Home of Cavour and jewel of the Risorgimento, Turin has undergone a remarkable transformation in just a few decades, from the post-industrial years to become a cultural landmark that attracts visitors all year round. A visit to Turin is a must on your travel list if you love history, cultural activities and good wine! You’ll love it! Here’s a list of our ideas for making the most of the Piedmontese capital.
What to do in Turin – panoramic views
1. The Mole Antonelliana and the National Cinema Museum
We can’t begin this list without mentioning the city’s architectural jewel, the 2 euro cent coin, designed by architect Alessandro Antonelli at the end of the 19th century. This iconic building houses the National Cinema Museum, where you can admire reconstructions of film sets, objects and machines linked to the history of cinema, from the Lumière brothers to Hollywood.
The lift that takes visitors up to the pointe de la Mole is a must. Even people suffering from vertigo can’t miss this panorama, one of the best in Turin. Beware of superstitions: it is said that anyone who climbs to the top of the Mole will have trouble at school. You’ve been warned if you’re taking the baccalaureate or a master’s degree!
2. The Basilica of Superga
Turin’s highest hill, which stretches to the other side of the Po, is best known for the tragic air crash in 1949 that affected the city’s football team. At the top of this hill is the magnificent Basilica of Superga. You can reach it via the Tranvia, a splendid old-fashioned carriage route, or on foot along a path that’s ideal for taking a deep breath of fresh air. Once up there, you’ll have to climb another 131 spiral steps to admire the basilica’s baroque dome, a masterpiece designed by Filippo Juvarra.
The beauty of this dome echoes the splendid view of the Alps, a jewel of Mother Nature that will leave you speechless, especially if the sky is clear.
3. Mont des Capucins
Still on the right bank of the Po, but more centrally located than Superga, is the small hill of Monte dei Capuchini. It is reached via a convent built at the end of the sixteenth century. As well as this superb Baroque building, you’ll also find the Mountain Museum, for keen mountaineers.
The mountain offers exceptional panoramic views and a calm atmosphere, perfect for a moment of spirituality. The calm evaporates with the arrival of evening, when the small square fills up with cars and couples looking to “get closer”.
What to do in Turin: Places to see
1. Piazza Castello
The piazza is the focal point of Italian life, and Turin is no exception. The city’s inhabitants gather here to buy their newspapers, chat about anything and everything, eat an ice cream or watch a street show.
Pizza Castello is one of the main squares and surely the best known. It is surrounded by buildings as elegant as they are important: the Palazzo Madama, theArmeria Reale, the Teatro Regio, the headquarters of the Piedmont Region, the Royal Church of San Lorenzo (with its sublime star-shaped dome), and the Galleria Subalpina. The ground-level fountains are a children’s playground in summer, and not far away is the Piazzetta Reale, where you’ll find the entrance to the Palazzo Reale.
This square is therefore an excellent starting point for your first visit to Turin. And if you get tired of all the historical monuments, you can always go shopping in the adjacent streets such as via Garibaldi, the second largest pedestrian street in Europe (the largest being rue Sainte Catherine in Bordeaux).
2. Piazza San Carlo
In terms of 17th century elegance, the Piazza San Carlo is a benchmark. There is perfect harmony between the gates on either side of the square, a symmetry suggested by the two churches facing each other in front of the equestrian monument by Emanuele Filiberto… It’s an ideal place for families whose children love to wander around and feed the pigeons.
If you’re passing through, don’t forget to take a break at the traditional Caffè San Carlo, inaugurated in 1842, the Caffè Torino and the Fratelli Stratta patisserie, to make a lovely afternoon even sweeter.
3. Piazza Vittorio Veneto
Located at the end of Via Po and facing the river, this square seems to have sprung up from nowhere. At 38,000 m2, it is one of the largest squares in Europe! The square is very festive when it is the site of major popular festivals such as Saint John’s Day, the city’s patron saint, on 24 June. The square is also very popular at weekends, as it is close to the Murazzi, the nightlife spots along the Po.
Not to be missed!
Turin and its markets
1. Porta Palazzo and Balon
The Porta Palazzo is undoubtedly Turin’s most famous open-air market and is located in the Piazza della Repubblica, right in the centre of the city. The surrounding area is very diverse, as this was once the place where people who had migrated from the south of Italy or even further afield were welcomed.
It’s this cultural mix and explosion of colour that makes Porta Palazzo so special. You’ll find everything from food and clothing to decorative items. The market is open every day, but we advise you to go on Saturdays. Every Saturday is the Balon, a small flea market where you can find vintage furniture, coffee makers and vinyl records. And if you’re a real fan of antiques, come along on the second Sunday of the month for the Gran Balon, where antique dealers get together to sell their best pieces (a tradition that goes back over 30 years).
2. The Gran Madre vintage market
Let’s stay in the vintage mood with this little gem. Every third Sunday of the month, you’ll find this little market at the foot of the Gran Madre church, separated from Piazza Vittorio by the Po. Here you can buy tiaras, skin hats and a whole host of other high-quality items. Even if you can’t afford to buy a beautiful coat, don’t hesitate to wander the market aisles to observe the more or less eccentric vendors and why not exchange a few anecdotes with them!
3. San Salvario Emporium
If you’re more into one-off pieces and local crafts, come to Turin on the first weekend of the month, when this tiny market is held on Sundays in Piazza Madama Cristina. Here you’ll find stylists, artisans, designers, illustrators and independent publishers from all over Italy. This market is a real forum for artistic research and Italian creative experimentation, and the perfect opportunity to offer something original.
It’s not all about selling at the Emporium: there’s an area dedicated exclusively to artisan laboratories for young and old alike. There are art exhibitions and even a corner called “Salotto di Emporium” (Emporium Lounge), where you can watch shows, listen to radio broadcasts and have the future told to you.
4. Mercato Centrale
The result of a desire to rethink the Piazza della Repubblica and build a meeting place around avant-garde gastronomy, the Mercato Centrale recently opened inside a glass building designed by architect Massimiliano Fuksas. The venue features around twenty artisanal shops offering exceptional food, wines and elaborate cocktails, as well as a cookery school and teaching laboratories. On the second floor, there is an ice palace that has now become a centre for cultural events and artistic performances.
What to see in Turin in the covered areas: The Historic Galleries and Cafés
1. Galleria Subalpina
There are places in this city that feel more like Paris than Turin, and the galleries are one of them. The elegance of the Belle Epoque bewitches you, with its highly detailed stained glass windows and subtle lighting. The Galleria Subalpina is undoubtedly Turin’s favourite, and one of the city’s most emblematic 19th-century buildings.
If you’re still not convinced, here are two more reasons to visit: the Roman Cinema, with its three small, elegant cinemas, and the Caffè Baratti e Milano, one of the oldest in the city.
2. Galleria Umberto I
This gallery is not to be missed, as it is steeped in five centuries of history! It began life as an integral part of the Mauriziano Hospital, the largest in Turin, which was later moved to Corso Stupinigi, further away from the city centre.
As you walk through this refined passageway, you can admire the windows of antique shops, cafés and the very famous Farmacia Mauriziano, a pharmacy opened in 1575!
3. Caffè e gelateria Fiorio
Impossible not to include them in our list. Caffè Fiorio is an institution that first opened its doors in 1780, under one of the gateways to Via Po, and is one of Turin’s favourite addresses. It used to be a meeting place for the nobility, who used it mainly for political discussions.
But don’t worry, today you can forget politics and relax over a hot chocolate or a bicerin (a mix of coffee, chocolate and cream of milk), a traditional Piedmontese drink. And to top it all off, try an ice cream – you won’t be disappointed! The Gianduia flavour is to die for!
4. Bar Barolino Cocchi
Here’s a real gem! Located in a Juvarra-style building, this bar is a little-known gem where you can enjoy sumptuous aperitifs. We recommend the Vermouth Cocchi, the house speciality. The varied menu and eclectic design blend perfectly with the antique ceiling decorations… a must-see!
Cultural Turin: Museums and Palaces
1. Egizio Museum
Turin is a city rich in art and architecture. One of its most famous attractions is undoubtedly the Egyptian Museum, one of the oldest museums in the world and second only to Cairo in terms of its collection. The museum, which was recently renovated, has a collection of 60,000 m2, organised over four floors and explained using interactive audio guides.
Allow at least an afternoon to visit it in its entirety. Admire the papyri on the god Anubis, who weighs a human heart and a feather. Visit the reconstruction of a tomb inside a pyramid and be impressed by the mummies.
2. The Duomo of Turin and the Capella della Sacra Sindone
Not far from Piazza Castello you’ll find the Duomo of Turin, a vestige of the Renaissance. The building reopened to the public on 1 April 2019, after 20 years of restoration following a devastating fire. One of the most extravagant masterpieces of Baroque architecture, designed by Guarino Guarini, a great mathematician and architect, is the marvellous chapel that peeks out from the front of the building. The proportions and compositions of his architecture are all based on the number 3 and its multiples.
The chapel is also famous for housing the Sacra Sindone, which unfortunately cannot be seen all year round: it is only shown to the public on special occasions and festivals.
3. Palazzo Madama
As mentioned above: the Palazzo Madama is close to Piazza Castello and is one of Turin’s most important historic buildings. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses the Museum of Ancient Art.
The palace is well worth a visit: it has a relaxing atmosphere and majestic staircases (perfect for great photos). You can even try counting the shells hidden everywhere – they’re Filippo Juvarra’s signature!
4. Villa della Regina
If you’re looking for a fairytale atmosphere away from the hustle and bustle of the city, then don’t waste any time and head for Villa della Regina! This complex, built in the seventeenth century, was home to many kings before becoming state property in 1994, when it was opened to the public.
Try to visit the villa on a sunny day to enjoy the absolutely magnificent view of the hills, the amphitheatre-shaped Italian garden and many other wonders.
Art lovers beware: head for the Galleria Civica D’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, in Turin’s southern suburbs.
The GAM is not hard to find: its bronze and marble sculpture of an uprooted tree, designed by Giuseppe Penati, marks the entrance to the building. The museum’s collection includes artefacts from the 19th to the 21st century and comprises around 45,000 works (paintings, sculptures, installations, photographs, drawings and videos).
6. Borgo e Rocca Medievali e Parco del Valentino
We conclude this list with two absolutely incredible places that are not to be missed: the Borgo Medievale and the Parco del Valentino, on the banks of the River Po, just a few minutes from Piazza Vittorio. As soon as you set foot here, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a time machine. Enjoy the calm and relaxing atmosphere as you stroll through the arches, fountains and ancient shops. And it’s all free! The upper part of the Borgo is subject to a charge, with access to the castle and garden, to enhance your medieval experience.
Then take a break to explore the “Valentino”, the real centre of Turin, where you can breathe in the fresh air. Again, there’s no avoiding the art: inside the park are several important historical monuments, statues and fountains. There are also bars where you can relax with a coffee or aperitif and feel perfectly Turinese.
The author :
Chiara is passionate about low-budget adventures and podcasts. You can follow her adventures via @chiarutzie.