The capital of Piedmont, for many years Turin was overlooked by tourists. Barely a million visited annually, but after the 2006 Winter Olympic Games that increased by nearly five million, helping it become one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations. Known for its sophisticated essence of la dolce vita, many feel it’s the most delightful in the northern region. It has a refined vibe that feels a bit French, but there’s no doubt it’s pure Italian. The country’s coffee capital, Turin is home to the corporate headquarters of Fiat and has a rich football heritage with two significant teams, Torino F.C. and Juventus F.C., the most decorated in Italy. Art-nouveau cafes and exciting restaurants go hand-in-hand with an intriguing history and contemporary art, while there are many fine museum collections, palazzo-dotted squares, and royal palaces. The Slow Food movement, Fila, Barolo wine, and Gianduja chocolates are all associated with Turin and the surrounding region.
Piazza Castello is said to be the heart of la dolce vita in Turin. It’s the main central square and gets its name from Palazzo Madama which sits in the middle. Located where the four main axes of the city converge, Via Po, Via Garibaldi, Via Pietro Micca, and Via Roma, it’s framed on all sides by grand buildings. They house museums, the city’s opera houses, cafes, restaurants, and palazzos, while beautiful statues and fountains can be admired in between. The history of the piazza has roots that date back to the 1st century AD when the site was near the eastern entrance of an ancient Roman castrum, but it was built in the 14th century in honor of the House of Savoy and is still considered to be Turin’s historical and political center. Piazza Castello is one the best places to start your walking tour of the city’s many impressive historical buildings.
Turin is home to many royal residences, with six in the city center alone. All feature priceless works of art with lavish interiors, including the Palazzo Madama in Piazza Castello, an extravagant palace and the city’s most ancient. It’s played a leading role in the history of Turin from Roman times through today. The Porta Decumana was located here in the Roman era, providing access to the city. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it was transformed into a defensive fortress, eventually becoming the city’s most powerful center. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring over 60,000 different works covering 10 centuries of Italian and European art. Other must-visits include Palazzo Reale (the Royal Palace of Turin) with its dazzling Roman and Greek archaeological treasures. It served as the seat of power for the Savoys for at least 200 years and is widely regarded as one of Europe’s most well-preserved royal residences.
Museo Nazionale del Cinema, or the National Cinema Museum, sits in one of the most distinctive buildings in the city, Mole Antonelliana which towers above the Turin skyline with its massive pointed basilica. While it looks much older, the monumental building was constructed in 1889, originally as a Jewish Synagogue. Today it’s one of the most popular places to visit, with a vast collection of memorabilia from the silver screen that draws film buffs from across the globe. One of the world’s most important cinematic museums, it features evocated, well-curated exhibits with highlights that include Darth Mader’s mask from “The Empire Strikes Back” and an alien costume from “Aliens.” There are movie props, vintage movie posters, film screening rooms, and an extensive library with over 12,000 movie reels. Visitors can also ride a glass elevator to the top of the dome for a panoramic view of the city from 548 feet above the ground.
Turin’s Egyptian Museum, Museo Egizo, is considered among the world’s best when it comes to priceless ancient Egypt artifacts. Located between Piazza Castello and Piazza San Carlo, it was established back in 1833, starting with a collection from other museums which has been expanded significantly over the decades. Today it includes over 30,000 treasures with some 6,500 on permanent display. You’ll see everything from sarcophagi and papyrus to statues and real mummies. Learn about the history of the museum on the first floor which also includes collections on the Valley of the Queens, Tomb of Kha, the Coffin Gallery, and artifacts from the Late Period, Ptolemaic Period, Roman Period, and Late Antiquity. You’ll see the Nubian Room, Temple of Ellesiya, and Gallery of Kings on the ground floor, while the second floor features the Tomb of the Unknown, the Tomb of Iti and Neferu, the Predynastic period, Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom.
Duomo di Torino is the Turin Cathedral, officially Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista. It was built in the late 15th century in honor of San Giovanni Battista on the site of three previous churches and is a fine example of Renaissance architecture from the era. Famous among Catholics around the world, the façade is simple, made of white marble, and there’s an adjacent bell tower that can be climbed for a view. What draws so many is the chapel that was added in the late 17th century. The Chapel of the Holy Shroud contains the Holy Shroud, or Sacra Sindone. A linen cloth, it bears the imprint of a man, and it’s believed to belong to Jesus. Unfortunately, it is only displayed on rare occasions, so only a lucky few get to see it. If the opportunity does arise, the lines for viewing are likely to be very long, but it’s worth the wait even for non-Catholics.
The Porta Palatina is one of the many Roman ruins that are still standing today, despite being built over 2,000 years ago in the 1st century BC. Located next to the Holy Shroud of Turin in the archaeological park of the Palatine towers, it’s considered the world’s most well-preserved Roman gateway from the period. The immense gateway represents the primarily archaeological evidence of Turin’s Roman phase and is one of four that once stood here and would have served as an access point to the center of the inner city through the walls that once surrounded ancient Turin. It stands nearly 100 feet high and includes two large circular towers, with a central wall section that features numerous individual arches. Near the gate on the ground is part of the guardhouse from the Roman period, with furrows on the stones caused by the wagons frequently used for transit still visible.
Those who like to bargain shop will want to head to the Quadrilatero Romano neighborhood. While the elegant porticoes on Via Roma, the main street, are home to upscale boutiques featuring big-name fashions, this is where you’ll find fashionable pieces by young designers and upmarket vintage attire at more affordable prices. There are many artist shops and secondhand stores while the Porta Palazzo Market, the largest of its kind in Europe, is here too, it combines a farmers’ market, fish market, and the Balon second-hand market all in one. Balon is particularly famous, located north of Porta Palazzo since 1857. A sprawling market, there are countless stalls with all sorts of items, and you can bargain with the sellers for an especially unique experience and the opportunity to score some great deals. You’ll find even more vintage and specialized antique dealers here on the second Sunday of the month.
When standing in Turin’s city center, you can see Basilica di Superga perched atop a mountain. Located in the northeast outskirts, it sits at around 2,300 feet above sea level offering spectacular views over the city and the surrounding countryside on a clear day. A magnificent example of baroque religious architecture, it was designed by Sicilian architect Filippo Juvarra. Built in 1731, it has a gorgeous white and orange design with ornate décor and many columns. The interior is opulent and includes a dome where light streams through a series of arched windows. A tour not only reveals even more remarkable details, but you’ll learn about the story of the Savoys, a former Italian royal family. Discover some of their tombs and head to the terrace for the breathtaking view that the 18th-century Swiss-born philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was so enamored with, he called it “the most beautiful sight that can strike human’s eyes.”
Parco Valentina is one of its oldest parks in Turin, opened by the city in 1856 as Italy’s first public garden. Set along the banks of the River Po, it provides a tranquil oasis with hundreds of towering trees and a wide range of flora. It’s ideal for a peaceful stroll with paths that wind along the water, lovely fountains, and a myriad of bird life that can be enjoyed, including mallards and herons. It’s also home to a Rock Garden with streams and water features, a beautiful botanical garden, the Valentino Castle, and the Borgo Medievale, an open-air museum set up like a medieval village with period homes and buildings, including several small boutiques selling items like baskets, wrought iron, and wine. There are several cafes and restaurants and you can even hop on the ferry from here to cruise the river, enjoying the sights from the perspective of the water.
Turin and the Fiat are synonymous, with the 1920s Lingotto factory that launched the iconic Fiat 500 located here in Turin. It was the largest in Europe and the most advance, manufacturing more than 80 different automobile models, including the famous Torpedo and the legendary Topolino that was the first version of the Fiat 500. It was built between 1936 and 1957 when the new version of the Fiat 500 was presented. Car production ended at the Lingotto plant in 1982, but new life was given to the enormous building thanks to the famous architect of London’s The Shard, Renzo Piano. A city within a city was created, with everything from offices to a shopping mall, hotels, and even a tropical garden. The test track on the building’s roof was preserved and a garden was added with yoga, meditation, and fitness areas, ideal for a walk and fabulous views of Turin and the Alps.
Turin boasts a wide range of delicious eats, with Piedmontese some of the most celebrated in the country. In fact, this is the region where the Slow Food movement was born with many restaurants inspired by the concept, focusing on top-quality, local, fresh produce. Favorites include everything from locally baked grissini, or breadsticks, that are native to Turin and accompany most meals to primi, rice, or pasta with truffles. To sample a variety of local delicacies, you might want to take a street food tour that will allow you to sample some of the best while learning about Turin’s gastronomic culture from an expert local guide. There are multiple options available, most of which are around four hours in duration and will bring you away from the touristy spots, guaranteeing authentic bites. You’ll be immersed in the city’s proud culinary heritage while enjoying all sorts of unique dishes and wines.
Another great way to immerse yourself in Turin’s food culture is to learn to cook some of its most delicious signature dishes. You’ll don an apron and head into a kitchen with an expert cook where you’ll be instructed on the preparation of several dishes based on regional recipes. The hands-on experience typically includes a starter, fresh pasta, and a dessert. Once it’s finished, you’ll sit down to enjoy your creations alongside some tasty local white or red wine. You’ll not only learn some new skills in the process, but you’ll have the chance to mingle with the locals and take home a souvenir that’s a lot more valuable than a trinket or a t-shirt. You’ll be able to reproduce some of your favorite dishes for friends and family, sharing a slice of Turin with those who weren’t lucky enough to visit.
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