Things to do in Turin with kids
During our summer road trip through Europe, we paid a visit to Turin in northern Italy. Our boys have developed something of an obsession with the 1969 Italian Job movie starring Michael Caine and as it was the 50th anniversary of the film’s release it seemed like a fitting tribute to visit the city where much of the movie was shot. City breaks with kids can be quite challenging, particularly in summertime, so it was good to have a theme with which to explore Turin. Of course, there are plenty of things to do in Turin with kids even if your interest in the Italian Job is only marginal so I’ve put together some of the highlights of our Turin visit along with other attractions which children will enjoy.
An (incredibly brief) history of Turin…
The car manufacturers Fiat and Lancia were both founded in Turin and the city continues to have a strong automotive presence in Italy. Turin’s geographical position in the north of the country, close to Milan and Genoa, makes it an important city for trade and commerce.
One day in Turin
If you are doing a day trip to Turin with kids, I would recommend spending most of your time outdoors. Although it is not a particularly popular tourist destination, Turin is a very family-friendly place to visit. Turin is a very walkable city with elegant porticoed boulevards which are cool and shady (there are also plenty of trams to ride on when your legs get weary). The city has some great architecture which tells the history of the Turin pretty well without the need to step inside a museum. Our children loved the vast public squares and the green spaces which gave them a chance to run off some energy.
As it was a Sunday on our visit to Turin, some of the main shopping streets had been closed to traffic. The streets thronged with people which really surprised me given it was August, a time when many people head to the coast. The internet clearly hasn’t damaged retail in Turin yet.
Italian Job film locations
Handily, on route to Lingotto we passed the Torino Palavela. Originally built for an exposition in 1961, this large arena with its notable curved roof was later used for ice skating during the 2006 Winter Olympics. The Italian Job was not a hit in Italy in the same way it was in the UK and I do wonder if this was in part due to the film’s portrayal of the Italian police as a bunch of bumbling idiots, most notably demonstrated during the Palavela scene where the Minis are driven onto the roof of the arena, pursued by a police car.
Fiat Lingotto Factory in Turin
Lingotto is the home of the Fiat car company and here you will find the vast Lingotto building where Fiat cars were once constructed (between 1923 and 1982). Bizarrely, but useful if you’re a film director looking for an eye-catching space for a car chase, the vehicles were constructed over a series of five floors with the rooftop space used as a test track.
After the factory closed, the architect Renzo Piano was responsible for transforming the colossal building into its present form, a strange amalgamation of shopping areas, theatre, cinemas and offices as well as the Fiat headquarters. By the looks of things, Lingotto is due another revamp (or so the billboards suggested). It felt rather sad, particularly on the outside where vast stretches of empty concrete space looked particularly unwelcoming on a quiet Sunday morning.
However, we weren’t at Lingotto to critique its architecture. We were of course heading for the rooftop test track where Michael Caine and his cronies once outsmarted the Italian police. Despite its rather appealing location and Fiat’s status in the city, there are no signposts to the Lingotto test track and it’s rather tricky to find.
How to find the Lingotto test track in Turin
Although unrelated, to access the test track you have to buy a ticket to whatever exhibition is running in the gallery. As we only had one day in Turin (and the gallery tickets were a bit pricey), we managed to convince the kind lady at the ticket desk to allow us to wander around the track just next to the door without paying, which satisfied our boys’ enthusiasm.
Via Roma and the Galleria San Federico
After marvelling at the test track, we headed for the metro rail station and took the 20 minute journey to Porta Nuova railway station in the centre of Turin. From Porta Nuova it’s a short walk to Via Roma, the main shopping street in Turin.
There’s a rather memorable scene in the Italian Job where the Minis are driven along Via Roma and one of the drivers grabs a chicken leg to munch on as they tear past unsuspecting diners in a cafe. We didn’t manage to recreate that particular scene, roast chicken didn’t seem to be on the menu in 2019, but we did come across the lovely Galleria San Federico which also featured in the car chase.
Turin has some incredible public spaces and Piazza Castello is without doubt one of the best. This is the piazza where the huge traffic jam took place in the Italian Job. It looked rather more serene during our visit.
Chiesa di Gran Madre di Dio and the River Po
One of the most anticipated stops on our Italian Job tour was the Gran Madre di Dio church which overlooks the Po River. Now, if you’ve watched the Italian Job as many times as I have, you’ll be somewhat confused to discover that cars cannot actually drive around the church. Visiting this particular site was quite an education in cinematic special effects and trickery for my two boys. They still enjoyed re-creating the scene before we dragged them off for much needed refreshments at a cafe on Piazza Vittorio Veneto across the river.
I’m not sure which part of the Po River was used during the car chase in the Italian Job but fortunately there are quite a few sections that look pretty similar so we took a quick shot of the river near the church. I assured the boys that the sewage pipe chase scenes were in fact filmed in the UK so there was no need to track those down, phew…
Other locations from the Italian Job
Our drive over the Alps took us through the Gotthard Pass whereas in the Italian Job the San Bernardino Pass was used but as we crossed the mountains from Switzerland we did play the Italian Job soundtrack to maximise the effect. It’s great music for a road trip, incidentally. My sons weren’t keen on photographing their beloved Minis anywhere near the edge of a mountain top so I’m afraid we didn’t recreate any witty shots of our toys in the Alps, just lots of dodgy selfies of us on the Italian border with Switzerland.
Evening in Turin with kids
From Piazza Vittorio Veneto, we hopped on a tram (or possibly two) and made our way to the indoor food market at Porta Palazzo for an ice cream before working our way back towards the train station. The kids enjoyed playing with other children in the water fountains in Piazza Castello and I loved wandering along the many shopping streets which were packed with people taking an evening stroll. If only all cities could attract people to their high streets in such numbers. By the way, there’s a Lego shop on Via Roma in case that’s a useful bargaining chip for parents with weary children (or children with weary parents perhaps).
Top places to visit in Turin with kids
Piazza Castello is a good place to start when you visit Turin: as well as the grand Palazzo Madama, this vast square also contains another palazzo from the Savoy era: the Palazzo Reale or Royal Palace. Both palazzos are open to the public and certainly warrant exploring if you’re keen to learn more about the dynasty which ruled much of Italy for hundreds of years. We decided a sunny August day wasn’t the right time to impart the key points of Italian history to our two children so we enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere of the square.
We took a detour from our Italian Job theme to scale the tower at the National Museum of Cinema. It was the only location during our Turin day trip to have a notable number of foreign visitors (and one of the few famous spots which does not feature in the Italian Job). The museum is housed in Mole Antonelliana (mole means large building in Italian), a towering edifice which was once destined to be a synagogue. Designed by architect Alessandro Antonelli, it features a terrifyingly old elevator which zips visitors up to the summit of its spire. Views of Turin and the distant Alps are predictably good although it only held my five year old’s attention for a few minutes before he was requesting a return to the ground floor. I wish we’d had a bit longer to explore the museum itself as the layout and contents of the museum looked fascinating as we whizzed past it in the lift.
The Egyptian Museum in Turin houses the largest collection of Egyptian artefacts outside of Egypt, the result of an 18th century king’s obsession which has been added to extensively over several hundred years.
During our trip to Italy, the petrol head members of my family convinced me to visit the museums of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari (two of them) and Lamborghini. So although the Museo Nationale dell’Automobile in Turin looked impressive, I had to put my foot down. We’ll just have to return to Turin another time for that one.
We found walking in Turin with kids very easy: there are wide pavements and vast piazzas for children to tear around in. However, if you’re having a family city break in Turin you might need some green space for the kids to let off some steam. The Parco del Valentino, set on the banks of the Po River, about half an hour’s walk from the Mole Antonelliana, is Turin’s largest city centre park. Here you’ll find the city’s Botanical Gardens as well as a 19th century recreation of a medieval village, the Borgo Medievale Torino. Built for an expo in 1884, the Borgo might not be in quite the same league as the thousands of actual Italian medieval villages which you might prefer to visit, but your children might like this more (think little shops selling child-friendly tat), and it’s free.
Where to stay in Turin with kids
The centre of Turin is pretty compact and walkable and there are plenty of affordable places to stay. No doubt families will be tempted by apartments through the likes of Airbnb but if you’d prefer a hotel, the Chelsea is a good value three star property with family rooms close to the cathedral.
If you’re happy to spend a bit more, the Piazza Vittorio Suites are in a brilliant location. Piazza Vittorio faces the Madre di Dio church where the Minis interrupted a wedding in the Italian Job. If you’re not fussed about that particular aspect of the location, you’ll hopefully be sold by the range of cafes and restaurants which line the square. Porto di Savona is a popular place for dinner and La Drogheria would be on my list for an aperitif.
If you’re visiting Turin with young children, I’d recommend staying outside the city and doing a day trip to Turin on a Sunday as we did. Parking is easy at Lingotto and the transport from there to the centre of Turin is very straight forward. If your children are older, I’d definitely suggest staying in the city centre as Turin is a really enjoyable place to explore in the evening. We passed lots of enticing bars and restaurants on our way home.
We stayed at Cascina Papa Mora, an agriturismo located close to Alba, around 50 minutes’ drive south east of Turin. We stayed in a large family room overlooking the surrounding farmland. We enjoyed delicious breakfasts of homemade cake, freshly picked fruits and lovely jams and cheeses. The agriturismo has an excellent restaurant open several evenings each week and we had a couple of lovely meals on the farmhouse terrace. The farm also has a swimming pool which we often had to ourselves, a real luxury. We stayed for four nights and enjoyed mornings exploring the surrounding towns and visiting vineyards. I highly recommend this farm stay if you’d like a really central base in Piedmont.
What to eat and where to eat in Turin with kids
Turin is the place to come for an aperitif; Cinzano, Campari and Martini all originate in the city (or close by) and during our day trip to Turin, it felt like there was an endless array of bars to tempt me. Although this is a blog post about Turin with kids, I’m rather keen to pay the city a return visit without my offspring so I can take a foodie-themed tour of the city. My only other trip to Turin was as a student some 20 years ago when civilised pre-dinner drinking was something I had yet to discover.
The stuffed pasta agnolotti and its tiny cousin plin (meaning pinch) are typical for the primo piatto in Piedmont, filled with meat they’re often flavoured with local white truffles. Risotto also features regularly on menus in Turin as the arborio rice is grown in paddy fields to the north east of the city.
Not far from Turin is the town of Alba where the Ferrero family first developed the Nutella spread. Needless to say, hazelnuts still feature prominently on menus in Piedmont and chocolate, with or without nuts, has a special place in Turin’s heart. You’ll find no end of chocolate shops in the city thanks to the Savoy family’s close association with Spain during the 17th century (when cocoa was brought over to Europe from South America by the Spanish).
We had a swiftly executed lunch stop at Focacceria Terre Liguri on Via Po, five minutes’ walk from the Mole. It’s always gratifying to discover the perfect place for a cheap lunch just at the right moment. This little joint sells cheap slices of pizza in all manner of flavours and has a few pavement tables and chairs.
We loved eating and shopping at Eataly, next to the Lingotto Factory. If you’re after really delicious and authentic food to bring home, this is the place to visit. There is every pasta shape imaginable and if you’re not able to head off into the Langhe hills to sample some Barolo, this is the next best place to find it. We had dinner here before hopping in the car and heading back to our agriturismo. There’s also a smaller branch at Lagrange in the city centre, close to the Egyptian Museum.
As we visited Turin on a Sunday, we missed out on experiencing the huge Porta Palazzo outdoor market in Turin. City markets have become something of a tourist attraction in recent years and Turin’s is certainly no exception. However, there’s also a fairly fancy indoor food hall to enjoy where we indulged in particularly delicious ice creams.
There was a good range of cafes lining Piazza Vittorio Veneto, we had coffee at La Drogheria, a trendy cocktail bar (which I’d like to return to in the evening some time…) with outdoor seating. I recommend trying a bicerin (meaning small glass in Italian), a typical Torinese coffee mixed with chocolate and milk. If you’re a real coffee aficionado, you might need to sample this beverage at the cafe of the same name where it is said to originate from. You’ll find 18th century Caffe Al Bicerin on Piazza della Consolata not far from Porta Palazzo.
Combining a family city break in Turin with other parts of Italy
The Italian Lakes are not far from Turin. Closest is diminutive Lake Orta which you can reach in under two hours from Turin. By rail it’s only slightly longer with a change at Novara. Beautiful Lake Como is two hours by car or rail from Turin, via Milan.
If you’d like to spend some time at the coast after a few days exploring Turin, the city is not far from the Ligurian coast. There’s a direct rail service from Turin south to Genoa if you’d like to visit the Cinque Terre, this service continues on down the coast to Pisa, Rome and Naples).
If you’d like an authentic slice of Italian seaside life, I’d recommend the Ligurian town of Noli. It’s a beautiful two hour drive through the Piedmont vineyards or two and a half hours by rail to Spotorno-Noli, a rail station midway between the two seaside towns.
We spent an afternoon and evening at Noli prior to catching an overnight ferry to Corsica from the nearby port of Savona. Noli is popular with Italians (as opposed to foreign tourists): you’ll find the restaurants in the narrow alleyways packed with people dining on delicious seafood while the beach has some great pizzerias overlooking the sea. Our boys enjoyed playing football on the beach with other children and I loved finally being able to have my first sea swim of 2019.
It’s not far from Turin to the mountainous borders with France and Switzerland so it’s easy to combine a city break in Turin with a holiday in the Alps. Before driving into Piedmont, we spent a few days hiking in the Swiss Alps near the Gotthard Tunnel in southern Switzerland.
Of course, if you fancy a real adventure, hop on the ferry to Corsica as we did, but I’ll have to save that for another blog post.
Looking for more family holiday ideas in Italy? Check out my post about things to do in Umbria with kids and reasons to visit Le Marche with kids. I’ve also written a blog post about travelling across Tuscany, Umbria and Le Marche by car.