Genoa, Italy: favourite places to visit in the lovely town of Genoa

Photo of Genoa (Liguria region)

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Visit Genoa

The city of Genoa, in north-west Italy, is an active commercial port and the busiest city in Liguria. It has a very interesting historic centre with numerous palaces, religious monuments and artworks to see and a substantial old town - it is said that Genoa has the largest medieval centre in Europe!

Despite all the art, history and culture in Genoa it is still very much a lived in city rather than a 'tourist town' and the kind of town you will love or hate - typically hate when you first arrive then grow to love as you explore!

Genoa is also well known as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and you can see the house where he is thought to have been born.

Explore Genoa

It is true that Genoa stands in stark contrast to the sophistication and glamour of most of the resorts and towns along the Ligurian coast, and is a real, living, working city - sometimes noisy or smelly, often busy - and frequently fascinating with a good number of interesting sights to discover. Allow yourself the time to absorb the town and it will grow on you, although it can be a 'culture shock' if you are arriving from the pristine villages of the Cinque Terre!

Palazzo ducale in Genoa

Most visits will focus in the streets around the Piazza de Ferrari, the large central square in Genoa and the adjacent Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, and along the Via XX Settembre to the north-east of Piazza de Ferrari and in the narrow streets of the old town.

Around the Piazza de Ferrari you can see various interesting buildings including the Palazzo della Borsa (originally the Stock Exchange) and the Teatro Carlo Felice, and most of the other important monuments in Genoa are within easy walking distance from here. The fountain and statue in the centre of the square was added in 1936.

The Museo dell'Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti art gallery is also here and has a very wide range of artworks spanning the last few centuries.

The Church of Saint Gesu to the south of the piazza is a 16th century baroque style church best known for having two paintings by Rubens. Almost next door on Piazza Matteotti is the imposing Palazzo Ducale - an elegant building of columns and statues with two lovely courtyards.

A little way east along Via Porta Soprano the Porte Soprano is an impressive gateway with two high round towers that was built in the 12th century and once formed part of the cities extensive defences although most of these walls are now lost (and Porte Soprano is a rebuild of the original). Just behind the gateway you can visit the Cloisters of Saint Andrea, sadly all that remains of a convent that stood here in the 12th century, and the site of Christopher Colombus' house is also nearby.

Cathedral in Genoa

Cathedral of San Lorenzo

The Cathedral of San Lorenzo, easily identified by its gothic style white and grey striped facade, dates from the 12th century although the the dome and towers were added later, in the 16th century. The cathedral facade with the two unequal towers and large central rose window is both unusual and beautiful - because of the extended period over which it was built the cathedral is a combination of gothic, baroque, renaissance and romanesque architectural styles!

Inside the cathedral you can see more use of the 'striped marble' design above the marble columns that line the nave, and several important art works and frescoed ceilings - among our favourites are the Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence (by Lazzaro Taverone, 1556 - 1641) and the paintings of the saint John the Baptist Chapel. the church treasury also contains some fascinating historical artefacts.

Church of Sant'Agostino

Towards the south of the centre of Genoa are the remains of the Church of Sant'Agostino. Although substantially destroyed during the Second World war we recommend you make the detour to see the church - the original gothic style belltower remains and various very impressive historical artworks and architectural artefacts can be seen in the cloisters, which is now the Museum of Ligurian Architecture and Sculpture.

Palaces and Art Galleries

No Italian city would be complete without an important collection of paintings and art, and Genoa is no exception. As well as the Museo dell'Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti mentioned above you can head a short distance north of the main centre to visit The Musei di Strada Nuova - confusing since the street on which the museum is found is now called the Via Garibaldi - in a series of imposing 16th century palaces, very extensive and has numerous artistic highlights with Rubens, Durer and van Dyck among the best known artists represented.

On the same street you can visit the Palazzo Lomellino to see some highly regarded 17th century frescoes by an artist called Bernardo Strozzi and take a look at more frescoes in the courtyard of the Palazzo Spinola; see numerous paintings by Old Masters in the Palazzo Bianco; and a small exhibition dedicated to Paganini in the Palace Doria-Tursi.

Genoa old town

Next you can head west and into the heart of Genoa old town, a network of narrow streets and alleys lined by tall houses and often with small shops, cafes and businesses at ground level. Undoubtedly you will get lost for a while but don't worry - most visitors emerge unscathed sooner or later! The old town is very extensive and covers the area between the cathedral and the port.

You will often come across the word 'caruggi' in Genoa and elsewhere in Italy - this refers to the narrow medieval alleys that are typical of Italian medieval towns.

There is more art and culture to find here as well, in particular the National Gallery and the Palazzo Reale, and the gardens around the Palazzo del Principe - all three of these have collections of Renaissance artworks.

Port in Genoa

Park at Villa Durazzo in Genoa

The old town continues west as far as the banks of the river where you can explore the port area, now one of the most visited regions of Genoa. Among the highlights in the port your children will want to visit the very popular aquarium.

Other visitor attractions here include the modern Biosphere and the Il Bigo, with a chance to look down across the whole port area (both designed by renowned modern architect Enzo Piano) and another modern glass building holds the Museum of the Sea (Galata Museo del Mare) - a fitting tribute by Genoa to Christopher Columbus.

Parks

By this stage you will be weary - so we suggest a walk and a rest in one of Genoa's parks.

You can stay in the centre of Genoa, perhaps in the park called Villetta Di Negro or if you still have the stamina head a little way west of the centre to the lovely park of the Villa Durazzo-Pallavicini, an extensive park laid out in the 19th century which combines a park, a botanical gardens, numerous plants, water features and lots of small interesting architectural features - a little harder to reach (it is in Pegli, a suburb of Genoa) but well worth the effort.

Other highlights

Although we have mentioned the principal attractions above we have hardly mentioned shopping and restaurants, both of which are plentiful in Genoa and cater for every budget from low-price to 'very expensive', and a myriad of smaller museums and galleries. We found there was something to detain us around every corner in Genoa and look forward to returning as soon as possible.

Where is Genoa?

Genoa is on the coast of Liguria in north-west Italy and also the capital and most important town of the region. Italians of course know the city as Genova.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Liguria guide.

See also:

Map of Genoa and places to visit

Places to visit near Genoa

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