There are lots of good reasons to make Turin a city break destination. It’s a city rich in history (it was the first capital of a unified in Italy in 1861) with beautiful architecture, magnificent piazzas (squares) and 18km of lovely arcades lining the main streets. It is an important economic and industrial centre and is the base for such companies as Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lavazza and Martini. Turin also boasts many art galleries, palaces and museums and is home to the Shroud of Turin (although you can’t actually see it). As the capital of the Piemonte region, it also offers some of the finest food and wine to be found in Italy and is home to the Slow Food movement.
Where to stay
I like to be as central as possible when I go for a short break to a city so that I can walk to all the places I want to go. There are trams and a Metro in Turin but many of the sights and restaurants are easily accessible on foot. I booked through British Airways – a flight + hotel deal – and chose Grand Hotel Sitea, a 4* hotel in Via Carlo Alberto very close to the central squares of Piazza San Carlo and Piazza Castello.
It was a beautiful hotel, very sumptuous and lived up to its ‘grand’ name inside. The location was perfect.
It was friendly, the staff were helpful and on my arrival there was a welcoming note and complimentary box of little local biscuits in my room. My deal included breakfast which was a large buffet with pretty much anything you might want, including local specialities. The coffee was good too.
You can get there from the airport by train or airport bus, but as I was arriving late afternoon and wanted to get to the hotel as quickly as possible, I got a taxi (€30-35), which took about half an hour.
There are many historic and beautiful cafes in Turin – I managed to visit quite a few in my short stay! These are places where you can stop for coffee, eat a snack or lunch and some will be open in the evening for aperitivo or dinner.
I liked all those I visited so much, I think it would be impossible to claim a favourite, but here are the ones I recommend (click on each to link into separate blog post with more detail): Caffe Mulassano, Baratti & Milano, Stratta, Caffe Torino and Caffe San Carlo. They are all very central, in or near Piazza San Carlo. Lots of the cafes serve Lavazza coffee as that is the local brand.
Top tip: If you’re buying a coffee – as in all Italy – it’s always cheaper to stand at the bar rather than sit at a table. You buy a ticket at the cash desk on the way in and then hand it to a barista at the bar, who will make you a coffee for a cost of about €1. However, if you choose to sit down and have waiter service, then a coffee can cost you €5. I did both … sometimes, because I walked so far each day, I was looking to sit down for a break so paying more was worth it.
A Royal Decree in 1678 authorised the production of chocolate and Turin is where the first chocolate houses appeared. Turin is home to chocolate like no other place and evidence of it is everywhere. Some of the cafes started as confectionary shops and making chocolates is still an important part of what they offer today. One of Turin’s signature drinks is bicerin – a mix of bitter cocoa, coffee and cream. Hot chocolate is offered everywhere and the most famous little chocolates are gianduiotti, a mix of chocolate and hazelnuts. They are definitely one of my favourite chocolates! Nutella also comes from Piemonte.
Top tip: if you want to buy some chocolate cream or spread to take home, bear in mind it’s not allowed in hand luggage. You’ll find Baratti & Milano goods in the airport duty free shop.
You will find aperitivo all over Italy but each region has its specialities. Aperitivo time is roughly between 6-9pm and drinks come with plates of ‘complimentary’ little sandwiches or savouries. You may well pay a premium for your drink if you go to one of the best cafe -bars, but the treat will be worth it. All the cafes mentioned above serve aperitivo but I went to Caffe Torino for my first one in the city, and then again the following day. I had a gorgeous Bellini the first time, made with Moet & Chandon champagne. The second time I chose their iconic Negroni – delicious but strong – and containing Martini Rosso, which comes from Turin.
The little sandwiches that Caffe Torino serve are gorgeous. I often think in Italy you needn’t go to a restaurant at all in the evening, but just go from bar to bar and eat the snacks. Indeed, some bars serve apericena, which means there’s a buffet to choose from with your drink.
Where to eat
Turin is known as the Capital of Taste and you will find traditional Piemontese food as well as the modern Slow Food movement food, which has a healthier take. Traditional food is very much meat based with an emphasis on pork, beef, rabbit and ‘innards’ – they do like their internal organs! Finanziera is a local dish of ragù made with meat and offal. Fritto misto alla Piemontese is deep-fried pieces of meat, offal and vegetables. One of Piemonte’s most famous dishes is Vitello Tonnato – slices of veal served with a tuna sauce, and I saw this everywhere I went – in restaurants and food shops.
Trout – possibly from the nearby Po river? – is a popular fish. Grissini – breadsticks – were invented here so will always be on a table. I found all the bread I was served really good. If you don’t eat meat or don’t want to all the time, you will find great vegetarian options too (click here).
And of course with all that chocolate, there are sweet things too and wonderful cakes; panna cotta, zabaione and bônet (an egg custard enriched with amaretti biscuits, cocoa and rum are local specialities.
Some fabulous cheeses come from Piemonte: Fontina, Robiola and Toma. And the wines of Piemonte are some of the best anywhere, including Barolo and Barbaresco.
I asked in the hotel on Saturday morning where I’d find the main food market and was directed to Porto Palazzo in Piazza della Republica. I was told it was one of the largest in Europe and it’s certainly huge (click here for more detail). The following morning, Sunday, I found another market by chance in Piazza della Citta.
It was quite large and a wonderful food market selling local produce that seemed to be all organic. I was told it was only there on the first Sunday of each month, but there were other markets on other Sundays.
Taking in the sights
There’s so much to do in Turin that a weekend isn’t enough to do more than a small chunk of all there is to see. As a city, it is so beautiful that merely walking through piazzas like Piazza San Carlo is a delight in itself …
then along Via Roma with its gorgeous arcades lining both sides of the street, which are full of smart shops …
… and then you come into Piazza Castello.
At the far side is Piazza Reale and the Palazzo Reale – once a residence of the Savoy rulers – right in front of you.
While I was there, there was a magnificent display of buffalo sculptures by Davide Rivalta just outside. There are many palazzos to visit, each offering different things to view.
An absolute must (as I was told by my Italian friend who comes from Turin) was to see Mole Antonelliana. This tall, bold building is an iconic symbol of the city and at its completion in 1889, it was the tallest brick building in the world. For €7 you can take a lift for the panoramic view. Bear in mind it’s very popular so there can be a long wait to go up (click here for more details). The views are magnificent so it’s a great thing to do. There’s also a cinema museum inside and a branch of Eataly for food.
The duomo – the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista – is quite an austere building, but I quite like it. There’s a campanile too, so another option for a view across the city.
If you like visiting churches, don’t miss the two in Piazza San Carlo – the twin churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo.
Of the many museums, I went to the Eygptian Museum, which houses the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities other than Cairo.
Take a walk down to the River Po, which is the longest river in Italy flowing from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. From Piazza Castello, walk through the arcades of Via Po, through Piazza Vittorio Veneto and on to the bridge over the Po.
On the far side is the 19th century church of Gran Madre di Dio which was built to imitate Rome’s Pantheon (click here for more).
If you feel like a tranquil walk and maybe to sit down and have a picnic, then visit the Giardini Reali, near the Piazzo Reale.
Top tip: Do remember when planning to visit any sights that many are closed on Mondays (as I found on the last day of my trip!). Shops are often closed on Monday mornings too and I found some of the cafes also closed.
Turin is a truly wonderful city with much to offer. I think it’s become one of my favourite cities so I’m sure to go back!
You can now download this article and more on Turin on the GPSmyCity app. A great idea for exploring the city – click here to get the link.