Chic cafés. Stylish boulevards. Marvelous museums. You’re not in Paris, but Turin—one of Italy’s most sophisticated (and under-the-radar) cities. Called Torino in Italian, Turin is located in the scenic Italian region of Piedmont, which vaunts some of Italy’s finest vineyards and is the birthplace of the Slow Food movement. So, what's there to do in Turin, Italy?
Unlike cities such as Florence and Venice, that rose to glory in the middle ages and Renaissance, Turin feels decidedly more modern – boasting a rational grid of streets and numerous examples of Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture. Turin was in fact the first capital of unified Italy (1861-1864). Seated at the feet of the Italian Alps and crisscrossed by Italy’s longest river (the Po), Turin offers an air of regal grandeur alongside vibrant contemporary culture.
Virtually unknown outside of Italy, Turin merits a day-trip or longer detour if you’re going to Northern Italy. Beyond its lush parks and regal palazzi, Turin is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the nearby wine country (Le Langhe, Monferrato, Alba) or for a leisurely day by picture-perfect Lake Orta.
TOUR ITALY’S ROYAL PALACE
While Rome was the center of an ancient empire, Turin is Italy’s only royal city. For centuries, Turin served as the seat of the House of Savoy – a monarchy that encompassed Piedmont, Genoa, and Sardinia. During the 19th-century, under the leadership of Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy finally unified under one flag—ruled by the King of Savoy. In Piedmont, the House of Savoy erected 14 royal abodes – spanning hunting lodges, Baroque palaces and country estates.
In Turin proper, it’s possible to explore the opulent Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale di Torino). Originally built in the 1500s, the palace was modernized during the Baroque period. The grand palace boasts manicured gardens, sumptuous halls, marble columns, art-cloaked galleries, and the Chapel of the Holy Shroud—housing the fame Shroud of Turin.
IMBIBE A ‘BICERIN’
Ask any Italian what to drink in Turin and you’ll get one of two replies – 1) Piedmont’s famed wines (i.e., Barolo) or 2) bicerin (pronounced bee-che-reen). The bicerin is Turin’s signature hot drink – an oh-so-addictive blend of espresso, thick hot chocolate and frothed milk. Remarked upon since the 18th-century, the bicerin is notable for the elegant layering of each of the three ingredients. In Piazza della Consolata, you can imbibe one at Caffè al Bicerin—a historic coffee shop that’s been whipping up this beloved beverage since 1763! Local legend says the delectable drink was first invented here.
GO BACK IN TIME AT THE EGYPTIAN MUSEUM
Curiously enough, Italy is home to one of the largest collections of Ancient Egyptian art in the world—outdone only by Cairo, Egypt! Founded in 1824, during the height of Egyptian mania in Europe, Turin’s Egyptian Museum is dedicated exclusively to Egyptian relics – vaunting over 30,000 artefacts. Objects on display here include sarcophagi, mummies, everyday tools, papyrus scrolls and ornate jewels. Nearly 800,000 visitors uncover the past here each year.
LUNCH IN THE FIRST EATALY
Italy’s Piedmont region is the birthplace of the Slow Food movement – a global effort to sustain local food traditions while combating the rise in unhealthy, fast foods. One of the symbols of this movement is Eataly – a sprawling emporium of Italian food, including fresh-prepared pastas, regional products and locally-sourced cheeses. The first Eataly opened inside an old Vermouth Factory in Turin in January 2007. Since then, Eataly has expanded its temples of tastiness across the globe—including cities like New York, Chicago, Seoul, Bologna, Moscow and Istanbul.
EXPLORE PIAZZA CASTELLO
Cafes, palaces and museums pepper Turin’s main square, the Piazza del Castello. Found in the regal heart of the historic city, this square’s current iterarion was built between the 16th and 18th centuries. Here you can eye Palazzo Madama, the first parliament in modern Italy, or the elegant façade of the Royal Palace. If you’re craving a breath of fresh air, you can saunter like the Savoys in the Giardini Reali – the royal gardens, now a city park.
TASTE TAJARIN & TRUFFLES
Tajarin are to Turin as pizza is to Naples. Any visit to Piedmont is incomplete without a taste of the local pasta—tajarin (pronounced tai-ya-reen). This bright yellow pasta is the Piedmontese take on tagliatelle. Some cooks use up to 40 yolks per kilo of pasta dough—creating supple, soft noodles you’ll swoon for. Prepared fresh daily, tajarin are often crowned in another of the region’s prized food products: tartufo or shaved wild truffles. Hungry diners can head to Osteria al Crinet, a charming family-run restaurant, for an authentic forkful of this egg pasta.
VIEW THE MOLE ANTONELLIANA
The Mole Antonelliana is Turin’s most iconic building – so much so that an image of it is found on Italy’s 2-cent euro coin! Designed by architect Alessandro Antonelli, the mole is a monumental building capped with a panoramic dome and needle-like tower. Built between 1863 and 1888, the mole was – at the time of its completion – the tallest brick building in Europe—rising 167 meters above Turin’s cityscape. Visitors can take an elevator to the dome’s panoramic terrace or climb on foot to this stunning vista point.
SAY “SALUTE” IN A WINE SHOP
If you’re a lover of wine, you’ll have nulla (nothing) to whine about in Turin. Surrounded by vineyard-rich plains and grape-draped hills, Turin abounds in enoteche—small shops specializing in wines. These boutiques are run by wine aficionados, carrying small-batch bottles you won’t find in the US or in larger grocery stores in Italy. One of the oldest in the city is Parola, which opened in 1890. Enoteca Ferrero, in business since 1932, has been run by the same family for three generations. And Casa del Barolo boasts over 1,000 wines and spirits—including, its namesake, the prized Barolo reds.
TASTE NUTELLA’S ANCESTOR
Do you have a sweet tooth? Turin is for you then—being Italy’s chocolate capital. Turin’s love affair with cacao goes back hundreds of years — when chocolate was first introduced to the city by a Spanish-born duchess. Boutique chocolatiers abound in the city center, allowing you to enjoy nibs and nibbles from cocoa confectioners. One must-try sweet here is gianduja – traditional dark chocolate mixed with hazelnuts from Alba. Inspired by gianduiotto, Turin resident Pietro Ferrero invented a spreadable chocolate in 1946—later rebranded as, you guessed it, Nutella!
WATCH SOCCER AT THE JUVENTUS STADIUM
The Juventus team is one of Italy’s premier calcio (soccer) powerhouses. Their home field – often called lo stadio or “the stadium” in Italian – is found in the Vallette borough of Turin. It opened in 2011 and can seat 41,000+ spectators in a given game. Soccer fans can enjoy a guided tour of the stadium here—including the locker rooms, facilities and the Juventus Museum (J-Museum). With advance notice, it’s also possible to view a home game here, as throngs of chanting Juventus fans cheer Turin’s home team on.
Are you tempted by Turin? Click below to view our scrumptious trip through Piedmont and Tuscany: