Having already travelled to most of the great cities of Italy, a visit to Torino (Turin) was high on my list, despite being unsure what to expect. Perhaps a grey, industrial metropolis, with not much to see and do – I think this is what many people imagine and therefore do not add the original capital of Italy (1861-1865) to their bucket list. However, I believe that Torino is up there as one of the best cities to visit in Italy and maybe even Europe!
Arriving by car for a two night stay in September, I was pleasantly surprised to be surrounded by wide boulevards, grand piazzas and plenty of green space – not what I had expected. On my first morning, I joined many Torinese for a jog along the banks of the River Po which runs to the east of the centre, with the dramatic backdrop of the Italian Alps to the west – just stunning!
After enjoying a riverside run, I decided to take in the impressive scenery at the Mole Antonelliana, the iconic tower of Turin. Built in 1889, it also houses the fascinating National Museum of Cinema, which I highly recommend, even for non-film fans. Through the centre of the building, a glass elevator whizzes you, Willy Wonka style, to the viewing platform at the top where you can get a different perspective on the layout of the city before discovering more at street level.
Another highlight of my stay was actually my hotel, the NH Torino Lingotto Congress – an unexciting name which conceals its actual location – it is the former Fiat factory with the famous test track on the roof! Firstly, the hotel is excellent with large rooms, gracious service and good value prices however the bonus is that all guests have free access to the roof, which they now call their jogging track! So on my second morning in Torino, I headed up to test myself on the legendary tarmac and was once again surrounded by amazing views whilst following the tyre tracks of Michael Caine in the film, The Italian Job – what an experience!
As a hotel guest, you have complimentary tickets to the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, a privately owned modern art gallery, also on the roof, which houses, among others, stunning paintings by Canaletto and Matisse which I thoroughly enjoyed before checking out of the hotel.
While the city is filled with much history and other cultural places to visit, including the world famous archaeology museum, Museo Egizio, which specialises in Egyptian relics, and the Cathedral of Turin which houses the Turin Shroud, as Torino is the capital of the Piemonte region of Italy, a foodie heaven, my visit focused on enjoying the numerous gastronomical delights on offer.
You can find the full spectrum of eateries, bars and coffee shops – from conventional, old-school style places serving dishes and drinks which have been served for hundreds of years, to very progressive, modern restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy a flat white as good as any you might find on the streets of London or Melbourne. So I spent much of my time slowly walking the streets, soaking up the atmosphere, finding recommended places to stop for a drink or something to eat and of course stopping at places which looked interesting and welcoming or were very busy – always a good sign! It is easy to walk around the centre of Torino, it isn’t huge, although there is an efficient Metro service as well.
There is a huge vibrancy with people socialising late into the night in the piazzas and bars and who are hugely welcoming and seem pleased to welcome tourists to their citta. I did not encounter many other tourists (especially compared to Rome or Venice etc) so visiting Torino is a great way to experience a real, lived-in Italian city which benefits from a high standard of living and an exceptional quality of gastronomy! A two night stay is plenty of time to get a feel for the culture and atmosphere of Torino however there is plenty to keep you occupied if you are able to stay longer and I plan to do just that soon.
I suggest exploring Torino through these recommendations:
- Mole Antonelliana – A must visit for the perfect view of Torino and the surrounding landscape. You can buy a joint ticket with the National Museum of Cinema, which I recommend.
- Museo Egizio – If you are into ancient Egypt or archaeology, a visit to one of the best museums in the world for both should be high on your list. You are advised to book tickets in advance online here.
- Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista – You can view the Turin Shroud in the Royal Chapel of the Cathedral of Turin, the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, which is free to enter.
- NH Torino Lingotto Congress – In the Lingotto district, the hotel (with the famous roof!) is not in the centre of Torino but this made no difference – it is a simple and safe metro ride (10mins, €1.70) to the very heart of Torino with trains running late into the night.
- Eataly – Another bonus of staying in the Lingotto area is that you are in close vicinity of the huge Eataly, where I regularly stocked up on supplies, bought gifts to take home and also enjoyed dinner one evening. The concept of Eataly is to offer, all under one roof, ‘high-quality food at sustainable and reasonable prices for ALL, celebrating Italian biodiversity, and creating an informal, natural, and simple place to eat, shop, and learn’. They have certainly achieved this and I loved the relaxed atmosphere where you can browse and purchase products and then go and take a seat in the seafood area, for example, and choose from a menu and be served as if you were in a restaurant. Eataly is branching out all around the world, mainly in the US so far but you can find their other locations on their website. Worth a trip, wherever you are staying when in Torino.
- Magazzino 52 – Torino is home to vermouth, a gorgeous, aromatic fortified wine which is a key ingredient of the cocktail which have recently become very popular outside of Italy; the Negroni. Vermouth is delightful as a drink on its own, especially as an aperitif and I tried it for the first time at this modern, light and airy restaurant where you dine amongst shelves of interesting wines and other beverages. The cuisine is very good value modern Piedmontese, with fresh takes on traditional dishes.
- Peyrano Torino. Dal 1915 – If you love chocolate, Torino is the place for you! Turin has a long history of making exquisite chocolate; you can find some of the best in the world here and you can even go on a chocolate guided tour of the city! The most famous type of chocolate is the gianduiotto, a melt in the mouth combination of cocoa and hazelnut (nocciola). For a perfect selection of chocolate delights, visit Peyrano, on the East bank of the River Po. It has an understated facade and on entering is like stepping back in time where the beautiful chocolates are set out in cabinets and you are served by very sweet ladies who seem to have worked there their whole lives! It is pricey but it is the best!
- Orso Laboratorio del Caffè – A sign of a young, forward thinking population is a good smattering of specialty coffee shops and this place is a perfect example! The full range of coffees is available, from drip coffee to pour over and of course a classic cappuccino! All brewed from beans from all over the world, roasted in house. It is close to the river so I stopped in for a coffee after my morning run.
- Pastificio Defilippis Dal 1872 – A gorgeous pastificio where all your gluttonous pasta dreams can come true! It is a historic, wood panelled shop and restaurant and they make all pasta on site. I enjoyed dinner here on my first night and the service was charming and the atmosphere is warm and busy; a great location for people watching. They also serve one of the best vitello tonato; an unlikely combo of tuna mayonnaise and veal which is just delicious and you can find all over Piemonte.
- Café Al Bicerin Dal 1763 – I’ve already mentioned chocolate and that chocolate addicts have a huge selection of places to indulge in Torino – another obligatory experience is visiting Café Al Bicerin to try a glass of the bicerin – a hot chocolate/coffee/cream combination which is only served in Torino. Another lovely story of this establishment is that it has been run by women for hundreds of years; located opposite the Sanctuary of the Consolata, at a time when women were often not seen alone in public, they felt safe in this environment. The café is still run by ladies who have worked there for many years. It is an elegant and cosy café and I enjoyed my bicerin on their lovely terrace in a quiet piazza before leaving the city for my next stop in Piemonte.