Genoa (Italian: Genova, Ligurian dialect: Zena) is the capital city of our wonderful region, Liguria.
Even though it’s quite a large city – the sixth in Italy by population – it still preserves countless corners of authentic Ligurian life and style in its architecture, colors, foods and historical buildings.
Although Genoa is too often left out of tourists’ itineraries, in the last few years many international magazines and journalists in general have finally discovered the true beauty of this unique city, writing about it and depicting its beauties.
Genoa is a so-called “vertical city” with steep mountains declining directly into the sea, leaving a narrow strip of land for the city itself.
The main roads therefore go from east to west and vice-versa, while north to south and back it’s easy to find shorter, crooked, steep roads and stairways (the so called “creuze”).
Drivers in Genoa need to be reckless and skillful to say the least, in order to face traffic every day!
Ready to dive into the contrasts of a hectic city surrounded by nature?
The mountains on one side, the sea right in front. The wind as a constant companion. Centuries of history. A glorious past and a rebirth in progress. Welcome to Genoa!
So let’s go through the 10 best things (unusual) to do in Genoa according to us, to make your stay memorable.
1 – Visit the museums
There are so many museums in Genoa that it’s impossible to visit them all in the same trip, especially if you only have a few days to spend in the city.
Here is a “non-mainstream” selection that will allow you to enjoy a variety of Genoa’s atmospheres.
- Palazzo Spinola: a noble palace built in the 16th century, nowadays protected by UNESCO and home to the Palazzo Spinola National Gallery, an incredible Genoese baroque mansion with original decorations, paintings, frescos and furniture.
- Palazzo Bianco & Blue de Genes: another noble palace built in the 16th century protected by UNESCO. It’s the main picture gallery in Genoa and it boasts Flemish, Genoese and Spanish masterpieces. On the mezzanine floor you will find an exhibit called DVJ Damasco Velluto Jeans, dedicated to textile arts. What is very important about this is that what we nowadays call “blue jeans” was born in Genoa and was once called “blue de genes”. Come and find out everything about it!
2 – Live the “Vertical City”
Genoa is a “Vertical City”, with steep hills and the sea right in front. It looks like a roman amphitheater where the stage is the sea, surrounded by green mountains with fortresses on top of each peak.
Along the slopes, historical cable cars, public elevators and narrow streets and staircases are formidable shortcuts crossing the city allowing its inhabitants to move around.
It goes without saying that moving around the city this way offers breathtaking views as you move uphill.
Beautifuliguria offers an urban walking tour of the Vertical City. Don’t miss it!
3 – Visit the monumental cemetery of Staglieno
The Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno is considered one of the most fascinating and important in Europe. It has always been a tourist attraction, and Ernest Hemingway defined it as “One of the wonders of the world”. Guided tours are available.
4 – Relax in Boccadasse
Boccadasse and its colorful houses, a previous fishing village now incorporated in the city, is a real treat.
Enjoy a walk down Corso Italia all the way to Boccadasse, sit on the beach or the rocks with the locals while eating gelato from the local ice cream shop.
5 – Walk on the Nervi promenade
Enjoy a 2 km walk on the sea, surrounded by colors and the sound of the waves, on this famous walkway carved in the cliffs.
Relaxing and romantic.
Along the promenade are the “Parchi di Nervi”, the biggest urban park on the Mediterranean Sea.
Within the park itself are historical villas and palaces hosting museums: Villa Serra with its Modern Art Gallery and Wolfson Collection, Villa Grimaldi Fassio with the Frugone Collection, Luxoro Museum.
6 – Discover the traditional shops of the old city
In Genoa you will find very important historical shops where you can shop for unique souvenirs or just enjoy their history and atmosphere.
Among these shops is the oldest candy store in Italy, “Romanengo”, dating back to 1780, where candies are still handmade today.
“Via Garibaldi 12 Lifestylestore” is an interior design store located inside an historical palace protected by UNESCO, dating back to the 16th century. It feels like shopping in a museum!
7 – Eat pesto and focaccia (and other specialties)
Don’t leave Genoa without trying the worldwide famous pesto, because the original one is different from anything you’ve ever tried!
Pair with fresh trofie pasta or gnocchi for the perfect experience.
Another delicacy loved by locals and tourists is focaccia.
It may look like some kind of bread but once you taste it you’ll know why Genoese people miss it so much whenever they leave. And… you can live the experience of a cooking class and learn to make focaccia!
8 – Shop at the “Mercato Orientale” (Oriental Market)
MOG (Mercato Orientale di Genova) is a food market located in a 16th century building that was once a convent.
Since 1899 it has been converted into a market and it’s still open for business. Here, you will find an innovative food court – serving both traditional and contemporary foods – with 11 food corners, a restaurant, a cooking school and many cultural events.
9 – Get lost in the historical center
Genoa has one of the biggest historical centers in Europe, well worth a visit.
It’s fun to get lost in its alleys, called “caruggi”, to see how people live here, discover the traditional houses and shops vs the new, trendy clubs and bars, but also to find the most hipster side of the city.
Among the labyrinth-like, narrow streets, make sure you don’t miss the following spots:
- Piazza San Matteo and its church, built in the 12th century, then renewed in gothic style, with its typical black and white stripes on the outside and very important frescos by Genoese artists on the inside.
- Piazza delle Erbe: its bars and tiny restaurants have tables all over the square, and locals just love to spend their time here. You can do the same and feel like a Genoese while sipping an aperitivo, eating a quick bite or artisanal gelato.
- Spianata Castelletto: you can reach this esplanade with a public elevator to enjoy some of the best views of the city from the top (and some of the best gelato too!).
10 – Visit the Renaissance palaces protected by UNESCO
While you are in the historical center make sure you head to Via Garibaldi, one of the most interesting streets in the whole world from the architectural point of view. It was built in 1550 and it’s 250 meters long.
Along the road are many of the most important Renaissance palaces of Genoa, among which Palazzo Nicolosio Lomellino (also known as Palazzo Podestà) with its garden, a dreamlike place on two levels, with statues, fountains and even a cave – a real treat in the heart of the city.
Not far from Via Garibaldi is Via Balbi with Palazzo Reale, one of the most important historical palaces in Genoa.
Walking through the many rooms of this museum you will enjoy stunning pieces of arts, sumptuous lobbies with countless statues, original furniture. You will feel like you’re in Versailles!
Do you want to know other unusual and exclusive things to do in Genoa?