Genoa city guide: what to do, top hotels, restaurants and shops


The homeland of pesto and Christopher Columbus, Genoa is often bypassed in favor of the Cinque Terre Instagram magnet or the choice of Milan fashionistas. Which is a shame, because to neglect this beautiful port is to miss one of the most affordable and discreet towns in Italy.

The main draw of Genoa is that it feels 100% Genoese, rather than overrun with other tourists. Once you get lost in its hypnotic maze of narrow caruggi in the alleys you will spot glorious Renaissance palaces alongside the modern and angular creations of Genoa’s second most famous son, Renzo Piano; and of farinata To fougasse, you can try some of the best street food in Italy. Ugly but beautiful, like all port towns with a fantastic atmosphere, this is a town whose gnarled beauty grows on you.

What to do

Stroll through the historic center

Nothing really prepares you for the dark labyrinth of narrow streets that crisscross Genoa’s old town – a neighborhood that Henry James called “the world’s most tangled topographical ravel”. It’s dense, but dodge these caruggi IIt’s the best way to get to the rhythm of this port city, avoiding scooters, grabbing a whiff of freshly ground pesto from a trattoria or soaking up the scent of spices from Bangladeshi grocery stores. Start at the gates of the 12th-century town, Porta Soprana, east of Centro Storico, considered the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. Then meander to the main square, Piazza de Ferrari, with its large bronze fountain.

Your next stop is the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, with its facade adorned with gray and white marble, reminiscent of the Duomo in Florence. Inside you will find the presumed remains of John the Baptist as well as an unexploded bomb from WWII from 1941. Finally, for the price of a single ticket (€ 1.50), climb into the one of the city’s historic funiculars for a fantastic panoramic view of the harbor and the city skyline.

A glance at the great palaces

Get a feel for the breadth of Genoa’s maritime influence and historical richness as you stroll along Strade Nuove (New Streets), where the city’s wealthiest merchants, bankers and shipowners built a band of ornate palaces – 42 to be precise. These are now designated Unesco World Heritage sites. If you only have time to visit one, do so Ducal Palace, the former residence of the Doges. Today it is the most important cultural and event venue in the city. Indoor rotating exhibits give visitors a chance to glimpse the splendid interiors – now an exhibit on graphic designer MC Escher, which runs through February 2022. If you’ve got time for two, head over to the 13th century Grimaldina Palace, for the panoramic view from its tower.

Visit by the sea

Fantastic homage to Genoa’s close relationship with the sea, the city’s aquarium (€ 27 for adults, € 23 reduced, € 19 for children aged 4 to 12) is the largest in Europe and a essential of the visit of the city. Attracting more than half a million visitors per year, the 70 amazing tanks of the aquarium recreate the marine and terrestrial habitat of more than 6,000 animals belonging to 600 species. If you want to learn more about Genoa’s maritime history, pass by the Galata Museo Del Mare (adults € 17, child € 12) where you will find a variety of high-tech interactive exhibits. You’ll learn all there is to know about Genoa’s favorite explorer Columbus and get inside the S518 Nazario Sauro submarine.

Genovese pesto is the best specialty in town

(Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Where to eat

Don’t stick to the standard pizza and pasta – there are countless local Genoese dishes that visitors overlook. In the homeland of hazelnut and basil mash, Genoese pesto is a staple, served with short, twisted pasta called trophy. A good place to try this is its namesake trattoria: His Pesta, located in the old town district of Genoa.

Another typical Genoese delight that you must taste in Genoa is fougasse, freshly baked bread usually rolled or hand-pressed into a thick layer of dough, then baked in a stone-bottomed oven. Focacia is everything for the Genoese: they dip it in their cappuccino, nibble it at work or enjoy it with a glass of wine at aperitif time. You can enjoy it in a bakery, bar or sciamadda. My advice is Pasticceria Priano, west of town – their focaccia is ultra-fine and crisp, dusted with cornmeal for added flavor.

At Antica Sciamadda (14 Via S. Giorgio, +39 010 246 8516) savor another Genoese specialty, farinata di this. Fine and perfectly cooked in their wood-fired oven, this chickpea pancake simply melts in your mouth. Your last stop is the hole in the wall Antica Friggitoria Carega (113 Via di Sottoripa, +39 010 247 0617) near the Porto Antico, for friggitoria – a choice of fried seafood snacks including fried calamari, octopus, shrimp and anchovies.

Where to drink

Start your evening in style with a local favorite asinello, better known as corochinato – a fortified wine from Genoa, flavored with an intriguing blend of 16 herbs and spices including two types of wormwood, cinchona bark and rhubarb. The place to sip it is Bar Degli Asinelli (78 Via di Canneto Il Lungo, +39 010 246 8703) where it is served chilled, with a slice of lemon (€ 1.50) and a generous basket of focaccia.

An evening should be devoted to the classic northern Italian tradition of aperitif – around 5-7 p.m., locals head to wine bars for a wine or beer, and receive a generous portion of free appetizers – think of a mini-buffet of cheeses, salami and focaccia served with your drink. The Delle Vigne bar (4 Vico dell’Amor Perfetto, +39 010 255828) in the Centro Storico offers one of the best spreads.

Another classic local wine bar is the Paul Vineria Genova (36 Via di Canneto Il Curto, +39 010 246 8708), where glasses of wine start from € 1 a glass. Try their ‘Chardonnay Frizz’, a slightly sparkling white wine from the Veneto region, served by the charming and warm owners.

Before sunset, travel to the pastel-painted fishing village of Boccadasse, on the outskirts of Genoa. La Strambata (5 Piazza Nettuno, +39 010 869 7002) makes a great aperitif on a terrace facing the village’s pebble beach, lined with moored fishing boats. Then Antica Gelateria Amedeo is the place to go for an ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Boccadasse village at the golden hour

(Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Where to shop

Time stands still in the medieval heart of Genoa, the largest in Europe, where you step back in time to places such as Italy’s oldest pastry chef, Antica Confetteria Pietro Romanengo. Making sweets since 1780, they have used traditional sponge cake recipes from the Far East to satisfy the sweet tooth of the locals – try candied fruits, candies and preserves. For delicious pastries and the best cappuccino in town, stay in the Old Quarter and visit Fratelli Klainguti, a bar and pasticceria dating from 1826, which counts Giuseppe Verdi and Garibaldi as its customers.

Visit Via XX Settembre, one of the main shopping streets of Genoa, where you will find all the international and local brands as well as the best market in the city, MOG Mercato Orientale. Like all good food markets, it’s a whirlwind of delicious colors, smells and flavors. Sample tangy truffles (white and black) along with pecorino cheese, fresh fish, handmade pasta, and freshly made Genoese pesto – ideal if you’re independent. There’s also a food court and bar, and cooking classes are offered.

If you are interested in unique design and gift ideas, try Témide, a shop that promotes local artists from Liguria. Here you’ll find everything from vintage paintings and clothing to handmade jewelry and ceramic sculptures.

Where to stay

A true grande dame of the Belle Epoque, the Grand Hotel Savoia is adorned with Murano glass chandeliers, marble floors and lush furnishings – a throwback to the golden age of transatlantic travel. Built in 1897, the hotel exudes history and luxury from every nook and cranny. There is a rooftop terrace with 360 degree views and a lavish spa in the basement. Rooms cost from £ 112 a night.

Next to Savoia, and in the immediate vicinity of the train station and the port, the four-star hotel Continental Hotel is housed in a historic 19th century building but enjoys the comforts of modern interiors. The rooms, with shiny parquet floors, are tastefully decorated to reflect the Genoese style, with nods to the town’s maritime history. The breakfast buffet is fantastic here, stocked with hot and flaky croissants, fresh fruit and cheeses.

Expect a lot of foccacia along the way

(Getty Images / iStockphoto)

The latest design hostel in Genoa, Ostello Bello Genoa, is right in front of the Continental. In keeping with its location adjacent to the harbor, it has an original maritime theme throughout the building. The highlight is a huge outdoor patio with a barbecue area and plenty of hammocks to sink in with a book. The downstairs bar is open all day and night, where you can eat unlimited free focaccia and save money using its shared self-service kitchen. Choose from dorms or private rooms with private bathrooms – a select few private have their own outdoor terraces – ask in advance. Prices start from £ 18 a night for a bed in a dormitory or £ 45 for a double en-suite room.

Nuts and bolts

What currency do they use?

The euro.

What language do they speak?

Italian. English and French are also commonly heard.

How much do I tip?

Tipping is not essential, but appreciated for exceptional service – aim for 10-15%.

What is the time difference?

Genoa is one hour ahead of the UK.

How do I get around?

Genoa has an excellent public transport system including rail lines, buses, water buses, cable cars, public lifts and a short metro line operated by AMT.

What is the best view?

In the residential area of ​​Castelletto you will find the elevated platform of Spianata Castelletto. The walkway and platform offer stunning views over the brick roofs of Genoa and the not-too-distant port. Spy on the boats and ships entering and leaving the harbor or set out at night to see a glittering blanket of city lights.

Insider tip?

For a day trip, the village of Camogli is beautiful, with a decent beach. It is easily reached by local regional train from Genoa (€ 3.60 one way) – or there are boat services from Genoa to Portofino and Cinque Terre – ask at your hotel or hostel reception to book tickets .

Getting There

Trying to fly less?

You can get from the UK to Genoa entirely by train in around 12 hours: take the Eurostar from London to Paris, then change to Gare de Lyon for a direct TGV service to Torino Porta Susa station in Turin. From there, proceed to Torino Lingotto and take the local Re train to Genova Brignole station in Genoa.

Okay to fly?

Ryanair flies directly to Genoa from London Stansted; or it’s a two hour drive from Milan Linate.

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