10 Reasons Why You Should Visit Genoa, Italy

Genoa's Old Port bustles with activity throughout the year
Genoa's Old Port bustles with activity throughout the year | © Giulio Benzi / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Lucie Grace
26 August 2021

With over 40 ornate palaces, plus museums, designer shops and bowls of pasta drenched in its native pesto sauce – Genoa is a hotbed of fine Italian culture.

As Italy’s oldest continually inhabited city, Genoa was once the richest city on earth and the maritime capital of the world for over 700 years, from the 11th century to 1797. Fast forward to the 21st century and the city retains its independent edge with hip local designers, a vast student community and a cutting-edge food and drink scene.

To explore the old town centre

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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Old town Genoa centre, aerial cityscape view of Genoa's old town - the Centro Storico, Liguria, Italy.
© Michael Brooks / Alamy Stock Photo

Genoa’s old town presents a blend of medieval, Renaissance and baroque buildings that spring up from its narrow alleyways, known as caruggi. Though home to churches, palaces and markets, the area is today largely residential, but do look out for the small cafes and hatches wedged between these grandiose structures. Genoese street food is second to none, so make sure to try farinata (chickpea flour pancake), fried fish and focaccia bread whilst you’re here.

It has a great range of museums

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Palazzo Doria-Tursi, also known as the Palazzo Niccolo Grimaldi in Genoa, Liguria, Italy. The palace is now used as the city municipality as well as one of the three buildings of the Musei di Strada Nuova (Museums of Strada Nuova).
© Azoor Travel Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

Genoa’s museums tell the fascinating story of the city’s development and its links to the rest of the world. At the top of your list should be the unmissable Strada Nuova Museums: a trio of architecturally stunning palaces located on the Strada Nuova. Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Doria Tursi transport you to an opulent time in the city’s history, all regal courtyards, walkways and marble floors. Another favourite is the anthropological collection at Castello d’Albertis, which aptly calls itself the Museum of World Cultures. Then you can round off your history tour at the maritime museum, Galata Museo del Mare, to better understand the Genoese Republic at its height.

Genoa has a surprisingly buzzy nightlife

Bar, Cocktail Bar, Restaurant, Nightclub, Italian, Cocktails, $$$
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An alley in Genoa with a lot of pedestrians. Night life in Genoa.
© Hani Santosa / Alamy Stock Photo
Whether you’re hankering for a messy night out or looking for a few sophisticated tipples, Genoa’s got your nights covered. If dancing the night away on a terrace overlooking the Ligurian Sea sounds like your bag, Mako Discoteque is for you. Alternatively, admire the beautifully painted ceiling and stunning period features at Les Rouges Cucina & Cocktails, or comb through the Facebook page to get the password for secret speakeasy cocktail bar Malkovich. Dig out your flapper dress, because here, it’s Prohibition era-chic: jazz in the background and candles atmospherically illuminating the outrageous cocktail combinations.

The locals take afternoon strolls along Corso Italia

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature
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Evening passeggiata along the Corso Italia with the Campanile de la Cattedrale
© Stuart Black / Alamy Stock Photo

This seaside promenade is a little over 2mi (3km) in length and it takes an hour to take a traditional Italian passeggiata (late afternoon stroll) at an enjoyable, leisurely pace. Take in the fresh, salty sea air as you leave the city centre behind and mosey towards Boccadasse’s beach. The coastal strip is laden with lidos and bagni (beach bathing zones), as well as cafes and gelateria options, should you need a pit stop along the way.

The shopping is on point

Architectural Landmark, Shop
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Take yourself window shopping in the high-end boutiques along Via Roma, where the likes of Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors have set up shop. Then, browse the more budget-friendly stores on Via Caffa, including the famous lifestyle store Via Garibaldi 12. It’s just as unmissable for its 16th-century palazzo setting as for its range of quirky homewares. If you like your fashion nautical but nice, concept store Paccottiglia is the best in town, with accessories and clothes inspired by Genoa’s maritime history. For handicrafts head to Temide DesignArt Store, a wonderful gallery-like display of artisanal pieces.

You can go back in time in fishing village Boccadasse

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature
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Genoa, Italy - October 14, 2018: Boccadasse is small fishing village in Genoa
© Elena Odareeva / Alamy Stock Photo

The ancient fishing village of Boccadesse is just a short ride east of Genoa’s centre and a firm favourite for its vibrant, pastel-coloured buildings that are reminiscent of the Cinque Terre villages further along the coast. Fishermen can be seen voyaging in and out of the small harbour daily and local restaurants are of course well-stocked in the freshest local seafood options. Sink your teeth into al dente, sea bass-stuffed ravioli at the reasonably priced Trattoria Osvaldo, or stop by the seafront bar La Strambata for a spritz.

It’s the birthplace of pesto

Market, Italian
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You can’t go to Genoa without trying its signature sauce: basil and pine nut-based pesto, a paste enriched with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, parmesan and pecorino cheese. It’s best served on the regional pasta speciality, trofie –a short, twisted pasta variety. You can pick up all these ingredients, plus meats and spices at the huge, down-to-earth food market Mercato Orientale, which houses the area’s best local vendors and a 19th-century food hall for dining in. For high-end Italian cuisine at reasonable prices book an evening at the elegant Trattoria Rosmarino. You’ll be hard-pressed to find the classics done better, even if you only order a lasagne.

To watch the sunset at Spianata Castelletto

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature
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Sunset seen from Spianata Castelletto, Genoa, Lombardia, Italy
© sunset at Spianata Castelletto

This hilltop esplanade is a Genoese favourite for taking in the majesty of the city below. The panoramic views of the palazzos, port and Ligurian Sea are best enjoyed at sunset with a gelato or granita from one of the kiosks. Spianata Castelletto is most elegantly reached by the beautifully maintained art nouveau elevator that can be accessed from Piazza Portello.

It has important architectural gems

Architectural Landmark, Cathedral
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The height of Genoa’s power came between the 11th and 17th centuries, when the city’s bankers, crusaders and traders saw wealth and riches flood in. The city’s finest architecture dates back to this period, most notably the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, whose Gothic facade and Romanesque arch interior are considered a marvel of medieval architecture. The Lanterna, built in 1543, is the third-oldest lighthouse in the world and at an impressive 77m (253ft) tall, the highest in the Mediterranean. Don’t miss the 16th-century baroque church Chiesa del Gesù, which boasts a vaulted dome ceiling and paintings by Rubens.

Genoa is packed with palaces

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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If the aristocratic Strada Nuova Museum palazzos whet your appetite, there are 39 more stunning palaces to check out while you’re in Genoa. Known collectively as Palazzi dei Rolli and protected by Unesco, Genoa’s 16th-and 17th-century decadence lives on in these incredibly well-preserved palaces, which were once used to host high-profile guests of the Republic of Genoa. The enormous Palazzo Reale, the former home of the House of Savoy, has much of its original furnishings on display. Look out for its priceless frescoes and baroque sculptures by Italian master Filippo Parodi.

These recommendations were updated on August 26, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Lucie Grace

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