Tips on travelling to Genoa from Susann Silander

Susann has lived in Genoa since 2010 but the town hasn't stopped surprising her and she loves to share her favourite places with visitors. She spends most of her free time exploring the Ligurian Mountains on foot and blogging about sustainable ideas in tourism.

For more information on Susann's explorations of Genoa and the surrounding region, check out her blog (note this is in Swedish). 

How well do you know Genoa?

I spent almost a year studying Italian language and literature in Genoa during my university years. Five years ago I was offered a job here so I decided to come back and have lived here since.

Why should I visit Genoa?

You should visit Genoa because the town has something to offer for everyone: Spectacular art, interesting historical sites, good food, amazing nature...

What is the first thing you do when arriving? 

One of the first things I do is to go down to my local bar for a coffee. The bars are perhaps the best place if you want to get a glimpse of genuine Italian everyday life. And you can always count on the barista for any sort of information you need as they know everything that is worth knowing about Genoa!

When is the best time of year to visit Genoa?

There is no specific tourist season in Genoa: visitors come here all year round. Thanks to the particular position of the city in an angle of the Gulf of Genoa, with the Apennines protecting it somewhat from the cold weather arriving from the north, Genoa has a fairly mild climate in the winter. It can get windy though. In the summer it can get hot but the sea is only a short walk away, offering some relief on hot summer days. 

For those who, like me, enjoy leaving the bustling town centres now and then for relaxing walks in nature, the Genoa area is a virtual goldmine. The nearest walking trails can actually be quickly reached by public transport from the town centre. Thanks to the climate you can find suitable trails almost all year round. In winter you might want to stick to the coastal ones, but in other seasons you can go further up the Apennines and enjoy the natural beauty and the amazing views. On a clear day you can see all the way to Corsica from the Ligurian Mountains!

Where would you send a first-time visitor in Genoa? 

I always recommend first-time visitors start their visit in the alleyways of the old town, the Centro Storico, and then work their way further out from there. Public transport can be used to make your way around town: since Genoa is constructed on hillsides, many public transport lines consist of lifts and funiculars. Take the lift from Piazza Portello to the residential area of Castelletto, and upon your arrival you will be able to enjoy a spectacular view of the central town! Or take the Montegalletto lift from Via Balbi near Principe railway station up to Corso Dogali to experience a lift that moves both horizontally AND vertically. Once up in Corso Dogali you can visit the Museum of World Cultures, just across the street from the lift and surrounded by a beautiful park. 

However, do not make the mistake of limiting yourself to exploring only the town centre. In the outskirts of the central town you can find a lovely promenade along the sea that takes you to Boccadasse, once a fishing village but today a picturesque part of the town. I also strongly recommend everyone to get on a bus or a local train and dedicate some time to discovering the neighbourhoods further away from the centre. A good starting point could be Nervi at the easternmost point of the extended town area with beautiful parks and another breathtaking promenade along the sea.

How long should I spend in Genoa? 

Due to its versatility, you could find things to do for as long as you like. I think an ideal holiday in Genoa includes a few days during which you get to know the towns on the Riviera as well. Genoa has excellent railway connections, so after you have explored the town itself you can still have it as your base and do daytrips to the beautiful towns along the Riviera del Levante (southeast from Genoa) and Riviera del Ponente (westward, towards France).

What do I need to pack for a trip to Genoa?

You should bring comfortable walking shoes as you will soon discover that Genoa is a hillside town with lots of ups and downs for walkers! Unless visiting in summer, a windproof jacket is also a good idea.

Are there any places that are overrated, or best avoided?

Genoa is a safe town to visit but of course you should use your common sense. Going into dark abandoned alleyways late in the evening is best avoided but then again this is true in most towns around the world.

What are some of your favourite local dishes?

Although Genoa is a seaside town, and you can find some interesting fish and seafood restaurants around town, the typical local cuisine is that of the countryside and the mountains. When you visit Genoa you must try the most famous local dish, the pesto! The world famous basil sauce is typically served with fresh pasta called trofie. Genoa is also the home of delicious vegetable pies, called torta salata (savoury cakes), and polpettone, a delicious mix of mashed potatoes and green beans mixed with grated cheese and then baked. 

Those who prefer meat can try the coniglio alla ligure (Ligurian-style rabbit), wild boar with polenta, or perhaps a slice of cima, another local favourite: a pocket of veal stuffed with a mixture of ingredients like meat, eggs, cheese, pine nuts and herbs.

What is something most people don't know about Genoa?

Most of us have at least one pair of blue jeans in our wardrobe but something that everyone does not know is that the name comes from the town of Genoa! The port has always been a central point in the reality of this town and the port workers need good sturdy work wear. Therefore the resistant working clothes in denim were first produced here and then shipped out to other countries through the port of Genoa. The name blue-jeans is said to come from the French bleu de Genes or 'blue of Genoa', as the fabric was called.

Many people know, or soon find out, that the old main street of Genoa, Via Garibaldi, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to many of the amazing buildings that are part of the Palazzi dei Rolli. This was a system created in the 16th century. The richest and most important families in town had houses for hosting important guests on their visits in the maritime town. To keep track of all the houses available, lists (Rolli) were created. The alleyways of the old town are full of these houses, and although not all of them are open to the public, many of them now host art galleries or other public venues. Even though some of them may look quite plain from the outside they are definitely worth a visit as they are beautifully decorated on the inside. For example, Palazzo Spinola, home of the Galleria Nazionale, is a must-see.

What should I bring home? 

You can never go wrong with food and wine. They are great presents and nice souvenirs to remember your holidays by. A box of canestrelli (typical local biscuits) or a panforte (a cake with dried fruit and pine nuts) from a good bakery, or a bottle of white Ligurian wine, like Pigato, make perfect souvenirs.

What is the best thing to do with children in Genoa?

Many children enjoy visiting Acquario di Genova, the second largest aquarium in Europe, in the Porto Antico area. The lines to the ticket counters can be incredibly long though, so try and avoid visiting it on weekends and bank holidays. While in the area, the nearby Citta dei Bambini (Childrens Town) is well worth a visit. Here children of all ages can find interactive play areas adapted to their age and aimed at stimulating them to learn more about nature, science and technology while having fun.

In the winter months a part of the huge parking space next to the fair area by the sea (Fiera del mare, Piazzale Kennedy) hosts a funfair with many rides to enjoy. Around town you can also find a couple of skating rinks where you can rent ice skates. 

The parks in Nervi, with the huge lawns, are a lovely playing and picnicking area for families with children.

For more information on Susann's explorations of Genoa and the surrounding region, check out her blog