Spring is the best time to explore Genoa. The Italian Riviera has a micro-climate thanks to the mountains that rise up along the Mediterranean and protect it from northerly winds, so you can stroll in the sun and enjoy the outdoors.
Easter is also the best time to try the signature dish torta pasqualina, a savoury pie made with 33 layers of pastry. On Maundy Thursday there is an evocative procession through the streets that dates from the 15th century. Genoa is a remarkably thin city that runs for 40km along the coast. Its wonderful natural harbour is surrounded by an amphitheatre of towering hills. Piazza de Ferrari is the city's heart. From here the medieval old town, a tangle of untouristy ancient alleyways, runs down to the old port and is bursting with museums and restaurants.
To the east, the arcaded shopping street Via XX Settembre leads to Brignole Station. There is a tourist office at Via Garibaldi 6 (genova-turismo.it; 9am-6pm), and an information kiosk by the aquarium in the old port. A Genoa Museum Card covers the main sites (€16 for 48 hours).
Take a hike
Start in the old port , renovated by local architect Renzo Piano. The Palazzo San Giorgio (closed to the public) was originally home to one of Europe's first banks which financed royalty and issued the first cheque. It was also where Marco Polo recounted his traveller's tales while held prisoner. Take Via al Ponte Reale to Piazza Banchi, which gave its name to banking; money-changer's tables, banchi, once filled the square.
Walk up Via degli Orefici for a coffee at Klainguti, one of Genoa's oldest coffee houses. Take a left on Vico Dietro Il Coro Delle Vigne through the Maddalena: a network of narrow medieval alleys that lead to the city's unmissable Via Garibaldi, dubbed "the street of kings".
Two of its palaces are now art galleries: Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Bianco , each stuffed to the brim with old masters (€8 joint ticket; museidigenova.it; 10am-7pm weekends, 9am-7pm Tues to Fri).
Take a view
There is a wonderful panorama of the city and the port that paid for this luxurious lifestyle from the roof terrace of the Palazzo Bianco.
Lunch on the run
The Genoese have a reputation for working hard and eating on the hoof from hole-in-the-wall restaurants such as Antica Sciamadda at Via San Giorgio 14. Sciamadda, which means "flamed" in local dialect, has ovens baking tasty farinata, a chickpea pancake, while huge cauldrons fry the catch of the day from 11.30am daily, except Sunday. Also unmissable is the local flatbread, focaccia. The rule is: the tattier the shop, the better it is. One of the finest bakers in the old town is Antico Forno della Casana at Vico delle Casana.
Don't miss the glittering Hall of Mirrors in the 17th-century Palazzo Reale, at Via Balbi 10
(www.palazzorealegenova.it; 9am-1.30pm Tues and Wed, 9am-7pm Thurs-Sun; €4). Next, visit the restored Palazzo del Principe at Piazza del Principe 4 (www.palazzodelprincipe.it; 10am-5pm daily; €9), which was once the home of admiral Andrea Doria, one of the most powerful men in Europe, who liked to impress visitors by having his silver dinner service tossed into the harbour after meals.
Genoa's trading empire in the Near East gave locals a taste for candied fruit and flowers, as seen at the sumptuous Pietro Romanengo at Via Roma 51. Past customers include Verdi and King Umberto II. It also sells specialities such as rose syrup and orange flower water, an array of Easter eggs and quaresimali biscuits (9am-1pm and 3.30-7.30pm daily except Sun and Mon mornings; romanengo.it).
Mescite! at Via di Sant'Agnese 25r, is a trendy watering hole not far from the university. "Mescite" means "hurry up and pour" in Genoese dialect. Wine is served from seven huge vats.
Dining with the locals
For classic authentic dishes that change with the season try Antica Osteria di Vico Palla at Vico Palla 15 (anticaosteriavicopalla.com) in the old port, or Il Genovese at Via Galata 35r (ilgenovese.com). A must is traditional pesto sauce once served on thin pieces of pasta to bid farewell to departing sailors.
Go to church
The Cattedrale di San Lorenzo reveals the power of this once great city. Typical of Liguria is its black- and white-striped façade. It was built to hold what were said to be the relics of John the Baptist which the Genoese brought back from the Holy Land during the Crusades and is supposed to be haunted by the workmen who built it. Look out for the Royal Navy shell that crashed through the roof during the World War II but luckily did not explode. Walk along Via San Lorenzo to Sant'Ambrogio to see two paintings by Rubens, who spent some years working in Liguria.
Out to brunch
Stop for a coffee and a cake at Caffe degli Specchi at Salita Pollaiuoli, one of Genoa's classic coffee houses. Then walk up to the tiny house where Christopher Columbus is supposed to have been born at Via di
Ravecca 47 (10am-6pm on weekends; €4). It is next to the city gate, the Porta Soprana, with its two majestic towers. It dates from 1155 when a new ring of walls was built to protect the city from attack by Barbarossa and is a symbol of the city.
A walk in the park
Take the funicular from Largo Zecca to Righi, near the gates of the 17th-century outer city walls for a stunning view across Genoa and along the coast. It's a 10-minute walk to the top of the hills that encircle the city and which are dotted with old military forts.
Take a ride
The aquarium, one Europe's largest, is in the old port (acquariodi genova.it; 9.30am-7.30pm weekdays, weekends to 8.30pm; €19). Then take a boat tour of the port from outside (€6; liguriaviamare.it). For millions of emigrants, this was their last sight of Italy. Find out more in the interactive harbourside Galata Museum (galatamuseodelmare.it; 10am-6pm, 7pm Mar-Oct and weekends, closed Mon; €12) that charts the history of Genoa's port.
Icing on the cake
Spend an afternoon on the Riviera. Take a train from Principe station to Camogli, a beautiful old fishing port half an hour from Genoa (€15 return). From April to October, ferries run to Portofino, the millionaires' playground. Boats leave from the old port (€20 return; liguriaviamare.it) stopping at the monastery of San Fruttuoso, that is accessible only on foot or by boat.