When you’re thinking of Italy, usually the first cities that come to mind are Rome, Milan or Florence. Genoa rarely gets considered, but definitely deserves a spot on the list! Genoa (or Genova), in the province of Liguria remains relatively undiscovered by the masses and is a genuine surprise. This is where you’ll experience the authentic Italian atmosphere, get lost in the small alleys and eat focacccia to your heart’s content.
No idea where to start? Here’s our best tips on what to do in Genoa and not miss out on a single thing.
What to do in Genoa, our best tips!
You could easily spend a full day exploring all of Genoa’s churches and cathedrals, but these are the most beautiful ones:
- San Donato with its octagonal tower, in a pretty, undiscovered piece of the city
- Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, the most famous church of Genoa. There are a multitude of paintings, but every now and then there will be classical concerts as well
- Chiesa do San Pietro, where you should look up!
The historical centre
You will get lost in the small alleyways of Genoa’s centre, and that is the only correct way. Wander through the small caruggi, find little squares with little bars where people live outside and find the quiet inner courtyards. Piazza delle Erbe is one of those examples of a charming square, just like Piazza Grillo Cattaneo and Piazza Inferiore del Roso.
Discover small cafes, old delicacy stores and unique shops. Genoa even keeps a list of botteghe storiche, historical shops that are protected cultural heritage. You can find it here. Take your time and don’t forget to enjoy an aperitivo, the ‘lost’ time before dinner where you go for a glass of wine and get served small snacks with it.
Porto Antico & Nervi
There’s plenty to do in Genoa’s old harbour. You could visit the biosphere, with its collection of (tropical) plants from all over the world, to the pirate ship Il Galeone Neptune, used for filming and to the biggest attractions; the aquarium. Europe’s largest aquarium has over 600 species and is beautifully done. If sea life is your thing, you will easily spend 3 hours there.
There are also quite a few bars and restaurants in the harbour where you can enjoy the view. At the Old Port Bar you’ll see how the city was built against the mountain.
Nervi, east of Genoa, used to be a fishing town that has now become a village in the city. A 2 kilometer long boulevard along the coast runs from Nervi’s harbour to the old harbour of Capolunga. The views itself are worth it, but Nervi is a pretty village. Don’t feel like walking? It’s just an easy train ride away!
Via Garibaldi & Piazza de Ferrari
Via Garibaldi, Genoa’s main street, boasts a plethora of palazzi. Rich families had their stately mansions and palaces here, a large contrast to the maze of alleys that connect to it. A lot of the palazzi are not in use anymore of available to visit, but the few that are, are usually museums or art galleries. These are (according to us) the most beautiful ones and should not be missed:
- Palazzo Doria Tursi, a beautiful palace where, among other things, Paganini’s violin is on display. Your ticket will also grant you access to Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Rosso
- Palazzo Bianco, next to Doria Tursi, is one of the oldest palazzi. It houses a large art collection, but the building itself is also beautiful.
- Palazzo Reale, a little further down Via Garibaldi but the most extravagant palazzo, has a gorgeous view on the sea. With a rooftop terrace!
Piazza de Ferrari, with the enormous fountain in the middle, is the biggest square in Genoa. It is surrounded by old and new buildings like Carlo Felice theatre, banks and the stock exchange.
Villa Durazzo Pallavicini
One tip you don’t see so often but worth it; park Villa Durazzo Pallavicini. The train from Genoa will take you to Genua Pegli in 15 minutes, and from there it’s a short way up to the park’s entrance. You’ll find yourself in a green oasis, beautiful gardens with waters and fountains, bridges and a pagoda. It has been wonderfully designed with for example a cave that is meant to resemble Dante’s hell and an underground lake that leads to paradise.
In 2017 it was named the most beautiful garden in Italy. You can skip the museum, but wear shoes (and not flip-flops), because it’s a large park. A must for both literature and garden lovers.
Where to eat
Don’t skip the traditional Genovese cuisine! Pesto Genovese, focaccia and farinata are all from here.
- Osteria Vico Palla; an ever changing menu with great fish and traditional dishes. Popular with the locals
- La Cantina Clandestina: perfect for a good lunch at their little patio. Great pasta
- Trattoria della Grazie: fantastic local dishes at a good price
- Café Libreria di Piazza delle Erbe: a perfect conbination; a bar with books!
- Le Café des Artistes: an old bar with ceiling fresco’s
Where to sleep
- Budget: Victoria House Hostel. Right in the middle of the city with mixed dorms and one just for women
- Midrange: Best Western Moderno Verdi. Great location, great price.
- Luxury: Hotel Astoria. Italian luxury close to Via Garibaldi
You can use Genoa as a base to visit Portofino and Cinque Terre as well, if you have a little bit more time, but 3 days to explore Genoa is ideal, there is a lot to see and do,
Think of Genoa next time you’re considering Italy and let this special city surprise you!