Visiting Genoa, Italy is one of those harbor cities that are so underrated and not even on any radar for travelers visiting Italy. Even though the big three destinations, Rome, Florence or Venice are a must, Genoa is also special because of its illustrious trading history. For those looking beyond the popular destinations in Italy, Genoa is an authentic city experience and filled with amazing palaces, stunning architecture, grand boulevards and piazzas, and too many historic monuments to visit Genoa in a twenty four hour time frame.
Here’s what to see in Genoa, Italy
Visiting Genoa – street scenes
A little gritty on the edges, Genoa is a city filled with Italian gusto, amazing Italian cuisine and Buon Vivre (the good life). Fortunately the city is relatively compact and easy to navigate by foot to visit many of the interesting neighborhoods and historic landmarks and the following Genoa attractions are easy to see on foot. The grand boulevard called Via XX Settembre, leads straight to the city center at Piazza De Ferrari. The boulevard is lined with beautiful buildings selling all the famous Italian and international clothing brands. Surprisingly, Genoa also boasts ornately decorated porticoes with elegant details and craftsmanship all along Via XX Settembre. At night, the porticoes are lit up with a multitude of neon lights that make the promenades glittery if not a little bizarre compared to the classic porticoes and rennaisance style buildings along the boulevard.
Visiting Genoa – the daily market
Local Genovese love to buy fresh, beautiful produce along with other local provisions. A fun Genoa attraction, stopping by the daily market at Mercato Orientale is a feast for the eyes. Filled with a variety of produce, meat, seafood and specialty foods booths, the mercato is fun to explore and photograph many of the striking food displays. There’s such an Italian pride in presenting the beautiful food and local specialties on display at the market. This is also a great place to shop for souvenirs and finished products to take back home with you to remember your visit to this market.
Passing by the seafood area, you see a plethora of different fish and shellfish available, it is amazing to see all the variety of seafood caught in the region. Even though some of the displays are a little shocking to see (shark displays and local fish), the way the seafood is presented is well designed and quite beautiful as a whole. It’s fun to take pictures in at the Mercato Oriental, I ended up taking more than my usual number of market photo-ops.
Fresh seafood caught locally or in the area
Things to do in Genoa – visiting the Piazza De Ferrari
Genoa’s central squre – Piazza De Ferrari, is grand and a major hub for local and regional transportation routes. A large fountain dominates the center of the piazza and is surrounded with colorful buildings of every style and time frame. At night the fountain is wonderfully illuminated along with large neon lights that give a different and more colorful vibe to the entire place. Just around the main piazza are many pedestrian areas through the ancient part of the city. The streets are filled with stunning architecture and buildings ranging from medieval, Renaissance, Baroque to Venetian style architecture in very tight walking promenades.
Visiting Genoa – the main cathedral
If your looking for what to see in Genoa with limited time, the main attraction to visit is the cathedral of Genoa, called Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. The cathedral is located just off the the Piazza di San Lorenzo in the historic district of the city. It sits in regal splendor in its alternating black and white marble façade with two stately stone lions guarding the main entrance of the cathedral. The façade is stunning and hosts beautiful statuary of local saints, ornate portals with stained glass and religious figures on the ornate facade. The area around Cattedrale di San Lorenzo is filled with wonderful restaurants serving authentic local Genovese cuisine including local succulent shellfish and other seafood specialties.
Visiting Genoa – the waterfront of Genoa
Walking down the main promenade called Via San Lorenzo leads directly to the waterfront area of Genoa. The harbor contains an eclectic mix of rapidly deteriorating renaissance buildings, contemporary structures like the aquarium, Bigo structure, maritime museum and the requisite tourist shops. It’s a little on the gritty side but still fascinating to explore the area due to Genoa’s impressive history as an important maritime and international trade center. The city’s rapid growth in trade and international commerce made the local traders and families extremely wealthy. This eventually added prestige to Genoa’s status and influence in the international marketplace.
Genoa, Italia and the glamorous Via Garibaldi
The nouveaux wealthy from international trade created some of the most magnificent palaces in Genoa’s historic district along Via Garibaldi built during Genoa’s golden age between 1557 to 1627. Now this most illustrious street in Genoa filled with Renaissance and Baroque buildings is also significant because the entire areas is certified as a Unesco World Heritage site. All of the palaces on this promenade have been converted into 5 star hotels, galleries, restaurants and museums open for the public to enjoy.
Unesco opulence at Strade Nuovi
This area of Strade Nuovi or new streets built by Genoa’s most influencial families was known as the Palazzi dei Rolli for the roll of luxurious residences that lined this area and hosted important guests of the families. Many of the palazzos are open as living museums for the public to tour and give an inside peek to the glamorous and opulent lifestyles of Genoa’s prominent families.
Interior splendor at the Palazzo Reale in Genoa
One of grandest palaces in Genoa, Palazzo Reale is open to the public for viewing. Inside the palazzo are 23 sumptuous rooms filled with stunning architectural details, furniture and artwork that were built to match the grand castles of France including Versailles, which the Savoy dynasty at that time wanted to emulate. The self tour lead you to many of the royals personal rooms, assembly rooms and other state rooms including this magnificent hall of mirrors below which are elaborate and filled with statuary, artwork and fine details to the interior rooms.
Tip: you can buy combination tickets to visit various Unesco buildings palaces along the Strade Nuovi. For more information on the different self tours available, you can check out the Genoa Palazzi dei Rolli website here.
Throne room of Palazzo Reale
Hall of mirrors at Palazzo Reale
Night time in Genoa’s main piazza
Later in the evening, the activities return back to the Piazza De Ferrari and the historic promenades along Piazza di San Lorenzo. The evening passieggata has started with all the bars open and filled with locals and travelers visiting the area. The restaurants are also busy serving many of the local seafood and specialty Genovese dishes which is worth a splurge to enjoy authentic Genovese cuisine.
Along Piazza Matteo and Chiesa San Matteo
Visiting Genoa – A local favorite wine bar
Just off Piazza San Matteo is the Osteria San Matteo wine bar, a local favorite in the old section of Genoa. The restaurant features many specialty seafood, pasta and local entrees from the region. Here’s a sampling of some of the menu items below. The vinoteca has an extensive wine cellar selection of local to regional wines on their menu. The best suggestion for ordering wine is to ask your waiter what wine will complement your dish perfectly.
Genoa’s local seafood tasting menus
Genoa’s neon lit Piazza De Ferrari
At night the neon lights and fountains are lit for late night strollers and passing through the beautiful porticoes along Via XX Settembre. It’s a really interesting contrast of old and historic buildings lit up with neon lit signs, in this Italian version in Genoa of Times Square and actually fun to see and hang out at night time.
Where to stay in Genoa
You can stay at some fabulous places in Genoa since it isn’t a major tourist attraction but prices are fantastic.
Hotel Bristol Palace – a charming and elegant hotel in a great location, fantastic and attentive staff and large beautiful rooms and details.
NH Collection Genova – located on the harbor in a pier with fantastic bay/harbor views. Excellent breakfast service, large modern rooms with open areas in a nautical theme. Close to many attractions in the city center.
Grand Hotel Savoia – a classic grand style hotel located across from the railway station with well appointed rooms, fantastic breakfast service and good front desk service. Located close to major attractions in the historic district.
For more reviews and prices of Genoa hotels, check out Trip Advisors listings here for more details and updates.
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Next Stop Cinque Terre and Milan
Next in line traveling around Italy a quick trip hiking around the scenic Cinque Terre region and then to Milan which is a very short train ride from Genoa. This bustling metropolitan city is a major hub to all destinations around Italy. I have a short transit stop in Milan so I can do a quick visit to the city. I’ve checked out some free things to do in Milan in a short visit, so stay tuned for this upcoming post. I hope you enjoyed these things to do in Genoa, Italy and it will inspire you to visit soon.
Please check out my other post on visiting Genoa’s spectacular Unesco heritage sites around the city and the gorgeous palazzo’s of Genoa.
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