Best things to do in Turin – a Royal, Industrial, and Reborn city

things to do in turin

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Often overlooked by tourists, Turin is one of Italy’s hidden treasures. In this guide we share the best things to do in Turin,  the country’s 4th largest city and capital of the Piedmont region. But first, a little background.

Turin combines a rich and fascinating history with undeniable vitality.

Turin is:

  • A royal city – capital of the Duchy, later Kingdom, of Savoy beginning in the 1500s, their patronage endowed the city with stunning palazzi and piazze
  • An industrial powerhouse – Fiat, owned by the Agnelli family, was part of the engine that helped rebuild Italy after WWII
  • A dynamic metropolis  – after winning the bid to host the 2006 Winter Olympics, the city underwent a dramatic rebirth, updating infrastructure and enhancing the beauty of its historical city centre

palazzo madama - turin sightseeing

I fell in love with Turin many years ago, as I was falling in love with my husband. Turin is his hometown and I still remember getting horribly lost on its wide boulevards as I was driving to meet him for our first date.

We were married in one of its many churches, and held our reception at a beautiful restaurant in the hills overlooking the city.

Even without the personal history, I recommend Turin to everyone I know when they ask about places that aren’t to be missed when visiting Italy.

PRO TIP: don’t attempt driving in Turin. Twenty years later and equipped with a navigator, I still get lost

Piazze e passeggiate – a stroll around the sight’s of Turin

The best way to discover Turin is to simply take a stroll (una passeggiata). The city’s squares are some of the most beautiful in the world.

Piazza San Carlo

what to do in Turin - piazza san carlo
Chensiyuan, via Wikimedia Commons

Start at Piazza San Carlo, known as Turin’s “parlour”, with its twin churches dedicated to San Carlo Borromeo and Santa Cristina.

It may seem hard to believe now, but prior to the 2006 Olympics this square was a used as a parking lot, crowded day and night with cars.

The piazza has been returned to its original elegance, perfect for enjoying a coffee and watching the Torinesi as they bustle to work and return to socialise in the evening.

Piazza Castello

palazzo reale - must visit turi attractions

Just a 5-minute walk lands you in Piazza Castello, the “heart” of Turin. The square is surrounded by Baroque masterpieces and royal residences, including the:

  • Palazzo Reale – 16th century palace of the House of Savoy
  • Palazzo Madama – the residence of 2 Savoy queens and the first seat of the Italian Senate after unification in the 1860s, and
  • Teatro Regio – Turin’s famous opera house.

Four large boulevards originate from this square – Via Po, Via Pietro Micca, Via Roma (a magnet for fashionistas), and Via Garibaldi, one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe.

Piazza Vittorio

piazza vittorio - turin italy points of interest

Next, walk the short distance down Via Po to Piazza Vittorio. It was first named for Vittorio Emanuele I, but changed its name after WWI to celebrate Italy’s defeat of the Austrians at Vittorio Veneto.

When the architect Giuseppe Frizzi was commissioned to build the square in 1825 as part of a project to expand the city to the banks of the Po River, he had to resolve a tricky problem – a decline of 7.2 meters between the entrance from Via Po and the river side of the piazza.

In order to create the illusion that the piazza was level with Via Po, he divided the square into sections using small cross streets and brought some of the facades forward, making the buildings appear equal in height. But as you walk through the porticos toward the river, you will notice they get taller.

Wander through the portici (porticos)

porticos - turin sightseeing

Turin is not the only Italian city with porticos, but they are unique in being a deliberate part of urban planning, as the Savoys wanted to be protected from rain and snow in the winter and the hot sun of summer. As a result, they are incredibly graceful, wide and well lit, extending for a total of 18 kilometres.

The material and decoration vary. In Via Po they are made of grey stone, while those along Via Roma are made of marble, and are lined with shops, cafes and food stalls.

turin christmas lights

One of my family’s traditions during our visits to Turin for the Christmas holidays is to enjoy the installations of “Luci d’Artista”, or “Artist’s Lights”, when the streets and porticos are embellished with a stunning light display.It usually extends from 31 October to 6 January.

Piazza Castello features a gigantic Christmas tree made entirely of lights and a large, illuminated Advent calendar, with a window opened each night.

Una pausa – what and where to eat in Turin

Al Bicerin - where to eat in turin

Take a break, you’ve earned it! If there is one thing that will strike you during your walk, it is that Turin is a city of cafes as well as the home of the famous Lavazza brand of coffee.

Try a bicerin, the local specialty featuring layers of espresso, hot chocolate and foamy milk. Stop at a Tourist Information Centre to purchase the “Torino Coffee Card”. You can use the card to enjoy an espresso at 5 of the city’s most historic cafes, including 250 year old Al Bicerin (pictured above) for EUR 4.50.

what to eat in turin - Bicerin

If you fancy something a bit stronger, remember that a distiller first created vermouth in Turin, and it is home to the famous Martini and Cinzano brands.

Wines of the region

The Piedmont region is considered one of the best wine-producing regions in the world, known for the “Three B’s” – Barolo, Barberesco, and Barbera.

Or try a Nebbiolo, which takes its name from the Italian word for fog, nebbia, common in the mild autumns that help this region create such delicious wines.

Slow food

Turin has a well-known food culture and was the birthplace of the Slow Food Movement. Some of the local delicacies include bagna cauda, which translates as “hot bath”, and is a sauce made of olive oil, anchovies, and garlic, for dipping raw or cooked vegetables.

bagna cauda turin

Agnolotti are another local specialty, basically pasta parcels stuffed with meat and vegetables. Grissini are the famous breadsticks you will see in every restaurant.

Restaurant suggestions

Tre Galline [via G. Bellezia, 37] – this popular restaurant offers “neo-classical Torinese” cuisine, a fresh take on traditional techniques and local ingredients.

The “boutique/laboratory of taste”, Michelin-starred Del Cambio [Piazza Carignana, 2], is one of the oldest in the city, combining elegant 19th century furnishings with works from contemporary artists, and is located in Piazza Carignana, on your way from Piazza San Carlo to Piazza Castello.

Chocolate

After your meal, don’t forget that Turin has been home to master chocolatiers for centuries. When the Savoys moved their capital from Chambéry to Turin in 1560, they celebrated by symbolically offering a cup of hot chocolate to their new city.

Gianduiotti was discovered during the Napoleonic wars, when cocoa was scarce, so local chocolate makers had to get creative, adding ground hazelnuts to their recipes.

If you are bringing back gifts for loved ones, consider some of the famous local brands of chocolate – Peyrano, Baratti & Milano, Streglio, and Caffarel.

Andiamo avanti – more sights of Turin

mole - antonelliana turin -

Florence may have Brunelleschi’s dome, but Turin has the Mole Antonelliana, and it is just as emblematic of its city. You can take the elevator up to get a stunning panorama of the city.

It also contains the National Museum of Cinema, which takes visitors on an interactive journey through the history of film, with special areas dedicated to westerns, musicals and sci-fi. Address

National Museum of Cinema – Via Montebello, 20 Torino – more information

Turin is also famous for its Egyptian Museum, featuring the largest collection of antiquities outside Cairo.

Egyptian Museum – Via Accademia delle Scienze, 6 Torino –  more information

The Shroud of Turin and Cathedral

The Cathedral of Turin, dedicated to the city’s patron saint, John the Baptist, is adjacent to the Royal Palace and contains the Chapel of the Holy Shroud.

I wrote this article about the 30-year restoration project after a fire that nearly destroyed it. The Shroud is now only occasionally on display, typically every ten years, with the next viewing expected in 2020.

Royal residences of Turin

palazzo veneria reale - turin what to do

There are several royal residences in the city and surrounding areas that, together, are listed as a World Heritage Site. Consider visiting the sumptuous apartments in Palazzo Madama and the Royal Palace in Piazza Castello.

Or take the shuttle from Porta Susa station to Venaria Reale, used as a hunting lodge for the royal family. Its stunning gardens and Great Gallery have earned it the nickname “Little Versailles”.

Industria – modern Turin attractions

Pinocateca Agnelli - what to see in turin italy
Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve had your fill of Baroque architecture, why not check out some of Turin’s more modern marvels?

Lingotto was one of Fiat’s historic plants and, at one time, the largest car factory in the world. It closed in the early 1980s but was recently refurbished. The building now contains shops, a hotel, and a concert hall.

Don’t miss a quick trip up to the roof, which still contains the track used to test the 80 different models of car produced below.

As part of the refurbishment, the architect Renzo Piano (famous for the Pompidou Centre in Paris and The Shard in London) designed a suspended glass “treasure chest” to hold the impressive art collection of Giovanni and Marella Agnelli.

Pinacoteca Agnelli art gallery – Via Nizza, 230/103, Torino – more information

Eataly, the food emporium dedicated to Italian cuisine, has opened locations all over the world, but the first was built in Turin and is not far from Lingotto. There is something for everyone – from artisanal gelato, pizzas straight out of a wood-fired oven, or amazing rare cheeses.

Eataly – Via Nizza 230, 14, Torino

TIP: Car enthusiasts will enjoy two museums in this district of Turin. Visit the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile and view 200 vintage cars from around the world. Centro Storico Fiat is dedicated to the city’s famous car company. It is free, though only open on Sundays at Via Gabriele Chiabrera, 20,  Torino

Buona notte – where to stay in Turin

Luxury hotel recommendation

Turin Palace Hotel – ranked 3rd in the 2017 Traveler’s Choice Award for best hotels in the world,  has everything you would expect from a luxury hotel and more. The hotel provides bathrobes and slippers plus free soft drinks to guests. On site services include a rooftop terrace and day spa – click here to book

Recommended boutique hotel

Townhouse 70, is a boutique hotel with modern, minimalist styling in the historic center of  Turin. Rooms are bright airy and soundproofed. There is an outdoor terrace that is the perfect place to enjoy an aperitif before dinner – click here to book

Budget accommodation in Turin

In this sharing economy, you can easily find lodgings online. But let me offer two suggestions.

Torino Sweet Home is a business started by two local women, Loredana and Lavinia, passionate about their city and travel. Their site offers accommodation in homes, similar to AirBnB.

For a less expensive option with a convenient location, Tomato is a backpackers’ hotel that offers economical and eco-sustainable accommodations in the heart of the city.

Let’s go to Turin!

palazzo reale - must visit turi attractions

I hope I’ve convinced you that Turin is one of Italy’s unique gems that merits a visit on your next trip to Italy. It truly is a royal, industrial, and reborn city. 

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TIP: Want to see a football match in Turin? Check out this guide to buying tickets for Juventus games.

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3 thoughts on “Best things to do in Turin – a Royal, Industrial, and Reborn city

  1. Chris Slack says:

    Major wanderlust for those sprawling plazas in Turin. I admittedly overlook Turin when thinking about traveling to Italy, but after this (and the pictures), I don’t think I could miss it even if I tried. Love the food recommendations, I always travel by my stomach!

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