Genova: a guide to the gastronomic scene

10 May 2024
Written by
Teresa Cremona

Discover the culinary delicacies of the city

Genoa is timeless, a poetic destination that through its alleys, its port and the magnificence of its palaces coupled with contrasting shadows and lights unveils its own character and that of its locals.

When visiting Genoa, strolling around the historic centre – one of the largest in Europe – is a must. A network of alleys and ancient medieval buildings overlooking the sea, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006. Despite being a large city, it can be comfortably explored on foot, also due to the size of its narrow alleys, where only scooters and Ape cars can transit; and not to mention the fact that by slowly wandering through its hidden corners the city unveils its most intimate and true essence.

The itinerary begins from the Porto Antico, home to some of the most famous tourist attractions, such as the Aquarium – designed by architect Renzo Piano, with its 70 tanks, the cetacean pavilion, and more than 15,000 specimens of 400 different species, the largest in Europe. Another symbol of the Porto Antico is the Bigo, the 40-meter-high panoramic elevator also designed by Renzo Piano, which resembles the ancient cranes that moved goods in the port.

The third stop is the Galata Museo del Mare, born from the redevelopment of the ancient Darsena and Arsenal of the Republic. During the visit, you can access the famous Nazario Sauro submarine, the only one in Italy visitable at sea.

Taking a trip to Genoa also means tasting the famous Genoese focaccia, in its traditional version or with onions, as offered by Il Genovino in Sottoripa and by the Focacceria Genovese in Piazza Fossatello. As the locals do, try focaccia for breakfast, dipped in cappuccino instead of a croissant.

Palazzi dei Rolli

Nearby, a five minute walk leads you to The Palazzi dei Rolli, a collection of magnificent palaces that showcase the city’s rich architectural heritage and historical significance. These palaces, dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, were once prestigious residences belonging to Genoa’s noble families. Renowned architects such as Galeazzo Alessi and Andrea Ceresola contributed to their design, resulting in a stunning array of Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles.

In the area of the Porto Antico, there are several opportunities for a foodie break, such as the Antica Osteria in Vico Palla, located in the part of the Sestiere del Molo, which offers Ligurian traditional dishes. On Calata Cattaneo, on the top floor of the Millo building, Eataly Genova offers easy solutions with its themed restaurants, or in its gourmet restaurant Il Marin, where chef Marco Visciola stands out for an enogastronomic vision based on memory, quality, and biodiversity in a Ligurian key, with a touch of Eastern rigor and clarity.

Walking along Calata Cattaneo, you reach Piazza Caricamento, next to Palazzo San Giorgio, one of the most important historic buildings in the city, built at the end of the 13th century. Here you will find the lively medieval arcades of Via Sottoripa, the ancient Ripa Maris, which showcases the rich maritime heritage of the region. Not to be missed is the characteristic Genoese street food, vegetable pies, farinata and fried fish to be enjoyed in a paper cone found at the Antica Friggitoria Carega or the Friggitoria San Giorgio. Another cult stop is at Gran Ristoro, for its 150 types of sandwiches prepared on the spot, identifiable by the line of waiting customers. For lovers of fresh fish, under the arcades, Da Simone is a family-run fish shop, where you can find a wide variety of local and high-quality fish, served with expertise.

When it comes to shopping local delicacies heat to Armanino and Sons, a shop dating back to the early 1900s that sells countless nuts, dried fruits, wines and many more Ligurian products.

A stop worth making is Piazza Banchi, named after the ancient presence of the money changers’ stalls under the arcades of its palaces. Its Loggia dei Mercanti in 1855 became the headquarters of the first Commodities and Values Exchange in Italy. Dominating this square is the Church of San Pietro in Banchi, a unique example of a religious building located above commercial premises in a curious blend of sacred and profane.

After passing the church, you’ll find a very busy alley, Via Canneto il Curto, where Pestobene offers true Genoese Pesto with Basil Genovese Dop, as well as various types of traditional fresh pasta such as mandilli (handkerchiefs) and trofie. In nearby Piazza Cinque Lampadi, the innovative gourmet café Tazze Pazze is a must-visit for coffee lovers.

Along Vico Caprettari you must visit the Antica Barberia Giacalone, a shop of only 10 square meters, entirely furnished in Art Deco style, one of the oldest places in Genoa. Acquired by the F.A.I., restored, and reopened to the public. Also in Vico Caprettari, the Trattoria della Raibetta offers traditional Genoese cuisine with quality and local ingredients and with some concessions to creativity.

Back on Via Canneto il Curto, you reach Piazza San Giorgio and its two churches: San Giorgio and the small and intimate San Torpete, a true church of the alleys with a very ancient history, destroyed by the Sun King when he bombed Genoa at the end of the 1600s, then rebuilt. Passing between the two churches, you find yourself in Via San Bernardo, which hosts one of the most famous historic shops, the very small Drogheria Torrielli, where you can find spices, herbs, and tea from all over the world, packaged with handwritten labels.

Pesto alla Genovese

A short distance away is the Trattoria Archivolto Mongiardino, small and characteristic, known for its typical fish-based cuisine. Crossing Via dei Giustiniani, you reach Via Canneto il Lungo, a historic alley that followed the path of the reed next to the very first city walls that delimited the Castrum, the oldest part of the city. The houses flanking it are built on the foundations of those same walls. Following the street, you come across two other renowned grocers, the Antica Drogheria Casaleggio, where you can get lost among spices, soaps, and products unavailable elsewhere, and the Antica Drogheria di Canneto, a cozy little shop of legumes in classic sacks, traditional sweets like tripolini and ginevrine, biscuits, candles, and much more.

Le Delizie dell’Amico, on the other hand, offers Genoese and Ligurian specialties, following in the footsteps of the ancient traditional sciamadde: farinata, vegetable pies, stuffed anchovies, cod and stockfish, panissa, and castagnaccio. Another symbolic place in the area is the Bar degli Asinelli, where you can still taste the “Corochinato” Donkey of ancient Genoese tradition: Coronata wine flavoured according to a secret recipe since 1886, served with a slice of lemon and a plate of fugassa squares.

Arriving at the top of the alley, you come out onto Salita Pollaioli, right in front of the famous Caffè degli Specchi, opened in 1908 as a liquor store, with its tiled vault and walls covered in mirrors. Going down Salita Pollaioli, shops and bars alternate without interruption until you reach the nearby Piazza delle Erbe, a meeting place for young people and the nightlife of the historic center. Still a short distance away, in Vico Vegetti, Maurizio Tavella in his Mangiabuono, tells a gastronomic story of pure Genoese tradition.

Another delicious recommendation is to continue, passing Salita Pollaioli and descending into a small and secluded alley, Vico dei Castagna, to discover the Antica Fabbrica di Cioccolato Romeo Viganotti, an artisanal chocolate workshop where vintage machinery and molds are used and where time seems to have stopped.

Cathedral of San Lorenzo

A stop in Piazza Matteotti to admire Palazzo Ducale and its neoclassical side facade. The complex deserves a dedicated visit, to explore all its spaces and the high-level museum and exhibition offer. From here, turning your gaze back towards the Porto Antico, descend along the wide Via di San Lorenzo, meeting the most important church in Genoa, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, and its courtyard. Erected around the year 1098 on a previous basilica from the 5th – 6th centuries, and later expanded, the cathedral houses the ashes of the city’s patron saint, Saint John the Baptist, which arrived in Genoa at the end of the First Crusade.

In the underground premises of the Cathedral, it’s also worth visiting the Treasure Museum, with masterpieces of goldsmithing and sacred art from the 11th-19th centuries and ancient silverware of exceptional artistic importance. In the immediate vicinity, the recommended Locanda Cicala, a boutique hotel with modern and sophisticated rooms hosted in a 16th-century building.

Another recommended accomodation is Palazzo Durazzo, opened just last year with twelve suites, each different from the other, some with 18th-century frescoes, located in a 16th-century palace just a few steps from the Old Port – Porto Antico.

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