Take A Break In Turin, Italy's Most Underrated City

Instead of going to one of Italy's more popular destinations, consider a trip to this stunning spot with incredible food.
Illustration: HuffPost; Photo: Getty Images

Take A Break is your ultimate guide to the perfect trips to recharge, rediscover yourself and your relationships, and reengage with the world. We’ll cover shopping stops, great bars, restaurants worth your money, photo opportunities, memorable drives and experiences, and other important details you need before you book.

Year after year, Italy remains one of the most popular international destinations for American travelers. During the peak summer season, tourists from all across the United States flock to Rome, Florence, the Amalfi Coast and other Instagram hotspots.

But another amazing place in Italy that often gets overlooked is Turin. Known as Torino in Italian, the impressive city is the capital of the Piedmont region in the northwest (and was even the first capital of the unified Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century). Visitors to Turin can enjoy beautiful mountain landscapes, opulent palaces, world-class museums and more.

On the culinary side, the city boasts a vibrant restaurant scene, featuring prominently in an episode of Stanley Tucci’s food and travel show “Searching for Italy.” And as the host of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games and two World Cups, Turin has plenty to offer sports and history fans.

Despite all this cultural clout, Turin is rather overshadowed by its more famous counterparts, at least among American travelers. When I had the opportunity visit last summer, I was immediately charmed by the city’s unassuming elegance, welcoming locals and sense of tranquility, free from the endless hordes of tourists that overrun many other destinations in Italy at this time of year.

To compel more travelers to add Turin to their Italian vacation itineraries, I’ve compiled my favorite dishes, attractions and more highlights from the “Città Magica.”

Where To Stay

I visited Turin with a large group of friends, and we stayed at an Airbnb that felt like our own mini palazzo. Spanning three floors, the apartment was ornately decorated with lots of wallpaper, upholstered furniture, framed art and other embellishments.

Scenes from our palatial Airbnb.
Caroline Bologna/HuffPost
Scenes from our palatial Airbnb.

Those looking for a hotel experience will find plenty of options as well. The Turin Palace Hotel is in a restored building right in the city center. The nearby Grand Hotel Sitea is a historic property with spacious rooms and a Michelin-starred restaurant.

For something with a more contemporary feel, the NH Collection Torino Piazza Carlina is also a popular option.

What To Eat

Italian food is famously delicious, but this cuisine is not a monolith by any means. So, I always aim to eat regional delicacies wherever I travel in Italy.

In Turin, my favorite Piedmontese dish was tajarin ― a rich, egg-heavy pasta typically served with truffles and butter or a local meat sauce called sugo d’arrosto. The meat-filled agnolotti pasta is another tasty specialty.

Other classic dishes to try include vegetables dipped in bagna cauda, a warm sauce made with garlic and anchovies, and crunchy breadsticks known as grissini. Although I wasn’t a massive fan, I’m glad I sampled vitello tonnato ― cold, thinly sliced veal topped with a creamy tuna sauce.

From left: assorted Piedmontese cookies, tajarin with meat sauce and agnolotti.
From left: assorted Piedmontese cookies, tajarin with meat sauce and agnolotti.

My best meal in Turin was a lovely solo lunch at a restaurant called Tre Galli. I also enjoyed classic Torinese food at Osteria al Tagliere and L’Osto del Borgh Vej. The Mercato Centrale Torino food hall offers something for everyone, which is perfect when traveling with a group. You might also want to make time to visit the world’s very first Eataly as well.

Spazio7 and Piola da Cianci also came highly recommended, as did the historic Caffè Platti and Caffè Mulassano. And to cap off any meal with a sweet treat, look no further than Gelateria Pepino.

What To Drink

The Piedmont region is famous for its Barolo and Barbaresco wines, which pair well with many dishes or even as a key ingredient (as in brasato al Barolo or risotto al Barolo).

But truly no visit to Turin is complete without at least one bicerin. This decadent drink is made with coffee, chocolate and milk, perfectly layered in a way that just screams to be photographed. I’m pleased to report it also tastes amazing.

From left: A bicerin and a fruit tart at Farmacia del Cambio, and the exterior of the historic Caffè Al Bicerin.
Caroline Bologna/HuffPost
From left: A bicerin and a fruit tart at Farmacia del Cambio, and the exterior of the historic Caffè Al Bicerin.

My bicerin-tasting journey led me to delicious and picturesque establishments like Farmacia del Cambio, Caffe al Bicerin dal 1763 and Caffé Baratti & Milano.

I even tried an alcoholic version of a bicerin at Piano35 ― a lounge at the top of the Intesa Sanpaolo Skyscraper. The breathtaking views alone made it worth the visit, but the creative cocktails were an added bonus.

Casa Proseccheria was another nice spot for aperitivi, with plenty of prosecco, cocktail and snack offerings.

What To Do

On my first morning in Turin, I began the day with a hike up to Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte dei Cappuccini, a hilltop church with gorgeous views of the city. I later visited another church, the Baroque-style Chiesa di San Lorenzo.

For something farther afield, you can make a journey to the famous Basilica di Superga. And if you’re into royal history, you might also want to schedule a visit to La Venaria Reale ― a large palace estate just outside city and one of the area’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

For a taste of grand architecture, tourists hardly need to venture beyond Turin’s city center, however. There’s Piazza San Carlo, a stately square surrounded by Baroque buildings, and Piazza Castello, home to the majestic Palazzo Madama Torino (now an art museum). The nearby Royal Palace of Turin transports visitors back in time to the city’s regal past.

From left: the Mole Antonelliana, Palatine Gate and Palazzo Carignano.
Caroline Bologna/HuffPost
From left: the Mole Antonelliana, Palatine Gate and Palazzo Carignano.

Perhaps the most iconic part of Turin’s skyline is the Mole Antonelliana, which houses the film museum ― Museo Nazionale del Cinema. Another notable museum is the Museo Egizio, where history buffs can find an extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts.

Fans of contemporary art will enjoy the Castello di Rivoli, a former royal residence that now showcases cutting-edge exhibitions juxtaposed against its restored 17th-century castle backdrop. Don’t sleep on the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli art gallery, either.

Those interested in the unification of Italy will no doubt want to explore the Museum of the Risorgimento, which is located in another famous old building, Palazzo Carignano. And for some ancient history, don’t forget to check out the Palatine Gate, a well-preserved gateway dating back to the first century BC.

From left: Palazzo Madama Torino, view from Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte dei Cappuccini and Castello del Valentino.
Caroline Bologna/HuffPost
From left: Palazzo Madama Torino, view from Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte dei Cappuccini and Castello del Valentino.

In addition to my climb up to the hilltop church, I also stretched my legs quite a bit by strolling along the River Po and exploring the expansive Parco del Valentino. The park boasts a number of notable attractions, like the distinguished Castello del Valentino and Borgo Medievale, a reconstructed medieval village and open air museum.

Getting more into modern times, Turin is strongly associated with the Italian automotive industry, with iconic brands like Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo headquartered in the city. It’s unsurprisingly also home to the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile (National Automobile Museum).

And of course, sports fans should check the schedule to see if the famous Juventus football club or its rival Torino have any matches scheduled during their time in the area.

With so much to offer tourists of all ages and interests, Turin is truly a hidden gem that captivates visitors with its incredible cuisine, deep history and vibrant charm. As Americans flock elsewhere in Italy, Turin visitors don’t need too much advance booking to experience the rich cultural tapestry that makes the city so magical.

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