There are so many amazing things to do in Genoa Italy that you won’t want to miss during a trip to this port-side Ligurian city.
Most people fly into Genoa and immediately head away south to places like Camogli, Portofino, and Cinque Terre.
We’ll get to those places as well on this trip, but after spending a few days in this underrated Italian city, I can say with confidence that you should spend at least 24 hours in this food-loving town.
Where is Genoa, Italy?
Genoa is located in the northwestern region of Liguria in Italy. It is along the Mediterranean Sea and is a large port city not all too far from the French border.
It is one of the largest cities in the Italian Riviera and one of my new favorite cities in all of Italy (although I could say that about most cities I’ve been to in Italy, to be honest!).
How to Get to Genoa
There are two main ways to get to Genoa, by air or by train. Of course, if you have rented a car or are driving into Genoa from another region, that is a third option.
If you are arriving to Genoa by air, you will land at the Christopher Columbus Airport, also commonly referred to in Italy as the Aeroporto di Genova-Sestri Ponente. The airport code is GOA.
The cheapest way to get into the city from the airport is the train. You will have to take the Flybus shuttle to the train station which leaves every 15 minutes. You can get a bus ticket inside the airport for €1.50.
If you plan to explore Genoa for 24-hours you should consider the one-day Genoa pass which includes unlimited use of all of the city’s public transportation for 24 hours and only costs €4.50.
If you arrive in Genoa by train from another part of Italy, you will arrive at the Genova Piazza Principe. This is located on the western side of the city and you can either take a scenic walk along Via Balbi to get to the center or hop on one of the city’s metros or buses.
Getting Around Genoa, Italy
Genoa is an extremely walkable city. In the time that I spent there, I only took a few buses and some of their elevators (which take you up to different levels of the city and do indeed require a ticket).
The majority of the best things to do in Genoa are located quite close to each other. However, a day of walking on the cobbled streets can be pretty exhausting, and if you want to explore a bit further afield to places like Boccadasse, you’ll need to take the bus.
If you are only in the city for a short time and don’t want to walk too much, the 24-hour pass is an absolute bargain at only €4.50. It allows unlimited use of buses, metros, funiculars, and elevators around the city.
Where to Stay in Genoa
There are so many great hotels in Genoa. If you want to be at the center of all of the best things to do in Genoa, you’ll want to stay around the Centro Storico.
Hotels in Genoa
- Hotel Bristol Palace: Located right on XX Settembre, one of the main streets in Genoa, you are close to the best shopping, a minute from Piazza de Ferrari, and about five minutes to the winding streets of the Centro Storico. This hotel has a luxury feel of an old-world Palazzi or Palace, giving you a taste for what Genoa was like in its heyday. Rooms start at $160 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Bristol Palace here.
- Hotel Palazzo Grillo: Only a few blocks from the Old Port, the Hotel Palazzo Grillo is set in a historical building that has been so beautifully refurbished. The interior is stylish and modern while still showing off the architecture that makes this city so fantastic. Rooms start at $120 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Palazzo Grillo here.
- Hotel Astoria: This is the best option for those that have rented a car and will explore the coast on their own. It sits just on the edge of the city, so still very accessible both by foot and by public transportation, but it also has ample parking, an onsite gym, a restaurant, and a continental breakfast included in your stay. Rooms start as low as $90 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Astoria here.
Apartments in Genoa
If you want to self-cater or simply want a bit more space during your stay in Genoa, there are plenty of great apartment rentals on Booking.com that are well worth checking out. If you want some more luxury options, be sure to check out all of the apartment options on Plum Guide here.
- Ancient Genoa Experience: Located right in the Centro Storico, the location of this apartment is absolutely perfect for exploring Genoa. You’re only a few minutes from the Old Port and close to amazing restaurants and bars. The apartments each have one bedroom as well as couches that can be converted into beds for additional guests. Apartments start at $99 per night. Book a stay at Ancient Genoa Experience here.
- Alcova Dei Giustiniani by Holiday World: This one-bedroom apartment is beautiful. It is housed in an older palazzi-style building and the decor has been chosen to enhance the style without making it feel outdated or stuffy. It has a kitchenette, a washing machine, a nice living area, a very comfortable bed, and it is located right in the center of all of the action. The apartment starts at $110 per night. Book a stay at Alcova Dei Giustiniai here.
Awesome Things to Do in Genoa
There are so many cool things to do in Genoa. Whether you love architecture, history, great food, good shopping, or simply wandering cobbled streets in the sunshine, Genoa has a little something for everyone.
1. Arcade of Sottoripa
Sottoripa is an arcade or portico that sits between the port and the main streets of the old town. It is the oldest public portico in all of Italy and was built back in 1133.
The arcade was built for the merchants and businessmen who wanted to be able to quickly store and sell their items as soon as they came off of the ships. The goods that were coming into the old port could be unloaded and immediately ready for sale in the markets here to the other sailors and visitors who were coming in on different ships.
They took great care in building the portico because it would be the first thing people saw as they came into the port.
It quickly became one of the busiest areas of the city and while the sea wall that was built in the 17th century now blocks the view of the Sottoripa when you walk through the port, you can still wander beneath the arches and soak up a bit of Genoa’s port history.
2. Porto Antico
Porto Antico or the Old Port, was the original port of Genoa and where for hundreds of years, products from around the world were transported to the shores of Italy.
Now, Portico Antico is home to some of the most popular things to do in Genoa.
It’s here that you will find the Genoa Aquarium, which is the largest aquarium in Europe. There are 15,000 animals of over 600 different species. They have sharks, penguins, sea turtles and so many different types of fish. You can read more about it and pre-book your tickets on their website.
Porto Antico also has a panoramic elevator which looks kind of like a crane and takes you up over the port to give you a 360-degree view over the entire city. It costs €5 and tickets can be purchased at the stall in front of the Eataly building.
There is also a small botanical garden shaped like an orb and filled with tropical plants and birds as well as the restaurants and cafes that line the promenade. Head up to the top of the Eataly restaurant for an afternoon aperitivo and one of the best views in town (besides the panoramic elevator of course, but that doesn’t come with a spritz).
In general, it’s just a beautiful place to walk around, take in the views on a sunny day, and have a peek into all of the super-yachts that are moored here.
3. Via Garibaldi
One of the most famous streets in all of Genoa, Via Guiseppe Garibaldi is listed as one of the city’s Strada Nuova, or new streets. They aren’t actually that new, though.
These Strada Nuova were built during the Renaissance by the aristocracy of Genoa and are where you will find the grandest of all of the palazzi or palaces.
The Strada Nuova are also UNESCO World Heritage-listed and the 12 palazzi that line this street are also included in that listing.
If you want to really get inside and check out these incredible palaces, I highly recommend getting a ticket to the Musei di Strada Nuova. This includes Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Doria-Tursi.
The Palazzo Rosso is a house museum that shows you what it would have been like to live inside one of these palaces during the Renaissance. Palazzo Blanco is an art museum that is home to Flemish, Spanish, and Italian art that as well as art created at the Ligurian School of Art during the 16th century.
Palazzo Doria-Tursi is now the town hall building, but it is possible to explore many of the rooms inside and see what was one of the grandest homes in all of Genoa.
Read more about the three museums, their opening hours, and how to purchase tickets on the website here.
4. Via Balbi
Via Balbi is another Strada Nuova, just like Via Garibaldi. This street has a slightly different history because it was built and almost entirely owned by one family, the Balbi family.
The wealthy Balbi family wanted to improve the route from the port to the city center and with the help of the government, they built this road between 1602 and 1620.
On this street, you’ll find several old palaces, all of which belonged to the Balbi family at one point. Now, this is where you’ll find the main seat of the University of Genoa and several stunning churches like Santissima Annunziata del Vastato and Santi Vittore e Carlo.
You can also find the Royal Palace Museum here on Via Balbi. This is one of the most interesting things to do in Genoa if you enjoy checking out the different palaces as well as seeing some stunning art in the area.
5. Piazza de Ferrari
The main piazza or main square of Genoa is Piazza de Ferrari. This is the center point of the city where the old town and new town meet.
This is where you will find some of the grandest buildings (I know, there are A LOT of grand buildings in Genoa). The piazza isn’t only a meeting point and heart of the city, it’s also the financial hub of the city where you will find the stock exchange building.
6. XX Settembre
From Piazza de Ferrari, you can turn onto XX Settembre. This is the main shopping street in Genoa and home to stunning arcades or porticos to wander beneath on a hot sunny day or a cool rainy one.
The 20th of September 1870 is when Italian troups stormed the Vatican and ended the Pope’s temporal power. This was the final act in the Risorgimento which eventually led to the unification of Italy.
Here in Genoa, a stroll down this street is well worth your time, even if you don’t feel like doing any shopping. A new market that opened a few years ago that I recommend stopping into is MOG Mercato Orientale.
MOG is a covered market with artisan products made with local products. It has a mixture of great local food, food from around Italy, and foods from around the world. There are restaurant stalls as well as market stalls to buy produce, meat, and products like fresh pesto or cured meats.
7. Cathedral of San Lorenzo
The city’s main cathedral, San Lorenzo or Saint Lawrence in English, is located amid the winding streets of the Centro Storico.
The church was originally consecrated all the way back in 1118. It wasn’t finished until the 14th century, nearly 200 years after it began. While much of the interior of the church still dates back to the 13th century, the bell tower wasn’t built until the 16th century.
During my visit in 2022, the exterior of the cathedral was almost entirely covered in scaffolding, but the interior of the church was open and free to explore. I always find it so fascinating in Italy that the Gothic, mostly plain exteriors hide such extravagance inside.
8. Local Cuisine
Coming to Genoa is like a food pilgrimage for many, myself included.
Genoa is home to focaccia, pesto, salami, farinata, minestrone soup, and ravioli for goodness sake! Trying the local cuisine is an absolute must and these are some of my favorite places to enjoy them.
- Il Genovese: Perhaps the most famous place to eat Genoese food in Genoa, you absolutely have to make a reservation to eat at this restaurant. Simply call the number that is listed on their website (they speak English) and make a reservation at least 3-4 days in advance. If you don’t manage to get a reservation, there is a location by the beach in Boccadasse that does take-out and you can eat fresh seafood pasta while sitting on the beach with a cold beer or aperol spritz in hand.
- Sà Pesta: Another great local restaurant, this is much more casual than Il Genovese and no reservations are required. They have all of the top hitters here including fresh pesto, farinata, and different tortas.
- Focaccia e Dintorni: I have eaten a lot of great bread in my short adult life, but none have come close to the focaccia that is being cooked up at this tiny little bakery. There is ALWAYS a line outside this spot and for good reason. For about €2 you can have a pile of still-warm bread that is fluffy on one side, slightly crispy on the other, ever so lightly salted, and packed with love. They have plain, onions, olives, anchovies, cheese, tomatoes, and tons of other toppings to choose from. Of all the places on this list, this is the one you should absolutely not miss out on.
* It’s also worth noting that these can be found all over the Liguria region, so you’ll also get great pesto along the coast in places like Camogli, Santa Margherita Ligure, Sestri, etc.
9. Galleria Giuseppe Mazzini
This little covered galleria is a beautiful place to wander through. There are little cafes where you can grab an espresso or cappuccino and sit to people watch.
There are small clothing and shoe shops inside, some quite fancy boutiques where you can find beautiful pieces that don’t exist of the high street of XX Settembre.
It’s also a great cut-through to get to the next spot on this list of awesome things to do in Genoa.
10. Villetta Di Negro
This little park felt like a secret garden that I had discovered. I was simply looking for a place to explore while I was nearby the Galleria Guiseppe Mazzini and I saw this on Google Maps here. It said that it had a waterfall, which sounded a random thing to have in a central city park, so I headed over.
This is indeed something of a simple neighborhood park, but the waterfall was pretty special, and best of all, the views were absolutely incredible.
From the top of the hill in the park, you could see out over the entire port as well as across to the mountains that sit opposite the sea.
It was my final day in Genoa and it felt like the perfect way to end my trip in this city. It is such an incredible view and it is totally free. I had the park completely to myself at around 10 o’clock in the morning (on a random Tuesday in April).
11. Spianata Castelletto
This castelletto is a wonderful viewpoint near the main train station in Genoa. Making it a great option when you first arrive in the city or are just about to leave to head elsewhere.
You can walk to the top or take one of the city’s elevators up. If you have the 24-hour ticket the elevator is included in that ticket.
When you exit the elevator you come out into a sort of windowed balcony that gives you near 360-degree views of the city below.
Unlike the park listed in number 10, this is one of the most well-known things to do in Genoa if you want to take in the views. So it can get very busy up here. Come early if you want to enjoy the views without too many people.
12. Christopher Columbus’ House
Christopher Columbus was born in the city of Genoa and a replica of his house is now a museum. The coolest part of this museum is that it is actually reconstructed inside the city’s 14th-century walls.
The museum is small and shows what the inside of his childhood home would have looked like as well as some information about his life in Genoa in the 15th century. It only costs €5 to enter.
Other things around this house that you will want to check out are the St Andrew’s Cloister Ruins which sit just to the left of Columbus’ house as well as the Porta Soprana.
The Porta Soprana was one of the tower gates that belonged to the city walls during the 12th century. It was restored in the 19th and 20th centuries to what you see there today.
13. Incredible Churches Around Genoa
There are what feels like thousands of churches around the city of Genoa. Every day that I was there I would get lost in the streets (one of my favorite things to do in any city) and I would stumble upon church after church.
While I’m not particularly pious, I find churches, and any place of worship, to be a respite from the chaos of a city and often quite a nice place to get out of the heat of the midday sun and reflect for a few moments.
Churches in Italy also often double as art galleries with paintings, sculptures, and architecture from some of the world’s most famous artists (and less famous but equally talented ones, too.).
Listing them all as the best things to do in Genoa would be a bit over the top, so I thought I would simply list the ones that I thought were really wonderful and if you want to pin them to your Google maps and stop into them as you explore the other things to do around Genoa, then you’ll know where they are.
- Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato: This basilica employed some of the most talented baroque artists of the 17th century to decorate the interior of this church and it is definitely one of the most ornate I went into.
- Chiesa di Santo Stefano: Located up an elevator on XX Settembre (or a set of stairs just behind it), this church was built way back in the 10th century, making it one of the oldest places of worship in the entire city. Coming up to this little neighborhood and over XX Settembre is worth it alone, but the church is also quite a beautiful one.
- Chiesa di San Donato: This small church was built in the 12th century and has some of the most colorful renaissance paintings. At sunset, they light up the crucifix and it can be seen through the window outside of the church.
- Chiesa del Gesù e dei Santi Ambrogio e Andrea: Located just off of the Piazza de Ferrari, this is without a doubt one of the most ornate churches on the list. It isn’t actually that large inside, but it feels so grand because of the ceiling and width of the entire place.
- Santa Maria di Castello: This church is very simple on the outside, but the inside is packed with frescoes that date back to the 16th century. It’s also set in some of the windiest streets to get lost amongst (very beautiful streets).
A trip to this seaside neighborhood was one of my absolute favorite things to do in Genoa. If I return to the city, I think I would actually plan to stay in this area since it’s only a 10-minute bus ride to the city center and yet it feels like a small fishing town.
It feels like that, of course, because it was once just a small fishing village.
Thanks to its colorful green-shuttered buildings that crowd the beach, it’s one of the most photographed places in the city and also one of the most popular weekend day trips for families in the area.
I highly recommend getting there early on a sunny day so that you can grab a spot on the beach or a table at one of the waterfront cafes.
All of the restaurants around the beach do take-out so that you can sit on the beach with your fried fish or pesto pasta. They also do take away cocktails!
To get to Boccadasse from the city center, hop on the 42 bus towards Via Isonzo from this bus stop near Piazza de Ferrari.
15. Take a Boat Trip
There are so many boat trips that you can take while you are visiting Genoa.
This may not appeal to those that are arriving in Genoa by cruise ship, but if you want to explore more of the Ligurian Coast while you are visiting, this is the best way to do that. You can even take a day trip to Cinque Terre from here.
Here are a few tour options that you can pre-book that are the best things to do in Genoa by water!
- Boat Tour of Camogli, San Fruttuoso, & Portofino – this is a full-day tour that takes you all along the most beautiful parts of the Ligurian Coastline. I have visited each of these places and if you don’t have time to spend longer here, this day trip is the perfect thing to do in Genoa for a day. Book that tour here.
- Boat Trip to Portofino – this boat trip passes by the above-mentioned spots, but you will have time to get off and enjoy time in Portofino to explore, visit the port and restaurants, and see the famous lighthouse. Book that tour here.
- Boat Trip to Cinque Terre – This is a full day that will take you past the ports of all five villages of Cinque Terre and make a stop to explore the town of Monterosso (which is home to the best beach in Cinque Terre in my humble opinion!). Book that tour here.