The Best Things to See in Genoa, Italy in One Day
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
We thought we’d stay the night in Genoa on our way home so as not to rush back to the airport on the train from Cinque Terre. Genoa, not being on the Italian tourist trail, was a bit of an anomaly. It did not, however, disappoint.
While being a gritty, lived-in city, it has an elegance and splendour steeped in history that left us both surprised and inspired. This city really does fly under the radar when it comes to Italian tourism - it’s a gem.
Genoa is the sixth largest city in Italy and boasts one of the largest historic centers in Europe. The maze of alleys (caruggi) dotted with small squares throughout has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
And for good reason, it’s the perfect place to get lost and wander while taking in the unique medieval super narrow streets.
There are mini grocery shops, little bars, restaurants and shops, and peaceful squares (no cars or motorbikes) that offer perfect spots for drink or snack. At night, this area comes alive and is the place to be.
The huge port area stretches along 22km of coastline. It’s vast. It is a lively place and is both commercial and recreational.
Slightly disappointing is the unsightly raised highway that runs along the area and seems to have been thrown there as an afterthought somewhat ruining the harbour vibe. Other than that, there’s a lot going on.
We stayed at the NH Collection Genova Marina Hotel which sits on one of the many piers jutting out along the harbour wall.
There are water views from all the balconies and it makes for a perfect base to go in and out of the Medieval quarter right across the street.
The view from our hotel room was of the enormous replica of a 17th century Spanish galleon that is moored there and serves as a tourist attraction. My son thought it was absolutely wonderful - what kid doesn’t appreciate an enormous pirate ship!
Another reason my son was happy to be there was the huge Aquarium located on the next pier. It is the largest aquarium in Europe and it very well done.
We visited when it was almost empty and it only took a couple of hours to get around - and everyone was happy (there’s only so much touring he can take!).
There is also a Maritime Museum and Botanical Biosphere, and plenty of dining options to choose from in the immediate area.
Piazza de Ferrari
The grand Piazza is hard to miss with the imposing fountain and the beautiful architecture surrounding it.
Kid note: you can run though the smaller fountains at the edge (and not get too soaked). Avenues stretch out in every direction - make sure you head down Via XX Settembre.
Via XX Settembre
This is Genoa’s principle street and not only does it offer some good retail therapy, the architecture is astounding.
There are covered walkways on either side of the street with mosaic floors and decorative archways, not to mention the ornamental relief sculptures gazing down from the building facades.
A perfect lunch spot off the Via XX Settembre is MOG - Mercato Orientale Genova. This renovation of Genoa's historic Eastern Market is a lively, beautiful place with eleven places to eat from sushi to tapas!
Another UNESCO Word Heritage site, the Via Garabadi, is elegance at its finest. The 250m long street is know for its many 16th century palaces built in the Renaissance by the aristocracy of the time.
The intricacy and elegance paired with the narrow medieval streets sum up Genoa’s architectural magic.
San Lorenzo Cathedral
Situated on the Piazza Matteotti, the 11th century San Lorenzo Cathedral is instantly recognizable due to its stripy facade reminiscent of Florence Cathedral.
These 12th century towers are a gateway to the old city through the ancient city walls. There are a number of nice bars surrounding it as well - you’re welcome!
Casa di Colombo (Columbus’s House)
Cristopher Columbus’s much restored house is located just outside the gates next to the Cloister of Sant’ Andrea, with its delicate columns and archways. Columbus, who was born in Genoa, lived there between approximately 1455 and 1470.
The Cloister right behind the house is all that remains of a large 12th century monastery - the rest was knocked down (shock horror) in 1904 to make way for an urban development project.
Of course, this only touches the surface of what Genoa has to offer - but there’s a great deal you can accomplish and appreciate in just a day or two in this coastal gem. It makes a great stopping point for visiting the other Ligurian highlights like Cinque Terre.
Have a look at my limited edition black & white prints of Genoa, Cinque Terre, and other Italian highlights.
There are many gorgeous towns and villages that stretch along the coast from Genoa, most famously the five small idyllic villages that are collectively know as Cinque Terre.
Only a couple of hours journey on one of the most scenic train lines in the world, gets to you to this other Ligurian gem.
Continue to... 'The Best Travel Guide to Cinque Terre, Italy'
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