The Beginner’s Guide to Genoa, Italy + Free Itinerary

by Bianca @ Italian Fix

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Wanna know what to do in Genoa, Italy, and why you should go?  You’ll need this guide to Genoa, Italy.

For one thing, it’s the capital of Liguria, but is often overlooked (thanks to its glitzy neighbors, like Portofino). And that’s exactly why we think you’ll love it.

Genoa is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.

It’s a pretty port city, poppin’ with pesto (they invented it).

It oozes a gorgeous duality of grit and maritime-empire grandeur at the same time. Think lush courtyards and cracked wooden doors.

It’s about an hour and a half away from the Cinque Terre (depending on the train you catch), so it makes for a great little day trip from there –– even (especially?) if all you do is eat.

So make like Christopher Columbus (who was born there), and discover this fascinating place for yourself!

This is your guide to what to do in Genoa, Italy, and your digital ticket to exploring an underappreciated city that will charm the linen pants off you.

The Beginner’s Guide to Genoa, Italy + Free 1-Day Itinerary

Genoa is so groovy, we don’t know why more people don’t visit.

Genoa is winding, basil-scented medieval streets. Cozy corners, bubbling with prosecco at sunset. Bumpin’ boats in the port, a city infused with energy. Caruggi (old alleys) that snake their way through it all. No massive piazzas, but lots of little squares to people-watch in.

That’s just a peek into this pesto-laden land. Let’s get a better look with our top three tips for what to do in Genoa, Italy –– so you know where to best focus your eating efforts.

Genoa Priority #1: Eat. Eat. Eat.

Genoa, Italy is known for some scrumptious specialties that the Genovese are pretty darn proud of.

You’re more likely to snack your way through this city than dig into heaping bowls of rich pasta (that’s Tuscany’s thing).

In other words, this is a “street food” kind of town, with two types of vendor to choose from: sciamadde and friggitorie. Sciamadde are your go-tos for farinate (chick-pea crepes) and focaccia (yes, the Genoese invented focaccia too!), baked in huge, wood-burning ovens. Friggitorie are usually small, white-tiled shops with pots of oil churning out crispy fried sea critters.

Whether it’s in street-food shops or the restaurants in between, these are the Genovese specialties we adore:

Fried anchovies. Pesto (obvi). Salsa di Noci — similar to pesto, but with walnuts and fresh cheese. Farinata. Herby, chard-y tortes. Violet, rosemary and pistachio gelato. Strosciata, a lovely light and crumbly local cake. Focaccia drenched in Ligurian olive oil. Trofie pasta. Oven-roasted snails, ‘cause you’re out here to be different (and adventurous).

And here are the eateries we love, where you can find all the above and more:

Where to eat lunch in Genoa:

  • Eataly Genova –– for truly local food, with a panoramic sea view. Browse their food market and try their gelato, too.
  • Gran Ristoro –– for quick ‘n’ fresh deli sandwiches to go.
  • Trattoria da Maria –– for a traditional Genovese experience, ft. red and white checkered tablecloths draped on the tables.
  • Antica Friggitoria Carega –– for take-away specialties like fried fish and chickpea pies.

Where to eat dinner in Genoa:

  • Ombre Rosse –– if you’re in Genoa during the summer, you must dine outdoors in their gorgeous garden.
  • 20 Tre –– for gourmet food in a setting perfect for donning those new strappy heels.
  • Le Cantine Squarciafico –– off the beaten track, and worth searching for to dine on fresh sea bass close to the Old Port.
  • Sa’ Pesta –– for tip-top pesto and fritto.
  • Pizzeria Savô –– fancy pizza that’s worth every euro.

Where to enjoy everything else in Genoa:

If you want more of the same under-the-radar tips for the Cinque Terre, you’ll find them all in our Cinque Terre City Guide.

Genoa Priority #2: Hood-hop through history

Genoa, Italy is made up of distinctly different neighborhoods –– and getting a sense for each one will help you figure out what your home base will be during your stay, and add new places to your list of what you gotta see.

The Old Town

If you want to get cozy in Genoa’s historic center, staying in the medieval Molo or baroque Maddalena neighborhoods is your best bet. The historic center is one of Europe’s largest pedestrianized areas, so it’ll be easy-peasy to explore everything on foot here.

What to do and where to stay in the Old Town, Genoa:

  • See: The Cathedral of San Lorenzo. The city view, from walking up to the Campo Pisano. A fab art show at the 14th-century Palazzo Ducale, which houses rotating exhibits like Van Gogh. Palazzo Rosso, one of the most stunning of Genoa’s 42 Palazzi dei Rolli.
  • Stay: Valery Guest House, Quarto Piano, Mélia Genova.

Porto Antico

If you’re coming to Genoa for non-negotiable seaside time, choose Porto Antico (Genoa’s old port). It spans 22 km and is the largest port in Italy, totally teeming with cool things to do.

What to do and where to stay in Porto Antico, Genoa:

Boccadasse

Boccadasse has some Cinque Terre vibes happening –– green shutters, pretty pastels, small pebble beaches. It’s a postcard-perfect fishing village that we’re considering retiring in one day. If you dig big cities but love coming back to a calm, cozy space that’s a lil’ more removed, Boccadasse is a great area to stay in in Genoa.

What to do and where to stay in Boccadasse, Genoa:

Genoa Priority #3. Get off the beaten track

We’re the type of travelers that knock off the top-tens of a city in a day or two, and spend the rest of our trip befriending locals and scoping out secret hot spots.

Genoa brings tons of unique stuff to do to the table, and we want you to try ‘em out!

If we could pick, here are a couple of undercover-cool things to do in Genoa:

  • Dine in the mountains: Trek up tricky roads and chestnut forests to dine on mountain food at La Brinca, a family-run restaurant that’s totally garden-to-table. You must have the panella, which is flavored with herbs you can see from the window.
  • Stock up on elixirs: Pop into Antica Farmacia Sant’Anna, a monastic apothecary that produces perfumes and herbal remedies, like orange flower water.
  • Try out the last ever tripperia: For the culinarily brave (a tripperia’s specialty is — you guessed it! — tripe), Antica Tripperia La Casana is one of the last remaining tripperie in Genoa, and it’s been at it for the last two centuries.
  • Live on the edge: Retreat from the city by walking the Passeggiata Garibaldi, a pink paved path that curves around the coastline of Genoa.

What To Do In Genoa, Italy –– Free 1-Day Itinerary

Only got one day to spare on your trip to the Cinque Terre, or want a cheat sheet for what to do in Genoa in 24 hours?

Our perfect day in Genoa would look like this:

Get to Genoa by arriving at the Genova Brignole train station.

(P.S. Genoa is about an hour and a half by train from the Cinque Terre. If you’re staying longer or visiting from another city, like Rome, you can drive or fly into the Genoa Cristoforo Colombo Airport.)

Start walking to Via San Vincenzo and Via XX Settembre (renowned shopping streets in Genoa) to bookmark the fab finds you’ll come back for later –– sexy shoes, handbags and clothes galore.

Work up an appetite by browsing through the covered food market at the end of the street, the Mercato Orientale.

Take a breather at the Piazza De Ferrari, resting on the staircase of the majestic Palazzo Ducale, overlooking the fountain.

Head inside the Palazzo Ducale, and come out at Piazza Matteotti (you’ll realize real quick that every entrance into somewhere in Genoa is a shortcut to somewhere else).

Keep strolling along Via San Lorenzo, and look out for the Cathedral of San Lorenzo –– you can’t miss the Ligurian black stone and white marble combo.

At the end of this street, you’ll find yourself at the sea, in Porto Antico. Inhale some salty air, and snap some photos.

When you’re ready to head back into the city center, you’ll walk past gorgeous palazzi, fashion boutiques and design shops. One of our faves is Via Garibaldi 12, a lifestyle shop wedged into a UNESCO Heritage-stamped palazzo. Grab a bite at one of the eats above.

Make your way to Piazza Portello, where you can take a ride up the beautiful Elevator of Castelleto Levante/Spianata –– it’s been written about by poets for years. It’s your ride up to the most gorgeous panorama of Genoa.

Wait for the sunset or come back for it here in Castelletto, so you can have an aperitivo at Don Paolo in Spianata di Castelletto. Don’t leave without trying their pistachio cannoli and almond granita –– it’s the best in the city.

How we can help you go to Genoa

  • Check out Gigi Guides, our digital guidebook. It’s chock-full of insider recommendations for nearby Cinque Terre, as well as the Florence, Venice and Rome.
  • Ask us a question in the comments below and we’ll help you out!

Share this Genoa guide with your fave travel buddies, bookmark it for later and start planning for more pesto-laden moments here.

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Want more insider intel on traveling Liguria? Here you go:

Here are more blog posts too:

Got questions about what to do and see in Genoa?

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