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Top 5 Churches in Genova's Centro Storico

The Historic Center of Genova is packed with gorgeous buildings, from the Rolli Palaces to stunning churches, cathedrals, theaters, and more. Because the historic center isn't that big, it's possible to visit all of the churches on this list in one day (the two furthest are 14 mins. apart walking), as long as you check their hours and time your trip accordingly.

map of genova historic center churches

My top three favorite churches in Genova's Historic Center are the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, the Church of Gesù, and the Church of San Matteo. Conveniently, these are all very close together in the popular tourist area that is Via San Lorenzo.

1/ Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

Maybe I'm partial because my Airbnb is very close and I pass this building every day. But I think the Cathedral of San Lorenzo has to be the most gorgeous church in all of Genova. I'm obsessed with the different colors of stone, totally mesmerized by the wavy spirally pillars, and entertained by the seemingly terrified lions. The cathedral was built mostly between the 12th and 14th centuries, with groundbreaking starting in 1110, and it being officially finished in the 17th century. Today, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo is the seat of the Archdiocese of Genova.

One of the reasons I like it so much is because, compared to many others on this list and around Genova, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo is stunning both inside and outside. I've noticed that many of the churches, cathedrals, basilicas, etc. tend to be more plain on the outside, but the Cathedral of San Lorenzo is a gorgeous building that attracts many tourists to Piazza San Lorenzo. If you're planning on popping by, you'll want to know that the church is free to enter, and you can pay to climb the tower for a nice view of the Porto Antico.

2/ Chiesa del Gesù e dei Santi Ambrogio e Andrea

The Church of Gesù is the most common number one on people's lists, but it'll have to be my second favorite. The outside of this church is a bit understated, but the inside is absolutely jaw-dropping. You'll see a theme in this list (spoiler alert: it's gold). On top of all the ornate decorations, the Chiesa del Gesù is also the biggest and grandest of the bunch. The age of this church is very unclear, dating back to a three-digit number for sure. However, it experienced major reconstruction in the mid-1500s and again, after damage, in the 18th and 19th centuries. I was especially enamored with the columns and the gorgeous and intricate floor.

3/ Chiesa e Chiostro di San Matteo

This might be more commonly the fifth or so item on such a list, but I found the Church of St. Matteo very charming. After touring these churches and seeing so much gold, I appreciated that the Church of San Matteo was a little more tame in its decorations. I liked the color palette a lot and the way that the walls weren't as pristinely maintained as in other churches. After all, this church was completed in 1125! Also, on account of this church also having a monastery, the left side entrance opens onto a small courtyard. This church is one block from Piazza de Ferrari, so I pass it a lot, too. It's a small, quiet building with quite a surprisingly beautiful interior.

4/ Santissima Annunziata del Vastato

Started in 1520 and completed in the 18th century, the Santissima Annuziate del Vastato is certainly one of the most popular churches in Genova. It reminded me a lot of the Chiesa del Gesù, just slightly smaller and with a somewhat less decorated exterior. Still, I really enjoyed this church, all the gorgeous alcoves, the ceiling, and the chandeliers. This church is very close to the beginning of the well-known Via del Campo, which is my recommended route for getting to the Basilica of San Siro.

5/ Basilica di Santa Maria delle Vigne

The Basilica of Santa Maria delle Vigne is another with a fairly simple exterior that doesn't give away anything about its interior. I'm not exactly sure how to date this one, as it seems that the original church was constructed shortly before 1000, and alterations, expansions, and revisions went on for about 800 years. The finishing touches were completed in 1840. My favorite part of this church is the writing across the top of the walls, above the organ, etc. You don't often see this in churches, and I have no clue what it says (and no interest in learning Latin), but I like the look.

The Notable Mentions:

6/ Basilica di San Siro

The Basilica of San Siro has had a long history. It was constructed over a period of a few centuries between the 10th and 12th. Later, after being mostly destroyed in a fire in 1478, construction restarted and was completed in 1606. I don't know how similar it looks now to the original creation, but this version was definitely beautiful. The Basilica of San Siro looked a lot like the Basilica of Santa Maria, in that both were very nice, but I maybe only need to see one. I could have spaced out the visits instead of doing them all in one day. In any case, this church is definitely worth a visit: it's in a nice location, just off Via del Campo, it's beautiful, and it's free to enter. What more could you ask for?

7/ Chiesa di San Luca

I actually didn't even have the Church of San Luca on my list, but I was passing by, and it was open so there I was. This church is on Via del Campo (Via del Campo becomes Via di Fossatello which becomes Via San Luca), and the whole street is a popular tourist destination with good restaurants and souvenir shops. The Church of San Luca is another of the bunch that was first built in the 12th century and saw restorations in the 15th, 17th, and 20th. I liked the dual organs on either side of the altar, and the painted dome, like all of them, was very impressive.

8/ Chiesa di San Pietro in Banchi

The Church of San Pietro is a notable mention here solely because of its charming exterior. The inside was a little underwhelming after all the others I'd seen, though I liked the dome a lot. Built in the late 16th century, this church is an iconic feature in Genova. It's only a block from the San Giorgio metro station, so it's a popular spot for a quick photo opportunity before heading into the maze that is the Historic Center of Genova.

Final Thoughts

There are so many churches to see in Genova, and if that's your thing, then it's a great city to do it. There are seemingly churches on every block. This isn't even a comprehensive list: I've only covered the churches in the Historic Center. Even if you're not religious, visit one or two for a sense of the architecture and history. They're all free, accepting donations of course, and open to the public throughout the day, although it's best if you don't interrupt a mass. These buildings are so beautiful, and it's a nice, quiet place to sit and admire a work of art for a moment.


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