In the heart of the Italian Riviera, the medieval port town of Genoa is famous not only as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, but also for its regal heritage. Here are our picks for the city’s must-see palaces.
Things to do in Genoa
Welcome to Genoa
Bustling Genoa, with its commanding position on the Ligurian Sea, has long been one of the most important port cities in Europe. It's the capital of the Liguria region, a major transportation hub, and the gateway to the Italian Riviera. Board a hop-on hop-off tour to learn about the city’s port industrial structures and the ornately decorated buildings in old town (part of which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site). Along Via Garibaldi, you’ll see a number of gorgeous palazzi built in the 16th and 17th centuries, some now housing museums. Other highlights worth a stop include one of Europe's largest aquariums, located right on the waterfront; the iconic fountain in Piazza De Ferrari; the Bigo, offering 360-degree views of the city; and the picturesque Lanterna lighthouse. Food tours are a popular option as well, including a visit to the oldest confectionery shop in Europe, family-run since its founding in 1780. For a full immersion into the city’s charms, check out a week-long Italian language and gourmet-food package. Side-trip options include the old fishing town of Boccadasse less than an hour away; the picturesque villages of the Cinque Terre, a 1.5-hour train ride from Genoa; and colorful Portofino, a little less than two hours away by a train-bus combination.
Top 10 attractions in Genoa
Genoa's cathedral is dedicated to St. Lawrence – or San Lorenzo in Italian – and there are a few names you might see that all mean this same church. The Genoa Cathedral, St. Lawrence Cathedral, the Genoa Duomo, or the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo – all of those refer to the same place. Originally founded in the 5th or 6th century, the San Lorenzo Cathedral was built in the early 12th century. It was partly rebuilt in the early 14th century – including the completion of the facade – and there are internal features that have been added since then. Those with a keen eye for architectural styles will no doubt notice the different time periods represented both inside and out....
Most Italian cities have so many busy piazzas it's hard to tell which one is the main square. In Genoa, the Piazza de Ferrari is that main square – and once you're there, it's easy to understand why. The expansive Piazza de Ferrari sits right in the city center, between the historic district and the more modern part of downtown, and many important buildings face the piazza. Around the square you'll find the Palazzo Ducale (although the main entrance is on another piazza around the corner), the gorgeous former stock exchange building, and the Teatro Carlo Felice - Genoa's opera house. The Piazza de Ferrari is named for Raffaele de Ferrari, a 19th century Italian nobleman who once lived in a palazzo near the square. His wife was the one who bequeathed the Palazzao Rosso and Palazzo Bianco – once private homes owned by her family – to the city of Genoa upon her death to be used as public museums....
One of the most famous historic streets in the center of Genoa is the Via Garibaldi. This street has had a few names over the centuries, but it's always been a fashionable address. What we know today as Via Garibaldi was first built in the mid-1500s, when it was called Strada Maggiore – or “Great Street.” Later, it became known as “Strada Nuova,” or “New Street.” It was renamed in 1882 for Italy's great revolutionary leader, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and in 2006 the street and the historic palaces on it were added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. From the time when the Via Garibaldi was first designed and built, it was intended to be a street upon which the wealthy families of Genoa would build their homes. The street was soon lined with palaces, each occupied by a noble family, and many passed down through generations and hundreds of years....
From the 14th through the 18th centuries, the rulers of Genoa were called doges, and they ruled from the Doge's Palace – the Palazzo Ducale in Italian – in the historic city center. Today, the palace is open to the public as a museum. The Palazzo Ducale was built starting in the 1250s, although the finishing touches on the building weren't complete until the 1530s. The palace once served as both the residence for the ruling doge and the offices from which he would govern the Republic of Genoa. The palace was added to at various points over the years, and partially rebuilt twice (once after a fire in the 1770s). There are two main entrances to the Palazzo Ducale. The main entrance is on the Piazza Matteotti, and a secondary entry is on the famous Piazza de Ferrari. Today, the palace serves various civil functions. There are regular exhibitions held in the palace, including visiting contemporary art shows, as well as a couple of large halls that are often used for events....
The Castelletto neighborhood of Genoa gets its name from a small castle that once stood on the hill. The castle was destroyed in the late 19th century, but the view from the hill remains excellent – particularly if you're at the “Spianata.”...
Genoa’s Palazzi dei Rolli are a group of 42 residences, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, that were listed on the city’s register. When notable guests came to visit Genoa on a state visit, a lottery was used to determine which palace would host the guest. Today, these palaces—out of 163 total homes—are a UNESCO World Heritage Site....
In many cases, the names of notable buildings in Italy can seem arbitrary. With the Palazzo Rosso in Genoa, however, the reason for the name is quite clear as soon as you see it – it is a palace, and it's red. The Palazzo Rosso was built as a private home in the 1670s for the Brignole-Sale family. They owned the palazzo for 200 years before the last member of the family to live there decided to give it to the city of Genoa. The palace is on Via Garibaldi in the historic city center of Genoa – part of the city that's on the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing – among several other palaces originally built for prominent local families....
One of the iconic symbols of the city of Genoa is its old lighthouse, commonly called La Lanterna, which still serves as the city's primary lighthouse today. La Lanterna stands on a hill not far from the city center of Genoa near the Sampierdarena neighborhood. The first lighthouse tower built on this site was erected in roughly 1128, far from what was then the city of Genoa and lit by burning dried wood. The tower was damaged over the years by warring families and by bombs during war, and the lighthouse we see today dates from a major reconstruction in 1543. The light inside La Lanterna required some form of human involvement until 1913, when the first electric light was installed. The light was fully automated in 1936. The lighthouse tower is nearly 250 feet tall, making it the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the world. It's also one of the world's oldest standing structures....
Genoa is a large Italian city with several individual neighborhoods that each have their own history and identity. One of those neighborhoods is the Boccadasse, located on the waterfront to the east of the Genoa city center. The Boccadasse neighborhood is at one end of the promenade called the Corso Italia, which makes it easy to visit from central Genoa – particularly on a nice day when you can walk all the way along the seafront. This neighborhood used to be its own small town, and was once primarily the home of working fishermen. There are various stories regarding the origin of the name Boccadasse. In the local dialect, the word is Bocadâze. Because the neighborhood sits on a small bay, one theory is that the name means “donkey's mouth.” Another stems from the name of a river that used to run through Boccadasse, called the Asse. In any case, the Italian word “bocca” means mouth, so either of those theories could be right....
Top activities in Genoa
Frequently Asked Questions
The answers provided below are based on answers previously given by the tour provider to customers’ questions.
What are the top things to do in Genoa?
What are the top activities in Genoa?
Top activities in Genoa include:
Discover the top things to do in Genoa.
- Private Day Trip to Cinque Terre from Genoa With Local Driver and Pick-Up
- Do Eat Better Experience - Food Tours in Genoa
- Tour of Genoa and Day Trip to Portofino from Genoa
- Genoa City Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
- Genoa Like a Local: Customized Private Tour
Discover the top things to do in Genoa.
What are the top things to do near Genoa?
What do I need to know before visiting Genoa?
Things to do near Genoa
- Things to do in Piedmont & Liguria
- Things to do in Castelletto di Branduzzo
- Things to do in Langhe-Roero and Monferrato
- Things to do in Asti
- Things to do in La Spezia
- Things to do in Milan
- Things to do in Parma
- Things to do in Turin
- Things to do in Ferno
- Things to do in Pisa
- Things to do in Nice
- Things to do in Cannes
- Things to do in Bologna
- Things to do in Lombardy
- Things to do in French Riviera