48 hours in Genoa

Now's the perfect time to visit this historic Ligurian seaport, the 'City of Marble', before the G8 summit takes over in July


Why go now?

Why go now?

Genoa is showing the benefits of refurbishment as it prepares to greet George W Bush, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, and the rest of the G8 leaders, due to meet here in July. Images of the city's grand façades will be beamed around the world as the backdrop to every G8 news bulletin, so now is the time to enjoy the city's rich history, before the crowds come and prices rocket. Added to that, the weather at this time of year is mild and dry.

The icing on the cake

For kids both big and small, the aquarium, designed by Renzo Piano, that stretches out into the harbour, is first choice. Arrive late to play on your own with the dolphins, seals and giant turtle. Last admission is 6.30pm, but on Thursday evening it opens until 11pm. Allow about 90 minutes for a good look round. Open at weekends from 9.30am-8pm. Entrance, including the short, funny, 3D movie in Italian about plankton, is 22,000 lire (£7.30) for adults, 13,000 lire (£5.60) for children aged three to 12.

Take a ride

Take the 15 bus from the terminus at Via Dante and get off at Nervi, the last stop. Journey time is 15 minutes. Bus tickets can be bought at any newsagent for 1,500 lire (50p). Stamp your ticket in the machine when you board your first bus and your ticket remains valid for 90 minutes. Walk downhill, past villas built as seaside homes by Genoa's gentry, and into the park adjoining Villa Grimaldi, then through the tunnel on to the promenade sheared into the cliffs. Turn right and walk along the Italian Mediterranean to Nervi's pretty harbour, stop at a gelateria for ice-cream (from 2,000 lire), then return on the 15 bus.

Beam down

Until the end of March, the return fare on Ryanair's twice-daily service from Stansted to Genoa is £58.50 (less if you avoid travelling on Fridays; we paid £30.10 for our return tickets). Sign up to Ryanair's e-mail at www.ryanair.com for early notification of promotions. British Airways (0845 7733377; www.britishairways.co.uk) flies from Gatwick, currently for £158 return. From the airport, take the 100 bus, which runs every half-hour. The journey takes 20 minutes and costs 4,000 lire (£1.30). If you are arriving from nearby Milan, Genoa's Stazione Principe is 90 minutes away by train. These run every two hours and a return ticket costs 40,000 lire (£12).

Check in

The recently renovated four-star Hotel Bristol Palace, 35 Via Venti Settembre (0039 010 592541; www.hotelbristolpalace.com) is very grand; all the staff speak English and its location is excellent. A double room furnished with antiques costs 320,000 lire (£110), including breakfast. At the three-star Hotel Astoria, 4 Piazza Brignole (0039 010 873316; www.hotelastoria-ge.com), a large double room and breakfast costs 210,000 lire (£70); some rooms retain their period style, with chandeliers and antique mahogany furniture, and there is an ornate, wrought-iron and mahogany lift. For 120,000 lire, the two-star Hotel Colombo, 59 Via di Porta Soprano (0039 010 2513643; www.hotelcolombo.it) offers double rooms and a central location.

Get your bearings

In the narrow streets of Genoa's medieval quarter, shops and bars occupy tall buildings erected more than 1,000 years ago. In the 10th century, the city's commercial empire stretched to Corsica, Sardinia and North Africa. Then, between the 15th and 17th centuries, even greater wealth was accrued as Genoese bankers controlled Europe's currency. Much of this wealth was invested in the city's churches and palaces. Flaubert named it the "City of Marble". Unlike Venice, Genoa has got on with being a functional city in recent years and added car parks and commerce and ugly industry, but its grand history remains. The main tourist office is at Via Porto Antico (0039 010 248711) and has a street map that proves less than useful in the city's maze of unmapped ancient alleys. Genoa's grand fountain square at Piazza de Ferrari is covered in cranes while Renzo Piano's cube design, which will house the G8 summit, takes shape.

Take a hike

Genoa's oldest church is the 12th-century Romanesque complex at Santa Maria di Castello. Begin your walk on the hill where it sits, cross Piazza Embriaci and take Vico San Biagio into medieval Via San Bernardo. Turn right and walk the length of the street, passing Torielli's, Genoa's oldest grocery shop, and the 13th-century church of San Donato. Turn left into Salita Pollaiuoli and walk into Piazza Matteotti. On your right is the 16th-century Chiese del Ges; ahead, the Palazzo Ducale. Walk down Via San Lorenzo to the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo with its Genoese marble-and-slate façade. Turn right into Via Canneto it Curto and across into Piazza Banchi. The 16th-century loggia was Genoa's first stock exchange.

Lunch on the run

On the medieval streets around Piazza Banchi and Via di Soziglia, you can buy delicious pizza for 3,000 lire (£1). Buy from Panificio Bertola Nataline at 75 Via Macelli di Soziglia, then walk for two minutes along Via del Ferro, across Via Garibaldi to Piazza del Portello. From the square, take the Funicolare de Santa Anna for 600 lire. This takes you up to 1,000ft above the slate roofs of Genoa, where you can sit on a bench under the trees and enjoy your lunch in the fresher air. If it's raining, try the friendly Schooner Restaurant at 17 Salita Pollaiuoli for trenette al pesto (pasta with Genoa's celebrated green pesto sauce), around 1,800 lire (£6), including excellent house wine and coffee. Open every day for lunch and dinner.

Cultural afternoon

A treat for art lovers is the opportunity to view Caravaggio's Ecce Homo at the Palazzo Bianco on Via Garibaldi. Entrance is 6,000 lire (under-18s free); the gallery is open 9am-7pm on Saturday, and from 10am-6pm on Sunday, when entrance is free (and the gallery crowded). The palace houses many 17th-century paintings from Genoa's golden period of art, including works by Rubens and Van Dyck. Go one hour before closing on Saturday to have the gallery more or less to yourself. The restored Palazzo Ducale, off the Piazza De Ferrari, was the seat of the Doges, and today is where the city's main cultural events take place, as well as an antique and bric-a-brac market on Saturday afternoons.

Window shopping

Genoa offers ample shopping without inflated prices. Most shops are open 9.30am-12.30pm and 3.30-7.30pm on Saturday, closed on Sunday. Via Venti Settembre (the Genoese drop the Settembre) is the main shopping street. Try Succ. Di Giuseppe Pompilio at No248 for silverware. Fashionable silver bangles or an engraved identity bracelet cost around 45,000 lire each (£15). At Crovetto's, No95, gorgeous, long, men's socks cost 29,000 lire (£9.50). All the main shopping streets are dotted with leatherware shops. For a good selection of Prada shoes for men and women, starting at £120, try Sergio Vezzoni (19) at 22 Via Venti Octobre. For classic women's loafers in half-sizes for £40-£60, go to Baruffa at 45 Via Colombo. For food and wine, try the streets around Piazza Banchi, and Via di Soziglia or the open-air Mercato Orientale off Via Venti Settembre. Finally, Viganotti di Boccardo Alessandro at 14 Vico dei Castagna, has been Genoa's premier chocolate shop since 1866. Its cocoa powder makes delicious hot chocolate.

An aperitif

Take your pick from the many bars tucked away in the narrow lanes around Piazza San Bernardo and the medieval quarter. There is plenty to watch at Bar Berto's in the busy Piazza delle Erbe and you have until 1am to do so. The cocktails start at 6,000 lire (£2) and are served with focaccia. For refreshing Ligurian white, order your glass in local dialect - "un gotiu di janku".

Demure dinner

Da Vittorio's fish restaurant, on the harbour front at 59 Via Sottoripa (0039 10 2472927), is always packed with diners. Book in advance for lunch or dinner (and expect to have to wait for your table). The speciality is lobster and, depending on how much you eat and drink, you can expect to pay £25 for three courses with house wine (no credit cards accepted). Wine lovers will adore stylish Pallavicini at 25 Salita Pallavicini. Open for dinner at weekends, the contemporary restaurant nestles in an ancient cellar housing some 400 different wines. The speciality is veal, and three courses cost about £20 plus wine. Vegetarians will prefer Imperiale at 8a Piazza Campetto (no credit cards). The first-floor pizzeria occupies a series of palatial 15th-century salons, with gorgeous, pale, frescoed ceilings.

Sunday morning: go to church

For Mass with pomp, go to Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. Services are held at 9am and 11am. Less formal, and popular with confessing Genoese for its forgiving priests, is the 17th-century church of NS Consolazione, on Via Venti Settembre.

Bracing brunch

From any bakery, try authentic focaccia, the dry, salty bread that is a Genoese speciality and tastes best fresh from the oven in the morning; or pandolce, a fruit cake made with orange-flower water. Cafés dotted along Via Colombo and Via San Vincenzo (behind Genoa's covered food market) are busy from 7.30am onwards.

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