When we traveled to Genoa for the first time, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. To be honest, I hadn’t really heard much about this city at all. I knew that we had some time to fill between visiting Milan and heading onward to Sicily, and I wanted to use that time to visit a new place. I saw that Genoa wasn’t very far away on the map, and I had already been to most of the other major cities in Northern Italy.
It wasn’t until after we bought train tickets to Genoa that I learned it is one of Italy’s biggest cities, it has been Italy’s biggest port city for centuries, it is the birthplace and childhood home of Christopher Columbus, and most importantly, it is the home of pesto!
This post is going to break down some of the best things to do in Genoa, then take a look at both how to get to Genoa and how to get around Genoa. After that, I’ll answer the main question of this post: Is Genoa, Italy worth visiting?
Is Genoa the Same as Geneva?
Genoa and Geneva are pretty similar names, so it would make sense to assume that they are the same city. What makes this even more confusing is that the Italian name of Genoa is actually Genova, which is only one letter different from Geneva.
With that being said, Geneva is in no way, shape, or form related to Genoa. Genoa is a port city in northwestern Italy, and Geneva is a city in western Switzerland near its border with France. The two cities are located about 250 miles apart, and you can get from one to the other by car in less than five hours.
If you have been mixing up the names of Genoa and Geneva, cut yourself a little slack. The Italian name of Genova is extremely similar to the Swiss city of Geneva, and nobody can blame you for mixing them up!
Best Things to Do in Genoa
1. Try Authentic Genovese Pesto
Before traveling to Genoa, we actually had no idea that pesto was from there. It was a fact that somehow was never made clear to us. And we love pesto! Our first night at dinner, Angel saw that there were a lot of dishes that had to do with pesto Genovese, and we started to wonder if there was fire behind that smoke. A quick Google search filled us in on the fact that pesto is indeed a Genovese food, and the pesto here is undoubtedly the best pesto you’ll ever have in your life. If you don’t believe me, pop into Pestobene and order a piesta. I promise you, this is one of the best things to do in Genoa.
2. Check Out The Childhood Home of Christopher Columbus
While he has a very divisive reputation, Christopher Columbus is undoubtedly an incredibly important figure in European and North and South American history. To our surprise, Christopher Columbus was born and raised in Genoa for the brunt of his childhood, and his childhood home is a very well-preserved place to go check out. It is located close to the Piazza De Ferrari metro stop, making it very accessible via public transportation. The house was destroyed by various attacks on the city, but has been restored to look as it did during his time living there in the 15th century. You will notice very quickly that the house is very tiny, as Columbus came from very humble beginnings.
3. Visit the Treasure Museum in the Cathedral of Saint Lorenzo
As devout Catholics, we love stepping into churches in Europe. We just know they’re always going to be stunning. The Cathedral of Saint Lorenzo in Genoa certainly doesn’t disappoint. However, the real treasure in this cathedral is off to the side, in what they call the Treasure Museum. This small museum has some incredible artifacts, including a real fragment of Jesus’ cross, a relic with a lock of the Virgin Mary’s hair, the ark of the ashes of John the Baptist, and the silver plate on which his head was presented to the Princess Salome. Religious or not, this is pretty epic.
4. Visit the Largest Aquarium in Europe
Being a historically rich port city with direct access to the Mediterranean Sea, it makes sense that Genoa would have an aquarium. However, we were stunned to find out that Genoa’s aquarium is the biggest one in all of Europe. Even cities like Paris, Berlin, and London do not have bigger aquariums. Most people would tell you that visiting the Genoa aquarium is one of the best things to do in Genoa, and I wouldn’t disagree! For more information about tickets and pricing, visit the Genoa aquarium’s website.
5. Visit the Royal Palace Museum
The Royal Palace Museum is a gorgeous museum located on the historic Via Balbi. As its name implies, this museum used to be the royal palace of Genoa. The furnishings are beautiful, the whole building has good air conditioning, and the views from the terrace are some of the best views in all of Genoa. Entrance to the museum costs €10. For more details, check out the museum’s website.
6. Visit the Three Palaces on Via Garibaldi
If you like art, visiting the three palace museums on the Via Garibaldi is surely one of the best things to do in Genoa. Via Garibaldi is where all the wealthiest people in Genoa used to live, and they all build gorgeous palaces right next to one another. While there are more than just three, there are three palaces that have been turned into art and history museums, and they can all be visited with the same ticket. As a group, they are called the Strada Nuova Museums. The ticket costs €9, and it gives you access to the Palazzo Rosso, the Palazzo Bianco, and the Palazzo Doria-Tursi. From world-famous violins, to paintings from centuries ago, to beautiful furnishing, you’re in for a nice time if you visit here. For more information, visit the Strada Nuova Museum website.
7. Eat a Cone of Fresh Calamari and Fries from Friggiatoria
I understand that calamari is not just a Genoa thing, but being located right on the Ligurian Sea means Genoa has some really great seafood. On one of our walks through the city, we stumbled across Friggiatoria, which is a small restaurant that whips up some killer seafood on the go. They served us fresh calamari and fries in a cone, and with a squeeze of lemon juice, it was absolutely delicious. If you’re not a calamari person, you should still be sure to try some of the local seafood while you visit! Sitting along the water and munching on a fresh catch is easily one of the best things to do in Genoa.
8. Try a Deluxe Dessert Coffee at a Corner Cafe
We don’t know if this is something specific to Genoa, but we have never noticed it anywhere else in Italy. Walking through Genoa, there are a lot of cafes that serve artisan dessert coffees. By dessert coffee, I am referring to espresso con panna, which is normally just espresso and whipped cream. In Genoa, they take this to a whole different level. One morning, I had a cannoli-themed dessert coffee, which consisted of a shot of espresso, approximately 6 inches of whipped cream, cannoli cream, a miniature cannoli, and chocolate drizzle. Another day, I had one that was a shot of espresso, another 6 inches of whipped cream, and berries and berry drizzle. While they definitely aren’t healthy, they sure are a guilty pleasure.
9. Hang Out and Shop in the Piazza De Ferrari
The Piazza De Ferrari is one of the most important squares in Genoa, and it is very central to all of the best things to do in the city. This square is decorated with a gorgeous fountain and is surrounded by some absolutely stunning buildings. From here, Christopher Columbus’ home is less than a 10-minute walk, the cathedral is less than a 5-minute walk, and the main shopping street of the city spurs right off of the square. If you need to do any shopping while in Genoa, this is definitely the place to go. If you’re not in a shopping mood, kick back and have a coffee or an aperitivo at one of the many cafes or bars in this area.
10. Lose Yourself in The Old City
Literally, go get lost. That’s what Angel accidentally did on the first day and it was one of her favorite experiences in the city. I had to get work done at a cafe so off she went with the baby to casually explore what was near was. She came upon this massive, epic Roman archway and naturally had to explore what was inside. Little did she know, this was the gate leading into the ‘old city’ and boy was she in for a treat.
There are small, narrow streets throughout Italy. But, typically, they are rather open, well-lit streets and the buildings don’t reach very high. Genova’s Old City was nothing like I had ever seen in Italy. There were dozens of narrow pedestrian streets, shadowed by tall, ancient homes and shops on both side. Furthermore, there were even smaller and darker alleyways that broke off from these main streets. It doesn’t feel like you’re in Italy. You feel like you’re in Jerusalem and Jesus is about to walk around the corner. It felt like an entirely different era! Definitely not like 2022. It was also practically a maze. And there was no cell service within “the gate”! So Angel quite literally got lost and had no means of contacting me. She eventually found her way back home and retold her remarkable adventure.
Our pictures can give you an idea of what we are talking about. However, if you truly want to experience an accurate clip of Genoa, you have to watch our Genoa Travel Vlog. We walk you through the streets so that you can get a feel for what we are talking about.
How to Get to Genoa
While it is one of the biggest cities in Italy, Genoa’s airport is not very well-connected internationally. Additionally, getting from the airport to the city via public transportation is a little complicated. Here’s everything you need to know about getting to Genoa, Italy.
I wrote a blog post a few months ago where I ranked the best airports to fly through when visiting Italy, and let’s just put it this way: Genoa’s airport didn’t make the cut. While Genoa is a major city in Italy, it is simply not all that well connected by air. Genoa City Airport (GOA) is a small, regional airport that offers a few international flights, but mostly just offers routes to other parts of Italy.
If you want to fly to Genoa, you might have a tough time finding a reasonable flight into Genoa itself. Even if you are coming from somewhere else in Europe, you will likely need to have at least one layover in order to get to Genoa. If you can find a reasonable flight route (in terms of both trip time and airfare) into Genoa, I recommend that you take it. However, if you are coming from anywhere outside of Italy, France, and Spain, this is pretty unlikely.
What are the best cities to fly into in Italy to get to Genoa?
How to Get to Genoa from Genoa City Airport (GOA)
As I have mentioned, Genoa’s airport is small and is pretty much just a regional airport. As a result, it is not very well connected to the city by public transportation. If you want to take a taxi and skip the public transportation options, I don’t blame you. However, if you want to stick it out, here’s how to get to downtown Genoa from the airport.
When you exit the airport, there are two options to get downtown: the Volabus and the Airlink Bus plus a train or another bus. In my opinion, the Volabus is much, much better if your timing works out. The Volabus is a bus that runs directly from the airport to Brignole train station, and from Brignole train station you can take the metro to get closer to your accommodation (more on that later). This option costs €5 each way, and children ride for free.
If the timing doesn’t work out very well for you to take the Volabus, you can also take the Airlink bus, and then another bus or a train into the city. The Airlink bus connects the airport to Sestri Ponente Aeroporto train station and costs €1.50. From this station, you can either take a train (20 min) or a bus (25 min) to Genova Piazza Principale station. While the Volabus is a more direct route, this option may fit into your itinerary better. For full timetables of both options, head to this website.
As I mentioned above, it is unlikely that you will actually be flying into Genoa’s airport. If you are flying into either Milan or Pisa, or you’re already somewhere else in Italy, the best way to get to Genoa is by train. I have said this time and time again – Italy has one of the best train systems in the world. I love using Trenitalia, and I even wrote a full post about using trains in Italy.
Genoa has two main train stations. Genova Piazza Principale is the city’s main station for trains connecting to the north and west of Genoa, while Genova Brignole station is the city’s main station for trains connected to the east and south of Genoa. For this reason, visitors coming from Turin, Milan, Switzerland and France will likely want to find a train into Genova Piazza Principale, while visitors coming from Florence, Rome, Naples, and Pisa will likely want to use Genova Brignole. It doesn’t hurt to check out both stations anyway, but generally this is how things will shake out.
While Genoa’s airport isn’t very well connected to other cities and countries, the train stations definitely are. Milan, Pisa, and Florence are all less than three hours away by train, and other cities probably connect through one of these three.
How to Get Around Genoa
BY FOOT | METRO | BUS
While Genoa is one of Italy’s bigger cities, it is actually pretty walkable in many cases. We found ourselves walking just about everywhere within the main areas of the city. With that being said, the city does have a network of buses as well as a metro line. While the metro system only has one line with 8 stops, it is actually very helpful for getting around the city. The line runs right through the heart of the city, and it is extremely affordable at only €1.50 per ride.
The metro line runs from the suburb of Brin to Genova Brignole station, basically making the shape of a fish hook through the main areas of the city, including both train stations and the city’s main square, Piazza de Ferrari. Using the metro is especially clutch during the summer, when the city is extremely hot and walking a kilometer is a bit more intimidating.
While the metro is definitely nice, having only one line naturally means you’re still going to have to do some walking. Generally speaking, Genoa is extremely walkable. The city is laid out kind of in the shape of a banana around the harbor, meaning that getting from one total end to the other is pretty far, but getting from the harbor to the northern edges of the city is not far at all. We stayed in the Hotel Della Posta Nuova and felt like it was perfectly connected to things to do. From there, we could get pretty much anywhere we wanted to go in the city within a 20-25-minute walk.
The Best Time to Visit Genoa
Genoa is at its best between May and June, and September and October. The weather gets a bit cooler in the spring and winter, and the summer is absolutely blazing. Genoa’s tourism traffic is very interesting, as the biggest variable is whether or not there are cruises docking in the port on a given day. This issue doesn’t really exist outside of the summer, when cruise demand is much lower. On a summer day where there aren’t cruises docked, the city is pretty relaxed and the amount of tourists isn’t overwhelming.
However, like any cruise port, the city has an entirely different vibe when there are thousands of cruise passengers flooding into the most popular parts of the city. For this reason, coupled with the blazing heat of July and August, it is better to visit Genoa in the late spring or the early fall. If you do visit in the summer, air conditioning is an absolute must-have. Many Airbnb’s and hotels in this area do not have it, so be sure to double check. We were dumb and didn’t double check. Our baby was not very happy with us. You can read about that fiasco in our tips for traveling with a baby in Europe post.
Is Genoa Worth Visiting?
Genoa is a city that I had heard very little about, knew very little about, and expected very little from. For that reason, it absolutely blew me away. While there were some parts of Genoa that felt a little bit seedy and unsafe at first, the city and its atmosphere grew on me exponentially by the end of our stay. Filled with delicious food and stunning architecture, Genoa is a fantastic Italian city to visit for a couple of days. In fact, I included it on my list of the best day trips from Milan. While I wouldn’t recommend taking a week-long trip exclusively to Genoa, I think Genoa is worth visiting for a few days and is a fantastic stop on a cruise.
That’s all we have for you about Genoa! Hopefully this post is helpful as you start planning your journey to Italy’s most important port. I really do think that Genoa is worth visiting, even if only for a few days.
If you’re planning a trip to Genoa, comment to let us know! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have. Otherwise, have a wonderful day and stay present!