Located in the northwestern section of Italy, Turin is, like Milan, more European than the traditional idea of the country. Unlike Milan, it’s smaller and arguably more charming. Turin features many of the aspects that make other Italian cities lovely, like a beautiful river, energy-filled piazze, world-class museums and the ever-revered aperitivo.
“Torino. Do you like Torino?” A line from one of my favorite films, La Meglio Gioventù in which Luigi Lo Cascio’s character suggests to his friends to move to Turin so that he can be close to a girl he just met. I don’t know. Do I?
I had only heard good things about Turin before arriving. The city was Italy’s first capital after the country’s reunification, serving from 1861 until Rome was designated the capital in 1871. Today, Turin is part of the industrial triangle between itself, Milan and the coastal city of Genoa. The home of FIAT cars and lots of chocolate (hello, Gianduiotto!), I imagined it would be a pretty interesting place. If you only have a few days to explore the city like I did, I would recommend picking and choosing from the following.
To begin your exploration of Turin, stroll down Via Roma, the major street that connects Piazza Castello (the city’s main square) to Stazione Torino Porta Nuova (the main train station and the third busiest in Italy), cutting through Piazza San Carlo with its Monumento a Emanuele Filiberto (a Duke of Savoy from the 16th century). Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, which connects with Piazza Castello and heads off to the west, is a pedestrian-only commercial street where you’ll find a great number of shops and eateries.
Perhaps the two most popular attractions in Turin are the Museo Egizio (the Egyptian museum) and the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (National Cinema Museum). Both are worth visiting, though expect crowds because of their popularity.
The Museo Egizio houses one of the world’s most impressive collections of Egyptian artifacts (yes, this includes numerous mummies). An audioguide is included, which helps immensely in learning about what you’re seeing. Bring your own earphones to make the experience a bit more comfortable. If you should find yourself stuck between groups of schoolchildren, simply slow your pace and let them pass. I found this was a good strategy. Don’t try to outpace them; you’ll never win.
If the Museo Nazionale del Cinema is on your list, purchase your tickets in advance. I hadn’t planned on visiting the museum and found the wait on my last day to be over an hour just for tickets. So that’s all I can say about that.
The city museums are worth visiting, as you’ll get a sense of Turin’s history. Foremost is Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace of Turin), which hosts numerous museums that one can visit with a single ticket. Expect to spend some time here, as there are plenty of paintings, archaeological artifacts and an armory to explore. There’s also access to a rooftop where panoramic views of Turin can be enjoyed. Be sure to also spend some time in the Giardini Reali (Royal Gardens), a great place for a pause.
Next to Palazzo Reale is the Palazzo Chiablese. This small museum featured an exhibit on Matisse that I really liked. It’s not as extensive as the other museums, but it’s worth checking out to see what they’re featuring.
Lastly, located across Piazza Castello is Palazzo Madama, an art museum that was featuring an exhibit on impressionism during my time of visit. Like Palazzo Chiablese, this museum requires a separate ticket from that of Palazzo Reale.
The Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista (also known as the Duomo di Torino or Turin Cathedral), a church located near Piazza Castello and adjacent to the Palazzo Reale, is the resting place of the Shroud of Turin (not publicly viewable). It was consecrated in 1505 and is perhaps the most visited church in Turin. Also worth visiting is the Chiesa di San Filippo Neri, a church located near the Museo Egizio. Completed in 1730 by the architect Antonio Bettino, it’s the largest church in the city.
If you’re looking for a breather from urban exploration, head to the Po River for a relaxing stroll. It’s especially lovely during the sunset. Parco del Valentino, a large park along the river located east of Porta Nuova, is a pleasant green spot for walks. At the southern end of the park is Borgo Medioevale (an 1884 reproduction of a medieval city) and Teatro Nuovo (a theater hosting dance and theatrical performances).
For street food, check out Master Sandwich located a few steps from Piazza Castello. For around 5€, you’ll get a delicious and huge panino. I opted for #22, the Viandante, a sandwich comprised of mortadella, pesto, grilled eggplant and Brie. Brûle Piadinoteca located near the Museo Egizio, is also a great choice as they make some of the best piadine I’ve ever had. These Italian flatbread sandwiches are typical of the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, in which I spent some time. I chose one off the menu: prosciutto crudo, mozzarella, pomodoro (tomato), rucola (arugula) for under 5€. They also offer healthy options like piadine made of kamut and chia. For something more snack-sized, check out Il Polpettificio in San Salvario. This polpetta (meatball) shop is run by Alessandro, a chef passionate about his creations. Options change daily, but what was offered when I stopped in were pork balls, vegetarian balls, meatballs covered in crunchy cornflakes and a dessert ball covered in melted chocolate. He also offers complimentary fried pizza dough covered in tomato sauce if you order a certain amount of polpette.
Nightlife lovers should check out the San Salvario neighborhood, the hip quarter located directly east of Porta Nuova where numerous bars can be found. At night, it comes alive with energy and noise as trendy Italians flock in for aperitivo. I know this because my apartment was located directly above several of these bars. (Thankfully, I’m not a light sleeper.) For beer lovers, check out the city’s craft beer bars, including Open Baladin Torino and Birreria Petit Baladin (I was a frequent visitor of the Open Baladin in Rome and loved it), and Birrificio La Piazza. Any city with numerous craft beer options is all right in my book.
There are many more offerings in Turin I haven’t even touched upon, such as the influence of jazz (the city hosts the annual Torino Jazz Festival in the spring), chocolate sampling, the FIAT factory tour, the many other eclectic museums and fine dining. If I’ve missed any of your favorites, please feel free to list them in the comments below.
So… Torino. Do I like Torino?
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