Genoa, in Northern Italy, is a vast cosmopolitan city and a highlight of the Italian Riviera. You will find it situated nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the majestic mountains of the Liguria region. Take some time outside of the city you will find beautiful small-town villages along the Italian coastline. It has the busiest port on the gulf but is a lesser-known city by travelers all over the world. This has the benefit of it being less busy even during the busier months.
Most people will know it as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. But you may also be surprised to know that it is also the place where blue jeans were first designed in the 14th century. This city is rich in history and captivating architecture and a trip to Italy should be one of your choices.
How to get to Genoa
Genoa has an airport with both domestic and international flights. Most major Italian cities have direct flights which can take less than 2 hours. If you are coming internationally from another country in Europe or a continent you have had to transfer onto an additional flight. Those of you who are tired of flying and instead want to enjoy some sights of the Italian countryside can take the train or even rent a car from cities such as the closest Milan along with Pisa and Florence. These take only a few hours as well and will let you rest up easily.
They even have international trains that arrive daily from close countries like France and Spain. The main train station is at Piazza Principle. The first thing you will notice as you walk out is the huge statue of Christopher Columbus.
Top things to do in Genoa
You will find that this is a great city to walk around and you will feel completely safe as you visit this part of Italy. Genoa is known for its narrow streets, which are called “The Carruggio” in Liguria. Translated as an alleyway, they were designed to protect the city from outsiders. This now makes it one of the most unusual cities to walk around in mainland Europe.
This is the best way to explore the more authentic parts of the city by just wandering the streets and neighborhoods. Everything is within easy walking distance. Find your way into artisanal shops, boutique cafes, and enjoy the daily life here. But if you are looking to have a set itinerary, these are some of the stops you should make during your time in Genoa.
Porto Antico (Old Port)
The port was the lifeblood of Genoa during their history and still is today. The first thing that you will notice when you head to the port is how many huge luxury yachts and cruise ships are docked here regularly. Many Mediterranean cruises have Genoa as a port of call. Other ferries up and down the Italian seaboard also make frequent stops here, especially in the summer season. It has become a central attraction of the city for both local Genoese and tourists. Filled with restaurants and bars When you look back at the city landscape, you can see the peculiar mixture of the old architecture and the new modern age.
While walking along the old port boardwalks you will find the Aquarium of Genoa at the pier. It’s one of the largest aquariums in Europe and the largest in Italy. With multiple levels, hundreds of different aquatic life, and daily activities it’s great for spending an afternoon here.
If you look further down your eyes will be immediately drawn to the unusual glass dome, situated halfway down the pier. You will have discovered the Biosphere, redesigned by Renzo Piano for the G8 summit in 2001. Locals affectionately call it the “Glass Bubble”. A ticket to enter costs €5 and you can also purchase a ticket combined with entrance to the Aquarium. If you’re just looking to observe from the outside it’s an easy walk around.
Once you enter you will feel like you have walked into a rainforest, as the biosphere has over 150 types of plants, butterflies, and reptiles. Walking aimlessly around the small path areas and taking in the tropical sights and sounds.
Signs are placed everywhere explaining where the tropical plants and wildlife are from. They also tell you when to look up, so you don’t miss a creature hiding away out of view. You can spend less than an hour wandering around the looped pathway and recommend you don’t miss this novelty attraction on your visit to Genoa.
Piazza De Ferrari
The distinctive Piazza de Ferrari is framed by beautiful historic buildings and the main square of Genoa. It has a huge bronze ornate fountain located in the middle, which has recently been restored. The square was named after Raffaele De Ferrari, who was a former Duke of Galleria and not the famous car brand.
This part of town is considered the financial and economic hub of the city. There are also lots of large modern office buildings with global banking names visible in neon and colored signs. It is worth visiting this to see the beautiful architecture around the main square and to just sit at one of the local cafes to take in the relaxed atmosphere.
Museum Palazzo Reale
This museum is situated on Via Bali, a short walk from the main train station. You visit 3 extremely impressive buildings that were originally owned by families involved in the silk trade (the Balbi family) and the banking industry (the Durazzo family). They were built in the 17th century. Since 1919, the palace has been owned by the state. In 2006, the museum was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Take a fantastic overview of the port on the terrace.
The entrance fee to all 3 buildings costs €10 and you need to give yourself 2 to 3 hours to walk around and appreciate everything in the 23 rooms. Several rooms have interesting names such as “the Room of Time”, “the Room of Peace”, and “the Throne Room” and others have mundane names such as bedroom and parlor.
There is a vast collection of sculptures, pieces of furniture, and objects on view throughout the main building. The pair of vases in the king’s bed chamber, the paintings by Anthony van Dyke in two of the bed chambers, and Tintoretto’s “Portrait of a Lady with a Glove” in the Room of Time are all highlights. This museum helps to show how the richer citizens of Genoa lived during the earlier periods.
Musei Di Strada Nuova
Here you can find the largest collection of ancient art in Genoa. There are 75 rooms contained in the 3 historical state homes connected by courtyards, gardens, and terraces. It has helped set it as a distinct architectural and cultural spot of the city.
Palazzo Rosso is known as the house museum. The rooms are decorated in amazing frescos and stuccos and contain furnishings once owned by the Brignole Sale families. They were silk merchants and the family line dates back to the 15th century.
Palazzo Bianco is the main art gallery and houses art collections from Italian, Spanish, and Flemish artists.
Palazzo Tursi is now used as the town hall and official events. It was historically considered the grandest private residence in the city. It contains ceramics, coins, weights and measures, and tapestries.
We suggest you also give yourself 2-3 hours to walk around and see everything in view. Even if you decide not to go inside just wandering around the streets is a must. The views of the city and the pier are breathtaking as you walk around the high walkways in these buildings.
Cathedral of San Lorenzo
No visit to an Italian city is complete without visiting the cathedral. You would expect the cathedral here to be called Saint Christopher after the patron saint of travelers, but maybe that would be too literal!
The gothic cathedral of San Lorenzo was consecrated in 1118 so it has certainly been around for some time. The bell tower (containing 7 bells) and dome were added in the 16th century. As soon as you walk in, your eyes are drawn to the partial dome over the altar area. It is impressive with 14th-century frescoes in the Byzantine style framed in gold brocade.
There are several sculptures throughout including St. John the Baptist by Sansovino. The pink and white marble pulpit is another beautiful feature. You will find it very tranquil and peaceful inside as you make your way through the cathedral filled with different artistic styles and representations of art.
The Museum of the Treasury is under the cathedral holding a collection of artifacts dating back to 9 AD. This part was created more recently as an example of museography. Located inside is a chalice that is thought to be the one Jesus Christ used during the Last Supper. It’s a nice way to see how dedicated people still are to the preservation of this fantastic piece of Genoa.
What to eat in Genoa
Of course, Italy has some of the best cuisine in the world but once you get here you’ll see how the Genoese like to put their spin on classic foods. Genoa is of course the home of the Genovese Pesto sauce. You will see it sold everywhere in tourist shops and local markets. Most restaurants will serve a pasta dish topped off with this delight. You will also want to enjoy a bowl of minestrone one day for lunch (minestrone is always vegetarian in Italy).
Panasoti with walnut sauce is a specialty of Genoa and perfect for any foodie lover. It is a ravioli containing vegetables and covered in a creamy walnut sauce. Locals enjoy their bread and reviews say that the best focaccia is made in Genoa. Follow the local tradition of having it for breakfast and dipped into milk.
Genoa also has its version of street food. Fried squid, lightly fried and served in a paper cone, is extremely popular. Many pastry shops and cafes sell vegetable pies which are considered a local highlight. Historically, traditional recipes were used to cook for the poorer citizens living in the city center. You will find them to be extremely tasty and happy that the old recipes were retained and continue to be popular.
Take one of the many walking food tours that will help explain the culinary history of the food in Genoa with local stops and detailed stories to make your mouth water. You can even choose to take one of the many cooking classes as an additional activity and learn the preparation of pasta, pick up the homegrown ingredients from the local market, and enjoy the family-like atmosphere. Finish it off with some traditional tiramisu and take your newly developed skills home for your Italian dinner nights.
Where to stay in Genoa
Genoa is relatively cheaper than the other large Italian cities. If you are looking to stay in the heart of the city on a budget, choose one of the many friendly hostels. Another alternative for affordable accommodations is Airbnb apartments. Some of them have amazing panoramic views of the city skyline and the water. They are reasonably priced and you will feel like just another local as you head downstairs and onto the bustling streets. Premier hotels like the Grand Hotel Savoia are also available if you want to spend a little more and are also well located within the city. These are all 4-5 star hotels and will also provide some amazing views and amenities.
You may not think it’s worth visiting Genoa if you are in Italy for a limited amount of time but you will be pleasantly surprised if you take a chance on coming here. 3 days are just long enough to see the highlights of the city and enjoy the vibrant culture of this lesser-known gem. The added benefit of spending time here is that you can make this an ideal home base if you choose to stay longer and explore the rest of the country.
You can easily go to Milan for a day and come back. Or keep going with some great day trips to Cinque Terre and Portofino. They are easily accessible with a short bus ride onto the coast. It is easy to fall in love with this country and you will want to keep coming here again and again.