Even though it's a major port city in Italy, with thousands of years of history, Genoa is often overlooked by visitors headed to nearby Milan or Cinque Terre. This is a shame, because while it's not super glamorous or picturesque, Genoa is a charming place with many gifts to offer its visitors.
Europe's Largest Historical Center
Although the history of Genoa can be traced back over 3000 years, there are no ancient ruins in this corner of Italy. Instead the city boasts a huge historical old town where buildings span styles from over 1000 years. As you wander the narrow maze-like streets of old town you'll encounter 13th century cathedrals, medieval squares and the house where Christopher Columbus was born. The Via Garibaldi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to dozens of elaborate 16th, 17th and 18th century palaces.
The Home of Pesto
Pesto, one of Italy's tastiest sauces, hails from Genoa. The locals here make it with crushed basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and several kinds of cheese, creating a sauce that's fresh, flavorful and a very bright green. It's traditionally served with pasta: trenette or trofie- a lumpy twisted dough. Local farmer's markets sell bottles of fresh pesto to take home as a souvenir.
The small seaside district of Boccadesse is like a small taste of Cinque Terre for those not willing to make the trek south. The tiny fishing village is just a 20 minute walk from the central train station. Here you'll find brightly painted houses piled one on top of another next to the sparkling sea. Small colorful fishing boats lie on the rocky beach. There's no room to swim here but it's a perfect spot for an afternoon wander, gelato in hand.
Aside from pesto, Genoa's other famous specialty is focaccia. The light airy traditional snack food is quite different from the heavy loafs of bread sold as focaccia in the US. Sold at ubiquitous focaccerias, traditional focaccia are thin flat squares of bread, almost like a dressed down pizza. They come plain with garlic, covered in cheese or sometimes even with tomato sauce. They are a delicious and very cheap street food.
Rugged Ocean Walks
Genoa is a large city with some industrial elements, but ride the local train just a handful of stops and you'll feel like you've reached another town entirely. Locals and tourists both take advantage of the red brick Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi, a 2 kilometer pedestrian path that winds along the sea cliffs. It's the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon people watching, eating local seafood and maybe even going for a swim (in the designated spots only!).
Genoa might not have any of the well-known Italian tourist sites, but it's an attraction in itself: a busy, yet still beautiful old Italian city.
Have you been to Genoa?