Italy’s fourth-largest city, Turin, is the essence of la dolce vita.
Not in the full-throttle, scooter-screeching style of the hot south, but with a composed dignity befitting of an elegant northern city shaped by the noble House of Savoy and politically explosive unification movement. This was the country’s first capital in the 1860s and is the capital of Piedmont today.
Turin’s refined vibe might feel more français than italiano, but delve into this handsome metropolis stitched from porticoed streets and palazzo-laced squares, and you’ll quickly find a compelling city screaming “Made in Italy.”
Explore niche, top-drawer museums (football, cars, chocolate and coffee) and avant-garde galleries bursting with powerful art. Promenade through extraordinary royal palazzi (palaces) and gardens.
Linger over Slow Food and wine in chandelier-lit cafes and centurion osterie. And at every turn, with every morsel, feel the creative pulse of a go-getting city driven by an epic artistic, cultural, historic and epicurean heritage.
Outdoor adventurers and those seeking a green escape might not find a real buzz here. But for anyone looking for a weekend of urban Italianate living – with a provocative dash of creativity and curiosity, by day or by night – Turin hits the sweet spot any time of year. Here are the best things to do when you get there.
1. Spend a day museum-hopping
Few Italian cities sport such a varied portfolio of museums – there really is one to suit every taste and interest. Turin’s blockbuster Museo Egizio is among the world’s best when it comes to anthropomorphic coffins, animal mummies and other priceless artifacts from Ancient Egypt.
This being Italy, art and design lovers are well served: Palazzo Reale displays the personal art collection of the Savoy monarchy, and the sensational Pinateco Giovanni e Marella Agnelli showcases masterpieces acquired by the late Fiat head Gianni Agnelli.
Galleria Civica d’Arte e Contemporanea is the place to go for 19th- and 20th-century Italian and European art, and Fondazione Merz, Fondazione Sandretto re Rebaudengo and Museo Ettore Fico for influential contemporary art.
Detour: Head to out-of-town Castello du Rivoli for works borne out of Italy’s city-spawned Arte Povera movement in the 1960s and 1970s.
2. Perfect the Turinese art of aperitivi
The early-evening aperitivo (aperitif) crawl is a golden opportunity to taste exceptional wine from Piedmont and sample savory delicacies such as acciughe al verde (anchovies in pea-green, garlic-parsley sauce) or carne cruda al’Albese (raw beef) while finding yourself in neighborhoods you might not otherwise frequent.
Favorite addresses to hobnob with locals over well-mixed cocktails, Campari or Aperol spritz, and generous snack buffets – ranging from complimentary to €15 with one drink – include historical Bar Cavour, Farmacia Del Cambo in an 1830s pharmacy, and fashionable bookshop-cafe-bar Bardotto.
3. Explore cinematic Turin
A visit to the superlative Museo Nazionale del Cinema – a firm family favorite – is not just about watching silent movies, overdosing on looping virtual-reality films and learning about Turin’s fascinating movie-making heritage.
As engaging as the evocative and well-curated exhibits is the museum building: the eclectic, spire-capped tower of Mole Antonelliana was conceived and designed as a synagogue in 1863, yet only ever used as a museum. Scaling its dome to ogle at the panorama atop the 167.5m-tall (550ft-tall) tower is a rite of passage.
4. Share the city’s love affair with chocolate
Cioccolato (chocolate) is this city’s lifeblood, and family-run chocolate makers have been hard at work in Turin for centuries – there is no point resisting.
Bicerin, the city’s signature cream-topped chocolate-coffee hot drink, has been a reason to flock to elegant Caffè Al Bicerin since 1763. Turin’s favorite contemporary chocolatier, Guido Gobino, is loved for tiny, tile-like ganache chocolates flavored with vermouth or Barolo wine perhaps, and his classic gianduiotto (triangular chocolates made from gianduja – Turin’s hazelnut paste).
Planning tip: Don’t miss Turin’s 10-day chocolate festival in November.
5. Live the good life on Piazza Castello
Nowhere does the heady pulse of la dolce vita make itself felt as fiercely as on Piazza Castello, the city’s central square and heart of Savoy from the 16th to 18th centuries.
Framed on all sides by grandiose buildings cocooning palace museums, cafes, and the city’s opera house, the square is a hub of cultural life and the epitome of Turin elegance.
Admire its majestic porticoes (Turin boasts an extraordinary 18km/11 miles of porticoes), built under Vittorio Emanuele I in the 18th century so the royal family could promenade between palace and river in comfort and relative privacy.
6. Unearth Slow Food at the Terre Madre festival
As the capital of the region where Italy’s Slow Food movement was born, it’s natural that Turin should host one of the world’s largest food and wine fairs: Slow Food’s biennial Terre Madre, next up in September 2024, and subsequent even-numbered years.
One-day passes unlock a banquet of fascinating epicurean encounters, from artisan tastings with Turinese and Piemontese producers and chefs to culinary workshops and meetings with global food activists and sustainable farmers.
Detour: The venue is a sight in itself: Parco Dora was an industrial wasteland (home to steelworks and a Michelin tire factory until the 1980s), regenerated in the new millennium as a vast open-air art installation, green meadow park, marketplace and festival ground.
7. Tap into Turin’s art and music scene
It’s no surprise that Turin is part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network: deep-dive into the city’s pivotal contemporary art scene at Officine Grandi Riparazioni. The experimental cultural and innovation hub resides in a regenerated train depot, constructed in red brick between 1885 and 1895 near Porta Susa and Porta Nuova train stations.
Catching the latest public art installation, seasonal exhibition, live gig or other cultural happening is as much an opportunity to ogle at the industrial architecture of the gargantuan U-shaped space as it is to tap into contemporary Turin’s explosive visual and performing arts scene.
Fascinating 3D tours transport visitors around the original 19th-century repair workshops, and several cafes and restaurants are ready to stave off your hunger and/or cocktail pangs.
Clubbers, you’re in the right place. Turin generates some of Italy’s best dance music, with clubs and live-music bars in industrial and residential neighborhoods such as Vanchiglia, San Salvario, Dora and Lingotto pounding well into the early hours.
Planning tip: Going strong for 20-odd years, Lingotto’s C2C Festival remains one of Europe’s top avant-pop music festivals.
8. Enjoy views and a cocktail in Italy’s highest bar
Dizzying views of the city and its Alpine amphitheater laid out around your feet unfold from the 37th floor of the city’s lofty Intesa Sanpaolo skyscraper – a striking, glass-and-steel work of contemporary architecture, designed by celebrity Italian architect Renzo Piano as the headquarters of the Intesa Sanpaolo banking group.
Its crowning glory is the futuristic rooftop where skilled mixologists behind the bar at Piano35 shake a sassy spin on Italian classics. Order a signature Bicerin cocktail (mixing sweet Mancino vermouth with coffee liqueur, sherry and milk) or Spritz No More (vodka, elderflower liqueur, sake and chili pepper).
9. See how Savoy kings lived at a flurry of royal residences
Turin has six royal residences in the city center alone, all with lavish interiors, priceless artworks and tapestries, and occasional museum collections.
Find medieval-to-modern decorative arts in Palazzo Madama; a top-drawer history museum exploring the city’s role in the Risorgimento (Italian Unification) at Palazzo Carignano; and dazzling Greek and Roman archaeological treasures in Palazzo Reale.
If time is limited at the latter, aim straight for the Savoy’s personal art collection in the Royal Palace’s Galleria Sabauda. If time is endless, linger over afternoon tea on the stone-balustrade terrace of the palace’s romantic Caffè degli Argenti – views of lush green lawns and the Alps beyond are beautiful.
10. Shop vintage and design in the Quadrilatero Romano
While the city’s elegant porticoes on the main street of Via Roma squirrel away chic boutiques of all the big fashion houses, Quadrilatero Romano is the neighborhood for upmarket vintage and fashionable pieces by young designers. Make your shopping spree memorable by booking a lunch table well in advance at Consorzio.
Bargain hunters can follow urbanites on weekends to Balon, a sprawling and mesmerizingly raucous flea market north of Porta Palazzo since 1857. More specialized antique and vintage dealers move in on the second Sunday of the month at the Gran Balon market.
11. Taste Vermouth in hipster San Salvario
Savoring Turin’s homegrown Vermouth di Torino – aromatized fortified wine infused with 30-odd botanicals – has been a tradition since 1786 when it was first distilled by Antonio Benedetto Carpano for the royal court. The tourist office offers organized tastings (€18) in selected city bars.
Or opt for homegrown vermouth on the rocks or in a cocktail at funky music bar Lanificio San Salvatore in hipster San Salvario. Its Torino Milano Via Novara cocktail mixing Vermouth di Torino with Campari, Cynar (a bitter aperitif blending 13 herbs and plants, including artichoke), chocolate and rock salt is akin to drinking Turin in a glass.
12. Track down street art with a purpose
Meander off the beaten tourist track into the northern working-class suburb of Barriera di Milano to uncover old warehouses covered in graffiti, public baths rejuvenated as community centers and 13 pavement-to-sky, black-and-white wall murals by Italian street artist Millo (from Puglia in southern Italy); start your Millo tour on Piazza Bottesini.
When you’re done, take a DIY walking tour of the city’s Murales Lavazza, 17 striking wall murals illustrating global goals for sustainable development in 2030 by international artists. Murals range from No Poverty (Lungo Po Antonelli 15) featuring Florentine street artist Zed1’s comic egg-headed humans to Good Health by Venezuelan-Italian Gomez (Via Berthollet 6) and Gender Equality (Corso Belgio 9) by Rome-based Camilla Falsini.
13. Walk around Fiat’s rooftop e-track
Turin is synonymous with Fiat cars. Its 1920s factory in industrial Lingotto was Europe’s largest, and walking around the rooftop track where cars were tested until 1982 (when the iconic factory closed) is exhilarating. To get a feel for the historic track, watch the 1969 classic movie The Italian Job.
New-gen electric Fiats spin around the 1km-long (0.6-mile) loop today. In 2021, the surrounding rooftop was planted with 40,000 indigenous trees, shrubs and wildflowers to create a public garden – La Pista 500.
Yoga, fitness and meditation areas shaded with hazelnut trees and giant sunflowers inject a contemplative zen into the green public space. Views of the city and surrounding Alps are naturally magnificent.