So you’ve booked a break to the Italian Riviera. Perhaps you’re en-route to a picturesque fishing village like Portofino or Camogli, or in for a hike across the Cinque Terre. You’re due to land in Genoa, a place you haven't heard all that much about, and you’re unsure whether to stick around for a day or two.
Genoa was once Italian’s most important port, a rival to Venice. Christopher Columbus was born here, Marco Polo dictated his accounts of his travels through Asia from a Genoese Prison, and it is home to Italy’s oldest football club.
There’s no doubt about it, Genoa is a working city. It’s grubbier than Venice and Florence, but its a city with a pulse - lively, incoherent and messy. It’s crammed full of narrow carrugi, old markets, small museums and huge palaces, with a plethora of art, antiquities and delicious food.
In 24 hours you’ll barely scratch the surface of what this Medieval gem has to offer, but here are some of the highlights. Just bear in mind that this is a city without a centre. The best way to explore it is to scrap the map and to get lost.
1. MANY, MANY PALACES.
Genoa can't boast one beast of a gallery like the Uffizzi, but what it does have is a huge collection of impressive Renaissance noble houses, which house equally impressive collections of art. From the Palazzo Rosso, which is home to works from Van Dyke and Rubens, to the Palazzo Spinola, home to the World Culture Museum, Genoa has a diverse and high calibre of offerings for the culture vulture. It’s the perfect place for you to reacquaint yourself with the Renaissance.
Tip: If you only have the chance to visit one palace, visit the Palazzo Reale. This former Savoy Residence features the splendid Hall of Mirrors, which is worth the €10 entrance fee alone.
2. VILLAS AND GARDENS
Due to a mild climate and advantageous location (nestled between sea and mountains) the entire region is home to a rich and diverse variety of plantlife. Genoese Noblemen have long been taking advantage of this and, as a result, the city is littered with some beautiful villas with spectacular gardens. Some of the most scenic gardens include the Villa Durazza di Pallavicini and the Villa di Negro, which is also home to the Museum of Oriental Art. As well as an impressive collection of renaissance frescoes, the Villa di Principe comprises a huge sprawling garden
Tip: The Park of Nervi, only a twenty minute train journey away, is the largest urban park on this side of the Mediterranean. Stretching between sea and cliff, this romantic swathe of greenery is full of exotic and tropical plants and scenic landscapes, as well as a collection of beautiful villas including Villa Serra, which houses the Galleria d’Arte Moderna and Villa Grimaldi Fassio, which is home to the J.M.Woldson Collection and the Luxury Museum.
3. CHEAP FOOD
Focaccia, Pesto, Pannedolce (Genoa Cake)… Liguria has gifted the world with some of its finest foods. It’s easy to sample some of Genoas best delicacies without breaking the bank. Head to a focacceria to sample some of the best focaccia in the country. Traditionally eaten plain, but you’ll also find it sold with numerous toppings, from onions to pesto. Farinata, is another popular snack in Genoa. This gluten free, unleavened pancake made from chickpea, flour, oil and water, is cooked in a large hot circular tin and served in small slices. Pay a visit to Friggatorie and they’ll whip you up a quick lunch of fried fresh seafood or frittelle and, if you’re feeling particularly Genoese, head to a Sciamadde to sample some traditional Ligurian dishes, such as Torta Pasqualina. Finish it off with a Gelato and a passeagiata.
Top Tip: Head to the Portico di Sottoripa, the caruggi which runs parallel to the port. This arcade is stuffed full of small focacceria, pasticceria, friggatorie, gelateria and schiamadde and is the best places to sample Genoese street food.
4. FINER DINING
Proving that its not all paper bags and counter service, is Zeffrino. This establishment has been serving happy clients (Frank Sinatra was a particular fan) for over eighty years. If you fancy hanging out with the young and beautiful, head to Mua. For something a little less formal try one of the many traditional osteria dotted around the old town. Typical Ligurian dishes include Trofie al Pesto, small twirls of pasta served with pesto, small cubes of potato and Pansotti al Salsa di Noci, small pieces of stuffed pasta served with a walnut salsa fresca.
Top Tip: Try Osteria di Vico Palla for some typical Liguria fare. Specialties are written in Ligurian dialect on the blackboard.
5. WINE BARS
Genoa is bustling with wine bars, each serving enough whites, reds and plates full of cured meats and aubergine to whet your palate. Wander through the labyrinth of backstreets in the Old Town and you’ll be sure to find yourself a treat.
Top Tip: Pay a visit to Cantine Matteotti, on Archivolto Baliano. Wines of the day are scribbled on a black board and served with small plates of cold meats and bread.
For those who would want to splash some serious cash, head to Via Roma, where you’ll be greeted by familiar faces Ferragamo, Lious Vuitton and Mario Forni. For something a little less luxury, XX September houses some fabulous independent boutiques and mid-range shops.
Top Tip: It might not be Milans Gallerie Vitorio Emmanuel, but Via Garabldi 12, a lifestyle store located in an old palazzo with a whole lot of designer.
7. A VERY LARGE AQUARIUM
Fish lovers rejoice, for Genoa houses the largest Aquarium in Italy and one of the largest in Europe. Seventy tanks and 10,000metres of exhibit space to be precise. Acquario di Genova
Top Tip: Trenitalia often offer a €5 discount to those who want to visit the Aquarium. Just show your train ticket on arrival.
Genoa boasts Italy’s oldest football club, so if football is your thing, visit this Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Set against the backdrop of the mountains, its surely one of the most scenic stadiums in the world.
Top Tip: Book tickets online here, or at the Genoa Store at the Palazzina San Giobatta in the City Centre. You can also purchase them five hours ahead of the game form the stadium. Prices ranges from €15 - 50.