Discover how to spend a long weekend in Genoa and the Cinque Terre. From aquariums and cathedrals to colourful waterfronts and cities of the dead…
Genoa, Italy’s sixth largest city, was the birthplace of the famous explorer Christopher Columbus and the violin virtuoso and composer Niccolò Paganini. It’s also a working port, complete with a suitably gritty harbour.
In fact, if you arrive by boat you’ll probably take one look and think ‘no, move on’ as the dockside is a mix of dilapidated older buildings and newer, characterless structures. The ferris wheel really isn’t enough of an attraction to be a deal-clincher.
But first impressions are misleading as behind the port is a city with lots of charm… and hills. In Genoa everything is up and as a result there are public lifts and funicular railways to help you get around.
These are not only great fun, they also make a lot of sense as some of the climbs are very steep indeed. The views across the city, once you reach the top, are worth the journey – you get a real sense of the urban sprawl that isn’t available from within the narrow streets and bustling squares down below.
What to see and do in Genoa
My stay was short as I had plans to travel down the coast, so I decided to organise my time quite carefully. I accepted I’d not get to see everything on offer and instead prioritised what to see and where to go. And first on my list was the Acquario di Genova – Europe’s largest aquarium. And it didn’t disappoint.
Something fishy going on
The Acquario di Genova was built for Expo ’92, a celebration of the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. And if you like a good aquarium [I most certainly do] then this is a must see. There are around 600 species on display, from sharks to penguins, and the scale of the place is really impressive.
Edoardo Chiossone Museum of Oriental Art
The Edoardo Chiossone Museum of Oriental Art contains one of the most important collection of Asian art in Europe. Not that you’d know that as it’s hidden away in the middle of a small park with only a hand painted sign buried in a bush for direction. As a result, I had the place pretty much to myself, which made my visit even more memorable. The Samurai armour was a real highlight.
Cattedrale di San Lorenzo
I also paid a quick visit to the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, which was built between the 12th and 14th century. The medieval building narrowly avoided being destroyed during the second world war, a most welcome escape as the cathedral’s interior is quite wonderful. Recent excavations suggest that the site was a burial ground in Roman times.
The dead centre of town
My final visit in Genoa was to the Cimitero monumentale di Staglieno, a monumental cemetery a short bus ride out of town. It’s hard to describe just how impressive – and odd – the place is.
At more than a square kilometre, it’s one of the largest cemeteries in Europe. Opened in 1804, the place contains tombs and statues of truly awe-inspiring proportions. It’s a city for the dead on a grand scale… for the most part. The protestant quarter is built on a much smaller scale and contains the grave of Oscar Wilde’s wife Constance Lloyd.
Given more time I’d have visited the Castello d’Albertis, which contains the Museum of World Cultures, and the Musei di Strada Nuova; reason enough to make a return visit one day. Instead I headed for the railway station for a journey down the coast to the Cinque Terre.
Discover Genoa’s old town, with our guide to its majestic churches, renaissance architecture, wonderful piazzas and winding streets.
Cinque Terre – The five territories
The Cinque Terre are five ancient villages clinging to the coastline south of Genoa. The mix of colourful houses and waterfronts lined with fishing boats is quite magical – the food on offer is just as good. Sadly, as my time was limited I decided to restrict my visit to just two of the five: Riomaggiore and Vernazza.
Riomaggiore, built in the early 18th century, is know locally for its wine, which is a good enough reason to visit.
It’s the most southern of the five villages and its rocky opening to the sea attracts young locals who throw themselves into what looks like pretty treacherous water with total abandon.
Vernazza, the second of the villages, has no car traffic and is the only natural port of the five. It’s a far more sedate community that’s built into a split in the rocky cliff, surround by spiralling streets and a lighthouse.
A whirlwind tour of Genoa and Cinque Terre
Both were quite beautiful and given more time I’d have enjoyed the remaining three destinations. Sadly, my time ran out before I’d seen all that was on offer. My long weekend simply wasn’t long enough to take in all that’s on hand in Genoa and the Cinque Terre. Let that be a warning to you, should you decide to make the trip…
This is a guest post by Anthony Clark, journalist, copywriter and longtime friend of the Ladies What Travel team. He loves beer, cheese and travel and is a genius when it comes to making the most of his annual leave.