Things to Do in Piedmont & Liguria
The Piazza Carignano is one of Turin’s most majestic squares and is overlooked by the equally handsome, redbrick and white alabaster palace of the same name. Built between 1679 and 1685 by Baroque maestro Guarino Guarini as one of the royal homes of the ruling Savoy dukes, the Palazzo Carignano gained huge national significance when in 1861 it became the occasional home of Italy’s first king, Vittorio Emanuele II, following the Unification struggles that began in 1848. The palazzo now houses the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento as well as the elaborate, circular meeting rooms that were briefly the location of Italy’s first united government, which was formed in 1861 and lasted four years.
In many cases, the names of notable buildings in Italy can seem arbitrary. With the Palazzo Rosso in Genoa, however, the reason for the name is quite clear as soon as you see it – it is a palace, and it's red.
The Palazzo Rosso was built as a private home in the 1670s for the Brignole-Sale family. They owned the palazzo for 200 years before the last member of the family to live there decided to give it to the city of Genoa. The palace is on Via Garibaldi in the historic city center of Genoa – part of the city that's on the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing – among several other palaces originally built for prominent local families.
The first public gardens to be opened in Turin still exist as the Parco del Valentino, one of the city's most popular parks. Opened in 1856, the Parco del Valentino covers more than 123 acres in Turin along the left bank of the Po River. The park includes the Castello del Valentino, the University of Turin's botanical garden, and a replica medieval village – complete with a castle – built for the 1884 Turin International Expo.
The park was once the setting for car races—these were held between 1935 and 1954, all known as the Gran Premo del Valentino.
One of the most dominant features of Genoa's enormous port is something that looks a bit like a space probe sticking out of the water. That multi-pronged white structure that resembles a many-armed crane is called the “Bigo,” and it's Genoa's “panoramic elevator.” Bigo was designed by noted local architect Renzo Piano, the same man who designed Genoa's aquarium, in 1992 for the anniversary of Columbus' journey to the New World. From one of the arms, an elevator cabin can be raised, and then it rotates 360 degrees to give you a complete view overlooking the city. An audio-guide in the elevator cabin helps you make sense of what you're seeing. Not surprisingly, Bigo's design was influenced by the many huge cranes that seem to be always at work in Genoa's port, lifting goods on and off of the massive cargo ships in the harbor.
Portofino's waterfront is a jewel of the Italian Riviera with its pastel-colored buildings, but the vibrancy also extends onto the surrounding hills, where the bright yellow Church of San Giorgio sits overlooking the Portofino harbor. The original church on this site was built in the 12th century before it was expanded and later totally destroyed during World War II. The church seen today dates from 1950, although some features are from earlier structures. The church takes its name from Portofino's patron saint, whose relics were brought to the city after the Crusades and are kept inside the church in a shrine. The small piazza in front of the church offers wonderful views over Portofino.
Who could turn down the opportunity for a long stroll along a beautiful seafront on a gorgeous Italian day? If you're headed to Genoa, then that means you're headed for a stroll on the Corso Italia.
There are a few roads that can be called promenades in Genoa, a city very much tied to its waterfront, but the Corso Italia is the main promenade. It runs roughly 1.5 miles just to the east of the city center, from the neighborhood of Foce to the neighborhood of Boccadasse. There's a wide sidewalk along the Corso Italia with ample space for walking, cycling, and jogging, and along much of the route there are also beaches worth checking out. Even if the weather isn't conducive to long outdoor walks, there are great restaurants along the Corso Italia that boast excellent sea views all year long.
You can certainly walk the entire length of the Corso Italia without stopping, but there are some sights to see along the way if you're taking a more leisurely approach.
Among the properties managed by the company that runs the famous Genoa Aquarium is the Galata Museo del Mare, or Museum of the Sea. This maritime museum is a nice complement to an aquarium visit.
Galata was a town near the ancient city of Constantinople (now Istanbul), and was part of the Republic of Genoa from the 13th to the 15th centuries. The neighborhood where the Museo del Mare is located is known as Galata, given that name in the 19th century by the city as a nod to its former republic. The neighborhood was redeveloped in the 1990s to be less industrial, and the Galata Museo del Mare opened in 2004.
The Galata Museo del Mare covers four floors with exhibitions on different kinds of sailing ships and sea explorations. One entire floor is dedicated to trans-Atlantic migrations, including one called “La Merica! From Genoa to Ellis Island,” and of course there is a section devoted to famous Genoa native Christopher Columbus.
More Things to Do in Piedmont & Liguria
Genoa is associated, understandably, with the sea. It's Italy's largest port city, and it's home to the Genoa Aquarium – Italy's largest aquarium, and one of the largest in Europe.
The Aquarium of Genoa sits on the old harbor, the city's ancient port. When the area was redeveloped in the early 1990s to be less industrial and more appealing to visitors, the aquarium was part of that redevelopment project. The aquarium – along with the old port – was redesigned by famed architect Renzo Piano, himself from Genoa. It was opened in 1992, and today more than 1.2 million people visit every year.
The Genoa Aquarium has 70 different tanks for visitors to check out, holding more than 1.6 million gallons of water and 12,000 animals. This aquarium is the only one in Europe to have some species of Antarctic fish on display, and a 1998 expansion means there's now a whole wing devoted to marine mammals – there's space for up to 10 dolphins.
You might not think of seeing a great collection of Asian art when you're in Italy, but that's just what you'll get at the Chiossone Museum of Oriental Art in Genoa.
Edoardo Chiossone was a 19th century Italian painter who spent more than two decades in Japan. During that time, he amassed an incredible collection of Asian art, which he donated to the Ligurian Academy of Fine Arts in Genoa upon his death. The Academy then used that collection to start the Chiossone Museum of Oriential Art in 1905.
Because of Chiossone's long association with Japan, much of the museum's collection has to do with Japanese art – but other Asian cultures are represented, too, in the museum's more than 15,000 pieces. Many consider the Chiossone Museum of Oriental Art to be among the most important collections of Asian art in Europe.
Many former private homes in Italy are now museums, bequeathed to cities when the families could no longer afford their upkeep. Genoa has several such museums, including the Palazzo Bianco in the historic center.
The Palazzo Bianco – Italian for “white house” - was a palace built in the 1530s for the Grimaldi family. In the mid-1600s, the Grimaldis sold it to the De Franchi family, who owned it until the early 1700s. The palace then became the possession of the Brignole-Sale family, who also owned the Palazzo Rosso nearby on Via Garibaldi. In the 1880s, the Palazzo Bianco was given to the city of Genoa to be used as a museum.
Today, the palace is known as the Museo di Palazzo Bianco, and the collection includes paintings from all over Europe dating from the 12th century to the 17th century. Artists represented in the galleries include Caravaggio, Veronese, Filippino Lippi, Rubens, Van Dyck, and many others.
Genoa is most famous as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, so it's appropriate to set sail from here. The second largest port in Europe (Marseille is bigger), Genoa is a mix of the old and the new, with pretty old style pink, ochre, and red buildings sitting alongside skyscrapers and church domes, all of it climbing the hills up from the sea via gritty, narrow twisting streets.
Despite the city's size, it is easy to explore the old center on foot. The Cathedral San Lorenzo is the heart of the area you'll want to explore. The cathedral itself is Romanesque dating from the 12th century and houses the ashes of John the Baptist, Genoa's patron saint. A couple of blocks away is the Piazza de Ferrari which has the 13th-century Palace of Doges and the opera house. The main shopping street, Via XX Settembre, leads off from here.
Travelers wandering Riomaggiore’s main road—known to locals as Via Colombo—will find picturesque views of rolling hillsides and the Ligurian Sea that Cinque Terre is known for. This tiny hamlet has become famous for its Sciacchetra, a signature dessert wine available by the glass in most restaurants and bars, as well as by the bottle in the local Coop shop.It’s true that the laid back vibe and natural beauty of this coastal village attracts plenty of tourists seeking quiet escape, but thrill seeking adventurers will find plenty to keep them occupied, too. One of the most popular activities is cliff diving into the Mediterranean, where crystal clear waters reduce the chance of hitting rocks (or sharks!) on the way down.
Things to do near Piedmont & Liguria
- Things to do in Genoa
- Things to do in Turin
- Things to do in Langhe-Roero and Monferrato
- Things to do in Asti
- Things to do in La Spezia
- Things to do in Lombardy
- Things to do in French Riviera
- Things to do in Emilia-Romagna
- Things to do in Castelletto di Branduzzo
- Things to do in Milan
- Things to do in Monte-Carlo
- Things to do in Tuscany
- Things to do in Swiss Alps
- Things to do in Rhône-Alpes
- Things to do in Trentino-Alto Adige