Last updated on October 2nd, 2022 at 12:39 pm
The Old Town of Corfu
Corfu old town is a beautiful medieval-style city influenced by the 411 years of Venetian rule.
The old historic center of Corfu has the most sights and monuments, it is the heart of Kerkyra and is at the easternmost part of the town, between the new fortress in the west and the old fortress in the East.
The modern town is in continuity to the west and south and expands beyond the new fortress into a large urban area that fills the center of the island’s east coast.
Corfu town is the only city and the capital of Corfu island, and it is called Kerkyra, the same as the Greek name of the island.
Corfu Town Video
What is old Corfu Town like?
Corfu does not look like any other Greek city, its architecture and most other elements of its cultural identity are not so Greek but influenced by many conquerors who ruled the island through the centuries.
The Venetian character remains unchanged due to the preservation of almost all the Italian architectural buildings scattered all over the place. Corfu town has old tall buildings, separated by slopes and narrow streets called Kantounia, so it looks like a small replica of Venice but without channels.
In addition, there are important signs and remnants left after the 50 years of British domination with the palace of St Michael and St George being the most important. Also monuments from the French occupation too, Liston to be one of them.
Old monuments of Byzantine origin are still preserved with the most important being the old fortress fortified for the first time by the Byzantines.
Also, other marks were left by various other conquerors during the island’s turbulent history.
Corfu town’s wider urban area today is inhabited by some 45,000 inhabitants, while the Venetian-style old town part has about 20.000 residents. It is a densely populated city, therefore Corfu offers many job opportunities for those who want to stay in it permanently. You can help yourself and find a job in Corfu.
The Old Corfu town part
A photo from the roof of the Cavalieri hotel shows a magnificent view of the Esplanade square and the old fortress of Corfu. The entire area is from the Cofineta district at the North up to the sea of north Garitsa bay. You can see the Palace of Saints Michael and George at the far North of the vast square, the kiosk in the middle, and the majestic Old fortress Eastwards.
They say the best way to discover a place is to get lost within it. This is perfectly true for Corfu’s old town. Mostly built around the 19th century, the old town still has some Venetian touches here and there, you just need to keep your eyes peeled to spot them.
Wander around the cobblestone streets, peer into some shops, enjoy a traditional treat at an artisanal shop or café and before you know it you may have wound up to the hill above Corfu bay, where you’ll get some stunning views of the town up above!
Is it worth going to Corfu Town?
Without a doubt, vacations in Corfu can’t be complete without a visit, at least, to the island’s capital. Corfu town or Kerkyra is the most interesting place on the whole island, an amazing city with countless monuments and sights since antiquity and especially the Venetian era, actually listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The whole Old Town part is inside the walls of the two fortresses, the Old Fort on the East and the New fortress on the North and West. Thus it is called Kastropolis (A town within castles) and is the only one of its kind in Greece.
The most beautiful part of Corfu is the Old part of the city, with old tall buildings, standing here for centuries, and narrow alleys in between.
Buildings here are made of stone and wood and traditional roofs with tiles.
Old Corfu town is bounded on the east by the old fortress and on the North by the sea of the old port. On the West by the streets of Akadimias, Gerasimos Aspiotis, Spyros Desyllas, and Spyros Vlaikos, the road under the new fortress.
Districts of Corfu old Town Center
The old Corfu town part has 7 districts.
- Porta Remounta is the southern district near the sea of Garitsa.
- Pentofanaro is exactly in the Liston area.
- Kofineta, west of the Palace of St. Michael and George.
- Agioi Pateres is at the center of the town.
- The Jewish sector, is close to the new fortress.
- Spilia on the old port.
- Kampielo is in the Northern part of the city.
Most of the old city streets have now become only pedestrian streets and car traffic is peripheral to the city.
The only roads of the town center used by cars are Agoniston Polytechniou, Arseniou, Donzelot, and Zavitsianou streets.
The Modern City of Corfu
The new city expands to the west of the New Fortress and the old town. It looks completely different from the old part as it is dominated by cement buildings and the roads are larger.
But even here, Old neoclassic buildings and other monuments are not missing.
Examples are; The building of the 1st Gymnasium which used to be the Scaramanga building that once housed the Italian School.
The Marasleion Mansion on Alexandra Avenue houses the services of the City Hall.
The Villa Rosa, is a beautiful but abandoned and almost destroyed house beyond San Rocco square.
Some very old Churches of the many that exist in the town and many more.
Can you swim in Corfu Town?
Of course, you can swim.
Although Corfu Town is not the best place for swimming, there are a few smaller “city beaches” in the city, they are a bit cramped and not the most kid-friendly but good enough for you to swim while in Corfu town.
But let’s find out more helpful details about them.
First is Faliraki, a public beach below the Palace at Faliraki promontory, it’s also called Aleko’s baths.
A road leads down to it from Arseniou street.
There’s a small entrance fee but lower than that of Mon Repos.
The beach here is small and not as good for swimming, especially when a ship goes by and the waves come crashing in.
Yet, it can be a pleasant spot to sit under an umbrella and look at the spectacular views of the Palace, the Old Fortress, and Vido island at the sea. There is a restaurant that serves food and drinks here, too.
2) The facilities of NAOK (Nautical Sports Club of Corfu)
What is NAOK?
Well, it is the Nautical Athletic group Of Kerkyra, an athletic club that deals with water sports such as swimming, rowing, and sailing, and has offered a lot of great athletes in Greek sports.
NAOK facilities are close to the Southside of Old Fortress, the entrance is free and you can use the dock for a dive, it is not a beach though.
3) Mon Repos Beach
Another spot used by the locals for a quick dive is under the Mon Repos Palace, this one looks more like a beach but is not very attractive. Is it called Mon Repos beach and its entrance is at the south end of Garitsa bay, close to Anemomylos.
Also, the jetty in Anemomylos is a place for swimming inside Corfu town, although you can’t call it exactly a beach, rather than a rocky area with some shingles. The area is a very picturesque place thought.
Is Corfu Town open on Sundays?
During the holiday season, and especially in the summer, almost all shops are open, except the public services. Anyway, nobody will notice any difference on Sundays or any other day of the week. The visitors are so many that shops like restaurants and cafes are always open.
Also, sights and monuments such as the two fortresses and others are always accessible to the public.
Things to do and see inside old Corfu town
Below there is a list of the most important buildings or monuments that characterize the city, and they should be visited by every visitor.
We present them starting from the oldest.
1) Old Fortress
Without a doubt, the most important monument and the first that you must visit is the Old Fortress. It is a rocky cape, a natural fortress on the eastern edge of the Town.
Ancient Corfu, on the Peninsula of Kanoni, was destroyed in 562 CE after an invasion by the Visigoths. The few surviving residents found shelter in this natural defending spot which was later named the Old fortress. Here they built the first medieval city, the Citadel.
This citadel is separated from the mainland, since the Venetian era, by a narrow moat, but this doesn’t stop visitors from venturing out to see it.
The Byzantines have used the promontory already since the 5th century CE as a natural fortification for the first small medieval town. Then and between 1300 and 1700 its fortifications were strengthened to protect the island from invaders.
Its strategic position on the shore, and its high tops, made it easier for soldiers to spot unknown boats on the horizon, giving them time to alert everyone on the island of potential danger. When you visit you’ll get to see some of the original weapons they used to protect themselves, as well as make the most of a stunning sea view.
You’ll be amazed at how close the Old Fortress is to the city, which means it’s really easy to get to, no matter how you plan on traveling. You can even walk if you’ve got the whole day free!
The Old Fortress fortifications were improved much later during the Venetian occupation.
2) The New Fortress
Great city features of the very important period of Venetian rule are the New Fortress and the vast Esplanade Square.
The new fortress was built between 1576 and 1588 on the low hill of Saint Markos in the north of the city.
Its walls then reached the sea up to Garitsa bay in the south, thus defending the whole of Corfu from the west.
The construction of the fortress resulted in the creation of the Esplanade. The largest square in the Balkans.
Esplanade was created after the demolition of about 2.500 houses in front of the Old Fortress. This was done to create a defensive zone in front of the old fortress and to find building materials for the construction of the New Fortress.
3) San Giacomo theater
Leaving Esplanade and Pentofanaro, south of Liston, we follow Evgenios Voulgaris Street. At the intersection with M. Theotoki street, we will meet the old building of San Giacomo.
The building was built in 1663 to become the noblest arcade of “loggia Nobili”. Later this beautiful building housed the San Giacomo Theater and today the Corfu Town Hall.
Just a few yards from San Giacomo, at the junction with Vrachlioti Street, almost at the center of the old town, we find Annunziata. In fact, only the bell tower of it, as the church built at the end of the 14th century and dedicated to the Annunciation has been destroyed.
Annunziata is a monument of pan-European importance, see on the page about Annunziata why.
5) Liston and Esplanade square
During the short time that the French remained in Corfu, they left important signs of their presence with the most important of them being the Liston. This series of buildings with arched galleries on the west of Esplanade square is no doubt one of the most beautiful buildings in Corfu. Worth noting that these were originally built to be military barracks.
Liston today is the most cosmopolitan spot in the city.
6) The Palace of St Michael and George
During the 50 years of English domination of the island, many majestic buildings were built.
Undoubtedly the most important is the imposing Palace of St Michael and George on the northern side of Esplanade Square was built in 1819.
7) The Palace of Mon Repos
Outside the city in Kanoni peninsula is the Mon Repos palace, also build during British domination inside the area of Ancient Corfu.
8) The Ionian Parliament
During the same period, the Ionian Parliament was built at the junction of Moustoxidi and Napoleon Zambelli streets. The building was built in 1855 and is dominated by the 4 Doric-style columns on the entrance.
At that time the British cemetery was constructed as well as the first psychiatric hospital on Greek territory.
But the British left some smaller buildings too such as the round peristyle of Thomas Maitland, a round kiosk with 20 Ionian-style pillars that was designed by the engineer George Whitmore. This peristyle was built on top of Sterna (cistern) in the upper square.
Some British habits also remain after they left the island. Cricket for instance, which, on Greek territory, is played only in Corfu.
Gingerbeer and the Kum Kouat tree from China were brought here by the British. They also built the aqueduct and many other infrastructure projects.
9) Church of St. Spyridon (Agios Spyridon)
Whether you consider yourself a spiritual person or not, this church is an essential part of the culture and heritage of Corfu, so if you’re interested in its history, it’s a must-see.
The church is dedicated to Corfu’s patron saint, Saint Spyridon. In fact, in the church’s sarcophagus are the actual remains of the saint, who lived around 320 CE, and played an essential role during the first council of Nicaea in 325 CE.
This church also has a beautiful bell that stands tall above all buildings in the town, you’ll definitely spot it whilst walking around, so be sure to pay it a visit.
10) Scuola Greca
Over the centuries, Corfu has had great Jewish influence and was the host of a rich and dynamic Jewish community of up to 50,000 members at one point. The size of this community has dramatically decreased, to approximately 80 today.
Despite being four separate synagogues at one point, only one remains today, the Scuola Greca. It’s a remarkable yellow construction dating from the 1800s, and the only one to survive the bombings of WW2.
The story behind this series of events is surely an interesting and heart-wrenching one. As bombs were dropped and Jews were commanded to stay in their homes, it’s reported that around 200 were able to escape, but the ones who remained were rounded up by Nazis and shipped off to concentration camps like Auschwitz.
Even today, the small Jewish community in this area exists and is made up of around 80 Jews, most of which (as of 2010) were Holocaust survivors. This makes the area such an important memorial area and a reminder of the darker times of human civilization.
If you’re looking for a drop of eye-opening perspective in your life, this could be the culturally important place you need to go.
These are many attractions that the various conquerors left in Corfu town. There are dozens more. Together the historical heritage of this city makes up one of the most beautiful and richest cities in Greece.
Overall, Kerkyra is a unique place, beautiful and beautifully rich, with its architecture, culture, and of course its history. Whether you’re looking to hit the beach as soon as possible, cocktail in hand, or whether you’re more the kind to get lost in the streets of the city and wander around till sundown, Corfu town has got you covered!