Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan are some of the cities you think of when you imagine travelling to Italy, and with good reason. They’re all spectacular (or at least that’s what I hear), and they all have famous attractions. But having had the chance to visit Italy essentially by hopping over the border from the south of France, I wound up in Turin.
Like many of the larger urban areas in Italy this is a beautiful city, and one that’s probably more interesting than a lot of people realise. In fact its ancient history is fascinating. It was once attacked by the legendary Carthaginian general Hannibal, was turned into a Roman military outpost, and subsequently overtaken by the forces of Charlemagne. It bounced back and forth between French and Italian control for some time, and at one point in the 1860s was even named the capital of the Kingdom of Italy! Rome, of course, is the capital today, but I’m guessing it would surprise many to learn that Turin was once the royal seat of the country.
As for what it’s like today, it presents some pretty striking visuals. It’s a sprawling city—one of the most populous in Europe—with the Po River running right through town. There are also views of the alps in the distance, towering over the town but not directly on top of it.
These are a few of the specific highlights from a visit to the city.
This might seem like a strange pick. It’s an ancient city, and yet Borgo Medievale—the “medieval village”—is a replica, rather than the real thing. It was built as a pavilion for the International Exhibition held in 1884, but people liked it so much they left it up. It’s now a kind of main attraction within Valentino Park, and it’s gorgeous to explore. It may not be legitimately left over from the Middle Ages, but it is real, and was designed by serious artists and architects.
There are other cities in Italy as well as in neighbouring France that have international reputations for their cafés. But in Turin you’ll find some really incredible places for a light meal and a hot beverage. There’s a drink called Bicerin that’s native to Turin (espresso, chocolate, and whole milk), and there’s interesting history behind the cafés as well. They were a sort of gathering place for thinkers and revolutionaries before Italy was unified in the 19th century.
Treat this place like a museum, because that’s essentially what it’s become. Once the royal palace of Italy, it’s surprisingly ordinary on the outside, at least by comparison to some of the other structures in town. Inside it’s about as rich and elegant as any place you’ve ever been. Many of the halls and apartments might remind you of period films you’ve seen, and you’ll also get a chance to look through a gigantic collection of ancient armour and weaponry.
You don’t have to be a massive football fan to appreciate Juventus Stadium (officially known as Allianz Stadium) and the club that plays there. Juventus made it all the way to the Champions League in the spring, and though they fell to Real Madrid it was noted in the lead up to the match that they excelled in domestic play, and won Serie A (the Italian league) for a sixth straight year. That means they’re quite good at home, so if you get a chance to see them play at Allianz Stadium, I’d recommend it.
You can’t really miss Mole Antonelliana. It completely dominates the skyline (really, it’s the only building that could be defined as having anything to do with the sky), and its towering spire is the most dramatic sight in the city. Inside this is largely a film museum, of all things. But the main attraction is the elevator that takes you to the top and gives you an unrivalled view of Turin.
That about says it for major attractions. There are plenty of interesting streets to walk down as well, and Turin is known for its cuisine. So don’t spend your whole trip sightseeing at popular landmarks. Be sure to explore and duck into some promising restaurants and things of the like. But make sure you see and/or experience the highlights listed above in the process.