As the second busiest cruise port in Italy, Genoa (Italien: Genova) is ideally located on the Italian Riviera, offering easy access to beautiful destinations with a great choice of shore excursions to get you there.
This northwestern corner of Italy is a port of call to many cruise ships with itineraries covering the western Mediterranean. And being so superbly located, it is far from easy to choose which of the many shore excursions from Genoa you should join when your ship drops anchor at this port.
Genoa – a walkable city of historic significance
The busy cruise port of Genoa is within a 20-minute walk of the historic old center. So if you do decide to stay close to the port and not venture further afield, it’s easy to find your way to the city center.
Expect to discover a fascinating history and stunning architecture. Take a good guidebook if you have not booked a guided tour, so you don’t miss the most significant sights.
A great place to start your day is at the Royal Palace and Museum, just a short walk from the cruise port past the University of Genoa. In fact, the hop-on/hop-off buses leave the cruise port regularly, so if you’d rather take the bus, the Royal Palace is one of the first stops.
From the Royal Palace, we recommend you visit the Spianata Castelletto for a mesmerizing rooftop view of the city. To get to the top, take the Art Nouveau elevator from Piazza Portello. The view is a wonderful start to your day in the city.
You’ll find an abundance of churches and museums in the city. One of the best is San Lorenzo Cathedral with its ornate frescoes inside the stunning colored interior.
Onwards from the cathedral, towards the Piazza di Ferrari is probably the best known landmark in Genoa with its large fountains. The square is surrounded by museums, churches, shopping, and cafes. Make sure you have a good guidebook with you so you know the history behind the architecture.
Our favorite area is along the Via Garibaldi. Discover wonderful palaces and churches. In between all the shopping are some wonderful restaurants offering the Genoa specialities of pesto, pasta,and focaccia. The street dates back to the 16th century and is a UNESCO world heritage area.
But what about if you do not want to stay in the city? The top three shore excursions from Genoa offer a fantastic opportunity to experience the awe-inspiring northeast corner of Italy for yourself:
1. Portofino, Santa Margherita, and Camogli
The picturesque town of Portofino, a small fishing town in the heart of the Italian Riviera, is idyllic in every way and one of the most popular shore excursions from Genoa, located less than one hour away from the port.
The Hotel Splendido on the waterfront in Portofino is a great place to start your own walking tour if you just chose to book transportation from your ship in Genoa and plan to explore by yourself. Hosting many celebrities and movie stars over the years, the Splendido is a great place to order a drink and sample some local dishes – particularly the locally-produced olive oil.
The area is known for its Pesto Alla Genovese. You can’t miss the aroma of basil grown prolifically around the bay. And there are plenty of specialty shops if you want to bring some pesto home.
Start at Piazza Martiri Dell’Olivetta, for the best shopping, and be sure to discover the cashmere products that Portofino is known for.
For the best views over Portofino, climb the steps from the harbor up to the Church of San Georgio. It can be pretty steep in places, so wear good walking shoes. Continue to the castle, Castello Brown, for one stunning view after another.
Continue along the same path, and you will reach the lighthouse. On the way there, you can descend the steep steps to Portofino’s tiny, pebbly beach, Spiaggetta dell’Olivetta. It’s an excellent spot for snorkeling but not so much for sunbathing.
We recommend you take a towel, sunscreen, and a bottle of water from your cruise ship. Beware of the high prices charged for sun chairs on private beaches, head for the free public beach instead.
If you want to include snorkeling in the bay, we recommend booking a guided tour and combining Portofino with a bus excursion to Paraggi, one of the best snorkeling spots in the area.
A coastal walk from Portofino to Santa Margherita
There is a fantastic coastal walk from Portofino to the quaint and colorful narrow alleyways of Santa Margherita. The walk takes about 1.5 hours, but you should be relatively fit, and watch out for traffic when you reach the coastal road. Local drivers drive fast along this stretch. A bus and a ferry frequently travel between Portofino and Santa Margherita for the less energetic.
Be prepared to stay longer than you perhaps anticipate in Santa Margherita. The town is larger than Portofino, and behind the colorful seafront, it has plenty to offer, including upscale shopping, restaurants, and a beautiful church to explore.
We recommend a guided tour to include Portofino and Santa Margherita in one day. With transportation included, you will have plenty of time to see both villages. Often cruise ships stay in the bay of Portofino until the evening giving you time to enjoy this stunning region.
2. Cinque Terre
One of the most famous areas in northern Italy, Cinque Terre is an area of outstanding beauty. Five small towns were built into the rugged cliffs with walking trails, vineyards, and fishing harbors to explore.
The first of the five towns from Genoa is Monterosso al Mare. Note that the transfer time is around 90 minutes from Genoa. If you are calling in at the port of La Spezia, it is much closer to Cinque Terre. But if you want to visit and the port of Genoa is nearest on your itinerary, we recommend booking a guided shore excursion to ensure you return to the ship in good time.
Better, if you are starting or finishing a cruise at Genoa, book a hotel and stay some extra nights. Then make Cinque Terre an excursion destination so you are not stressed about returning to the ship in time.
Each of the five villages of Cinque Terre is gorgeous, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, and Vernazza. Monterosso is the largest and most northern. Whether or not you visit all five depends on the tour you choose.
Vernazza is, in our opinion, the most charming and a definite must-see on your visit. Viator does a great semi-private day tour. Semi-private means that you can join a small group of other guests. This tour includes a stop for lunch at Vernazza.
And if you want to book a hiking trail in Cinque Terre, check that your kids meet the age requirement. Some of the hikes can be quite challenging.
3. Genoese Cooking lessons and wine tasting
Want to learn to cook like a true Italian? You will be blown away by the variety and taste of produce grown in this region of Italy. Learn from a local chef the secrets to making a great Italian sauce, and pasta or sample some of the region’s delicious cured meats.
On this excursion, you will most likely have cooking lessons in smaller groups in a traditional Italian farmhouse. You eat what you prepare and try wines from nearby vineyards, specifically selected by your host chef.
This excursion with cooking lessons and wine tasting is a fun way to make new friends and learn Italian cooking secrets from local chefs. All around, a very memorable experience.