Tucked into a thin slice of northern Italian coastline between the Ligurian Sea and the Apennine Mountains, Genoa (or Genova, in Italian) is a historic port city of limited space. For centuries, though, the stalwart Genovese have made the most of their land, coloring the landscape with vivid homes and churches to draw the merchants of the ancient world to their shores. With one of the largest intact medieval quarters in all of Europe—plus stunning art and architecture, delicious cuisine, and easy access to some of the most lovely water in the world—Genoa is a beautiful place to visit.

View of  Genoa, port city in northern Italy

Photo By Alex Tihohovs/ Shutterstock


When’s the best time to go to Genoa?

With museums, art galleries, gorgeous churches, and ancient palaces, the city offers sightseeing for every season, even the cold and rainy ones. While winter is great for exploring, with very few tourists, the rain can be a challenge. Genoa in the late spring (April/May) and the early fall (September/October) is warm enough for enjoying an afternoon on the beach, but not so full of summering tourists that you feel swallowed by the throngs.

How to get around Genoa

No matter where you’re coming from, Genoa is easy to access, with a major airport and two large train stations within five miles of the city center. Most international flights arrive in Milan or Rome, both with great connecting flights to Genoa Cristoforo Colombo Airport. Because of the peculiar mountainous topography, flights must turn out to sea and then come in along the coastline, so if you sit on the right side of the plane, your views are spectacular. Train service is excellent from all over Italy.

The Genovese are proud of their metro, which is clean and runs consistently but has only eight stations. While not convenient for extensive travel, connections to both train stations do simplify city arrival and departure. There are few cabs to hail—instead, look for cabstands at major junctions like the Aquarium and Piazza Ferrari. Primarily, Genoa is a walking city, so bring comfy shoes and enjoy exploring on foot.

Can’t miss things to do in Genoa

In a bygone era of political intrigue and threat of assassination, the Doge of Genoa lived in a fortified palace rumored to contain enough stored food and water to keep him alive two full years with the doors sealed. Needing to travel via secret corridor to the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, he would arrive in his private church quarters just as mass began. While today this part of the church is normally closed to the public, with special reservations you can tour his chambers, and from there climb to the bell tower for spectacular views of the entire ancient city.

Food and drink to try in Genoa

The traditional Ligurian flatbread, focaccia, is the mainstay of Genovese cuisine, and you’ll find that it’s nearly impossible to miss its wafting scent. Every bakery lining the Via San Lorenzo produces its own variety, from the simple olive oil and salt, to those topped with olives, onions, and even smeared thickly with Nutella. A standard slice will cost you 1 euro, and makes for an amazing breakfast with a steaming cappuccino.

Culture in Genoa

Genoa is peppered with UNESCO World Heritage experiences, most notably the Palazzi di Rolli. These 16th-century palaces once housed Genoa’s nobility and were required to be listed on the “rolls” as possible lodging for visiting international dignitaries. Spend a day exploring the Musei di Strada Nuova (palaces turned art galleries) and the boutique shops between them. Save a few hours for the abundance of medieval and Renaissance churches that flank the Via Garibaldi; some of the city’s most precious art lies within their walls.

Although Genoa has been hit by the economic downturn, there is still a desire to celebrate the events of the city’s past. One of four major historic maritime republics (along with Venice, Amalfi, and Pisa), “La Superba” Genoa remains connected to the stories and seafaring traditions. Every four years, Genoa hosts the annual July Regatta celebrating this history. So in 2014 and 2018, expect to encounter hundreds of costumed boatmen, live music, and nighttime street parties.

Local travel tips for Genoa

  • Cappuccino is solely a morning drink. If you don’t want to look like a tourist, don’t order one after 10 a.m.
  • Be prepared to navigate steep inclines as you make your way around town. Because the roads are incredibly narrow and the streets often go straight uphill, many locals drive scooters.
  • Be respectful of customs. The Genovese are quite formal in behavior and clothing.
  • Dress is conservative—no flip-flops or shorts, with jeans rarely seen on anyone over the age of 18.
  • The ancient city is beautiful to explore by daylight, but in the dark (and with relatively few streetlights, it is very dark!) streets can get a bit seedy. Prostitution is legal and still practiced in Genoa, so small alleys can become home to many types of evening characters.
  • Be smart, keep your eyes open, and make sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times.

Guide Editor

Collier Lumpkin is a chef and freelance food writer/photographer who splits her time between New York City and northern Italy. She loves focaccia with olive oil, kayaking on the Italian Riviera, and exploring unexpected tiny towns.

Read Before You Go
For tried-and-true pesto, head to the ancient city of Genoa in Italy’s Liguria region.
Resources to help plan your trip
Board a boat or a train, and head into the areas surrounding Genoa along the Ligurian coast, between the mountains and the sea.
Stroll through gorgeous museums and stunning churches to get a feel for the centuries of history. Enjoy the flavors of focaccia, pesto, and gelato. Then stroll along the sea, watch the catch come in at day’s end, and head up to the ancient towers of the Barbarossa walls—or to Castelletto at sunset for a beautiful view of the lights coming on over the harbor.
Take two days to explore this coastal town, then venture to other villages along the Italian shores. Be sure to hike from Santa Margherita to Camogli along the edge of the Portofino promontory.
Genoa may get overlooked for more famous Italian cities such as Venice, Rome, and Florence, but it’s a hidden gem for those in the know. The art deco icon, Meliá Génova, makes for a great base for exploration or for a touch of nostalgia book a stay at the Excelsior Palace, home to Italy’s first casino. For a truly grand Italian seaside experience, a classic Ligurian villa overlooking the waters of the Riviera di Levante.
While most people think of Italy as a summertime destination, there are wonders to be found in this northern port city any time of year—especially winter! With hardly any tourists in these cooler (and slightly wetter) months, the city is quiet and calm and opens its doors to some incredible art exhibits, live operas, and wintertime flavors.
Small though it may be, this city is packed with beautiful museums—many in ancient buildings, and most with magnificent examples of Renaissance, pre-Renaissance, and even modern schools of art and sculpture. Most are open Tuesday through Saturday, and some have a free day each week.
While the old city prides itself on shops that have been selling specific wares for centuries, new boutiques are popping up between the ancient ones. Alongside 200-year-old butchers and crumbling cafés, browse for stunning modern art, runway-style bridal gowns, and high-end children’s clothing.
Fascinating museums, a bite of classic chocolate, and steep hikes that reward with amazing vistas...
Italians have a wonderful tradition of winding down the day and gearing up for the night—the early-evening aperitivo. Here are places to enjoy a glass of sparkling prosecco with a plate of savory snacks.
You cannot help but be lured into storefronts with pistachio, hazelnut, and chocolate gelato beckoning in the windows.
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