Italy's largest sea port is indefatigably contradictory, full at once of grandeur, squalor, sparkling light and deep shade. But a gateway to the Riviera for many travellers today, a weighty architectural heritage speaks of its former glory – the Most Serene Republic of Genoa ruled over the Mediterranean waves during the 12th to the 13th centuries – and history feels alive in Genoa. No more is this true than in its extensive old city, an often confronting reminder of pre-modern life with its twisting maze of narrow caruggi (streets), largely intact. Emerge blinking from this thrillingly dank heart to Via Garibaldi and the splendid Enlightenment-era gold-leaf halls of the Unesco-listed Palazzi dei Rolli.
The city's once-tatty port area now hosts museums and a number of eating and drinking options. Its old town, too, has had its own far more organic revitalisation, with a bright new crop of fashionable shops, restaurants and bars lighting the way.