Why go now?
Between now and Easter, this stylish city at the foot of the Alps is welcoming, uncrowded and accessible, thanks to the frequent ski flights. Turin is much more than a gateway to the mountains: it is one of Italy’s great cities, offering visitors a spectrum of indulgence from high culture to rich chocolate.
British Airways and easyJet compete from Gatwick, while Ryanair flies from Stansted. Turin airport is 16km north-east of the city at Caselle. The fastest and cheapest way in is by train, which leaves every half-hour from the airport station and costs €3.70. Buy a ticket and cancel it at the platform entrance before boarding the train. The journey takes only 20 minutes to Stazione Dora (1) – a good 15 minutes’ walk from the centre. Your rail ticket entitles you to transfer to one city bus service within 70 minutes – revalidate it on boarding.
The Sadem airport bus departs roughly every 15 minutes, with a fare of €6.50 if you buy a ticket in advance in the arrivals hall – or €7.50 if you pay the driver. The journey serves Porta Susa station (2), for the west of the city centre, and terminates at Porta Nuova station (3) about 45 minutes after leaving the airport. All three stations are undergoing substantial engineering work.
A taxi should cost €30 to most city- centre destinations.
Get your bearings
The city centre is contained within the Dora river to the north and the Po river to the east. A combination of narrow streets based on the original Roman grid, sliced through by broad avenues, makes Turin easy to navigate – as does the ever-visible wall of the Alps to the north. The city’s main squares are Piazza Castello, an odd-shaped space part-filled with the ungainly Palazzo Madama; Piazza San Carlo, right in the middle; and Piazza Vittorio Veneto, which opens out to the Po. You can hardly move for tourist offices. The main bureau at Porta Nuova station is temporarily shut for refurbishment, so visit instead the office on Via Milano or the kiosk on Via Giuseppe Verdi. Standard daily opening is 9am-7pm.
Turin vies with Milan as northern Italy’s leading business city. Consequently, it has lots of hotels, and an oversupply of beds at weekends – including at two particularly characterful and comfortable three-stars that offer outstanding value; rates include breakfast and the €2.30 per person, per night city tax.
The most central is the Hotel Dogano Vecchia at Via Corte d’Appello 4, an atmospheric old mansion where Mozart stayed in 1771 during one of his many European tours. Today, it feels in places as though the last Grand Tourist has only just checked out. Double rooms sell for around €145.
Take a hike
The primary city of the House of Savoy, and the first capital of a united Italy, has some outstanding civic architecture – best appreciated with a stroll through the centre with pauses for coffee or hot chocolate. Start at the equestrian statue of Emanuele Filiberto in Piazza San Carlo, honouring the duke who made Turin capital of the Duchy of Savoy in 1563. Walk north between the chic boutiques flanking Via Roma to Piazza Castello. On the right is the velvet embrace of Baratti & Milano awaits; order an espresso and stand at the counter to enjoy the opulence and sense of history for just €1.10. Glimpse the adjacent Galleria Subalpina, then walk along Via Po – a handsomely porticoed street, lined with shops (with little display cases in the pillars) and numerous cafés – such as Ciocco & Lata at number 32 and Caffe Vittorio Veneto just where the street opens up into the broad, cobbled piazza. Ahead stands the 19th-century church of Gran Madre di Dio, built to imitate the Pantheon – and featured in the film The Italian Job. Cross the river and climb the steps for a view north towards the Alps.
Take a view
For an even better perspective, climb the steep hill, the Monte di Cappuccini, just south. The church and convent of Santa Maria stands at the top, while just below is a museum celebrating the mountains – and Turin as venue of the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Out to lunch
Cross the river back to the centre, and find the Société Lutece – whose tables spill into the wide, green Piazza Carlina (officially known as Carlo Emanuele II). This rustic brasserie has salads and pasta with a Gallic twist.
Close by, at Via Accademia delle Scienze, the Museo Egizio fills a 17th-century palazzo that was once a Jesuit college. Today, it is an old-school museum brimming with Egyptian artefacts. Renovations make some of the collection inaccessible, but current highlights include a statue of Tutankhamun with the god, Amun, and a hierarchy of sarcophagi. Open from 8.30am to 7.30pm daily except Monday, €7.50 (free on your birthday).
Via Roma and Via Garibaldi are the main shopping streets, but a more spectacular retail offering takes place at Porta Palazzo, a Roman gate that gives its name to a sprawling market.
The cosiest bar in town is probably the Caffè-Vini Emilio Ranzini at Via Porta Palatina 9g, which serves wine and elaborate snacks – but only until 5pm on Saturday (9.30am-8.30pm Mon-Fri); a proper Turin aperitivo experience. Any later, and you should visit the retro Caffé Nazionale at Via Po for an apericena – order a glass of vermouth, the local drink, and tuck into the buffet, all for €7.
Dining with the locals
Ristorante Pizzeria Alla Mole at Via Verdi 10 serves simple but delicious and exceptionally good value set meals costing as little as €7. The price includes a pizza, a glass of beer or wine; and an espresso to round off the feast. Opens evenings except Sunday from 7pm (and lunch from Monday to Friday).
Tre Galline serves Piedmontese specialities such as bollito misto, a rich stew. It opens from 7.45pm for dinner, except Sundays, and on Saturdays for lunch.
Sunday morning: go to church
Start at the Duomo, an austere cathedral (open 8am-12.30pm and 3-7pm) with a remarkable relic: the Shroud of Turin, which some say was used to wrap the body of Christ. The cloth is kept out of sight in a climate-controlled casket, but the story unfolds at the fascinating Museo della Sindone which explains the context and conflicting theories of the shroud. The adjacent Santo Sudario church has a replica of the shroud on show behind the altar.
Out to brunch
Directly opposite, the Caffè Cioccolateria Al Bicerin (26) on the south side of the Piazza del Consolata is a Torinese treasure dating from 1763. This tiny café is named for the city’s signature drink: the bicerin (€5) is served in a wine glass, and comprises an intense, dark mix of coffee and hot chocolate beneath a layer of cream that slowly melts as you sip. While you indulge, admire the original 18th-century panelling and marble tables.
A walk in the park
Turin boasts plenty of greenery – starting in the city centre. From the Porta Palatina, wander east past the remains of a Roman amphitheatre through the Giardini Reali. Your target, at the far end, is the astonishing, 167m Mole Antonelliana – a 19th-century folly resembling an extruded pyramid.
Take a ride …
… in a glass elevator through thin air at the Mole Antonelliana. In one minute flat it takes you from the basement through the vast interior to a hole in the ceiling and the viewing platform. A €12 ticket includes the intriguing National Museum of Cinema that fills the ground floor and upper chambers; open 9am-8pm daily except Mondays (Saturdays to 11pm).
Icing on the cake
Turin’s passionate affair with cocoa began centuries ago, and today is indulged most exquisitely at Caffe Olsen and Guido Gobino – either of which will transform your appreciation of chocolate.