Genoa is often overlooked by tourists when planning their trips to Italy in favor of the more common destinations such Rome, Milan and Florence. However, leaving Genoa of your list may be something you’ll come to regret. Its rich history, cultural sites, cuisine and architecture make it a fantastic option.
It is Italy’s biggest sea port and sixth-largest city. Located in the north of the country, looking out over the Ligurian Sea.
Historically, Genoa was known as “la Superba” meaning “the proud one” due to its history and sites of culture. Visitors are spoiled for choice with things to do in Genoa.
Here we will cover 10 of our recommended activities and places to visit to make your trip truly unforgettable.
Things to do in Genoa:
Visit the Lanterna di Genoa – The city’s legendary lighthouse
One of the oldest lighthouses in the world, the Lanterna di Genoa stands proud over the hustle and bustle of the city’s port. It is believed to have been constructed in approximately 1128, although some sources place it slightly later. It has been damaged, repaired and modernized over the years and is still in use to this day.
Even though it is visible from the vast majority of the city, it is worth getting up close to properly appreciate the scale and magnificence of the Lantern di Genoa.
I would certainly recommend checking the opening times for the lighthouse (which vary) because you don’t want to miss out by turning up when its closed.
Explore Genoa’s Harbor
The entire city has been built up around the harbor. This makes it one of the major focal points of the entire city.
The first thing you will notice about the whole port area, is that it is a huge hive of activity.
There are countless fishing boats, yachts and colossal cruise ships to draw your attention along with many restaurants, museums and shops.
During my trip, I particularly enjoyed just sitting on a bench with some gelato, and simply appreciating the scene constantly unfolding before me.
The harbor is also the starting point for many of the city tours, so it may be a good idea to combine the two activities.
Acquario di Genova
Located right by the aforementioned port, the city’s aquarium is always a winner with visitors to Genoa. It is one of the biggest aquariums in Europe and boasts a huge array of sea creatures.
The sheer scale of this attraction means it is worth setting aside the best part of a day to see everything it has to offer, which includes a highly recommended dolphin show, great food, a gift shop and of course the exhibits themselves.
The aquarium is not cheap to visit, but mark my words, it’s worth every penny! (it is worth noting that discounts may be available for students and the elderly)
Visit the Piazza De Ferrari
The main square of Genoa is called the Piazza De Ferrari. Located right in the middle of the city, it features the fountain in the image above surrounded by elaborate architecture.
The vast majority of the area has pedestrianized in recent years, making it even easier for visitors to enjoy. Being so central within the city, the adjoining streets feature countless shops and restaurants. It’s a great starting location for those exploring the city on foot with many attractions situated nearby.
The fountain is lit up in the evenings, so it makes for phenomenal photographs or romantic evening strolls.
Taste the City’s Famous Pesto
Pesto sauce originated in Genoa, so naturally their pesto is considered the most delicious.
The word “pesto” comes from the Genoese word “pestâ” meaning to crush/pound, which describes the preparation process. This consists of combining garlic, pine nuts, basil, salt and hard cheese in a pestle and mortar with a little olive oil.
As you’d expect, pesto dishes are a common feature on the menus of restaurants throughout the city. After trying a Genoese pesto dish, you will want to take a jar home to enjoy (which you can, as small pots are sold almost everywhere!).
From the summer of 2017, Genoa’s airport started allowing passengers to carry up to half a kilogram (1lb 2oz) in their hand luggage (rather than the usual 100ml allowed for liquids).
Walk Along the Via Garibaldi
In the historic center of Genoa, you will find the Via Garibaldi, a street famous for the many palaces lining it. Construction on this street was completed in 1583, and it was given the name Via Garibaldi in 1882 after the Italian general. UNESCO have attributed 12 of the palaces on this street the status of World Heritage Sites, in recognition of their cultural and historical significance to the city. Several of these palaces are open for the public to explore as they are now museums. Other palaces have been adapted for commercial purposes (many are now banks).
Walking down this street really does feel like stepping back in time. Any trip to Genoa would be incomplete without a stroll down the Via Garibaldi.
Take a day trip to Portofino
The small fishing village of Portofino is situated a short way along the coast from Genoa. Despite covering a tiny area, there is still plenty to see and do, making it a perfect day-trip from Genoa.
The Castello Brown hilltop fortress watches over the yachts in the harbor and provides a great view of the village.
Along the waterfront and down the narrow streets, you will find numerous galleries, cafes and restaurants to sample. The painted building lining the water, give Portofino that typical idyllic riviera aesthetic, as seen on countless postcards.
This stretch of coastline is favored by various marine mammals. Dolphins have been spotted in the harbor itself on rare occasions. Opportunities to hire boats will give you an excellent chance of spotting them yourself.
Portofino can be accessed easily from Genoa by public transport. for those willing to spend a little more, a boat trip lets you see Portofino from a different perspective.
Stroll down the Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi a Nervi
Commonly known as the Nervi promenade, this 2km walkway is located to the east of the city and stretches along the coastline.
It provides some of the best views in the area and can be a great way to escape the buzz of the city if that’s what you’re after.
Countless benches are stages intermittently along the path, making it a great spot to just sit and people-watch.
There are also numerous cafes with shaded outdoor seating areas for when you want to escape the sun. The stunning setting attracts artists and photographers from all over the world, so be sure to bring your camera!
See Castello d’Albertis
Also known as D’Albertis Castle, it was designed by Captain Enrico Alberto d’Albertis and gifted to the city upon his death.
Since 2004 it has been home to the Museum of World Cultures and features artifacts from all over the world.
Exhibits of note include: the musical instruments exhibit, model ships and yachts along with a large number of weapons from different cultures.
You can easily spend a whole afternoon losing yourself in history in a wonderful setting.
The last of our things to do in Genoa:
Taste Genoa at Mercato Orientale
Mercato Orientale is a thriving local market. It features a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, cheese, pasta and pesto (of course).
The market is busiest on a Saturday so if you’d prefer a more relaxing trip, try visiting on a weekday.
The stall-owners are used to having tourists around, and are therefore very patient with non-Italian speakers.
Prices here are also surprisingly low, so even those with a tight budget get a real taste of the city.
For more posts about travel, holiday recommendations and fascinating facts, check out some of the other posts on Place Ranger!