Best of Genoa
Updated: May 31, 2022
Here we are in a new Italian stage: the ancient Maritime Republic, famous for its trading port that dominated the entire Mediterranean, Genoa stands proudly and preserves a past rich in myths and legends. Called 'La Superba' and 'La Dominante', today it retains a historical and cultural charm that is considered a UNESCO World Heritage. Getting around Genoa will never cease to amaze you: Medieval alleyways, Renaissance palaces, evidence of the crusaders' passage through the Commenda di Pré to the modern constructions of the Old Port, an Old Town with a predominant character among the enchanting "Carruggi" i.e., arrow alleyways lined with tall houses, are the things that will make your visit special.
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What not to miss
Genoa's Old Town is undoubtedly the true narrator of the city. Among the old buildings, the narrow streets known as "caruggi" dating back to the Middle Ages, which open into large squares, the "Sciamadde" old Ligurian fryers, the historic shops...and much more. Don't forget to enter a bakery and enjoy a "slerfa" (piece) of focaccia or a Panarellina for those who prefer something sweet.
Raffaele De Ferrari square
Considered to be the city's main nineteenth-century square, it is definitely its beating heart, a meeting place for the Genoese, on the edge of the historic center. Today it hosts many social and cultural events. A large bronze fountain presides in the center of the square but above all a multitude of historical buildings: The Ducal palace which commemorates the victory of the Genoese against the Pisans and the Venetians, the Palace of the Ligurian region, the Palace of the Italian credit, the Palace of the New Stock Exchange, Palace of the Accademia Ligustica and the Carlo Felice Theatre. This square has two predominant characteristics: medieval and modern features are combined to create an eclectic scenario.
Tips for you: During the Christmas period magnificent Christmas illuminations adorn the theatre and the palaces. The atmosphere becomes even more magical!
One of the city's most important streets, Via XX Settembre, leads off from Piazza De Ferrari, characterized by its large shops and its buildings of different architectural styles. At the end of this street, you can reach Piazza Della Vittoria (Victory Square). Its great triumphal arch in the center of the square dedicated to the fallen of the First World War gives the square its majestic air. The special thing about the square is that in the background there are the steps of the Milite Ignoto or also known as the steps of Cristoforo Colombo's caravels, depicted by a set of colorful floral decorations: the four large flowerbeds represent the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria and three symbolic anchors. Of course, these representations celebrate the discoveries of the Genoese admiral, the most famous of all seafarers.
The stories of landing, trade, shipbuilding, and cargo handling still resound from the city's ancient port. Gateway for maritime traffic to and from Europe, today it has become a tourist center in its own right, offering many services such as restaurants, a cinema, an outdoor swimming pool in summer, and an ice rink in winter. Surely his milestone is the Aquarium with a large exhibition of aquatic biodiversity (cetaceans, sharks, jellyfish, seals, seahorses, and a biodiversity pavilion), including the dolphin show. The aquarium is located ten minutes from Genoa's main square (Piazza De Ferrari) so it is easily accessible on foot. Also, at the old port, don't miss the Galata Museo del Mare, a reconstruction of a 17th-century galley. Paintings, medieval nautical charts, atlases, and ship instruments are what characterize its exhibitions. Aren't you curious to learn about voyages of discovery around the world?
Curiosity: did you know that you can find a reconstruction of a sailing ship here? it's the Neptune vessel built especially for the film Pirates by Roman Polański representing a reproduction of a Spanish sailing ship. You'll feel like you're visiting Peter Pan's ship!
Street closed to traffic, elected a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will find 14 palaces of the old Genoese seigniory built between the 16th and 18th centuries, preserving Flemish works and breath-taking sculptures but also beautiful facades decorated in stucco or painted, splendid gardens with fountains and nymphaea, large halls with frescoes and sumptuous, furnishings. Therefore, a purely Renaissance Street with an imposing impact. Walking along Via Garibaldi is like stepping into the shoes of a rich Genoese aristocrat. This place only makes us think of how the city reached a peak of political and economic power. And it is precisely the splendor that these buildings are intended to show.
What else to visit?
St. George palace
The opulent, aristocratic spectacle does not end there: the St. George Palace is certainly one of the most fascinating palaces in the city. Its frescoes on the facades make it fine and elegant. Today it is the seat of the port authority, it was once used as a prison and it seems that Marco Polo spent his imprisonment here when "Il Milione", his famous account of his travels in Asia, was born. Did you know that this building was also depicted in one of the animated films of the thief Lupin III?
Royal Palace Museum
Via Balbi is home to the Royal Palace. Balbi was an important Genoese family of merchants and entrepreneurs, well known in Renaissance Genoa. Thanks to this family, who were the first owners, we can see the wealth of the palace and the acquisition of many sumptuous masterpieces in the 17th century. The rooms with sculpture collections, picture galleries, marble, and precious fabrics, gilded wood, and crystal chandeliers are certainly unique. Especially the Mirror Gallery, the iconic symbol, whose frescoes are a celebration of the Durazzo family, another family that made this palace its home. not forgetting the roof garden and terraces, which create a cozy atmosphere that blends in with the beautiful views over the port. Another curiosity is that this building belonged to the Rolli of Genoa - the residences of noble families intended to welcome guests visiting the city. If you have time, next to Via Balbi is the Church of the Annunziata, which from the outside looks like a simple church, but inside it is a splendor.
Cathedral of San Lorenzo
Considered to be the cathedral of the Genoese and built around the year 1000, it guards many legends: one of these is the story of a builder's dog that suddenly disappeared, thus dedicating a sculpture on the façade to it. Today it is believed that touching it brings good luck. Another curious thing is that inside the church there is a bomb, an English grenade that miraculously did not explode. The characteristic feature of this church is the stripes that decorate it, the so-called "Marinière style". Don't miss the Treasury Museum, entering from the cathedral.
There are several ways to see Genoa from above: the Righi, the Granarolo, and the renowned Spianata Castelletto. Named as the neighborhood in which it is located, it is a stunning suspended balcony with a 360° view of the city and harbor. If you are visiting the historic center, precisely from Portello square, a liberty-style lift will take you up to this panoramic hill. On a clear day or at sunset, it is a breath-taking view, a mix of past and new construction: the roofs, the ships, the two Rivieras, the Lanterna, the gulf, the cathedral... In short, so splendid that it cannot be explained in words!
Alternatively, venturing up the "creuze" (steeply ascending or descending streets, characteristic of Genoa), could be an alternative way to reach the belvedere, which once took travelers out of Genoa as Fabrizio d'André recounted in his melodies. From Via Garibaldi, up to Salita San Francesco, could be a way to get in touch with Genoa's historic core. Therefore, a perfect place to relax but also to have a drink with friends, a refreshing break in a bar, a wine shop to enjoy a good glass of wine.
How to travel there?
Not only is Genoa situated close to the French border and within 200 miles of numerous major cities, but it is also the largest seaport on the north-eastern Italian coast, which makes traveling there quite simple, with numerous options available to visitors.
The city has an international airport, called “Cristoforo Colombo International Airport”, which is located around 4 miles west of the city center, serving flights from all over Europe. Flights from most major European cities to Genoa are between one and two hours, while many flights from North America require a connection to another city.
Next to that, Genoa has two major train stations, which accept trains from all over Europe, arriving multiple times per day and including lots of trains connecting it with other major Italian cities like Milan, Rome, Turin, Florence, and Pisa. It is also the hub for trains serving the Italian Riviera, with regional trains making local stops at almost all the coastal resorts, while the faster trains stop at only a few of them.
Getting to Genoa by road is also pretty easy since the city is linked to other parts of Italy and France by a convenient network of highways and has an extensive bus network, connecting Genoa with other parts of the region and other Italian and European cities. Because bus schedules can change frequently, it’s a good idea to always check at the local bus station before for up-to-date information.
Another option to travel to Genoa is by taking a ferry. The seaside side of the city is a port for ferries from many areas on the eastern coast of Italy as well as international ferries.
How many expenses can you expect for your trip to Genoa?
You should plan to spend around 120€ per day on your vacation there, with prices going down or up, depending on your travel style and preferences.
Regarding accommodation, the average costs are around 70€ per person for one night, with cheap hostel prices in shared rooms starting at around 30€ and luxury hotel rooms starting at around 120€ per night.
Even though the best way to explore a city is – of course – on foot, it’s definitely good to know that public transportation is rather affordable. The city’s public transport service system includes an underground, buses, funiculars and lifts, whereas a daily ticket costs around 4€ per day and a single one-way ticket cost only 1.50€.
When it comes to going out for drinks and food, you can expect Genoa’s prices to be a little bit higher than in other Italian cities, since it is a major tourist destination. The average price of a meal in a mid-range restaurant is around 16€, but there is always the option of just grabbing some nice food on the streets.
When to travel there?
Due to Genoa’s Mediterranean climate, the best time to visit the city is from June until September. Then, the temperatures are going to be very warm and pleasant and rain fall is not expected to occur very often. During those warmer months, temperatures there can rise to a maximum of 30°C as well as the days being the longest and the sunniest. So, if you like the heat and don’t mind the high-peak season, then we would recommend you to go during those months! Otherwise, September would also be a great option for a vacation in Genoa, since it is not only considered a dry month, but it is also not that busy and still very pleasant.
What to eat?
When it comes to food in Genoa, there are so many traditional and delicious Genoese dishes, we don’t even know where to start.
First of all, there is a Genoese specialty that each one of you probably knows: pesto, a sauce that is well known all over the world, but which has become one of the symbols of the city. There are a lot of varieties nowadays, but the most popular one is made with Prà basil and is typically prepared with pasta, although it can be also found on bread or on bruschetta.
Then, there’s the so-called Farinata, which consists of a mix of olive oil and chickpea flour and is cooked in the oven, which makes it very easy to prepare. The best one should taste thin and crisp on the surface, but soft inside. It is typical street food, but it can be also eaten with Focaccia.
The second food that should never be missed while being on a trip to Genoa is focaccia, which is a delicacy you can eat almost exclusively in Genoa’s province. Even though the way of preparation has changed during the centuries, the people from there still have a big dedication to this food. The main ingredients are flour, water, olive oil, salt, typical street food, and brewer’s yeast, but they can also be topped with other ingredients.
Another dish that can never miss on a trip to Italy is pasta. A very typical pasta dish from Genoa that is absolutely delicious is called Pansoti. It is a special kind of pasta in the shape of a triangle, stuffed with vegetables and combined with a creamy sauce made out of nuts.
Suffice to say, there are a lot of other typical dishes as well as drinks from Genoa and the Liguria region that you could try out while traveling there – if you want to discover more, you can check out our article about the food and drinks in Liguria!
Rolli Days (April and October)
Few days in May dedicated to opening and visiting the royal palaces to enjoy a quality experience at the palaces of absolute excellence. From 2021 the event has become both Live and Digital to share special content on the wonders of Genoa in the Golden Age. You just have to discover the program!
Sapori al Ducale (every second weekend of the month)
Piazza Matteotti becomes a meeting place where you can try Ligurian products of excellence, from pesto to fish preserves.
Regata delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare (December)
A sporting event based on a rowing challenge aboard galleons reconstructed from 12th-century models. It is nothing more than a historical re-enactment of the Genoese crews, recalling the rivalry of the most famous Republics. It is also preceded by a procession in period costumes in Piazza De Ferrari.
Circumnavigando Festival (December)
Dedicated to circus and theatrical art, with international artists invading the streets, squares and stages of the city. The program changes every year with different prestigious locations hosting free performances.
Others interesting events
Fiera Primavera (April)
Slow Fish (May)
Mangialunga di Fontanegli (May)
Genova film festival (June)
Sagra del pesto di Pontedecimo (June)
Festa di San Giovanni Battista (June 24th)
Sagra del Pansoto a Fontanegli (July)
Festa del Quinto miglio (August)
Fiera internazionale della musica (September)
Palio della Tavola Bronzea (September).
We hope that this article helped you to plan your trip or at least dream of traveling! Don't hesitate to check out others articles about Italy if you are traveling there, or to continue dreaming about it, with our articles about visiting Turin and visiting Milan! And for more articles, follow us on Instagram @thewalkingparrot to be updated when new articles are published!