Italy’s most underrated city: why go to Genoa?
We tell you why Genoa and Liguria (without Cinque Terre) might be your next trip to Italy.
Most Russian-language media and bloggers ignore Genoa, and that’s because most people come to Liguria for one purpose only – to rub elbows in Cinque Terre. As is often the case in today’s world, there is a real treasure next to an ultra-popular location, but alas, few people notice it. The PRTBRT editorial staff spent almost a week in Genoa and was struck by how beautiful, comfortable and interesting it is.
Pobeda Airlines launched a direct regular flight to Genoa at the end of April. It has become easy and cheap to get here. Especially interesting are the flights of “Pobeda” in the off-season – for 8 thousand rubles you can buy tickets there and back.
PRTBRT has its own internal checklist of cool cities. Some of the most important points in it are landscape and proximity to water. Genoa immediately gets 100 points on both counts. This city is called vertical for a reason – as if it was built on the principle of amphitheater. If you go inland from the port, you’ll be surprised how quickly the city starts to creep upward. The system of public transport includes not only the traditional buses and streetcars, but also numerous funiculars and even public elevators. Using them is sheer pleasure and fun. When you get to the top you are sure to find an interesting observation deck and the descent down the stairs, past terraced houses and cozy gardens is a great opportunity to see how ordinary Genoese live.
Tip: It is worth seeing the city from two locations: the Spianata Castelletto and the Zecca – Righi cable car route to the end station.
The expression “well-preserved medieval town” does not mean anything to an experienced tourist. Rather, on the contrary, I think of Prague, Tallinn (at best Brugge) – cities, beautiful in general, but absolutely lifeless in terms of local colors. Everything in the historical centers of these cities is somehow related to tourism, which completely kills the romance of the old city, turning it into a boring museum-decoration, where every other cafe serves avocado toast for breakfast. Genoa is not like that at all.
In addition to its historical value (and its medieval center is considered one of the largest in Europe), there is something else important here. This city is alive. In its medieval streets, ordinary life goes on as usual in spite of the neighborhood of 13th century buildings. The best way to see and feel Genoa is to turn off the phone and let yourself get lost in the old and dark streets of the city. Gradually, when the picture of the center begins to emerge, you will become oriented in this labyrinth of streets. And you will also be surprised at the colorful characters you can meet in these narrow and dark carruggi (as the Genoese call the small and winding streets of the Old Town).
The Palazzi dei Rolli is worth mentioning separately. These are 42 palaces that once belonged to the Genoese aristocracy. In addition to the fact that each building is a masterpiece of early Baroque, all together they are the first centralized urban development project in European history. Such medieval urbanism!
It is interesting how through these palaces the character of the Genoese of that time is revealed. For example, all the stucco on the palaces is fake – the visual effect of the volume is created by the drawings on the facade. It turned out that the stucco is terribly expensive and quickly destroyed – much easier (and cheaper) to hire a good artist, who will draw everything you want. Or the design of the palaces – they were built so that no one from the street could see what was going on inside. The wealthy Genoese never came close to the windows and tried not to spread the word about the lavish balls that took place inside. Long black cloaks were worn in the streets, carefully concealing all luxury and wealth. It is said that because of this attitude to wealth there has never been a riot or rebellion in the city.
Now it is possible to visit only some of the palaces. Many of them are privately owned and open only once a year for Rolli Days. We recommend checking out the Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria and the Museo di Palazzo Reale.
For the next level of immersion in the medieval city, be sure to visit one of the cathedrals. For example, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo (Cattedrale di San Lorenzo) – there is a unique treasury of Tesoro, which houses more than 500 religious artifacts. All of them are very unusual and beautiful – this museum will be of interest to everyone, even to people far from religion.
For almost 800 years Genoa was a metropolis, on the importance and wealth not inferior to Venice, Milan, Florence and other Italian cities-states. They have always been able to do business here, and prudence, practicality and foresight have been considered the best qualities of a Genoese. No wonder there is a unique list – Botteghe Storiche di Genova, which includes 39 ancient stores, or as they are called here, botteghe.
These are real monuments to small business: all the shops, stores and workshops are more than 100 years old (and some are as old as 200). Not only that, but most places are run by the great-great-grandchildren of the founders of these shops. So don’t be surprised by the similarity between the old photographs on the walls and the faces of the people working behind the cash register. In general, viewing these places is a separate pleasure. Antique signs, artifacts of the past in the form of huge brass cash registers and bills, marble counters and mosaics with intricate designs on the floor – these places look like real museums.
In essence, the botteg list is a ready-made itinerary that is best started early in the morning. In a couple of hours of walking, you can drink coffee with melt-in-your-mouth amaretti at the 200-year-old pastry shop Pasticceria Liquoreria Marescotti Genova, explore ancient maps and folios at the antique store Libreria Antiquaria Dallai, buy a napkin or tablecloth at the unique Genoese mezzari cloth store Giovanni Rivara fu Luigi and of course taste the local wine at Cantine Moretti.
Tip: Before you travel to Genoa and Liguria, check out the Visit Genoa website. It has a lot of up-to-date information, interesting picks and itineraries.
Liguria is a region with a great location: local vegetables, fruits, herbs and olives are known throughout Italy. At first glance, local cuisine may seem simple, but therein lies its main strength. Ligurians cook simply, nourishingly and extremely tasty.
What is absolutely worth tasting in Genoa and Liguria? Pesto, of course. In every cafe and store you will find its classic variation. The same one that everyone in the world calls pesto allo genovese. And that means it contains green basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, parmesan, and nothing else. It’s very interesting to order the classic pesto pasta at least once. You’ll be surprised at a few things: how delicious this dish is, and the fact that in addition to pasta and pesto sauce, you’ll find chunks of boiled potatoes on your plate!
Another of Liguria’s trademarks are the different variations of scones. You have to look for them in the numerous focaccerias. The variety of these scones will surprise you: from the classic ones with herbs and olives to the complex ones with anchovies and cumin. The main editorial favorite is the humble but incredibly delicious focaccia with baked onions (it goes great with pesto!).
Another famous bakery of the region is the farinata, a peasant flatbread made with lentil flour and olive oil. Just be careful: it is a very fatty and hearty dish. By the way, Trattoria Sa Pesta, which makes some of the best flatbread in town, is on the list of vintage botttegas. Sample an assortment of different flavors (our favorite is the spinach and cheese flatbread), sit in the corner, and watch what interesting people stop by this vintage trattoria for lunch.
Tip: The Ligurian authorities actively support restaurants that have been preparing traditional food from the best local produce for generations. To this end, the website genovagourmet.it was created, where you can find a list of 50 traditional restaurants in the region. Often these are inconspicuous, small establishments where you’re more likely to meet locals than tourists. We visited more than ten restaurants on the list and were absolutely delighted! All were delicious, and the prices were lower than the places googled or found on TripAdvisor.
Liguria is a paradise for anyone who loves fish and seafood. Fish is cooked in every way possible here: grilled with vegetables, roasted whole, made small fish ravioli and even a salad of gulf. The most important fish in the region is anchovy. Fresh, fried, canned, stuffed – Ligurians even put it in focaccia. We suggest trying everything with it until you find your perfect appetizer! If you want to take a couple of jars of anchovies back to Russia, look for the ones with “Acciughe Sotto Sale del Mar Ligure IGP” written on them.
In Italy, don’t be afraid to try new kinds of fish and seafood. Fishermen complain that tourists know only two types of fish – sea bass and sea bream – and refuse to try the rest. It’s important to understand that a catch at sea is not a supermarket purchase, and fishermen’s work is hard, and it’s worth respecting their hard work!
Coastal towns by train
We in the editorial team realized long ago: traveling in Italy (especially along the coast) is best by train. Believe our experience in Amalfi and Liguria, a car here is tiring, not helpful: narrow roads, paid parking and endless traffic will simply take up your time. Especially if you travel in Liguria. This region is a rail travel paradise. Just half an hour in any direction from Genoa – and in front of you a whole array of picturesque fishing villages and small towns.
Most importantly, forget about Cinque Terre – its fame has become so huge that it’s crowded at all times of the year. Instead, it’s better to check out the following places:
- Nervi. A former fishing village and now a picturesque resort area with villas and manor houses. There are several cool museums, a huge botanical park and the promenade of Anita Garibaldi, which stretches along the cliffs for two kilometers.
- Boccadasse. Another fishing village, a potential Instagram star and, most importantly, a place where you can eat fresh fish caught a few hours ago. Be sure to check out Café Ittiturismo Genova Boccadasse. This place is run by an association of local fishermen, so the menu here is constantly changing – everything depends on the catch. By the way, you’ll see pictures of the fishermen’s boats on the walls of the cafe – you can always see them live on the town’s small beach.
- Sestri Levante. A real pearl of the Ligurian coast. A small and beautiful town where you can spend a few days walking along two bays, climbing in small tracks in the mountains and swimming in the sea.
- San Remo (Sanremo) . Italian resort, which bloomed in the early 19th century, is iconic for pre-revolutionary Russia. Nowadays it’s a garden city full of flowers and exotic palm trees. The streets are lined with rich retirees from whom it’s worth taking a few lessons in relaxed lifestyle and hedonism. The city itself is divided into two parts: the ancient medieval and new, built in the XX century. They are very different, one gets the feeling that they are two completely different cities – be sure to see both, the contrast is truly striking.
The main attraction is a huge Belle Époque-style casino. Visiting a casino, in our opinion, is a rather strange and unusual experience, but better to do it in style and glitz here than, for example, in Las Vegas.
Oh, and for anyone who likes to ride a bike: from the station of San Lorenzo to San Remo there is an incredibly beautiful bike path. The 28 kilometers along the sea and picturesque cliffs are definitely worth the trip.
Sea Museum and Oceanarium
Genoa became a great city because of the sea and its port. In the Middle Ages Genoese merchants traded throughout the Mediterranean and Black Sea. And the colonies of the city-state could be found even in Palestine, Turkey and the Crimea. To this day, life in the city is built around two ports: the old and new. The new port is home to many cruise ships and cargo ships, the old port is where yachts are parked and the two most important attractions are the Sea Museum (Galata Museo del Mare) and the Aquarium of Genoa (Acquario di Genova).
If you can lay down only a couple of hours for the Sea Museum, you can safely go to the Aquarium for half a day. This is not only one of the largest aquariums in Europe, but also a serious research center for the study of the sea. Inside, there are several floors with different animals and fish. Especially impressive are the aquariums with inhabitants of the Mediterranean Sea (although it would seem) – you can see who lives, for example, at the bottom of the Cinque Terre.
We were somewhat surprised by the presence of dolphins here, but as the aquarium employee assured us, “dolphins are here as part of a huge scientific study Delfini Metropolitani. It is a special program that brings together scientists from France, Italy and Monaco and was created to study the dolphins that live in the Mediterranean Sea.
The editorial team thanks Visit Genoa for their help in preparing the material.
Why of all Italian cities I chose Genoa
Going on vacation in Italy, but you can not decide on a particular place? Perhaps this post will give you some useful information to think about. This is not a review of a tourist visiting Italy because I’m not a tourist, but almost a citizen. Accordingly, I look at the local reality from a completely different angle. The following is my personal review of life in Italy.
I’ve been living in this country since 2001. The last few years in the city of Genoa – it’s not far from France. Over the years of living in Italy I have visited all its major cities and many smaller ones, lived in some for a while. A few years ago, the desire to settle down, finally, in one place coincided with the financial opportunity to point my finger on the map and deliberately choose the most pleasant and comfortable place to live.
Such place turned out to be Genoa, capital of Liguria province. I explain why the world came to this particular place:
- First of all, everything on the map below Rome, I discarded at once, as life among the cheeky, noisy and often cheating and completely irresponsible people in the south at one time I got pretty sick of. Yes, it’s very beautiful there. Naples, Calabria, Sicily, Puglia… To visit it as a tourist, to relax by the sea, to see the sights – I recommend everyone – get an unforgettable experience. But to live there permanently – no thanks!
- Cities like Rome, Milan, Florence, Bologna, Turin, etc., too, did not suit me, because there is no sea. How can you live in a city that has no sea!
- Venice is a separate conversation. There is the sea, even too much. Wherever you go, it’s everywhere. The car is useless there. You have to have your own boat to live there and get around comfortably. In some ways, it’s even interesting, but you have to get a license to drive a boat, unfortunately, I haven’t gotten around to it yet… Also in Venice, there are too many tourists all the time! Sometimes, just not crowded. In general, it’s not convenient to live in Venice all the time. But to be there VERY recommend, especially in winter during the carnival! This is the most fabulous atmosphere I’ve ever experienced! No photos and videos can capture it. I’ve been several times, I will definitely go again.
- Sardinia is a resort island, full of beaches, hotels with excellent service. While our tourists go on vacation in Italy, the Italians go to spend your vacation in Sardinia, and that says something!
- There are also on the Adriatic Sea in Italy such famous cities like Rimini, Ancona, Pescara. Chic resorts – fashionable hotels, wide sandy beaches, palm-lined avenues. Just like Miami Beach! For lovers of seaside recreation on the beach under an umbrella, the Adriatic coast of Italy is a great option. But there are no mountains there, as far as I’m concerned – it’s kind of bald. Personally I like the combination of mountains and sea, and make sure that the mountains have a forest. It’s like in the Crimea – in summer you swim, and when the water in the sea is cold you go hiking in the mountains. Such criteria of large Italian cities meets only Genoa. I do not consider small towns – I like to be there, walk, look, take pictures, but to live permanently in a small town would be boring for me.
Genoa has a beautiful clean sea. It is surrounded from the north by the ridge of the Apennine Mountains, so it is much warmer in winter than in Milan, although it is only two hours by train to Milan. The mountains are covered with dense forests. In addition, it is a major port city with centuries of history, there is always somewhere to go, there are always some events – for example, every year there is an ALL-WIDE boat show.
All of this was an introduction to a post about seaside vacations in Italy. Sorry it turned out to be so long and like an advertisement for one Italian city – Genoa. It’s just that I live here, and this is purely my subjective opinion. In fact, in Italy, there is not a single ugly city. It’s everywhere wonderful and interesting. And, as for Genoa, I think this city deserves much more attention from our tourists. Average Russian or Ukrainian, going on a trip to Italy, first of all will remember Rome, Venice, Milan, may be Naples, Palermo, Rimini, but about Genoa many of them did not even hear. I myself, until I was here, didn’t know how cool it is here! And now I live in Genoa! Hooray. A little video about this beautiful city:
Let it will be an advertising, though not bearing for me personally any profit, all the same I will tell a little more detail about Genoa and its vicinities…
About the history and architecture will not tell – is a vast separate topic, the Internet full of information about it. I will write here as I see Genoa myself, as its inhabitant. This is directly related to the subject of the post, because if you are going to go to Italy to rest on the sea, perhaps after reading my description of Genoa, choose this city, or at least include it in the route of your trip to Italy.
The Pearl of Italy Genoa, attractions
The central square of the city of Genoa. Piazza de Ferrari
I will start from the center. The central street of the city is “via XX settembre” (street of September 20) – it connects two squares – “piazza della Vittoria” and “piazza de Ferrari”. “Piazza de Ferrari” is a beautiful square with a fountain and from it begins the oldest historical part of the city (centro storico). From this square you can walk to the old port of Genoa through “via San Lorenzo” – there is no car traffic on this street, it plays the same role as “Old Arbat” in Moscow – there are lots of askers, stalls with souvenirs, etc.
A typical alleyway of old Europe.
If you turn off this street somewhere to the side, you will find yourself in the Middle Ages – a maze of narrow streets one meter and a half wide, you can easily get lost here.
Sometimes these streets lead to small squares with cozy restaurants. Many old churches and palaces, which are now museums. From time to time we find groups of tourists with a guide.
Full of all kinds of stores, stalls and boutiques. Some streets are completely occupied by Africans who live there and tear off their stores and eateries in the national style, which does not always smell nice. In the evenings, prostitutes with all sorts of skin tones come out to work.
Even if you get lost in these mazes, sooner or later you will come out to the ancient Genoese port. The first thing that catches your eye here is the blue building of the Aquarium. After the reconstruction in 2016 it surpassed Barcelona’s and became the largest aquarium in Europe. In addition to a variety of small and medium-sized fish and all sorts of creepers, there are also big game of the sea – sharks, dolphins, seals, penguins. There is a room with hummingbirds. I recommend visiting – it is interesting.
The old port of Genoa. The structure in the center is called “Bigo di Genova”.
One more thing that catches your eye at once is a HUGE quantity of yachts and boats of different sizes – there are hundreds of them here, and in the whole Genoa there are probably thousands. In fact, we can say that in Genoa there is always a world exhibition of yachts and boats.
From the old port you can take a tour by boat on the sea. Prices range from 15 to 40 euros, depending on the duration. There is also a shuttle boat along the coast, in summer the ticket costs 6.5 euros, in winter – 3 euros.
Another great area of Genoa is “Nervi”. The neighborhood has a beautiful park in which there is always something blooming and squirrels jumping around, you can feed them right out of your hands. But the most important thing is the beautiful promenade – not very wide, but a long walkway over the sea, from which you can see the most beautiful panoramas of the Ligurian coast. At the end of the alley there is a small free beach. But you can go down and swim in the sea at any place you like, the water is always perfectly clear. Of course, there are enough restaurants and pizzerias where you can eat while enjoying the view.
The promenade at Nervi is such an area of Genoa.
All beautiful places of Genoa, I will not list, because it’s a brief review. I will also say that here you can take one of the funiculars up the mountain and have a walk in the woods, of course, with a gorgeous view of the city and the sea. There are places where you can put a portable grill, roast meat and drink wine – in my opinion, a wonderful kind of vacation!
Genoa – a panorama of the city from the mountain
On each mountain top, of which there are many in Genoa and around, is an ancient fortress – if you want, you can get to them and explore. Some of them are not closed and abandoned, so you can see what it’s like inside.
The ancient fortresses on top of the mountains in Genoa
There is certainly no shortage of beaches here. Genoa stretches along the coast of Ligurian Sea for thirty kilometers. Beaches are different – expensive, cheap, free (spiaggia pubblica or spiaggia libera).
If you find yourself in Genoa, you should not limit your sightseeing only to its attractions – there is something to see in its vicinity.
Sightseeing in Liguria
In Italy everywhere you can rent a car, or hire a private guide with a car. But you can also save money by using public transportation.
You can take the train in Genoa, going along the coast in any direction, and get off at any station – you are sure to find a beautiful beach and sea in its own way. However, I will name a few towns on the Ligurian coast that should be visited first:
Santa Margherita Ligure is about 40 minutes by train from the center of Genoa to the east. From there you can hike along the sea to Portofino. There is a convenient sidewalk that runs past the beaches. The walk takes about two hours, but it’s worth it! You can get there by boat or take a bus.
One of the beaches on the way from Santa Margherita to Portofino (Paraggi)
Portofino is just a fairy tale! The town is very small. There are no modern buildings, so everything looks like in historic times.
The pier in the Gulf of Portofino
A beautiful park, an old lighthouse, observation platforms, cozy restaurants. Stand out the old castle. By the way, the local authorities for a fee allow you to organize weddings and other celebrations there. It is a popular place for Italian stars. I heard that Russian stars and famous people also celebrated something in this castle.
Castle Brown in Portofino
Rapallo is the next station after “Santa Margherita”. There is a cable car here. Personally, I have a weakness for cable cars. Sometimes, I even choose the route of my next trip based on the presence of a cable car there.
The view of Tigullo Bay from the cable car in Rapallo. Below is Rapallo. A little farther away, in the second bay is Santa Margherita. In the distance you can see the peninsula of San Lorenzo della Costa, on the very edge of which is Portofino
What a romantic restaurant up there. See photo:
A restaurant with a hotel on top of a mountain in Rapallo
Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore are five towns in a row along the coast. They are the world famous “Cinque terre” – “Cinque terre” or “5 lands”. The Russian-speaking internet calls it “Cinque Terre”, but in Italian it’s pronounced Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre – map
Tourists from all over the world come here to take the “Road of Love” (“Via dell’amore”), which connects all five cities. I say at once, to walk it all at once, you need to be in good physical shape. In fact, the “Way of Love” is a mountain path, adapted for the safe passage of tourists. That is, when you walk along the cliff, there will be a railing.
Vernazza is one of the towns along the Way of Love.
The entire route – it seems 16 km – is divided into five named towns into four parts. After passing one part, you can rest in the next small town, wander the streets, eat at a restaurant and go back to the hike. By the way, you can rent a room from the locals there.
In the streets of Vernazza
If fitness does not allow to overcome steep climbs, you can walk only one part: Riomaggiore – Manarola . There is just a flat sidewalk along the sea at a low altitude.
The easiest and shortest part of the “Road of Love” in Cinque Terre
There are enough tourists in “Cinque Terre”, but for some reason I did not see any Russians – probably, our people know little about this place. Not in vain! The impression will last a lifetime and you’ll want to go back there for sure!
Arenzano – west of Genoa, half an hour by train. Here, too, is worth a visit – you can feel the relaxed atmosphere of a small tourist town. Be sure to visit the local park.
Park in Arenzano. Liguria
There are a lot of parks in Genoa and Liguria, but here as something especially beautiful – what are just live peacocks, which walk simply on the meadows among the people!
Just a peacock
Pietra Ligure – to the west, an hour and a half by train. Nearby, in the town of Toirano, there are caves open to tourists.
Serravalle Scrivia is north of Genoa, in the direction of Milan, 40 minutes by train. This town has nothing to do with seaside holidays, as there is no sea here. But there is a mini-town of boutiques – “Serravalle Designer Outlet”. Why not combine vacation at the sea with a great shopping in Italy, especially if you get here in the midst of discounts (summer holidays begin in mid-July, winter – from mid-January).
That’s enough about the attractions of Liguria and Genoa, although it was not all local attractions. In this review, I have covered points of recreation at the Italian sea, and museums, history and architecture were left out, because I’m not an expert in it.
I repeat that although this post is similar to an advertisement for the Ligurian coast, I personally do not benefit from such advertising, I have nothing to do with the tourism business or anything like that. I wrote it just to share. The only indirect benefit this article may bring is if some of its readers will use the services of my private guides to Italy, the link to their site is to the right of the article text.
Thank you for your attention, especially to the most patient reader, if there is one, who has read this post to the end. Come, you will not regret it!
3 thoughts on ” Why of all the cities in Italy I chose Genoa “
A question to the author. Do you have a place to live in Genoa, or rent one? In what area do you live? I was in this city and I will say that it is a city of contrasts. Yes, the city is interesting in terms of beauty and places beautiful. But there are areas that are scary to walk on, the streets adjacent to the port are populated by migrants and look like slums, but you do not write anything about it. Genoa can probably be compared to Naples, because it’s also a port. Naples is even more dirty and criminal in some places, too. How safe is Genoa?
It’s a beautiful country. But to live in the place where in its time the first bank in the world was opened is like to live in Switzerland, you should be very wealthy! Genoa has never been available for the average person. In the Crimea is well known Genoa and the Genoese, thanks to the Genoese fortress.
Ciao) thank you very much for the informative and interesting review,personal time for those who dream about traveling to Italy Grazie mille)