*That don’t involve food.
I spend pretty much all my time thinking about food. From shopping at the local markets to cooking basically all my meals at home (#freelancelife is #budgetlife), poring over reference books while researching for food articles and interviewing people for stories about their own food projects, there’s not a whole lot of brain space left for anything else.
When travelling, I’ll admit that I’m often pretty happy to skip museums in favour of street food and choose brunch over famed monuments, but when it comes to Turin – where I’ve lived for a couple of years now – I’ve tried to be a tourist in my own city and soak up a little bit of *culture*.
To avoid a novel-length post about every single thing I love doing in this city, I’m separating out all the activities here that aren’t food-related per se. Things that reveal the beauty of the city, help you see it through a local’s eye, and show why I adore living here…
Turin has beautiful baroque architecture and a few key belvedere spots. For a bird’s eye view of the city, catch the panoramic lift up to the top of the Mole Antonelliana, Turin’s most iconic building, a former synagogue that houses the Museo Nazionale del Cinema. It costs €7 per person, and be warned that there are often queues on the weekend.
For a view from the other side of the city that’s even higher up, visit the Basilica di Superga. It’s perched on a hill up in Turin’s colline (hills) area, which you can reach by tram, car or foot. You’re likely to run into teenagers ferociously making out from this go-to romantic spot – welcome to Italy!
If you want a lookout point a little closer to town, take a walk up to Monte dei Cappuccini – a Renaissance church on a hill overlooking the River Po and huge Piazza Vittorio Veneto down below. I love the way the people walking across the square and cars driving along the riverfront seem toy-like and miniature from up there.
Better yet, if you want a running/walking route (let’s be real, I’ve definitely not jogged once since moving to Italy), make a loop along the Murazzi (the lower-level boat docking area along the riverfront, home to a string of nightclubs), cross the Vittorio Emanuele I bridge, hike up to Monte dei Cappuccini for the view (it takes about 10 minutes from the bridge), then continue along the river and cross the Umberto I bridge to loop back up to Piazza Vittorio Veneto for a morning coffee (or Spritz. Italians start them pretty early and no one will ever judge you for a pre-noon tipple). The whole thing will take around an hour to an hour and a half. Donning activewear is extra fun – guaranteed confused stares!
The neighbourhood around Monte dei Cappuccini is called Borgo Po – a little fancier than other parts of town, with an enviable balcony pot plant situation and home to beautiful Art Nouveau villas that are either still used as homes or have been converted into smaller apartments – and every other zona in the city has its own feeling, too. San Salvario is a little grungy in parts, where students head for aperitivo and cocktail bars, spilling out onto the street into the wee hours – there’s always a crowd of boozed up youngins hanging in front of the Parrocchia Santi Pietro e Paolo Apostoli church, where an intersection of two roads forms an unofficial piazza by night. Quadrilatero Romano is the historic centre and Roman quarter, covered in cobblestones and with smaller laneways – I especially love Piazza IV Marzo and Piazza Filiberto. Vanchiglia is residential but has so many nice bars; it’s a little quieter along Via Santa Giulia, while down at the Piazza Santa Giulia end and the adjacent Chiesa di Santa Giulia, there are always bigger crowds in the evenings. I also like Via Maria Vittoria in the centre of town, which is in the area just called ‘Centro’, where you can walk past quiet cafes and stylish apartments while spotting the verdant hills of the colline across the river.
But back to Borgo Po, where you can feel like a princess for an afternoon at Villa della Regina – it’s named after Queen Anne Marie d’Orleans, once the Duchess of Savoy and then the Queen of Sardinia, who used to use it as her apartment when she didn’t feel like hanging at the main palace. It’s very easy to reach from Piazza Castello or Piazza Vittorio Veneto, just catch the #56 bus up the hill. Likewise, Reggia di Venaria in the north of the city is another beautiful former royal residence – the Savoys used it as their ‘hunting and pleasure lodge’. There’s a direct shuttle bus that leaves regularly from Piazza Castello.
When I first heard about Turin’s famed Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum), I really didn’t feel so interested in visiting – it seemed kind of random. But, I’d judged too soon! Give it a whirl, it’s been recently renovated, and definitely take the audio guide option.
There’s something about crossing Piazza Castello that always feels a little bit magic. Actually, any piazza in the city, for that matter, deserves a stroll and a sit down on one of the benches that line the edge of these squares. I also love Piazza San Carlo, which boasts towering baroque buildings and all feels very regal, as well as the transition from Piazza San Carlo to the southern side of Via Roma, where you walk away from those stately, baroque buildings in the square into imposing Fascist architecture – be sure to check out the two fountains that back onto the piazza, which represent the River Po and River Dora, the two rivers that run through the city. For smaller piazze that are big on charm, head to Piazza Carlo Emanuele II (known to locals as Piazza Carlina), Piazza Filiberto and Piazza IV Marzo.
Turin has its own, renowned circus school, and while I haven’t made it there so far (soon!), you’ll often come across street performers practising at intersections, or along Via Roma (the city’s main shopping area) and Piazza San Carlo. On weekends, there is always one elderly group of piemontese men who sing traditional folk songs under the archways on the west end of the piazza, drawing in crowds for singalongs.
The Gran Balón markets are a favourite. Held on the second Sunday of every month, they’re a sprawling vintage furniture and clothing, plus bric-a-brac, market that’s always packed with people and treasures.
I have a slight obsession with going out to watch movies, and Turin has a handful of beautiful, old-school, boutique cinemas. Cinema Romano’s entrance is in the Galleria Subalpina, leading down to a series of underground theatres; Cinema Lux sits in the stunning Galleria San Federico; and Cinema Centrale is a tiny one-room spot that shows films in their original language with subtitles.
Then, there are the parks. I’ve long taken morning walks through the Giardini Reali, which has this charming dappled light peering through a canopy of huge trees. Walk from the south to north end to catch a peek of the tip of the Mole on the other side of the park. Parco del Valentino is also gorgeous – and huge! – with its own little palace, and the only place it’s acceptable to exercise in public here without people staring/shouting/awkwardly taking photos of you.
Catching trams around town is still a novelty for me (less so when they’re running late – which is often), even after nearly two years living here. The #7 still uses the original trams that have been restored, starting from Piazza Castello.
Working from the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino – Turin’s National University Library – has been an unexpected joy. Coming here started out as more of a need than a want, given that cafes with wifi are so scarce in these parts, but now I really enjoy going inside this dusty old place, even despite its precarious internet connection. The facade was built in 1720, while the inside seems plucked straight from the 1960s.