The first thing you notice when you arrive in Genoa is that its hilly terrain resembles a bowl of spaghetti piled high. Liguria has virtually no flat land, and its capital is a roller coaster of winding streets and staircases sliced into the footpaths. Squashed into the hillsides, Genoa’s tall, narrow, green-shuttered buildings, painted tomato-red, orange and yellow, squeeze in alongside palaces, hanging gardens, church spires and the crumbling remains of the town’s old walls.
From the main shopping streets and squares, descending into Genoa’s medieval old town takes you into the belly of its caruggi – a dense tangle of dark pedestrian alleys that evoke the back-stabbing dramas and intrigues of Genoa’s golden age. At the base of the old town is the city’s historic port and newer dockside areas. Cruise liners, fishing boats, ferries and yachts crowd the waters, while Genoese architect Renzo Piano’s transformation of the waterfront includes a panoramic elevator and a glass biosphere.
A day or two will give you a good overview of the city – unless you’re a history buff, in which case its museums could keep you occupied much longer.
Although your calves might feel like spaghetti after scaling Genoa’s streets, exploring this ancient maritime city gives you an insight into Italy’s past and present that is truly unique.
Genoa destination guides
Italy by the slice: a guide to Italy's regional pizzas
Olympic debates may keep piazzas across Italy buzzing most summer nights, but only until the pizza arrives. Silence falls as diners rip into the hot crust, hastily blow on scorched fingers, then dig right in again.
Explore the stunning Cinque Terre along a series of 15th century footpaths
Genoa and Portofino Day Trip from Milan
See the best of the Italian Riviera on your Genoa and Portofino full-day trip from Milan! After a guided walking tour of Genoa, explore the best bits of these contrasting coastal towns at your leisure.
What's in a place name?
Some of my favourite words started life as names of places. Take, for example, 'Bohemian', which connotes a cavalier disregard for rules and conventions. You may be aware that the name comes from Bohemia, a region in the Czech Republic. But that doesn't mean that Bohemia is populated entirely by beret-clad artists.