If Corfu were the first Greek Island you ever saw, you’d be forgiven for thinking it belonged to Italy or France. That’s because this lush, northern Ionian island was conquered by the Venetians and French, both of whom left their mark with distinctive architecture: a massive 15th-century old fortress built by the Venetians and a graceful 18th-century Parisian-style colonnade that dominates the Liston promenade. The Brits staked a claim as well — and there’s a cricket field to prove it.
The island’s beauty goes far beyond the colorful squares and spires of the Old Town of Corfu’s UNESCO World Heritage Site streets. Mountainous and fertile, the island is studded with olive and orange groves and known for stunning Paleokastritsa — a trio of sandy, sapphire-hued bays. A day spent here is filled with lessons in history, geography, and a curious little fruit called the kumquat — candies, preserves, and liqueurs made from it are ubiquitous.
Breakfast: Liston – Head to the Liston for people watching, coffee, and croissants. With two blocks of elegant arcades, modeled after Rue de Rivoli in Paris, you can pick a table with a view to enjoy a midmorning pick-me-up.
Lunch: Golden Fox – The main reason you go here: location, location, location. Yes, tour buses stop at this hillside complex in Lakones housing a hotel, a restaurant, and a gift shop for the panoramic view of Paleokastritsa’s bays, and the prices reflect that. But if you want to bliss out away from the bustle of Corfu’s Old Town, this is a great spot. Keep things simple with a Greek salad or grilled lamb — and bring your swimsuits so you can use the pool.
Dinner: Sapori e Vini – If your ship sails on the later side (after 10 pm) and you’ve had your fill of tzatziki, reserve a table for 7 pm (opening time) to enjoy modern Mediterranean flavors, complemented by a Greek wine list. The restaurant is set on three levels overlooking a garden courtyard near the base of the New Fortress, and its menu features marinated avocado with prawns wrapped in a cheese pastry, wild mushroom risotto, and pork fillet stuffed with plums and goat cheese.
Dessert: Kumquat sweets – Savor the unique flavor of Corfu after you leave by stocking up on delicious, individually wrapped candies made from this tiny, orange-like fruit grown on the northwest part of the island. Many shops in Corfu sell them.
For Everyone: Old Town – Corfu’s Old Town is entirely doable on foot and is wonderfully photogenic. Begin with the sixth-century Old Fortress, so you can hike to the top and enjoy the view before the sun gets too intense. Next, cross the grassy spianada (esplanade) and head toward the red steeple in the center of Old Town. This is the Church of St. Spyridon, the island’s patron saint. His elaborate silver sarcophagus and relics are in a tiny rear chapel. Wander back streets past shops selling carved olive wood and olive soap until you make your way to the Liston promenade, where archways shelter cafes with tables ideal for sipping iced coffee or cocktails.
For Couples: Private tour – Corfu is visually captivating, so negotiate a fee with an English-speaking taxi driver to take you to see the highlights: the bays of Paleokastritsa (best viewed from Lakones), Kanoni, and Mouse Island. A private tour isn’t in the budget? Arrange a transfer to Paleokastritsa Beach — many ships offer one, or you can take a taxi — where you can rent pedal boats and kayaks, or parasail.
For Families: Aqualand – After conquering the Old Fortress — who doesn’t love a good climb up old stone pathways? — ditch the history lessons and reward your kids with a few hours at this amusement park in Agios Ioannis, where wave pools, giant water slides, a lazy river, and more offer a refreshing alternative to Greece’s plentiful museums, churches, and ruins.
For the Adventurous: Mountain biking – Strap on helmets and explore Corfu’s pristine beauty with rentals from Corfu Mountain Bikes or the Corfu Mountain Bike Shop. Visiting the island on a really hot day? Consider diving instead, and sign up for an excursion with the Blue Paradise diving center or Dive Easy.
Cruise shuttles drop off and pick up along the spianada near the Old Fortress, so plan your independent walking tour in a loop, to return where you started. Alternatively, the walk back to the cruise terminal passes the New Fortress and takes about 30 minutes.