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About city Gallery Where to stay

Northern Italy’s Liguria is truly unique – this narrow, semicircle-shaped region is wedged between mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Unusual though it is, one of the smallest Italian regions is also one of the most densely populated regions in the country. The capital of Liguria – Genoa – is not just one of the largest European sea harbours, but also the birthplace of the legendary Christopher Columbus. Moreover, the labyrinth of narrow streets, the colourful buildings, the splendid Renaissance-style palaces, the soughing sea and the high mountains infuse this Italian city with a truly unique atmosphere.

Christopher Columbus, considered to be the discoverer of America, left the harbour of Genoa at the turn of the 16th century. In the 19th century, another famous Italian left the harbour of Genoa – it was Giuseppe Garibaldi, the man responsible for the campaign to unify Italy.

Genoa is proud of its several-thousand-year-old history. The first settlement was established here by the Ligurians and the Greeks. Later, the city came under the rule of the mighty Romans, at which point it became an important commercial node, though as the Roman Empire fell, the harbour lost some of its importance and turned into a regular fishing village. In 934, the village was ravaged and set on fire by pirates. This, however, did not stop Genoa from getting back on its feet and competing with other important Italian harbours Pisa and Venice.

A panoramic image showing the port of Genoa
Photo taken by Sidvics - wikimedia.org.  A panoramic image showing the port of Genoa

The period between the 13th and the 14th centuries saw Genoa becoming so strong and dominant in the Mediterranean Sea that it seized control of all sugar, silk and grain trade. African gold was not unheard of here, either. The unrest that began in later centuries decreased the city’s power, until it was eventually annexed by Spain. During this period, the harbour town became home to many famous artists, like Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens. A long period of unrest, Austrian and French occupations, world wars and the steel crisis of the 1970s followed.

Having survived annexes, unifications and wars, Genoa is now one of the largest sea harbours not just in Italy, but also in the whole of Europe. In 2006, the city’s Old Town became a UNESCO-protected heritage site. Genoa is home to around 600,000 people. Apart from shipping, the city also has well-developed metallurgy, machine, chemistry, light and heavy food, and oil processing industries.

Even though during recent years Genoa has been hit by heavy rain and floods more than once, it has not lost its charm and continues to welcome tourists. Once you’re in Milan, just jump on a train and in less than two hours you’ll reach the centre of Genoa. The city also has its own airport. Walking in the city centre is very convenient (that is, if you’re not afraid of the city’s upland parts), although buses and metro are also available.

Genoa, located near mountains and heated by sea, has a soft climate year-round – the average winter temperature is around 10 degrees, rising to about 20 degrees during summer. Probably the best time to visit the city is between April and September. The period between October and November is considered to be the rainiest time of the year.

Tourists and locals walk at old city centre of Genoa, Italy
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  Tourists and locals walk at old city centre of Genoa, Italy

Arguably the biggest tourist attraction in Genoa is its aquarium – the second-largest of its kind in Europe. The ship-like building was erected in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. At that time, it was the largest aquarium in Europe. This spectacular maritime museum, which welcomes around a million visitors every year, boasts 71 exposition aquariums, 15,000 animals, 400 animal species, 200 plant species and a real ship, which has been turned into an authentic Mediterranean and tropical ecosystem complex.

But this is not the only reason why you should spend a few days in Genoa. If you want to learn more about the history of this harbour city, its everyday life, and the history of the sea, sailing and maritime fleets, you must visit the Galata Maritime Museum. By the way, the city’s lighthouse, called La Lanterna, is the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world and one of the world’s five highest.

The Via Garibaldi, Via Cairoli and Via Balbi, also known as Strade Nouve (the “New Streets”), are among the city’s most interesting streets to explore. These streets, built in mid-16th century, were set to become the site of luxurious Renaissance palaces and the place of residence of Genoa’s wealthiest and most noble families. In 2006, the Strade Nouve complex became a UNESCO-protected cultural heritage site. Now these buildings are home not just to the municipality, but also to several banks, cultural establishments and shops.

Speaking of shops, the Genoese claim that the best places to shop here are not the narrow, meandering Old Town labyrinths, but the wide and bright Via XX Settembre, Via XX Aprile, Via Roma and the famous brand shops located there.

But if you want to experience the true spirit of the old harbour city, you will have to go to that same Old Town labyrinth where you will find not just local artisan shops, little workshops and antique stores (some people think they were founded around 200 years ago) that have been open for many decades. The best and most interesting place to buy food is the Mercato Orientale.

Fresh fruits and vegetables for sale in Mercato Orientale, famous market in central Genoa
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  Fresh fruits and vegetables for sale in Mercato Orientale, famous market in central Genoa

The worthy Genoese cuisine is characterised by its exceptional abundance of vegetables, olive oil and herbs. It is said that focaccia, a type of flat bread, is one of Genoa’s most famous dishes. Most restaurants and diners also serve pansotti – traditional local dumplings with a turnip, egg and ricotta cheese filling.

But probably the best-known product of the city is the deep green sauce called pesto. The Genoese sauce is made from crushed basil, garlic and cedar nuts, and tradition requires it to be made in a special grater and grated by hand. This is also the source of its name – pestare means to grind or trample. Italians, by the way, are trying to bring pesto alla genovese under UNESCO protection as a non-material article of heritage.

Like most Italians, the Genoese are tireless football fans. There’s probably a reason why the city has as many as two top-league football teams – UC Sampdoria and Genoa CFC. The latter is the oldest functioning Italian football club, founded in 1893. In 1990, Genoa also hosted the 14th world football championship.

Even though the city has a 30-kilometre-long coastline, we recommend you go to the miniature Boccadasse Beach – a tiny bay, surrounded with tall colourful houses. Some say the ice cream parlour, located right on the beach, serves probably the best ice cream in the whole city. If you find yourself taken with the bay and its colourful houses, just spend a day or two in Liguria – you won’t be disappointed. Savona, Levante, the famous Cinque Terre National Park, and the cities La Spezia and Porto Venere can all be reached by bus or train.

Where to stay

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