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What To Do in Genoa in One Day

by Valerie Vanr

Discover the opulent UNESCO Rolli Palaces and wander the historic port and winding alleys of Genoa’s Old Town.  Our Genoa guide and walking tour uncovers the top sites in Italy’s underrated port city.

What To Do in Genoa

The 4 major places to visit in the Italian city of Genoa (Genova) are:

  1. Old Port of Genoa (Porto Antico)
  2. Royal Palace Museum (Palazzo Reale)
  3. UNESCO Rolli Palaces (Palazzi dei Rolli)
  4. Historic Centre of Genoa

Genoa Itinerary

How Many Days in Genoa, Italy?

One day in Genoa is perfect to cover the major sites.  Add a second day and explore the narrow streets of the historic old town and discover its treasures.

For cruise passengers:  With only a few hours in port, nearby Old Port area offers lots to do.  With a full day, venture beyond the port to the UNESCO’s Rolli Palaces and the Royal Palace Museum.

One Day in Genoa

Our one-day itinerary showcases the best things to do in Genoa:

Two Days in Genoa (An Additional Day)

With two full days, explore Genoa’s Old Town, the city’s historic centre, discovering beautiful churches, streets and plazas.

Map of Genoa Italy

Genoa attractions map with stars and dots.
Click on the Genoa Map for an interactive version.

Start your visit in the Old Port, the heart of the city. 

Old Port of Genoa (Porto Antico)

This sheltered harbour played a key role in Genoa becoming an important maritime power.  It was the home port for Genoese merchants who traded extensively throughout the Mediterranean from as early at the 5th century BCE through the Middle Ages.  The port’s facilities continued to grow and expand through the next centuries into the early 20th century.  After World War II, port traffic moved west and the old port was practically abandoned. 

The Old Port was completely redesigned and revitalized by architect Renzo Piano for the 1992 summer Genoa Expo.  This international exposition celebrated the 500-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas.

Renzo Piano is the Genoa-born architect of the Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Shard (London), the Whitney Museum (New York) and many more.  For the expo, he designed the Aquarium, the Biosphere, the Grande Bigo and its adjoining the Piazza delle Feste and the convention centre. 

Wander the Porto Antico waterfront and enjoy world-class museums, attractions and restaurants.  We begin our walk in the west, near the cruise port.

Galata Sea Museum

Learn about Genoa’s powerful maritime history and its contribution to Italy’s past from the Middle Ages to modern day.  At Galata Museo del Mare, four floors of exhibits range from high-tech interactive to low-tech paper maps and globes. 

A large glass and steel front of Galata Sea Museum building with boats docked in front of it.
The Galata Sea Museum, the Mediterranean’s largest maritime museum, is on the spot where ships were once built. The museum has lots of exhibits in the stunning glass and steel building but also in the harbour around it.

Climb aboard reconstructions of boats that have marked maritime history from the Age of the Oar to the Age of Steam.  Discover how life at sea has changed through the ages.

See the splendid exhibit about Italian emigration to North America in the 1930s.

Visit the Nazario Sauro S518 submarine, moored in the harbour nearby.  Experience firsthand the cramped quarters inside this decommissioned military submarine.

A museum display of a diver in 20th century diving costume with ship pieces behind and air compressor in front.
Learn the history of working at sea from the Middle Ages to modern day at the Galata Sea Museum.

Continuing east along the harbour, you can’t miss the large pirate ship, Neptune.  This impressive ship is a replica of a 17th-century, Spanish galleon.  The 65-metre-long ship was built for the 1985 movie “Pirates” and was also used for the TV miniseries “Neverland”.

Climb aboard for a look at the interior of the ship. (There is a fee.)  Continue to the aquarium.

Aquarium of Genoa

Opened for the 1992 Expo, the Genoa Aquarium is one of the city’s top tourist attractions and one of the largest aquariums in Europe. 

Over 400 fish and animal species occupy more than 70 tanks.  The coral reef tanks are impressive with zebra sharks, sawfish, colourful clownfish, angelfish and other tropical species. 

There are tanks with dolphins, cute penguins and lots of interesting marine life.  The kids will love this place.

Follow the pier on the south side of the Aquarium to Barge Island (Isola delle Chiatte).  This platform is a great place to get an overall view of the area.  La Biosfera is about halfway along the pier.

Andy looking out over the water at the glass dome of Biosphere in Genoa.
Andy stopped to check out the Biosphere and the harbour on the south side of the Aquarium. The Biosphere holds a mini-ecosystem of tropical plants, butterflies, birds and more.

The Biosphere

This Renzo Piano-designed spherical, glass-and-steel structure is home to birds, butterflies, reptiles and more.

Visit this 20-metre-diameter dome and walk through a tropical rainforest ecosystem full of ferns and palms.  See over 150 species of tropical plants plus fish, birds, reptiles, butterflies and turtles.

Continue east along the waterfront to Renzo Piano’s functional work of art. 

The Grande Bigo

Enjoy a 10-minute ride in the Bigo Panoramic Lift for a spectacular aerial view of Old Port and the historic city.  The circular passenger cabin, attached to one of the Bigo’s arms, rises 40 metres above the ground and rotates 360 degrees.  An audio track describes the sites of the city as the cabin rotates.

The Bigo structure has eight arms mimicking a type of manual crane historically found on a ship’s deck.  The crane lifted heavy loads from the quay to the ship’s hold before sea containers were used for cargo.

Top of a white boat with a large metal structure with arms radiating from a central base in the water of Porto Antico, Genoa.
One of the arms of the Grande Bigo holds the passenger cabin of the Bigo Panoramic Lift. Rise and rotate 360 degrees for a breathtaking view of the entire city.

If you are planning to visit the Aquarium, the Biosphere and the Bigo Lift, the best strategy is to purchase a combination Aquarium Village ticket online.

Next door is Piazza delle Feste.  See a concert in the plaza, covered by a canopy suspended from the arms of the Bigo, during most of the year.  The concert venue is replaced by a popular outdoor ice skating rink in the winter.

If you have more time, continue walking around the port and grab a quick photo in front of the ‘Porto Antico’ tourist sign.

Val and Andy standing in front of a blue sign that says Porto Antico.
We got a picture with the Porto Antico sign and Grande Bigo in the background to remember our visit to the Old Port of Genoa.

During the summer months, enjoy the 20-metre outdoor swimming pool (piscina), next to the Magazzini del Cotone building.

This long building, originally several cotton warehouses, was redeveloped in 1992.  Inside find the conference centre, cinema, a children’s museum, a film memorabilia museum, plus several restaurants and souvenir shops.

The huge warehouses were built in 1898.  Initially all types of goods for trade were stored in them.  After WWII they were used primarily for storing cotton leading to their name Magazzini del Cotone. 

The plaza at the west end of the building is a great place to enjoy the sunset. 

See Lighthouse of Genoa (Lanterna) off in the distance.  This is one of the oldest working lighthouses in the world.  Built in 1543, the lighthouse stands 77 metres tall.  Visitors can climb the 172 steps to the top.

A silhouette of the Genoa Lighthouse at sunset with a ship in the background.
We managed to catch the Genoa Lighthouse silhouetted against the sky at sunset.

If you’re in the city for more than a day, consider visiting the lighthouse as part of the Galata Museum combination ticket.

From the Darsena Metro Station, halfway between the Galata Sea Museum and the Aquarium, the Royal Palace Museum is about a 5 minute walk north.

Royal Palace Museum (Palazzo Reale)

This is a treasure trove of art and history, offering a glimpse into the grandeur of the past.  It is a huge complex. There are more than 200 rooms in just the palace.  Other buildings in the complex functioned as a school, stables and carriage houses.  Explore the palace’s rich history and admire its architectural and artistic treasures.

I was super impressed by the Hall of Mirrors, one of the highlights of the museum.  This reception room, used for lavish parties, is adorned with intricate mirrors and frescoes that create the illusion of endless space.

Another must-see is the Throne Room. The room is dominated by a magnificent throne, carved from precious woods and adorned with gold leaf.

Ornate Hall of Mirrors with chandeliers and paintings on ceiling and sconces and mirrors on walls.
The Royal Palace’s Hall of Mirrors is impressive.
Andy standing in front of the ornate Palazzo Real, Genoa.
Andy is standing in the large courtyard at the back of the Royal Palace Museum. The wall of the stunning, red building is covered in windows to bring lots of light into the palace.

Paintings, sculptures, furniture and more are displayed throughout the museum.  These precious pieces were collected by the noble and royal families which lived in the palace between the mid-17th and early-20th centuries.

The palace was built by the wealthy, upper-class Balbi family in the mid-17th century.  The equally wealthy Durazzo family bought it in 1679.  Many of the palace’s grandiose features, such as the Hall of Mirrors, were added by the Durazzos. 

The palace was sold on the death of the last Durazzo heir.  In the early 19th century, Italy’s royal family, the powerful House of Savoy, moved in.  Many rooms, such as the throne room and the royal apartments, were renovated or added to transform the palace into a royal residence. 

The palace became the property of the Italian state in 1919, opening as a museum after the World War II.  Palazzo Reale is part of the set of Rolli Palaces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

UNESCO Rolli Palaces (Palazzi dei Rolli)

Forty-two palaces, owned by wealthy and powerful Genoese families in 16th and 17th centuries, were recognized by UNESCO in 2006.  Generally these palaces are found on Via Garibaldi, Via Balbi, Via Lomellini and Salita Santa Caterina.

By the last half of the 16th century, the Republic of Genoa was at the high point of its reign as a nautical and financial power.  The government did not have appropriate places to receive or lodge important visitors to the city.  They decreed, in 1576, that certain palaces of the wealthy would be used by the government to entertain and house visiting dignitaries. 

A large, ornately-decorated room with with many chairs and a crystal chandelier.
The sculptures, mosaics and frescoed ceiling in the Ceremonial Room, in Palazzo Doria Tursi, are from the 2nd half of the 18th century.

Each palace was noted on a register (called a rolli) which included its value and the building quality.  These criteria allowed the buildings to be divided into three categories essentially based on their level of luxury.  Each category was given a different degree of dignity of guests who would be lodged there.

Almost all of the 42 palaces can be visited by the public in some way.  Several are home to world-class museums, namely Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Doria Tursi (jointly the Strada Nuova Museums), Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria (the Palazzo Spinola National Gallery), and Palazzo Reale (the Royal Palace Museum).

Via Garibaldi (Strada Nuova)

Garibaldi Street, on the edge of the old city in the 16th century, was a planned neighbourhood.  It became the favourite address of the wealthy.  The street is lined with grand palaces, many of which are museums or art galleries and open to the public.  Via Garibaldi, part of the Palazzi dei Rolli UNESCO World Heritage Site, has one of the finest collections of Renaissance architecture in Italy.  Twelve of the Rolli Palaces are found along its roughly 250-metre length.  Originally named Strada Nuova (New Street), its name was changed in 1882 to honour Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of the architects of modern Italy.

An ornate building with people walking in front of it on Via Garibaldi, Genoa.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site called Genoa: Strada Nuova and the Rolli Palaces includes 42 palaces, the streets they line and the property around them. This is the intersection of Via Cairoli and Via Garabaldi, formerly Strada Nuova.

Three Rolli Palaces on Garibaldi Street (Rosso, Bianco and Doria Tursi) are the Strada Nuova Museums.

If you do not have a Genoa Museum Card, purchase your ticket for Strada Nuova Museums at the Museum’s Bookshop.  It is  just to the right of the entrance to Palazzo Bianco.  One ticket provides access to all 3 UNESCO-recognized palaces with over 75 rooms on various levels open to the public.  They are filled with one of the finest collections of art of the old masters.  Courtyards, gardens and terraces provide quiet spaces with views of the city’s historic centre.

We started our visit in Palazzo Russo.

Palazzo Rosso

The splendid, 17th-century Palazzo Rosso, literally a “Red” palace, showcases the luxurious home of the Brignole-Sale family.  Its lavish interiors are decorated with frescoes, stuccoes, and a remarkable collection of paintings. 

Artwork, by renowned Italian, Flemish and Dutch artists like Paolo Veronese, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri and Anthony van Dyck, provides a sense of the lifestyle and culture of Genoa’s elite during the Baroque era.

Val standing in middle of an ornate room in Palazzo Rosso with a chandelier above her.
The second floor of Palazzo Rosso features high ceilings, frescos and many paintings. I cannot imagine the chandelier above me with candles.
A painting of a cave with statues and a red carpet in Palazzo Rosso, Genoa.
The Grotto, at Palazzo Rosso, features sculptures about the founding of Rome.

Palazzo Rosso showcases incredible art but it is also a house museum.  Learn about the members of the Brignole-Sale family and their organization of the palace to give each individual family separate, sumptuous living areas.  Note their different tastes in furniture, art and decorating styles.

In 1874, Maria Brignole Sale De Ferrari, the last descendent, gifted the palace to the city.  An 8-year renovation between 1953 and 1961, necessitated due to WWII bomb damage, removed many 19th-century additions and returned many areas to their original 17th-century look. 

Palazzo Bianco

The second Strada Nuova Museum is in the White Palace.  The building was built before Strada Nuova in the early 16th century by the Grimaldi family.  In the early 18th century, it was purchased by a Brignole-Sale widow.  The palace was completely renovated and the entrance moved to the exclusive Strada Nuova.  The front was covered in white plaster so the palace became known as Palazzo Bianco.

Similar to Palazzo Rosso, the Bignole-Sale family decorated Palazzo Bianco with stunning pieces of art by Italian and northern European artists.  The palace was rented to wealthy tenants who shared this enjoyment of art treasures even adding to the collection.  Upon the death of Maria Brignole Sale De Ferrari in 1888, the palace and its artwork were bequeathed to the city of Genoa to be used as an art museum. 

Today, the major focus of the museum is Genoese art from the 16th century through to the 19th century.

Andy sitting in a chair looking at paintings in Palazzo Bianco, Genoa.
Andy enjoyed the paintings in the exhibit rooms of Palazzo Bianco.

The garden between Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Doria Tursi, the third Strada Nuova Museum, was created in the 19th century.  It incorporated the transept and central nave of a 13th-century church of the San Francesco di Castelletto convent.  Recent archaeology surveys of the site has found more church ruins and evidence of a number of tombs.  A walkway between the two palaces allows a closer look at the archaeological site.

Protected archaeological site filled with stone walls, tombstones and sarcophagi with staircase at side.
Archaeological artifacts from the ruins of a 13th-century church between Palazzos Bianco and Doria Tursi. A number of tombs were found.

Palazzo Doria Tursi

Construction began in the mid-16th century but stopped due to the owner’s financial ruin.  The unfinished palace was purchased at the end of the century by Gio Andrea Doria.  He gave it to the Dukes of Tursi who completed construction.  The Royal House of Savoy became the owners in the 19th century and decorated the interior.  Shortly after, it became the Town Hall.

The museum is on part of the second floor.  Its exhibits include tapestries, Genoese ceramics, coins, weights and official measures from the ancient Republic of Genoa.  One room is dedicated to exhibiting violins and guitars of Nicolò Paganini, the early 19th-century Italian violin virtuoso and composer.

Val looks at a guitar in a glass case in Palazzo Doria Tursi, Genoa.
I was impressed by this beautiful, 1826 guitar owned by Italian violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini. The museum displays several of his guitars and violins on the second floor of Palazzo Doria Tursi.

The impressive Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata del Vastato, while not a Rolli Palace, is at the east end of Via Baldi on the way to Via Garabaldi.  It is definitely worth stopping at.

Church of the Annunziata

This 16th-century basilica was designed for the local Franciscans in a “T”-shape with a single nave, a style typical of Franciscan churches.  Side chapels were added later along with sumptuous decorations in marble and exposed stone.  Local, wealthy families contributed to the costs of the additions and upgrades.  The church is well-known for its frescoed ceiling, white-marble columns grooved in red and its art-filled interior.

One of the art pieces is The Last Supper by Giulio Cesare Procaccini.  The canvas was completed in 1618 based on da Vinci’s Last Supper and hung in the basilica’s refectory.  In 1686 it was moved to the basilica.  A major restoration in 2013 involved removing the painting from the basilica.  They discovered that the original painting was actually two canvases sewn together lengthwise.  When the painting was moved to the basilica in 1686, three more horizontal canvases and two vertical pieces were added.

A painting of the last supper in Church of the Annunziata, Genoa.
The 17th-century Last Supper by Giulio Cesare Procaccini was based on da Vinci’s earlier masterpiece. It hangs in Genoa’s Church of the Annunziata.

Historic Centre of Genoa – A Walking Tour

Genoa’s Old Town is one of Europe’s largest, most densely populated, historic city centres.  Much of it is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site with the Rolli Palaces. 

Locals call its many narrow walkways and alleys “caruggi”.  Enjoy our easy walking tour of this beautiful historic district’s caruggi, piazzas, palaces, churches, and more.

The tour begins at another UNESCO-listed Rolli Palaces, Palazzo Spinola at #1 Piazza di Pellicceria.

The palace, built by Francesco Grimaldi at the end of the 16th century, is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture.  The palace was owned by several wealthy families from its construction to its donation to the city in 1958. 

On the first floor, the 17th-century décor choices of the Grimaldi and Pallavicinos families stand out.  The second floor showcases the realm of Maddalena Doria Spinola and her 18th-century renovation.  When the Spinola family donated the building and its contents, their express condition was that the palace be opened as a “house” museum.  These floors show how the families decorated and lived.

The National Gallery of Liguria’s art collection of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and furnishings are housed on the top two floors.  They provide insight into the artistic and cultural heritage of Genoa.

Ornate, Palazzo Spinola with green shutters and a glass door.
The Palazzo Spinola is one of the UNESCO-recognized Rolli Palaces. It houses the National Gallery of Liguria’s art collection as well as showing off the beautiful living areas of its original, aristocratic owners.

Walk south from Palazzo Spinola on Via San Luca.  The Church of San Luca, the noble parish of the Spinola and Grimaldi families, is one block south.  The church was founded in 1188 and rebuilt in the 17th century. 

Saint Luke Street ends in about 125 metres at Piazza Banchi.  Turn right and walk two blocks to the Palazzo San Giorgio, on the east side of the elevated expressway bridge opposite the Old Port. 

Palazzo San Giorgio (Saint George Palace)

A huge, colourful mural covers the entire front of the palace.

Built in 1260, the building carries the name of St. George, the patron saint of Genoa.  Originally, this was the political headquarters of the Republic of Genoa.  Over the centuries it has been used as a customs office, bank, prison and more.

Val standing in front of the ornate front of Palazzo Sao Giorgio Genoa.
I’m standing in front of the St. George Palace. This seafront side of the palace has been frescoed since the 17th century.

Today, it houses the headquarters of the Port Authority.  Unfortunately, Palazzo San Giorgio is not open to the general public except for free, guided tours given on the first Sunday of each month.  The guided tour must be reserved in advance.

See the Palazzo San Giorgio website to reserve your spot on a guided tour.  On the tour, learn the history of the building and see its beautiful interior. 

Return to Piazza Banchi and its Chiesa di San Pietro in Banchi. 

Church of St. Peter in Banchi

The church was built by the Republic of Genoa in the late 16th century.  Rooms were constructed under the sanctuary and sold to pay for the buildings demolished to build the church and its construction costs.  It became and remains known as the “church above the shops”.

Closed in 1912 for safety reasons, it was reopened in 1942 by the Missionary Fathers.  In November 1942, it was damaged in the bombing of the city.  The Fathers changed the rooms below into a church and celebrated sacred functions there.  After the war, the Fathers repaired and reconstructed the church above.

Genoa's Church of St. Peter in Banchi with people walking around in front of it.
Known as the “church above the shops”, it was built in the 16th century by the city. Its construction costs were covered by the rent charged to the merchants in the shops. The shops have come and gone over the centuries. They were busy when we visited.

Continue south to Via San Lorenzo, turn left and walk to the cathedral.

Cathedral of San Lorenzo

This beautiful, black and white church is the main cathedral of Genoa.  Built prior to the 11th century, it was renovated in the 13th century to the imposing Gothic cathedral of today.  Over the next 4 centuries work was done to complete the interior chapels and altars.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, both local and non-local artists decorated the interior with frescos, paintings and sculptures.  In 1941, a WWII bomb broke through the roof and walls of the church.  Thankfully it failed to explode.

The Treasure Museum (Museo del Tesoro) is in the underground rooms of the cathedral.  Find treasures including reliquaries and their religious relics, works of art related to St. John the Baptist, and liturgical furnishings.  One infamous artifact is the so called “Sacro Catino” or Holy Grail, used by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper.

Visit the nearby Diocesan Museum, on Via Tommaso Reggio between the cathedral and Palazzo Ducale, for more stunning works of art and a medieval cloister.

Leaving the cathedral, continue on Via San Lorenzo to Piazza Matteotti.  The entrances to both the Ducal Palace and the Santi Ambrogio e Andrea Church face this plaza.  Be sure to visit both.

Ducal Palace (Doge’s Palace)

The Palazzo Ducale is a beautiful, historic building.  Considered by many as the city’s cultural centre, the building is used for exhibitions, conferences, meetings, shows and educational activities year-round.

The ornate Ducal Palace with people standing outside of it.
Over 700 years, the Ducal Palace has been renovated many times. As the seat of government, it was the perfect symbol of the powerful Republic of Genoa.

Constructed in the late 13th century, it became the seat of the independent republic in the mid-14th century and was expanded several times.  A major renovation in the 16th century created a majestic palace, the perfect symbol for the Republic of Genoa.

A fire in the 1770s destroyed much of the central building and required lots of renovation work.  After the republic’s demise, the palace housed the city’s administration and its courthouse.  The palace is filled with art accumulated over the centuries. 

The Gesu Church

The full name of this church is Chiesa del Gesù e dei Santi Ambrogio e Andrea.

The original building was built in the 6th century.  The Jesuits, a Catholic order of priests founded in 1540, completed a full renovation of the church in 1597.  Its beautiful interior has frescoed walls and ceilings. 

The interior of Gesu Church in Genoa, Italy.
Pietro Paolo Rubens’ Circumcision, painted in 1605, hangs over the main altar. The interior of the church is filled with gilded frescoes and stunning art.
Front of Gesu Church, Genoa with people walking in front of it.
The Jesuits renovated the 6th-century church at the end of the 16th century. Note the initials IHS and the three nails inside a sunburst above the door. These are all ancient symbols of Christ and common in Jesuit churches.

The church houses many pieces of stunning artwork but two works by Flemish painter Pietro Paolo Rubens outshine them all.  Circumcision, painted in 1605, hangs over the main altar and Miracles of the Blessed Ignatius of Loyola, painted in 1619-20, is in a side chapel.

Walk out of the church and turn right toward the Piazza de Ferrari, the city’s central square.

Piazza de Ferrari

With a huge, bronze, circular fountain in the centre surrounded by buildings with beautiful architecture. this square is a favourite of photographers.  The fountain was built in 1936.

Fountain in Genoa's Piazza de Ferrari surrounded by ornate buildings.
This beautiful fountain in Genoa’s central square, Piazza de Ferrari, was built in 1936it soon and has become a symbol of Genoa.

When coming into the plaza from the Gesu Church, the Palazzo Ducale is on the left.  Look straight ahead, over the fountain, to the north side of the square.  The building, behind the equestrian statue, is Teatro Carlo Felice.  This world-class venue has been the home of the opera, ballet and symphony since 1827.  The building was heavily damaged during WWII.  Its rebuilding and renovation was finally completed in 1991.  Guided tours of Carlo Felice are available and must be booked in advance.

Looking to shop?  Just beyond the theatre (to the northeast) is the Galleria Giuseppe Mazzini.  It is a glass-covered walkway, parallel to the Via Roma with plenty of shops along its length.  Built between 1870 and 1880, it is similar to the Vittorio Emanuele Gallery in Milan.

A statue of Garibaldi on a horse in front of Teatro Carlo Felice Genoa.
Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa’s famous opera house, is on Piazza de Ferrari behind this statue of a mounted Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of the architects of modern Italy.
Val standing in front of Palazzo della Nuova Borsz Valori, Genoa.
I’m standing in front of the “New” stock exchange building, Palazzo della Nuova Borsa Valori, which has been an event space since the early 2000s.

There’s even more shopping along Via XX Settembre, which exits Piazza de Ferrari almost due east along the north side of Palazzo della Nuova Borsa Valori.

Continue clockwise around the Piazza de Ferrari to the distinctive, rounded façade of Palazzo della Nuova Borsa Valori.  In 1912, the Stock Exchange moved to its newly completed home.  Inside, the huge Sala delle Grida with its marble columns, was the trading floor until the exchange closed in 1998.  Today the space is used for exhibitions and conferences.

Our walking tour exits the square on Via Dante (to the southeast). Continue to a quaint, 18th-century building.

Christopher Columbus’ House and St. Andrew Cloister

This popular tourist attraction, just outside the old city walls, celebrates the famous explorer who was born in Genoa. 

Historians believe that this is not the actual home of the Columbus family.  Their original home was likely destroyed during the French bombing of Genoa in 1684.  This building is an 18th-century reconstruction of the home Columbus lived in between the ages of 4 and 9 years old.

The small museum shows life in the medieval era.  The ground floor depicts the shop where Columbus’ father sold fabrics.  The floor likely also held the family kitchen.  The second floor, where the bedrooms were, contains small exhibits about the life and explorations of Christopher Columbus.

We decided to skip this attraction and visited the cloister behind the house.

The brick front of the Christopher Columbus House with an Italian flag on it.
This is an 18th-century reconstruction of the house Christopher Columbus spent the early years of his life in.
Sets of columns outline ancient St. Andrew Cloister.
The St. Andrew Cloister, with the towers of Porta Soprana in the background, is all that remains of an 11th-century monastery demolished at the beginning of the 20th century.

The St. Andrew’s Cloister is all that remains of a medieval church and monastery.  They stood on a hill which was located where the Bank of Italy building stands to the northwest.  In the early 1900s, the 11th-century church and monastery were demolished, but the Romanesque cloister was dismantled and removed.  The cloister we see today was reconstructed in the 1920’s.

Right behind the cloister is the imposing, two-towered, Porta Soprana.  

Porta Soprana City Gate

This was the main entrance to the ancient city from the east.  It was one of three gates along the walls of the 12th-century, fortification system, built to protect the city from an anticipated assault.  The system was so formidable that the attack didn’t happen. There was negotiation instead, likely unusual in the 12th century. The gate was restored in the early 20th century.  The towers are closed to the public. 

Old city gate, Porta Soprana, with two towers in the middle of a city.
Porta Soprana, built in the 12th century, was one of 3 gates in the defensive walls built around early Genoa. The gate is protected by tall towers on either side, perfect for defending against attackers. On the inside, visible to residents, there are beautiful marble columns with decorative tops.

Depending on your time and interest, we have three options for the end of your walk:

  1. It’s shopping time or you’re done for the day?  Return to Piazza de Ferrari.  Enjoy the shopping in the streets around the plaza or hop on the Metro to return to your hotel or cruise ship.
  1. Want a panoramic view of the city from above?  There are two options north of the Historic Centre.
  1. Interested in the birthplace of the Genoa? Visit Castello Hill. 

Castello Hill

Archeaological evidence from the area suggests it was settled around 2700 years ago.  Walls were added about 200 years later.  The area remained fortified gaining its name “castello”.  During the 15th century, the hill came under the control of the bishop which allowed a number of fraternities and monastic orders to gain land on the hill. 

By the 18th century, there were 8 different monasteries creating a closed, independent community.  Government suppression of monasteries and convents, in the late 18th century, led to the area being abandoned by all except the Dominicans who remained at Santa Maria de Castello.

The hill was heavily bombed between 1942 and 1944 and left practically abandoned.  Reconstruction and restoration of Santa Maria de Castello and construction of the University of Genoa campus brought the neighbourhood back to life.

To get to the hill from Porta Soprana, walk through the gate back into the old city.  Take a slight left onto the pedestrian street Salita del Prione.  At Via S. Donato turn left and continue.  It becomes Via di San Bernardo.  After about 270 metres, turn left onto Via Biagio and continue onto Salita di Santa Maria di Castello.  Keep left and the church is around the corner.  The total walk is about 500 metres/5 minutes.

The church of Santa Maria di Castallo in Genoa, italy.
Castello Hill was once a religious community with 8 separate monasteries. The Dominicans of Santa Maria di Castello were the only ones to remain after the 18th century. Their lovely basilica is filled with religious art.

Santa Maria di Castello

The complex of Santa Maria di Castello is a 12th-century Romanesque-style basilica with a convent and museum.  The first church was built on the site in the 7th century.  In the 15th century, it was given to the Dominicans.  The building is of historical and architectural interest and known for its beautiful frescoes and paintings.

To see more beautiful paintings, manuscripts and frescoes, visit the adjoining museum occupying rooms of the convent and three cloisters.

Nearby are the ruins of a 15th-century church.  Exit the building, turn right and walk around to Via di Santa Maria di Castello.  The ruins are in about 70 metres.

Church of Santa Maria in Passione

The church was built by the Augustinian nuns of Santa Maria in Passione.  The nuns were forced to close the convent at the end of the 18th century. It became the property of the city and was used for a number of different purposes until it was almost completely destroyed during WWII.  The ruins are an archaeological site.

Front of church of Santa Maria in Passione ruins with steps leading up to it.
The 15th-century church was built by Augustinian nuns. It was severely damaged by bombing during World War II and is now an archaeological site.

Continue to the end of the street and turn right.  The alley leads to Piazza di Santa Cruce and the Sarzano/Sant’Agostino metro station.

North of the Historic Centre – A View from above Genoa

In the area north of Old Genoa and Via Garibaldi, there are several opportunities to see Genoa from “up above”.  Both of the sites are accessed from Piazza del Portello Square, one block north of Via Garibaldi’s eastern end.

To get to Piazza del Portello from Porta Soprana, return to Piazza de Ferrari.  Exit the square to the north on Via Roma.  Continue onto Via XXV Aprile then onto Piazza delle Fontane Marose which becomes Via Interiano. The street ends at Piazza del Portello.  This route is about a 10-minute/800-metre walk.

Belvedere Castelletto

Take the elevator, Ascensore Castelletto Levante, on the west side of the plaza or walk up the steep Salita San Gerolamu to the hilltop park.  From this terrace enjoy the beautiful views of the historic centre below and the Old Port off in the distance.

Villetta Di Negro Park

Walk up the Salita delle Battistine to the Piazza dei Cappuccini and the park entrance.  This 2-hectare, botanical garden was started over 150 years ago.  There are several huge plane trees and three sequoias dating back to the foundation of the park.  Look for the waterfall and the Edoardo Chiossone Oriental Art Museum.  The museum, opened in 1905 in the reconstructed villa, has one of Europe’s largest collections of Japanese art.

A red cable car train is going down the funicular track in Genoa.
The Sant’Anna Funicular has been in use since 1891 and only began running using electricity in 1980.

For a fun ride to the top, take the Sant’Anna Funicular (Funicolare Sant’Anna Portello-Bertani) from Piazza del Portello to Bertrani Station beside Giardini Aldo Acquarone.  We rode up and walked down the hill along the pretty tree-lined Via Agostino Bertani to Piazza dei Cappuccini and Villetta Di Negro Park.  The funicular opened in 1891 with a unique counterbalance system using water to raise and lower the car.  The system was completely replaced with the modern electric system in 1980.  The funicular climbs 54 metres over its 357 metre track length.

Genoa Hotels

Looking for accommodation in Genoa?  Check out these great options.

Know Before You Go – Visiting Genoa

Get a Museum Card

If you are planning to see multiple museums in one day, we recommend getting the Genova Museum Card.  This 24-hour card allows you access to 28 city museums.  Visit the Museums in Genoa website for more information.

How do you get around Genoa?

By Subway:  While the subway system is very limited, with only a single line running through the city, it will get you close to where you need to go.  For example, to get to the Historic Centre we took the subway from the Principe station (near the Cruise Port) to the De Ferrari station.

By Bus: Bus tickets can be purchased at the train stations and at the tabacchi (tobacconists).  Look for the AMT company sign.

Genoa Hop-on Hop-off Bus

The Genoa Hop-on Hop-off Bus is a great option for those who want the ease and convenience of quickly seeing the major sites of the city.  For cruise passengers this is especially important in order to see all the highlights in a limited time.  Purchase your ticket here before you arrive in port.

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