Genoa, Italy

Piazza della Vittoria, Genoa arch, Italy

One of ancient Rome’s triumphal arches in Genoa, this one is on the edge of Piazza della Vittoria.

Visiting Genoa

Genoa, the only European city to be mentioned in the old Arabian Nights stories, is a fabulous surprise for travellers who know all about the wonders of Rome, Venice, Pisa, and Florence but were not aware that Genoa was Europe’s Capital of Culture a few years ago and imagine that Italy’s largest Mediterranean port is an industrial wasteland.

XX Settembre street, Genoa, Italy

Genoa’s XX Settembre street (where XX means 20 in Latin, not something seedy in New York) of elegant stores and pavement caf├ęs shaded by ancient arcades.

Things to do in Genoa

Genoa’s centre is lively, easily walkable and loaded with 16thC and 17thC Palazzi (small palaces), chic shops, elegant people, magnificent avenues, tiny winding medieval streets, bizarre little details and of course gorgeous churches, particularly in the well-preserved old town.

The Cathedral of San Lorenzo is in pole position for the sights race with an awesome mixed marble and slate facade (best seen in the afternoon), stunning sculptures and a fantastic treasury, closely followed by the neighbouring Gesu church with more marble, frescos and two huge, unusual paintings by Rubens.

The Porto Antico (waterfront) offers plenty of action, with shows, swimming, aquarium, kids play area, bars and restaurants.

Palazzo Ducale, Genoa, Italy

Palazzo Ducale, the Palace of the Doges, built around 1270, just off Piazza de Ferrari in Genoa’s centre, with world-class exhibitions.


The Porto Antico area bordering the old town is not an aesthetic success, with its clumping elevated highway, bald piazza, uncoordinated Bigo thing and tired plastic box-set of an Aquarium, while some areas are still sleazy despite a major clean up around the turn of the millennium and there is no shortage of down-and-outs looking for a hand-out.

Old and ratty Genoa buildings, Italy

Not everything is old and gorgeous in Genoa, old and ratty happens too.

Genoa main attractions

XX Settembre is the best route to the old town for tourists disembarking from trains at Genoa’s Brignole station – from where run useful trains to the Italian Riviera and the Cinque Terre. The grand colonnaded XX runs down to Piazza de Ferrari on the edge of the old town and is lined with a variety of interesting structures and excellent shops.

A door knocker, Palazzo Ducale, Genoa, Italy

A door knocker from on the Palazzo Ducale, Piazza San Lorenzo.

Via Garibaldi

Another must-see route is the pedestrianised Via Garibaldi, narrow but lined with fine Palazzi that now host all sorts of venerable European institutions, galleries, some excellent trompes l’oeuil and odd architectural features.
Otherwise it’s down to diving into the labyrinthine maze of the really tiny but tall streets of the old town looking for ancient churches and curiosities of Italy, cappuccinos and cold beers.

Trompe l

One of Genoa’s more spectacular trompe l’oeuil paintings, on a building on Via Garibaldi.


Two of the Genoa’s best art galleries, Galleria di Palazzo Bianco and Galleria di Palazzo Rosso are in the the city’s most historic street, Via Garibaldi (originally Strada Nuova) while the city’s best museum is the Palazzo Reale on Via Balbi, the glittering best place to see how Italian royals lived 500 years ago.

Palazzo Podesta, Genoa, Italy

The courtyard of the Palazzo Podesta off Via Garibaldi.

Via Garibaldi medallion, Genoa, Italy

A strange and wonderful medallion – part of a set – on Via Garibaldi.

The Palazzo di San Giorgio in Piazza Caricamento, Genoa, Italy

The Palazzo di San Giorgio in Piazza Caricamento, Genoa’s old port area (Porto Antico), partly obscured by the Moro elevated road.

A less subtle and new trompe l’oeuil was created on the Palazzo-cum-fortress-cum-prison where a certain Pisan prisoner called Rustichello met a certain Venetian prisoner called Marco Polo and heard tall tales of wild world travels which Rustichello later published to great and lasting effect.
The Palazzo now houses Genoa Harbour Authorities and is the centre of the lively but unharmonic waterfront redevelopment. The sea is behind the camera while the old town is on the other side of the Palazzo.

The Aquarium on the waterfront is fiendishly ugly externally but diverse, colourful, informative and worthwhile inside and particularly popular with kids. It’s Europe’s biggest aquarium and houses excellent reconstructions of a Caribbean reef, a rain forest habitat and many more educational sets, as well as a terrific collection of marine critters, including piranha, penguins, Mediterranean jellyfish, massive sunfish, touchable rays and acrobatic dolphins. Suggestion to Genoa’s local government: paint the bloody hideous exterior with a trompe l’oeuil design!

Piazza San Lorenzo

Piazza San Lorenzo, Genoa, Italy

An unusually depressed lion observed by grotesque faces in Piazza San Lorenzo.

Cathedral of San Lorenzo, Genoa, Italy

The gothic Catedrale di San Lorenzo, under construction roughly from 12thC to the 16thC and loaded with fine sculptures, windows and artefacts from various places at various times, in various styles.

Facade of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, Genoa, Italy

Amazing varieties and styles of marble and slate columns on the facade of St Lawrence Cathedral