Genoa, Italy with Kids

We could tell we were going to love Genoa as soon as we pulled into port. The city rises from the water to the surrounding hills. It looks both modern and historic and was teaming with Christmas lights. Genoa is the home port of MSC. The MSC Orchestra received “rock star” parking at the old port building providing an amazing view of the city from the ship. We spent our time in port on a walking tour and then exploring on our own.

We booked a three hour private walking tour through Genova Guide prior to our arrival. This was the perfect way to spend our morning in Genoa. Our tour guide was fantastic with the kids. She spent time making sure the boys were entertained on the tour while still providing all the adults tons of information.

Our tour guide met us at the port. She was easy to find and started our tour right away. It was really funny because we met her on the escalator – she was descending and we were ascending, so she had to come back up to catch us. The first part of our tour took us under the highway and toward the water. The new developments all sit on this new bay area, but you have to get there from the old port by crossing through this area that is not particularly pedestrian or stroller friendly.

Once you reach the water’s edge again you are in the heart of the tourist attractions. Here sits the Gelata Museo del Mare (the maritime museum). We didn’t have time to explore this museum but it looked fantastic for kids. Our tour guide kept raving about it. The Genoa Aquarium is also located on the water’s edge. The aquarium often sells out so it is best to get timed tickets ahead of time.

The walking tour took a turn into the old town. The town still utilizes many of the small medieval streets from the city’s humble beginnings as a fully walled city. Many buildings in Genoa utilize trompe l’oeil’ or “trick of the eye” to look grander than they really are. Columns, statues and even windows were painted on in a style that, at least from afar, made them look as if they were real. Our tour guide made a game with our Big Little by asking him “real or fake?”

Genoa is also full of statues of The Virgin Mary built into the buildings. These can be found all over town. The kids were on a bit of a scavenger hunt to find them as we walked the streets.

Some are quite elaborate, like this full retelling of the Nativity, while others are simple and understated.

There are so many streets and lovely storefronts in Genoa. Some are lined with tiny stores that have clearly been there forever, while others are lined with more well known Italian stores. They were all beautifully decorated for the holidays.

The Genoa Cathedral was built between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries and is incredibly impressive and unlike any other church we’ve seen so far in Europe.

The children were, of course, completely taken by the marble lions on the steps in front of the cathedral.

I have to admit they were pretty spectacular, particularly with the black and white backdrop of the church’s facade.

The detail and the texture are amazing.

Heading inside, the building continues to amaze. The black and white arches run the length of the cathedral.

There are several incredible alters inside the chapels lining the main sanctuary.

Even the kids were in awe of all there is to see. In the back right corner though sits a bomb from World War II that fell through the church but never exploded.

Leaving the church behind the tour guide could tell the kids were getting antsy so she announced it was time for some focaccia bread.

We popped into one of the oldest bakeries in the city. It’s so old that pictures of bakers are carved into the building, so everyone would know what sort of store it was. The tour guide came out with focaccia for everyone. We sat on the stairs and enjoyed some of the most amazing bread I’ve ever had. I honestly regret not eating more!

We were now behind the Cathedral near the Porta Soprana. We should have had the tour guide end our tour up here because there were so many good looking restaurants on the road to the gate. Every last one looked amazing.

We passed through the Porta Soprana gates and found ourselves in front of the Christoper Columbus birthplace.

This is not actually where he was born, but they know he was born in a house on this street, and this is the last one left…so good enough. The tour guide told us the museum is not really worth a visit.

Also on this street are the remains of the Saint Andrea cloister. You can go in and walk around. Its beautiful and quite serene.

We continued down the street turning back toward the old town and essentially back into what would have been the walled city.

We paused in Piazza de Ferrari, the town’s central square. The kids just wanted to run around this fountain for a bit. I obliged letting them run while the rest of the group stuck with the tour guide.

The square and fountain are surrounded by office buildings and banks. It is a great mix of the old and new city converging at the square.

As we headed through the old town back toward the water we paused at a shop that candies vegetables and fruits. It is a staple for the city and the products in the windows didn’t look appetizing to me but they were still memorizing. (If you’re not traveling with kids check out the Genoa Food Tour that visits many of these historic food shops. )

The last street we walked down on the tour was full of old mansions. The city was filled with these large homes but only a few remain. You can pick up a map at the TI that will show you the location of these numbered homes. We wandered into a few of them to see the ornate painted ceilings. One even had a grotto carved into the city walls.

All of them reek of the wealth that was here when it was a hub of maritime activity. The tour ended on this street and my parents headed off to find lunch in one of the lovely little restaurants of the old town.

My sister, Jeff and I headed back down to the port to find something a bit more kid friendly. We ended up at a touristy pizza place that was good, albeit crowded. (Should have grabbed a sandwich in the old town!)

Then we headed to the Genoa Children’s Museum. The boys were so good during the tour that they were in major need of some kid focused fun. The Children’s Museum was the perfect place for them to run around and explore. Grippy socks are required for the kids in the museum. We had to buy a pair (€2) for the Middle and Big Littles since we didn’t have ours with us.

It is not the best children’s museum we have ever been to but it has plenty of fun. The Water Table was a favorite. They had smocks and Crocs for the kids to wear so they did not get wet. My Little Rebels wanted none of that and instead got soaked.

There is a lovely construction area where kids use wheelbarrows to bring foam blocks to a building site. Even the Little Little got in on the fun.

The Middle Little loved the crossing gate, run by another child. He spent most of his time shuttling blocks through the gate.

The back room of the museum had more science based exhibits on bugs and boats. The Big Little liked these areas as they are geared at older kids. We spent about two hours at the museum. When we left the kids were exhausted.

We made the short walk back along the water and under the highway to the MSC docks. The Middle and Little little fell asleep on the walk. The cruise ship staff was happy to direct us to elevators and rush us through security so we could keep the kids asleep.

We had a bit of time on the boat before our “sail away.” At every other port this had been sort of an anticlimactic experience, but not leaving Genoa. Here the sail away was a whole thing. I happened to be outside on deck and captured it all on video. (Music not added…it’s actually playing throughout the ship.)

We had a lovely time in Genoa. This would be a great city to visit on its own for a few days. We hardly hit any of the city “attractions” and completely missed the activities in the hills.


Elizabeth is a Type A, Attorney turned Stay-at-Home Mom, who moved her family across the Atlantic for an adventure. She can often be found out and about finding fun things for her littles to do. Elizabeth loves to read, craft and chat with friends. She will try just about anything and loves to share her experiences.

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