After covering Italy quite extensively over the years, if there’s one thing we have learned it’s that this beautifully vibrant country really is the travel gift that keeps on giving. From Venice and Tuscany to Sardinia and Sicily, there’s so much to see and do, but exploring Italy’s more under the radar areas really gives you some insight into the culture. To prove it, we’re headed off the beaten path to beautiful Turin.
Regular contributor Debi Lander from ByLanderSea is here to share her experience visiting this unique northern Italian city. Check out her recommendations for planning a baby boomer adventure in Turin.
What to Do and See in Turin, Italy
Millions of tourists flock to Rome, Venice and Florence, Italy, yet Turin, in northern Italy, attracts far fewer crowds. The city is home to the famous Shroud and was once Italy’s first capital. Turin is the fourth biggest city in Italy by population, after Rome, Milan and Naples. More than 50 museums and monuments offer visitors intriguing options.
Visit the Shroud of Turin
The fascinating mystery of how and when the Shroud of Turin was created draws the curious. Many believe the linen relic is the burial cloth of Jesus. The fabric displays a finely detailed negative photographic image — front and back, of an anatomically correct man. He appears to have been tortured, beaten and crucified. The sacred cloth lies securely hidden in a vault in Turin’s Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and only makes rare public appearances.
In 1988, carbon-14 dating of scraps of the cloth dated it from 1260 to 1390, which, of course, would rule out its use during the time of Christ. However, new technology and research reveal many clues about why the carbon dating could be wrong.
Now, momentum is growing for new analysis and in fact, a test by scientists at the University of Padua in northern Italy used the same fibers from the 1988 trials, but results dispute the findings. The new examination dates the shroud to between 300 B.C. and 400 AD, which would put it in the era of Christ.
They determined that the earlier results might have been skewed by contamination from fibers used to repair the cloth when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages. The relic has been kept at the cathedral since 1578.
If you’re like me and find the Shroud fascinating, you must visit the Renaissance period Cathedral where a copy is on display.
Explore the Egyptian Archeological Museum
The second reason I’m touting Turin focuses on the Egyptian Archeological Museum, the world’s oldest Egyptian museum, and most extensive outside of Cairo, Egypt. The attraction houses objects obtained by collectors throughout the centuries, as well as in the Italian Archaeological Mission’s major excavation sites between 1900 and 1935.
I spent an entire day examining sarcophagi, mummies, tomb treasures, pottery, jewelry and ancient scrolls. Roam amongst statues of Pharaohs including one of Ramses II on the throne. I was awestruck by the intact tomb of the architect Kha and his wife Merit.
The Egyptian museum was remodeled when Turin hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics and again renovated in 2015. Now, modern lighting and technologically designed cases present the stories of ancient Egypt in an understandable way. Children and adults find the place mesmerizing.
Explore Turin’s History
The main promenades, Via Roma and Via Po both preserve arcaded buildings along both sides. Enjoy them for strolling, shopping or finding a bistro, perhaps sipping the favorite mixture of coffee, chocolate and whipped cream. Did you know Nutella was invented in Turin?
The Savoy kings ruled the Piedmont region for a thousand years before 1861, the year Italy declared its independence. The demanding UNESCO World Heritage committees deemed the complex of 14 royal abodes around the city worthy of their list- yes indeed, all 14!!
The Savoy family lived within the downtown Palazzo Reale or Royal Palace from 1646 until 1865. The building is considered one of the most opulent in Europe.
Climb the ingenious marble Scissor Staircase and feel the golden grandeur and wealth the Savoy family possessed. Take time to meander through the vast formal gardens.
Neighboring Palazzo Madamma, formerly a medieval fortress, also graces the heart of the center city. The former moat was converted into a garden. Also, visit the Civic Museum of Ancient Art within Palazzo Madamma. Both Palazzo Real and Palazzo Madamma are easily accessible, but I wouldn’t try to do both on the same day.
Visit the Royal Palace of Venaria
A 10-year-long restoration, costing approximately $250 million, rescued the must-see Royal Palace of Venaria from ruin. The “Versailles of Savoy” is a former so-called hunting lodge on the outskirts of the city.
The 20-acre UNESCO site showcases a spectacular Hall of Diana, reminiscent of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, a Great Gallery brimming with priceless paintings and statuary, the Chapel of Sant’Uberto, the Savoy gondola from Venice, and period furnishings, armor and gardens. I hadn’t planned to spend seven hours but ended up lingering among the interior rooms and gardens at this enthralling site.
Go to the top of Superga Hill
I used the excellent public transportation system to maneuver the city, but getting to the top of Superga Hill became my biggest challenge. The summit was finally reached by riding the Sassi-Superga Tramline. Once at the top, I eyed the white marble, stucco and copper-domed Basilica of Superga. Inside lie the underground Royal Tombs and a room containing a portrait of every pope.
Behind the church stands a memorial, the site of a tragic 1949 air crash involving the country’s football (soccer) team. Be sure to take the tour down into the Savoy tombs and ascend steps to the roof or cupola (on your own) and enjoy magical views of the snow-covered Alps, the Po River and the city of Torino (as the Italians say) below.
Visit the National Cinema Museum
Film and movie buffs delight in the National Cinema Museum inside a building known as the Mole Antonelliana. Here, visitors can recline and watch footage from vintage films. The Mole’s spire, the tallest city landmark at 550 feet, rises above a grand vault. For 360-degree views ride the elevator to the observatory (although I preferred the more scenic view from Superga).
Football fans inaugurated the now hallowed grounds of Juventus Stadium, in 2011. The state-of-the-art soccer facility bestows no barrier views and contains the memorabilia of the beloved Juventus Football Club.
Public art in the form of statuary and fountains are scattered everywhere throughout the city. Their beauty is enjoyed any time of day, but especially when illuminated at night. Valentino Park, a medieval hamlet on the riverbanks, was built for an 1884 Universal Exhibition and then demolished. By popular demand, it is brought back and is absolutely worth a visit.
Many more royal homes, palaces, castles, art museums and park are open to tourists. I just ran out of time, and I stayed for six days.
To save money on entrance fees, check out the combination tickets for museums and attractions available in the Tourist Information Center. The staff explained how to get around as well as the best times to visit.
While Turin misses the celebrity status of Paris or Rome, don’t let it slip off your itinerary. Visitors will find more than enough to see at lower prices. Of course, like anywhere in Italy, one can still indulge in excellent Italian food and wine.
*** Disclosure: My trip to Turin was entirely self-funded. I paid for my stay in an Airbnb, museum fees and all of my meals.