Turin may not have the name recognition of Rome, Venice and Florence, but this cultural city in the north of Italy has earned the nickname ‘Paris of Italy’ for its elegant leafy streets, baroque buildings and tempting patisseries. Throw in an alpine backdrop and vibrant cultural scene, and Turin (Torino in Italian) is looking every bit as chic as Milan. Here’s why it should be at the top of your ‘must visit’ list.
Museums and galleries
Perhaps Turin’s biggest claim to fame is as the birthplace of Fiat cars. Although the Fiat factory is no longer in operation, the city’s National Automobile Museum has a collection of nearly 200 cars, including some very cool late 19th-century models by Peugeot and Fiat.
Turin is also well known as the home of the Shroud of Turin, or Holy Shroud, a linen cloth believed by some to have been the burial cloth of Jesus. The original occasionally comes on show, such as in 2015 in the city’s cathedral, which attracted over a million visitors. The rest of the time, you can see a replica at the Museum of the Holy Shroud.
One of Turin’s biggest surprises is the fantastic Egyptian Museum, considered by many one of the most important in the world – second only to Cairo’s. Situated in a baroque palazzo and newly upgraded in 2015, the museum features an incredible collection of artefacts and preserved Egyptian tombs.
Palazzos and piazzas
Like most of Italy’s cities, Turin is a lovely place to wander, with something new to discover around every corner. Tree-lined boulevards and arcaded shopping promenades (Via Po is particularly interesting) run alongside baroque architecture and grand cafes, plenty for history buffs to get stuck into.
The Reggia di Venaria Reale is a vast baroque palace complex built in the 17th century by the Duke of Savoy. Extravagant and extremely impressive, the palazzo is one of the largest royal residences in the world and includes a beautiful garden complex.
Piazza Castello at Turin’s heart is well worth a stroll; it’s typically beautiful baroque squares featuring charming fountains and a fringe of majestic buildings, while Piazza San Carlo is known affectionately as the ‘drawing room of Turin’ for its elegance.
Chocolate, coffee and more chocolate
In case you need more convincing, Turin is one of the world capitals of chocolate. It’s been a long love affair; cioccolada calda has been served in the city for centuries, and there’s a chocolate shop around virtually every corner. The local specialty is gianduja, a mouth-watering mix of chocolate and hazelnut that was a forerunner to a certain, well-known chocolate spread.
Turin loves chocolate so much, it sets aside a week to celebrate it. Every year in November, CioccolaTo brings over 120 chocolate makers from all over Italy to present their wares, hand out samples and join in with workshops and events. It’s said the sweet scent of chocolate is in the air throughout the city when CioccolaTo comes to town…
If Turin’s first love is chocolate, its second is coffee. Being such a Parisian-influenced city, it was one of the first places in Italy to truly embrace café culture. Historic coffee houses fill the city, often beautiful gilded buildings that look far too grand to be cafes. The favourite drink is bicerin, a layered drink made from espresso, cream and – you guessed it – chocolate.
Drinking and dining
There’s more than chocolate tickling Turin’s sweet tooth; pastries and cakes are another favourite. Chic Parisian-style patisseries display a fabulous array of treats, and there’s an old tradition of Turin’s cakes coming in small sizes, allegedly so distinguished ladies wouldn’t look too greedy tucking in.
The wonderful Italian tradition of aperitivo is alive and well in Turin, with plenty of interesting bars and trattorias to explore – the San Salvario neighbourhood is a good choice for restaurants.
Dine like a local and read our guide to aperitivo here.
Unsurprisingly, since the region shares a border with Switzerland, the cuisine is heartier than you’ll find in southern Italy – think meat ravioli, veal, beef and punchy red wines like Barolo.
Have you ever been to Turin? What was your favourite thing to do?