I have to be honest, I had never planned to visit Turin, Italy’s fourth-largest city. It was merely the closest city from Alba with an airport that could get us home. With an early morning flight we got into Turin mid-morning the day before we were scheduled to leave Italy. It was a Sunday so most things were closed in the city; we had very low expectations for things to do in Turin. The only thing I had thought we might be able to do was see The Shroud of Turin – believed to be the burial shroud of Christ – but I wasn’t going to try that hard. It was the last day of our European adventure, I was tired, wanted to see my kids and have one last bottle of Barolo (ok, probably two since it was still early in the day). But as luck – or fate – would have it, The Shroud of Turin was the FIRST thing we saw; setting the stage for an amazing day in Turin.
When we ventured from our hotel to do a little exploring and find that last bottle/s of Barolo, The Husband suggested we duck into a little Cathedral we stumbled upon on our way to Piazza San Carlo. (He is a good Catholic and wanted to say his Sunday prayers.) The Cathedral was a very, simple 16th century Renaissance Cathedral that one would not assume is the home to a treasured Christian relic. I began walking the interior of the building admiring the artwork lining the walls when I realized I walked right up to The Shroud of Turin…and so began our amazing day and my list of things to do in Turin.
10 Things to do in Turin
1. Shroud of Turin: Within the simple Cathedral of Turin in Piazza San Giovanni you’ll find The Shroud of Turin – believed to be the burial shroud of Christ. You won’t be able to see the original Shroud as it’s kept in a glass, enclosed room within a long, wooden box. However, hanging above the box is a replica of Christ’s face. There are official expositions where you can see the original Shroud but you will need to check the schedule and book your visit in advance. The next exposition will be in 2015. (Read more on The Shroud of Turin.) On a side note, you’re not allowed to photograph the Shroud or the replica, hence the reason why I don’t have any pictures of it. (Location: Piazza San Giovanni)
2. See the Roman Ruins: You can pretty much see Roman ruins throughout the city of Turin. From the cobble stone streets to the pavers in Piazza Castello but if you visit the Cathedral of Turin, take a walk outside. The church lies in the place where the remains of a Roman theatre sits as well as a Roman and medieval city wall and Porta Palatine (a Roman gate). The Roman theatre is still underground but it’s been excavated and placed under a glass case for visitors to look into. Both the gate and city wall are above ground. Case del Pingone and a medieval tower are also in the same area if you want to get a little more medieval on your tour. (Location: Piazza San Giovanni)
3. The National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento and Palazzo Carignano: We accidentally made our way to The National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento (Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano) on our way to Piazza Castello. Given it was Sunday and very few cafés were open we grabbed in table at a bustling outdoor café in Palazzo Carignano – right outside The National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento. Not realizing the ornate building we were looking at, our waiter educated us on its history and relevancy to Turin’s colorful past.
The building had been The Palace of the Savoy and the birthplace to the first Italian king when the provinces of Italy joined together to form a unified country. It later became the site the first government met when Turin became Italy’s FIRST capital. The capital was later moved to Rome. We took a short tour of The National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento but you can spend several hours touring the palace. The museum does offer multimedia aids in different languages to provide visitors a unique experience and one that will surely educate them on both Italy and Turin’s history. If you have the chance to grab lunch at one of the cafés in Palazzo Carignano I highly suggest Ristorante Pizzeria on the corner. Try the eggplant pizza. LOVE! (Location: Via Accademia delle Scienze 5 10123 Torino)
4. Egyptian Museum: On the other side of Palazzo Carignano sits the Egyptian Museum. Why would Turin have a museum that is home to the most important – and largest – Egyptian collection in the world outside of the Cairo Museum? As I learned, there were prominent Italians interested in Egyptian artifacts who built the collection and in the 1900’s Italy launched multiple archaeological excavations along the Nile, building the collection out further. The museum is home to several important Egyptian artifacts including 98 statues, prehistoric tombs, and a collection of papyri considered as the most important set of Egyptian written documents in the world. Read here for more information. (Location: V. Accademia delle Scienze, 6)
5. Piazza Castello: We finally made our way to Piazza Castello, really it’s a short walk from the Turin Cathedral if you don’t take any detours. Piazza Castello (The Castle Square) was designed in 1564 by Vitozz and has become the “heart of the city”. Home to many important buildings – Palazzo Madama, The Royal Theatre, The Royal Palace, the Royal Library (that houses Leonardo da Vinci’s operas) – it has witnessed the colorful history from ancient Romans era to now. Given everything surrounding Piazza Castello, I was surprised it was fairly quite, with no cafes or shops lining the piazza. There were a few vendors but otherwise it seems to be a good place to find a quite spot and soak in the history. Oh, if those walls could talk…
6. Ride the Historic Tram – Linea 7 Tram Storici: From Piazza Castello you can jump onto the Linea 7 Tram Storici, which takes visitors on a circular tour of the city and many of its sites. The tram begins and ends at Piazza Castello, although there are stops along the way. The full ride takes around 50 minutes and costs about €1.50.
7. Piazza San Carlo: Alive with cafés and shops, Piazza San Carlo is buzzing – even on Sunday’s – with locals sitting about chatting with one another. The piazza was designed/built by Carlo di Castellamonte between 1642-1650 with Baroque buildings surrounding the square. There are almost twin façades churches – Santa Cristina and San Carlo – next to each other that lead you back to Via Roma and to the train station. While there are notable buildings surrounding the square, the equestrian statue of Emanuele Filiberto that stands in the center seems to draw the most attention, at least mine. If you’re looking for a café in the square, try Café Torino.
8. Shopping Via Roma: You can pick up Via Roma, a street known for its shopping at Piazza Castello. The street links from Piazza Carlo Felice to Piazza Castello to Piazza San Carlo and ending at Porta Nuova (the main train station). Along the way there are shops and cafés galore! While the shopping is amazing, the Baroque architecture and Porticos between Piazza Castello to Piazza San Carlo are quit interesting as well. (All you Apple/Mac fans – there is a Mac store!)
9. Stroll Along the Po River: The Po River is Italy’s longest river and a main water source for feeding vineyards, crops, rice fields and fisheries. In Turin, the river makes for a beautiful setting for a walk or bike ride along its banks. It’s also home to Turin’s largest parks, the Parco del Valentino. The park preserves a genuine 16th century castle and a reconstructed 15th century medieval hamlet.
10. Enjoy an Aperitivo: Did you know vermouth originated in Turin? And being in Piedmont, Turin has an AMAZING selection of wines you can’t find anywhere else? All the more reason to enjoy an aperitivo here! (The word “aperitivo” is the name for both the ritual of going out for a pre-dinner drink. It’s an Italian tradition.) I do not have any suggestions on places for your aperitivo in Turin but I do suggest you try a local vermouth and a Barolo wine. You’re in Piedmont, come on!
Useful Resources for Things to do in Turin
- Map of Turin
- History of Turin
- About the Po River via National Geographic
- A Day in Torino
- What to do in 36 hours in Turin
Have you visited Turin? What are some of you favorite things to do in Turin?
Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.