Genoa travel guide: Main sights of the charming Ligurian city

Any Genoa travel guide will tell you that this northwestern port's mild climate has long been a major factor in drawing people to this part of the Italian Riviera.

The port of Genoa, Italy
The port of Genoa, Italy © massimhokuto -

Yet despite being just a couple of hours' drive from the well-known Cinque Terre and offering a dock to many cruise ships, Genoa has always evaded mass tourism and is all the better for it.

Visitors can explore the maze of tiny lanes of caruggi, which are a mix of olde worlde charm, designer shops, atmospheric restaurants and bars, and statues and fountains, which guarantee a truly authentic Italian experience.

The Palazzo Rosso, Genoa
The Palazzo Rosso, Genoa © Sailko - Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

There's also a grander side to the city, from the aristocratic Baroque palaces of the Strade Nuove to Genoa's spectacular Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. Without the international profile of cities like Florence, Rome or Milan, Genoa is often overlooked, but if you scratch the surface of this port town with its rich maritime history you'll be charmed by a vibrant and elegant metropolis.

Genoa travel guide: where to go, eat, shop, and sleep

Here in our Genoa travel guide you'll find a selection of the best things to see and do on your trip:

The Genoa Aquarium

Down at the Port Antico, Acquario di Genova is Italy's largest aquarium and Europe's second largest, housing over 600 species of marine life, as well as hummingbirds and butterflies, and is the undisputed highlight of the city's indoor attractions.

Hands on at the aquarium, Genoa
Hands on at the aquarium, Genoa © Matthias Rabbione - Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

The building itself is also of real interest: Genoa's second most celebrated son, after Columbus, the architect Renzo Piano, designed the new aquarium in the 1990s, and later went on to use his signature glass style on London's Shard building.

Galata Museo del Mare

At this modern museum you can learn the importance of the sea to those living on this stretch of land with four floors of exhibits, taking you on a chronological maritime journey through the ages, culminating in a secret panoramic rooftop viewpoint.

Galata Museo del Mare
Galata Museo del Mare © Twice25 - Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

The exhibition continues on the water with a real Italian submarine to explore as part of the Galata Museo del Mare.

The house of Christopher Columbus

While Genoa's famous seafaring son - known here as Cristoforo Colombo - was undoubtedly a rather shady character whose connections with Spain were as strong as any loyalty to his hometown, his old residence on Piazza Dante is still well worth a visit. It's a small museum located right on the edges of the Centro Storico, Europe's largest Old Town.

Where to eat Genoese cuisine: Cambi Café

You'll have to work hard to find a bad mouthful of food in this town, and there are hole-in-the-wall bakeries selling variations of tasty melt-in-the-mouth focaccia by the slice at every turn, which make for a great portable snack while sightseeing.

The Cambi Cafe
The Cambi Cafe - photo courtesy of

For a truly authentic Genoese meal meander down tiny Vico Falamonica and you'll be rewarded with Cambi Café, a delightful restaurant where you can sample traditional Genovese cooking amongst genteel surroundings enhanced by delicate original Frescos dating back to 1618. Try the stoccafisso accomodato, a cured fish stew, or authentic Ligurian trofie pasta with Genoa's most famous culinary invention, pesto.

Where to shop: Eataly

The slogan at Eataly is Italy is Eataly, tapping into the world's belief, and the Italians' certainty, that Italy and good food go hand in hand. This Italian food mecca is part grocery-style food hall and part food court, and is the ideal place to grab an edible souvenir to take home with you.

Italy is Eataly
Italy is Eataly © Frédérique Voisin-Demery - Flickr CC BY 2.0

Meals and snacks are served canteen style in different areas - from a pizza and pasta bar to a cured meats station, and the store is packed with delicious focaccia, pesto, balsamic vinegar and other Italian treats for you to pack in your suitcase.

A bit of history

We couldn't write a Genoa travel guide without including reference to what must be the city's most enduring export: jeans. During Genoa's heyday the Genoese Navy pioneered a local variation of corduroy to create a hard-wearing, multi-purpose uniform for its sailors.

The trousers were designed to be rolled up at the ankles when mopping the decks and were so durable that they survived being dragged along behind the ship in a net which was the way they were laundered at sea. The resulting garment was transported around the world, the fabric made in Nimes, France (de Nimes becoming 'denim') and the product called bleu de gênes, giving us the worldwide phenomena that is blue jeans.

Where to stay: Melia Genoa

The palatial Melia Genoa* hotel is the perfect refined base from which to explore the city's twisting caruggi, waterside attractions and culinary delights.

The Terrace Bar, Melia Genoa
The Terrace Bar, Melia Genoa - photo courtesy of Meliá Hotels International

Tucked away in a quiet tree-lined street in the elegant residential district of Carignano, the Melia Genoa is housed in a grand historic building which was formerly the headquarters of Ilva, Italy's biggest iron and steel manufacturer. It's a beautiful and imposing hotel that was recently refurbished, and serves as a typically Genoese example of understated five-star luxury.

Hopefully this Genoa travel guide will guide you or at the very least inspire you to explore the city for yourself.

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Jaillan Yehia

Jaillan Yehia

Posted on Tuesday 25th March 2014 in: City Culture Europe

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