I fell in love with Genova, Italia the minute I stepped off the plane that landed on the tarmac. Located in the Liguria region, it is tightly squeezed in between Monaco and Tuscany and is the thinnest and the smallest of all the regions of Italy. It may not be the most popular area of Italy or an area that you think of when it comes to a visit to Italy, but take it from me, you will want to come to Genova, Italy for a visit!
Honestly, a few days is barely enough to scratch the surface of Genova. It is a city of contrasts from many centuries with a compelling history. With Baroque, Medieval, and Modern styles – you name it, they have it here. So get your cameras ready!
Things to do in Genova Italia
What’s in a Name?
I don’t know if you realize it, but there are different ways to spell Genoa or Genova. Genoa is the English way to spell it and Genova is the Italian way to spell it!! No matter which way you spell it, Genova Italia is a gorgeous city to visit. So please don’t overlook it because you want to get to the coastline to see Portofino or Cinque Terre first. For me, the lack of tourists and the ease with which you can get around, as well as its delicious Italian food, are just a few of the great reasons to come to Genova Italia. Plus, of course, the beauty of the region, its sweet people, and the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
Where is Genova, Italia?
Located about an hour away from some of Italy’s most beloved tourist hotspots you will find Genova Italia. It is a special gem of a port city that has somehow survived the mass tourism that is seen elsewhere in Liguria. It is a gorgeous city full of tons of hidden places, from covert speakeasies, delicious restaurants, to palaces built for Kings and Queens. It literally has breathtaking viewpoints from all over the city.
Related: Top secrets of Rome Revealed
Don’t speak Italian? Don’t worry. I don’t either, and I managed to get around and you can too!
✦ How to get to Genova, Italia – Airport
The main airport to get to this region is via Genova (GOA) (as the Italians say). Genoa is one of the easiest airports to fly into in Italy. The smaller airplanes arrive out on the tarmac, then a quick trip inside to baggage claim, and out the front door for transportation in only a few minutes.
From here, depending on your budget, you can take a cab to your hotel directly or take the bus, which stops right outside the door to the main train station. I usually just catch the bus and just go directly to the train station, since it is simple when I am alone. But if you are with a group, then I recommend a cab.
At the train station where the bus drops you off, there are cabs right out in front and from here it is a quick jaunt to the downtown hotels (which saves you a bit of money but takes a bit more time than the direct taxi from the airport). I don’t know about you, but once I have arrived from an overnight flight, the first thing I want to do is go directly to my hotel and get checked in.
✦ Things to Do in Genova, Italia
Make sure to spend some time on the streets of Genova, Italia.
✦ Piazza Rafaellae de Ferrari
Piazza Rafaellae de Ferrari is directly in the center of the main square piazza and will capture your attention and set the tone of splendor you will experience in Genova. It is the main hub and vibe of the city and so going here first will help you get your bearings straight as to where everything is. Look around at the buildings for the Opera House, Doge’s Palace and gaze at the lovely fountain.
From here, you can go to most of the main things to do in Genoa. Find the tiny house where Christopher Columbus used to live, next to his house is the beautiful remains of a 12th-century cloister.
✦ Via Guiseppe Garibaldi Street
This narrow old street from the 1550s is entwined with Genoa’s history. You can stroll through the lane listening to the history of the Great Garibaldi who united Italy on a walking tour. Take a peep into the old mansions and baroque palaces which will give you a glimpse of the rich Italian heritage of art and sculpture. This famous street in Genova is a Unesco World Heritage site and perfect for a day of shopping or to view timeless 16th-century residences with gardens. Art history lovers call it the “golden street” for the number of museums that house Renaissance masterpieces!
✦ Funicular at Largo Zecca
There are three funiculars in Genoa. Largo Zecca up to Righi Hill is the closest one near Via Garibaldi with a few stops along the way. It takes about 20 minutes and once you make it to the top, there is a fabulous panoramic view, at least one cafe, a castle, and a great little gelato shop. From here you can see all the ships in port and the historic Lanterna (the lighthouse). The ride is part of the city transport system, so just use your bus ticket or you can also take the public elevator to the top of Righi Hill.
✦ Lanterna di Genoa
The city of Genoa was once described as “La Dominate dei Mari” or “the dominant of seas” because of its close proximity to the sea and important ports. The lantern of Genoa which was built between 1128-1538, was constructed as a land lighthouse for all those who enter Genoa by sea. The lighthouse part of this lantern is still in use today by the Marine Military. As of January 2020, the public is allowed to visit this stunning monument between Tuesday and Sunday.
✦ Things to Do in Genova, Italy:
✦ Old Harbor and Port
Large-scale restoration and redevelopment of the old Port of Genova have been done, where they also added new buildings for the Aquarium, the Bigo tensile structure, and the Bolla, a 20 meters diameter crystal sphere, with the largest collection of ferns in the world. You can also visit the Museum of the Sea, also known as the Galata Museo del Mare. It features several exhibits that trace the history of Genoa’s rise as a maritime superpower when it battled with Venice for the trade links to the East. There are also mentions of this city’s role in the Italian migration to the Americas in the 19th century.
The submarine tour is great if you have kids, while the rooftop observatory provides panoramic views of Genova, Italia. And there is also something for history buffs – the museum’s collection of old illustrated globes and maritime maps.
✦ Porta Soprana
The Porta Soprana literally means “door Soprana”, also known as “Door to Sant’Andrea”. This Genovese monument represents the entryway to the city of Genoa and was constructed between the 9th and the 12th Centuries. It is located close to the Museum of Christopher Colombus or what some call the House of Christopher Columbus.
Along the walls of this entryway, you will find Latin inscriptions that refer to the Almighty God, protection against enemies, and a warning to those who want war with Genova Italia- “Si bellum queres tristis victusque recedes”, which translates to “If it is war you are searching for; you will find yourself sad and defeated”. This beautiful monument has a stunning and steep staircase and a beautiful view from the top of the tower.
Related: 12 Things to do in Portofino
✦ San Lorenzo Cathedral
Take the time to stop by San Lorenzo’s Cathedral, the 1500-year-old black and white striped marble church. One of the most important Cathedrals in the Catholic culture is this one in Genova, which was built in 1098! The locals believe that the site of this Cathedral was once a burial place for the Ancient Romans during the early 3rd century.
The famous sculptor Rubatto created some of the exterior statues such as the giant Lions next to the stairway. The front entrance of the Cathedral has a carving of Jesus Christ with Saint Lorenzo. The interior of the Cathedral has a chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist (San Giovanni Battista), frescos painted by Barocci and Ignoto, and a gothic atmosphere.
Related: Things to do in Cesena, Italy
✦ More Things to Do in Genova, Italy
✦ Castello d’Albertis
One of the neogothic castles of Genoa is the Castello d’Albertis. This famous castle was built during the 8th century for the founder of the first Yacht Club in Italy, Enrico D’Albertis. In my opinion, the panoramic view at the top of this castle takes the cake as one of the most breathtaking views of Genoa.
Although this museum is open almost all year-round, there is a secret guided tour in the summer. This secret tour occurs every Thursday between 8 pm-9 pm and takes you on a tour of the secret passageways of the castle.
Related: Things to do in Venice
One of the most interesting yet underrated things to do in Genova is to visit one of the oldest prisons. This prison is located in the heart of the city center, but not in the form of a building. The shell-shaped form of the square of Campopisano was once used as a prison during the late 13th century. More than 9,000 prisoners of Pisani from the city of Pisa were held captive and later buried underneath this square. Locals say that they can still here to the moaning and crying of the prisoners buried under the square, so take a listen to see if you can hear them!
✦ Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno
One of the most beautiful cemeteries in Italia is the Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno. You might be thinking, who comes to Genoa to visit a cemetery? I do, of course! Well, this cemetery resembles an open-air museum with beautiful crypts, mausoleums, and a stunning Pantheon surrounding by luscious trees. So you know I have to go!
Many famous people have been buried at this cemetery such as Mary Costance Wilde (Oscar Wildes’ wife), politician Giuseppe Mazzini, artist Raffaele Rubattino, and politician and academic Domenico de Ferrari, who is buried in the Pantheon.
✦ Spianata Castelletto
Arguably one of the most spectacular and beautiful views of Genova is at the top of the Spianata Castelletto. The 360-degree view of the port and city of Genoa is what renders the Spianata Castelletto a unique place to visit. From the top of this “balcony”, one can admire the rooftops of old houses, the medieval towers, the naval marvels, and sanctuaries,
✦ La Farmacia San’Anna
You might not have thought about visiting a pharmacy while in Genoa but you might want to reconsider when you read about Farmacia San’Anna. This pharmacy is located in Piazza Sant’Anna and is one of the oldest pharmacies in the city at over 370 years old. Since the opening of this pharmacy, it has specialized in creating new syrups, cosmetics, perfume, and teas. Inside this pharmacy, there is a life-like figure of a Carmelite (brother from the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Caramel) who is “preparing a new perfume”.
Things to Eat in Genoa
So after visiting all of these places, you must be hungry! And let’s be honest, if you are in THE city that is famous for inventing pesto, then you must take the time to eat pesto and other authentic Genovese dishes. Here are some of the most traditional Genovese dishes and places where you can eat them!
✦ Pesto Genovese!
The first official recipe for the Pesto Genovese dates back to 1863 in a cookbook by Gio Batta Ratto, “La Cuciniera Genovese” (The Genoese Cuisine). The original recipe calls for garlic, basil, Parmigiano cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil. One of the best places in Genoa to eat this authentic sauce is at the Osteria Le Colonne which is located inside of the Palazzo Squarciafico. This restaurant is famous for its innovation, as well as traditional Genovese dishes. If you cannot wait to travel to Italy to taste this pesto, then check out this recipe to make your own Pesto Genovese.
✦ Focaccia Genovese
Dating back to the early 5th century is where the mention of the first focaccia Genovese. This is a flat-bread that I used with bread flour and regular flour and is eaten plain or topped with various ingredients, similar to a pizza. The trick to making an authentic focaccia Genovese is the balanced ingredients, the rising time of the dough, and the pan size. You can try the best focaccias in Genoa at these shops: Panificio Mario, Al Forno di Albaro and Focaccaria Genovese.
✦ Pansotti con Sugo di Noci
If you love pasta, vegetables, and nuts then you are surely in for a treat with this traditional Genovese dish. The Pansotti con Sugo di Noci is a pasta dish that is stuffed with vegetables and topped with a creamy white sauce and chopped walnuts. This dish is often eaten during the period of Lent. The best places in Genoa to try this scrumptious dish is at either La Locanda degli Adorno, Sa’ Pesta, or Cavour 21. You can also try your hand at making this dish at home following this recipe.
✦ Genova, Italy: Where to Stay?
BW City Hotel
I recommend the BW City Hotel, ask for their penthouse suite! You can check out my review of this amazing hotel here. Although it is not a classic interior-designed hotel, having modern décor, it is in the perfect location for your trip to Genova, Italia. You can read more about my wonderful view from the article mentioned above. If you get a chance, you can eat at Le Rune, Genoa, Italy, which is just around the corner.
Grand Hotel Savoia
I also recommend the Grand Hotel Savoia, which is located right beside the main train station. And if you took the bus there you are almost home!
The two hotels alternate between the #1 and the #2 choice of hotels in Genova on TripAdvisor and both are excellent choices. I do prefer the BW City Hotel’s location, but it is a modern hotel, whereas the Hotel Savoia is like stepping back in time, into an old-world hotel. So you decide what you prefer.
Get to Genova, get checked in to your hotel, and figure out the lay of the land.
✦ Genova: Get the Genoa Pass
Before you get started, you can buy the Genoa Musei, which will let you ride public transportation in Genoa. These can be purchased in the tiny newsstand-looking business across from most of the bus stops or online. Included in the price of the ticket is the train to Nervi and the lift for the funicular for 24 hours in Genova. You can read more about the pass on the link mentioned above.
✦ Genoa, Italy: Day trips in the Area
If you haven’t had a chance to go on any Genova, Italia day trips, NOW is the time to do it. In fact, plan your summer vacation and find your way to a few of these gorgeous beaches! They are completely different than the typical beaches you find in the USA.
1. ✦ Bocadasse – close by
Take the bus or cab out to Bocadasse, an old fisherman’s village in the city. It has lots of fishing boats and people lounging by the sea. This is an easy day trip and a fun afternoon to get a gelato. Take the #31 bus to Bocadasse (2.50 Euros), tickets are across the street in the store near where the #31 bus stops, which is near Christopher Columbus’ house.
2.✦ Nervi – a bit further
Take the train out to Nervi, for a day trip down the Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi (promenade), which is named after the wife of the famous General. Walk along the lovely boardwalk in either direction to the end and admire the beautiful Liguria sea as it snakes along the coast for about a mile and a half. Once you have had enough sea and sun, you can walk through the charming alleyways into the center of Nervi for typical Italian food and drinks.
3.✦ Portofino – Time for an over-nighter!
There is so much more in this region, but it is time to move on and take the train to Portofino, via Santa Margherita. While here, you might as well stop and have a delicious lunch and shop a bit before ending up in Portofino. You really should stay at the Hotel Splendido and use it as your base for day trips around the region. I did, and honestly, loved every minute of it!
4.✦ Camolgi – Stay in Portofino though
Be sure and visit Camogli, the beach city close to Portofino. It is a lovely day visit where you can find plenty of shopping, sunbathing, and exploring this gorgeous port city. Here you will see the locals enjoying their days in the sun. Read the article I wrote about this lovely small fishing village.
5.✦ Cinque Terre Region – And you are off!
After exploring this region, you will then want to take the train to the Cinque Terre region where a whole other adventure awaits you!
Then while there, eat here: Chuflay!
You will fall in love with Liguria, I can guarantee it!
Recommended Reading for Another Region of Italy:
Lazio Region, Italy:
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry, I was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purposes of review by BW City Hotel. While it has not influenced my review, PointsandTravel.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. All Photos were taken by the author/or were given permission from the photographer. Affiliate links may be located in this article.