I’ve lived in Italy for years and have travelled widely in this beautiful country, but I’d never been to Genova, in northern Italy’s Liguria region. I used to live not too far away, in Milan. I’ve driven by it on the highways, but never stopped by to visit the city.
Looking back, maybe driving by on the highways was part of the problem. Genova’s enormous eyesore of a raised highway manages to cut the city off from its port and leave potential visitors wondering what the rest of the city must look like if urban planning is this bad.
Luckily, after my weekend trip to this historical port city – and birthplace of Christopher Columbus – I can honestly claim that Genova is a fascinating city to visit, with spectacular architecture, art, museums and lots of picturesque corners to explore.
Genova’s medieval center is said to be the largest in Europe and the warren of narrow, winding streets – known as carruggi in the local dialect – keep you walking up and down steps and ramps, wondering at the labarynth-like layout. Be sure to bring good walking shoes!
The architecture is wonderful and you’ll discover gems throughout. Genova was wealthy from its port and banking and its rich commissions are on display in its impressive churches – including the gothic cathedral of San Lorenzo and the Chiesa del Gesù, with its impressive paintings by Pier Paul Rubens and Guido Reni.
Until recently, Genova has had the reputation as a gritty port city, and while gentrification appears to be well underway, visitors should still be cautious in some of the dark medieval streets and visit them during the daylight hours.
Genova today is most well-known for its spectacular aquarium(site in Italian only), designed by the renowned Italian architect, Renzo Piani, and opened in 1992. We joined the million visitors that pass through every year and our children enjoyed the shark tanks, the penguins and having the chance to touch the rays in the open tank for children.
But for my husband and me, it was the city itself and its splendid architecture that truly impressed. We enjoyed its ancient gates, like the 12th-century Porta Soprana gate, the dark, winding streets that open up into sunny squares, the ‘new’ streets of the neighborhoods created in the 17th century, exploring the outdoor market outside the Palazzo ducale.
On the elegant Via Garibaldi, located in the ‘new town’, are a series of three museums, collectively known as the Musei di Strada nuova , that include the Palazzo Bianco, Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Tursi that merit a visit. The entrance ticket is 8 euro for adults for entry into all three. If you have limited time, visit the Palazzo Bianco, which houses the largest collection (including Caravaggio’s Ecce Homo, and works by Lippi, Veronese, Van Dyck, and Rubens).
Genovese specialties include pesto and piping hot focaccia (a delicious, flat, oven-baked bread), which can be found at the many bakeries located strategically throughout the town. As expected, a city on the Mediterranean boasts plenty of seafood restaurants, too. Accompany it with the local white wine, il Vermentino.
Genova also make a good base for exploring the impossibly beautiful seaside towns that can be reached easily by local trains or – in spring and summer – by boat from the main harbor. I’ll write about the stunning resorts of Santa Margherita di Ligure and Portofino in a future post.