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Genoa travel guide: Top things to do & see

our guide

The vibe

Genoa was once a major player in European politics. The Republic of Genoa called itself the Republica Superba, or Proud Republic. What's ironic is that Genoa's favorite son, Christopher Columbus, was born here, but it was in large part due to his discovery of alternate trade routes that his hometown's influence and power began to dwindle.

Today, Genoa (or Genova in Italian) remains Italy's main port city for commerce and industry. Many of the 820,000 residents of the city make their livelihood from the sea, mainly through shipping. But the Genovese economy has expanded, with bustling banking, electronics and communications companies finding homes here. 

For cruise passengers, a lively port blends old and new structures, including cafes, shops, a movie complex, a maritime museum, a spectacular play and cultural center for kids and an aquarium. 

There's also plenty to see and do while discovering the rest of Genoa. The small streets twist and turn through the city, with lots of hidden restaurants and shops to delight the adventurous traveler.

Cruise ships that call on Genoa

  • Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Equinox
  • Crystal Cruises: Crystal Serenity
  • Princess Cruises: Caribbean Princess, Emerald Princess, Ocean Princess
  • MSC Cruises: MSC Fantasia, MSC Divina, MSC Lirica, MSC Opera, MSC Orchestra, MSC Sinfonia, MSC Poesia, MSC Preziosa, MSC Splendida
  • Costa Cruises: Costa Deliziosa, Costa Diadema, Costa Fascinosa, Costa Favolosa, Costa Fortuna, Costa Luminosa, Costa Magica, Costa Mediterrea, Costa neoRiviera, Costa Pacifica, Costa neoRomantica

Top reasons to go

  • Museums for local history & culture you can't find anywhere else.
  • Famous pesto and Italy's handmade pasta.
  • High-quality shopping and a lively cruise port.

Top things to do & see in Genoa

Harbor cruise

If you just can't keep your feet on land, a great way to get an overview of the city is by taking a harbor cruise. Contact the Cooperativa Battellieri dei Porto di Genova (+39 010-253-1041) for information and tickets.

Art & culture

The Civic Gallery of the Red Palace (Via Garibaldi 18, 010-271-0236) dates back to the 1600s. Its collection of paintings includes Guercino's Cleopatra and Veronese's Giuditta. There is also an exhibit featuring ceramics and sculptures. Right across the street from the Red Palace is its older sibling, the Civic Museum of the White Palace (Via Garibaldi 11, 010-247-6317). Dating back to the 1500s, the palace was donated by the Duchess of Gallier. It has been redesigned in recent times, and most of the artwork here comes from foreign artists. David's Polittico della Cervara and some outstanding work by Peter Paul Rubens are the highlights here.

St. Lawrence Cathedral in Genoa, Italy.
toms_travels / Creative Commons BYSt. Lawrence Cathedral in Genoa, Italy.

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo & Campanile 

Cathedral lovers won't want to miss the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo & Campanile (Piazza San Lorenzo, Via Tommaso Reggio 17, 010-311-269). The cathedral is more than 800 years old, while the dome and bell tower are relatively new, having been designed by Alessi in the 1500s. By legend, the Chapel of John the Baptist is said to hold its namesake's remains. Among the other artifacts here are a blue platter on which the head of John the Baptist was allegedly presented to Salome and a crystal dish said to have been part of the Last Supper.

Skip the beaches

Genoa is the one city along the Italian Riviera that doesn't have any quality beaches. If you need to work on your tan, consider a short side trip to Santa Margherita Ligure or Rapallo, both less than 20 miles east of Genoa.

Shopping

Shopping in Genoa is fairly easy. There is a wide selection of high quality merchandise at fairly affordable prices. If you are looking for leather, whether for clothes or accessories, you may want to try Pescetto (Via Scurreria 8, 010-247-3433). High-quality jewelry can be found at Codevilla (Via Orefici 53, 010-247-2567). The jewelers here are experts at combining precious metals and stones into beautiful and unique keepsakes.

In the center of town, Pecchiolo (Via Pisa 13, 010-362-5082) sells ceramics and silver dishware, perfect for your next elegant dinner party. Just east of the city center is Genoa's Oriental Market (Via XX Settembre). Don't be fooled by the moniker: "Oriental" refers to the fact that the market is on the east side of town. Local merchants crowd the market, offering everything from homemade crafts to freshly baked goods. To expand your library, pick up some rare first-edition prints and other rarities at Dallai Libreria Antiquaria (Piazza de Marini 11, 010-247-2338). There are also two shopping malls in town. Both Coin (Via XX Septembre 16A, 010-570-5821) and La Rinascente (Via Vernazza 1, 010-586-995) are likely to have anything that you're looking for.

Nightlife

Genoa has a vibrant nightlife, but there is a seedier side to the city. Please be careful when walking around Genoa at night, especially women traveling alone. Mako has an elegant piano bar, with a dance floor nearby. Caffe Nessundorma (Via Porta d'Archi 74, 010-590-982) rocks to old '70s and '80s standbys. 

Gateway in Genoa, Italy.
Peter Collins / Creative Commons BY-SAGateway in Genoa, Italy.

Best bets for dining

No matter which restaurant you choose, make sure to order a dish with pesto sauce. The green sauce was born here in Genoa, and most restaurants take pride in their pestos. If you are in a hurry, pick up another Genovese specialty, focaccia bread. Cheese, olives, herbs and vegetables are all thrown together with delicious flat bread for a real treat. Among the best spots for focaccia is La Focacceria de Teobaldo (Via Balbi 115, 010-246-2294).

Gran Gotto (Viale Brigata Bisagno 69, 010-564-344) is the place for some of Genoa's finest pesto sauce over fresh pasta dishes. The fish soup is another favorite here. Ristorante Saint Cyr (Piazza Marsala 4, 010-886-897) serves dishes culled from local favorites, with an ever-changing menu and a festive atmosphere. Osteria Con Cucina Luchin (Via Bighetti 51, 010-301-063) is a family-run restaurant that has offered the same menu for over one hundred years. Don't miss the minestrone! Da Giacomo (Corso Italia 1) is usually packed, so call ahead for a reservation. The seafood here is probably the best in Genoa.

Best time to go

The ideal time to visit Genoa is between the late spring through early fall. High season not only brings blissful weather to Italy's most famed coastline, but it also is the only time that shops, restaurants, bars, and the like, actually stay open consistently. Many shops and restaurants are closed during the low season from October through February, and those that remain open keep abbreviated hours. The weather in the spring and early fall is the most mild, with dry air and a modest flow of tourists. 

When you arrive

Docking information

Cruise ships dock at the Stazioni Marittime Spa, Ponte dei Mille, in Genoa. There is easy access to the rest of the city, and the country for that matter, from the port. Cruise ships may also dock at Porto Antico, which is close to the marine terminal. 

Getting around

Taxis are your best way to get around Genoa. Local buses travel to most points of interest, and a ticket will give you an hour and a half of unlimited bus travel. Funiculars (cable railways) are very popular, as Genoa is a city that has expanded as much vertically as it has horizontally.

Need to know

Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens will need a valid passport.

Language: Italian

Currency: The Euro

Safety: Streets in Genoa are usually quite safe, especially in the main tourist areas and residential areas. Downtown, Quarto dei Mille, Quinto del Mare and Nervi are all safe districts during the day as well as the evening.

Muggings or violence towards tourists are practically unheard of; however, deft pickpockets are not seldom. Be particularly careful in the via San Lorenzo/via San Bernardo/via San Donato area (which is a popular and very crowded nightlife zone for students and young people) and also on city buses.

Wikivoyage contributed to this article.

Your take

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