Turin has the charm of the Italian lifestyle and the elegance of the 19th century. It definitely deserves a leisurely few days to see, but if you only have one day, here’s how to make the most of it.
For travelers of the Grand Tour during the 18th century, Turin was often the first stop in Italy after crossing the Alps from Paris. Visitors admired the fairly recent Baroque buildings commissioned by the House of Savoy in the late 17th century. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, iconic works like the Mole Antonelliana and Basilica Gran Madre di Dio were built, and Art Nouveau blossomed in architecture and design, with its delicate patterns and feminine figures.
That industrial, grey period that everyone once acquainted Turin with was actually just a passing stage. It lasted from the 1950s during Italy’s industrial boom until a very precise date that any Torinese will tell you changed the cityscape dramatically: the 2006 Winter Olympics. The city was cleaned up, a metro line was constructed (clean, electric, quiet, and fast), and schools even closed for the duration of the Games to foster community involvement. The Torinese saw their city coming alive like a sterling silver spoon being polished after many years.
Now the world is remembering Turin’s splendor of the past. Very recently, it was Italy’s only city to be included on the New York Times’ must-see travel list of 2016. Yet even now, Turin is conspicuously absent from many travelers’ itineraries. If you find it squeezed into your trip as a bridge between the airport and enjoying a glass of Barolo in the nearby UNESCO Vineyard Landscape of the Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato, here’s how to make the most of it.
Insider’s guide to Turin in a day
A good option is to visit a museum in the morning and explore the city in the afternoon and evening. Just make sure you always check opening times before planning a visit.
Top museum choices
Turin is home to an impressive list of great museums, but if you have to pick and choose, see the Ancient Egyptian Museum. Second only to the museum in Cairo for its number of ancient Egyptian artifacts, it was redone in 2015 to incredible results. It’s chock-full of fascinating history with several dramatic display rooms.
The Cinema Museum comes in at a close second. It’s housed in the Mole Antonelliana, Turin’s needle-tipped symbol that was the tallest building in the city until just a short time ago. Its tower affords a stunning view of the city, and the museum is fun, original, and interactive.
If you have more time
The Pietro Micca Museum gives you an underground tour through the old passageways that once ran through Turin’s walled fortifications (no longer standing). Reserve an English tour on Tuesdays. The Museum of Oriental Art has an extensive collection, is very well organized, and has grade-A explanations. Palazzo Madama, once the residence of the royal Savoy family, houses ancient artifacts and art in its Civic Art Museum. The Palazzo Reale is located in the same central Piazza Castello and allows for a tour through the castle rooms and armory.
On the first Sunday of every month, the following museums in Turin are free: Palazzo Reale and its Royal Armory, including entry to the newly-restored (in 2016) Royal Gardens; the Archaeological Museum (Museo Antichità); and the Sabauda Gallery of art.
Check out more free things to do (including other museums on specific days) in Turin here: Five things to do for free in Turin
Explore the city
The best way to see a city is on your own two feet. If you start getting tired, hop onto the historical Tram 7 in Piazza Castello, which makes a tour of the city center (with stops in between) in about 50 minutes for just €1.50.
Start at Piazza Statuto and continue down Via Garibaldi, Europe’s longest pedestrian street, where there are tons of shops and little places to eat. On the weekends, you might find artisans displaying their handmade wares. At the end is Piazza Castello, where the royal palaces of Madama and Reale are. You can enter Palazzo Madama for free to climb the grandiose staircase and look down Via Garibaldi.
Standing in Piazza Castello amid fountains, tourists with gelato, and undoubtedly a few street musicians or artists, turn to your right and walk down Via Roma towards the Porta Nuova train station. This long, arcaded street is the main shopping road, where you’ll find high-end stores as well as more affordable chains. You can’t miss the beautiful Piazza San Carlo, and you may want to stop in its twin churches (San Carlo and Santa Cristina). On the western side of the piazza is Turin’s symbol inlaid in brass on the sidewalk: a bull. Spin your heel around on its *ahem* nether-regions, for good luck!
Walk back up to Piazza Castello via the parallel street Via Lagrange. Along this road is the Egyptian Museum. Right beyond the Egyptian Museum is Piazza Carignano with Teatro Carignano to your left and Palazzo Carignano, which houses the Risorgimento Museum, to the right. For your sweet tooth, stop at Guido Gobino, famous for their gianduja chocolate-hazelnut sweets that are Turin’s specialty.
When you’re back at Piazza Castello, take the diagonal Via Po on your right towards the River Po. At the corner of Via Giambattista Bogino is Caffè Fiorio, a fantastic café with 18th century charm, chandeliers, and velvet chairs that serves delicious gelato coppe. Politicians, officers, and nobility were regular customers here, particularly during the 19th century. Near the end, take a left at Via Montebello to see Turin’s symbol, the Mole Antonelliana. Continue down Via Po until you reach the immense Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, and walk over the bridge and up to the round church of the Gran Madre. Climb the steps to admire a fantastic view of the city.
Are you staying another day?
Have you decided to add another day to your Turin tour? Great! Explore the Quadrilatero Romano, one of the oldest parts of the city. Its roots go back to the Ancient Romans, and here you can find medieval facades on several of the buildings. Take any road up from Via Garibaldi, such as Via delle Orfane or Sant’Agostino, and wander through the twisting, winding streets. You will eventually reach Europe’s largest outdoor market, Porta Palazzo in Piazza della Repubblica—open every day except Sunday from 5:30 am-5 pm.
I’ve already cheated by adding on this last suggestion…so I’ll leave out the other places to explore, like the lively San Salvario district, and the well-tended Park of San Valentino with its mock Medieval Village.
Just know that Turin is layers deep in history, places to go, and things to do!