Corfu is one of Greece's northernmost islands. It's located in the eastern Ionian Sea, and residents can see nearby Albania from the harbor at old town Corfu. The island is packed with visitors during the summer months. Many come to explore old town Corfu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; see the historic palace of Empress Elisabeth (Sissy); enjoy one of the beaches, or sit at a bar overlooking the airport and watch the planes take off and land at the tiny international airport.
This photo tour of Corfu provides information on the things to do and see with a day on the Greek island of Corfu. Cruise ships sailing eastern Mediterranean cruises offer tours to many interesting sites in and near the old town and others elsewhere on the island. The history and mix of Greek, Venetian, and English architecture make Corfu a fascinating place to spend a day or more.
Things to See on the Greek Island of Corfu - Achilleion Palace
The Achilleion Palace seen in the photo above is one of Corfu's most popular places to visit. Today it is a government-owned museum, but this villa was built over 100 years ago and features some mementos of two famous previous owners--Empress Elisabeth (Sissy or Sisi) of Austria and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.
Statue of Empress Elisabeth at Achilleion Palace on Corfu
Empress Elisabeth of Austria (also known as Sissy or Sisi) became engaged to Emperor Franz Joseph I only five days after they met and married him eight months later. She was only 16. The Emperor's mother Archduchess Sophie had handpicked Sisi's older sister as his bride, but he rebelled against his mother and chose Sisi instead. For him, it was a love match. Because of this insult, the Archduchess never liked Sisi, which probably contributed to the young empress spending most of her time away from Vienna. Sisi had many health issues, some of which were probably due to issues with her domineering mother-in-law. Sisi found she felt better in a warmer climate. Her favorite vacation destination was Corfu.
Sisi loved Corfu and Greek history and architecture. The Empress visited Corfu often and even learned to speak Greek fluently before she had a summer home built there. She built the Achilleion Palace between 1889 and 1891 to honor the Greek god Achilles since she admired the themes of escapism and romanticism. Statues of Achilles and other Greek gods once adorned the palace and the spacious grounds. Sisi visited quite often in the summer, and the property offers great views of the sea from its location on a hilltop about six miles south of old town Corfu. She loved to walk and spent many hours hiking on the island of Corfu.
In 1898, at the age of 60, Empress Elisabeth was stabbed in the side by an Italian anarchist. Since she always wore a very tight, uncomfortable corset, she didn't even realize she had been stabbed between the stays of the corset until her maid noticed she was bleeding. She died soon afterward, and the palace stayed vacant for over seven years before it was purchased by King Wilhelm II of Germany in 1907.
Entry to Achilleion Palace on Corfu
Visitors to the Achilleion Palace on Corfu can tour the inside and the gardens. Very little of Sisi's original interiors remains, but the palace is beautiful on the inside and outside.
Sisi hated aging and refused to be painted or have any artwork of her done after she was 30. Sisi also didn't like keeping a set schedule, so had the hands of all the clocks removed. She was definitely rebellious for a royal!
More of King Wilhelm's mementos can be found inside the Achilleion Palace since he visited frequently prior to the start of World War I. During that war, the French and Serbian armies used the Palace as a military hospital. After the end of the war, the Greek government took possession of the palace (Greece was on the winning side of the war), but it sat vacant for many years. During World War II, it was used by the occupying forces of Germany and Italy but was returned to the Greek government after that war. In 1962, Greece leased the Palace to a private company who transformed the upper floors into the country's first casino. In 1983, the Greek Tourism Organization took over responsibility for Achilleion, and it was restored as a palace in time to be used for the European Union Summit in 1994.
Since 1994, it has been open to visitors and also used for special events.
Mouse Island and the Church of Panagia Vlacherna at Kanoni on Corfu
Kanoni is a suburb of old town Corfu. It is also the site of Corfu's oldest settlement and is the site of the island's most photographed place--Mouse Island and the Church of Panagia Vlacherna seen in the photo above.
The 17th-century Greek Orthodox Church is connected to the mainland by a small causeway. Although the chapel is very small, it has some beautiful frescoes inside.
Mouse Island was named because of its tiny size. Greek mythology claims that the lush green, rocky island was once the ship of Ulysses that was stoned by Poseidon. A 13th-century church is in the middle of the island.
Corfu Airport Runway
Airports are not usually included as a tourist site, but residents and visitors often visit one of the Kanoni bars overlooking the Corfu international airport. The airport is tiny but very busy in the summer. It's fun to sit in one of the bars that overlook Mouse Island on the left and the airport on the right, very close to the Church of Panagia Vlacherna.
Old Town of Corfu, Greece
Old Town Corfu was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 because of its architecture, which includes a mixture of all the different cultures that influenced the town. The old town dates back to the 8th century BC, but much of the town reflects its Venetian and British heritage.
The Venetian empire controlled Corfu from the 14th to the 18th century, fending off the Ottomans on several occasions. Corfu is one of the few places in Greece that never was under Turkish control. Although Corfu fought off the Ottomans, they couldn't resist Napoleon, so the island was under French control from 1796 to 1815. The British moved in next, and the island flourished until it officially became part of Greece in 1864. Corfu may be Greek, but many British residents love to vacation on the island.
The old town is well preserved and is filled with quaint shops of all types. It's fun to explore on foot, and the limestone streets look much like those in Dubrovnik.
The Liston in Corfu, Greece
The Liston is Corfu's most famous street and features terraces with arcades and fashionable cafes. It was built in 1807 and is a good example of Napoleonic period architecture. Over the centuries, residents and visitors have strolled along The Liston, taking the time to enjoy a drink in one of the cafes or bars. It was a place to be seen, check out the latest fashions, and even look for a bride or groom.
Across the street from the Liston is the Spianáda, which is a large park that once separated the old town from the fortress. At one time, the French used the park as a firing range, and the British used it as a cricket pitch.
One Corfu guide told us that the street used to be very restricted. Not everyone could promenade up and down the street; your name had to be on a List--therefore it was nicknamed Liston. The term "Liston" also refers to the marble slabs used to pave the streets. That's probably true, but I like the guide's story better.
Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George in Corfu, Greece
The Palace of St. Michael and St. George, which is also called the Royal Palace, is on the opposite side of the Spianáda from The Liston. It was built from 1814-1824 during the early days of British domination. The palace has played many roles during its history. It was once a government building and a summer house for the Greek Royal family. Today it is Corfu's Museum of Asian Art.
Old Fortress in Corfu, Greece
The Old Fortress of Corfu town occupies a prominent place on a rocky peninsula that juts out into the Ionian Sea. The Venetians built the Old Fortress in the 15th century and it remains an iconic symbol of the 400 years of Venetian rule. Although the fortress is still standing, the buildings inside the fortress that once served as homes for the military and aristocracy are long gone. The buildings inside the Old Fortress mostly date back to the British period of the 19th century.
It is important to note that Corfu also has a "New Fortress" near the old port that was built between 1577 and 1588, only 30 years after the "Old Fortress". It is not as large as the Old Fortress but kept the Turks out of Corfu in 1716.
Both the New Fortress and the Old Fortress are interesting places to visit. The Old Fortress has the city's only Doric-style church inside its walls and offers great views of Corfu town. The New Fortress is filled with many tunnels and fortifications that will fascinate those who love to explore old forts.
Outside of Corfu town, visitors will find many other historical sites, lovely beaches, water sports of all types, and great hiking trails. Corfu has a much different look than the dry islands of the Aegean, but many visitors return again and again to this lovely green island of the Ionian Sea.