Mini guide to architecture in Turin

With tree-lined boulevards, stately Art Nouveau cafes and grand piazzas, the Italian city is packed with eye-catching designs.

From its elegant tree-lined boulevards, stately Art Nouveau cafés and grand piazzas to the 2006 Winter Olympics fuelled building boom, Turin’s architecture provides plenty of variety for you to peruse.

Start early with a coffee and pastry at historic coffeehouse, Caffè Mulassano – in Turin’s central Baroque square, you’ll find pint-sized Mulassano. This Art Nouveau café, complete with marble bar top, wood panelling and bronze work, is where regulars sink white-hot espresso on-the-go from the bow-tied barista (Piazza Castello 15; 7.30am–10.30pm).

The architectural symbol of Turin, Mole Antonelliana is a 167m tower with distinctive aluminium spire and was intended as a synagogue when construction began in 1863, but was never used as a place of worship. Now it’s home to the excellent Museo Nazionale del Cinema – the city views from the outdoor viewing deck are worth the scary lift ride (Via Montebello 20; lift 10am–8pm Tue–Fri and Sun; Sat 10am–11pm; £5).

Statues of the mythical twins Castor and Pollux guard the entrance to Palazzo Reale and watch over the border between the sacred ‘white magic’ and diabolical ‘black magic’ halves of the city. Built for Carlo Emanuele II around 1646, this eye-drawing palace’s lavish rooms house a treasure chest of tapestries, porcelain and canvases (Piazza Castello; 8.30am–7.30pm Tue–Sun; entry £6.50).

Two miles south of the city centre is the Lingotto Fiere, Turin’s former Fiat factory, built in 1923 and famed for its rooftop test track. In 1989 it was redesigned as a public space and is now home to two striking hotels and a rooftop gallery boasting works by Renoir, Picasso and Canaletto. Eataly (see below) resides next door (Via Nizza 294, gallery entry £3).

Next to the Lingotto, in a vast converted vermouth factory, is the Slow Food movement’s ‘supermarket’, Eataly. Designed around a number of courtyards covered with a glazed roof, Eataly houses a staggering array of sustainable food and beverages, including cheese, bread, meat, fish, pasta, chocolate and much more. The best time to visit is 12.30pm– 2.30pm, when each area has its own little restaurant serving lunch (Via Nizza 230; 10am–10.30pm daily).

Head back into the city and walk off your lunch with a passeggiata (stroll) beside the River Po. Opened in 1856, Parco Valentino, a Frenchstyle park is home to Castello del Valentino, a mock château built in the 17th century, plus Borgo Medievale – a bonkers faux medieval village that was built for the Italian General Exhibition of 1884. Its centrepiece is the Rocca, a scaled-down castle (Borgo Medievale, open 9am–8pm summer, 9am–7pm winter; free).

Crimson velvet, glittering chandeliers and Baroque mirrors greet you at Ristorante del Cambio, the grande dame of the Turin dining scene. It opened its doors in 1757 and classic Piedmontese dishes such as vitello tonnato still dominate the menu. You’ll need to book and might want to dress up (Piazza Carignano 2; set menus from £50; Mon–Sat).

An 18th-century façade is all that remains of the original Teatro Regio Torino, which was destroyed by fire in 1936. The 1973 replacement theatre features hanging glass icicles in the auditorium and ’60s-style curved boxes. Sold-out opera and ballet performances can sometimes be watched for free on live TV in the adjoining Teatro Piccolo Regio (Piazza Castello 215; from £26).

Perhaps the most gilded of the gilded, Caffè San Carlo opened its doors in 1842. The collection of rooms, decked out with statues, mirrors, paintings and marble, make this seem more like a royal palace than a café. You’ll get neckache admiring the weighty Murano glass chandelier, but this is a great place for a nightcap or a late ice cream (Piazza san Carlo 156; 8am–1am).

BA, easyJet, Ryanair, Thomas Cook and Thomson fly from numerous UK destinations including Birmingham, Glasgow, London Gatwick and Stansted, Manchester and Newcastle to Turin airport, 10 miles northwest of the city in Caselle (from £85). Sadem runs regular buses into the city (£6 single). If you enjoy sightseeing, you’ll save a bundle with a Torino + Piemonte card, which covers admission to most monuments and museums plus all public transport (two days £22).

Where to stay
The best new player in Turin is Hotel Residence Torino Centro – an upgraded convent behind Porta Susa train station. The huge rooms have mosaic floors and some have private terraces. A buffet breakfast is served in the swish coffee bar/shop downstairs (Corso Inghilterra 33; from £90).

Twin hotels NH Lingotto & NH Lingotto Tech are located in the former Fiat factory. Rooms have a loft-like feel with original floor-to-ceiling windows, along with cherry-wood panelling and designer furniture (Via Nizza 262; from £100).

Hotel Chelsea’s 15 rooms are not going to win any style prizes but this family-run hotel excels at making you feel at home with its top service. The romantic restaurant serves Pugliese cuisine (Via XX Settembre 79e; from £140).

The article 'Mini guide to architecture in Turin' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.