Embark on a magical journey back in time to Genoa, the capital of the Ligurian region of Italy.
Often passed over by tourists for more popular destinations such as Venice, Florence, and Rome. I’m sure you are wondering what to do in Genoa, Italy, and if it is worth making the trip, but I can tell you that we adored our twenty-four hours in Italy’s sixth-largest city, Genoa.
Even with just one day in Genoa, you will thrill in Genoa’s distinctive cuisine, ornate artwork, plentiful shopping options, and maritime tradition. With a history dating back over 2,500 years, Genoa boasts many claims to fame including the city where Christopher Columbus was born, the home of famed violinist Nicolò Paganini, and a buffet of stunning architecture representing Gothic, Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque styles.
In just one day you’ll understand why Charles Dickens in his Pictures from Italy said about Genoa, “It is a place that ‘grows upon you’ every day. There seems to be always something to find out in it.”
We left feeling like we just sampled the highlights and can’t wait to return to dive deeper, exploring the city’s hidden piazzas, opulent palaces, and nearby fishing villages.
Here is my suggested plan to pack the most into a glorious one-day visit to Genoa. Ready, set, go!
What to do in Genoa
Editor’s Note: The author was provided with discounted and/or complimentary tours and passes so that she could try them and review them for your information. All opinions are her own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. All images courtesy of Lisa Grabelle unless otherwise noted.
In this seafaring city, there is no better way to kick off your day than strolling through the bustling Old Port, Portico Antico. The port is a hub for both tourists and locals abounding with museums, restaurants, historical buildings, tour boats, and a playground. Once you arrive at the port, turn around, face inland, and soak in the beauty of this city built vertically way up into the mountainside.
Kids of all ages (and adults, too) will enjoy Genoa’s Aquarium, the largest in all of Europe. This tremendous aquarium features 70 tanks flourishing with over 12,000 fish and other sea animals representing 600 species. We all felt like kids laughing at the playful antics of the penguins and dolphins, and marveling at the variety of sharks.
For those interested in endangered flora and fauna, duck into the Biosphere which is suspended over the sea and located right outside the Aquarium. You can also take a boat ride or visit the Galata Maritime Museum.
Next, head 40 meters vertically in Bigo, the panoramic elevator lift designed by Genoese architect Renzo Piano, that zips you way above the city for a fabulous 360-degree aerial view.
TIP: Buy your Old Port attraction tickets online before you arrive in Genoa. Book a time slot for the Aquarium since it is a super popular attraction. Combination tickets including both Bigo and the Biosphere are also available.
Directly across from Bigo, you’ll find Eataly Genoa. Weave your way through the top floor gourmet market with lots of tempting free samples (even caviar!) and fabulous harborside views. Choose between a quick focaccia or pizza lunch or select one of the tasty sit-down options. On your way out, give your gang a sugar rush at Eataly’s ground-floor gelato and crepe stand.
We especially enjoyed the stracciatella, a scoop of milk-based gelato topped with hot chocolate sauce that freezes on contact. Mmmm. Right next to the entrance to the port, be sure to admire the exterior of the Palazzo San Giorgio, built between 1257 and 1260.
Genoa’s alleys, streets, and neighborhoods seamlessly blend history with modern life. What is the best (and most fun) way to see the city? Zip around the city on a Segway. Matthia, owner of Genova Segway (based right at the Old Port) and our entertaining tour guide, led us as we glided through the medieval center, with stops at top sights such as the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, the Palazzo Ducale, and the Teatro Carlo Felice.
We even buzzed through the city’s famous indoor shopping galleria. We covered more ground in 60 minutes than we could have walked around for hours. All smiles from my crew.
TIP: Check the Segway company’s website to be sure your children are old enough to ride. All tours include a short lesson on the riding basics (or a refresher course for you Segway experts).
Strada Nuova Museums
A must in Genoa is a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Palaces, the Strada Nuova Museums. Whether you only have an hour or spend all day, you’ll enjoy your time meandering through the big three of the 42 Palazzi dei Rolli palaces, the Palazzo Rosso (Red Palace), the Palazzo Bianco (White Palace) and the Palazzo Tursi.
These historic palaces house one-of-a-kind artistic masterpieces ranging from paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, and Caravaggio, to richly woven carpets, and a tranquil courtyard, providing you with a glimpse into the opulent lifestyles of the mid-sixteenth century.
TIP: Consider purchasing a Genova City Pass that provides you with experiences, admissions, and other perks. On their website, you can personalize the pass to suit your family’s travel interests, such as arts, “edutainment,” museums, adventure, etc. You can also decide how long you would like the pass to be valid. All passes include free travel on the Genoa AMT public transport system.
Time to shop! Head to Genoa’s town center, the Piazza de Ferrari, and set off under the city’s gorgeous porticos lining Via XX Settembre, which shade the entrances to Genoa’s shopping thoroughfare. Whether your crew is into window shopping or true retail therapy, strolling under the city’s beautiful porticos is a must.
Head in the direction of the Mercato Orientale on Via XX Settembre, a bustling market full of locals that envelops you with the sights, sounds, and smells of fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, dried herbs, olives, and other Ligurian products.
Genoa Food Tour
End your day with a top-rated Soul of Genoa Food Tour. Led by owner Alessandro, we explored the secrets of the carruggi (narrow walkways of the Old Town) while stopping along the way to taste authentic Genoese cuisine. Alessandro regaled us with grand stories about Genoa’s food, art, culture, traditions, and history.
We toured specialty shops offering local delicacies including tripe, chocolate-dipped flower petals, and fish preserved in salt. We sampled local specialties such as focaccia, farinata (chickpea pancakes) and other savory tartes, local wine, and Genoese sweets.
For us, the highlight was delicious homemade pastas served alfresco at a family-run trattoria. Alessandro revealed hidden alleyways, courtyards, stores, and palaces we would never have discovered on our own. Soul of Genoa offers other walking tours, too, as well as cooking classes.
Where to Stay in Genoa
The well-located and historic Hotel Astoria is a quick five-minute walk to the Genoa Brignole Train Station. We enjoyed our stylish, spacious modern rooms and elegantly decorated bathrooms (but as a heads-up, like many other European hotels, our bathtub/shower lacked a door or curtain to contain the handheld spray head). The recently renovated Hotel Astoria features designer decor, a sumptuous breakfast buffet, gym, lounge area, and a friendly, helpful front desk staff.
How to get around
This city begs to be explored on foot. We walked about 8 miles during our one-day visit. If you prefer, you can easily take a City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus, public buses, the subway, funiculars, ferries, and/or taxis.
Day trips from Genoa
Genoa is a centrally located base to take a day trip or two. Hop on a train or rent a car to explore the area’s spectacular Italian Riviera towns, such as Portofino and Rapallo. Consider touring Cinque Terre; we squeezed in a visit to all five scenic hamlets in one day via train. While our Cinque Terre visit was off-season, in late December, when many shops and restaurants were closed, we still loved our day. Our highlights included strolling along Riomaggiore’s harbor, enjoying the view from Corniglia, taking an artisanal gelato break in Vernazza, aperitivos at sunset in Manarola at Nessun Dorma, and dining on local specialties such as walnut ravioli at Ristorante Moretto in Monterosso.
TIPS: While visiting the Italian Riviera in the warmer weather is ideal, a winter visit can also be rewarding. We visited in December and found the weather to be very comfortable for sightseeing. Pack a light jacket and an umbrella for possible showers.
Genoa, you stole our hearts! We cannot wait to visit again, this time for a longer stay.
About the Author
This guest post was written by Lisa Grabelle. Lisa, a travel writer for Hilton Hotels, has been traveling all her life…34 countries and loving it! Originally from the sunny skies of Miami, Lisa, a former lawyer, lives near Philadelphia with her husband and has two daughters who are in college. Travel is her passion. As soon as one vacation ends, Lisa busily plans her next adventure for her non-stop family of adventurers. Lisa’s motto is “don’t just visit the destination…live it!” You can follow Lisa on Twitter or Instagram.
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