It may not be as “Insta-famous” as some of its Italian neighbours but Genoa has everything you could wish for in an Italian city break: historic architecture, heaps of culture, and a food scene to die for (this is the city that invented pesto, after all… need I say more?)
Last year, Bristol Airport added Genoa to its destinations list and with return fares coming in at less than £60 a pop, I just had to grab myself a seat, along with the lovely FoodNerd4Life.
A weekend is just enough time to appreciate the main sights (and tastes) of Genoa but an extra day means you can squeeze in a visit to the bucket-list worthy Cinque Terre region, which you absolutely should!
So without further ado, here’s a day-to-day guide to help you make the most of a weekend in Genoa: Italy’s most up-and-coming city.
Piazza de Ferrari
Start your visit at the very heart of Genoa – the beautiful main square, Piazza de Ferrari. The square is easy to spot, thanks to the grand fountain at its centre, overlooked by historic buildings, galleries and palaces. You can also scout out the ‘Genova’ sign here, making this the perfect photo stop to kick off your visit.
Get lost in the Old City
A maze of narrow alleys, dotted with traditional shuttered buildings and medieval churches makes Genoa’s old city a magical place to explore. There’s plenty to look out for, including the old city walls and Via Guiseppe Garibaldi – the most famous street in Genoa. But the best way to discover the Old City is simply by getting lost down the side-streets!
Take a tour of Palazzo Reale
Genoa is packed full of historic palaces and picking which one to visit will probably be the most difficult decision you’ll have to make during your trip! But if you go for just one, I’d recommend Palazzo Reale, located in the centre of the old city.
The palace is one of the grandest in Genoa, with ornate rooms and furnishings and a seriously impressive ‘Hall of Mirrors’ that’s not to be missed.
The palace is open to visitors daily (except Mondays – most attractions in Italy are closed on Mondays) between 9:00-18:30 and 13:30-19:00 on weekends. Tickets are €6 (children under 18 go free) and can be purchased from the front desk.
Climb the Cathedral Tower
The Cathedral of San Lorenzo is one of Genoa’s most famous sights and a must-do for any first-time visitor to the city. Step inside to admire the ornate, art-covered ceilings, grand altar and striking stained glass windows.
For just €5, you can also climb the spiral staircase up 150 steps to the top of the Cathedral.
From the rooftop, you’ll be greeted with beautiful views of the city below and the rows of colourful houses, tucked into the hillside.
The Cathedral is closed to the public daily between noon and 3pm, so if you’re planning to climb the tower, I’d recommend visiting in late afternoon when it’s cooler and the light is much better for taking photos.
Once you’re back on solid ground, be sure to reward yourself with an aperitivo on the beautiful Piazza San Lorenzo! Caffè del Duomo serves up a refreshing Aperol Spritz, with the best views in the city, for just €5.
Pig out on pesto
If, like me, you’re used to eating pesto from a jar, then trust me – your life is about to change. Genoa is where real traditional pesto was born and you’ll find it on pretty much every menu in the city.
We loved Trattoria Alle 2 Torri – a charming, little local serving up delicious, fresh pesto and pasta dishes at affordable prices.
Take a food tour
There’s no better way to experience a new city (especially an Italian one) than with a food tour. Luckily, Genoa has plenty to choose from, courtesy of Do Eat Better.
Whether it’s a traditional street food tour you’re after, or an authentic cookery class, this food experience is sure to be one of the most memorable parts of your trip.
Most food tours start around 11.30am and last for 3 hours, taking in the best local specialities the city has to offer – from melt-in-your-mouth focaccia and fresh pesto, to sea food galore.
We went for the street food tour and were the only ones booked on, so ended up with our very own private tour of the city! If you want to know what to expect, have a read of FoodNerd4Life’s fab review of our Do Eat Better food tour here.
Explore the Old Port
Genoa is Italy’s oldest seaport and one of the most important working ports in the Mediterranean today. The marina is a popular spot for tourists in Genoa and a lovely place for an afternoon or sunset walk.
Here, you’ll also find the Aquarium – a good option if you’re travelling with kids – and Galeone Neptune, a replica pirate ship originally used as a film-set.
Boat tours also depart from the harbour seasonally, if you want to see the city from a different perspective.
Sip cocktails at a hidden ‘palace’ bar
Hidden away on the first floor of a traditional “palazzo”, or palace, in the Old City is Les Rouges Cucina – a unique bar and restaurant, serving up delicious cocktails in the most beautiful setting.
The menu is reasonable given its prime location but you won’t need to order much, what with all the tasty nibbles they bring you with your drinks (don’t you just love the aperitivo culture in Italy?!)
Take a day trip to Cinque Terre
Genoa is located just over an hour away from La Spezia station – the gateway to the beautiful Cinque Terre region.
It’s well worth a day out to explore these magical fishing villages… but be warned, don’t try to do all five in a day! I’d recommend visiting three at most – Riomaggiore and Manarola were my personal favourites but you can take a look at my guide to Cinque Terre to see which villages tickle your fancy!
Travelling elsewhere in Italy? Check out my travel guide to Taormina in Sicily for first-time visitors!