Genoa is a city grown between the sea on one side and the mountains on the other and, precisely because of the confirmation of its coast, it has developed in a narrow and long way. The charm of this city between the mountains and the sea, a crossroads of different peoples and cultures, has struck writers, poets and travelers. Although Genoa is known above all for its aquarium, the city owns wonderful testimonies of its glorious past but also bold and modern works that have made it a capital of modern Italian architecture.
Genoa has one of the largest medieval historic centers in Europe. full of history and charm which, after years of abandonment and decay, has finally been restored and returned to the city. To discover the charm of ancient Genoa you have to walk on foot and enter the “caruggi”, the picturesque alleys of medieval origin, get lost in the streets lined with noble buildings and the characteristic squares overlooked by ancient churches.
The spirit of Genoa lies precisely in the alleys, where smells, flavors, languages and different cultures have always mixed. And the historic center, more than any other part of the city, has always been a melting pot. Buildings and architectural styles also overlap.
In the historic center of Genoa, time seems to stand still: noble palaces and splendid churches intersperse with shops, where the specialties are still prepared according to ancient recipes and the handicrafts are processed according to centuries-old traditions. Genoa is a city rich in historical shops and even the names of the streets often recall a past linked to craft activities and corporations, such as Via degli Orefici or Vico del Ferro. In the historic center of Genoa the past is tied to the present.
The oldest part of the city can be visited mainly on foot. While walking, you can also admire the Barbarossa walls, which surround Genoa, today perfectly integrated into the city fabric.
Best Things to Do in Genoa
San Lorenzo Cathedral
The visit of the historic center of the city can start from the majestic and solemn Cathedral of San Lorenzo, built from the ninth century and was remodeled and enlarged over the centuries, up to the sixteenth century. The cathedral holds the ashes of the patron saint of the city, San Giovanni Battista, who arrived in Genoa at the end of the First Crusade.
The cathedral has a beautiful Genoese Gothic facade (13th century). The lateral sides with the two portals date back to Romanesque times while the dome and bell tower are from the 16th century. The interior, divided into three naves, contains countless sculptural and pictorial works. Along the left nave is the chapel of San Giovanni Battista where the bones of San Lorenzo are kept; at the bottom of the right aisle you can access the Cathedral Treasure Museum which houses masterpieces of sacred art, including the Ashes of San Giovanni Battista and other objects related to the cult of the city’s patron.
The Genoa aquarium
The Aquarium is the main tourist attraction in Genoa. Inaugurated in 1992 on the occasion of the Colombian celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America, the Aquarium is a destination for more than a million visitors every year. The marine park is home to 12,000 specimens of 600 different species in a spectacular environment that exactly reproduces their original natural habitats. A journey to discover underwater life among dolphins and sharks, penguins and manatees, jellyfish and seals, tropical fish and Antarctic animals.
The path of the Aquarium is divided into three sections: the 40 large tanks, faithful reproduction of the underwater habitats, welcome the visitor by projecting him into the fascinating world of the sea. The visit continues with the 4 open-air tanks of the Cetacean Pavilion and with the 19 tanks of the Biodiversity Pavilion, housed inside the “Nave Italia”, a real ship redesigned and moored in the Porto Antico. The latter section houses the large tactile basin where visitors can pet the stingrays.
The visit to the Aquarium is a fun and exciting experience as it offers the opportunity to get to know the aquatic fauna “walking” in the most fascinating seas and waters in the world. With popular areas that integrate visual experience with scientific notions.
Inserted among the UNESCO World Heritage properties, Via Garibaldi is home to the unique museum itinerary dedicated to ancient art that connects the three historic palaces owned by the municipality: Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Doria Tursi. In the first palace, the seventeenth-century residence of the Brignole-Sale, the historical furnishings and art collections that the noble family collected over more than two centuries are preserved. On display works by Van Dick, Veronese, Guercino, Dürer. Palazzo Bianco houses a valuable collection of Italian (for example Caravaggio), Flemish (Rubens, Van Dick, Memling), Dutch (Steen), French (Vouet) and Spanish (Murillo) paintings from the 16th to the 18th century. Finally, the aristocratic Palazzo Tursi, with a remarkable exhibition of decorative art (ceramics, tapestries) and the famous Paganini violin built-in 1734 by the luthier Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarnieri.
Do not miss the large De Ferrari square, the center of Genoese life and Matteotti square with the Church of the Gesù, an expression of the baroque in Genoa.
The Palazzi dei Rolli
The Palazzi dei Rolli are nothing more than the beautiful residences of the Genoese nobility who at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries offered hospitality to illustrious people passing through the city. The dwellings (over one hundred) that the Republic of Genoa had destined for this purpose were included in special lists that were updated periodically. Based on their architectural value and their sumptuousness, the Palaces were divided into three categories, each of which was associated with a certain category of guests. Since 2006 many of these prestigious buildings have been recognized by UNESCO as a “World Heritage Site”. A walk in this area will lead you to the discovery of these historic palaces.
Galata Museum of the sea
Another testimony of the link between Genoa and the sea is Galata Museo del Mare (Museum of the sea), the largest maritime museum in the Mediterranean dedicated to the history of navigation. Through the reproduction and display of boats of all sizes and types, nautical instruments and charts, multimedia and interactive workstations, the museum offers visitors a real journey through time allowing them to identify themselves in the life of sailors, passengers and migrants .
The journey begins on the ground floor from the age of the rowing ships, continues on the first and second on the route of sailing ships and revolutionary geographical explorations and ends on the third floor dedicated to the trip to America. Do not miss the Mirador panoramic terrace to enjoy a splendid view of the port and the city.
The Lighthouse of Genoa
The lighthouse, commonly called “the Lantern”, has always been the symbol of Genoa. 77 meters high, the historic tower stands on the remains of a 40-meter hill. Born to signal ships entering the port but also to control its movement inside, the tower was built in the 14th century. In fact, in 1326 the first oil lantern (olive) was installed and in 1340 the municipal coat of arms was painted on the lower part of the tower. Its current appearance is the result of the reconstruction carried out in the 16th century and despite the interventions following the war and lightning events.
Attached to the tower is the Lantern Museum, a multimedia museum dedicated to the city, reachable with a walk of about 800 meters that runs from the Ferry Terminal along the old walls to the lighthouse.
The Ancient Port
This area was once the center of Genoese merchant activity. After the reconversion carried out by the well-known architect Renzo Piano on the occasion of the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America in 1992, this area has become a place dedicated to tourism and leisure.
Here are in fact: the Aquarium, the great attraction for visitors of all ages; the Biosphere, the steel and glass bubble on the water designed by Piano which reproduces a tropical environment, but also butterflies and small animals; the Galata, the largest maritime museum in the Mediterranean; the Bigo by Renzo Piano, the metal structure resembling a crane that stands out on the sea with a panoramic lift that has become one of the symbols of Genoa. The transformation of these places did not take place, however, only with the realization of modern works but also bringing old port buildings to life, including the ancient Cotton Warehouses that today host cultural and recreational structures such as the City of Children, the largest space in Italy dedicated to games, science and technology, for children between 2 and 12 years of age.
What to eat in Genoa
Eating in Genoa means enjoying a cuisine based mainly on legumes, fish and wild herbs. in particular, the specialties of Genoa are pasta with pesto and focaccia.
Pesto is one of the typical dishes of Genoese cuisine. A dressing made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, oil and parmesan, which is used not only to flavor pasta, but also to flavor minestrone, soups, focaccias, savory pies and also as a base on pizza, instead of tomato sauce .
Focaccia is the most typical dish of Genoa. It is prepared in many ways: with olives, onion, cheese, sage and so on. The Genoese eat it at any time of the day, from breakfast time to dinner time. Genoese focaccia is really difficult to prepare at home, for this reason, the Genoese buy it in bakeries.
The panissa is one of the most particular dishes of Genoa, to be tasted in the alleys of the historic center at the numerous frying shops. It is in fact a kind of polenta made with chickpea flour, cut into sticks and fried. It can also be found in restaurants and is usually accompanied by other fried vegetables.
The cima is an other important Genoese dish, very often also served as an appetizer. It consists of a piece of veal meat, cut into thin slices and stuffed with different ingredients such as peas, egg, mushrooms, pine nuts, cheese and some aromatic herbs.
The Pasqualina cake is another typical Genoese recipe. It is a dish that is eaten during the Easter period, but in reality it is eaten all year round. It is a savory pie made with puff pastry and a vegetable filling, in different versions. The most classic version is the one prepared with a filling of chard, peas and artichokes, but very often it is found made only with chard and “prescinseua”, a type of cream cheese with a slightly acidic flavor.
The farinata is a thin focaccia made from chickpea flour mixed with water, oil and salt and then cooked in a wood oven. The result is a very very thin savory pie.
In a seaside city like Genoa, fishes like stockfish, cod, squid, anchovies and sardines cannot be missing.
The pandolce and the canestrelli are two typical sweets of the Ligurian tradition. The pandolce is a panettone with raisins, pine nuts, almonds and candida, while the canestrelli are shortbread biscuits, in the shape of a daisy. Their particularity is that of having a very fragrant aroma, generally with aniseed, vanilla, lemon or cocoa.
Where to sleep in Genoa
In almost all the downtown area, parking is subject to charges, so if you arrive by car and decide to sleep in this area, check that the hotel has a parking lot for guests.
Especially if you want to visit Genoa in two days it is very important to find a convenient area to move around because almost all the points of interest, museums, ancient buildings, and the aquarium are located in the central area.
The center is certainly the best place to sleep because it has a lot of advantages: it is close to the aquarium and the Ancient Port, the most beautiful streets in the city and it is all within walking distance. In the historical center, there are also cheap hotels and B & Bs.
The disadvantages are that if you have a car it is impossible to park if not for a fee. This area is not good even if you want to spend a few hours at the sea because you will have to take public transport to get there.
Although Marassi is a fairly popular neighborhood, it is a great place to sleep as it is quite cheap and you can get to the center with a ten-minute walk. Here you will find parking space quite easily.