5 reasons to visit Genoa, Italy

The capital of Liguria is known for its port, pesto and the grand Piazza de Ferrari, but what else does this sprawling Italian city have to offer? Here’s why you should visit...

4 mins

1. Its maritime history

Panorama of the Port of Genoa (Shutterstock)

Panorama of the Port of Genoa (Shutterstock)

The Port of Genoa remains Italy’s busiest sea port, so it’s unsurprising that even in the city itself there’s plenty of maritime history to discover.

Begin your journey at the Porto Antico (the Old Port of Genoa), which is a redevelopment of the site where Genoa’s port once stood. Today, it is more of an entertainment space than an actual port, as it has been redesigned to be a cultural hub for the city, and a place for residents and visitors to socialise, enjoy Ligurian cuisine and shop. At Porto Antico’s core are three structures designed by Renzo Piano: The Bigo, a dizzyingly tall lift overlooking the square and the Mediterranean; the Biosphere, containing an unexpected tropical forest, and Piazza delle Feste, an unusual steel structure positioned in the water.

The 76m-tall Lighthouse of Genoa underwent its most recent construction in the 1500s, but has been standing over the city for over 800 years. It’s well worth a visit, as it is one of Italy’s most important (and tallest) lighthouses, and is claimed to be the world's third oldest lighthouse still in operation. Inside, a Multimedia Museum will walk you through the history of the lighthouse and Genoa’s maritime history.

For the ultimate museum experience, Galata Museo del Mare – despite its modern exterior – begins its exhibition before you even walk in, with Italy’s largest submarine, Nazario Sauro, floating right outside the front door. One you’re inside, a series of displays and exhibits will walk you through Genoa’s maritime history, taking you up to the present day.

2. The local delicacies

Fried fish, a popular street snack in Liguria (Shutterstock)

Fried fish, a popular street snack in Liguria (Shutterstock)

As Liguria's capital and a giant port city, it's only natural that seafood is important to the region.

Expect plenty of cod, mussels, even cuttlefish on the menu. The possibilities are endless, but the best-known dish is probably burrida, a stew slow-cooked with monkfish, squid, king prawns, mussels, garlic, onion and tomato. If you've got the palate for it, you'll find deliciously salty anchovies made every which way. Street food (just as in Bari) is also popular in Genoa – particularly (you guessed it) fried fish.

If you’re a fan of pesto – a sauce made with pine nuts, basil, oil, garlic and cheese – you’ll be in heaven in Genoa: it's the birthplace of the savoury green staple. Pesto Genovese isn’t hard to find while you’re visiting, but finding the perfect trattoria to try it in is. Best to ask your guide or the locals for their recommendations. Discover Genoa recommends Trattoria Rosmarino, among others.

Finally, you'll find focaccia bread all over Italy, but focaccia Genovese style is slightly different. Still doughy, but less thick than you'd expect, its flavouring is classic, with lots of oil and salt. Of course, if you keep traversing Liguria, you'll eventually find a version with a bit of anchovy on top, too.

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3. The UNESCO-listed architecture

San Lorenzo Cathedral, Genoa (Shutterstock)

San Lorenzo Cathedral, Genoa (Shutterstock)

Thinking of Italian architecture, Genoa doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Perhaps Pompeii and Rome are at the forefront, but even a simple exploration through this city will unveil several gems.

Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list are the city’s main shopping street, Via Garibaldi, and neighbouring Via Cairoli and Via Balbi – together forming Strade Nuove (New Streets). So, even a simple walk through Genoa’s Old Town unveils Renaissance and Baroque buildings dating back to the 16th century.

San Lorenzo Cathedral, also close to the centre, is a real gem, perhaps underrated given everything else Genoa has going for it – but its unique black-and-white-striped Gothic exterior continues to impress once inside. From the cathedral, it’s a six-minute walk to the ancient city walls, originally from the 12th century, where you’ll find the restored Port Soprana, an impressively tall, turreted gate.

Once you’ve tramped the entire city centre, take a car and explore Forte Begato, a 19th century fortress nestled on a grassy hilltop, offering gorgeous views over the Mediterranean Sea.

4. Unexpected art finds

Doge's Palace, an art museum in Genoa (Shutterstock)

Doge's Palace, an art museum in Genoa (Shutterstock)

There are no fewer than 10 dedicated art museums and gallerias in Genoa, so you'll need at least a day to simply scratch the surface.

After admiring the architecture on Strade Nuove, keep your eyes peeled for Palazzo Spinola, part of the UNESCO-listed area and home to a historic art museum, complete with an awe-inspiring painted ceiling. For another palazzo, Doge's Palace, the former home of the Doges of Genoa – the ruler of the Republic of Genoa, from the 1300s to the 1700s – now hosts art exhibitions and cultural events. 

It's not all historic palaces, there are a number of modern galleries and collections to explore, too. Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Villa Croce houses contemporary pieces from Italy and all over the world, while Galleria D'Arte Moderna hosts special exhibitions, one recently dedicated to Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto. For those interested in art from Asia, the Edoardo Chiossone Museum of Oriental Art houses one of Europe's most significant collections. Once you're museum-ed out, Villa del Principe's gardens are a work of art in themselves.

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5. Its proximity to Liguria's best bits

Camogli in Liguria, Italy (Shutterstock)

Camogli in Liguria, Italy (Shutterstock)

To explore the Italian Riviera, you don’t need to stray far from Genoa. Camogli, a beautiful fishing village, is just 35 minutes south by train or car. Expect fabulous hotels, making it the perfect base for further exploration, and a glittering coast. If you’re brave enough to dive into the Mediterranean from the Abbey of San Fruttuoso, you’ll catch a glimpse of the bronze Christ of the Abyss statue deep underwater.

Another fishing village and resort, Portofino, is on the other side of the same peninsula. But this one needs no introduction – it’s well known already for its pastel-hued houses and breathtaking beaches.

A 57-minute train ride direct from Genoa to La Spezia – another Ligurian port city well worth a visit – opens up the ‘gateway to the Cinque Terre’. The famous five offer plenty to eat and explore in each village, unparalleled walking and views of the cliffs, and of course, the striking, red, pink, orange and yellow houses stacked along them. If circumstances allow, book a boat tour (whether private or public) to ensure you get as close to the iconic Cinque Terre as possible (camera in hand).

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