Exploring Grand Palaces, seeing Egyptian mummies and gazing at the Holy Shroud are some of the things to do in Turin. This majestic baroque city sits at the top of the Italian boot and is bordered by France to the west and Switzerland to the north.
What’s most significant about Turin is that is was the first city to house an Italian government. Victor Emmanuel II became King of Italy in 1861 here, so it’s no wonder many of the things to do in Turin involve exploring history.
Once you’ve explored the most regal landmarks in Italy, there’s good news if you’re a foodie. You won’t be wondering what to do in Turin for long, as this city is home of nutella, bicerin and the Slow Food movement. It’s the birthplace of vermouth and where Gresini breadsticks were created for the Duke of Savoy.
- 15 Tempting Things to do in Turin
- 1- Visit the royal palace
- 2- See the Holy Shroud
- 3- Drink Bicerin in a historic cafe
- 4- Discover the Mysteries of the Egyptian Museum
- 5- Ride the Mole Antonelliana Elevator
- 6- Explore Museo National del Cinema
- 7- Go skiing at Sestriere
- 8- Explore Turin’s Art Galleries
- 9- Discover the Fiat Factory
- 10- Wander Piazza San Carlo
- 11- Boating on the Po
- 12- Discover Slow Food
- 13- Taste Giandujotto Chocolates
- 14- Tour the Underground
- 15- Visit Turin National Automobile Museum
15 Tempting 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 Turin’s heritage overlap in Palazzo Madama.
This palace incorporates 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- Drink Bicerin in a historic cafe
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 Garibaldi plotted the future of Italy while the closet-sized Caffe Mulassano (Piazza Castello 15) has been long favoured by artists from the nearby theatre.
The art-nouveau Caffe Baratti & Milano has been recently renovated.
4- Discover the Mysteries of the Egyptian Museum
Turin’s Museo Egizio is one of the best Egyptian museums outside of CairoIf 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 make 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- Ride the Mole Antonelliana Elevator
At 167 metres tall, the Mole Antonelliana building stands conspicuously above Turin’s classic city skyline.
Originally commissioned as a synagogue but rejected by the Jewish community, this 19-century brick building topped by an aluminium spire was transformed into a temple to film.
The 19th-century skyscraper was commissioned in 1863 and in 2000, Swiss architect Francois Confino transformed it into the National Museum of Cinema.
There’s a glass-walled elevator that zips up to an outdoor observation platform, where you’ll get wonderful views of Turin and the Alps.
6- Explore Museo National del Cinema
Up until the 1930s, Turin was the heart of Italy’s movie-making industry.
That was before Mussolini moved Italy’s film production to Rome.
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.
One of those is a laboratory of special effects with a walk-in fridge full of lavatories (you get to sit on a toilet seat while watching Monty Python!).
There’s also a room with angled mirrors that brings animation to life and a room devoted to Gothic horror.
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.
Believe me, the museum is worth exploring and if you’re a cinema fan you could spend all day here.
There are plenty of interactive multimedia collections that meld historic props with cutting-edge technology.
Are you a fan of The Godfather?
The original script is housed here, along with a bunch of other original movie scripts.
There are other original props like Fellini’s hat, Charlie Chaplin’s bowler and Darth Vader’s mask.
There’s an entire section devoted to cinema technology, with 3,500 items from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
There are magic lanterns, 18th-century optical boxes and a rare collection of 200 historic documents about the development and the circulation of optical shows.
Another floor has over 300,000 movie posters, playbills and historic advertising material promoting cinema.
These date from the first pre-cinematographic shows to films today’s teenagers love to watch.
Another section shows the history of photography with 130,000 photographic records and 1,800 pieces of old photographic equipment.
Pictures of famous actors and directors hang on the walls and the posters will take you down memory lane.
Hollywood’s golden oldies include Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane and Singin’ in the Rain.
Also on the list is a set of sketches from Gone with the Wind and 100 storyboards from Doctor Zhivago.
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7- Go skiing at Sestriere
If you are there during winter and have extra time in Turin, head for the slopes of Sestriere.
Turin’s 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.
8- Explore Turin’s Art 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.
Art museums to visit are:
- 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 the royal castle, Castello di Rivoli, has 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.
9- Discover the Fiat Factory
The former Fiat factory at Lingotto has been re-invented to house shops, cinemas and hotels.
Pinacoteca di Giovanni e Marella Agnelli 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.
10- Wander 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 the war and the beginning of a period of reconstruction.
The streets around the square there are alive with vibrant cafés, restaurants and bars.
11- 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.
12- Discover Slow Food
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.
13- Taste Giandujotto Chocolates
Turin is famous for its giandujotto chocolates, which is a foil-wrapped mini-ingot.
This Turin delight has the flavour of roasted hazelnuts and a fruity tinge.
It’s as addictive as Nutella on bread and if you didn’t already know this, Nutella was invented in Piedmont, the northwestern Italian region of which Turin is the capital.
Long before Nutella was released to the world in 1964, the blend of hazelnut and chocolate was a favourite treat.
Actually, during the 18th century, Turin was an international chocolate capital.
Chocolate producers in Turin exported chocolate to Austria, Switzerland, Germany and France.
Even Swiss chocolate-makers came to Turin to learn how to make chocolate.
One of the reasons for Turin’s great chocolate is prized hazelnuts grow in the hills of the Alta Langa in southern Piedmont.
So chocolate and hazelnuts were combined to form Gianduja. It was named after the hat worn by puppet Gianduja.
Gianduja was first introduced to Turin in 1865 by chocolate-maker Caffarel.
These days, Guido Gobino is Turin’s chocolate king and his shop has a basement factory and is definitely worth visiting.
Gobino sells his chocolate around the world.
Aside from giandujotti, his other signature products are amarissimi, which are disks of bitter chocolate mixed with ground cocoa and chocolate-coated ginger.
Gobino’s giandujotti are milkless mini-sized chocolates with fruity flavours and Piedmont hazelnuts.
14- Tour the Underground
15m below the city, exploring the tunnels of the citadel and Baroque palace cellars will reveal the secrets of the city.
The subterranean discovery uncovers air-raid shelters and Royal ice depots.
15- Visit Turin National Automobile Museum
Automobile enthusiasts will love visiting Turin’s National Automobile Museum.
The museum is home to a range of vehicles, from the 1700s to futuristic cutting-edge designs.
There are displays of the first FIAT as well as 19th-century Benz vehicles, Roll Royce and the first racing cars.
There are interactive displays to help you learn everything you need to know about cars.
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.
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