As an ancient Celtic-Ligurian city, Roman colony and glittering capital of Savoy from the 16th century, Turin is an obvious destination for museum buffs. That the elegant metropolis was the engine room of Italian unification in 1861 and the first capital of the Kingdom of Italy only adds to its historical appeal.
Booming center of industrial production in the early 20th century and linchpin of contemporary Piedmont, Turin sports a mixed bag of thrilling, high-octane cultural vices: cars, film, football, serious coffee and an edgy design scene. Each has its own dedicated museum.
State museums are free to under 18s; forget Monday when many shut. If you’re intent on packing in several musei and monuments, the Torino+Piemonte Card (costing €29/38/44 for 24/48/72 hours) is a sound investment. Advance online reservations are required for some museums, such as the wildly popular cinema museum. Of Turin’s mind-boggling 40-plus museums, these are ten of the best.
Reggia di Venaria Reale: best palace museum
It’s impossible not to gasp in awe and disbelief at La Venaria Reale, a Unesco-listed baroque palace of monumental proportion where Savoy kings and duchesses hunted, played and entertained in the 17th and 18th centuries. Think 196,000 sq m (2,109,726 sq ft) of stucco and 1600 sq m (17,222 sq ft) of exquisite wall and ceiling frescoes, 14,800m (48,556ft) of decorative frames, 1300m (4265ft) of balustrades and 10 hectares (25 acres) of immaculate vegetable patch and orchard in Italy’s largest potager (kitchen garden).
No museum better lives up to its name than the palace’s Museum of Theater and Magnificence. Historical figures and members of the court, created by Welsh film director Peter Greenaway, ‘accompany’ visitors on a dazzling 2km-long (1.2mi-long) waltz through the recreated 17th-century kitchen and other basement rooms up to the royal apartments awash with Rubens and Van Dyck paintings, tapestries, silverware, snuff boxes, all sorts.
Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli: best avant-garde art
No museum evokes the city’s rich industrial heritage as dramatically as Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli – an elevated art gallery filled with works by Renoir, Picasso, Matisse and other modern masters on the rooftop of one of Italy’s most hallowed pieces of 20th-century architecture. The Fiat factory was Europe’s largest car factory when it opened in 1923 and exploring the original rooftop test track and recently landscaped La Pista 500 garden is very much part of the unique gallery experience.
Museo Egizio: best ancient Egyptian treasures
Hauntingly beautiful anthropomorphic coffins, animal mummies, glittering funerary masks, foodstuffs buried with kings for their afterlife, manuscripts crafted from wild papyrus plucked from the Nile riverbanks: the collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt inside Turin’s Egyptian Museum really is out of this world – and all the more sensational when one considers its curious geographic location. Why Turin?
Second only in size to Cairo’s Museum of Egyptian Civilization and the much-anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum opening in November 2022, Turin’s vast collection is also the world’s oldest collection: keen Egyptologist and Duke of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel I, started it in 1630. To know your Middle Kingdom from your Ptolemaic Period, and maximize your visiting time, consult museum floor plans marked up with a 2.5km-long (1.5mi-long) itinerary on the museum website.
Museo Lavazza: best for epicureans
In a city where everyone begins the day with a fueling shot of espresso (preferably at the vintage zinc bar in a glamorous, old-school caffè such as glittering, 19th-century showpieces Caffè Torino or Caffè San Carlo), it is only right and proper that it should sport a museum dedicated to the intoxicating caffeinated brew. Historic coffee chain Lavazza takes up the mantle at the playful, strikingly modern Museo Lavazza.
Faux coffee cups ‘unlock’ films and snappy interactive displays – from Lavazza’s humble beginnings in the family casa (home) of Luigi Lavazza to retro poster art, contemporary bean cultivation and coffee production. Allow ample time for The Piazza, a brilliant celebration of urban coffee culture in a 1960s Italian village square.
Museo Nazionale del Cinema: best for families
From its cinematic location in the eclectic Mole Antonelliana – a spire-capped tower originally designed as a synagogue – to its movie-world memorabilia and interactive spaces, the National Cinema Museum is captivating for all ages. Exhibitions spiral up several floors and cover everything from the history of filmmaking to movie production and cinema poster art.
Allow bags of time for the mini movie theaters dedicated to different film genres in the Temple Hall. Dedicated cinephiles and kids over 12 might never leave the two theaters screening VR (virtual reality) films on a loop. The final visual high? The unmatched city panorama atop the Mole Antonelliana, reached by elevator or clandestine steps cinematically cut inside the dome cavity.
Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano: best for modern history buffs
Get your teeth into contemporary Turin’s compelling backstory and understand the city's significant ‘engine room’ role in the unification of Italy at this brilliant history museum. Knowing that key events of the Risorgimento (reunification period) unfolded in this very building – baroque Palazzo Carignano – only adds to the drama and intrigue.
Museo Casa Mollino: best unsung 20th-century design
To peek into the extraordinary stage-set home of Turin's great 20th-century artist-designer-architect Carlo Mollino, book a tour in advance via email. One of the most curious characters in Turin’s little black book of trailblazing creatives, Carlo Mollino (1905-73) split his time between a handful of addresses in the Piedmont capital. His last 13 years were spent transforming a villa on the Po River into a shrine for his most treasured, invariably eclectic, objets d’art. That he never slept at Casa Mollino only adds to the house-museum’s mesmerizing intrigue.
Juventus Museum: best for soccer fans
The secret to visiting Turin’s Juventus Museum – J-Museum to locals – is to time your turn around the state-of-the-art stadium with a soccer match. Match days yield the option to poke around backstage as part of your admission ticket, meaning you can view the team’s match prep and – if you’re really lucky – glimpse some of the Juve players in Italy’s most decorated football club. This is in addition to the standard ogling at dazzling silverware in the Trophy Temple, visiting a life-sized replica of the team’s locker room and watching screenings of historic Juventus goals.
Museo della Sindone: best for curios
The tale that unfolds at Museo della Sindone is gripping. The tiny museum, hidden in the crypt of 18th-century Chiesa del Santo Sudaro, documents the Holy Shroud – the 4.3m (14ft) length of linen, believed to be the burial cloth in which Jesus’ body was wrapped and acquired by Turin’s Dukes of Savoy in 1453. Post-museum, duck into Turin’s cathedral to admire the royal chapel where the Holy Shroud is kept today – well out of sight, in a climate-controlled casket.
Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile: best for car buffs
You don’t need to be an automobile nerd to enjoy Turin’s National Car Museum whose insightful exhibits dissect everything from car-manufacturing history to the evolution of motoring, car design and environmental impact.
Highlights of the car collection include a wooden ‘cart’ dreamt up by Leonardo da Vinci in 1478, the first Fiat 500 designed in the 1950s as an exercise in minimalism, and an uber-sleek Alfa Romeo Touring Spider from 1965. Ferrari, Bentley, Mercedes Benz and Rolls Royce fans won’t be disappointed either.