Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Laura Teso
Torino has been on my travel wishlist for years. Every time something happened and I had to postpone the visit. This time I had a minor problem too, but I was already there. I made it. I finally visited Turin, the most French city in Italy. By the way, did you know that Turin was the first capital of Italy? Before Florence and finally Rome.
What to do in Turin?
First of all, I want to say that Turin has many things to offer, so it would require double the time I spent there. In order to visit it properly at a slow pace, I renounced to visit some museums and activities. Besides, since I went during Christmas/New Year festivities, some of those museums were closed or only open part-time. I hope I will go back one day and see what I missed (like Venaria Palace, Rivoli Museum and the Superga Basilica). So this is a list of things I did in the city center only.
Matteo and I visited the three most important museums. Torino Tourism Office offered us two Torino Piemonte cards valid for 2 days (or better, 48 hours, starting from the first museum entrance. So if you buy it on Monday morning and you enter your first museum at 3 pm, the card will last until Wednesday at 3 pm).
Torino Piemonte Card
With the card, you have free admission in basically all the major museums of Turin and of the surroundings. There are several versions, from 1 day up to 5 days validity at different prices (starting from €25). And it is a good value if you think to visit several museums during your stay. Plus 10% off for the City Sightseeing bus and reduced fee on some tourist services (Mole Antonelliana lift, Superga rack tramway, Venaria express bus). Furthermore, you can combine it with the Transport pass (also convenient if you intend to use public transportation).
More info at turismotorino.org
First of all, I must warn you: If you plan to visit Turin during bank holidays, be prepared. There was huge queue at every museum. So, better to book a guided tour, that will grant you immediate access skipping the line. So far it is the only method, cause the Torino Piemonte card does not include a line-skipping option.
Honestly, I went there with no expectations, but I really liked this museum. It’s a huge collection because it includes many different parts. The itinerary is one, well indicated at every step (a bit less the Galleria Sabauda) so that you see everything (the average visiting time is 2 hours):
Royal Palace: Basically, when Duke Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia decided to choose Turin as the capital of his dukedom, this was his personal mansion. The interior is a succession of rooms full of tapestries, rich ornaments, precious doors, chandeliers, furniture in three styles: baroque, rococo and neoclassical.
The Armory: a real surprise. It is a magnificent gallery full of ancient weapons of many styles and shapes, with several fully harnessed horses and beautiful decor. When you go in, you can’t but appreciate the grandeur of the place, regardless of your interest (or lack of it) in ancient weapons.
Holy Shroud Chapel
Holy Shroud Chapel: This is the chapel where the Holy Shroud was once preserved (now in the transept of the Cathedral). After a fire, the shroud was moved and the chapel had to be restored. It was reopened in 2018 and the architecture is spectacular. I was really impressed by the contrast of the dark marble of the sides and the bright, spectacular dome.
Galleria Sabauda: gallery of paintings of different ages, including some notable masterpieces by Beato Angelico, Mantegna, Veronese, and some remarkable Flemish paintings. The gallery is at the end of the museum itinerary, so, when you get here, you’re a bit tired.
Antiquity Museum: we skipped this. 😀
Royal gardens: The entrance to the gardens is free. Clearly, in December/January it was not the ideal period to visit them. But if you go on warm months, you should take advantage of them for a passeggiata.
Library and Sale Chiablese
! The Royal Library (closed during Christmas festivities) houses a precious drawing (Self Portrait) by Leonardo Da Vinci, which is only periodically on display.
! Sale Chiablese: these rooms host the temporary exhibitions. They’re not part of the regular museum route unless you buy the separate ticket. (If you do, I think I gather you can skip the line by purchasing the combined ticket at the dedicated ticket desk).
Turin Duomo and the Holy Shroud
Turin’s Duomo, in Reinassance style (the 1400s), is dedicated to San Giovanni Battista. In the last chapel on the left, under the Royal Tribune, there’s the Holy Shroud.
The Shroud is a linen cloth bearing the image of a man. According to tradition, it is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.
But unfortunately, you can’t see the Shroud, since it’s placed inside a case that allows its conservation. The case was produced using the most up-to-date aerospace technologies. A computerized system constantly controls temperature, pressure, humidity, etc. It is extracted only in case of public expositions and the Pope decides about that. Last time in 2015.
Along the entire left aisle of the Cathedral, some screens broadcast explanatory videos, with subtitles in the main languages. Plus there are always volunteers (in purple jacket), available to give further information.
Very close to the Duomo, inside a public park, Porta Palatina is one of Turin’s Roman ruins and the best-preserved 1st-century Roman gate in the whole world. Originally it was one of the access points to the city through the city walls.
The cinema museum is located inside the most famous landmark of Turin, the so-called Mole Antonelliana. It is the symbol of Turin and I like it so much that, as a souvenir, I bought precisely a small blue Mole statue to adorn my desk.
Mi raccomando, Mole does not refer to the animal, and its pronunciation is different: MOH-leh. This term in Italian is an obsolete adjective meaning huge, bulk.
The initial purpose
It dates back to the second half of 1800 when it was the highest masonry building in Europe (it now has also parts in concrete and steel). But did you know what it was built for? It should have been a synagogue. After many problems with the builder, the clients changed their mind and sold the property to the municipality. So the synagogue is now in San Salvario. The Mole pinnacle dates back to 1960. From 2000 she (in Italian it is feminine, la Mole) houses the Cinema Museum.
The cinema museum is cute, full of memorabilia, some interactive installations to understand the beginning of this art, posters, videos. And I found it overall quite entertaining to visit. I loved very much the chaise longues area. Besides, the theme of the month was Marilyn. I watched so many of her movies that it was a pleasure for me to stay there for a while, relaxing and watching some clips.
But the best part is the lift that gets you to the panoramic terrace on top of the Mole. The lift starts at the underground floor (where you see nothing) and after a few meters pops up in the middle of the chaise longues area. The structure is almost entirely made of glass so that you can see all the people inside the museum while you go up and up towards the sky. I fact, my husband, who is deeply scared of heights, waited for me safely at the gift shop. The view is lovely, with the mountains all around. But the best part was precisely seeing the interior of the Mole while going up. And then down. Yes, because you then go down by lift as well.
It is the most ancient Egyptian museum in the world. The exhibition is in chronological order. Among the most interesting items: the Book of the Dead of Aaner (it was thrilling to see a Spanish lady who clearly knew how to read the symbols while translating the verses to her friend), various funeral masks (like the one of Merit), statues of pharaohs, tombs and relics. Anyways, at the ticket office, they provide you with a map that reports all highlights of each floor.
Attention! After the first rooms located on the very floor of the ticket office, you have to go up with the escalators until you reach the highest floor. The visit continues there and then you descend. I saw many puzzled visitors. Apart from that, I would hardly suggest a guided tour. Not only because it would allow you to skip the line, but mostly because it’s not easy to fully understand the various collections on your own.
Turin is full of porticos and for that, it reminded me of home. Padua is, in fact, the second city in Italy for length of porticos (after Bologna). And I think Turin is the third one. The main difference is that Padua’s arcades are small and medieval, while those in Turin are grand. And they hide a lot of treasures. Apart from trendy boutiques and cafés, there are many historic shops, still with their original wooden furniture. And it is a real pleasure to discover them.
Turin is full of elegant squares, surrounded by refined palaces, so much so that some of them really reminded me of Paris, like Piazza Carlo Emanuele II. During the French rule, it was renamed Place de la Liberté and became the place of guillotine executions. After the fall of the French rule, it regained its name. Torinesi call it piazza Carlina.
Piazza Vittorio Veneto
Piazza Vittorio Veneto (called just piazza Vittorio by locals) is the biggest square in Turin and it is located next to the river Po. It is a place for young people meetings especially during the weekend and in the warm summer days.
Piazza Castello it is the heart of Turin’s historic center. You will easily recognize it by the Castle in the middle, hence the name piazza Castello. This building is very peculiar: the east side, the Castle, is medieval, dating back to 1276. Once the defensive function was lost, the mansion was used as a residence by the Royal family (Savoy). Under the rule of Madama Maria Giovanna Battista di Savoia-Nemours, the baroque facade on the west side (hence called Palazzo Madama) was built, along with the monumental staircase. All around elegant porticos with shops and cafés. On the eastern side, the Regio Theater. On the north side, the Royal Museums.
Piazza San Carlo
San Carlo squre is very elegant. Its nickname is, in fact, the salotto (salon) of Turin. You will recognize it by the equestrian statue of Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia and above all by the “twin churches”: Santa Cristina (left) and San Carlo (right). They’re not actually that similar. In my opinion Santa Cristina is more beautiful. Along the perimeter of the piazza, under the porticos, you can find two historic Cafés. Caffè Torino, with the Martini iconic sign, and Caffè San Carlo, where I had my Royal merenda. Plus the famous chocolaterie Stratta.
On one side of Piazza Carlo Alberto you can visit the baroque Palazzo Carignano. It was the seat of the first Parliament of the Reign of Italy (1861-64) and now houses the National Museum of Risorgimento.
Turin has some covered passages, like Paris, called Gallerie. Close to Piazza Castello, you can see Galleria Subalpina, where you can see Baratti & Milano Caffé and a lovely bookshop, Galleria Gilibert, and a cinema. North of the center there’s Galleria Umberto I, the most “down to earth”.
Galleria San Federico, along via Roma, is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and luxurious. It houses the Lux cinema which is an Art Deco masterpiece. Just look at its different entrances!
The Mole is beautiful when seen from the street in which it is located. It is also lovely to see it popping up here and there from behind the rooftop of buildings. But what’s best is to see it from the hills just across the river Po. Matteo and I went up to Santa Maria dei Cappuccini (10 minutes by foot from Piazza Vittorio Veneto) and we were rewarded by a beautiful view of the Mole and the Alps covered with snow in the background.
Another beautiful panoramic view is at Superga Basilica, but, as said before, we didn’t visit. Finally, Turin Eye is another option, but I don’t know if I could make it. It is a hot air balloon, located in piazza Borgo Dora, held on the ground by steel cables so that it doesn’t fly away. It takes you up and down at 150 meters for about €20. I don’t know if I would do this. Maybe next time.
Parco del Valentino
South of the city, along the river Po, there’s a huge public garden called Parco del Valentino.
Inside the park, you can visit the Botanical garden, the Medieval Village (not medieval actually: it was built for the 1884 Turin Expo to host the Ancient Art section) and admire the Castello del Valentino, former Savoy residence, now seat of the Faculty of Architecture.
There you can have the chance to walk, run, ride the bike, etc. Plus there are some food kiosks and cafés within the area. Not during Christmas holidays though.
I loved it! It was like an open-air art exhibit, involving street illuminations designed by famous artists. They were on from October 31 to January 13 and I really hope that Turin municipality decides to set them up again in the years to come. I particularly liked The Baroque Vertical Garden by Richi Ferrero (inside the courtyard of a private palace – also the palace was amazing), Giulio Paolini’s Palomar along via Po, The blue Mole with Mario Merz’s Number flight, Daniel Buren’s Flying Carpet, Nicola De Maria Regno dei Fiori and the tale by Luigi Mainolfi along via Carlo Alberto.
Turin is the right place for foodies. Piedmont is where Slow Food and Eataly were born. Nutella is from Piedmont, too. The region boasts famous wines like Barolo, Nebbiolo and Barbaresco, white truffle from Alba, cheeses like Robiola, Bra and Castelmagno, Langhe hazelnuts and more.
The most famous dishes to try are ravioli del plin (plin refers to the gesture of pinching the dough to form them), tajarin (local tagliatelle), bagna caoda (garlic and anchovies sauce perfect to dip veggies in), vitello tonnato (veal with tuna caper sauce), brasato (poat roast) al Barolo.
Turin is also the capital of chocolate. The most famous praline is the gianduiotto (chocolate and hazelnuts). The name refers to Gianduja, the local Carnival mask.
Turin has many historic cafés, where you can have something to drink while immersing yourself in a yesteryear atmosphere. I know you’re eager to learn more about them, but, since this post was basically long as the Bible already, I decided to dedicate a separate article only to these amazing places: Al Bicerin, Baratti & Milano, Caffè Torino, Caffè Gelateria Pepino, Caffè Mulassano, Caffè Platti, Caffè Fiorio, Roma già Talmone, and San Carlo.
Ghigo is mostly famous for the Nuvola (cloud) a pandoro covered with butter and icing sugar. Honestly, I didn’t have the courage to try it but I had a simple croissant and a hot chocolate for breakfast.
Guido Gobino is the most famous gianduiotti producer in town. Its specialty is the Tourinot. The one I liked best was the so-called Maximo 39 (winner of the best gianduiotto in Italy
(Saved for next time)
Unfortunately, I couldn’t sample the chocolates of his main rival, Guido Castagna. I was so sad when I went to the shop and it was closed. I had previously tried to contact them to ask for the opening times but they didn’t reply. Other two disappointments were Giordano (also closed) and Gertosio. The latter was open but their specialty I was so eager to try was not available until the next week (when I was already home).
Stratta since 1836 awaits gluttons in Piazza San Carlo. I personally tasted two of their chocolates, the Corone Sabaude (Savoy Crowns) and Gioie di Cavour (Cavour’s Delights) and I loved them. Honestly, they were my favorite among those I tried during my stay. Matteo fell in love with the Gioia di Cavour. In hindsight, I better have bought some souvenir chocolates. The place was also full of colorful candies, reminding me those of Harry Potter: Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans (in Italian: le gelatine tutti i gusti più uno, jellies every flavor plus one).
Pfatisch is located 10 minutes from the Porta Nuova train station. Its specialty is the Festivo Cake, all meringue, chocolate and chantilly cream. There is basically no place to sit. But I liked very much the wooden decor and some retro pieces, like the cashier register.
Farmacia del Cambio
Located 1 minute away from the Egyptian Museum, Farmacia del Cambio was once a Pharmacy, opened in 1833. In 2015, the adjacent Michelin starred restaurant “Del Cambio” decided to take over the location and transforming it in a patisserie, while keeping the old furniture and boiserie (that is amazing). The pastries are beautiful and refined, prepared by the world pastry champion Fabrizio Galla. I tried this signature cake, called Jessica (after Jessica Rabbit). But honestly, I would have tried everything. All the creations were so tempting! I warn you, though. Being a Michelin starred restaurant’s creature, it is quite expensive!
I loved Scannabue for the retrò decor. It is the kind of restaurant where you can find all the most traditional dishes. The only disappointment was the dessert. Matteo’s one was sublime. Mine (tarte tatin) had a lot of bitter caramel on it. I personally hate bitter taste. So I could not enjoy my cake. I had the same dessert in another restaurant (the one just below) and there the caramel was sweet.
Le Vitel Etonné
Le Vitel Etonné is a restaurant located near via Po, perfect to taste traditional cuisine. We liked both the decor and the food.
Poormanger has two stores in the city center. You enter, you take your coperto, you choose the drinks from the fridge and you bring all to the table. The service starts from there. The menu is short. They basically serve jacket potatoes Italian style. Rather good and overall a good value for money.
M**bun is a local fast food with three stores. The name would be Macbun, word pun because in Torinese dialect it means “ma che buono”, “how tasty”. Since McDonald’s forced them to change their name, they preferred to put two asterisks instead. I tried their Macbun panino and I loved it! Plus here you don’t find Coca Cola but a local version called Molecola (another word pun. Mole is the symbol of the city, cola is the coke and molécola means molecule). Still ignore the pronunciation since I heard people calling it both Molécola and Mòle-còla.
Here you can have a quality, local panino, with good ingredients. You can also choose the type of bread (homemade). I liked my panino very much (I had the one with the pumpkin cream).
Another restaurant for next time…
Sadly I had also booked for a dinner at a renowned restaurant called Sotto La Mole but they canceled due to a problem with the hot water heater (on January 1st). Pity!