapped by the god of the sea Poseidon (Neptune, as called by the Romans) who brought her here, then Phaiax was born as the result of their union, Phaiax was the founder of Phaeacians, the first known residents of Corfu.
The name Corkyra transformed to Kerkyra in Doric dialect and this is the modern Greek name for the island.
What is Corfu known for?
- The lush landscape.
- By the endless and beautiful sandy beaches.
- The long, fascinating, and turbulent history.
- Also by the beautiful sightseeing.
- It is the densest populated Hellenic(Greek) Island.
- By the many and Unique monuments left behind by the colonial rulers.
- The fantastic Cuisine influenced by Venetian and Greek food.
- A strong tourist infrastructure with exceptional luxury hotels among the best in Greece.
- Corfu town is the only Kastropolis in Hellas(Greece), a city surrounded by the walls of its castles.
- It was the first Hellenic(Greek) island to open its doors to the first tourists.
- On Corfu was the first Hellenic University in 1823 still operates today. The Ionian Academy.
- The first commercial bank on Greek territory was here. The Ionian bank.
- Also, the first electricity factory on Greek territory was operating here before 1860.
- The first theater in modern Greece was in Corfu.
- And the largest square in the Balkans is Esplanade square.
- This island is the place with the largest musical and intellectual tradition by far in Greece.
- Corfu has the only Georgian-style Palace outside the UK, the Palace of Saints Michael and George.
- It was the birthplace of many Royals of Europe, i.e Philip Prince of Edinburg.
- The Durrells family were residents of Corfu from 1936 to 1940.
- Is the home of the only cricket team in Hellas.
- The old city of Corfu, A UNESCO Heritage monument, keeps its multicultural character with Venetian, English, and French influences.
- And finally, by the fact that this island never felt the Ottoman oppression.
All these make Corfu the most important island of the Ionians and one of the most fascinating in Greece.
How big is Corfu in miles?
It is the second-largest of the Ionian Islands and the seventh biggest island in Greece, so it’s a medium-sized island with an area of 593 km2 (146,500 acres).
The length of the island, in a straight line, from north to south is not more than 61 km(40 miles) and the greatest width is 27 km (17 miles). The beautiful and beaches-rich coastline has a total length of 217 km(135 miles).
The road network is not always in the best condition but is very dense. The main part of the national road, from Paleokastritsa to the town and down to Lekimi, has a total length of about 100km.
How to come to Corfu?
In recent years, Corfu has become one of the favorite destinations for Greek tourists, especially during the Easter holiday, which has gained nationwide attention with its unique traditions, and August when Greek and Italian visitors mingle with those from further north.
Since the Egnatia highway has been built it is easily accessible from residents of northern Greece too.
From the port of Igoumenitsa on the mainland, there is a very frequent modern ferry service, some crossing to Corfu in just over an hour, ferries from Igoumenitsa also land in the southern harbor of Lefkimi.
More ferries to Corfu comes from the city of Patras in western Greece and from Italy, the trip from Patra takes between 6 to 7 hours.
The flight from Athens takes 45 minutes while the flight from most European airports takes between two to three and a half hours.
Where to stay in Corfu?
This island offers plenty of beautiful resorts suitable for everyone, old or young.
For families, the best places are the large resorts with organized beaches and a lot of facilities such as Saint George of the south at the southwest coast.
Glyfada, the most cosmopolitan beach, Agios Gordios, and Pelekas in the middle west.
Ipsos and Dasia at the East, Nissaki, and the whole northeast side of the island.
Benitses can be ideal due to their proximity to Corfu town, Moraitika, and Messonghi due to their huge and calm sandy beach.
The picturesque Paleokastritsa with plenty of hidden beaches around.
All resorts for families and many more can be found on this page.
See also all your choices on the page about the Best Corfu Resorts and Holiday Destinations
Places like Sidari offer more lively nightlife and therefore fit better the taste for the younger, also Kavos in the Southend is still a resort for the young and crazy. Also many other places around.
Never to forget the town itself, it is quite enough for families with children and busy for the young at heart, as many choices in monuments, sights and nightclubs are all present.
If you intend to stay in a hotel, here is a perfect selection of good hotels around the island. Don’t miss checking them out.
How many people living in Corfu?
According to the census of 2011, Corfu’s population is 111.113 inhabitants. Although including temporary and semi-permanent residents the total number approaches 150,000 people.
The old part of Corfu town alone has 30,000 inhabitants and along with the suburbs of Kanoni, Potamos, Kanalia, Kontokali, and Alepou reach almost 50.000 residents.
Fact: Corfu has a large British community. Almost 10% of the population consists of British residents who made this island their home, most of them living in the north part of the island.
There are other nationalities as permanent residents too and their numbers keep increasing.
So, Corfu is not just another holiday destination. Corfu island offers a great quality of living and is used as a permanent home by many others.
Corfu, according to its size, is the third most populous place in Greece. After Athens and Thessaloniki.
Geography of the Island
The northern part of the island is mostly mountainous and is dominated in the northeast by Mount Pantokrator (the ancient Istone mountain). Its highest peak is the easterly one of Pantokrator (914 meters) and a little lower is Stravoskiadi peak a few miles to the west at 849 meters.
The mountain continues westward and dominates the northwest part of the island whose highest peak is Troumpeta at 600 meters.
In the middle of the island, there is another mountainous area above the villages of Stavros and Agioi Deka, The highest peak here is above Agioi Deka where the crater of an extinct volcano at an altitude of 600 meters can be visited and where there is an aviation radar station.
The southern part of Corfu is mostly flat with a few hills above the villages of Chlomos and Saint Mattheos.
The rest of the island is a fertile plain with small hills.
In 2011 there was an administrative reform called “Callikrates”. Because of this, the Prefecture of Corfu became one municipality. The municipality of Corfu emerged from the merger of the 12 former municipalities.
The municipalities of Corfiots, Achilleion, Thinalion, Lefkimi, Korrision, Paleokastriton, Melitieon, Saint George, Esperion, Feakon, Kassopaion, and Parelion.
Plus the communities in the satellite islands of Diapontia and Paxos.
Municipalities in Corfu Kerkyra
Since 2018 we have had another administrative reform called “Cleisthenes”. Due to this, the Prefecture separated again into four(4) municipalities:
1)The Metropolitan Municipality of Central Corfu and Diapontian islands (Population 68.500). Which includes the original municipal units of Corfiots, Achilleion, Paleokastriton, Feakon, and Parelion. Plus the three communities in the Diapontian islands in the North.
2)The municipality of the North(Population 17.200). Which includes the former municipal units of Thinalion, Saint George, Esperion, and Kassopaion.
3)The municipality of the South(Population 15.700). Which includes the original municipal units of Lefkimi, Melitieon, and Korrision.
4)The municipality in Paxos(Population 2.440) with the town hall in the capital Gaios.
Climate and Corfu weather
The climate is generally mild with hot and dry summers and very mild but wet winters. In Corfu, it rarely snows and when it does it snows only on the top of Mount Pantokrator. Read more about the weather in Corfu.
On the rest of the island, most Corfiots will see snow only 2 or 3 times during their lifetime.
January is the coldest month of the year while July is the hottest.
The average lows in January are 4-5°C(41°F) and the highs are 15°C(58°F), but sometimes can drop way below zero.
In July low averages are 20°C(70°F) and the hights are around 35°C(95°F), but some days absolute high can reach over 40°C(110°F), these are the difficult days.
During the months in between, temperatures vary accordingly.
The Town of Corfu – Kerkyra
The first view of Corfu from the sea is the medieval town of Corfu(Kerkyra in Greek).
Corfu Town has also the name Kastropolis which means a city inside castles because in the past it was one of the few cities in the world surrounded by the walls of both the old and new fortresses, maintaining intact its Venetian style with narrow streets (alleys) and tall buildings, a standard Italian rather than Greek city that has barely changed despite the intense development.
The city offers numerous attractions and monuments that need days to explore and admire.
A Corfu Town Video
Check out this video of Corfu town by Nektarios Spinoulas.
Influences by Corfu`s conquerors
Culturally Corfu is very different from the rest of Greece, as whilst they had to suffer the Turkish occupation Corfu was a vital part of the powerful maritime state of Venice.
This was the era that shaped and fundamentally influenced the cultural character of the island and its residents.
On one side the authoritarian attitude of the feudal ruling class of nobles created continual opposition and popular movements on the part of the poor people, whilst the other side the development of arts and culture, in general, differentiate the landscape in complete contrast to the rest of Greece as Corfu was influenced by the west, while the rest of the country was forced to look east.
The Venetian period was followed by the French dependencies, first the democratic French and later the imperial rule of Napoleon followed briefly by the Russians and finally the English protectorate period until 1864 when together with the rest of the Ionian Islands Corfu was unified with Greece.
Things to Do and monuments to See in Corfu
All these influences have left their marks, so on the island, there are now buildings and monuments from the ancient Greek and Roman times onwards, especially in the old town which is actually an extremely beautiful miniature of Venice without the canals.
Things to do inside the town of Kerkyra
There are plenty of things you can do in the town, Corfu has many museums, monuments, and cultural centers.
Here you can visit the old and the new fortresses and see the Esplanade square, perhaps the biggest in Europe.
The Liston, a meeting place for the nobles of the past is now a social hub for all Corfiots, and the Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George (known as the old palace) which today houses many museums and exhibitions are both located around this square.
The Ionian Academy the first university of Greece founded in 1824 here, the Ionian Parliament building is nearby, as is the town hall which was built in 1663 initially as the Hall of Nobles (Loggia dei Nobili) and later became the Theatre of San Giacomo.
Worth noticing that the first modern Greek university was established here, and by 1850 there was an electrical power plant that moved to Piraeus after the union with Greece.
Things to do outside the town
There are numerous other places of cultural interest, museums, and monuments outside Corfu town, such as the Byzantine fortress north of Paleokastritsa called Aggelokastro, the ruins of a castle in Kassiopi, the Byzantine castle in Gardiki at Southwest, and the ruins of Venetian shipyard at Gouvia. Also known as the Venetian Arsenal.
All gorgeous spots that you shouldn’t miss!
The palace is named after the legendary mythical hero Achilles and reflects Sisi’s love of classical Greece.
Brilliant Kaiser’s bridge on the beach of Achilleion was built by the German Kaiser Wilhelm the second, the owner of the Achilleion Palace after Elizabeth’s death.
The sea museum in Benitses, the museum of olives at the village of Kynopiastes, old neoclassical houses of all sizes, mansions, small museums, fascinating collections, and ancient remains can be seen in many villages.
Kerkyra has retained its medieval style as the town had the fortune never to have ever been hit by powerful earthquakes as sadly happened in Kefalonia and Zakynthos because although it is located in the seismic geology of the Ionian arc, it sits in a more stable part of the earth’s crust which cannot produce earthquakes capable to destroy the unique architecture of the city of Corfu.
The traditional Corfu cuisine
Corfu food has been catalytically influenced by the Venetians.
All recipes of Corfiot cuisine came from Venice, adapted to the local products and the climate of the island.
Many unknown until the Venetian era products, such as tomato, beans, peppers, corn, coffee, chocolate, sugar, and some expensive spices were brought here by the Venetians.
These contributed, along with the olive oil, to the formation of the distinct Corfiot cuisine, with unique dishes like Pastitsada, Sofrito, Bourdeto to be the most famous, and others.
See in detail those traditional recipes and learn more about the yummy Corfu food on the page about Corfu cuisine.
Corfu environment and biodiversity
Environmentally Corfu is a whole continent in miniature. It has an immensely varied landscape, from lush forests and green mountains to deserted sandy beaches reminiscent of the Sahara. They all contain unique ecosystems rich in biodiversity.
This insurmountable landscape has inspired various writers and artists as well as great personalities of art and culture from around the world.
There are hundreds of rare species of birds, wildlife, insects, and all kinds of plants and trees that can be found in the Mediterranean and further away too.
The dominant tree is the olive tree, seconded by citrus fruit trees, whilst the cypress spires remind us of Corfu’s Italian inheritance.
Corfu has the highest rainfall and the richest soil in Greece and could be self-sufficient in all areas of production, but the development of tourism and other factors have led the population to other ways of making a living.
Definitely, Corfu is an island well worth visiting, To explore it and understand it two or three weeks are not enough.
Corfu is like a great work of art that reveals itself more and more the longer it is looked at.