The French island of Corsica, located in between France and Italy in the Tyrrhenian Sea, is blessed with a landscape of rugged mountains, gorgeous sand beaches with turquoise, clear-as-a-bell waters, charming seaside towns, forests, and mountain top villages. An abundance of outdoor activities such as swimming, snorkeling, bicycling, hiking and canyoning, boating, and scuba diving make Corsica a great destination for sports-minded travelers, but you can also be a beach bum and enjoy the island just as much.
The history of Corsica goes back to 600 B.C. when the Phoenicians inhabited the island, and over the centuries, it was either under French or Italian rule. But since 1796, it has officially been part of France. In WWI, Corsica strongly supported the Allies, taking in the wounded and caring for MIAs, and in WWII it was occupied first by Italy, then Germany, and eventually returned to France.
Even though Corsica is technically part of France and has strongly developed tourism since WWII, it’s fiercely independent. It resisted being overdeveloped by French companies and wealthy individuals, keeping the island a no-go zone for large resorts, hotel chains, and mega-mansions.
Corsica is divided into five main ports and cities. Below are the best things to do and see in each one.
Ajaccio is the capital city of Corsica, home to a rich culture with historical museums and sites. It also has beautiful beaches nearby.
1. The National Museum Of The Bonaparte Residence
Much of Ajaccio is dedicated to its most famous resident, Napoleon Bonaparte, and The National Museum of the Bonaparte Residence is the best place to learn about Napoleon’s upbringing, family life, and family tree, plus you can view the various rooms that still maintain some of the original furnishings.
2. The Fesch Palace And The Imperial Chapel
The Fesch Palace was built by Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Napoleon’s uncle, as a place to exhibit important paintings and art pieces, and today it is the Ajaccio Fine Arts Museum. The museum has one of the largest art collections in France after the Louvre and has an especially extensive collection of Italian works by Poussin, Botticelli, and Titian.
Next door to the Fesch Palace is the Imperial Chapel, which has the imperial tombstones of the Bonaparte dynasty, including Napoleon’s parents, Charles and Letizia Bonaparte.
Pro Tip: Your Fine Arts Museum entrance ticket entitles you to free admission to the Imperial Chapel.
3. The Ajaccio Food Market
Don’t miss visiting food markets on Corsica with superior locally made delicacies such as cured meats and sausages, fantastic goat cheese, excellent wines at reasonable prices, and also fresh-caught fish. The main market on Foch Square is open every day.
Terre Sacree, Marinella, Barbicaja, and Trottel beaches are highly recommended and are either walking distance or a short taxi or bus ride from the city center.
Bastia, located on the Cap Corse on the northeast part of the island, is the principal city of Corsica, after Ajaccio. It’s also the largest port of Corsica, with boats arriving from Sardinia and the rest of Italy.
5. Romieu Garden
The highlight of the Romieu Garden, planted in 1874, is the grand stairway with ornamental wrought iron railings and curved stone stairs. The gardens have tree-lined pathways that create shade in the hot weather and offer scenic views of the city and bay.
6. St. Nicolas Square
Across from the main ferry terminal with arrivals from Europe and Italy is the monumental St. Nicolas Square. Bordered by tall, plane trees, the square has statues, palm trees, and a bandstand. St. Nicolas Square hosts various events during the year including a flea market every Sunday morning, musical events and concerts, and the three-day extravaganza, Salon du Chocolat.
7. Miniature Village
Village Miniature La Poudiere is a highly detailed, miniature replica of a Corsican village in the old Genoese style.
8. Rue De Napoleon
Rue de Napoleon, in the oldest part of Bastia, near St. Nicolas Square, has boutiques that offer local-made crafts and souvenir shops. There are also two notable monuments: Saint-Roch Oratory, constructed in 1604, has sumptuous red silk walls and precious gold objects, and the Oratory of Immaculate Conception, which is similar in architecture to the Saint-Roch Oratory. Walk further and you will reach Allee de la Creation, which leads to Bastia food market, which is open on the weekends.
Bonifacio is known for its soaring white cliffs overlooking the Straits of Bonifacio. After taking in the stunning 360-degree views, there’s plenty to do in Bonifacio.
9. Vieille Ville (Old City)
The old part of Bonifacio dates back to the medieval era, with tall houses and buildings made of stone on narrow, cobblestone streets and alleyways. The streets are lined with old churches, restaurants, cafes, and boutiques with locally produced products.
10. The Citadel
The most important and historical site in Bonifacio is the Citadel. Constructed in the 12th century, it was a fortification to protect from its enemies and to secure safe trading between nearby the ports of Genoa, Liguria, and Sardinia.
11. Genoa Gate
Located in the upper area of Bonifacio, the Genoa Gate is a drawbridge built in 1830 that is the main entrance to the town.
12. Bonifacio Port
At the foot of the Citadel is the lively port, which has a multitude of restaurants, cafes, and bars overlooking the water where you can view the yachts and other boats. It’s also where you can take cruises to see the cliffs from afar and also boats going to the Lavezzi Islands, which comprise a nature reserve.
Calvi, located in the northwest of Corsica, is another coastal town worth a visit.
13. The Citadel And The Old City
Calvi was another city tied to Genoa, Italy, and the notable citadel around it was built between the 13th and 16th centuries, containing two towers and five bastions.
Inside the walls of the Citadel are a number of sites including the historic 13th-century Saint-John the Baptist Cathedral, Caserne Sampiero, the former governor’s palace built in the 15th century, and the unofficial birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
14. Boat Rides
The port of Calvi has many boats that offer day-trip cruises to nearby destinations such as the Scandola Nature Reserve, a UNESCO Heritage site, the Agriates Desert, and Saleccia beach, plus there are fishing boat excursions.
15. Calvi Beach
Calvi Beach is an almost three-mile sandy swath along the shallow azure waters of the Calvi Bay surrounded by a pine forest. There are a few restaurants on the beach, and you can rent chairs and umbrellas for the day.
Porto Vecchio is the most luxurious town on Corsica, where many wealthy and upscale Parisians come to vacation. The biggest attraction of Porto Vecchio is its unparalleled, pristine beaches with pure white sand and tranquil, blue waters.
The village has a citadel and an old town. Start off at Place Republique and stroll through the narrow streets dotted with designer boutiques, gourmet restaurants, trendy bars, and cafes. Make your way down to the marina where you can enjoy a drink on a terrace overlooking the lavish yachts and sailboats.
16. Porto Vecchio Beaches
The best beaches close to Porto Vecchio are about a 15- to 20-minute drive.
Rondinara, with ochre rocks surrounding the water, is one of the most popular beaches in the area. There’s a restaurant, and chair and umbrella rentals are available.
Palombaggia is rated one of the top beaches not only on Corsica but in the world. It’s also swankier, with upscale restaurants and bars.
Carataggio is a more clandestine and less crowded beach only reachable by walking about 20 minutes from Foce Inglesa and Campo Ranch, where you can park your car.
Many of the beaches have nautical activities such as kayaking, jet skis, water skiing, and snorkeling.
Corsica is approximately a 90-minute direct flight from Paris to either Figari, Ajaccio, or Bastia. You can also reach the main Corsica ports by the Corsica Ferry from Nice, France, and travel time is 5.5 hours. The large boats can accommodate cars and have private cabins, restaurants, and snack bars. You will most likely have to rent a car to tour Corsica, but beware, the mountain roads are steep, winding, and narrow. The best months to visit are May, June, September, and October. July and August are the peak tourist months, so if you plan to visit then, book your accommodations three to six months in advance.