Did you know Turin (Torino) is the greenest city in Italy? That it was Italy’s first capital, back in the mid-19th century? That it was the birthplace of the Slow Food movement? Or that nowadays the city hosts one of Europe’s award-winning electronic music festivals?
For some reason, the capital of Piedmont has always taken a backseat to Rome and Milan and was mainly known as a gray industrial hub, the birthplace of Fiat and other big-name Italian brands. But all that changed when the Winter Olympics of 2006 came into town, and Turin began sprucing itself up.
Today, it is a beautiful city full of grand cafes and palaces, green spaces and historical piazzas, vibrant shopping streets and bustling markets, must-see museums, and crowd-pleasing festivals. Right before the city became a magnet to thousands of Eurovision Song Contest die-hard fans, we visited Turin and fell in love.
Here are seven great reasons to visit the city:
1. Regal Torino
For centuries, Turin has been the seat of the Dukes of Savoy, later the royal family of Unified Italy, and even served as the first capital of Italy (1861-1865) before conceding to Florence and then to Rome.
No wonder, then, the city is full of beautifully regal piazzas, such as Piazza San Carlo, known as the Salone di Torino, or the city’s drawing-room. Piazza Carlo Alberto is just as stately, with yet another equestrian statue facing Palazzo Carignano and the National Library of Turin on the opposite side. And let’s not forget the majestic Piazza Vittorio Veneto.
There are also some grand palaces in Turin, two of which you simply must visit. The first is Palazzo Reale, a UNESCO World Heritage site right in the heart of the city. The huge complex, now a museum, looks somber on the outside but is lavishly decorated on the inside. Don’t miss out on the dining room, the grand armory, and the famous Chapel of the Holy Shroud. By the way, don’t expect to see the shroud itself; it is safely kept in the Cathedral next door.
The other palace is a bit farther away, right across the river Po. Villa della Regina is so-called because it mainly housed women, including the Spanish Queen of Sardinia Maria Antonietta Ferdinanda. The main hall is simply breathtaking and brimming with Trompe-l’œil, and you should also check out the Chinese-themed rooms and the beautiful garden with the folly on top.
2. Chocolate City
Turin became addicted to chocolate during the Savoy rule, and towards the end of the 18th century, it was Turin’s confectioners who discovered they could transform the brown liquid into solid bars, thus giving life to our present-day chocolates – from pralines to truffles.
No wonder the city is full of old-style confectionery shops and first-rate chocolatiers offering traditional Gianduja (a mix of cocoa and hazelnuts that later became Nutella), including Stratta 1836 in Piazza San Carlo and the award-winning pralines of Guido Gobino.
3. Café Society
Another must-do in Turin is sitting at a grand historical café, sipping Bicerin, a traditional hot drink invented in Turin in the 18th century. The drink is always served in a small glass and made of espresso, dark hot chocolate, and foamy milk. You can order the drink and dunk a cookie or a biscuit in the Bicerin at the classic Caffè Baratti & Milano in the stylish Galleria Subalpina; at Caffe Torino in Piazza San Carlo; or at Caffè Mulassano in Piazza Castello, with its lovely old water fountain.
4. The Egyptian Collection
Turin has many museums, but Museo Egizio is definitely a must-see. It is the only museum outside of Cairo solely dedicated to Egyptian art and history, and like most things in Turin, the collections were established by the House of Savoy.
Even if you’re not that big on museums, rest assured there’s nothing stuffy about this one. Visiting Museo Egizio feels like being transported back into the Land of the Pharaohs, with over 30,000 artifacts found in archeological excavations, from the longest papyrus in the world to sarcophagi, mummies, and books of the dead, from sandals to toiletries, from beds to “pillows,” all found in excavated tombs. It is a veritable treasure house, so don’t miss out. Start from the top, and don’t forget to visit the Kings’ Assembly at the end.
5. Mole Antonelliana
This is actually the National Museum of Cinema, but unless you’re a die-hard fan of cinema history and Spaghetti Westerns, the main reason to visit the iconic building is to check out the cavernous main hall and climb to the top for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Originally conceived of as a synagogue, this unique Tower of Babylon by Alessandro Antonelli became just a bit too high, too grandiose, and too expensive for the Jewish community, and they ditched the project. When it was finally completed in 1889, Mole Antonelliana was the tallest building in Europe, and it is still the tallest unreinforced brick building in the world.
6. Markets and shopping
The bustling Porta Palazzo is Europe’s largest marketplace and the best place to soak up the multi-cultural side of Turin. Right next to the open market, there’s a covered market with lots of charcuterie stands and a separate organic market. And if you’re more into flea markets, check out Balôn, best visited on Saturdays.
Whether you’re looking for a piece of history, some shopping, or a taste of Italy’s finest produce, Lingotto is a great half-day trip, just a short metro ride from the city center. The old Fiat factory was beautifully transformed into a shopping mall (although it still retains the famous test track on the roof), and there’s also an art gallery on the top floor.
And right across the street, at the old Vermouth factory, you can visit the first and biggest Eataly in the world, a great place to have a nibble, some lunch, or a gelato. And you can also browse the aisles for some dry pasta, the best Italian wines, and whatnot.
Back in the city center, there’s another small Eataly on Via Lagrange, which is a major shopping street. Also, don’t miss a stroll on the parallel Via Roma, offering luxury brands under the porticoes of the lovely street. And wherever you go in the smaller streets or bigger piazzas, you’ll find the most stylish shops and boutiques.
7. City of parks and festivals
Set on the riverbank, Parco del Valentino is the city’s largest park, offering a respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city. One of the biggest attractions at the far southern end of the park is Borgo Medievale, a recreated medieval village opened in 1884 to mark the occasion of the Italian General Exhibition.
Another large park is Parco Dora, actually a combination of green spaces and a huge open-air art installation, part of an urban renewal program now hosting concerts, markets, events, and sporting events. Over the weekend of July 1-3, 2022, for example, the park will serve as a venue for Europe’s award-winning electronic music festival, Kappa Futur Festival, returning this summer for the 9th time, bigger than ever – with the world’s finest DJs and live performers, along with some emerging artists. This year’s lineup includes Carl Cox, Diplo, Amelie Lens, Peggy Gou, and Four Tet, to name but a few.
Turin and Piedmont have loads more to offer, and now that Ryanair offers two weekly flights from Tel Aviv, the city is more accessible than ever. So whether you are planning a weekend getaway, a ski trip to the Alps in winter, or a road trip in Piedmont and elsewhere, Turin is a fabulous addition to your itinerary.
The author was a guest of Turismo Torino e Provincia and Ryanair.
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