Did you know that Genoa, in Italy’s Liguria region, was once one of the wealthiest cities in the world with a very powerful navy? Genoa is still a massive port, the busiest in the Mediterranean, but it is much less known today than during the Medieval Period. I love Genoa for its history, style and multi-cultural friendliness!
Genoa was founded sometime between 5000-4000 BCE, making it one of the oldest inhabited cities in the entire world. It’s wonderful natural ports and defensive position near the mountains made it a prime location for settlement and defence. Important throughout its entire history, during the period of around 1050AD – 1797AD, it was an independent Maritime Republic that traded and raided throughout the Mediterranean Sea and even into the Black Sea. Genoa had one of the first and most important universities in the world and it is still a vibrant institution. Some of the world’s first commercial banks were started in Genoa and the city used its wealth and power to secure trading rights in the east. The grand rival of Venice, Genoa was constantly vying for advantage in trade, land-ownership and wealth.
Genoa’s ancient wealth is still on display!
Today, Genoa is an economic powerhouse in northern Italy that still maintains its historical roots and character. Some of the most beautiful artworks in the world are contained in its many churches and museums. The picturesque area of Cinque Terre is complimented by Portofino, one of the most visited locations in the Mediterranean.
Everyone has a small part of Genoa with them. The Genovese made a strong but rough cloth that they died dark blue. This was the origin of blue jeans because the French name for Genoa is ‘Genes’. The Genovese sailors favoured denim because it was strong, durable, could cover goods during shipment and was even waterproof. So, the next time you put on a pair of jeans, remember Genoa!
Unless you’re driving in from another Italian city or region, you’ll fly into the Aeroporto di Genova – Cristoforo Colombo. You can easily take a taxi or jump on the no. 100 Volabus shuttle to the city centre. Genoa is well connected by train with larger cities and long-distance destinations around Europe. Within the city however, it’s easy to walk around and visit all of the popular sites.
Here’s a pro-tip: Renting a car is my favourite way to travel around Italy’s regions, it gives you so much flexibility to explore and plan day trips outside the main city centre. You can rent a car from the airport or from places near your hotel.
I always recommend visiting the old town first to understand the historical significance of the city. Here’s what you absolutely should not miss:
- Piazzas– Piazzas are as common as pizzas in Italy! Piazzas are the core of Italian life and communities; a place where locals congregate. Town planning like this dates back to the Romans who built piazzas into their cities and towns. These are the two most famous in Genoa:
- – Piazza De Ferrari is located right in the centre of the old town and its main distinguishing feature is an ornate water fountain. Surrounding the piazza are an array of important and significant buildings.
- – Piazza Matteotti lies next to Piazza De Ferrari. It is framed by beautiful and opulent buildings and markets are often held.
Don’t speed by Piazza Ferrari!
- Porta Soprana– Genoa used to be known for its expansive walls that protected the city from attack. Luckily the Porta Soprana gatehouse and towers have been well preserved.
- San Lorenzo Cathedral– If you’ve visited Florence Cathedral you might recognize this similar architecture with striped marble and fantastic colours of green, pinks, blacks and whites. Created in 1118, the interior is outstanding with its intricately painted ceiling.
- Via Garibaldi– This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most important street in Genoa because it’s lined with historical palaces and amazing architecture.
- Palazzo San Giorgio– Also known as the Palace of St George, it was built in 1260 and it has a long and varied history. Enjoy seeing its extensive collection of artefacts within beautiful architecture.
- Portofino– this is a beautiful village with one of the best ports in the Mediterranean. Genoa is perfectly situated for day trips to Portofino. You can drive or, during the summer, you can take a wonderful ferry ride to arrive at this picturesque village.
Cinque Terre is classic Italian: beautiful and romoantic!
- Cinque Terre– This roughly translates to ‘the 5 towns’, a string of centuries-old seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera. Cinque Terre has a magical aura; it’s like something out of a fairy tale. Take the train from Genoa to La Spezia where you can hop aboard the Cinque Terre Express train that stops at all 5 villages.
Here’s a pro-tip: Taking a tour via boat from La Spezia is, in my opinion, the best way to visit the Cinque Terre consisting of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. You’ll have the best time and be able to cut your travel time between towns!
Italian food is one of the most loved cuisines in the world and Genoa’s is wonderful. Because it has one the largest seaports in the country, expect lots of fresh seafood a la Italia. Here are some great restaurants to enjoy:
- Il Genovese– This restaurant offers traditional Ligurian cuisine. The unique element of this restaurant is its obsession and pride for their homemade pesto. The owner, Roberto Panizza, aka ‘The king of Pesto’, is involved in the World Pesto Championship.
- Osteria Il Cadraio– This traditional restaurant has the perfect family atmosphere for an evening meal. Try their incredible Cappon Magro a flavour sensation of seafood and vegetable salad from Liguria served on a crispy
- Hostaria Ducale – This upscale, fine-dining restaurant has the perfect romantic atmosphere. They offer a five or eight dish tasting menu so you can enjoy the most from your meal. Beautifully presented, creative and delicious flavours will have you savouring every bite.
I can’t pass on the pasta!
Genoa has a bustling and lively vibe due to being a university city. With its warm breeze, it’s perfect to spend the night on the town. Here are my favourite bars:
- Estoril Beach Club– This venue is famous locally for its amazing dance nights. Monday and Wednesdays you can enjoy tango, whereas Saturdays are Latin nights with salsa, bachata and merengue to keep you on your feet all night long.
- Birreria Hofbräuhaus– A German beer house is always a good idea, no matter your location! This venue specializes in Bavarian beers and you can even snack on traditional salted pretzels, and smoked salami.
- Piccolo Mondo– This fun venue is for enjoying with friends. The bar’s owners have created puzzles and games so you’ll definitely be entertained for hours and you’ll test your mental skills. It’s great for drinks or an evening coffee.
Genoa has many beautiful hotels in old and historical buildings, making the experience so much more special. Here are my top accommodation recommendations:
- Hotel Palazzo Grillo– This hotel is as beautiful on the outside as it is inside. The structure was built in 1545 and has been renovated and restored to perfection. The interior is an elegant blend of old and new, with modern furnishing among opulent carved walls and ceilings.
- Grand Hotel Savoia– These traditionally decorated rooms will have you feeling like Italian royalty. Elegant furnishings adorn all the rooms and some have beautiful views from their balconies. Their rooftop restaurants offers dreamy views of the city at night. The setting is perfect for a warm evening and a good bottle of wine.
- Hotel Bristol Palace – This elegant hotel in the centre of the city offers classic style rooms with antique furniture. In fact, the whole hotel looks like a well-preserved museum! It has an elegant restaurant you’ll love dressing up for and an extravagant staircase for that picture perfect moment.
The historic old town is still a magnificent sight!