There is no better way to take a deep dive into Italian history than by visiting Genoa (or Genova in Italian), a place that has been settled since around 4000 BC. With a history that stretches that far back, you know this north Italian city has seen some things.
Part of that story consists of amazing architecture, seaside views, and a never-ending art collection. Genoa has immaculate parks and world-class museums if you’re looking for some culture, and over 40 restored palaces for the history buff and architecture nerds to check out. Along the way, visitors to Genoa will stumble upon several UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
And of course, being an old port town, Genoa is home to some simply sumptuous cuisine. It should go without saying, the seafood here is something else!
So, come along with us as we discover artistic treasures, take the best tours, and learn a thing or two about the ancient port city of Genoa. Here are the best things to do in Genoa, Italy:
- Most significant landmark – Cattedrale di San Lorenzo
- Best park – Villa Durazzo Pallavicini
- Best free activity – Villetta Di Negro
- Best activity for kids – Acquario di Genova
- Best activity for adults – Cantina Morino
- Best food – Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi a Nervi
- Best nightlife – Piazza Portello
- Best all-around accommodation – Hotel Bristol Palace
Best & Fun Things to Do in Genoa, Italy
1. Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi a Nervi
Address: Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi, 16167 Genova GE, Italy
Experience the glorious weather of the Mediterranean and wonderful views by walking along the Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi a Nervi. From this stunning walkway carved into the cliffside, you can watch the sun sparkling off the water as sailing ships go by. Along this strip, there are cafes serving ice cream, gelato, and strong coffee, as well as fine-dining restaurants, and bars.
The walk is a great way to wake up and face the day, spend an afternoon following a busy day, or, a romantic nighttime stroll with your boo. I highly recommend the latter, as the way the lights from the town and harbor bounce across the water is a sight worth seeing.
Regardless of what time of day you decide to go for a stroll, this walk is a great intro to show you what Genoa is all about. Don’t forget your camera!
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2. Piazza De Ferrari
Address: Piazza Raffaele de Ferrari, 16121 Genova GE, Italy
The main square of Genoa, Piazza De Ferrari is where all the action happens. Piazza de Ferrari is around 118,000 square feet of space that is surrounded by sheer architectural genius and centered by a gorgeous bronze fountain, which has since become a local landmark.
That’s kind of saying something since practically every building on the square is a landmark in its own right. Among the notable stunning structures, you can find on Piazza De Ferrari include the Palace of the Doges, home to a fantastic museum (which I’ll mention later), the Palace of the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts, which was founded in 1741, the neoclassical Carlo Felice Theatre (aka Teatro Carlo Felice – again; we’ll get onto that later), the Palace of the New Stock Exchange, built in 1912 (and as far as stock exchange building go this is something else) and the Palace of the Duke of Galliera, Raffaele De Ferrari, the namesake of this square.
Phew! So, if studying incredible architecture is up there on your list, this is the right place for you.
Another good reason to stop by here, aside from people (and fountain) watching, is this is one of the best places to start a day’s exploration of Genoa. It’s very conveniently located near to some of the city’s top attractions, and it’s also a popular place to be picked up by tour buses or meet for guided walking or Segway tours.
And while we’re on the subject of convenience, if you’re looking for somewhere to crash nearby, check into Albergo Locanda Alambra, just a couple of blocks away. It’s one of the best budget hotels in the city center.
3. Acquario di Genova
Address: Ponte Spinola, 16128 Genova GE, Italy
The famous Aquarium of Genoa is the largest aquarium in Italy. The famous Genoa Aquarium is home to 12,000 aquatic species, including obscure aquatic plants all the way up to sharks and sea cows!
This is probably an activity you want to schedule a whole day around, as it takes at least 3 hours to navigate the Genoa Aquarium. There are 70 ecosystems to examine and a Cetacean Pavilion.
A few of the especially informative exhibits include the Penguins and Antarctic Marine Species and the Predators of the Sea. There are also extra experiences where you come face to face with some of the animals who live there, like the penguins or dolphins at the Cetacean Pavilion.
One of Europe’s largest aquariums, this is the perfect destination for young kids and those interested in life under the sea! Just do yourself a favor and get your Aquarium of Genoa tickets ahead of time as the lines for this place can be a little ridiculous.
See Related: Top Reasons to Travel to Italy
4. Villetta Di Negro
Address: Piazzale Giuseppe Mazzini, 16122 Genova GE, Italy
When it comes to free things to do in Genoa, Italy, a visit to this public park is one of the best. Spread out across five acres, the Villetta Di Negro park is a breathtaking oasis in the heart of the city.
Originally part of the city’s walled fortifications, thanks to its natural elevation, the park was eventually converted into an English-style botanical garden in the early 1800s. The owner of the land at the time, the Marquis Gian Carlo Di Negro, commissioned a neo-classical villa to be built as the home of his new proposed botanical school.
The Marquis would die before realizing this dream, and the villa would go on to house several museums over the years, before being heavily damaged by Allied naval bombardment in World War II. Rebuilt and restored in the mid/late 20th Century, the villa now houses the Chiossone Museum of Oriental Art.
Walking through the meandering paths of this verdant paradise, thick with all kinds of different trees (including palm trees), bushes and flowers is simply mesmerizing. And don’t get me started on the fairy tale waterfalls and caverns (both added in the mid/late 1800s).
It takes about an hour to walk through the park at a moderate pace, but I highly recommend you take your time. You could even pack a picnic, and make the most of this majestic garden!
5. Teatro Carlo Felice
Address: Galleria Cardinal Siri, Passo Eugenio Montale, 4, 16121 Genova GE, Italy
When it comes to the performing arts, the best place for it in Genoa is at Teatro Carlo Felice, aka Carlo Felice Theatre. From opera to ballet to orchestral recitals and every kind of theatre performance in between, the Carlo Felice Theatre has been entertaining the masses since 1828. It bears the name of the then-king who had the opera house commissioned.
While the outside has the original 1800s facade, the interior has been completely renovated. This is largely due to the building suffering extensive damage during World War II, forcing operas and other performances to be held in other parts of the city until the Carlo Felice Theatre was restored and reopened in 1991.
The main auditorium holds up to 2,000 patrons of the arts, and these seats tend to fill up quickly. Check out their calendar and plan ahead of time if you’re thinking of taking in a show.
And while we’re planning ahead, if you’re going to enjoy the dramatics of the theatre, then you should live it up in style by staying the night at the Hotel Bristol Palace. This centrally-located hotel is just a short, scenic walk from Carlo Felice, and is literally one of the most fabulous hotels in the country.
See Related: Best Day Trips from Rome, Italy: Top Getaway Ideas
6. Palazzo Rosso
Address: Via Garibaldi, 18, 16124 Genova GE, Italy
Want to scratch that art itch? Look no further than Palazzo Rosso.
Built toward the end of the 17th Century, Palazzo Rosso (or Red Palace), is part of the Genoa: Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli UNESCO World Heritage Site. One glimpse of this towering, red, Mannerist marvel makes it plain to see why. The building itself is a work of art.
With a troubled and storied construction, as well as many successful and failed efforts to renovate the building over the centuries, Palazzo Rosso now houses an art museum (part of the Musei di Strada Nuova complex). Not only that but many of the palace’s rooms have been beautifully preserved and are on display. The furnishings and decorations are beyond opulent.
The arty offerings on display aren’t to be sniffed at. In fact, the museum’s collection consists of a large number of pieces from some of history’s most celebrated Baroque and Renaissance artists, including works of Albrecht Dürer, Antoon van Dyck, Bernardo Strozzi, Guercino Barbieri, Gregorio De Ferrari, Guido Reni, Mattia Preti, and Paolo Veronese.
It’s a fantastic museum, and well worth a day out, especially if you plan on rolling it in with a guided tour of the Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli UNESCO World Heritage Site.
7. Villa Durazzo Pallavicini
Address: Via Ignazio Pallavicini, 13, 16155 Genova GE, Italy
Address: Via Ignazio Pallavicini, 13, 16155 Genova GE, Italy
Is it a park? Is it a Villa? A museum? An underground grotto? A statue park? Is it heaven? Well, if we’re honest, it’s all of this, and it’s all grand as heck.
If you’re visiting Genoa on a romantic couple’s retreat, set aside a day and add this romantic destination to your schedule. It takes three hours to walk through the magical Villa Durazzo Pallavicini.
The park is named for the villa on its grounds, which now houses the Museo di Archeologia Ligure. But honestly, it’s the park that deserves all the praise here. It’s little wonder that it’s been dubbed the most beautiful park in Italy!
Opened to the public in 1846, the park has gone through many changes, such as being created as a botanical garden, to falling into near ruin, before a concerted restoration effort in the early 90s, which also honored Christopher Columbus’ travels to the New World.
You can tour the grounds on your own but a guided audio tour of the park lets you in on the history as well as the little things you might not notice. Featuring no shortage of eye candy and ornamentation, each aspect of this English romantic-style garden has a story of its own.
Make sure you check out the beautiful ornamental pond and the stunning Chinese pagoda. My favorite aspect of this stunning park has to be the incredibly romantic Roman bridge, but I’ll let you decide what’s your favorite!
See Related: Best Gardens in Europe to Visit
8. Cattedrale di San Lorenzo
Address: Piazza S. Lorenzo, 16123 Genova GE, Italy
There are many historic places on this list (so far, most of them have been, but hey) but not many are over 900 years old! The Cathedral of San Lorenzo (often referred to as the Genoa Cathedral) was built in the 12th Century on the site of an older church which itself was around 400 years old. The new cathedral was added to over the next four centuries, the latest major addition being the bell tower.
So, to say this spot has a few stories to tell would be an understatement. And it’s just a strikingly pretty piece of architecture, featuring different styles, indicating the various changes made through the ages.
Locals see it as one of the most important churches (if not the most important) in the city and, perhaps, the region. Some of this has to do with the various architectural styles still visible in parts.
Twenty years after its initial construction was completed, the church had a design change and became a Romanesque basilica. Two hundred years later, the style changed to Gothic following a fire.
There would be a few more additions over the next few centuries, both major and minor. Although suffering some damage, San Lorenzo Cathedral still stood after the city was bombarded during the Second World War.
It actually received a direct hit from the British battleship HMS Malaya, although the armor-piercing shell did not detonate. It’s still there, on display.
But an old 15-inch shell is honestly the least interesting thing inside this magnificent cathedral. With beautiful brickwork, black and white marble, vaulted painted ceilings, numerous frescoes and stained glass windows, this house of worship is utterly spellbinding.
There’s a lot to take in, so you might want to stay a night at La Terrazza Bed and Breakfast nearby if you’re planning on hitting this place up when you visit Genoa.
9. Cantina Morino
Address: Via Adelaide Cairoli, 10 R, 16149 Genova GE, Italy
As you may be aware by now, there’s a lot of history and beauty to experience visually in Genoa. Now it’s time to taste it, too – by which I mean, the recipes are historical; you’re not going to be eating last week’s lasagna.
Welcome to the first wine bar in the city with a cantina; Cantina Morino! Open since the 1930s, this superb winery has survived the test of time, and staying contemporary with each new decade. The business has evolved over the years, but the focus has always been Italian (particularly Genoese) wines.
Stop by and grab a few bottles of your favorite vintages or a few perfectly paired nibbles. You can schedule what type of experience you’d like to have, such as a taste test or birthday party.
Everything is will be set up when you arrive. There’s a wide array of fine wines available, so try a few and discover a new favorite!
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10. Galata Museo del Mare
Genoa’s maritime museum is the largest of its kind in the region and is the most modern in the entire country. That makes this attraction great for all ages and interest levels, particularly young kids and salty sea dogs!
Although it has its fair share of upsets, Italy’s maritime and naval history is largely filled with successes and incredible examples of innovation. This innovative spirit can really be felt in the museum, as thanks to technology, the exhibits are both immersive and interactive. You can learn about the Mediterranean and Ligurian Sea, submarines and human torpedos, shipwrecks, and even the ongoing Mediterranean migrant crisis.
For the young (and young at heart), there are animations, hands-on activities, dramatic reenactments, and internships for particularly motivated students. You’ll get to see things such as a life ring from the RMS Lusitania and the life raft that adventurer Ambrogio Fogar and journalist Mauro Mancini used to stay afloat for 74 days after their sailboat was capsized by orcas, as well as an antique model globe, made 500 years ago!
11. Piazza del Portello
Address: Piazza del Portello, Genoa, Italy, 16124
Looking for a little more of a loosey-goosey day on your Genoa itinerary? Piazza del Portello is one of the most important streets in the city of Genoa. This is because Piazza del Portello has all the bars, restaurants, bookstores, boutiques, and high-end retailers you could ever hope to hit up.
As well as stunning architecture, palm trees, and narrow-gauge trains that run along the street, Piazza del Portello is also known for its public elevator, one of several throughout the city.
With all on offer, it can be a little touristy around here, but it’s well worth exploring for an afternoon. Grab a coffee and do some people-watching in this lovely part of Genoa’s old town.
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12. Loggia di Banchi
Address: Piazza Banchi, 16123 Genova GE, Italy
In the historic center of Genoa is the Loggia di Banchi. Built in a neighborhood known for trade and commerce, this building was constructed in the late 16th Century as a trading hub for merchants, before becoming part of the nation’s Chamber of Commerce.
From there, it would play host to the Commodities Exchange and the Stock Exchange. Today it’s owned by the Magistracy of Merchandise and serves as a gallery and event space.
The back side of this magnificent building overlooks Piazza del Campo. The building has gotten several touch-ups over the centuries, the last addition being an interior upheaval from two hundred years ago. It suffered damage during the Second World War, but repairs were swiftly made in the 1950s.
All in all, it’s a grand piece of architecture that is well worth stopping by and snapping a few pics of. The Gothic and Renaissance design makes it worth studying and enjoying.
13. Palazzo Ducale
Address: Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, 9, 16123 Genova GE, Italy
Palazzo Ducale (or The Doge’s Palace – no, not the Dogecoin Doge) is of the many palaces in Genoa well worth visiting, famed for its two different facades and sheer opulence. Construction of the Palazzo Ducale started in 1251, with the intention that it serve as the residence of the Doges of Genoa.
Before Italy was a unified country there were several different kingdoms, republics, and city-states. A “doge” was an elected lord (roughly equivalent to a duke or duchess) and head of state of a city-state.
The last Doge of Genoa was in service just before the 1800s. When Napoleon conquered the city, the position was abolished and was never picked up again, even after the city was freed.
That’s okay though, because if the doge was still living here, we wouldn’t get to tour it! Added to over the centuries, a giant restoration took place in the late 1900s, leaving us with the (literal) palatial marvel it is today. Since then, Palazzo Ducale has been considered a cultural and historic icon.
Today, the palace serves as a center for hosting exhibitions and events and the schedule is a busy one! I’d definitely stop by for a tour. Aside from the grand decor and luxurious furnishings, you can see ancient prisons and the looming Grimaldina Tower. There are also places you can grab a bite here, as well as gift shops for souvenir hunters.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Northern Italy (Ranked!)
14. Palazzo Reale
Address: Via Balbi, 10, 16126 Genova GE, Italy
When it comes to sumptuous palaces, Genoa ain’t short of ’em. But I think it’s fair to say, some are more sumptuous than others and it’s easy to understand why the Palazzo Reale was used by a royal dynasty for two centuries after being built.
This royal palace all started with the Balbi family in the mid-1600s. By 1677, the palace had already exchanged hands after being sold to the Durazzo family. The Royal House of Savoy took ownership in 1823.
One hundred years later, it became the property of the Italian government. Funnily enough, the street it sits on is named after the family who first owned it – Via Balbi.
Today it’s home to the Royal Palace Museum. Prepare to be exhausted after a long day of palace walking! From small sculptures to enormous ceiling paintings, this place is a luxury living paradise. Basically, deliberate or not, everything you rest your eyes on is a unique exhibit.
It doesn’t end with the interior, either! The whole palace is a cascading walk through art history, which extends out to the gardens that are meticulously kept.
This is definitely one of the most stunning palaces to see in Genoa, which is great considering it is very conveniently located near some of the city’s top attractions. And if a convenient location is on your mind, think about booking this lovely guest house with stunning port views, just a couple of blocks away.
15. Lanterna di Genova
Address: Rampa della Lanterna, 16126 Genova GE, Italy
Any port with as much history as Genoa better come with a lighthouse to properly fit the stereotype. Lanterna di Genova does not disappoint! There has been a lighthouse in this spot since at least the 12th Century, with this version of the Lanterna di Genova being the latest incantation, completed in 1543.
As far as lighthouses go, it’s the third oldest in the world, the fifth tallest in the world (being the second tallest traditional lighthouse), but is arguably the most beautiful one of its kind in history. I love this place.
Part of the Lanterna experience includes an open-air museum detailing its integration into the city walls and other fortifications put in place during the mid-1600s. Many visitors to Genoa have numerous attractions in mind that they’d like to see, and as such, a combo ticket to the famous Genoa Aquarium and the Lighthouse of Genoa is a great idea.
I cannot say enough good things about this unique, breathtaking landmark. Pictures do not do it justice. It’s little wonder that the lighthouse has come to symbolize the whole city for so many people.
Is Genoa worth visiting?
Yes; very much so. The long answer to that is it’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying a trip to Genoa to the fullest.
However, it really depends on what your personal vacation goals are. If being immersed in art, history, and amazing food all with a view of the ocean is your thing, then absolutely.
What’s the most popular thing to do in Genoa?
These are the must-see spots; the Galata Museo del Mare, Museo di Palazzo Reale, and Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi a Nervi.
Are there things to do in Genoa when it’s raining?
You happen to be in luck! Even though the Italian Riviera outdoor scene is a magnet for tourists, there happens to be plenty of indoor activities too. For starters, you have museums, such as the Galata Museo del Mare.
There’s also the Acquario di Genova and plenty of cathedrals to tour. Let’s not forget all the indoor dining options!
Is Genoa a walkable city?
Like many historical European cities, it’s very compact. That means it was basically built for foot traffic.
So many of the things to do in Genoa, Italy are only a short walk from each other. With its narrow streets and picturesque alleys, it’s a very easy and beautiful city to navigate on foot.