A self-guided walking tour itinerary of Genoa to take in many different areas of this seaside city, even if you have just a day to spare.
During the last edition of the Slow Fish festival, held in Genoa every two years, I had just one day to make the most of exploring this seafront city.
Genoa, or Genova, may be lesser-known by foreign tourists than other Italian destinations, as it’s typically a pass-through stop on the way to the Cinque Terre region further south in Liguria. But the city is worth taking the time to explore. Here, you’ll find hilltop views of the seaside, stately palaces, delicious (often fried!) seafood, and a maze of alleyways through the historic centre.
With Slow Fish coming up again this May, here’s my self-guided walking tour itinerary to take in many different areas of Genoa, even if you have just a day to spare.
Make the most of it: a guide to Genoa in a day
Start early at the fish markets
The 1930s building that houses the port-side Mercato del Pesce is typical of the simple, symmetrical yet bold architecture of Italy’s Fascist period. Inside, the catch of the day features everything from still-inky squid to giant tuna, and auctions are held right by the main doorway. Prepare for a lot of shouting as vendors sell off boxes of their goods at a time.
Stroll along the waterfront
Genoa has long been a maritime city – even today, it’s still a major coastal trading point – with its roots at the Porto Antico. Renovated in 2001, the waterfront is now more of a destination for tourists, with a dining area and museum. Strewn around the port are information points with vintage photographs and information about its evolution (spot the yellow signs to have a read). Here you’ll also find the Porta Siberia, a giant stone gate built in the 1500s that was once used as a customs space as goods made their way off boats, as well as the Bigo, a new structure that recalls cranes used to lift cargo from incoming ships. This features a glass lift for visitors, elevating guests to 40 meters for a glimpse of the city. The Neptune is docked further along the port, a replica of a 17th century galleon – a giant sailing ship – originally built for the 1986 film Pirates, which you can now climb aboard.
Head into town for tasty, fried snacks
Continue along the waterfront, cross the road, and walk towards Vico Cicala. Here, you’ll the perfect mid-morning snack stop at Antica Friggitoria Carega, a tiny tile-clad joint that opens right onto the street. It’s known for all sorts of deep-fried Ligurian morsels like alici (anchovies), frisceu (dough balls stuffed with lettuce), panisette (fried chickpea flour wedges), calamari and giant prawns, as well as farinata, a baked, savoury chickpea flour-based pancake.
Wander the caruggi
Step inside the network of caruggi – alleyways, also known as vicoli in other parts of Italy – that Genoa is so famed for throughout its waterfront old town area. Wind your way uphill through these narrow streets. The towering ocher buildings here feel as though they’re falling in on you, but they offer respite from the heat with their endless shadows.
Go to the next level
Once you’ve climbed for a while, follow the street marked Piazza delle Fontane Marose, which leads on to Via Interiano, and you’ll eventually reach the Ascensore Castelletto Levante. While the port itself is quite flat and the historic center of town has a manageable incline, Genoa extends well beyond there, right up into a steep hillside.
This ascensore – elevator – is one way of reaching those upper parts of town, and there are many other lifts like it across the city. Opened in 1909, it was recently renovated and still features its hundred-year-old glass paneling at the top entrance. A ride will set you back just €0.90 and takes you 60 meters upwards to the Castelletto neighborhood, where a lengthy lookout point called the Belvedere Castelletto lines the cliff edge.
Walk along this giant balcony for sweeping views of Genoa’s rooftops, buildings and the coastline below, revealing the contrast between the modern, industrial marina that welcomes giant shipping containers and the packed, unkempt edifices of the historic center. Strolling the lengthy walkway towards Piazza Corvetto means getting an eye-level view into residences located further downhill, where panni stesi – hung washing – is strung up between many a window of the tall buildings. Rooftop terraces filled with greenery and outdoor dining sets are a common sight.
You can also catch a funicolare – a funicular railway, which is like a cross between a tram and a lift – to get yourself uphill. There are two to choose from: the Sant’Anna Funicolare and the Zecca-Righi Funicolare.
Ogle historic UNESCO palaces
Weave back down to Via Garibaldi, home to a number of historic properties that are part of Genoa’s 114 Palazzi dei Rolli – a collection of stately properties across the city.
Forty-two of them are UNESCO-protected, and 12 can be found on this street alone. This includes the palazzi Pallavicini-Cambiaso, Pantaleo Spinola, Lercari-Parodi, Carrega-Cataldi, Angelo Giovanni Spinola, Gio Battista Spinola, Podestà, Cattaneo-Adorno, Baldassarre Lomellini, Bianco, Rosso, and Doria-Tursi, which is marked with massive flags out front. The street dates back to the mid-16th century, and is also referred to as la Via Aurea – the Golden Street – after its noble architecture.
Step into a once-noble square
Head south to Piazza San Matteo, where you’ll find the 12th century Church of San Matteo, which was once the private chapel of the local aristocratic Doria family – in fact, they originally owned the entire square. The piazza features gothic architecture, with buildings designed from striking grey and white stacked marble, sitting on three sides of the square. To see the most important church in the city, take the narrow Salita all’Arcivescovato towards Piazza San Lorenzo. It’s home to the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, also referred to as Genoa Cathedral, built in 1098.
Enjoy a late, long lunch and the right wine to finish
Nearby in the city’s main square, Piazza De Ferrari, you’ll find the modern Italian restaurant Trattoria Rosmarino. The menu rotates each day according to what’s in season, serving Ligurian classics like brandacujun – creamed baccalà (salt cod) made with potato and parsley – and the well-known trofie al pesto genovese, as well as more contemporary dishes like grilled beef medallion with pistachio and eggplant purée.
For a wine pairing, you can’t go wrong if you choose local Ligurian tipple. Genoa sits at the center of Liguria and the city is surrounded by the Val Polcevera DOC denomination, which makes whites and reds; and the zone touches Liguria’s largest wine producing territory, the Liguria Riviera di Ponente, a long, coastal area that produces fresh whites like Vermentino DOC or Pigato DOC and fruity reds like Ormeasco DOC (the local name for dolcetto) and Granaccia DOC, which is a bit richer with hints of spice.
After your meal, for wherever you need to head next, there’s the De Ferrari metro stop located conveniently around the corner.