If you are looking for a cool, off-the-beaten-track location for your holidays in Italy, Torino might be the perfect place for you.
If you have already been to Italy and want to see something different from the usual Venice-Florence-Rome itinerary or if is your first time in the country but want to add a lesser-known tourist destination to your itinerary, you won’t go wrong if you include Torino in your list of places to see.
Located in the north-west of Italy, Torino has been neglected as a tourist destination for years. Home of the Fiat, the main Italian automobile company, Torino has always been considered a grey, dull industrial town. Luckily, beginning with the Winter Olympics in 2006, Torino has experienced some sort of awakening and it is now one of the most vibrant and interesting Italian cities.
It is as if a dusty rug had been lifted, revealing the town in all its splendor. Torino is now a truly interesting destination, full of things to do and to discover no matter what your tastes are: if you are into food, art, sports, history, or fashion, you’ll surely find something that will make you happy.
I live just one hour from Torino and, while I was not used to going there in the past, I now make sure I visit the town frequently to check its events, exhibitions, and happenings – or even just to enjoy a nice coffee and pastry in one of the historic cafès that are so common in the city. I like the city so much that I decided to write a post about it so that maybe you can be inspired and visit it as well, discovering a unique corner of my country. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
But let’s now dive in and see why you should visit Torino.
1. The symbol of the city is one of the most peculiar buildings you’ll ever see. The Mole Antonelliana, one of Torino’s main landmarks and definitely its symbol, is a very interesting structure. Its construction began in 1863, when Torino was the capital of Italy, and it was first intended as a synagogue. Some disagreement between the architect, who had great ambitions for the building, and the Jewish Community ended up in the Mole being acquired by the city of Turin and becoming its most recognizable landmark. Its structure, a square base surmounted by a dome that in turn is surmounted by a long, narrow spire, now clearly defines the skyline of the city and it is definitely an amazing sight to see.
The Mole Antonelliana, so beautiful yet so difficult to photograph
2. It has some truly amazing and unique museums, which will absolutely blow your mind. First of all, Torino is the home to the only museum in the world that is solely dedicated to Egyptian art and culture – apart from the Cairo Museum in Egypt. Recently renewed, the Museo Egizio is full of treasures and offers a truly unique visiting experience. Another interesting museum is the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, located in the above-mentioned Mole Antonelliana, which will give you the opportunity of an interactive trip into the history of cinema. Finally, the importance of Torino in the automotive industry is reflected in the Museo dell’automobile, where you can learn everything about cars and the role they played in changing our society.
3. Torino has been Italy’s first capital and home to the Savoia royal family for centuries, which means that you can see traces of its magnificent past everywhere in the city and its surroundings. Right in the center of Torino, you can visit Palazzo Reale, the most important palace of the House of Savoia, Palazzo Madama, Palazzo Carignano, home of the first Italian Parliament, and Castello del Valentino, just to name a few of the most important landmarks. Outside of the city, the palaces of Reggia di Venaria Reale, Castello della Mandria, Palazzina di Caccia di Stupinigi, and Castello Reale di Racconigi, are some of the awesome residences that have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
A view of the Reggia di Venaria Reale
4. If you are a Catholic, are interested in religious history, or are just fascinated by mysteries, Torino has something very interesting for you. In the Duomo di Torino, the Cathedral of the city, there is a chapel hosting what is called the Sindone (the Shroud), a length of linen cloth bearing the image of a man who is alleged to be Jesus of Nazareth. Such cloth is believed to be the burial shroud he was wrapped in when he was buried after the crucifixion. Actually, some radiocarbon dating tests in 1988 dated a sample of the cloth to the Middle Ages, but there still is a lot of controversy about this find. The cloth is not on public display, it is preserved in a big metal box and it is only shown to the public during public events decided by the Pope (the last public showing was in 2015).
5. Torino is one of the European Capitals of Contemporary Art: if you are interested in this topic, you’ll surely find a lot of amazing museums and events in the city. Some of the most important museums for contemporary art in Torino are Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (Torino Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art), Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Rivoli (the Museum of Contemporary Art which is hosted in the Rivoli Castle), the amazing Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation) and the Fondazione Mario Merz (Mario Merz Foundation). To this museums, add endless events and happenings all through the year.
Piazza Castello, right in the center of Torino
6. The food in Torino is to die for, I can’t find other ways of describing it. The richness of its culinary tradition is always astonishing, even to those who are used to it. Torino is in Piedmont, the region where the Slow Food movement was born, and is home to endless restaurants and eateries. Typical of Piedmont are vitello tonnato (veal in a tuna mayonnaise), bagna cauda (garlic and anchovy sauce to be eaten with raw vegetables), agnolotti (ravioli-style pasta stuffed with minced meat) and tajarin (long flat egg pasta strips), while Torino is where grissini (breadsticks) are born. What makes the city awesome though, is that it combines tradition with innovation and it is now one of the cities in Italy that offers most vegetarian and vegan food options – something still not so common in my country.
7. Torino is Italy’s capital of chocolate. The tradition of making chocolate goes way back in history – the first chocolate house opened in 1678 – and has grown ever since. Apart from the traditional chocolate delicacies, Torino is famous for the gianduiotto, which was invented during the Napoleonic wars due to the shortage of cocoa: part of it was substituted with hazelnuts, creating a real treat. In the city, there are a lot of amazing producers, industrial ones like Caffarel, Streglio, Feletti, Venchi and great artisans like Guido Gobino, Peyrano, Pfatisch, Giordano, and Guido Castagna. Pastiglie Leone, another historical brand of the city, mainly famous for its colorful candies, also makes some great chocolate (by the way, Pastiglie Leone, with their vintage-looking candy tins make a great and affordable souvenir of the city).
The sign of Al Bicerin, one of Torino’s oldest cafès
8. Torino is famous for its historic cafès. Elegant and refined, Torino has always been considered “the Italian Paris” and therefore the cafè culture is deeply rooted in the city. Some of the most famous cafès, all in the city center, are Caffè Fiorio, Baratti&Milano, Caffè San Carlo, Caffè Torino, Platti, but two places deserve a special mention: Al Bicerin, founded in 1763, which gives its name to a drink made of espresso, hot chocolate and whipped cream carefully layered and served in a small rounded glass, and Caffè Mulassano, a superbly decorated Art Nouveau style cafè which is famous for being the place where the tramezzino, a type of sandwich which you can now find everywhere in Italy, was invented.
9. Shopping in Torino is a real treat. If you walk down Via Roma and Via Garibaldi, the two main shopping streets in the city, you’ll find the usual chain stores and fast fashion spots you find everywhere in the world but as soon as you turn the corner, you’ll find unique shops like Melissa Erboristeria, for example, where you can buy great teas and organic beauty products or V17 Concept Lab, where you’ll find jewelry and lots of unique accessories. In Torino, you’ll also find the market of Porta Palazzo, the biggest market in Europe, where you can buy all sorts of things and the Balon, the antique market held every Saturday, which becomes the huge Gran Balon every second Sunday of the month. There you’ll find treasures of every kind and it’s so big it might take hours to explore it properly.
Inside Melissa Erboristeria, one of the coolest shops in the city
10. Torino is always beautiful but it is even more enchanting if seen from above. If you want to take a view from above, you can climb up the Mole Antonelliana but there are actually two other breathtaking views of the city. You can walk up (or take a bus) the Monte dei Cappuccini, a hill overlooking the River Po where you’ll find a church and a terrace from where you’ll have a panoramic view of the city with the Mole in all its splendor. Otherwise, you can visit the Basilica di Superga, the church hosting the Royal Tombs of the Savoia Family, which lies on a hill overlooking the city. The panorama is amazing, needless to say.
Well, actually these were just ten reasons to visit Torino but there are many more, I assure you. It’s time you pack your bags and visit the city!
[If you are interested in other off-the-beaten-track locations in Italy, I have written a post about Trieste, one about Padova and another one about Parma, three Italian cities that absolutely deserve your attention].