The Most Underrated Italian City

The Most Underrated Italian City: Genova

Only a few steps into the depths of the winding avenues that the sun hardly penetrates and you enter the quiet solitude of a city of history, with soft echoes of laughter and chatter that lightly fill your ears before they fade into indecipherable sounds. Down a narrow pathway, there’s a dimly lit square sign above the door of a trattoria that you never would expect to be exactly what you were looking for in the search of nothing at all.

You sit down and order dinner, pesto and some sort of beef with a quart of wine, and watch as your waitress pokes her head into a small opening in the grey cement wall outlined with bricks and yells down to the cooks in the kitchen the two entrees you ordered but couldn’t pronounce.

When you think of Italy, you think of monuments, old Italian ladies in aprons, and men on Vespas in Rome, Florence, or Milan; you imagine the canals of Venice and sharing wine in a gondola with a man you just met or maybe have known for a decade while the man who’s rowing sings you a quiet song in an empty canal.

Italy is undoubtedly beautiful no matter where you go, but some cities have started to capitalize so highly on their beauty that they don’t even know the definition of what being even attractive is anymore. There is so much beauty in that which is underrated… and that is why I loved Genova. 

I did not really have any expectations upon visiting Genova. You might know it as “Genoa.” I think that’s what drew me into it the most. I find that the lower expectations I have for a place, the greater extent they’re exceeded. You find love when you stop looking for it. The same goes for places.

I’m going to be honest: I went to Genova for its aquarium. It’s the second largest in Europe, and I had always wanted to go to an aquarium. That was really my only motivation. I didn’t really have any other plans for the city, nor did I know anything about it. I kind of imagined I would just do what I usually do: go on a walking tour, eat food, and wander.

Before I go any further in this post, I need to tell you one thing: Genova is where pesto originated. Ok? If you know one thing about Genova, know that, and thank that beautiful city every time you eat something with pesto.

Moving on…My guide to Genova!

Genova is a port city.

Parts of the city itself are part of the World Heritage UNESCO. If I can be honest, I did not do that much while I was there. But it is a place that you want to see for its beauty, simplicity, and because unlike most Italian destinations, it is not loaded with tourists at every turn. You can feel the bones of the city when you walk through the shaded streets. You can feel that it is different. The main square is its busy center, but when you move beyond that, into its heart, you seemingly leave the tourist world behind.

I do recommend you go to the Aquarium.

Like I mentioned, it’s the second largest in Europe and the largest in Italy. It was not insanely busy, either.

Pro tip! If you have a student ID, they DO give student discounts when you get there. It isn’t advertised, though, so just ask!

The trattoria I referred to at the beginning of this is called Trattoria Da Maria.

I highly recommend it; I got pesto, an actual jug of wine, and shared an entree all for ~6euro? It was super cheap and a really awesome, authentic experience.

There are palaces you can tour off of Via Garibaldi, one of the most historic streets in the city that is seriously stunning.

You can buy admission to all three with a single ticket. The street is super close to everywhere you want to be, so it’s a good reference point, and you can take some seriously amazing pictures here.

Piazza de Ferrari is a large square with a fountain that often seemed to have something going on. When I was there one evening, there was an anti-fascism protest happening. That was interesting. Close by to Piazza de Ferrari is Palazzo Ducale, the Italian Jazz Institute and Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti (and its accompanying museum).

Cathedral of San Lorenzo
Cathedral of San Lorenzo

From Piazza de Ferrari, you can walk over to the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. I’m not usually one to be awe-struck by cathedrals, but this was really beautiful; the colors on the outside were stunning, and the inside was unreal.

The city walls and gate have a lot of history; I strolled around Porta Soprana; it’s next to the Christopher Colombus House “museum” (not his real house, pretty sure it’s more of a re-creation of it). Porta Soprana traces back to 1150 and they look like something from a movie. You can read some more about it here, if you want!

Galleria Mazzini

For a gorgeous location for shopping and some food, Galleria Mazzini is absolutely stunning. It’s a covered walkway and totally unexpected!

Hostel Accommodation

I stayed at Manena Hostel and had a very positive experience. They’re pretty specific about being quiet at night, which is great. The staff was great, the location was perfect (right off of Via Garibaldi)!

Have you been to Genova? What did you think? What’s your favorite place in Italy that isn’t the most touristic? Let me know!

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