Genoa has one of the largest harbours in the Mediterranean and is well served by cruise ships and budget airlines. While there are lots of things to do in Genoa, or Genova, as it is in Italian – many visitors, by nature of their trip through this port city on the Liguria coast of Italy look to spend one day in Genoa. We checked out what to do in Genoa in a short space of time and how to spend one day in Genoa, Italy.
Here in Genoa, you’ll find UNESCO World Heritage-listed palaces, the city where Christopher Colombus spent a great part of his childhood and several Genovese dishes that will have you wanting to stay longer for the food alone!
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What to do in One Day in Genoa
As one of Italy’s largest ports, the 5th largest city in Italy receives many visitors who spend just 1 day in Genoa. So we’ve geared this to focus on how to see the major sights of Genoa, where to get the best Ligurian food in Genoa and what not to miss when you’re visiting Genoa for one day.
Take a Walk and Get Lost in Genoa
This was the first thing we did in Genoa – and that was just finding our way to the fabulous Sky on the Roofs where we stayed (Check prices and book now). The Old Town of Genoa mostly pedestrian. The paths are small, narrow and the buildings tower some 5 or 6 stories above you. It’s a fabulous place, but mostly without GPS signal. Navigating by maps on phones is tough, to say the least. There are dark corners and alleys everywhere, brightly lit delicatessens, wine shops and tiny little cafes. It’s wonderful! You’ll discover some of the hidden niches of the city.
Take a Genoa Walking Tour or an audio walking tour
There are several walking tours that you can find on gurutour.com – none were running when we visited, but if you stay at the Manena Hostel (associated with the Sky on the Roofs where we stayed) or other hotels associated, then you can take a free walking tour at 1000 with Spyros. (Tips are expected) Lasting for 3 hours these tours take you to the major sights of Genoa and give you a good understanding of the history as well as a good local place to eat and drink.
If you prefer to walk around and explore yourself, then invest in the Genoa Audio Tour and spent 2 hours with a guided commentary while exploring independently. (More details here)
Take Genoa’s Hop-on Hop-Off Bus
To get to all the sights of Genoa more quickly get yourself a ticket for the Genoa City Hop-on Hop-Off bus. Tickets are good for 48 hours from the time of purchase and these open-topped double-decker buses give you a great view of Genoa’s main attractions. More information and tickets here
Genoa’s Porta Soprana
Porta Soprana is all that remains of medieval Genoa’s city walls and was one of the gates to the city. The two towers have been preserved and restored, having originally being built in 1155. Visit this and other places on the seriously highly rated walking tour with a local – check your options here.
Visit the Fountains Ferrari in Piazza de Ferrari
Separating the old town of Genoa and Genoa’s new town is the Piazza De Ferrari. At the centre of the Ferrari Square are the glorious Ferrari Fountains, surrounding the piazza, cultural institutions – the Borsa (Stock Exchange), the Carlo Felice Theatre and the Ducale Palace.
Walk Genoa’s Via Garibaldi
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Via Garibaldi in Genoa is one of the main pedestrianized streets of Genoa. It was here that the wealthy families of Genoa built their palaces and the street is lined with imposing buildings dating back to the 1500s. In total 42 palaces form the inclusion in the world heritage list. Three of the palaces on Via Garibaldi can be toured on a single ticket – Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Tursi. The exterior of the others show carved and painted decorations, arcades, balconies and courtyards. Sneaking a peek into some of the buildings show stunning décor inside too.
Explore Genoa’s Cathedral San Lorenzo
The stunning Cathedral of San Lorenzo was originally built as a basilica in the 1100s and then it was renovated in a gothic style in 1307. A Renaissance dome was added in 1557. The carvings and stonework are exquisite. Inside, the Chapel of John the Baptist is the earliest example of Renaissance architecture in Genoa. It was built to hold the remains of St. John the Baptist. The treasury of the cathedral holds his ashes and the platter on which Salome was reputedly presented his head along with a bowl said to be the Holy Grail.
Wander through Genoa’s Old Port
Walking through the area of Genoa’s harbour and old port is easy. It may be one of the Med’s largest ports and stretches to provide more than 20 kilometres ( 12.5 miles) of wharves, but its quaint and new in equal measures. A cruise port welcomes day-trippers to Genoa, there’s the Genoa Maritime Museum, the largest aquarium in Europe and hundreds of moored pleasures vessels. The only thing marring the area is the elevated highway, the Circonvallazione a Mare, running in a very ugly fashion straight through the area.
One attraction that you can’t miss in Genoa’s harbour is a replica Spanish Galleon from the 17th Century (or rather the 1980’s!). This pirate ship is a hit with small and big kids alike and was built for a movie called Pirates. There’s a small fee to enter.
Visit the Largest Aquarium in Europe in Genoa
Billing itself as the largest aquarium in Europe and found in Genoa’s old port, it could take you a long time to explore this place on the waterfront. It was built in 1992, celebrating the 500th anniversary of Genoan native Christopher Columbus. You’ll find sharks, dolphins and penguins here – more than 15,000 marine animals in 70 different tanks. It is Genoa’s most popular exhibit and lines can be intense here, especially on wet days in Genoa. – get a skip the line ticket and go straight to the front.
This pass gives you access to Cetacean Pavilion, the Galata Museum of the Sea, the S518 Nazario Sauro, the Biosphere and the Bigo panoramic lift. – buy now, save time and money!
Adjacent to the aquarium is the Biosphere of Genoa, which contains tropical gardens and endangered and threatened species of plants reptiles and birds. Known as “La Bolla” or the Bubble, this platform floats on the water of the harbour.
Both the Aquarium and the biosphere are educational but entertaining attractions to see in Genoa. This pass gives you access to Cetacean Pavilion, the Galata Museum of the Sea, the S518 Nazario Sauro, the Biosphere and the Bigo panoramic lift. – buy now, save time and money!
Visit Genoa’s Museums
Visiting Genoa’s museums can be an expensive trip – but you can save by buying the Genoa museum card, which can also be extended to include bus travel too – find out more and buy it here to save time and money. It doesn’t include the Maritime museum entrance, but it does include the:
• Musei di Strada Nuova (Palazzo Bianco e Tursi)
• Galata Museo del Mare + Sommergibile
• Villa del Principe
• Commenda di Pré
• Museo di Palazzo Reale
• Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola
• Museo di Storia Naturale Giacomo Doria
• Museo d’Arte Orientale E. Chiossone
• Museo di Sant’Agostino
• Casa di Colombo e Torri di S. Andrea
• Castello D’Albertis-Museo delle Culture del Mondo
• Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Villa Croce
• Museo Diocesano
• Museo del Tesoro della Cattedrale di San Lorenzo
• Museo dell’Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti
• Museo del Risorgimento-Istituto Mazziniano
• Museo della Lanterna
• Musei di Nervi (Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Raccolte Frugone, Wolfsoniana)
• Musei di Pegli (Museo di Archeologia Ligure, Museo Navale)
Maritime Museum Genoa – Galata Museo Del Mare
It goes without saying that the home of Christopher Columbus will have a maritime museum. The museum is located in an area called the Darsena, where the Genoan republic originally built its own fleet. There are four stories of exhibits. It comes highly recommended although most of the descriptions are in Italian, you’ll want to take the audio guide if you’re not an Italian speaker or reader. If you buy a combo ticket you can also visit an Italian submarine that’s docked on the waterfront. You can view the submarine from the outside if you don’t buy a ticket. This pass gives you access to Cetacean Pavilion, the Galata Museum of the Sea, the S518 Nazario Sauro, the Biosphere and the Bigo panoramic lift. – buy now, save time and money!
The Palazzo Reale – the Royal Palace Museum
You’ll have to head up to Via Garibaldi – the street of opulent palaces to see the Royal Palace Museum in Genoa. Come here to see a location that hosted Emperor Napoleon and that has a mirrored hall based on France’s Palace of Versailles. Take an amazing private tour through the museums and palaces of Genoa with a local – get the real scoop on what went on here and the full history – check out details here.
Christopher Colombus House Museum
Located in a restored stone house near the towers of the Porta Soprana – one of the original gates to the city of Genoa is the Christopher Colombus Museum. Colombus spent his childhood here and while there’s not much to see in the museum, you’re treading in a seriously historic place!
Take the Zecca-Righi Funicular in Genoa
If you’ve taken the BIGO panoramic lift for views from the harbour in Genoa, then you’ll also want to take the funicular for a view back down to the port. It’s a cheap trip, – just 1.60 euros per one way ticket and the ride takes you from Zecca to the Righi station in just a few minutes. The uppermost point of the Genoa funicular is the Pelarto Park – the park of the city walls.
Take the BIGO Panoramic Lift in Genoa
Designed to look like a crane unloading ships, the Bigo Panoramic Lift hovers over the water of the Genoa harbour. It rises more than 39 metres (130 feet) into the air to give you unparalleled views over the city. There’s no air conditioning in the lift and it operates daily from 1000 until 1800 (Mondays don’t start until 1400). The entrance fee for BIGO is 6 euros. This pass gives you access to Cetacean Pavilion, the Galata Museum of the Sea, the S518 Nazario Sauro, the Biosphere and the Bigo panoramic lift. – buy now, save time and money!
The stairs or lift to the nearby Eataly provide a similar viewpoint for free.
Explore Culinary Genoa at Mercado Orientale Genova
Easy to find on Genoa’s high-end shopping street Via XX Septembre just 10 slow sauntering minutes from Piazza Ferrari is MOG. Mercato Orientale Genova lives up to its promise. Around the outer edges of this market, you’ll find fruits, vegetables, hams and fresh fish and meat. This is no tourist market, you’ll also find Genovese shopping here. In the centre, 11 food corners, from the olive oil, dripping salted plain focaccia to steaks and pizza this is a gastronomic treat. Treat yourself to a freshly brewed local craft beer from the centre bar area, or stand at the bar and drink a cappuccino or espresso Italian style. Want to go wine tasting in Genoa? MOG is the place. Get a card and take a taste, a big taste or a half glass of more than 40 different wines at the wine centre near the entrance. It’s a great way to try out a great variety of Italian wines to see which your favourite is!
Read more about what to eat and about the specialities of Ligurian and Genoan cuisine here
Eat Pesto in Genoa
Once you’ve eaten proper Genovese pesto you’ll never be the same person again. You’ll turn your nose up at jars of pre-prepared pesto and demand the original. The best pesto in Genoa is made from Genovese Basil, Ligurian olive oil (Liguria is the region of Italy in which Genoa is located), pine nuts, garlic, salt, and aged Parmigiano Reggiano. The best way to eat your pesto in Genoa is simply. Try a trofie al pesto from a seriously local place like Cavour 21 near the old port.
Want to know more about Genovese Food? Check out this gorgeous foodie tour and learn not just about the history and how Genoan food is made, but get to taste it all as well! > Check options here
Eat Focaccia in Genoa
Renowned as the most famous street food of Genoa it’s almost a crime to come here and not eat focaccia. Here, in Genoa focaccia is always eaten in the morning, dipped, often into a cup of cappuccino. You can eat focaccia in the afternoon as an appetizer and at dinner as a bread substitute. Focaccia should always be golden and crispy, greasy enough with olive oil for it to be necessary to be clasped with a napkin. Typically the best focaccia is bought and eaten from panificos – small bakeries.
There are many types of focaccia, but for the uninitiated start with plain. Then work your way up to focaccia with tomato, focaccia with onion and then perhaps focaccia with cheese.
Tearing yourself away from Genoa
We loved our short visit to Genoa – the weather was glorious even in late November. The views were stunning and the food nothing short of incredible. If you have longer to spend, consider taking a day trip from Genoa, or heading further afield in Italy. We headed off to Savona, home to a Sistine Chapel, and our transoceanic cruise to Guadeloupe with Costa Cruises.