The city center of Genova is a labyrinthic patch of small alleys flanked by tall buildings on both sides. It’s like being in a maze, where each road brings you to something new, something unknown If that sounds amazing to you as it does for us, this is a city for you. Walk around, get lost, find new paths and new angles, every part of this town is just a hidden gem waiting for being discovered by you.
Highlights of our walk around Genova City Center
That’s the spirit we had when we started visiting the city. We designated a set of waypoints, places we knew we wanted to see, and then let our instinct connecting the dots! Join us on our adventure!
Delicious tip: be safe, avoid to walk in the small alleys during the night. The city started working on creating a safe environment for tourists, but it’s a hard task. Enjoy the city during the day!
Starting point: Stazione di Piazza Principe
Easy enough, our starting point was the central train station, as we slept in a nearby hotel (Hotel Della Porta Nuova, which we strongly suggest!). From there, we took Via Balbi, a nice road with little traffic connecting the station to Piazza della Nunziata. There’s a choice to make here, depending on the weather. As the sky was menacing a bit of rain, we decided to visit Museo di Palazzo Reale first; hence we went down via Balbi. Another possibility would be to go toward the sea and reach Via di Pré, one of the most famous “carrugi” (the name of the small roads) of the city.
Via Balbi and Museo di Palazzo Reale
Palazzo Reale is a 17th-century palace where the Italian Royal family used to stay when visiting the city. The building itself is an example of classic North-Italian baroque, with stucco works and frescos. Not to miss the hall of mirrors, a cute poor man’s version of the one in Versaille. There is a closed door for accessing the terrace, open it and head outside for a beautiful perspective over the internal facade of the building. Following via Balbi, do not miss to get in the university. You can enter and visit the main halls (with some limitations of course!).
Piazza della Nunziata
In Piazza della Nunziata, we visited the majestic church dominating the square, a 17th-century cathedral with typical baroque decorations. It’s not a style we like, but it’s still worth a 5 minutes tour!
If the sun is shining (well, if it’s not raining at least!) we suggest a visit to Belvedere Castelletto, a famous landmark where to admire Genova city center from above. We decided to arrive there by feet. Our walk passed through Salita della Rondinella; you may have to open a couple of gates (the lock is on the outer side of the door), but don’t worry, you are allowed to do so! Another possibility would be to get the public elevator from Piazza Portello. The panorama from Belvedere Castelletto is lovely. We could admire the colorful buildings of the city, the port with its famous lighthouse, called “Lanterna”, and the sea with its endless traffic of boats carrying goods and passengers all around the world.
Descending from the Belvedere, we headed to Via Garibaldi. Now, this UNESCO world heritage site deserves a special mention. Via Garibaldi (or Strada Nuova, as it was called before) is one of the first examples of modern urban architecture in the world. For the first time in the world, several wealthy families joined together and started building their own manors one next to each other, right in the city center. What may look trivial to us, it was the absolute opposite in medieval times, when noble families preferred to build their own mansions in the countryside. Via Nuova is the starting point of modern European urban civilization, it’s the ancestor of every single main street you may walk in every European city. Oxford Street, Via Monte Napoleone, Avenue Montaigne, Bahnhofstrasse, even 5th Avenue is a child of these 250 meters of paved road.
Rubens, the Flemish painter, designed the street in 1550. On both sides, ancient palaces cast their shadows one against each other. Most of them are now private institutions, but you can still visit the inner courtyard.
There are three buildings open to the public: Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Doria Tursi. They are part of a single museum, called “Musei di Strada Nuova“. The tickets are sold at Palazzo Rosso, it’s an easily recognizable building thanks to its red facade (Rosso in Italian translates as red).
We absolutely recommend a visit there. Sure, the paintings on display were not our personal favorites (mainly, it’s a collection of 16th and 17th century paintings) but the museum is the host of one of the best statues from Antonio Canova, the neoclassical sculptor. The Maddalena Penitente is a breathtaking work. The beauty of the girl is put in striking contrast with her facial expression, evidencing her awareness of her sin. Contrary to most of the artworks, there is no barrier between the viewer and the sculpture, so that we could look at the statue from every perspective.
Other than the statue, the main reason for visiting the museum is the possibility to access the panoramic terraces. The terrace from Palazzo Rosso offers an extraordinary panorama over the city. The building is in the city center rather than above, allowing to get a more intimate view of the place, especially when the sun is shining. The other terrace is connecting Palazzo Bianco with Palazzo Doria Tursi. Rather than a scenic spot, this is really a green oasis in the middle of the city, with a fantastic view of Palazzo Rosso directly in front of us and a gorgeous view over Via Garibaldi.
Lunch break: Antica Friggitoria Carega
Hungry? Well, we were, a lot. Antica Friggitoria Carega was our choice for lunch. Arriving there from Via Garibaldi is not trivial, especially if you, like us, try to avoid the main roads. But do not despair, and remember: when you feel lost, take the downhill road: you’ll soon reach the sea and the port!
We took the opportunity to take an after-lunch stroll around the harbors. This is the location of the famous Aquarium, the second largest aquarium in Europe. We suggest a visit there only if you are interested or if you have kids, as the entry fee is quite high. Nevertheless, you can walk around the beautiful structure designed by Renzo Piano, a native of the city. Near the aquarium other two works from the same architect, the “Biosfera”, a bubble-shaped zoo, and the “Bigo”, a crane with a panoramic elevator (we think the view from there is worse than the one from Palazzo Rosso, though).
Piazza de Ferrari is one of those places you can’t really miss during a visit to the city. It’s a celebration of a time when Genova was one of the richest cities in the world, fighting for the primate of “Queen of the Seas” with the other maritime republics. Two main buildings face the square. Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) was the home of the Doge, the ruler of the Republic of Genoa. In front of it, as a metaphor of the source of power and a warning for the ruler, the stock exchange building.
Piazza della Vittoria
From Piazza de Ferrari we wanted to reach another famous spot in the city, Piazza della Vittoria. Moreover, the road back and forth to the Piazza allowed us to notice how the architecture style of the eastern side of the city is entirely different from what we experienced before.
The urbanization of this neighbor (called Carignano), in fact, happened in the second half of XIXth century. The small roads make way to monumental avenues, surrounded by beautiful neoclassical buildings. Via XX Settembre, the main street connecting Piazza de Ferrari with Piazza della Vittoria, has arcades on both sides, built at the beginning of the XX century, to allow pedestrians to do shopping independently from the weather.
You don’t really need to reach the square, you can stop at the Ponte Monumentale, the monumental crossing halfway on the road. The only interesting bit in Piazza della Vittoria is the so-called Scalinata delle Caravelle, a scenic stairway with a (bad) representation of the ships used by Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus). There are far better spots in the city to lose time for getting there.
Heading back to the city center, we passed through Piazza di Carignano and reached Porta Soprana, the last remains of the round of walls protecting the city during the Middle Ages. As thousands of people over the centuries, we passed under the gates to return to the medieval town, where we could again get lost among the beautiful small roads.
Delicious tip: next to Porta Soprana there is Christopher Colombus House Museum. It’s fake. The house was destroyed in the XVIIth century, and this is a reconstruction. With so many beautiful things around the city, we feel this is a place to avoid. You don’t come to Italy for fake antiques!
Chiesa San Donato
Tucked in a small square among the buildings, the church of San Donato is the best-preserved example of Genoan Romanesque architecture in the city. It’s been built at the beginning of the 11th century and enlarged one century later. The interior keeps the original structure, as well as the original decor based on the juxtaposition of black and white stones. The atmosphere is intimate and personal, far away from the gothic architecture we can find in northern Europe, with its airy and light spaces.
All in all, Genova is a lovely city where to spend a weekend. Its city center is beautiful, and walking around the city is pleasant. Of course, because of the lack of important museums, rain may have a significant impact on your holiday. In case, maybe the Aquarium becomes a viable option!