Itinerary: A "pint-sized" stroll through Genoa
Beginning in the West and from the Piazza Principe railway station, the first story we'd like to tell you is about the medieval pilgrims who set out from Genoa bound for the Holy Land, to visit the places where Jesus once lived. While waiting for ships to Jerusalem, they stayed at the Commenda di Prè, now a museum theatre where pilgrims, knights and sailors will tell you of their adventures on the high seas.
If you like sailing stories, then the place for you is the Galata Museo del Mare: this Museum of the Sea takes you on a voyage through the city’s history, featuring ships, navigators, sailors and explorers. You can climb aboard a galley or a brig, experience the thrill of sailing a boat through a storm, and discover how the ships of the Genoese fleet have changed over the centuries.
You can then choose whether to enter the labyrinth of the caruggi (the alleyways of the historic centre) through the ancient gate known as Porta di Santa Fede or dei Vacca, or continue along the seafront. Just inside the gate, which is almost a thousand years old, you'll find a strange little square with a fountain, once home to the wealthy Vacca or Vacchero family, who betrayed the Republic of Genoa. As punishment, their residence was demolished and replaced with the fountain; standing in the square is a stone that admonishes against emulating such treacherous behaviour.
If you’ve decided to remain alongside the sea, you'll already be able to spot the Aquarium of Genoa, where you can admire no fewer than 15,000 animals belonging to 400 species of fish, marine mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, on a journey of discovery that’ll take you through all the aquatic environments on the planet and give you the chance to meet all their inhabitants.
The Old Port area boasts a host of other attractions for children, such as the Città dei Bambini, a museum where 2- to 12-year-olds can make discoveries large and small, finding out about science and technology and having fun at the same time; or the De Amicis Library, specialised in books and activities for kids and teenagers. The Museo Luzzati is devoted to a great illustrator of stories and fairy tales, as well as hosting exhibitions and workshops that introduce visitors to designers and illustrators from around the world. What's more, the Museo Luzzati is housed in Porta Siberia, a 16th-century gate through which stocks of food (or cibaria, hence the origin of the name) once entered the city.
Before leaving the area of the Old Port, if you're not afraid of heights, you might like to take a ride on the Bigo, the lift that rises up 40 metres and offers superb views of the entire city from above.
Another nice place from which you can take in the whole city is the Spianata Castelletto (Castelletto Esplanade), with a convenient lift leading up to it: the city of Genoa is all uphill, and the Genoese often built lifts and funiculars that operate like buses in order to help them climb up into the hills without too much hard work! Just think: a poet once said that the Castelletto lift is the path to Paradise! It must really be one superb view, don't you think?
Descending from Castelletto, in Via Garibaldi, which the Genoese once called the Strada Nuova (New Road) or Strada Aurea (Golden Road), you'll find the beautiful palaces of Genoa's noble families. If you visit Palazzo Rosso or Palazzo Bianco, you'll have the chance to see opulent furniture, gilded decorations and the portraits of extraordinary gentlemen and princesses dressed in spectacular garb! These palaces are so beautiful that UNESCO (an important international organisation that takes care of cultural sites all over the world) has declared them a World Heritage Site: a beautiful place for all mankind to treasure. Genoa is home to 42 of these wonderful palaces.
Genoa is also home to another castle that looks as if it has come straight out of a fairy tale: Castello D'Albertis. To reach it, you can take yet another unique lift that sets out from Via Balbi: it travels horizontally at first, like a train, then shifts to rise up vertically like a lift. Featuring towers, battlements and secret passages, the Castle also boasts a large park with a beautiful view over Genoa; and what's more, it houses a beautiful museum dedicated to the cultures of many distant peoples from all over the world.
Speaking of towers, there's another one in the city that is a little bit more scary: the Torre Grimaldina, in Palazzo Ducale. It used to be one of the prisons of the ancient Republic of Genoa, where people who conspired against the State were locked up… and a visit to it’ll send shivers down your spine!
Who is Genoa’s most famous son, known the world over? Why Christopher Columbus, of course! In Genoa, you can visit his family home, near the medieval Porta Soprana gate.
And no self-respecting navigator can do without a lighthouse, to light him the safest route back into Port: Genoa's Lanterna has helped ships arriving in the city since the Middle Ages. Within the Lanterna, exhibits and videos will tell you stories of the port.
Fun and fascinating though all this may be, after this journey through the culture of the city what we really need is to stretch our legs and play: thank goodness Genoa has so many beautiful parks!