Overlooking the city from Mole Antonelliana, a major landmark building in Turin © iStockphoto / Getty Images
Turin may boast museums and galleries aplenty, but with ornate Baroque architecture and grand piazzas you'll be soaking up Italian elegance everywhere in this understated Italian city.
The capital of the Piedmont region is also relatively small, with a level downtown area and hillside suburbs facing the historic city centre, making it perfect for shoestring travellers to tour by foot and take in fantastic views looking out towards the Alps. So take advantage of a wide range of budget-friendly activities with our guide to the best free things to do in Turin.
Travel through time at Piazza Castello
Amble across the regal Piazza Castello, framed by the 17th-century Palazzo Reale and the dual-sided Palazzo Madama – the palace’s rear is the original medieval construction, while the Baroque facade was added in the 1700s. The building has passed through many hands over the centuries; once owned by the powerful Medici family, it became the first seat of the Italian Senate after the country was unified in 1871.
Free to meander, Turin's regal Piazza Castello is framed by elegant buildings © Marco S / 500px
Take a passeggiata through Parco Valentino
With 550,000 sq m of park grounds to wander, head to Parco Valentino to stroll along the banks of the Po River, peruse the botanical gardens, play football or visit the Borgo Medievale, a replica 15th-century village. Sunday afternoon is the peak passeggiata (stroll) time for locals.
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Get lost in the Roman quarter
All cobblestones and one-way streets, the Quadrilatero Romano area is where you’ll find Porta Palatina – the city’s original gateway from the 1st century BC – as well as the Roman Amphitheatre. Stop by the Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista on the hour to hear the bell tower chime, then visit the area’s many independent boutiques.
Stroll through the Giardino Reale
Tucked behind the Palazzo Reale, the tranquil Giardino Reale feels a world away from the traffic-filled streets on the other side of the palace. The trees on the gardens’ lower level perfectly frame the tip of the Mole Antonelliana; the 167m-high tower is a symbol of Turin and was originally built as a synagogue in the 19th century, but today it's home to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema.
Take a stroll along the River Po and admire art nouveau villas peppered on the hills nearby © Marco Saracco/ 500px
Trail the Po River
Starting at the Regina Margherita bridge, walk down to Parco Valentino along a good length of the Po River – the massive waterway cuts right across the north of Italy. This half-hour path is flanked on one side by the historic city centre and the verdant colline (hills) on the other, which are peppered with pastel-coloured art nouveau villas.
Window shop, no matter the weather
Back in the 1600s, the Duke of Savoy – a member of the royal family whose residence was Turin – commissioned grand porticoes to be built all around Piazza Castello. Over the centuries, the architectural feature was extended to more piazzas and boulevards and today Turin has 18km of covered walkways, making strolls through the city a year-round pastime, even in the pouring rain. Those running down Via Pietro Micca, Via Roma and Via Po are especially charming.
Take to elegant arcades
Turin has a number of stunning covered arcades – another royal tactic to encourage wandering through the city in all seasons – which now house cinemas, boutiques and cafes. The Galleria Subalpina near the Museo Egizio; Galleria San Federico, a stone’s throw from the Chiesa San Carlo di Borromeo; and Galleria Umberto I, right by Porta Palazzo, are all beautiful.
Although you'll have to pay to enter Basilica di Superga it does offer incredible views for free © Crystal Provencher / 500px
Scale the hill to the Basilica di Superga
The hillside Basilica di Superga can be spotted from all over Turin. There’s a fee to enter, but even just wandering around outside the lavish 18th-century church makes for a solid finish to the 1.5-hour hike from the base of the Strada Comunale Superga, rewarding visitors with incredible city vistas.
Peruse the secondhand book stalls of Via Po
Stretching from Piazza Castello down to Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the little bancarelle (stalls) selling used books punctuate the length of Via Po’s ample porticoes. Continue toward the riverfront to pop out at the impressive Piazza Vittorio Veneto, then visit the Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio across the water.
Watch live music at Piazza Carignano
Right by the Museo Egizio – which houses a significant collection of Egyptian artefacts – Piazza Carignano is where you'll find the stately Palazzo Carignano and Teatro Carignano, as well as buskers and bands on weekends, who perform for the crowds as they pass through to the high street shops nearby.
Hunt for treasures at Gran Balon
On the second Sunday of each month, the open-air Gran Balon antique and flea market sees around 300 vendors set up shop, stretching down winding backstreets to the edge of the Dora River. Bustling with bargain hunters, it’s an incredible trove of vintage goods.
Once a month the Gran Balon comes to Turin, when vendors sell antique wares © Alecia Wood / Lonely Planet
Follow the seasons at Porta Palazzo
It’s the largest outdoor market in all of Europe, with some 800 stalls stocking towers of artichokes and mountains of ripe tomatoes, while butchers, bakers and cheesemongers take up the indoor arcades. Be sure to stop by the epic Porta Palazzo to catch a glimpse of what it's like to go grocery shopping, Italian style.
Snap up a free Sunday museum visit
From October to March, many museums are free to visit on the first Sunday of every month, including the Capella della Sacra Sindone, Palazzo Reale and the Armeria Reale. The initiative was started in 2015 by the Ministry of Heritage & Cultural Activities.
Quench your thirst at toretti
All across the city, water fountains capped with a bull’s head offer up free drinking water to passersby. They’re dubbed toretti, or ‘little bulls’ in the Piedmontese dialect; the animal is a symbol of the city. Stamp on the gold bull embedded into the stone pavement out the front of Caffè Torino – it’s said to bring good luck.
Enjoy panoramic views from Monte dei Cappuccini
Behind the Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio, climb uphill to reach Monte dei Cappuccini, a small 17th-century church. It’s around a 10-minute walk, ending with fantastic views across the Po River and over the rooftops of downtown Turin.
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