A tour through the heart of medieval Genoa in one day

Genoa

Genoa’s historic centre is not only a unique mixture of narrow alleys and elegant boulevards with aristocratic buildings and museums, but it is also the largest one in Europe.

Its alleys (the caruggi of Genoa) quickly won me over, and getting lost there to find new old shops, historical buildings, and cosy squares became one of my favourite things to do. The ideal is to discover the historic centre at a slow pace as it can be hard to visit everything it offers in one day. But if one day is all that you have, I prepared a walking itinerary to make the best of the day visiting this beautiful city.

Off we go

The starting point is Victory Square, located just a few metres from the railway station Genova Brignole and one of Genoa’s most famous sights. In the centre of this square there’s the impressive Arch of Victory, dedicated to the fallen, of the First World War.

Next, we take Via XX Settembre, one of the main shopping streets of Genoa, that will lead us to the famous, Piazza De Ferrari. The long arcades and the mosaic paving on both sides of this street, surrounded by elegant shops and old aristocratic palaces, are simply stunning. 

Piazza De Ferrari is an unmissable stop in the historical centre of Genoa, the city’s main square and its heart. The large bronze fountain in the centre is not only a perfect place for a family photo but also a delight to the children who love to play with the water jets at the side of the fountains. 

Genoa’s top attractions

The next stop is Piazza Matteotti, which is located right behind Piazza De Ferrari and where you will find two of Genoa’s must-see attractions: the Gesù Church and Palazzo Ducale. The Church of Jesus, even though it might look rather anonymous on the outside, has an astonishing baroque interior. The Palazzo Ducale is one of the most famous historical buildings in Genoa and was once the home of the Doges of Genoa. Now it is a museum and hosts art exhibitions and cultural events.

Palazzo Ducale, Genoa
Palazzo Ducale

After visiting Palazzo Ducale, take Via San Lorenzo, the gently sloping avenue that runs alongside it. There stands the famous San Lorenzo Cathedral, the most important church in the city. The architecture of the outside of the Cathedral, with its black and white marble façade and its two large lions in front of the entrance, is breathtaking in every way. This cathedral, built between 1100 and the end of 1300, is also famous because during World War II it was bombed by the British fleet. A bomb broke through the ceiling of the church but did not explode. It still rests inside the cathedral, where tourists can see and even touch it.

Opposite the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, take one of the small side streets that leads directly into the maze of Genoa’s caruggi. Caruggi is the term used in dialect to indicate the characteristic narrow arcades and shady alleys of many towns and villages on the Ligurian Riviera. There’s a mixture of old fishmongers displaying the catch of the day, old-fashioned shops, and narrow and tall buildings half hidden from the sun and leaning against each other.  

If you don’t have enough time

The old city has hundreds of carruggi, but in case you don’t have time to get lost in the middle of those narrow alleys, the most famous and, in my opinion, the most beautiful is Via Garibaldi, a  UNESCO World Heritage Site for its elegant and opulent palaces that belonged to the old Genoese seigniory. A few times a year, called the Rolli Days, the interiors of the palaces are open to the public and can be visited.

In one day, it is not possible to visit Genoa in-depth, to go into all the churches or visit all the museums, but it is possible to walk around much of the historical centre. And don’t forget to try focaccia, farinata (savoury chickpea pancake), and homemade pesto!

Genoa Aquarium is another one of our favourites while in Genoa!

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