Things to Do in Genoa
In the heart of Genoa’s old town, Genoa Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Lorenzo) is the most important church in the city. It’s a soaring Gothic and Romanesque masterpiece in alternating bands of black and white marble, where the magnificent art and architecture serve as reminders of this former maritime republic’s historic wealth and power.
Piazza de Ferrari is the expansive main square in Genoa, separating the historic district from the modern city center. Its large fountain is the square’s centerpiece and a central meeting point for tourists and locals alike. The piazza is named for Raffaele de Ferrari, who donated a lot of money to help expand Genoa’s port in the 1800s.
One of the most important streets in Genoa’s historic center, Via Garibaldi was historically known as Strada Nuova, lined with palaces belonging to this former marina republic’s most powerful families. The street has changed names, but its UNESCO-listed Palazzi dei Rolli remain among the most spectacular attractions in Genoa.
Built in 1298 to demonstrate Genoa’s wealth after it had become an important maritime trade center, the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) was the residence of the doge, ruler of Genoa. Today a cultural center, event space, and museum hosting rotating exhibits, the palace offers visitors a glimpse of the splendor of Genoa’s history.
The Castelletto neighborhood of Genoa gets its name from a small castle that once stood on the hill. The castle was destroyed in the late 19th century, but the view from the hill remains excellent – particularly if you're at the “Spianata.”
The Spianata Castelletto – also known as the Belvedere Montaldo – offers commanding views over Genoa, including the old port, the iconic Lanterna, and the historic center of the city. The open space has benches, encouraging you to stop and enjoy the view for awhile. Don't be surprised if you see couples having wedding photos taken up there, either.
The Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale) in Genoa (Genova) is one of the city’s Palazzi dei Rolli, magnificent residences built by the Genoese aristocracy during the Republic of Genoa’s height of wealth and power. Get a glimpse into the city’s opulent baroque period by touring the sumptuous interiors and art collection of this palace museum.
The resort town of Santa Margherita Ligure on the Italian Riviera is often outshined by its famous neighbor, Portofino, but deserves no less attention. The larger of the two, Santa Margherita Ligure feels less overrun with tourists while offering similarly quaint cafes and boutiques, pastel-painted buildings, and glorious views of the sea.
For one of the best views of Genoa and its Old Port, a trip on the Bigo panoramic elevator is a must. Climb aboard the out-of-this-world contraption, designed in the style of loading cranes by Renzo Piano in 1992 for the quincentennial of Columbus’ voyage to the New World, and learn about Genoa’s history as you take in panoramic views.
The sprawling port city of Genoa (Genova) is made up of a number of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own history and identity. One of these is Boccadasse, set on the waterfront to the east of the city center. Once a tiny fishing village, it is now a delightfully colorful and quaint quarter to explore on foot.
Genoa’s Palazzi dei Rolli are a group of 42 residences, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, that were listed on the city’s register. When notable guests came to visit Genoa on a state visit, a lottery was used to determine which palace would host the guest. Today, these palaces—out of 163 total homes—are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
More Things to Do in Genoa
Genoa has been known for its connection to the water for centuries, and one of the best views of the Mediterranean Sea can be found along the Corso Italia promenade. The 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) stretch of sidewalk curves around the coastline with ample space for walking, jogging, and even sunbathing on the beaches along the route.
Set on a hilltop overlooking the Castello district, Genoa’s Basilica of Santa Maria di Castello (Basilica di Santa Maria di Castello) is one of the most important churches in this bustling port city. Part of a larger religious complex including a convent and museum, the Romanesque basilica is home to important works by many of Genoa’s best known artists.
The Aquarium of Genoa is not only the largest aquarium in Italy, but also the most extensive exhibition of marine biodiversity in Europe. Situated in Genoa’s Old Port, more than 70 different tanks hold 1.6 million gallons of water and 12,000 animals. Visitors can see sharks, dolphins, manatees, penguins, seals, jellyfish, and much more.
La Lanterna, Genoa’s towering stone lighthouse, has been guiding ships into port since medieval times. It stands proudly at 250 feet (76 meters) in height, making it the second-tallest masonry lighthouse in the world. After admiring the stellar views, visit the adjacent Lantern Museum, which covers the history of Genoa and its Old Port.
Via San Lorenzo is a historic street that runs from the Porto Antico to the stately San Lorenzo Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Lorenzo) in Genoa’s city center. The lovely street is named for the 12th-century black-and-white striped cathedral of the same name, which is home to holy relics and a beautifully frescoed interior.
Genoa’s Palazzo Rosso, or Red Palace, was built in the 1670s as a private home for the wealthy Brignole-Sale family. Donated to the city 200 years later, it was turned into an art museum featuring works by Veronese, Strozzi, and van Dyck. The palace is located in the heart of Genoa’s historical center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Genoa is a fitting location for the Galata Maritime Museum (Galata Museo del Mare), as the city has been a major maritime power for centuries. The Museum of the Sea’s four floors feature numerous exhibits on sailing ships and sea explorations—including an entire room dedicated to the famous Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus and his Transatlantic voyage.
A large square located just behind Old Port (Porto Antico), Piazza Caricamento is the entryway to Genoa’s historic city center. This waterfront plaza is generally less crowded than Porto Antico and features ample space to people-watch. The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) is the main must-see landmark in the plaza.
As birthplace of Christopher Columbus, it's fitting that Genoa (Genova) is home to the second-largest port in Europe. A popular stop for cruise ships, the city blends old and new, with historic palazzi and churches sitting beside modern buildings. Genoa is also a jumping-off point for shore excursions to Liguria’s pretty coastal villages.
Built in the 1530s for the Grimaldi family, Palazzo Bianco stands in the historical heart of Genoa. The mansion later came into the possession of the wealthy Brignole-Sale family, owners of nearby Palazzo Rosso. Today both homes are part of the Strada Nuova Museums, with Palazzo Bianco featuring European paintings from the 12th to 18th century.
Nineteenth-century Italian painter Edoardo Chiossone spent more than 20 years in Japan, where he amassed a significant collection of Japanese art. Bequeathed to the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts, his collection formed the basis of the Chiossone Museum of Oriental Art (Museo d'Arte Orientale Edoardo Chiossone).
Perhaps you didn't plan to go to Genoa to visit a cemetery, but you might want to change those plans. One of Europe's largest cemeteries, Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, sits just outside Genoa and is well worth a visit.
Staglieno is called a “Monumental Cemetery,” and can rightly be seen as an outdoor museum of sculptural work as well as a cemetery. The cemetery was opened in 1851, and covers more than a square kilometer (roughly 0.38 square miles).
There are some smaller cemeteries within Staglieno – an English cemetery, a Protestant cemetery, and a Jewish cemetery. At the center is a statue of Faith standing in front of a copy of the Pantheon (the original is in Rome). Among those buried at Staglieno is Oscar Wilde's wife, Italian singer Fabrizio De Andre, and Italian soldiers and politicians. Sculptors whose work is featured on tombs include Leonardo Bistolfi, Augusto Rivalta, and Giulio Monteverde.
The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato was begun in the 16th century, but most of the work on the interior was done roughly 100 years later – which explains the profusion of Baroque decoration inside.
The facade of the church is its newest feature, dating from the mid-1800s. The clean white exterior gives no indication of the explosion of color and ornamentation you'll find when you walk inside. When the interior of the basilica was being completed in the 17th century, the top Baroque studios were employed to do the job – and it looks the part.
It's the ceiling and dome that may leave you breathless – everywhere you look is gold, with enormous frescoes stretched across the arch of the nave's ceiling. The artist responsible for much of the dome is also the one who was overseeing the entire interior project. So although there were multiple artists and studios at work, the interior still looks well-planned.
Set next to the aquarium on Genoa’s revitalized historic port, La Biosfera is a small futuristic glass-and-steel sphere that houses a tiny self-contained microclimate. Populated by a chatty parrot, fish, and reptiles, the miniature tropical botanical garden is a delightful refuge from the bustle of the crowded port.
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