Genoa, or Genova as the Italians say, is a large city on the Ligurian coast and it’s a very popular place to visit since it’s well served by budget airlines and also it’s a cruise stop for those wishing to explore Northern Italy. It was the nearest big city for us when we stayed along the coast so it made sense to have a day trip there. If you’re visiting and have only a short time to enjoy the city and you’re wondering what to see and do if you only have one day in Genoa then read on for some ideas!
Genoa is actually one of the sixth largest cities in Italy but often gets overshadowed by it’s more glamorous neighbour Milan and the interesting villages of the Cinque Terre. There’s lots of history in the city – it’s actually believed to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus (although the town we stayed in, Cogoleto, also claimed that too – it’s believed he certainly came from the region) and parts of the old town are recognised on the UNESCO world Heritage list.
Random bit of history that I learned while researching this article from Wikipedia – the flag of England, the St George’s cross, actually comes from Genoa! In 1190, or thereabouts, the English naval fleet adopted the flag to benefit the protection of the Genoese as they entered the Mediterranean sea and paid the Doge for the privilege. It seems that the Genoese were partial to St George, probably due to his popularity in the crusades which is why they adopted that flag themselves.
Ok, random history lesson over – here’s what to do in Genoa if you come for a visit.
What to see with one day in Genoa – a sample itinerary
With only 1 day in Genoa you might feel like your time is pretty rushed but I think you’ll find that there’s quite a lot of things to see and do in the city. When we visited we were on a really tight budget so we stuck to the things that were free, of which there was enough to keep us occupied, but of course there’s a few other sites that I wish we’d had the cash for at the time. They’ll have to wait until we can have a return trip!
We found Genoa fairly walkable for the day that we went, but it was late October, it was a pleasant sunny day that wasn’t too hot. And we like to walk and get a feel of a city – it’s what we enjoy. Some people might find the hop on hop off bus tours to be worthwhile getting specifically if you’re pushed for time, are worried with how much walking is between sights or if it’s forecasted to be raining!
The following walkable tour would make a good 1 day itinerary for Genoa. It takes in most of the sights of the city and covers most of the things to do in Genoa. It starts in the centre of the city at…
Piazza Raffaele De Ferrari
This is the main square and it is in centre of Genoa connecting the old town with the new with its spectacular fountain as a centrepiece and a perfect place to start your day in the city. It’s a great place to relax, people watch (Italy is just the best for this isn’t it?) and maybe even dip your toes in when it’s hot!
Around the square you’ll find some important buildings in the city as this is an important financial area – plenty of really nice Italian architecture to soak up including the Doge’s Palace and a palace that was home to the man the square was named after.
Towards the north western area of the city and about a 10 minute walk from the Piazza Raffaelle de Ferrari is Via Garibaldi (sometimes called Via Giuseppe Garibaldi). It is an old street, built in the mid to late 1500s, which is full of unique buildings and is now designated a UNESCO world heritage area. It’s a beautiful street full of old 16th century palaces and houses. We found it fascinating and not too touristy a spot.
A little further along from Via Garibaldi is the Royal Palace Museum – the Palazzo Reale. If you like your opulent palaces, your history and want to see somewhere that hosted the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte then I recommenced a visit here. Built in the 17th century, opulence is it’s middle name with a hall of mirrors that was modelled on the amazing Palace of Versailles. We didn’t visit here as we didn’t think our teens would appreciate it but it’s on my list when we make a return visit!
Old harbour and Port of Genoa
It’s a short walk from the Palazzo Reale down to the harbour where you’ll find a very different feel to the city. I love cities that have a waterfront and I adore just wandering around with a gelato! There are a number of attractions and things to see in this part of the city.
Maritime museum – Galata Museo del Mare
One of the first things you’ll see and situated on the waterfront at the harbour is the Galata Museo del Mare which is a great museum dedicated to all things maritime. Many of the descriptions are in Italian so it’s advisable to get an audio guide if you don’t speak the language. You can also visit the Nazario Sauro as part of a combo ticket to the museum – an Italian submarine! You can see the submarine from the waterfront if you don’t have time to wander round the museum.
Following the harbour around you’ll see it’s full of boats to look at from small fishing boats to gorgeous yachts and also including this pretty impressive old sailing ship. It’s actually called Vascello Neptune and is a replica 17th century Spanish Galleon that was built for a film called Pirates in the 1980s – you can pay a small amount to go and look aboard. It’s a good one for kids if they like pirates!
Aquarium – Acquario di Genova
Just a short stroll from the Vascella Neptune is the Genova Aquarium which is the largest is Europe. It has penguins, sharks, dolphins and much more – it comes highly recommended even by people who don’t normally like these kinds of attractions. A couple of hours is needed for a visit so perfect for an afternoon in Genoa and it’s ideal if it’s raining and you’re looking at keeping kids occupied.
Tickets to the Aquarium are €27 for adults and €18 for 4-12 year olds. Under 4s are free. (correct as at 2022)
Next to the Aquarium is the Biosphere which is a tropical gardens with many species that are threatened and endangered. Includes not only plants but also birds, amphibians and reptiles to see up close.
Tickets are €5/€3.50
Something a little different as you wander along is a panoramic lift that gives amazing views of the city and the harbour. It’s very distinctive and was designed to give a look of a crane unloading ships. This would be lovely to experience at the end of a sunny day the reflect on a nice day in Genoa! It’s open from 10am -6pm except on a Monday when it opens at 2pm.
Exploring the old town
From the harbour head to Via San Giorgio which is to the side of the Palazzo San Giorgio (or the palace of St George – see if you can see a St George’s flag flying). This is worth a photo stop anyway as it’s a beautiful building with some gorgeous colours.
You’ll walk through an old archway which is the start of the old town with plenty of small, narrow streets to explore. There’s plenty of shops and cafes in this area if you need some refreshment or if you’re in need of some souvenirs.
I highly recommend just getting yourself lost (maybe take a map!) and exploring. Eventually you should find the…
Cattedrale di San Lorenzo
As with everywhere in Italy there are many churches to see and Genoa is no different. The old town has many churches but the main one is the Cathedral, or Cattedrale di San Lorenzo which is a beautiful example of unique architecture and just looks stunning with a gorgeous rose window and some striking brickwork
You can visit inside the cathedral as well and there’s a museum nearby too.
Going to Venice? – If you love churches and old italian architecture then a trip to Venice is a must! See what the best things to do on a winter trip to Venice are here.
Finally it’s worth just wandering a further 5 minutes and checking out the Porta Soprana which is the remains of the old medieval city walls. A reminder of the immense history that this place has and a stark contrast to the buildings that have been built around it.
Guided tours around the city of Genoa
If you prefer to see the city with the help of a tour guide who you can ask questions to then I suggest having a look at the following options. These are great if you have a short time in the city, perhaps just a few hours on a cruise stop or if you have a specific thing like food or history that you want to learn about.
Other attractions in Genoa we didn’t see
We didn’t have time to do this, but if we return to Genoa we’ll definitely give it a go as it looks like a great way to see the city. Genoa has a Funicular railway that if you ride to the top will give spectacular views over the city. It’s a cheap thing to do as well at only €1.60 for each ticket (one way). There are a few railways you can ride, The Zecca-Righi funicular is the one you want if you want to get the views from Righi. Start at the Zecca station or check the maps and walk your way to the top and ride back.
I’ve mentioned a couple above but there’s more museums if you like that kind of thing and you have the time to explore – if you’re only in Genoa for a day then perhaps fitting them all in is too much! They’re a great option if you’re wondering what to do in Genoa when it rains, if you’re visiting in the winter months and it’s cold or perhaps to escape the sweltering heat in the summer! In order to keep costs down I’d recommend the museum card which can also give free bus travel if you get the bus add on. Unfortunately it doesn’t include the Galata de Mare but it does include the Palazzo Reale and oh so many more. Check here for the complete list.
Getting Around if you only have a day in Genoa
We found it quite an easy city to walk round and everything we wanted to see was in quite a compact area so doing Genoa in a day is definitely doable.
The city does have a good public transport system with a metro line and also good local buses. If you’re interested in just the tourist sites then the Hop On Hop Off buses can be quite good value and help to maximise your time in the city.
If you’re arriving by train do be aware that there are a few different train stations that all sound very similar to each other – we managed to get off at the wrong one when we arrived. Make sure you write down which is the station for you so you don’t make a similar mistake!
Day trips from Genoa
Genoa is a great base to do some further day trips. The most obvious of these is probably the villages of the Cinque Terre. There are lots of tours that take place from Genoa so plenty to choose from whether you prefer a private tour or just visiting one or two villages depending on your time constraints.
Portofino is another beautiful village on the Italian coast that would be worth a visit. You could even take a boat tour if you’re looking for an extra special trip!
The cities of Milan and Turin are in easy reach of Genoa as well being about 2 – 2.5 hours away each by train.
Monaco day trip – Monaco is a good day trip idea too and easily reachable on train from Genoa. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be rich to enjoy it – we had a really great budget day out there.
Accommodation in Genoa
We stayed in an Airbnb along the coast in the town of Cogoleto. Airbnb is a great option and should be checked out for Genoa apartments if you want to have your own space to cook as well as sleep.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Genoa but fancy a hotel to stay in then I recommend checking out HotelsCombined as they will search all the big booking sites for you and let you know the cheapest to go through! If you want to search Genoa hotels then click here.
The Cit Hotel Britannia is a good choice for families as it has quadruple rooms at a reasonable cost. It’s quite close to the railway station and not a far walk from the Western end of the harbour. You can find out more information and prices here.
If you want to be a bit closer to the old town then the Best Western Porto Antico is a good option being very reasonably priced and having quadruple rooms suitable for a family. For more information and up to date prices click here.
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