From my five-week solo trip around North Italy, Genoa (or GenoVa, as apparently everyone but Americans and Brits calls it…whoops), surprised me the most. I initially added it to my itinerary simply because it was halfway on the map between Turin and Cinque Terre and
was in big, bold letters on Google maps seemed to be a large city on the coast. The plan was to stay two nights, but upon realizing how expensive any accommodation even relatively near Portofino was, I tacked on three more nights and planned to use Genoa as a base for nearby coastal day trips.
Turns out, that was the best decision ever, and something I highly recommend other travelers do when visiting the Lugurian coast! There’s so much to see in the greater Genoa area, and Genoa is refreshingly not overly-touristed (which can’t be said about a lot of Italy!). So whether you use it as a stopping point between Milan or France and Cinque Terre, or you visit it as a stand-alone-vacation, I’ve created this super-detailed and photo-filled Genoa travel guide to inspire and help you plan your trip!
IN THIS GENOA TRAVEL GUIDE, YOU’LL FIND:
- What to See and Do in Genoa
- The Best (and Super Easy) Coastal Day Trips from Genoa
- Italian Foods Originating in Genoa (That You Simply Must Try While There!)
- Where to Stay in Genoa on a Budget
THINGS TO DO & SEE IN GENOA
I’ve grouped the following in a somewhat-logical order to see them, but check out my perfect two-day Genoa itinerary for the most efficient route to explore Genoa. I’ve even mapped out each day’s entire route for y’all to see visually. Check it out!
Via XX Settembre
Apparently Genoa is suffering from an aging population, but you wouldn’t know it from walking down this street. It’s got trendy shops, bright cafes, and young folks galore. Even if you don’t plan to make any purchases, I recommend strolling down this street to experience the vibe. Genoa is a lot less touristy than your average Italian destination, so it’s nice to see “real” Italian life.
Casa di Cristoforo Colombo
Although he’s associated with Spain, Christopher Columbus (funny how drastically the Italian and English spellings differ!) was actually from Genoa – a fact Genoese seem to be very proud of. I stumbled upon this attraction very much accidentally, but as an American who grew up learning each year in grade school how he “discovered” America (if you don’t know yet: he didn’t), it was interesting to envision where such a world-famous name grew up.
Heading through this 12th-century gate from the nearby Casa di Cristoforo Colombo, you can walk through a very calm area of Genoa. Not that Genoa in general is very touristy, but this area is even less touristy.
Chiesa del Gesu dei Santi Ambrogio e Andrea
It’s free to enter, so why not take a peak? Plus, it’s near a couple other attractions, so it won’t be out of your way either.
Piazza de Ferrari
A big square with a big fountain! It’s right at the intersection of a lot of important streets, so you’ll likely pass by without even trying.
Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace)
I personally just admired it briefly from the outside, but you can enter and the palace and view any ongoing exhibitions. Normal entrance is €12, and entrance plus an exhibition is usually just a few euro more. See what’s going on during your visit at the official website.
Walk along Via San Lorenzo to get here from Palazzo Ducale. Like the other church, it was also free to enter. Then, after viewing the church, keep walking the same street until you hit the Ligurian Sea.
The view of the water from here honestly isn’t great (don’t even think about swimming!), but it’s hard to say you’ve seen Genoa, once a huge navel power, if you haven’t seen it from the water. Plus, the pretty, colorful buildings more than make up for the less-than-superb harbor views. Be sure to at least take a look at Palazzo San Giorgio.
Walking north along the waterfront, you’ll eventually hit a brown, wooden ship with a statue of Neptune attached to the bow of the ship. Once you hit this point of the waterfront, I’d say you’re good to turn east and head back into the city center.
Also known as “la Via Aurea” (Italian for “the Golden Street)”, Via Garibaldi is home to government buildings, banks, shops, and more. The street also boasts palaces integral to Genoa’s history as an important European power. The most famous of these palaces is Palazzo Rossi, which houses many works of art, and which you can enter for €9.
Spianata di Castelletto
The only thing better than a killer view of the water is a killer view of the water during sunset. If you don’t have the stamina to climb stairs, you can take the elevator up (I believe €2 each way, but don’t quote me!). Otherwise, save that cash for a gelato (from Antica Gelateria Guarino) or Sicilian granita (from Don Paolo) once you’re up at the top. Grab your treat, and find an empty bench with your preferred view. This area is rather lively, with locals and visitors alike enjoying the view.
View from Righi
Another view? Yep! I initially was not planning to pay €4 for the round-trip funicular ride necessary to see this one, but after learning about a 24-hour public transport pass, I figured why not! I provide details in my two-day Genoa itinerary post on how to save money on this funicular ride by getting the pass.
Piazza Della Erbe
Consider stopping by this area one evening. It’s very lively, filled with lots of young adults, outdoor seating, and multiple food options (one of them being vegan).
Spyros Walking Tour
My hostel highly recommending this €1 walking tour (tips expected), so I rearranged my plans to join it. This is the only tour I took during my five-week solo trip in North Italy, and after taking it, I can recommend it as well! It’s led by a guy named Spyros, who moved to Genoa from Greece several years ago and clearly fell in love with the place enough to stay and lead this daily tour. Over the years, he’s even worked out discounts all around the city for those who show his stamped tour card. Every tour is apparently a little bit different in terms of itinerary, so you likely won’t see everything I’ve listed above. But it’s a great way to learn a TON about Genoa from someone who’s passionate about it and to meet other travelers to hang out with later. Plus, the €1 fee apparently goes towards helping an issue very relevant to Italian coastal cities – the Mediterranean migrant crisis. Highly recommend this tour!
THE BEST DAY TRIPS FROM GENOA
Genoa makes an amazing base for some pretty epic Ligurian day trips! These are my favorites from my own visit to Genoa. I can’t wait to return and see more of this beautiful region!
This is technically just a neighborhood in Genoa, but it makes a great full day trip when coupled with the next suggestion below. Boccadasse looks like a mini version of a Cinque Terre village, so especially if you are not able to make it to Cinque Terre, I definitely recommend stopping by here.
There is a beach in which you can swim, though I personally recommend swimming in any of the next suggestions below instead. Instead of swimming in Boccadasse, enjoy an aperitivo with a view. The vibe here is lively in the evening and the area is filled with young adults, so I think it’s the perfect setting.
Afterwards, walk the Corso Italia back to central Genoa. This 2 mile (3 km) waterfront promenade is an easy forty-minute walk that I recommend timing during sunset. If you’re hungry towards the end of your walk, stop by Ristorante Pizzeria Punta Vagno for fairly-priced pizzas and more.
How to Get to Boccadasse from Genoa
From in front of the Genoa Brignole train station, locate the bus stop for bus 31. Take this bus twenty minutes until you reach the stop Italia 6/Boccadasse. Hop off here, and walk two minutes to Boccadasse Beach. You can purchase bus tickets for €1.50 one way at tobacco shops (Tabacchi).
I had no idea about Nervi until hearing about it from my hostel and again from my walking tour guide. I knew if it was recommended twice by locals, then it was worth doing! This is the best closest place to Genoa to swim in clean water. From the train station, you can walk along the Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi a Nervi, a walkway with gorgeous views. There is a pebble beach called Spiaggia Capolungo at the far end of this walkway, but I preferred and recommend choosing one of the many flat sections of cliffs along the walk instead.
Nervi also has a central town, closer to the train station. I recommend eating here if you don’t have your own prepared food packed, as there aren’t a ton of options once you leave this area to swim. The only real eatery is Osteria del Duca, which didn’t open until 7:30pm for dinner on the day I was there.
Personal recommendation? Combine Nervi with the above into one day trip! Arrive at Nervi in the early afternoon after eating lunch in central Genoa. Swim until you’re getting hungry, then head to Boccadasse for aperitivo or dinner. From there, walk the Corso Italia back to central Genoa around sunset. I explain how in full, crystal-clear detail in my post on the perfect two-day Genoa itinerary.
How to Get to Nervi from Genoa
From Genoa Brignole train station, purchase a regional train ticket to Genoa Nervi station for €1.30 each way. Trains stopping in Nervi depart several times an hour. DEFINITELY purchase your return ticket here too, as there is only one machine in the Genoa Nervi station. I missed two trains while my new travel buddy waited in the queue to make his purchase! Once you arrive, exit the station and head right to find the Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi.
Made famous by the likes of George Clooney, this picturesque little village by a harbor needs no introduction. Whether you’re staring at the large yachts in envy, eating in style at one of the main cafes (pricy!), or hiking in the greater Portofino area, there is so much to do.
Personally, however, I was less than impressed by this pretty little place. Due to its small size plus large popularity, I just did not like the vibe. Its few streets felt overly crowded, the gelato was the most expensive I saw during my entire five-week Italy trip (more than in Venice or Milan!), and it felt like a spot for retirees to just sit, eat, and shop.
That being said, the beaches were spectacular, and I would definitely recommend a visit here to see those and the surrounding scenery alone! If you hate overly-crowded, outdoor-shopping-mall type destinations like I do, simply budget two hours for the village and spend the rest of the day swimming. You can even rent kayaks and stand-up paddle boards from Outdoor Kayak, located on Baia di Niasca beach.
How to Get to Portofino from Genoa
From Genoa Brignole train station, purchase a regional train ticket for €3.60 one-way to S. Margherita Ligure-Portofino station. (You can also purchase a faster Intercity train ticket for double the price, but half the travel time.) Exit the station, and from Santa Margherita, take a bus (€5 round-trip) to Portofino. Since you have to pass Santa Margherita to get to Portofino anyways, consider combining these two into one day trip – especially if you don’t plan on swimming. I include full details on how to do so (as well as a map on where the bus stop to Portofino is located) in this perfect Portofino and Santa Margherita day trip from Genoa itinerary.
This place was only on my list because I needed to pass through it to get to Portofino, so I figured why not see what’s up. Ironically, I actually ended up liking it more than I liked Portofino. Go figure!
While Portofino felt entirely catered to wealthy, older, foreign tourists, Santa Margherita felt like a real place of residence. It’s much larger than cute, little Portofino, but still not huge by any means. I noticed locals out and about; older men playing water polo in the sea; young girls taking turns riding a hover-board around the park, elderly couples relaxing on benches… And, as you can imagine, food and snacks here are much more reasonably-priced than in nearby Portofino – always a plus.
There are plenty of places to swim in the Santa Margherita area, a little further up from town in the direction of Portofino. Simply walk along the road and stop once you find a place that looks nice! Or, take the bus (€3 one way, €5 round-trip) up to the best beaches in the area, right near Portofino.
How to Get to Santa Margherita from Genoa
From Genoa Brignole train station, purchase a regional train ticket for €3.60 one-way to S. Margherita Ligure-Portofino station. (Again, you can purchase a faster Intercity train ticket for double the price, but half the travel time.)
I’m only including this option for those with younger kids in their party, or those valuing a sandy beach above all other factors. Otherwise, I honestly cannot recommend this day trip! Sestri Levante, 75 minutes out from central Genoa by train, was probably the largest let-down of my entire trip. I read such positive reviews online about the only “real beach” in the area, but it felt way too… well, beachy! Towels out everywhere, children playing, tens of conversations all around you.
If I wanted all that, I could have just stayed home in California! After having visited all the the less-densely-populated beaches mentioned above, I wanted to leave right after I arrived in Sestri Levante!
I feel bad saying that, though, because the Sestri Levante was truly a beautiful place. The water was clear, food was affordable, and the restaurants were lively. Best of all, it all seemed full of nothing but Italians! Italian tourists, yes, but this was one of the only two places during my trip where I heard only Italian spoken as I walked around (Turin being the second). As you all know, I love experiencing places that seem more “real,” especially in a country like Italy where so many cities seem reinvented to fit the needs of foreign tourists. It was nice getting a peek into what I guess is an Italian holiday spot.
How to Get to Sestri Levante from Genoa
From Genoa Brignole train station, take a regional train to Sestri Levante station for €4.90 one-way. Depending on what time you depart, the journey will take between fifty and seventy minutes. When exiting the station in Sestri Levante, walk straight to eventually hit the water.
MUST-EAT FOODS ORIGINATING IN GENOA
- Pesto – green sauce made from crushed garlic, pine nuts, coarse salt, basil leaves, parmesan cheese, and olive oil
- Focaccia – oven-baked bread with lots of yummy olive oil (apparently sometimes made with lard, so double-check if you’re vegan!)
- Farinata – unleavened pancake or crêpe made from chickpea flour (vegan!)
WHERE TO STAY IN GENOA
If you don’t know by now, I’m definitely a budget-conscious kinda traveler. I opted to stay in a hostel while in Genoa to save on costs, as well as to meet other people while I traveled solo. I can recommend this hostel, where I stayed for five nights to fully explore Genoa and its surroundings. It is a five-minute walk from the main train station, was clean, and the staff gave some great day trip suggestions. It’s a social hostel in that there are organized events every night, but it is still calm enough
that a grandma like me had no problems. It’s not the cheapest hostel (I paid high-30-somethings USD a night), but it’s not the most expensive either, and there aren’t many hostels in the city. Breakfast is advertised as included, but it’s so minuscule that I made a routine of getting coffee and a pastry for €2.60 right down the street.
While in Genoa, I met other travelers who stayed at this hostel, located in the historical center, and they seem satisfied with it.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have I convinced you to add Genoa to your Italian riviera itinerary? For those of you who have been, what else should I have included in this Genoa travel guide?