I’m so happy to have friends from all over the world and I’m even happier when they decide to come to visit Genoa, my city. This summer friends are coming from the Netherlands, but unfortunately, I will be travelling at the same time. This post will help them plan their trip as if I were walking with them around the city. These tips are meant to be useful for any tourists (especially under 30 years old) who visit Genoa for 2-3 days. I decided not to include museums in this itinerary, but to give general tips.
Unlike other cities, Genoa has no free walking tours. Even so, it’s not a huge city and it’s easy to visit the most important places on foot. I found some useful videos with English subtitles by Era Superba, a free editorial, that suggest different itineraries with maps and details. These videos explain the history and the importance of all the places mentioned, so it’s best to have a look at them.
I would recommend to my friends to
LOSE THEMSELVES IN THE HISTORICAL CENTRE
The historical centre of Genoa, also called vicoli meaning “narrow streets”, is one of the biggest in Europe. To see it entirely you will need to spend at least half a day there. It’s one of the oldest areas, currently in the list of Unesco Heritage Sites. Even if you get lost in this labyrinth, you will always end up close either to Piazza de Ferrari, or Porto Antico or the Principe area, so it’s easy to re-orientate yourselves. Locals use the vicoli as short-cuts to go from one place to another.
Starting from Piazza de Ferrari, the main square, what you have to see is Casa di Colombo (next to Piazza Dante), the house where Columbus used to live. Then, visit Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, the main gothic church in Via San Lorenzo (Challenge: tell me if you can see the sculpture of a tiny dog in the façade). It also has an unexploded bomb of the Second World War inside.
Walk freely around in the San Lorenzo area to find to what extent history and multicultural environments melt together. If you don’t use any maps, try to challenge yourselves: you will discover traditional small shops, ateliers and food stores from different countries. During the night some streets can be dangerous, therefore I recommend discovering this area during the day.
The most important streets are Piazza Banchi, Via San Luca, Via del Campo & Via Pre, Via Lomellini, Via Cairoli and Via Garibaldi. Also have a look at Via Balbi and in the Principe area is where you can find students, libraries, part of the University of Genoa, and its cafeteria.
SEE THE PORTO ANTICO, THE OLD PORT
This place has been upgraded to be ready for big events such as the G8 Summit (2001) and Genova European City of Culture (2004), becoming now a great place to stroll around. Here you can find the Acquario di Genova (you can buy a “skip-the-line” ticket here), the Galeone (a pirate boat used to shoot a Polanski movie), the Biosfera and the Bigo: an elevator from which you can get a great view of the port and the city’s historic centre. In the summer nights is very likely to find artists performing live music, especially in the widening in front of the ice-skating rink placed on the sea. Unusual, isnt it? In this area, you can also admire a long line of yatches that show off all their luxury, bars and restaurants for all budgets.
SHOPPING IN VIA XX SETTEMBRE AND ITS SURROUNDING STREETS
To go shopping start from Piazza de Ferrari go down in street Via XX Settembre (also written as Via Venti Settembre) and the pedestrian street Via San Vincenzo. In these streets you will find the main world-known stores such as H&M, Zara, Intimissimi, just to name a few. If you prefer high fashion and expensive brands, have a look in the classy Via Roma to find Louis Vuitton or Dolce & Gabbana to get your pocket much lighter! 😉
After some well-deserved shopping, you can have a walk until Piazza della Vittoria where you can see the three caravels (made of flowers) representing the boats used in the voyages of Christopher Columbus when he discovered the Americas, and the fascist Arco della Vittoria. A popular beer festival (the Oktoberfest) is held in this Piazza every September.
FOLLOW THE COAST LINE ALONG CORSO ITALIA AND STOP IN BOCCADASSE TO EAT A GREAT ICE CREAM ON THE BEACH
You can have a long but pleasant walk from the city centre to Corso Italia to end up in Boccadasse (if you feel lazy, take the No. 31 bus from the Piazza facing Brignole Train Station). Boccadasse is an old fishermen’s village and it’s very popular during the spring and the summer.
Here you can buy great ice cream in the Gelateria Igienica. Feel free to eat and relax on the beach. Have a walk in the “vicoli” of Boccadasse too, there are several nice spots.
HAVE A PIECE OF FOCACCIA
If you come to Genova, you absolutely have to try the most popular and typical street food: focaccia, an oily dough oven baked. You can try the plain one or the more elaborate with olives, onions, sage or the delicious cheese version called Focaccia al Formaggio di Recco: in this case ask for it to be reheated. The most popular places to buy it in the centre are Da Mario in Via San Lorenzo or Forno Patrono in Via Ravecca; but whenever you try it you won’t be disappointed.
HAVE AN APERITIVO
You surely won’t walk 24 hours a day. The best moment to take a seat and relax is the aperitivo time (starting at 6 pm), which means you pay for a drink and eat for free. Locals love it (me too!). The most popular places to go in the center are Storico Lounge Café, next to Piazza de Ferrari and M-café inside Palazzo Ducale (Piazza de Ferrari), the bars of Piazza delle Erbe, or Muà for a more elegant spot. They all have a buffet, so don’t be ashamed to refill your plates as many times as you want. You can also have a fresh beer next to the sea in La Marinetta, at the end of Corso Italia.
IMMERSE YOURSELVES IN THE GENOESE NIGHT-LIFE IN THE VICOLI
Students and locals meet every weekend in the vicoli to drink in the streets and talk. Start from Piazza delle Erbe (there’s also a great Gelateria here -do you fancy a spicy chocolate ice-cream?) and follow the crowd into Via San Donato, Stradone Sant’Agostino and Via di San Bernardo. These places are normally very crowded so I recommend to take care of your belongings, especially after a couple of drinks. If you visit Genoa during the summer (and you are in your 20s), you can go towards the Porto Antico and enter for free Banano Tsunami. Go in a simple outfit and comfortable shoes. This place is always packed with local and Erasmus students.
GO DANCING IN CORSO ITALIA
On Fridays and Saturdays, you can choose to go dancing right by the beach in Corso Italia. There are two clubs, pretty close to each other. One is called Estoril and the other Sys. The people that go to these clubs varies depending on the night, from under 21 to university students (25 y.o.).
VISIT PORTOFINO AND THE HIDDEN BEACH OF PARAGGI
It is a must-do trip to the Riviera. Take a train from Brignole Train Station and get off after 30 mins in Santa Margherita Portofino. From its city centre walk following the coastline towards Portofino. The walk takes around 40 mins but it is really worth it. Before arriving to Portofino, discover the tiny beach of Paraggi hidden in a little bay surrounded by trees. Bathe in the emerald sea and get a tan. After that, continue your walk to Portofino and admire its splendor and elegance. This is a very expensive area due to its landscape and its occupants.
Here you can find the videos I mentioned before to get to know the history of Genova:
– Historic Center (San Lorenzo, Spianata Castelletto, via Garibaldi – Centro Storico)
– Historic Center (Palazzo Ducale, Palazzo San Giorgio – Centro Storico)
– Boccadasse (Albaro, Boccadasse, Sturla – Levante)