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The ultimate guide to Genoa!

It’s been a while since I last wrote an article for my ‘ultimate guide’ series, so today I thought I’d write about one of my favourite Italian cities: Genoa (or Genova, as its known by its citizens). There really isn’t much about this metropolis that I can fault. It may not be the most beautiful place in the country, but there is so much to do and see there, and loads of fantastic food to try. The city was briefly in the limelight back in 2018 when one of its bridges tragically collapsed. However, I think it is still, for the most part, a bit of a hidden secret. I hope, therefore, that I can convince you now that it is not a place to be overlooked!

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When to go

My friend and I went to Genoa in June, and this turned out to be the perfect time. Not only was the weather ideal – hot, but not stifling, as it would have been later on in the summer – but there were also relatively few tourists about, and queues to the sights were never very long.

Where to stay

We stayed in a little studio flat in the centre of town and were most satisfied. The apartment was down a little alleyway near the cathedral, so we were close to all the sights but away from the noise of the busier streets. There wasn’t any WiFi (something we didn’t realise until arriving), but it was actually very refreshing to have a few days of digital detoxing! I'd recommend staying as near as possible to the main sights – like us, you'll be able to find some very peaceful and affordable places.

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What to do

A quick note before I begin with this section: my friend and I invested in Genoa Museum Cards, and, if you're planning to see a lot of cultural sights in the city, I'd recommend that you do the same. We saved a lot of money on entrance fees, and also found out – thanks to the list of museums where the card could be used – about a number of places that we wouldn’t otherwise have known even existed!

See the cathedral

The Cattedrale di San Lorenzo is a stunning Gothic building, situated in the centre of the city. It’s worth going just to marvel at the striped exterior, but if you have time, head inside and see a bomb which miraculously remained unexploded after striking the church during the Second World War! Be sure also to pop into the Museo del Tesoro to have a look at the institution’s impressive collection of treasures.

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Wander around the port

Genoa is a port city, and walking along the water's edge is very pleasant, especially in the evening when the sun is setting. My friend and I spent most of our time there just sitting on a bench, watching the world go by, but if you want something a bit more exciting to do, take a ride on the Bigo Panoramic Lift (pictured below) and enjoy great views over the city. While you’re in the area, be sure also to check out the city’s aquarium. My friend I didn’t end up going inside, but I’ve been told by my Italian host family that we absolutely should have!

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See the city from above

If the Bigo Panoramic Lift leaves you wanting more, take an elevator up to the Spianata Castelletto. This serene terrace overlooks the whole city, and is the perfect place to watch the sun set. If you're feeling extra active, or want to save a little bit of money, you can also reach this place on foot.

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Visit a museum or art gallery

Genoa has a huge number of fantastic museums and art galleries to lose yourself in. My friend and I particularly enjoyed the Museo del Risorgimento, where we learned a great deal about the unification of Italy. One of the main politicians behind this movement, Giuseppe Mazzini, was actually born and raised in Genoa, so a lot of the displays were dedicated to him.

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We also enjoyed a morning at the Edoardo Chiossone Museum of Oriental Art and an afternoon at the Museo di Storia Naturale (Natural History Museum). The former is located at the top of a hill, so make sure, if you go, to admire the panoramic views from their terrace. Look out, also, for adorable turtles in the ponds as you make your way back down afterwards.

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Visit the city’s palazzi

Genoa has a whole load of stunning palaces, so if you want to see some extraordinarily opulent rooms, make sure to pop inside some of them. My friend and I went to the Palazzo Rosso and the Palazzo Bianco – both of which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli – and had a great time wandering from chamber to chamber, admiring the art on display in each one. I’ll definitely be using these buildings for interior design inspiration when I'm rich and famous!

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Wander across the Piazza De Ferrari

No holiday in Genoa would be complete without a trip to its beautiful main square, the Piazza De Ferrari! There’s not a huge amount to do here, but it’s a lovely place to sit and relax, especially because of the huge fountain in the middle of it. Come back late at night, and you can see it with the water turned off!

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See the old city walls

In the twelfth century, the city of Genoa was surrounded by a great wall, and some of its former gates are still standing today. The most famous – which we went to visit – is the Porta Soprana. It’s been restored a number of times, but is supposed to be a very accurate representation of how it looked when it was first built.

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Do some shopping

If you fancy engaging in a bit of retail therapy during your trip, head to the city’s famous Via XX Settembre, a street that’s almost a kilometre long and is lined with all the most popular stores. Even just a walk down the arcades is a very pleasant way to pass a bit of time!

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Go on a day trip

Seen all you want to see in Genoa, itself? Spend some time exploring another place! My friend and I went to Cinque Terre for one day of our trip, and absolutely loved it! Other nearby towns and cities include Rapallo, La Spezia, and – if you’re OK with a slightly longer journey – Milan.

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What to eat and where

Trofie al pesto at Cavour 21

Genoa is the home of pesto, and if you’ve got to try one dish while you’re in the city, it’s trofie (twisted pasta) topped with this delicious green sauce. After quite a bit of research, my friend and I decided that the best place to try this meal was Cavour 21, and let me tell you: we weren’t wrong! Once you’ve taken a bite here, you’ll realise you've been missing out, and your standard supermarket pesto will never be quite the same again. If you want to check this place out too, make sure to arrive early, as queues can get pretty long!

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Farinata at Antica Sa' Pesta

Farinata is another traditional Genovese delicacy – a bit like a crêpe, only thicker and more grainy, since it's made from chickpeas – and the best place to try it is Antica Sa’ Pesta! This place is very cheap, and if, like us, you’ve not got much time on your hands, they'll wrap up your order for you to take away.

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Focaccia at Bar Accademia

Focaccia – a mix between bread and pizza – is one of my favourite Italian snacks, and Genoa is actually the city in which it was invented! You’ll be able to find it on the menu at pretty much every traditional bar or restaurant across the metropolis. I enjoyed this one at Bar Accademia, one of the dining spots that looks onto the Piazza De Ferrari.

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Gelato at La Cremeria delle Erbe.

Italy is the home of gelato, and no matter where you are in the country, you’ve got to try some! Our favourite ice cream shop in Genoa was La Cremeria delle Erbe, a litte place located just off the main square. We loved trying the different flavours they had on offer there (my favourite was the strawberry one), and also appreciated the shop’s lively atmosphere, and late opening times. They don’t close until 1am, so if you’re having post-dinner cravings, this is where to head!

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Chocolate at Romeo Viganotti

Still not satisfied your sweet tooth? Head to Romeo Viganotti, Genoa’s best chocolate shop! There are loads of different flavours to choose from – pepper was surprisingly one of my favourites – and this place is great value for money. If you’re looking for gifts to take home to your friends and family, this is the perfect place to go!

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How to get around

My friend and I actually saw the whole of Genoa on foot – it’s a very walkable city, so we never really felt the need to make use of public transport. However, if you’re in a bit more of a rush, there are buses available, as well as a subway. The metropolis also has multiple railway stations, so if you’re planning on doing some day trips, it's definitely best to travel by train!

That’s all, folks!

So there you have it: the ultimate guide to Genoa! It’s a truly lovely city to visit, and I hope I’ll be able to go back soon. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for some pesto which lives up to my newly heightened expectations!


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