If you’re looking for a cool city break in Italy, then Piedmont’s capital is a fantastic option to consider. Read on to learn about all the best things to do in Turin with this detailed 4-day itinerary.
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I recently spent a few days exploring Piedmont’s capital for the first time in years (literally) and I must confess that my first reaction was, ‘Why did it take me so long to come back to Turin!?’ The city is really cool and not at all how I remembered it! Thankfully, it was one of the trips on my 2020 travel wishlist that I managed to realize this year!
With a past as the seat of the royal Savoy family and Italy’s first capital, Turin is jam-packed with grandiose palaces, fascinating museums, and elegant squares. It has plenty on offer when it comes to food, too, with a wealth of local specialties that are guaranteed to impress your taste buds. And all of that without the crowds that we are used to seeing in Italy’s big three (i.e. Rome, Florence, and Venice).
Turin is also home to some of Italy’s most iconic brands, from Fiat to Lavazza, each with a cool corporate museum to explore. What’s more, the city’s strong industrial vocation and pivotal role in promoting Italian creativity and innovation worldwide even had Turin recognized as a UNESCO Creative City in 2014.
So, here’s an itinerary based on my recent trip, covering pretty much all of the best things to do in Turin. It’s designed to explore by foot, so pack your comfy shoes and be ready to walk well over 25,000 steps a day! And if you’re not a walker, don’t worry, the city is well served by trams and has even a metro line.
One last thing: since food is one of the best parts of any trip to Italy, you can find my recommendations about restaurants in Turin here.
Day 1 in Turin
Start your exploration of Turin from Piazza Castello, one of the city’s main gathering points and a great spot to enjoy some people watching. At its core stands Palazzo Madama, a key site in Turin’s history. Originally created as a Roman gate, in 1848 it became the seat of the first Senate of the Italian Kingdom and today it houses the Civic Museum of Ancient Art.
The vast collection on display features paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and precious objects spanning from the Middle Ages up to the 19th century. There’s also a panoramic tower that is said to offer great views over the city, but sadly it was closed when I was there. For those who are wondering, the name “Madama” refers to the royal title of Maria Cristina of France and Maria Giovanna Battista di Savoia-Nemours, the women behind the modernization of the palace, which included also the construction of the stunning Baroque staircases that dominates the entrance hall.
Another fabulous place to visit in Piazza Castello is the Royal Palace, the magnificent residence commissioned by Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy in the 17th century to become the center of the Savoys’ governing power. Visiting this complex is like stepping into a visual wonderland, starting from the grandiose staircase that welcomes you at the entrance.
Room after room, it’s amazing to see how royals used to live in those days – from the opulent space hosting the king’s throne to the chamber of the pageboys, where I could picture young Cavour (the future prime minister of the new Italian kingdom who worked here as Carlo Alberto’s personal valet) grumbling about the uniform he had to wear. The Royal Armory is not to be missed, with an eye-catching collection of weapons and armors, including rare pieces like the sword used by Napoleon in his Egyptian campaign.
Expect to spend at least a good couple of hours in the palace and try to arrive around lunchtime to avoid the crowds. At the end of the visit, take a break at the Royal Café, hidden under an arcade in the Court of Honor, where you can linger over a drink surrounded by beautiful antique porcelain from the royal collections. Then, follow the locals walking through the arcades and into the splendid Royal Gardens, which extends over an area of five hectares.
A quick walk from the Royal Palace will take you to the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Turin’s key religious center. Although its marble facade may look a little plain, the church boasts a series of precious chapels inside, including that of the Holy Shroud, which is believed to be the linen cloth in which Jesus’ body was wrapped.
Roughly on the opposite side of the Cathedral stands Porta Palatina, a beautifully preserved red-brick Roman gate guarded by the statues of Augustus and Caesar. Together with the remains of a 1st-century amphitheater, the gate is part of a little archeological park that reminds of the city’s history as a Roman military colony.
From here you can venture through Turin’s famous Quadrilatero Romano, that part of the city lying on the ancient Roman settlement. This is a great area to enjoy an aperitivo in one of the many cozy bars and explore some interesting spots like Piazza Savoia, home to a marble obelisk dedicated to the laws issued in 1850 to abolish the privileges of the Catholic clergy. A must-see is Piazza della Consolata, a delightful little square where you can see a splendid sanctuary bearing the same name and visit Café Al Bicerin. This is one of the oldest cafés in town and guardian of the original recipe for Turin’s famous Bicerin, the delicious hot drink made with coffee, cocoa, and cream.
The Quadrilatero Romano is close to another interesting corner of Turin, the market of Porta Palazzo, Europe’s largest open-air market with hundreds of colorful stalls selling anything from food to clothes. You’ll find it every day from Monday to Friday between 7 am and 2 pm and on Saturdays from 7 am to 7:30 pm (better to go there in the morning).
Day 2 in Turin
Your first stop for the day is Piazza Carignano, one of the most beautiful squares in town, ringed with some of Turin’s oldest establishments. These include Pepino 1884, which patented the world’s first chocolate-covered gelato on a stick (the ‘Pinguino’) in 1939, and the fascinating Del Cambio Restaurant, patronized by the likes of Cavour, Casanova, Puccini, and Nietzsche.
Here I suggest splurging on a nice breakfast or aperitivo at Farmacia del Cambio, a charming café housed inside a former pharmacy dating from 1833. Its outdoor tables face the magnificent Carignano Palace, whose architecture is reminiscent of the first drawings of the Louvre that Bernini had prepared for Louis XIV. The building is home to the National Museum of Italian Risorgimento, whose extraordinary collection offers an incredible history lesson about the unification of Italy in the 19th century (the Risorgimento) and the creation of a modern state. Visiting this museum is definitely one of my favorite things to do in Turin!
You’ll easily spend a good three hours in this museum, as the exhibition spans across 30 rooms filled with all sorts of historical documents and memorabilia narrating the Risorgimento from both a local and European perspective.
Palazzo Carignano itself played a key role in Italian history. It served as the official residence of the Savoy family for over 150 years, Carlo Alberto and Vittorio Emanuele II were born here and then became the seat of Italy’s first parliament. One of the highlights of the visit is precisely the original parliamentary room, which is the only one still completely intact among those that were born in Europe with the revolutions of 1848!
After this trip back in time, enjoy a nice walk through glamorous Via Lagrange for some window shopping, then take some time to explore Piazza San Carlo, the glorious “living room” of Turin. At its center stands the equestrian statue of Emanuele Filiberto, the Savoy Duke who took the decision of moving the capital of the family’s territories from Chamberry to Turin, while the southern end of the square is lined with the twin churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo Borromeo.
The square is ringed by elegant porticoes that house a number of splendid historical establishments. These include the Belle Époque-style Caffè Torino, with a cool Martini sign flashing above its outdoor tables, the ancient confectionary Stratta specialized in a variety of artisanal sweet treats, and the splendid Caffè San Carlo, where you can treat yourselves to a special lunch in the beautiful dehors.
By the way, there’s a golden bull embedded in the pavement right at the entrance of Café Torino and it’s said that rubbing it with your shoe brings good luck – exactly like the bull mosaic in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, minus the queues!
If you’ve got some money to burn, enjoy some shopping in via Garibaldi, where you’ll find all the major high-street brands, and via Roma, a delightful porticoed street filled with elegant boutiques and opening on one side onto Galleria San Federico, one of the city’s beautiful covered passages.
Plan to reach the Egyptian Museum of Turin around mid-afternoon, in order to have enough time to browse the outstanding exhibition with no rush. This is one of the most popular places to visit in Turin and for a good reason. Founded in 1824, it’s the world’s oldest museum devoted to Egyptian art and culture and its collection of over 40,000 Egyptian antiquities is second only to the one in Cairo. The items on display throughout the museum’s 15 rooms include anything from everyday items and precious scrolls to mummified bodies and impressive sarcophagi.
The most stunning section is the Hall of Kings, consisting of two darkened rooms with a series of monumental statues that portray Egyptian kings – a grand finale for a truly impressive museum! Bear in mind that the museum is open every day until 6:30 pm, with the exception of Mondays when doors close at 2:00 pm.
A classic aperitivo at historic Caffé Mulassano (the birthplace of the tramezzino sandwich) or a sweet treat at Baratti&Milano (whose founders were the Savoys’ official chocolate makers) will be the perfect way of ending the day.
Day 3 in Turin
The third day of your Turin city break will be all about enchanting views and cool stuff. First off, head to the Mole Antonelliana, the iconic symbol of Turin that catches the eye pretty much from any point in town.
Originally designed to host a synagogue, the Mole was built in the 19th century and later became a monument to national unity (it’s also portrayed on the Italian 2 cent euro coins). At that time it was the tallest brick building in Europe, rising 167.5 meters high the city roofs. An €8 ticket will grant you access to the glass lift leading to the panoramic platform, where you can enjoy glorious views over the city and the Alps in the distance.
The elevator passes right through the middle of the building, offering a really cool perspective of the National Museum of Cinema housed inside the Mole. This is a fabulous museum that I recommend checking out when in Turin because it’s great fun for both kids and adults. The exhibition takes you on a journey through the history of cinema and the various phases of making a movie. I’m sure the items on display will spark your memories of movie scenes and actors at every turn due to the richness of the collection, from the original Darth Vader and Chewbacca masks to the script of Psycho.
What makes this museum truly unique is its fantastic layout, spiraling upwards over 5 levels that display anything from historical motion picture equipment to original memorabilia and posters. There are also a number of red chaise-lounges in the main hall, where you can lay down for a while and watch excerpts from old movies on two large screens.
The Museum of Cinema and the panoramic lift will likely keep you occupied for 2-3 hours. After that, take a stroll down Via Po, a long, porticoed street that connects Piazza Castello to Turin’s riverfront. Along the way, you’ll pass by boutique stores, elegant cafés, and outdoor bookstalls that will make the walk even more pleasant. For a break, you could stop at Caffè Fiorio, which is in business since 1780.
Stretching from the end of Via Po down to the river is Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the largest porticoed square in Europe, dotted with countless shops and cafés. The best viewpoint to appreciate the grandeur of this piazza is the Church of Gran Madre di Dio standing right across the Vittorio Emanuele I bridge (see the cover photo of this article). By the way, legend has it that this church is the place where the Holy Grail is kept!
From there, Monte dei Cappuccini is a 10 minutes’ walk away up a shady road. It’s a bit steep, but once you get to the top you’ll be rewarded with some truly beautiful views of Turin and the Alps. While you’re up there, you can pop into the Church of Santa Maria del Monte, check out the National Museum of Mountains, or simply enjoy a peaceful break away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
When walking back to the city, I suggest taking a little detour along the river Po to Valentino Park, Turin’s oldest green expanse, where you can spend the rest of the afternoon taking in the lush greenery. You’ll find tree-lined walking and biking paths, a botanical garden, outdoor cafés, and charming corners to cozy up by the river and enjoy some people watching from behind the pages of a book.
At the heart of the park stands a full-size reproduction of a medieval village that could be typically found in 15th-century Piedmont. It was built in 1884 for an exhibition and since then it’s a beloved landmark of the city. Also, look for the most romantic bench ever inside the park’s Rock Garden!
Day 4 in Turin
If you have an extra day in Turin, head out of town to the Royal Palace of Venaria, the stunning estate of the Savoy family located on the outskirts of the city. Catch the Venaria Express shuttle bus from Piazza Castello and after a 30 minutes’ ride, you’ll reach this grandiose baroque palace that became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Built in the mid-17th century to be a place for hunting and leisure, the complex is really huge and comprises stately halls, gardens, temporary exhibition areas. Just to give you an idea, we’re talking about 80,000 sqm of buildings, 1,600 sqm of frescoes, and 60 hectares of gardens!
Each room is richly decorated with countless works of art, including precious paintings, tapestries, sculptures, and silverware. The most famous spot inside the palace is the Great Gallery, which is even more spectacular than the photos you normally see on the web. It’s an 80-meter long covered passage built to connect the King’s apartments to those of his son, lined with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the gardens creating amazing light effects.
The visit will take you also to the stables, featuring royal carriages and a stunning Venetian gold barge built for Vittorio Amedeo II in the 18th century, as well as to the gardens, boasting perfectly manicured bushes and flowerbeds.
When booking your tickets online (which I highly recommend doing as queues are super long), you have the option to visit also the Castle of La Mandria, which served as the personal retreat of King Vittorio Emanuele II in 1859. There are 20 rooms to explore there, each offering an interesting insight into the king’s life and personal tastes. The castle is about 2 km away from the palace and is surrounded by a beautiful park, so you will need a full day out to visit also this area.
Other great day trips from Turin include the Castle of Moncalieri, the Stupinigi Hunting Lodge, and the ancient Sacra di San Michele. Oh, and if you’re in need of some retail therapy, the Torino Outlet Village is a great destination for a shopping spree!
If you’re planning to visit lots of sites during your trip to Turin, then you should consider getting a Torino + Piemonte Card. It’s valid for 1, 2, 3, or 5 consecutive days and grants free admission to all the top museums, castles, and royal residences in Turin and around Piedmont, as well as reductions for the panoramic lift of Mole Antonelliana, the Sassi – Superga rack tramway and the Venaria Express shuttle bus. On top of this, you’ll also get discounts on various cultural sites and events in the region. You can easily buy it in the online shop of Turismo Torino.
So, that’s it, guys! I hope this guide will help you plan your next trip to Turin and as usual, if you have any questions or would like to share any tips about this city, just leave a message in the comments below 🙂
Ciao for now,