Grand Palaces, Egyptian mummies and the Holy Shroud, Turin is a majestic baroque city. Located at the top of the Italian boot, and bordered by France to the west and Switzerland to the north, Turin was the first city to house an Italian government when Victor Emmanuel II became King of Italy in 1861. Here are 10 things to do in Turin.
Things to do in Turin
1- Visit the royal palace
Most of Turin’s grand buildings were created during its golden age when the House of Savoy flaunted their imperial prowess for 900 years.
When planning what to do in Turin, learning the history should be at the top of your list.
It started with Emmanuel-Philibert, Duke of Savoy, who moved his capital to Turin in 1562 and began a series of building projects ranging from the Royal Palace in the centre of town to country residences and hunting lodges.
In 1997, this vast network of buildings was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It portrays 17th and 18th century European monumental architecture that utilizes style, dimensions, and space to illustrate the absolute monarchy of that era.
Furnished with royal antiques and paintings, The Palazzo Reale, which was the official residence of the Savoy dukes and kings for over two centuries, is open to the public. Various epochs of of Turin’s heritage overlap in Palazzo Madama.
This palace incorporate parts of an ancient Roman gate, which was converted into a castle in the Middle Ages.
In the 17th century it became the residence of the Madama Reale or Royal Widow.
In 1721, architect Filippo Juvarra rejuvenated the palace with a baroque facade. Today, the Palazzo Madama houses the Civic Ancient Art Museum.
2- See the Holy Shroud
One of the most controversial items in Christian history is kept at the cathedral of San Giovanni Battista in Turin.
The Holy Shroud is an ancient linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man, which millions believe to be the cloth that wrapped Jesus Christ’s crucified body.
Modern science has completed hundreds-of-thousands of hours of detailed study and intense research on the Shroud and yet, the controversy rages on.
The Shroud of Turi was allegedly discovered in Turkey during the Holy Crusades in the Middle Ages.
In 1988, the Vatican allowed the shroud to be dated by three independent sources – Oxford University, the University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Each of them dated the cloth as originating during medieval times, around 1350.
The shroud of Turin allegedly was in a fire during the early part of the 16th century and, according to staunch believers in the shroud’s authenticity, that is what accounts for the carbon dating of the shroud as being no more than 650 years old.
At Turin’s cathedral you can gaze at the satin-covered box that it is kept in, and inspect a smaller copy hanging on the wall.
A full-size copy is also on display in the Baroque church of San Lorenzo on Piazza Castello.
3- Turin’s historic cafes
Turin’s historic 18th and 19th century cafes are top Turin attractions too.
Flamboyantly decorated in gold and crimson, with ornate marble tops, chandeliers, frescoes and mirrors, these cafes look more like grand museums than eating houses.
The best places to visit in Turin to drink coffee are Café San Carlo (Piazza San Carlo) served Alexander Dumas his first bicerin (hot coffee, chocolate and cream served in a small glass), in Caffe Fiorio (Via Po 8), Cavour and Geribaldi plotted the future of Italy, the closet-sized Caffe Mulassano (Piazza Castello 15) has been long favoured by artists from the nearby theatre, and the art-nouveau Caffe Baratti & Milano has been recently renovated.
4- Explore the Egyptian Museum
If you’re wondering what to do in Turin that is unique, you might be surprised to learn that the Turin Egyptian Museum is a treasure trove of Egyptian artefacts and the largest in the world outside Cairo.
The size and enormous variety of the collection makes it a fascinating place to spend a few hours.
All periods of ancient Egypt are represented here; from rows of mummies to giant sculptures, grooming implements to furniture, no type of surviving artefact is missing.
The top crowd-pullers are the 4,000-year-old body of a woman, a large black granite statue of Ramses II, and the Tomb of Kha.
There are 98 large statues, as well as an extraordinary collection of papyri including Royal Papyrus which lists all the Egyptian Kings from the beginning of time to Ramses II (1279 BC); paintings from the tomb of It (discovered in 1911) and the oldest painted cloth in the world (3500 BC) depicting boats, hunting scenes and ritual dances.
The Tomb of Kha dates back to 3500BC and was transported to Turin intact from the archaeological site of Dair-el-Medina. It houses sarcophagi and statues, a bed, clothing, cooking utensils and grooming items.
5- Cinema time in Turin
What to see in Turin if you love cinema? At 167 metres tall, the Mole Antonelliana building stands conspicuously above Turin’s classical city skyline.
Originally commissioned as a synagogue but rejected by the Jewish community, this nineteenth-century brick building topped by an aluminium spire was recently transformed into a temple to film.
The Museo Nazionale Del Cinema contains five floors of exhibits dedicated to celluloid history.
The heart of the Museum is the Temple Hall surrounded by ten chapels dedicated to the cult of cinema.
You lie on a bed watching classic love scenes as a glass elevator whizzes people right up through the layers of galleries to a terrace that has the best views of the city.
6- Turin skiing
If you are there during winter and have extra time in Turin, head for the slopes of Sestriere. Turin skiing is world class.
The resort is a one-hour’s drive west of the city and hosted most of the 2006 Winter Olympics alpine skiing events.
Sestriere is part of a region nicknamed the Milky Way which includes five ski areas in Italy – Sestriere, Sauze d’Oulx, Sansicario, Cesana, and Claviere.
While the resort is popular with European skiers in winter, summer visitors have the village and its 18-hole golf course to themselves. Other summertime options include mountain biking, kayaking, climbing, horseback riding, hiking and hang gliding.
7- Discover Turin’s galleries
Given the wealth of the Savoys, it is no wonder that Turin is well stocked with old masters.
More surprisingly, the opening of several galleries has seen it emerge as a destination for showcasing contemporary art. So
The former Fiat factory at Lingotto has been re-invented to house shops, cinemas, hotels and the Pinacoteca di Giovanni e Marella Agnelli which contains 25 priceless works from the Agnelli collection, including pieces by Canaletto, Picasso, Dali and Matisse.
You can fly to the rooftop restaurant, La Pista (La Pista), by helicopter and explore the test track where Michael Caine’s team raced around in Minis in the film The Italian Job.
The Fondazione Sandretto de Rebaudengo is a vast space for cutting-edge exhibitions, on the site of an old hubcap factory, in the rough San Paolo district.
The remains of royal castle, Castello di Rivoli, have been turned into an intriguing art museum that exhibits radical new works in rooms decorated with the original 15th-century murals.
The Galleria Civica D’Arte Moderna E Contemporanea, known as the GAM, has a permanent art collection of 20,000 works.
The Turin Card provides access to over 120 museums as well as unlimited use of the city’s public transport system.
8- Piazza San Carlo
Admire the architecture at Piazza San Carlo with its elegant palaces and the twin churches of San Carlo and Santa Cristina.
In the centre there is a statue of Duke Edmondo Filiberto on his horse – brandishing his sword after the battle of Saint Quentin – a symbol of the end of war and the beginning of a period of reconstruction.
The streets around the square there are alive with cafés.
9- Boating on the Po
Catch the river ferry from the Murazzi and float along the river Po, between the city and the mountain.
Located between the Ponte Umberto I and the Ponte Isabella, you’ll see the 30-hectare Valentino Park, which contains a former royal palace – the Castello del Valentino.
A little further along you’ll find the Borgo Medievale, a reproduction of a medieval castle that was built for a major exhibition in 1884.
It now houses antique and craft shops. Old river landing stages have been converted into bustling cafes and restaurants. The hills above are dotted with the villas of the nobility and churches.
10- Slow Food Turin
The host of the Winter Olympics in 2006, Turin underwent an extensive building programme. The venues are now used for a host of shows, events and festivals.
For foodies, Turin is a top choice, with amazing restaurants, eateries and top chefs. Turin is known for northern Italian cuisine and the Slow Food movement runs strong here.
If you love coffee, you’ll be pleased to discover that the northern city is home to the world-renown Lavazza (Lavazza) coffee brand. And Turin also has many talented chocolate makers.
Turin is also the birthplace of vermouth and where Gresini breadsticks were created for a Duke of Savoy.
Looking for more things to do in Italy? Check out these attractions in Florence and the beaches of the Italian Riviera. Italy is a gem to explore, from sleepy towns like Varallo to busy tourist destinations like Venice.
While visiting Italy why not head for the mountains of Switzerland? Take a Jungfrau tour on the train for a ride you’ll never forget.