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 Vic