The Centro Storico of Genova is one of the largest and most well preserved medieval city centers in Europe. It’s narrow walk streets (caruggi) are jam-packed with bodegas of every kind, many have been there for more than a hundred years. An endless number of cafes, restaurants, tailors, butchers, fruit vendors, patisseries, spice vendors and street food vendors line every street, walkway, and alley. Each path seems to lead to a picture-perfect Piazza surrounding an ancient or medieval church. The seductive selection of things to do and see and eat and discover seems never-ending, mind-boggling, dizzying.
Day 1: Roam Genova’s Centro Storico and Caruggi
Hour One. Arrive by train or plane. Hail a taxi. Do not walk. Do not stop at your hotel. Go immediately to Panino Marino restaurant in Piazza Caricamento. Run up the stairs with your bags in tow. Order a large fried calamari. All for yourself. Do not share. Order the perfect accompanying beverage. Find a table. Wait impatiently but not long for your buzzer to buzz. Retrieve your food. Enjoy the most delicious, hot, sizzling, briny, crunchy on the outside and firm on the inside fried calamari of your life! Now you have started your three-day adventure in Genova in the best possible way…
After dropping your bags (do book your hotel inside the Centro Storico!), head to the Caruggi. On your first outing, this souk-like maze of walk streets will seem impossibly chaotic and complex. Finding your hotel or a specific restaurant or attraction may be a challenge, a challenge you will probably face over and over again. But don’t worry, by day two it will start making sense. By day three you’ll own the Centro, you’ll be taking shortcuts, greeting your favorite shop owners and giving directions to the travelers who have just arrived.
On Day One I like to walk the Caruggi until I can walk no more. I keep a list of the intriguing shops, bars, and restaurants that I can return to that night, the next day or next visit. There are shops that sell only rare and hard to find Converse sneakers, shops that sell just buttons, or simply wigs or solely dried fish. There are grungy hardware shops and high-end fashion shops, hand-made Italian leather goods, shoes, shoes, and more shoes, and the number of truly awesome vintage clothing stores seems to grow with each visit.
After a quick rest at the hotel head back out again at dusk for the essential Italian aperitivo – a pre-dinner drink accompanied by finger foods of many varieties. Whether with or without alcohol, Italian aperitivo is one of my favorite traditions for meeting friends, making friends, people-watching and upbeat socializing. During aperitivo (6ish to 9ish), it seems that everyone is out and in a good mood, having a great time. And aperitivo in Genoa has been elevated to the highest level where stunningly beautiful charcuterie platters spring from the smallest of kitchens and cramped bars. Vegetarian and vegan options are often available as Genoa, formerly gritty, salty, dirty, fishy, sailor-y Genoa, is becoming a hipster haven. And I’m thankful for this as hipsters do perform an important function in this world– identifying, cultivating and transforming seemingly undesirable locales into some of the coolest spots on earth.
Day 2: Explore the Opulence and Affluence of the Via Garibaldi
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Genova was one of the most important seafaring and financial centers of Europe. During that time Via Guiseppe Garibaldi was formed to house and showcase the wealth and power of it’s most preeminent families. This Unesco World Heritage recognized assemblage of Rennaissance and Baroque Palaces is a jaw-dropping spectacle and a humbling testament to the architectural and artisanal genius of that period. When I am walking down this street I feel special, I feel enlightened and privileged for the experience.
The Via Garibaldi is not a long street, a twenty-minute walk from one end to the other if you didn’t stop along the way. Start at the East end where it meets the Via Interiano. Soon thereafter on the left is the quintessential little pastry shop Pasticceria Profumo (look for the name D. Villa on the front). Stop for some treats and they will carefully and lovingly wrap a most exquisite bundle of joy to go. Stroll the promenade gawking at the marble palaces, formal gardens, and architectural splendor. At the information bureau, you can ask about tickets to tour the three palaces, the Palazzi Rosso, Bianco and Tursi. Allow about 2-3 hours for the tour then have a leisurely lunch by taking any of the sides streets that lead into the Caruggi. After lunch return to the Via and stop at the Santa Maria Novella store to indulge in a luxuriant trinket for yourself or a special friend. Mosey on down to the end and repeat as desired.
That evening, before or after dinner depending on your mood, wander back thru the Caruggi and take in the nighttime allure of the ancient walk streets, palazzos, piazzas, and cathedrals. Find the Cantine Matteotti wine bar and have a sparkling dry spumante or other Ligurian libation. It’s a chill place that attracts a relaxed but interesting crowd. It’s one of those places that I return to again and again no matter how many times I visit the city.
Day 3: Don Your Walking Shoes for a Rooftop Stroll, Secret Lunch Spot and City Vista
Make your way to the Piazza De Ferrari for some prime photo ops of the fountain and iconic city structures. Stroll down the portico lined Via XX Settembre and then up to the Corso Andrea Podesta where you can linger above the parks, gardens, and rooftops for a spectacular view of the City.
For lunch, make your way toward Piazza Dante to get a close-up look at the 12th century Sant’Andrea Cloister Ruins. Take the sidewalk beside the ruins up the hill to Via Di Ravecca, a walk-street in a toney neighborhood which is one of my favorite secret spots of the city. The energy here is palpable as the restaurants are loaded with fashionable business and working people having lunch. To locate it on your phone map look for Officina34, just one of the popular restaurants in this chic, but very affordable, lunch hub. Many offer a fixed menu for under fifteen Euros with a choice of two or three items for the main dish, wine included.
After lunch head back toward the Port to the Piazza Portello where you can take a splendidly preserved Art Nouveau elevator up to the Spianata Castelletto, aka the “balcony” of Genova. From here you can enjoy a 360 view of the City, the port, the rooftops, and the surrounding hills. Be sure to have a few single euros in your pocket for the lift fee. Or you can walk up to or down from the Spianata but it is a steep climb with a lot of little steps. Sunset is a particularly fine time to savor the view.
Wondering where to dine? Genova is one of the world’s best food cities, particularly for fresh fish lovers. Fresh fish caught that day that travels straight from the boats to the restaurants. I’ve tried hundreds of restaurants in Genova, some recommended, some on a hunch and have never had a bad meal. Daring to construct a list of the “Top 10 Restaurants” here would be a disservice to the bounty of this culinary mecca. If it looks good, if you like the crowd, if you like the menu or the location or the price, try it. Isn’t the adventure part of the fun?
I try never to go in search of a new restaurant when I am ravenously hungry as in that state I always make my biggest restaurant mistakes! I like to grab an apple or have a light snack in a comfy cafe after which I am able to go about my search in a more relaxing and discerning manner.
The following is a list of some of my favorite dining, drinking and other spots in Genova located within the Centro Storico.
- Panino Marino – Super fresh fried calamari, fish sandwiches, salads and more. Piazza Caricamento, 65R, 16124. 010-860-7784
- Trattoria Rosmarino – An elegant yet comfortable spot where the dishes are always fresh and interesting. Best to book ahead. Salita del Fondaco, 30, 16100. 010 251 0475. trattoriarosmarino.it
- Cantina Matteoti – A wine bar with an intimate, casual, fun atmosphere, they serve a small selection of food. Archivolto Baliano, 4-6/r, 16123. 010-868-7000.
- Les Rouges – Cocktail bar and small plates in one of the most beautiful faded elegance palaces in the City. Campetto, 8, 16123. 329-349-0644.
- Trattoria Maria – Local food, small and busy, a working person’s lunch spot. To get a table it’s best to get there right when they open. Vico Testadoro, 14r, 16123. 010-581080.
- Osteria di Vico Palla – Classic old-school wharf atmosphere specializing in both classic and modern fresh fish recipes. In the Old Port. Vico Palla, 15, 16128. 338-908-5101. osteriadivicopalla.com.
- Pasticceria Profumo Genoa – Quintessential pastry shop where the owners and staff provide the ultimate care and service. The pastries and candies are exquisite little gems. Via del Portello, 2, R, 16124. 010-277-0002.
- Drogheria Torielli – Spice shop extraordinaire in the heart of the Caruggi. Via di S. Bernardo, 32, R, 16123.
- Steglieno Cimitero Monumentale – As the name implies, this cemetery is monumental in every way. It is a bit outside of the Centro, just ten minutes by bus (leaves City Center every 10 minutes) or taxi, check the website for hours. Piazzale Resasco, 16100. staglieno.comune.genova.it