“Turin is magic” said a very stylish woman at the hair salon, glass of prosecco in hand.
It was a few days before Christmas 2016 and I was in the city on a sort of reconnaissance mission. My fiancé and I were thinking about making a move from Sweden and considering an Italian city.
Mario, having been born and raised in a coastal Tuscan town, had lived in Pisa, Florence, Rome and Milan. I had been a tourist in all of them, and had a strong preference for Milan, but he suggested I check out Torino (Turin and Torino are the same place, btw — Torino is its Italian name).
And so I went for three days on my own to scope things out (finding a decent hairdresser being part of it, of course).
What I learned in those first few days developed into a full-blown affection for the many interesting pockets of what was Italy’s very first capital city.
What is Turin known for?
First of all, its architecture. This city is a treasure trove of Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classical and Art Nouveau exteriors and interiors, so walking around here is truly a feast for the eyes.
It’s also a feast for the tastebuds, especially for sweet-tooths. Torino is Italy’s capital of chocolate, and specifically gianduja, a hazelnut and chocolate paste that was invented here and eventually inspired the creation of Nutella.
History buffs are sure to get a thrill here too. The legendary Shroud of Turin, a linen cloth some believe was Jesus of Nazareth’s burial shroud, is housed here, as is Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk, 60-year-old Leonardo da Vinci’s self portrait.
And of course, Turin is famed for its two Series A soccer clubs, Torino and Juventus, the best-supported team in all of Italy (and that’s saying a lot in this soccer-obsessed country!). If you can catch a Juventus game, you probably won’t even have to pack extra for the occasion — the team’s colors are simply black and white.
Is Turin a safe city?
In a word, yes. As is the case with most popular Italian cities, there is little violent crime reported, and tourists are rarely the victims of anything more serious than petty theft. That being said, as in many European cities, it’s wise to be cautious around the train station, where pickpockets tend to circulate.
Is Turin worth visiting?
Because it is much less known outside of Italy than more big-name cities like Milan, Rome, Venice and Florence, Turin is a tragically overlooked travel destination. This is such a shame, because not only is it easy to reach by train and car, it’s also incredibly kitted out for wandering around with miles and miles of covered arcades.
Over our two-and-a-half-year stint living in Torino, I came up with a list of my top things to see, do, drink, and of course eat in this vibrant city. I’d love to see more people add it to their travel itineraries — it’s so worth it!
In the City Centre
One could spend a full day on Via Lagrange, with its range of restaurants and high-end shops, but it’s Turin’s connection to Egypt that is the highlight. Tombs and ancient treasures are on grand display at the Museo Egizio, the world’s most important Egyptian museum outside of Egypt.
After lunch, it’s only a short walk to Mole Antonelliana. Named after architect Alessandro Antonelli, this landmark isn’t all epic panoramas. Inside you will find the National Cinema Museum and the latest experiential exhibition — guaranteed to be a multimedia education in either music or movies, or both!
In the evening, walking south from Piazza Emmanuelle II on Via Maria Vittoria, you have restaurants on both sides of the street, ranging from Ligurian seafood at Scialuppa (Via Maria Vittoria, 37) to the humble baked potato at Poormanger (Via Maria Vittoria, 36/B).
A few steps further, on Via della Rocca, Il Bastimento (Via della Rocca, 10) is all-Italian soul food that comes highly rated by the Michelin Guide and rediscovers the “forgotten flavors of our Pugliese tradition.” Translation: tasty southern Italian dishes featuring lots of seafood.
Other southern savouries can be indulged in at Sicily on StrEat (Via Carlo Alberto, 7/A), which is great for a quick stop on your day tour. Perhaps before or after hitting the Palace Museum (Via Accademia delle Scienze, 5) and having a look at the artifacts documenting the 19th-century Italian unification movement.
Two steps away, in the gorgeous Galleria Subalpina, is the decidedly posh Baratti & Milano, where you can enjoy an afternoon espresso or the famed Bicerin, a traditional hot drink native to Torino made of espresso, chocolate and milk.
A quick stroll across the Vittoria Emanuele I bridge brings you to a lovely area to wander.
First, head straight up the steps of the Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio for a photo op.
Then off to the left and right of this church, there are plenty of boutiques and bistros to pass the time in.
You’ll love the excellent pizza at Fra Diavolo (Pizza Gran Madre, 4) and gourmet vegan cuisine at L’Orto già Salsamentario (Via Monferrato, 14A), run by the very colourful chef Eduardo Ferrante.
If markets are your thing, revel in the morning chaos at Europe’s largest open-air market. A great place to practice Italian, I might add.
Behind Mercato Porta Palazzo, along Via Borgo Dora, there’s a colourful alley of antique shops and eclectic bistros leading to a hot air balloon ride that is Turin’s version of the Eye.
Back through the mercato, stop for a sweet cannolo at Il Gusto Giusto (Via Milano 11/b).
(If you’re noticing a Sicilian spin on my food tips, that’s because the best food in Italy is from Sicily.)
Nearby, on via San Domenico, there’s the Mao Museum, which offers Italy’s bridge to Asian culture and a peaceful reprieve from the markets.
Walking back into the city center, down Via Garibaldi, stop for the best gelato at GROM. I’m in love with their delicious dairy-free cioccolato extranoir.
And speaking of, be sure to book a chocolate tasting at Gianduja (Via Palazzo di Città, 24) or go in and pick your own à-la-carte.
By dinner you may be feeling peckish for a pizza napoletana. When in Italy, right? Gennaro Esposito (Via Giuseppe Luigi Passalacqua, 1) has you covered and is just a short cab ride away. This joint is quite popular so it’s definitely wise to book ahead.
Serenity in the City
Italy is famous for its thermal waters and you can find some right in the middle of Turin at QC Terme Torino (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 77).
After meandering the grounds, indulge in one or two treatments that’ll make you feel like a king or queen.
Afterwards, walk up to the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte dei Cappuccini for postcard perfect panoramas of Turin. Restaurant Al Monte Dei Cappuccini is waiting with a terrace to sit back and sip a glass of Barbera as the sun sets over the city.
More Cafes & Cocktails
Fiorfood Coop in Galleria San Federico is a hidden gem and perfect for a quick colazione (“breakfast” in Italiano) or afternoon espresso.
Cafe Elena in Piazza Vittoria Veneto became our go-to aperitivo spot after discovering their Negroni with rosemary.
Magazzini 52 (Via Giovanni Giolitti, 52) is a favourite of food blogger Mimi Thoressen and I do recommend checking her Instagram feed @mimithor for more city insights before you go.
Where to Stay
NH Piazza Carlina Hotel (15 Piazza Carlo Emanuele II) not only has the perfect rooftop views, but also the cachet of hosting G7 leaders. Surprisingly, a few nights here won’t break the bank.
The 160-room property is centrally located in a quiet piazza, close to museums and convenient for walks along the banks of the River Po.
From the spacious guest rooms and a well-equipped gym, to delicious aperitivi at the chic Carlina lounge bar and the peaceful fourth floor terrace, this hotel hits all the right notes.
I recommend staying over the weekend, when Sunday breakfast is available until noon, and you can also take advantage of a super-late 3pm checkout.
Sara Graham lived in Turin and is the author of this post for Italian Fix. She’s a brand development consultant currently based in Vancouver. She is also the author of How To Make Big Moves: Relocate Without Losing Your Mind (Amazon Kindle) and you can find her @freshpresse on Instagram.