Sometimes, cities are lucky enough to reinvent themselves. Genoa, given short shrift in travel guides 20 years ago, has undergone a striking renaissance since 1992, when it hosted an international expo to commemorate the 500-year anniversary of the discovery of the New World.
Nowhere is that benefit more evident than at Porto Antico, the old port close to the marine terminal, where many of today's cruise ships now dock. What once was a seedy waterfront on Northern Italy's Mediterranean is now a charming blend of old and new structures, featuring cafes, shops, a movie complex, a maritime museum, a spectacular play and cultural center for kids and, most importantly, the largest aquarium in Europe.
From a distance, the Genoa cityscape -- climbing up a steep, green hillside from the Ligurian sea -- is awash in Mediterranean color: ochre, pink and red. It's a big town with more than 600,000 people, but it has a small-town feel and layout that make it imminently walkable. In fact, Genoa's foremost calling cards -- its historic center; the Piazza de Ferrari, where the Opera and Palace of the Doges are located; the chic shopping avenue, Via XX Settembre; and the largely pedestrian-only streets that hug the Cathedral of San Lorenzo -- are all within a 10- to 20-minute walk of Porto Antico.
Genoa, or Genova in Italian, has a rich history dating back to ancient times, but it's probably best known for Christopher Columbus, its most famous native celebrity. It has long been associated with the arts, and in 2004 the European Union designated Genoa as a European Capital of Culture. In 2006, a mid-16th century district on Via Garibaldi that houses an architecturally important ensemble of Renaissance and Baroque palaces was included on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Genoa typically serves as a port of embarkation or disembarkation, so it isn't often given high priority as a shore excursion. Our best advice? Enjoy a day here before or after your cruise. It's worth it.