Torino is home to beautiful architecture, sweeping views of the Alps, Nutella, Ferrero Roche, al bicerin, the former Italian royal family, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, the 2006 Olympics and the shroud of Turin. But a little known secret is that it’s also home to dozens and dozens of top-notch museums. And I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill European art museums. I’m talking state-of-the-art, interactive museums spanning many different interests and topics.
For short-term visitors, there’s the Torino + Piemonte Card which gives you access to the museums for 2-7 days. For €1 more than the 7 day pass, you can get the Abbonamento Musei Torino Piemonte Card which gives you access to all of the museums, royal residences, castles, gardens, fortresses and exhibitions in the Torino and Piemonte area for a full year. So I picked mine up at the beginning of the month and made a game plan to hit as many as possible.
Here’s my completely unbiased, very official guide to which you should check out and which you should skip.
Warning: this is the world’s longest post and I won’t judge if you stop reading now! Suffice it to say that I made my museum pass more than worthwhile.
National Museum of Cinema
This museum is hosed in the Mole Antonelliana, probably the most iconic building of Torino.
Lucky me, I actually lived two blocks from the Mole. I got to enjoy this view every time I walked home.
The “Cinema Museum” is the second most famous museum in Torino, and was our first stop of the month. And I was blown away. We started by taking the elevator up to the tip of the point for a (hazy) view of the city. Another little known fact of Torino is that they suffer from the same haze/smog as Riverside and Denver. With the gigantic Alps offering beautiful views from the city, all of the air gets trapped by the towering mountains. So until there’s a storm to blow everything out, the air gets a bit stale.
We then proceeded through the museum, which provides an interactive history of film. They start with the science behind sight, then move to the history of photography and early cinema. They showcase the different types of film and the evolution to today’s movies. There’s an entire walkway dedicated to old movie posters, and a step-by-step showcase of how a film is created, from initial writing to final editing. The final floor offers short films with reclining seats and several full movie sets to highlight the details included in set design.
The entire museum is simply beautiful and they do a wonderful job at making each part interactive and attention grabbing. It was not just interesting to walk through, I learned a lot as well.
Verdict: A must see
Museo Nazionale della Montagna Duca Degli Abruzzi
I visited this museum by accident but oh what a wonderful discovery! I walked over to the Botanic Gardens in Parco del Valentino, arriving at 11:50. I was dismayed to see the gates already closed so I turned on my precious data and saw that the Botanic Gardens were open weekdays from 9:00am-12:00pm. A little confused, both because it was before noon and the fact that this place was only opened for three hours a day (and closed Sundays), I looked on Google Maps to see what other museums might be in my area. I recognized the words museo and montagna and figured I’d check out the “Mountain Museum”. It showed that I was less than a mile away so I started walking over there. What Google Maps left out is that it was a mile straight up, but that worked to my benefit as I had the most gorgeous view of Torino and the mountains (what a fitting view for the museum).
Since I worked up an appetite hiking to the museum, I ate at the café overlooking the city and had a delicious pasta and grissini (crispy breadsticks originating from Torino). But I’m getting sidetracked. I walked into the museum and realized immediately I was going to love this place. The first floor was dedicated to the history of the Alps. The second floor was dedicated to the 2006 Torino Olympics. And the third-floor terrace offered a panoramic view of Torino.
Basically, this museum combined my favorite things: mountains, skiing, good views and good food. I actually ended up coming back with Jillian and Michelle the next day. Although to be fair, they weren’t nearly as interested in the museum as I was, but they did enjoy the view.
And if I’m being honest, I came back again with Sarah, although we didn’t go in the museum, we just enjoyed the sunset from the beautiful viewpoint.
This was right after the attack in Nice and they projected the French flag onto the Mole.
Price: €10 x 2 visits, €20
Verdict: A must see
The Shroud of Turin
I’m embarrassed to admit this but I had never heard of the Shroud of Turin prior to coming to Torino. Many believe that this piece of linen was the burial shroud of Jesus and in fact, still bears the image of his face. It’s kept in a large, airtight case, covered in a holy blanket, within a bulletproof glass room in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.
When you walk by the alcove where the shroud is kept, you can definitely sense its importance, with many people praying and spending quite a bit of time.
Verdict: I’d say if you’re in the area, stop in the church to see it. Otherwise, it’s not worth the trip.
Palazzo Madama was originally just two towers and a gate into the city. In the 14th century, it was expanded into a castle and has since been used as royal residences, seats of government and museums.
Currently, on the first floor, there is a Marilyn Monroe exhibit, providing a history of her life along with quite a bit of paraphernalia, including a replica of her infamous white dress.
The exhibit was actually really interesting and again, very well laid out.
Further back on the first floor, the permanent exhibits start, beginning with ancient religious art – not exactly my cup of tea.
I didn’t actually realize how big Palazzo Madama was so I came back a second time to see the rest. I powered through the religious art and moved up to the second floor…which had more artwork. As did the third floor. Although to be fair, the third floor also had many different nick-nacks including trophies, medals, china and jewelry. None of which are my favorite.
What Palazzo Madama did have though, was beautifully restored rooms. The main hall was incredibly impressive. And while the pieces in each room didn’t really hold my interest, I loved looking around at the beautiful rooms, imaging what it must have been like to live there.
You can actually go up to the top of one of the towers, which provided great views of Piazza Castello and the surrounding areas of Torino, along with maps of what you were looking at.
On my way down from the tower, I stumbled on the small castle garden, which was quite nice to walk around. There was an extensive garden, with placards of how the plants would have been used in yesteryear. And it was remarkable to be walking through this quiet garden in the heart of the busiest square in Torino. I’m venturing to guess that a lot of people miss this part.
Price: €10 x 2 visits, €20
Verdict: The Marilyn Monroe exhibit is a must see, but that’s only temporary. Otherwise, I’d recommend walking quickly through the rest of the Palazzo to get to the tower and the garden.
Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano
Flags of the 20 regions making up Italy.
The “Museum of Italian History” was a bit of a bore. There were a lot of paintings, a lot of maps and quite a few figures dressed up in historical garb. There were cardboard explanations in English in each room that provided absolutely no relevant information nor did they explain the history of Italy. I’m assuming if you speak Italian or have any ounce of knowledge about Italian history, you might find this museum more interesting.
Verdict: A definite skip
Museo Egizio di Torino
The “Egyptian Museum” is the second largest in the world, surpassed only by the museum in Cairo. I really knew very little about Egyptian history so I went in blindly, other than knowing this particular museum is fairly famous.
You’re given a handheld device to listen to a recording for every. single. artifact. I listened to exactly 1½ descriptions before deciding that reading the placards would be more than sufficient for me. (Rachel has also informed me that she listened to the handheld device and after 2½ hours was only halfway through…)
I started on the museum path and admired how well everything was laid out, a very common theme in Torino. But to be honest, the first several rooms really just reminded my of my Grams house: a whole lot of old vases and masks.
I moved to the next floor and it started getting a bit more interesting, with some old tombs and the earliest mummies. Over an hour later, I was glad I had checked out the museum, but was more than happy it was over. Except I turned a corner and realized I had NINE MORE ROOMS!
These nine rooms were a bit more interesting with much more elaborate mummies and statues.
But by this point, I had firmly realized I wasn’t interested in Egyptian history.
Verdict: Recommend, even if it’s not your cup of tea, simply because it’s the second best in the world and it’s nicely laid out. But know it’s big so plan your pace accordingly.
La Venaria Reale
I’ll spare you from reading about the wonders of La Venaria Reale again. But if you’re interested, check it out here.
Verdict: A must see
Villa della Regina
This is a royal palace, built by the House of Savoy in the 17th century. It’s up on a hill, slightly behind the “Mountain Museum”. And the only positive thing I can really say about it is that it offers a good view of the city.
Other than that, this palace is quite run down, has very little in it and felt a bit creepy walking through the almost deserted house and grounds.
Verdict: There’s a reason it’s free – skip it.
Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile
The “Automobile Museum” is located in Lingotto, a short metro ride from Torino, right next to the famous Fiat factory. It takes you through the history of, you guessed it, automobiles. But what makes it so great is the layout. They have almost 200 restored cars, representing 80 brands from 8 countries. From the original “horseless carriages” to modern day Ferraris, you literally see the transformation of automobiles as you walk through.
They’ve incorporated interactive digital signage throughout the museum (although sadly, I don’t think it’s FWI’s), enabling you to learn more about each room, each car and each brand.
Verdict: If you combine this with a trip to the original Eataly, which is a 10-minute walk from the museum, then it’s a must see. Otherwise, if you have the time, check it out.
Basilica di Superga
You can see “Superga” on the top of the hill from everywhere in Torino. It’s close to 6 miles outside of the city, so you have to take a tram and bus to get up there.
We had some issues with timing based on what their website said and when it actually opened, but once the basilica finally opened, Jake and I decided to join both the tomb tour and the royal apartment tour. It was all in Italian and neither were very interesting to look at. Needless to say it was a long hour of strolling around.
After the less-than-thrilling tours, we tried going up the basilica tower, but we had to wait for a group of high schoolers. We looked around the church, which was quite pretty and scoured over the graffiti. The oldest is from 1783.
We were finally let up the tower, which did provide a nice view of Torino, but I thought the Mountain Museum and Mole offered better views.
Verdict: Not worth the hassle
Museo Diffuso della Resistenza della Deportazione, della Guerra, dei Diritii e della Libertà
The “Museum of Widespread Resistance” is dedicated to life in Torino before, during and after WWII. It was one that I thought sounded interesting, but it wasn’t really near anything else. On my last day in Torino, I decided I’d make the trek over to check it out, and so glad I did!
I walked in and no one else was there, except for the three employees sitting at the front desk. I was asked if I knew any Italian and when I shook my head, the woman informed me that I might miss some of the information. Visions of my Superga tour flashed in my head but I was already there, so I went ahead.
She was so nice and personally walk me through the entire museum, explaining how everything worked, what each room was about, what information I’d be missing by not knowing Italian and then offered to escort me down to the WWII bunker underneath the building. I’m so glad she was down there with me as it was rather creepy; it was understandably small and dark, but they had recordings of bombs playing in the background so you could understand what it was like for the civilians who had to escape down there every night.
The museum does an absolutely incredible job of incorporating technology. In each room, you walk up to a mirror which plays two different videos: one man and one woman, each providing a first hand narrative of different aspects of their lives during different periods of the war. They were on opposite sides of the spectrum so you could hear both perspectives. There was a man who went to a fascist school and a woman who grew up in an anti-fascist family. A man who escaped as a child to a country house and a woman who had to work in a candy factory when she was 12-years-old to help her family pay for the immensely inflated rations.
There was also original footage playing in the background of each room to show what living in Torino was like during those years. The rooms were split up between pre-war, Fascist rule, Nazi occupation, liberation and post-war. I had no idea, but Torino survived immense bombings by the Americans and English during the war, possibly the worst in Italy given its geographic location.
The final room was a long table with different “documents” laid out. On each, when you laid your hand down, pictures and videos would play showing main buildings and areas of the city and what they were like pre, during and post war.
The entire museum was incredible. I learned so much and it was so engaging and interactive; I wish I had more time.
Verdict: A must see
Palazzo Reale di Torino
The “Royal Palace” is an incredible building, situated in one corner of Piazza Castello, the main square of Torino.
From the royal gates through to the last room, the entire palace is remarkable. The rooms are so ornate, gilded everywhere with beautiful gold, crystals and mirrors. There’s no mistaking the fact that this was a royal palace. Entrance also includes access to the Royal Library (Polo Reale) and the Royal Armory (Armeria Reale), which showcased different swords, pistols and knight’s uniforms.
While this is more of a standard European palace and less interactive than other Torino museums, it’s so beautiful and well maintained, I loved walking through it all.
Verdict: A must see
Borgo Medievale Torino
I happened across this one by accident on a run. Located next to the River Po in Parco del Valentino, it’s (what appears to be) a medieval castle with stores, a village and church to showcase what life in the Dark Ages was like. However, it was built as a tourist attraction for the General Italian Exhibition of 1884, aka, the World’s Fair. Womp womp.
Verdict: If you’re walking through Parco del Valentino, walk through the castle. Otherwise, it’s definitely not worth a separate trip.
My year long museum pass was more than worth it for my month long stay in Torino.
Cost of the Abbonamento Musei Torino Piemonte Card: €52
Cost of the museums I visited: €137