Old Port marina in Genoa

Genoa Cruise Port: DIY Guide to Palaces, Piazzas & Pesto!

Genoa, Italy’s largest port city, boasts a rich history that often gets overshadowed by its more flamboyant neighbors. While Rome whispers of emperors and Florence stuns with Renaissance art, Genoa offers a captivating blend of maritime heritage, architectural wonders, and a soul sculpted by trade and exploration.

This guide will hopefully help you turn your port day into an unforgettable adventure, exploring majestic palaces, vibrant piazzas, and the city’s legendary pesto โ€“ all on your own terms!

Prefer a day trip to Portofino instead? Then read my DIY Portofino Guide with all the train & ferry you need to know to plan your DIY day trip to Portofino from Genoa cruise port.

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Genoa Cruise Port: Is a DIY Excursion Easy? ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž (Straightforward)

Planning a DIY shore excursion at Genoa cruise port? Here’s why I rated Genoa cruise port ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž as straightforward for DIY cruisers:

  • Walk to Metro: A quick 10-15 minute walk from your cruise ship puts you at the metro station. From there, zip into the city centre in a few stops.
  • Walkable city centre: Once downtown, most of Genoa’s attraction are within easy walking distance. Leave the tour groups behind and explore at your own pace!
  • Easy Navigation: Even if you choose to venture a little further afield, Genoa’s public transport system is efficient and easy to use.

Genoa Cruise Port Essentials: All You Need to Know

Genoa Cruise Port Address: Ponte Dei Mille or Ponte Andrea Doria, 1, 16126 Genova GE, Italy – this is marked in my Genoa map below ๐Ÿ‘‡

Note: There are two cruise terminals: Ponte dei Mille and Ponte Andrea Doria. If you just search on Google Maps, you’ll see many places marked as “Genoa port”. This is correct, as Genoa port is huge, with many cargo & ferry terminals in addition to the cruise terminals.

  • Currency: Euros
  • Language: Italian
  • Official websites: Visit Genoa is the official tourism agency. Stazioni Maritime Genova runs the cruise terminals.
  • Recommended Transport App: I would recommend using Citymapper to navigate the metro & bus routes if you need them. Google Maps worked ok for me too!
  • eSIM for roaming in Italy: For a great data connection without the huge roaming fees, use an eSim data pack from Airalo. I always recommend having a smartphone with a valid plan when youโ€™re at port touring independently. Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo when you use ROXANN1666 when you sign up or apply it at checkout
  • My Genoa Map: ๐Ÿ‘‡ Click on the upper right hand corner to see a bigger version. If the map is not loading, click here to see it directly on Google Maps.

Genoa Cruise Port to City Centre: Getting your Bearings

The quickest way to get into the city centre is via Genoa’s metro network. Depending on where your ship is docked:

  • Ponte dei Mille: Principe metro station will be closer and the walk is about 15 minutes.
  • Ponte Andrea Doria: Dinegro metro station (on the same line) is closer and the walk is about 10 minutes.

Get off on Darsena, San Giorgio or De Ferrari metro stations and you are within walking distance of all the main sights in the city centre.

Tickets: Single tickets are โ‚ฌ2. A 24-hour unlimited ticket is โ‚ฌ10. There’s also a half-day ticket (valid for 5 hours) for โ‚ฌ5 if you just want a few hours at port. Purchase at ticket machines is the easiest way. If you want to catch a bus and can’t find a kiosk to buy a ticket, then you can also buy a ticket using the AMT App. Some bus stops now have ticket machines where you can buy a ticket using a contactless card. There’s no contactless reader on buses.

Note: Public transport is NOT free to tourists in Genoa. Free transport is only granted to registered residents of Genoa. So don’t get caught out and (potentially) get fined! Make sure you purchase a ticket (and validate it) before you hop onto the metro or the bus.

Uncover Genoa’s Hidden Treasures: From Palaces to Pesto

1. Explore the Palazzi dei Rolli: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Entrance to Palazzo Ducale Genoa Italy
Palazzo Ducale, Image credit: Wikipedia

Genoa’s “Palazzi dei Rolli” translates to “Palaces of the Lists,” and this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a glimpse into the city’s opulent past. These aren’t just any palaces; they tell the story of fierce competition and exquisite taste among Genoa’s wealthy merchant families.

The concept behind the Palazzi dei Rolli dates back to the 16th century. As Genoa’s power and prestige grew, so did the number of visiting dignitaries. To showcase their wealth and hospitality (and perhaps a touch of one-upmanship), noble families built extravagant palaces.

The city itself even got involved! Five official “Rolli” (lists) were created, categorizing palaces based on their grandeur. Visiting royalty or ambassadors would be assigned a palace based on their rank, ensuring a suitably impressive stay. Imagine competing for guests based on the opulence of your home! Read more about the “Hospitality System” here. So be prepared to be dazzled! Grand staircases, frescoed ceilings and opulent furnishings were meant to showcase the wealth of Genoa’s elite.

There are in fact over 100 “Rolli” palaces, of which 42 are UNESCO Heritage listed. Today, some of these are museums while others still belong to private individuals. The most famous of all of these are the buildings of the Strada Nuova Museums, the National Gallery of Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria, the Museum of Palazzo Reale. I’ll cover these in this blog post.

  • Background Info: Rolli Estrada Nuove has a handy list of all the “Rolli” palaces and whether each one is open to visitors or not.
  • Free Mobile App download: “Palazzi dei Rolli Genoa” app is available download for your usual app stores.

2. Musei di Strada Nuova: Delve into Opulence & Art

Courtyard of Musei di Strada Nuova, Genoa, Italy
Source: Wikipedia

Strada Nuova, meaning “New Street,” is a historic street lined with several of the grandest Palazzi dei Rolli. Among these is a trio of palaces that now house the Musei di Strada Nuova (Museums of Strada Nuova). This museum complex offers a particularly rich experience, combining the architectural splendour of the palaces with their impressive art collections.

A Palace Trio: The Musei di Strada Nuova comprises Palazzo Bianco (White Palace), Palazzo Rosso (Red Palace), and Palazzo Tursi. Each boasts its own unique collection and architectural style, allowing you to explore the artistic evolution and personal tastes of Genoa’s elite families.

Artistic Gems: The museums showcase an array of works, including Renaissance paintings by Flemish and Italian masters. Palazzo Bianco is the main art gallery. The most famous works on display are by Caravaggio and Anton van Dyck.

A Window into Genoese Life: The lavish interiors, with their frescoes, grand halls, and period furniture, offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of Genoa’s wealthy families. In total, there’s over 75 rooms plus courtyards, gardens and terraces up to the “miradore” of Palazzo Rosso, with great views over the city and the historic centre.

  • How to Get There: Follow directions above to get from Genoa cruise port to city centre and then walk. Closest metro station is San Giorgio.
  • Opening Hours: Closed Mondays. 9am to 7pm Tuesday to Friday, 10am to 7:30pm Saturday – Sunday from April to September. 9am to 6:30pm Tuesday to Friday, 9:30am – 6:30pm Saturday-Sunday from October to March.
  • Tickets: โ‚ฌ9 ticket includes entry to all 3 buildings. โ‚ฌ7 for EU seniors 65+, Free kids admission limited to EU citizens.

3. Musei Nazionali di Genova at Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria

Palazzo Spinola Hall, Palazzi dei Rolli, Genoa
Image Credit: RolliStradeNuove.it

Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria is another former “Rolli” palace. Built in the 16th century and passed down through generations, it showcases centuries of evolving tastes and artistic patronage. Donated to the Italian State in 1958, the palace preserves the aristocratic atmosphere of its “noble floors” with artwork and furnishings reflecting the owners who lived there.

The changes to architectural and artistic tastes over time is definitely evident through the floors. The upper floors were heavily damaged during WWII. It’s now been restored and house a modern National Gallery of Liguria.

  • How to Get There: Walking distance from San Giorgio metro station.
  • Opening Hours: Closed Mondays. 9am – 7pm Wednesday – Saturday. 1:30pm – 7pm Tuesdays. Only open 1st & 3rd Sunday of each month from 1:30pm – 7pm.
  • Tickets: โ‚ฌ10 ticket includes admission to Palazzo Spinola, the National Gallery of Liguria and the Palazzo Reale. โ‚ฌ2 for students 18-25. Free for kids.

Top Tip: If you’re a museum buff or just interested in seeing a few of these former “Rolli” palaces, buy the โ‚ฌ15 Genoa Museum Card. It will work out cheaper. It’s valid for 24 hours to 28 city museums including the Strada Nuova, Palazzo Spinola and Palazzo Reale. Public transport (buses & metro) is also included. Online booking costs โ‚ฌ1 extra but you’ll have a valid ticket to jump straight from the ship to the metro. You can pick the ticket’s validity start times, so it’s not too late to buy it from your phone once your ship has docked in Genoa.

4. Palazzo Reale

Entrance to Palazzo Reale, Genoa, Italy
Image credit: Wikipedia

Built by a powerful Genoese family in the 17th century, it later became a royal residence for King Charles Albert of Savoy in the 1830s. The interior is definitely set out as a palace – you’ll see a Throne room, the Audience Hall, the King and Queen’s Apartments and the famous Hall of Mirrors. There’s also an impressive art collection and a beautiful hanging garden, with views of the port and the city.

Location-wise, this is on the way back to the port. The ticket to Palazzo Spinola includes entry to Palazzo Reale. Opening hours are the same as Palazzo Spinola above. Closed Mondays.

5. Piazza De Ferrari: Genoa’s Beating Heart

Fountain at Piazza De Ferrari, Genoa, Italy
Image by Kreactiva from Pixabay

Think of Piazza De Ferrari as the epicentre of Genoa. This grand square is named after Raffaele De Ferrari, a wealthy Duke who donated money to expand the port (definitely not the car guys!). Its centrepiece is a beautiful fountain – a wonderful place to cool off during the summer with water shooting up the ground! Surrounding the square are architectural marvels!

Gaze up at the majestic facade of the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa’s historic opera house. The impressive Ducal Palace, once the seat of power for Genoa’s rulers, is now a cultural hub hosting exhibitions and events. Admire the striking stock exchange building, the Palazzo della Borsa Valori. Lining the piazza are cafes perfect for an expresso.

Seeking more? Branch out and discover Piazza De Ferrari’s hidden gems: the black-and-white striped Cathedral of San Lorenzo with its stunning gothic details, and the quaint Romanesque Church of San Donato

  • How to Get There: Take direct metro line from “Principle” station to “De Ferrari” station (4 stops)

6. Get Lost in the “Caruggi”: Genoa’s Historic Alleyways

Genoa’s caruggi is a web of narrow alleys radiating outwards from the city’s old port. Start your walk either from Darsena or San Giorgio metro stations and walk away from the harbour and you’ll be in the thick of it!

Tall, highly packed buildings provided shade in Genoa’s hot summers, while upper floors often extended outwards, creating a covered space for shops and markets. Today, there’s lots of tiny shops selling artisan crafts, candies, focaccia and gelato. So have a roam and see what you find!

7. Aquarium of Genoa: Dive into one of Europe’s largest aquariums!

Neptune replica 17th century ship built for movie Pirates at Genoa waterfront
“Neptune” replica 17th century ship. Image by Michelangelo_2021 from Pixabay

The Aquarium of Genoa claims to be Europe’s largest, and while size is always debatable, there’s no doubt it’s a massive underwater wonderland. Expect all the favorites โ€“ dolphins, sharks, penguins, the whole gang! This is an absolute hit with local kids, so be prepared to pre-book especially for weekends & school holidays.

My Take: What sets this aquarium apart for me is the variety beyond the tanks, especially for kids. There’s a few attractions nearby: there’s the “Biosfera” with its tropical plants, a replica 17th-century ship (built for the 1985 movie “Pirates”), and even a hands-on science museum for kids under 12, the “La Cittร  dei Bambini e dei Ragazzi”. If you’re not traveling with kids, then you may find the crowds of kids a little too overwhelming. Try the Renzo Piano designed Bigo Panoramic Lift next to the Aquarium instead. Tickets from โ‚ฌ5.

8. Taste the Flavours of Genoa: Eat Focaccia & Pesto!

Genoa isn’t just about palaces and piazzas; it’s a culinary wonderland! Here’s a taste of what awaits your taste buds:

  • Pesto Powerhouse: No trip to Genoa is complete without savoring its most famous creation – pesto! This vibrant green sauce made with fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil is the essence of the region. Enjoy it with traditional trofie pasta, a delightful twisted shape.
  • Focaccia Delights: Find bakeries and cafes piled high with focaccia, the quintessential Genoese snack. This savoury flatbread comes in endless variations: Plain with a sprinkle of sea salt, with olives, onions, even cheesy and gooey. See my map above ๐Ÿ‘† for top focaccia recommendations – you can do a DIY focaccia tasting tour in Genoa or join a traditional food tour! ๐Ÿ˜‹
  • Fresh Seafood: With Genoa being a port city, expect an abundance of fresh seafood. Indulge in grilled fish, flavorful seafood pasta dishes, or try the fritto misto, a mix of fried seafood delicacies.
  • Local Markets: For a true foodie adventure, head to the Mercato Orientale, Genoa’s bustling covered market. Explore stalls overflowing with fresh produce, cheeses, meats, and more. There are also quite a few places to sit down and eat!

Featured Image by Domenico Farone from Pixabay

From exploring grand palaces to savoring pesto and getting lost in the caruggi, I hope this guide filled you with excitement for your Genoa port day. Wishing you sunny skies, amazing food, and unforgettable memories as you discover this captivating city.

If you found this blog helpful, please share it with your fellow cruisers in your roll-call groups! I would really appreciate it! Zana

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