Things To Do in Turin
Turin is a city brimming with an abundance of fabulous things to do and places to visit. Roman landmarks, Baroque palaces, churches, royal residences, cafes, restaurants and bars galore, a culturally rich choice of museums, and a vibrant arts scene all punctuated with lush green parks and hills to make this city a place to visit like no other offering lots of things to do in Turin.
Here are our Top 10 Things to Do in Turin…
1. Mole Antonelliana
As the main landmark of the city, no Top 10 list on places to visit in Turin would be complete without the presence of this unique building, affectionately known by locals as ‘La Mole’. When construction began in 1863 under the visionary guidance of architect Alessandro Antonelli, plans were that it would become a synagogue. However, community coffers ran dry, as Antonelli’s plans got grander and grander. It was eventually passed over to the town council who first converted it into a memorial to King Vittorio Emanuele II. It was also used, for a short period, as the home of the Risorgimento Museum, which is now housed in its rightful place in Palazzo Carignano. These days the Mole is proud home to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, an eclectic collection of models of film sets, props from some big screen classics, movie documents and paraphernalia that will warrant at least a half-day visit. Plus, don’t leave without taking the lift to the viewing platform 85 metres up on the spire or stocking up on gifts in the bookshop and stopping for drinks at the super stylish aperitivo bar Cabiria Café.
2. Gran Madre and Piazza Vittorio Veneto
A close second place in the landmarks stakes, the Gran Madre di Dio church has a cupola inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and sits both imposingly and, at night, rather beautifully, facing the Vittorio Emanuele I bridge and piazza Vittorio Veneto. The church that was commissioned by the Savoy family to celebrate the homecoming of Vittorio Emanuele himself after the 1815 Congress of Vienna, is also famous for its role in the cult film The Italian Job in which the three Mini Coopers bumped down its steps in their getaway scene. Piazza Vittorio Veneto, known better locally as just Piazza Vittorio, is one of the places to hang out in the evening for aperitivo, people watching, eating ice-cream, or just for taking in the awesome views over the river Po. During daylight hours it’s also a popular place for shopping, grabbing a coffee and pastry and also watching the world go by. Perfect!
3. Piazza Castello
Historically and geographically, this is the centre of the city even if ‘Il Centro’ for locals covers a much wider area (but more about that another time…). Roman Turin – Augusta Taurinorum – has its origins here. Fast forward to modern history and you would not believe that this piazza was once a thoroughfare for cars, buses and trams which circled Palazzo Madama in the centre. Now it is a place where people come to meet and hang out: Concerts and events are often held here in the surroundings of some of Turin’s most recognisable landmarks and museums. The intriguing architecture of Palazzo Madama sets the stage and hosts the Museo Civico di Arte Antica. You can also visit the Church of San Lorenzo, the museum and coffee shop of Palazzo Reale (from where the Savoy family ruled their kingdom until 1865), Armeria Reale and Biblioteca Reale, Teatro Regio, historic old world cafes Mulassano and Baratti & Milano and the Torre Littoria, which dates from 1933 and provides a quirky contrast to the mainly Baroque surroundings.
4. Museo Egizio
The Savoy family’s fascination with Egyptology gave Turin the world’s second biggest collection of Egyptian artefacts after Cairo. The original collection of ancient Egyptian art we can see here was bought by Carlo Felice in 1824 and can be seen in the two statuary halls (Statuario) on the ground floor. Currently undergoing a major revamp that is scheduled to finish in 2015, the museum remains open and as dazzling and fascinating as ever. Until work has finished the new temporary route encompasses three sections: The newly restyled lower level, which was completed in August 2013, hosts a temporary exhibition called ‘IMMORTALS, the Art and Knowledge of the Ancient Egyptians’. The two ground floor sections include the ‘Development of Funerary Equipment’ and ‘The “Statuario” and the Temple of Ellesija’.
5. Piazza San Carlo
Turin is not short of impressive piazzas and, dubbed ‘the drawing room’ of the city, Piazza San Carlo does not disappoint. Designed by Carlo di Castellamonte, and built between 1640 and 1650, its striking Baroque facades, make it impossible to pass through without taking time to linger and take in the atmosphere. In the centre of the piazza, the statue of Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy sees him victoriously putting his sword back into its sheath after the victory of St Quentin in 1557. The horse which locals refer to as ‘Caval d’brons’ is also the name of one of the well-known historic cafes that are to be found under the porticos on either side. Other historic cafes include Caffé San Carlo and Caffé Torino, and chocolate emporium Confetteria Stratta is not to be overlooked. At the south side of the piazza you can see the impressive twin churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo which date from the 17th century. In the north-west corner, you can find Galleria San Federico. Once home to the La Stampa newspaper offices you can now find boutiques, designer shops and the art deco style Lux cinema here.
Italian businessman, Oscar Farinetti, opened the first Eataly food market in a historic vermouth factory across from the Lingotto complex in 2007. Sponsored by Slow Food, this unique food outlet offers elements of a bustling open-air food market, high-end supermarket and food court and a learning centre. Here you can buy and sample a huge selection of locally produced foods and beverages including fresh fruit and vegetables, breads, pastries, cakes, sweets, pastas, grains, sauces, oils, fish, cold cuts, cheeses, spices, juices, beers, wines and spirits. As well as buying food, drink, stylish kitchen equipment and accessories, you can also have cooking lessons and on the first floor you can visit the Museo Carpano which tells the story of the old factory when it produced vermouth. Eataly also has branches in via Lagrange and piazza Solferino in the centre of Turin. What’s more, its simple but unique concept has been so successful that branches have also been opened in Rome and Genova, in Italy and overseas in Tokyo, New York and Chicago.
7. Parco Valentino
After all that shopping it will be time to relax and what better place than in Parco Valentino. A lush green oasis running alongside the river Po, in the centre of the city, this park was the brainchild of Carlo di Castellamonte in 1630 but did not take on its present form until the 19th century when French architect Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps landscaped it to create a ‘natural’ space full of sloping green areas, winding paths and woodland. Inside the park, you will walk past Castello del Valentino which dates back to the 16th century and is now the impressive site for the University of Turin’s School of Architecture. To the north of the Castello you can walk around the botanical garden (Orto Botanico) and further south, towards the end of the park is Borgo Medioevale. This wonderfully realistic replica of a 15th century Piedmontese village boasts a drawbridge, winding narrow alleyways, workshops, a castle (now a museum) and restaurant. The whole complex was built for the 1884 Expo by architects Giuseppe Giacosa and Alfredo d’Andrade. Now it is the site of choice for a variety of local events and a favourite place for a stroll, particularly on Sundays. If you don’t feel like walking the whole way back through the park you can take the boat from the banks of the Po, just below the Borgo.
8. Villa Della Regina
Not far outside the city centre, high in the green, elite area of the city known as ‘La Collina’ is Villa della Regina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With stupendous views of the city below, it is worth the trip even if you don’t want to go inside the villa itself. However, entrance is free so why not? From the 17th century this was the official residence of Anne d’Orleans, Vittorio Amedeo II’s wife and was named The Queen’s Villa (Villa della Regina) after her. Inside you can walk through the King’s and Queen’s rooms admiring delicately frescoed ceilings, plush furnishings, regal paintings and rich wall fabrics. You can also walk outside in the immaculately maintained gardens: a peaceful and relaxing retreat of lawns, fountains, ornate pergolas, flowers and fruits where you will also see statues, down the steps from the garden area at the front of the palace, which retain battle scars from bomb damage in 1942.
9. Caffé Al Bicerin and La Consolata Church
Founded in 1763, Caffé Al Bicerin is the place to sample local specialities such as bicerin and zabaione. A tiny gem you will be amazed at the interior: only a few miniature marble top tables can squeeze into this space with antique mirrors and decorative woodwork adorning the walls. The original counter is still there with jars of tempting and colourful sweets lining the shelves behind. If you order bicerin, be careful NOT to stir the cream into the delicious espresso and hot chocolate filled glass. This is not a hot chocolate and any stirring will seriously compromise your bicerin experience and should not be done under any circumstances! Opposite the Caffé is La Consolata church, which is considered locally to be the most important church in Turin. Devoted followers of Mary the Comforter (Madonna della Consolata) first built a church in her honour in the 11th century. Today an annual procession every 20th June, pays homage to Mary’s consoling powers. Inside, the church is an awe-inspiring vision of artistic opulence. Gilt and marble seems to cover every inch, the scent of flowers delicately perfumes the air and softly burning candles cast a comforting glow.
10. Quadrilatero Romano
Known simply as Il Quadrilatero, this is an area worth visiting during the day or evening, but especially during the evening, when the cobbled streets around via Sant’Agostino, via Bellezia and piazza Emanuele Filiberto come to life with top quality bars, restaurants, designer boutiques and interiors shops open until the small hours. In the summer months it is thronged with beautiful people, creating a buzz that will make you want to come back again and again. During the day, you can visit the Museo della Sindone (Shroud Museum) in via San Domenico, where you can discover all there is to know about the Turin’s most famous relic. Nearby is also the Museo d’ Arte Orientale (Museum of Oriental Art) also in via San Domenico. Locally known as MAO, the museum hosts a beautiful collection of Asian artefacts in the wonderful surroundings of Palazzo Mazzonis. Admire the Japanese rock garden in the entrance.