When I talk to friends that are planning a trip to Italy I usually hear some fairly repetitive (albeit highly worthy) destination ‘wish-lists: Rome, Florence (and Tuscany more generally), the Amalfi Coast, Milan and Venice to name but a few. But one place that rarely seems to find its way on to their lists is Turin (unless of course you’re heading that way as a winter sports enthusiast). To be completely honest, it hadn’t found its way on to my wish-list either. It now dawns on me that Turin’s apparent lack of comparative appeal should be more surprising than it is. After all, it’s famed for being the home of the Turin Shroud and former Sabaudian royal family, its’ full of culture, history and spectacular architecture, it’s framed by the Alps and it’s the capital of the Piedmont Region which produces some of the finest food and wines in the country. On a recent trip to the Piedmont region I was lucky enough to spend some time exploring the city and this former capital of Italy certainly didn’t disappoint!
Turin International Airport, otherwise known as Turin-Caselle in located about 15km outside of Turin city center and is served by an abundance of airlines including low-cost European carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet. Getting from the airport to downtown Turin is fairly quick and simple once you know how. Your first option (and probably the best of the bunch) is to grab the airport express train service from the airport station. The station is within easy walking distance of the terminal building (just follow the covered pedestrian footpath) and tickets are available at the station for a paltry 3 euros (at the time of writing). A short 19 minutes later and you’ll find yourself at Dora GTT Train station which is fairly central. If that isn’t central enough for you then you can hop on the fast bus service (which runs in coordination with train arrival times) that will take you the extra 2km all the way Porta Susa (which is pretty much as central as you can get) and all within the original train fare. As with all Italian public transport, just remember to validate your ticket before you hop on board. Your second option is the airport bus service which runs every 15-30 minutes with stops downtown at Porta Nuova and Porta Susa train stations – which are reached in around 30minutes give or take. Timetables and fare information (yes, it’s slightly cheaper than the 3 euro train!) can be found online at the link I’ve provided in the additional resources section below. A taxi is obviously the final option available. Costing anywhere between 30-50 Euros for the 30 minute journey downtown, taxis can be found directly outside the Arrivals Hall.
If, like me, you have occasionally been known to be ‘cheap’ (I prefer the term fiscally self-aware) then you may have already noticed that flights landing at nearby…ish Milan Malpensa International Airport are often significantly cheaper than flights landing at Turin-Caselle. If that’s the case then you’ll also be pleased to know that a bus service runs between Milan Malpensa and downtown Turin. The service takes a couple of hours or thereabouts and landing in Milan might well enable you to experience both cities in one trip which is a bonus!
Turin’s comprehensive public transportation network is run by GTT and consists of a combination of buses, trams (including the historically touristy Line 7 Tram) and a metro line. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll want to go anywhere that the network doesn’t cover and if you plan to mostly explore the downtown city-center then you won’t even need to use public transport as most things are walkable. It’s really only once you get outside of the main hub that it might prove useful. If you do plan on using public transport then you can find a handy dandy network map here and information on the somewhat dizzying array of fare options here. As I mentioned above, just make sure that you remember to validate your ticket if you want to avoid ending up with a fine. Ticket inspectors operate on public transport pretty much right across Italy and fines can be an expensive business!
If looking at the public transport map has sent you into a spiral of self-loathing and fear then you could always take the easy tourist option and buy a ticket for the City Sightseeing Hop-on-hop-off bus. Turin’s version of the classic service offers 3 main lines and a number of add-on tickets and passes that you might want to consider. Just be aware that what’s on offer does change through the seasons. I didn’t use the service myself but having looked at the tour map it covers pretty much everything that you’d want to see and you’ll get the usual pre-recorded commentary during the drive.
If you’re a bit of a culture vulture and are planning the cultural equivalent of bar-hopping your way around Turin (and the broader Piedmont region) then you may want to consider the ‘Torino+Piemonte’ Card. The card can be purchased in a number of differing lengths, provides ‘free’ admission into many of the major museums, exhibitions and royal residences and provides discounts on a whole host of other services including the hop-on-hop-off bus, Mole Antonelliana lift (see below) and Superga Tramway (also see below). For a full list of places that the card covers you can print out this handy PDF. You can also buy your tickets online in advance if you’re one of those super-organised travel types.
Mole Antonelliana: Let’s start with a quick translation. Mole in Italian is a building of monumental proportions. That’s a pretty apt description for what is now, at 550ft tall, said to be the tallest museum in the world! Visible from pretty much anywhere in Turin, the uniquely shaped structure, which is now arguably the symbol of Turin, was designed and built in 1889 as a synagogue (although not like one I’ve ever seen before). Since 2000 the building has housed the National Museum of Cinema, but even if you’re not a movie buff you should at least pay to take the panoramic lift to the structure’s summit where you’ll be greeted with fantastic views over the city and the Alps (on a clear day). For those of you that are fighting fit then you can also challenge yourself to the ‘cupola ascent’ for an additional fee.
Basilica di Superga: In many ways this is just one of many churches you could visit in Turin. However, Basillica di Superga is unique for a number of reasons. The first is that the church’s Royal Crypt is the traditional burial ground for the members of the House of Savoy. Not impressed so far? OK, so the second is the church’s architecture; which somewhat resembles Michelangelo’s dome at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and is considered Baroque-Classicism. Still not convinced? The pièce de résistance (I’m not sure what that phrase is in Italian, so I’ll stick to French) is the church’s location. It sits high on a hill overlooking Turin and the Alps providing what are probably some of the best views in the entire region. The journey to reach the basilica is also an adventure which ends with a historic tram ride at a gradient of up to 21% up to the 650m above sea level perch on which the church sits. Fare information for the tram journey can be found on the GTT website and note that the tram is closed on Wednesdays.
Palazzo Reale and Palazzo Madama: These two palaces for the price of one can both be found in Piazza Castello (square). Throw in the Baroque-style Royal Church of San Lorenzo which is also directly on the piazza and you’ve got yourself one of the top tourist hotspots in the city. Built in 1646 Palazzo Reale has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997 and was the opulent home of the Savoy family until 1865. A guided, but somewhat pricey, visit to the Palace includes the Dynastic apartment on the first noble floor, the Royal Armory, Galleria Sabauda and Museum of Antiquities. To find out more and to book tickets in advance visit the Palazzo Reale website. Palazzo Madama, which sits directly opposite, now houses Turin’s Municipal Museum of Ancient Art but was originally built as a defensive fortification (which is abundantly clear when you compare the building’s front façade to the rear of the palace). The Museum was set up in 1861 by the City of Turin to bring together and house the heritage of the entire Piedmont region. To find out more and to book tickets in advance visit the Palazzo Madama website. Even if you’re not a big fan of museums I would highly recommend visiting Piazza Castello. The extravagant architecture of the palaces and accompanying royal church are well worth the visit by themselves without paying to venture inside.
Museums: If you haven’t already suffered museum fatigue from the National Museum of Cinema, Palazzo Reale, Municipal Museum of Ancient Art and the Turin Shroud Museum (see below) then Turin still has an abundance of riches to offer (after all, you have to get the most out of that Torino Card you just purchased). The biggest hitting of the bunch of museums on offer is probably the Turin Egyptian Museum which is the only museum dedicated to the subject outside of the Cairo Museum. Other notable museums include the Gallery of Modern Art and the National Automobile Museum.
Parco del Valentino: Located on the banks of the Po River the 421,000 square meter Parco del Valentino is the most famous public park in the city and is in itself a bit of a city icon. Founded in 1856 the park contains the UNESCO World Heritage listed Castello del Valentino, a royal residence of the House of Savoy. Even more interestingly it houses a replica medieval village that was designed in 1884 by Giuseppe Giacosa; the lyricist of Puccini’s “La Bohème”, “Tosca” and “Madama Butterfly”. If that’s not enough then you could visit the park’s Botanical Gardens or even Enzo Ferrari’s special bench (because who doesn’t want to visit a bench dedicated to Enzo Ferrari?!?!).
Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista: Whether or not you are of a religious persuasion you’ve most likely heard of Turin’s most famous resident, the Turin Shroud. In fact, if I can dial back my memory far enough I seem to recall learning about the burial cloth of Jesus back when I was in high School. The shroud itself has resided in Turin since 1578 but its whereabouts prior to the mid-14th century are fairly mysterious (as a result many people think it’s just a worthless piece of laundry). Whatever your beliefs, the shroud itself is currently stored at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and although you can’t actually see it (it’s locked in an airtight chamber away from prying eyes) it’s worth a visit to the cathedral to learn more about the shroud and generally admire the cathedral’s architecture (and climb the bell tower for some great views). If you want to see a life-size replica of the shroud and get the full historical background of the artifact then head just up the road (Via San Domenico to be precise) to the Shroud Museum.
Piazza San Carlo: This Baroque-style square sits nestled in the very heart of the city and is the perfect place to grab a spot of lunch and people watch from one of the square-side cafes. At the center of the square is an equestrian statue of Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy (just in case you were wondering….although you probably weren’t). At the southern end of the square you’ll find Santa Cristina and chisea di San Carlo Borromeo which together provide a picture perfect setting for an espresso.
Porta Palatina: Turin’s Palatine Gate is a Roman era gateway to the city and probably one of the best preserved 1st Century gates of its kind in the world. The gate is the center piece of a broader ‘archeological park’ which lies on the ruins of an ancient Roman settlement (don’t get too excited though, the gate is the only major site of any real interest). It’s worth dropping by to the see the gate (especially as it’s right next door to the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista) but you’ll probably only want to spend enough time here to grab a few photos and be on your way.
Turin Airport Transportation Website (GTT): http://www.gtt.to.it/cms/linee-e-orari/torino-e-cintura/collegamento-aeroporto
Turin Airport Bus Service: http://www.sadem.it/en/prodotti/collegamento-aeroporti/torino-caselle-international-airport.aspx
Milan Airport Bus Service: http://www.sadem.it/en/prodotti/collegamento-aeroporti/milano-malpensa-airport.aspx
Public Transport Network Map: http://www.gtt.to.it/cms/risorse/urbana/mappa/mapparete.pdf
City Sightseeing Hop-on-hop-off Website: https://www.city-sightseeing.it/en/city-sightseeing-torino-en/
Turin City Card Website: https://www.turismotorino.org/en/your-trip/our-cardsc