The scenario could be that Crazy Aunt Polly is on a Grand Tour of Europe and, remembering you’ve just arrived in Turin, Italy for your studies abroad, emails you to say that she’ll stop by on her way to Venice. Or perhaps George, an old schoolmate who has just finished a summer course in Paris, will fly out of Rome at an unusually late hour, and would like to come visit you for one afternoon before he goes.
This walking tour of Turin’s most popular central spots is designed specifically for An Afternoon Visit led by someone who doesn’t yet know the city very well. Keep this in your pocket as a cheat sheet and impress your guest with this informal yet informative tour of the city center.
Your guest comes into Turin on an early afternoon train, around 13,30. Tell him to debark at Porta Nuova, between Porta Susa and Lingotto (Turin’s other train stations), and meet you under the oversized Partenza board. Exit the station together and cross Vittorio Emmanuele II toward the arcaded, or covered, walkways. As you circle the rather unfortunate-looking Piazza Carlo Felice, turn your guest’s attention instead to the merry shop windows and cafés. Pause for a moment at the start of Turin’s most beloved boulevard, Via Roma, to admire its bold and direct path to the Palazzo Madama. You can amble down Via Roma at a comfortable pace alongside fellow tourists, international students, and local Turin residents who work downtown. Ogle the sparkling display windows of the likes of Cartier and Louis Vitton until you reach the passageway between two fountains. Pause briefly to explain that these two languid figures represent the city’s two major rivers, Po and Dora, and watch Aunt Polly begin to formulate the opening paragraphs of her biannual family update with a raving review of your potential to lead professional tours …
Enter Piazza San Carlo, the neat, level, heavily frequented quadrangle that many guidebooks called the “heartbeat” or “drawing room” of Turin. Check out the temporary photography exhibit, currently centered around the topic of “Spirituality in Turin.” Admire the piazza’s lunchtime bustle, the noble bronze statue at its heart.
Stop for a bite to eat at one of the historical cafes at the far end of Piazza San Carlo; I recommend Neuv Caval’d Brons – a tad pricey but so chic – and try to feel Turin’s heartbeat. Here you can sit for as long as you like without being rushed by the waiters, to catch up on each other’s travels or old school gossip.
When you’ve finished lunch, no need to leave a tip, continue on Via Roma until you reach the broad, open Piazza Castello. Do not cross to the middle, however, but circumnavigate the piazza counterclockwise until you reach another lively pedestrian walkway, Via Po, whose crowded covered sidewalks hold a slightly younger crowd. You can point straight down the street to the River Po, for whom the street is named, and tell Polly/George that every January 1st a group of locals jump into the freezing water to start the new year. Brr! Head down to Via Montebello, turn left, cross one street and the Cinema Museum Mole Antonelliana (home to the National Cinema Museum) will be on your right: the identifying structure of Turin’s skyline, as the Duomo is to Florence, or the Eiffel Tower to Paris. For less than 10 euro you can purchase a combination ticket that grants access to one of the world’s finest collections of film paraphernalia (posters, costumes, set pieces, archived material) as well as a transparent vertigo-inducing elevator ride to the top of the city’s tallest structure, from where – on a fine day – you can see the everything spread beneath you. A fantastic place to bring guests! Point out where you live (can you find it?), the rivers, the piazzas through which you just passed, the train station, the Alps. In the museum, take the time to try everything interactive. My personal favorite is the piece that allows you to ride the bicycle with E.T. in the basket – go, George, go!
After about two hours in the vast museum, you emerge hungry. It’s too early for dinner, but just in time for aperitivo, the impoverished college student’s dream: unlimited buffet with the purchase of one beverage. Return to Via Po and take a left toward Piazza Vittorio, then cross this third piazza to the La Drogheria, an aperitivo restaurant at the right-hand side of the end of the piazza nearest to the river. Seat yourself at one of the outside tables, order a tall glass of beer (remember when you and George used to use fake IDs in that one bar near your freshman dorm?) or a snappily garnished tomato juice (remember that Aunt Polly’s been sober for 21 months now?) from a passing waiter, and help yourself to a plate of goodies from inside the restaurant. Go in one by one, though, taking care not to leave your bags, nor your table, unattended. Refill your plate as often as you like and enjoy some snazzy tunes as the afternoon settles into evening in Turin.
It’s getting dark, and the evening trains are a’comin’. In about 20-25 minutes you can get back to Porta Nuova by retracing your steps along Via Po and Via Roma. Notice how the city has changed from the sunlit hours, now sporting a different crowd, sultrier music, an almost sexy ambience. This is Turin at night. If you have time, indulge in a 2 euro (small cone or cup) ice cream from GROM, a delicious organic gelateria chain, in the tiny lot on the right of Piazza Felice – the one right across the street from the train station – and see if your guest knew that the slow food movement originated here in Piedmont. No? It was a reaction to the “fast food movement” that attempted to preserve the cultural cooking and associated ingredients, farms, etcetera, of any given region. They’re wild about it here in Turin.
Finish off your ice cream, and simply cross the street to re-enter Porta Nuova in time for the evening departure. Did your guest thank you for leading a delightful tour of your new hometown? Let me know if this tour was as successful for you as it’s been for me.
Photo of the Mole Antonelliana, Turin originally posted by paperodigitale