In the northern part of Italy, nestled along the charming Italian Riviera, is the historic port city of Genoa. With its rich maritime heritage, historic narrow streets lined with colourful architecture, and delicious cuisine, one day in Genoa offers a rewarding experience for travellers seeking a true taste of Italy.
One day in Genoa is enough to explore some of its treasures: marvel at the Rolli Palaces, relax at Piazza De Ferrari and find Columbus’ house. Then discover the city’s hidden charms: take the lift to the Spianata di Castelletto, navigate the maze-like Medieval quarter, and explore the Porto Antico.
From hidden gems to a relaxed ambiance that encourages you to slow down and enjoy the moment, Genoa holds the key to a memorable visit. Join us as we share with you our authentic experience of one day in this surprising city and uncover the treasures that awaited us in every corner.
What’s the Best Way to Explore Genoa?
For us, Genoa was a chance discovery as the port happened to be the first destination on our MSC World Europa Mediterranean cruise. If you have discovered our website before, you will know that we usually love to travel by backpack and seek out authentic travel experiences. The cruise was an experiment to see if it was possible to have authentic travel experiences from a cruise ship base.
Even though we had just one day in Genoa (8 hours on land), we chose to discover the city independently on foot. We believe that walking the streets is the best way to meet local people, immerse yourself in a city’s sights and sounds and make spontaneous discoveries that often turn out to be the most memorable experiences.
Thanks to Genoa’s conveniently compact size and a helpful walking tours map (available from the Tourist Office just outside the cruise terminal), we managed to optimise our time exploring the city and saw a surprising amount. In fact, we walked a healthy 13 km during our one day in Genoa!
However, if you want to save your energy or have even less time to spend in Genoa, the Tourist Office offers a convenient solution with their Metrominuto tours. These Metro tours provide a practical alternative for exploring Genoa by public transport whilst minimising the strain on your legs!
How to Spend One Day in Genoa
During our one day in Genoa, we explored the waterfront of the Port Antico and the narrow streets of the Medieval quarter. We also had time to discover the historic Rolli Palaces, relax by the fountain in the Piazza De Ferrari and enjoy the panoramic views from the Spianata di Castelletto.
One Day in Genoa Itinerary
Read on to discover our one day in Genoa itinerary in which we share our authentic experience of discovering this interesting city with tips to help you make the most of your visit and enjoy some of the sights for free.
1. Discover Genoa Old Port (Porto Antico)
Our one day in Genoa started at the cruise ship terminal so it was a natural choice to walk along the waterfront and visit the Porto Antico first. It took about 20 minutes to reach the old port from the cruise ship terminal and it was a relaxing way to reach the city centre.
Although the Porto Antico was once a busy maritime port, today it is quite touristic and is home to many attractions, entertainment spots, and places to eat.
Whilst we enjoyed our walk along the waterfront seeing what was here, we chose not to pay to visit any of the Porto Antico attractions. We preferred spending our time exploring the historical centre (centro storico). However, in the Porto Antico area we did find a couple of gems (street art and the Palazzo Giorgio) that shouldn’t be missed and you can find details of how to find them at the end of the list below.
One of the good things about the Porto Antico is that you can soak up many of the sights and sounds for FREE from the quayside (check out the tips below). However, if you have kids, there are plenty of fun things to keep them entertained during one day in Genoa.
Here are some of the interesting things you could see and do in the Porto Antico:
Galata Musem of the Sea (Galata Museo del Mare)
An interesting museum about maritime history that has many artefacts including a replica of a 17th century galley, documents signed by Christopher Columbus (who was born in Genoa) and the chance to board a real submarine – the S518 Nazario Sauro.
TIP: We enjoyed the sight of the submarine and other maritime artefacts for FREE as there is an open-air display in the small marina to the left of the museum.
An eye-catching and beautiful reconstruction of a 17th century pirate ship built for a 1986 film by Roman Polanski called “Pirates”!
TIP: We enjoyed the sight of this magnificent sailing ship from the quay for FREE as the Galeone Neptune is moored right beside the promenade at the Porto Antico.
Genoa Aquarium (Acquario di Genova)
The largest aquarium in Europe with impressive exhibits that are beautifully presented.
TIP: The queues to buy tickets at the aquarium were quite long when we visited Genoa in the summer months, so we recommend that you buy your tickets online in advance. To avoid disappointment on the day, click here to buy time-stamped skip-the-line tickets with GetYourGuide.
Tropical Biosphere (Biosfera)
A tropical forest built in a dome made of steel and glass that is suspended over the sea.
TIP: We admired the architecture of the tropical Biosphere for FREE from the quayside to the left of the aquarium.
Bigo Panoramic Lift
A lift that offers a 360-degree view of the city.
TIP: To enjoy panoramic views of Genoa, we opted to head into the city and took the lift to the Spianata di Castelletto for FREE!
Genoa Street Art – Sopraelevata Underpass
As we left the Porto Antico and headed towards the medieval quarter of Genoa, we walked under the elevated Sopraelevata road. Here we spotted some cool street art that had been sprayed on the steel columns and girders.
Palazzo San Giorgio
Directly opposite the Porto Antico, we discovered a more traditional style of painting.
The Palazzo San Giorgio is a magnificent, restored Renaissance building covered with a frescoed façade that features St George slaying the dragon. In keeping with its long maritime history, the building now houses the Western Ligurian Sea Port System Authority.
2. Roam the Medieval City of Genoa (centro storico)
The historic centre (centro storico) of Genoa is one of the most extensive medieval historic centres in Europe and is the most densely populated. The medieval part of Genoa is a maze of narrow alleys or caruggi that criss-cross the city, so we were excited to explore the passageways, get lost and make some interesting discoveries.
Arched Porticoes of Sottoripa
Immediately behind the Palazzo San Giorgio, you can access the medieval part of the city. On the outskirts, we discovered a tiny market selling local produce and an intriguing porticoed street (Via di Sottoripa) with small shops, bars and restaurants that is said to be the oldest arcade in Italy dating to 1125.
Narrow Caruggi & Local Specialties
Our culinary journey continued as we wandered into the maze-like streets and passages of the medieval city called caruggi.
Lining these paved streets were more authentic small artisan shops making fresh pasta and a local Genovese specialty called Piesta. This was a delicious rectangle of lightly salted puff pastry filled with fresh Pesto made from basil, pine nuts, parmesan garlic and olive oil!
As we continued to explore the narrow streets of the medieval city, tall buildings in earthy colours loomed over our heads with dark green shutters and strings of washing flapping in the breeze.
In this part of the city, you never knew what you might find. We suddenly stumbled upon low circular chapels that were squeezed improbably in the limited space between residential dwellings. Then, at the next turn, we unexpectedly found ourselves in small piazzas or squares.
San Lorenzo Cathedral
Within the medieval city, halfway up the Via San Lorenzo, we came across the Gothic San Lorenzo Cathedral.
The exterior of the cathedral has a very bold striking grey and white stone striped façade and rather sorrowful-looking lions guarding the staircase.
Inside the cathedral are many treasures including the Sacro Catino – an emerald-coloured glass dish that some believed to be the Holy Grail.
Piazza Matteotti & the Palazzo Ducale
The Via San Lorenzo leads to the Piazza Matteotti where we were able to admire the façade of the Palazzo Ducale, formerly the Doge’s Palace from 1339.
The Palazzo Ducale is an impressive building with 32 marble columns and 8 intriguing statues. It turns out that these statues represent enemies of Genoa who were defeated and imprisoned in the past. Clearly, a warning to others with ideas about seizing power!
Less dramatically, the Palazzo Ducale is today the city’s cultural centre that features temporary art exhibitions.
3. Unwind and Refresh at the Piazza De Ferrari
The Piazza De Ferrari is regarded as ‘the heart of the city’ of Genoa. There is an impressive fountain in the centre of the Piazza De Ferrari making it a great place to relax and cool down. It was clearly a place where locals and tourists mingle together, taking time out before continuing with their day.
Surrounding the square were beautiful buildings including the grand painted façade of the Palazzo Ducale, the domed Palazzo della Borsa (the former stock exchange), the arched-fronted seat of the Ligurian Regional Administration and the Carlo Felice Opera House.
Sitting at a café to the side of the Carlo Felice Opera House was a great place to stop, rest our feet and soak up the atmosphere of the Piazza De Ferrari.
The Piazza De Ferrari is also a meeting point of many important streets. From the square, several of Genoa’s caruggi lead back down to the medieval part of the city and Genoa’s main street starts here – the Via XX Settembre. However, we decided to walk along the Via Dante in search of Christopher Columbus’ house.
En route, we found what must be one of the most impressive banks in the world! The lemon-coloured covered walkways in front of the Banca d’Italia were just magnificent and unlike any other bank we know!
4. Trace Christopher Columbus’ Footsteps: Porta Soprana and His Former Home
Since Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, we decided we couldn’t miss a quick visit to the house where he grew up.
After a short 5-minute walk from the Piazza De Ferrari we arrived at the Via di Porta Soprana. Here we found the 18th century reconstruction of the original medieval building that was Columbus’ home.
Once we had viewed the exterior of Christopher Columbus’ house, we also had a quick explore of the Cloister of Sant’Andrea next door which are the remains of a 12th century monastery.
Conveniently, Columbus’ house is also situated just outside the medieval walls of the city, so we took the opportunity to walk through the Porta Soprana gates and to see the Barbarossa Walls. These were built in the 12th century to defend Genoa from the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Frederick Barbarossa (aka Red Beard)!
Of course, when in Italy, you have to eat gelato! As we circled back to the Piazza De Ferrari through the caruggi, we found a great ice cream parlour called La Cremeria Delle Erbe tucked away at the end of the Piazza del Erbe. They had a great choice of flavours at a great price and the ice cream was delicious!
5. Ascend in Style: The Art Nouveau Lift to Spianata di Castelletto’s Stunning Vista
To enjoy one of the best panoramic views over the whole of the centro storico, the port and the surrounding hills, we headed to the Spianata di Castelletto. The Spianata di Castelletto is a ‘balcony’ or terrace that is located uphill from the centre of Genoa and reached by an enchanting Art Nouveau lift that transports you back in time.
To find the lift to the Spianata di Castelletto, we snaked our way from the Piazza De Ferrari through the narrow passageways towards the Piazza delle Fontane Marose. We crossed over this square and arrived at the Piazza del Portello.
Tucked away in the corner of the Piazza del Portello, right next to the busy Galleria Giuseppe Garibaldi tunnel is the unassuming entrance of the lift to the Spianata di Castelletto. It is easily missed!
At the end of a magnificent corridor carved out of the hillside, we took the lift for free to the residential neighbourhood of Castelletto. Perched high above the rooftops of the city is a large open viewing platform called the Spianata di Castelletto with stunning views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea.
It was so refreshing to be in such a wide-open space after the more claustrophobic warren of Genoan streets below. We loved sitting up here under the shade of the trees, enjoying the views and tranquillity after the hustle and bustle of the city below. There was also a village feel to this area and some incredibly beautiful houses with stunning views!
6. Experience Royalty: Via Garibaldi & the Splendour of Rolli Palaces
Close to the lift for the Spianata di Castelletto is the Via Garibaldi or Strada Nuova as it was known in the 16th century.
Lining this narrow road is an unbelievable treasure trove of stunning 16th and 17th century palaces called the Rolli palaces that once belonged to Genoese nobles. Incredibly, there are 42 palaces in Genoa that are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites!
As we walked along the Via Garibaldi admiring the beautiful façades and architecture of the Rolli palaces, the air was filled with a string musician playing in the street creating a magical atmosphere.
Although some of the palaces are now art museums, you can still enter the Palazzo Tursi (or Palazzo Grimaldi) without paying.
As you enter the courtyard of the Palazzo Tursi and climb the stairs to the upper arched gallery, you can really appreciate the grandeur of these palaces and imagine what life might have been like living along this street full of noble residences that welcomed royalty and other important people.
Final Thoughts on our One Day in Genoa …
Our day in Genoa, was an incredible day full of surprising discoveries. We set foot in this city with no prior knowledge and embarked on a walking adventure that revealed countless interesting sights that intrigued and inspired us at every turn. Where else can you take an Art Nouveau lift to a balcony suspended above a city that is home to so many beautiful palaces? Genoa truly captivated our hearts with its vibrant atmosphere and abundant charms, making this an authentic Italian experience that we will remember.