I can’t believe it took me so long to write about one of the Italian cities I love the most.
I have been writing this kind of posts for years now and I have included in this series some great Italian cities, like Torino, Trieste, Padova, and Parma, but I really can’t believe I haven’t included Genova in this list before.
Every time someone asks me something about Liguria, I always tell them about Cinque Terre and all the other beautiful seaside locations but I always say “please do not miss Genova” as well. Because Genova is hands down one of the most beautiful yet underrated Italian cities.
My love for the city is so big and so deep that sometimes it is hard for me to find the right words to describe it. But I might try for you because I really want to convince you that it is absolutely worth seeing at least once in your life. Moreover, if you come to Italy more than once and are tired of the (amazing) Rome + Venice + Florence combination, Genova could be perfect for you.
a view of Piazza De Ferrari, right in the heart of the city
The city is absolutely unique. Built on a tiny stretch of land – as most of Liguria – nestled between the sea and the mountains, it is a city of steep roads and heights but also of narrow dark alleys and very little space (if you want to have an idea of its architecture, you could check this project about Genova’s gangways, aptly called Passerelle volanti).
It is a city with a glorious past – it has been dubbed La Superba by Petrarca – and a complex present, creating a mixture that you can’t find anywhere else. There are incredibly elegant roads, dating back to the time when Genova was a maritime superpower, horrible buildings from the 60s and 70s, a maze of alleys that hardly see the sunshine, bright, wide squares, churches, castles, fishermen villages, and much more – all in one single town.
Being a seaside town, with one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean, it has always been home for people coming from everywhere in the world and if you walk down the alleys of the old center, sometimes you feel as if you are in Africa, or Asia, or South America. It has a beating heart that has always been open to the world and this makes it special.
the harbor and the Lanterna, the symbol of Genova, seen in the distance
Well, it’s time I stop writing this love post about Genova and start tell you why Genova is so special and why you should absolutely visit it. So here comes my list.
1. Let’s begin with something interesting for Americans (but not only for them, I hope): Christopher Columbus was born in Genova and there you can still see the house where he lived when he was a little boy – or at least what it is supposed to be his house. Actually, even if it wasn’t his house, it would still be an interesting sight as it is a very old, tiny Medieval house (it has been rebuilt in the 18th century exactly as it was in 1400s) right in the city center, with cars honking and motorbikes speeding all around it.
2. Well, I didn’t want to begin this list with food but I can’t help it, I have to mention it at the very beginning because food in Genova is awesome. First of all, it is the place where pesto was born, and where you can taste this delicacy it all its traditional splendor. But you can also taste focaccia, the thin salty bread which is a staple in Ligurian life, or farinata, a pancake-like chickpea dish which is heaven on earth. Moreover, only in Genova will you find panera, a special blend of whipped cream and coffee. But food in Genova doesn’t end here, there is way more and if you want to learn more about it check this post of mine regarding a food tour in the city.
buildings in the Centro Storico
3. If there’s one thing that cannot be missed in Genova, it’s the centro storico. This area is commonly known as i vicoli or i caruggi, two words that are used to describe the narrow, dark alleys of the historic center of the city. The historic center is a maze of narrow streets, little squares, churches, and quaint shops. It is very easy to get lost in the area and some places are quite shady but the surprise of turning at the corner and ending in the tiniest little square with an imposing old church and children playing outside is incredible. Once a scruffy area, it has now seen a rebirth with lots of restaurants, bars and cool shops to explore.
4. One of the things I like the most, when I am in Genova, is walking down the vicoli, along Via della Maddalena for example, then taking one of the streets going up and ending in Via Garibaldi. The contrast between the dark and smelly maze of vicoli and the magnificence of Via Garibaldi – or Strada Nuova, as it was once called, is astonishing. Via Garibaldi is one of the most beautiful streets in Italy and its palaces will make you open your mouth in wonder. These palaces were a way for wealthy families to show off their power during the Golden Age of Genova between 1550 and 1600 and what remains is a series of sumptuous late-Renaissance and Baroque buildings, which are called Palazzi dei Rolli.
the beautiful Via Garibaldi, once known as Strada Nuova
5. After walkin up and down the centro storico and visiting the enchanting palaces in Strada Nuova, you will surely need some rest and some comfort food. No worries, you can have a coffee, eat something sweet and still be part of history, as in the area there are some of the oldest cafes and grocery stores in the city. If you haven’t checked the post about the food tour I mentioned previously, I highly recommend you to do so now because there you’ll find some really not-to-be-missed addresses: a chocolate shop to die for, a cafè where you’ll find Verdi’s original signature on a piece of paper, the oldest confectionery shop in Italy, where everything is still produced as it was centuries ago, and much more.
6. Speaking of the historic center of the city, I like it for its maze of alleys, as I said, for the magnificence of Strada Nuova, for its shops and cafès, and for its churches too. You will find lots of churches hidden in the city center – among them the magnificent Cathedral of Genova, in Piazza San Lorenzo – each one with its own peculiar history. You will also find my favorite church, the Chiesa di San Pietro in Banchi, which you may think is not a church, since it has been built over a series of shops, which were used to pay for its construction.
7. But Genova is not only food, old streets and historic shops. There are some unique museums as well. My absolute favorites are the Galata – Museo del Mare, currently the biggest maritime museum in the Mediterranean, which I especially like for its section called Memory and Migration, focused on the Italian emigration in the past and the wave of immigration of these days, the Museo d’Arte Orientale Chiossone, which hosts a prestigious collection of oriental art and has an amazing location up above the city center, and the Castello d’Albertis, the home of Captain Enrico Alberto D’Albertis, which hosts its private collection of art coming from all over the world, and has a great a perk: the wide view over the city port. If you are looking for something more unique, you can visit the Museo Diocesano, and see the oldest denim in the world – because you know that denim jeans come from Genova, right?
a view of the Porto Antico, designed by Renzo Piano
8. Genova is the hometown of Renzo Piano, an architect who is famous all over the world for its works of art. In Genova, Mr. Piano has designed the project of the Porto Antico, the old port, which was completely renewed in 1992, for the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas. The area has been given back to the city and is now a place where people hang out and enjoy the seaside. There, you can visit the Aquarium, Europe’s largest marine attraction, the Sfera, a steel and glass sphere suspended over the sea, which hosts a miniature rain forest, and the Bigo, a crane-like panoramic lift that offers an amazing 360° view over the city. Last but absolutely not least, you can spot the Lanterna, the lighthouse and emblem of Genova, that can clearly be seen in the distance, in its simple beauty.
9. As I said at the very beginning of this post, Genova is a city holding on to its hills and it’s a perfect place if you like urban hiking. If you take the time to climb up the crêuze, the tiny, steep and cobblestoned paths that take you up on the hills, you’ll be able to enjoy some amazing views of the city. But if you don’t like sweating, you can take a lift or a funicular and reach Spianata Castelletto, for example, for a breathtaking scenery. If you have time and want to brave even further, you can hike the Parco delle Mura, where you’ll find lots of paths connecting the old forts protecting the city in Medieval times.
an amazing view of Genova from Villetta Di Negro
10. Genova is a big city and traffic can be a nightmare, sometimes. But if you want to forget about everything and feel like being in a fairytale, you can go to Boccadasse, a picturesque fishing village really close to the city center. There you’ll find colorful houses, pebbles on the beach and boats resting by the sea. Moreover, the surroundings of the city are amazing: Camogli, Portofino, Sestri Levante and all the other beautiful seaside location of Liguria can easily be reached from Genova, either by train or by car.
Well, I hope I gave you some reasons to visit Genova in the near future and maybe add it to your Italy itinerary. The collapse of the Morandi bridge, last August, was a terrible event but the city is fighting hard to go back to normality and can be visited without problems.
Have you already visited Genova? What was the thing you liked the most? Let me know!!!
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You will also learn some Italian words, you’ll receive some typical Italian recipes – ready to be cooked and enjoyed, you’ll get to tour around Italy, and learn about Italian traditions, proverbs, stereotypes, you name it. Plus, some cute surprises along the way!