Genoa: A reminder not to judge a book (or city) by its cover

Genoa from a rooftop view

Genoa isn’t typically on the list of destinations for tourists coming to Italy. Its nearby neighbor, Cinque Terre, soaks up most of the visitors of the Italian Riviera. And I’ll admit my list of reasons for doing a three-day stopover weren’t extremely meaningful. I was looking for something on the Italian coast, on the way from Avignon to Florence, and with a nice Airbnb. And so Genoa it was. Plus the quick search of Google images made it look quite similar to Cinque Terre, and who wouldn’t want to relax at an Airbnb that looks like this?

Rooftop deck of my Airbnb

Not until a few days before leaving for Genoa did I start planning for it. Not too much came up online to provide ideas of what to do, and that’s fine because a few restful days in Italy will still be wonderful. Then I checked Google maps for my Airbnb location. The street view came up with a dark alley, graffiti, definitely a prostitute standing on the corner, and a group of young men standing outside the bar across the alley. Oh goodness, what I have gotten myself into?

Genoa’s historic old town has some dark alleyways, but street lights do come on after dark.

When I arrived in Genoa and walked to the Airbnb, I came across at least ten prostitutes along the way. Street numbers were a bit haphazard so I was walking back and forth, luggage in tow, cell phone out, “Tourist here!” sign above my head. Then I saw the “Fuck Gentrification” graffiti that I remembered from Google maps, the bar with the men in front, and found my Airbnb. Deep breath, I can handle this.

Genoa’s historic old town by day

Google images of Genoa had me thinking I was visiting an alternate Cinque Terre. Google maps led me to think I would be staying in a high-crime scary dark alleyway. Genoa and the historic old town where I stayed were neither, and within just a few hours of my arrival I started falling in love with the city.

Genoa: an Italian port city

Genoa is a port city, capital of the Liguria region, and has played a central role in maritime trade for centuries. It is a city of close to 600,000 residents whom do not rely on tourism. It is beautiful and gritty, welcoming and charming, and not for the sensitive tourist used to having all accommodations met.

Genoa: a city of elaborate architecture
Genoa: a city with piazzas at the end of every street

Genoa is a city of piazzas, where at the end of many of the narrow medieval lanes are beautiful squares surrounded by colorful buildings. The former wealth of the city is prominently on display in the architecture. Many of the most beautiful buildings are on narrow streets with the only views available are the ones as you crane your neck upwards.

Genoa: a city of vibrant color

It is also a city of hills and stairways. Although I definitely recommend a visit to Genoa, those with mobility impairments will have a tougher time at least in the hills and the historic old town.

Genoa: a city of hills and stairs
Genoa: the birthplace of pesto

Genoa is apparently the birthplace of pesto, and it is incredible. They have also mastered a Genoese focaccia recipe that will knock your socks off. This should not be taken lightly. I will dream of that pesto and focaccia for years to come.

I highly recommend a visit to Genoa if you are in the neighborhood. It’s as beautiful as the rest of the Italian Riviera if you don’t mind a little realism in your beauty shots. The people are welcoming as most Italians away from the tourist centers can be. Although walking tours are in short supply (they are offered I believe on weekends and a few certain days of the month), there is still enough to provide a wonderful visit for tourists for a few days.

As I researched more about the city, I felt enormously better about my location when I found that prostitution is legal in Italy, a fact I did not know despite several trips to this country. It just seems a bit more prominently on display in Genoa’s old town. I always felt safe, perhaps a testament to the legalization of vices. And if it still worries you, stay out of the narrow old town alleyways and you’ll be just fine.

For more pictures of Genoa, see the Genoa photo gallery.