Things to Do in Piedmont & Liguria
With over 26,000 ancient Egyptian artifacts gathered between the 18th and 20th century, Turin's Egyptian Museum (Museo Egizio) houses one of the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities in the world. The galleries were extensively enlarged, renovated, and reorganized, reopening in 2015, and the result is both spectacular and engaging.
In Turin’s Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, the faithful and curious from across the globe gather to view the Holy Shroud of Turin (Sacra Sindone), one of most famous and controversial religious relics in Italy. This linen cloth is said to have been laid over Jesus’ body after his crucifixion, though its authenticity remains debated.
The Ligurian town of Portofino is popular with visitors for its pastel-colored buildings, but it's also home to an important protected marine area – the Portofino Marine Reserve (Area Marina Protetta di Portofino). The site covers just under 350 hectares of the sea off the coast around the whole promontory (not just the town), and was established in 1999. It is known for its diverse sealife, and its protected status helps ensure those populations remain.
Different parts of the protected area include Zone A, where everything from boating and anchoring to diving is prohibited, and Zone C, where there are far fewer restrictions on activities. In some places, visitors are more than welcome to swim and even kayak, stand-up paddleboard or dive.
Portovenere’s brightly painted buildings, lively harbor, and clifftop castle make it a quintessential Italian Riviera town, perched on the rocky shores of the Gulf of Poets (Golfo dei Poeti). An easy detour from the wildly popular Cinque Terre National Park, this comparatively tranquil seaside town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a rich history, delicious seafood, and stunning backdrop of cliffs, caves, and coves—making it ideal for hiking, mountain biking, or just relaxing.
In the heart of Genoa’s old town, Genoa Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Lorenzo) is the most important church in the city. It’s a soaring Gothic and Romanesque masterpiece in alternating bands of black and white marble, where the magnificent art and architecture serve as reminders of this former maritime republic’s historic wealth and power.
Elegant Turin, which was the seat of the Duchy of Savoy before briefly becoming the first capital of unified Italy, is home to a number of sumptuous historic palaces and castles. The Royal Palace of Turin (Palazzo Reale di Torino) is among the most opulent, and today it houses the Royal Museums, with an extensive art collection, armory, and gardens.
Alba is best known for its UNESCO-listed countryside and its precious white truffles, but this town in Piedmont has a history that dates back to ancient Rome. Explore this past by heading deep below the town center to admire Roman ruins—including a temple, forum, theater, and domus—as well as medieval tower foundations.
Piazza de Ferrari is the expansive main square in Genoa, separating the historic district from the modern city center. Its large fountain is the square’s centerpiece and a central meeting point for tourists and locals alike. The piazza is named for Raffaele de Ferrari, who donated a lot of money to help expand Genoa’s port in the 1800s.
To stroll through Turin’s Piazza Castello is to walk through the city’s history, as this vast square is home to sumptuous buildings like the Savoy Royal Palace and Palazzo Madama, the first seat of the Italian parliament. Lined with elegant porticoes, shops, and cafés, the square is a highlight of this vibrant city.
Arguably the most picturesque—and steepest—of all the Cinque Terre villages, Vernazza is indeed a striking sight: snaking narrow lanes and a crescent-shaped harbor are framed by forested peaks and glittering Mediterranean waters. Visitors can stroll the scenic waterfront, snap photos of the charming pastel-colored buildings, and explore a medieval castle before heading down to the sandy beach for a refreshing swim in the sea.
More Things to Do in Piedmont & Liguria
Turin is headquarters to Fiat and Alfa Romeo, so it's only fitting that the city is home to the National Museum of the Automobile (Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile), as well. With one of the largest collections of cars on display in Europe, this museum is a mecca for antique car enthusiasts as well as those interested in prototypes for cars of the future.
Of Turin’s many baroque squares, Piazza San Carlo is a standout. Lined with porticoed palaces housing historic cafés, and the twin churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo Borromeo, this square on Via Roma between Piazza Castello and Piazza Carlo Felice is one of the liveliest in the city.
Cinque Terre National Park (Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of postcard-worthy landscapes: sweeping sea cliffs dotted with sandy coves, brightly painted villages clinging to steep terraces, and forested plateaus blooming with wildflowers. Stretching some 4,300 acres (1,740 hectares) along northern Italy’s rugged Italian Riviera, the park dazzles visitors with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean coastline.
Turin’s most recognizable landmark—and home to the National Museum of Cinema—the Mole Antonelliana dates to 1889. This soaring tower, with its pyramidal dome and 551-foot (168-meter) spire rises above the Turin skyline, and its viewing platform offers top-notch city vistas.
Portofino's waterfront is a jewel of the Italian Riviera with its pastel-colored buildings, but the vibrancy also extends onto the surrounding hills, where the bright yellow Church of San Giorgio (Chiesa di San Giorgio) sits overlooking the Portofino harbor. The original church on this site was built in the 12th century before it was expanded and later totally destroyed during World War II. The church seen today dates from 1950, although some features are from earlier structures.
The church takes its name from Portofino's patron saint, whose relics were brought to the city after the Crusades and are kept inside the church in a shrine. The small piazza in front of the church offers wonderful views over Portofino.
One of the most important streets in Genoa’s historic center, Via Garibaldi was historically known as Strada Nuova, lined with palaces belonging to this former marina republic’s most powerful families. The street has changed names, but its UNESCO-listed Palazzi dei Rolli remain among the most spectacular attractions in Genoa.
Built in 1298 to demonstrate Genoa’s wealth after it had become an important maritime trade center, the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale) was the residence of the doge, ruler of Genoa. Today a cultural center, event space, and museum hosting rotating exhibits, the palace offers visitors a glimpse of the splendor of Genoa’s history.
The resort town of Santa Margherita Ligure on the Italian Riviera is often outshined by its famous neighbor, Portofino, but deserves no less attention. The larger of the two, Santa Margherita Ligure feels less overrun with tourists while offering similarly quaint cafes and boutiques, pastel-painted buildings, and glorious views of the sea.
The Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale) in Genoa (Genova) is one of the city’s Palazzi dei Rolli, magnificent residences built by the Genoese aristocracy during the Republic of Genoa’s height of wealth and power. Get a glimpse into the city’s opulent baroque period by touring the sumptuous interiors and art collection of this palace museum.
The Castelletto neighborhood of Genoa gets its name from a small castle that once stood on the hill. The castle was destroyed in the late 19th century, but the view from the hill remains excellent – particularly if you're at the “Spianata.”
The Spianata Castelletto – also known as the Belvedere Montaldo – offers commanding views over Genoa, including the old port, the iconic Lanterna, and the historic center of the city. The open space has benches, encouraging you to stop and enjoy the view for awhile. Don't be surprised if you see couples having wedding photos taken up there, either.
The biggest and most visited of the five villages comprising Italy’s famed Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare draws sunseekers to its sandy beach and scenic seafront promenade. The town’s comparatively flat terrain makes its two halves—the historic Old Town and the modern center—easy to get around on foot, while the surrounding hills abound with dreamy lookouts and medieval monuments.
Home to the Museo di Arte Contemporanea (Museum of Contemporary Art) since 1984, this restored royal Savoy residence outside Turin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tour the sumptuous castle interiors, visit contemporary exhibitions, and view the remarkable Cerruti Collection of art spanning seven centuries, set to be unveiled in 2019.
The town of Barolo in Piedmont is very small – less than 1,000 residents – but since it produces one of the most sought-after wines on any Italian wine list, it attracts quite a bit of attention.
Barolo is roughly 30 miles southeast of Turin, not far from Alba. The tiny town is easy to explore on foot – although some of it is quite hilly, it's small enough that you can take your time. The countryside around Barolo is covered in vineyards, most of which are responsible for growing the nebbiolo grapes used to make the town's namesake wine.
Wine lovers will likely want to explore the area's vineyards, but don't overlook the town itself. There are a number of wine shops right in Barolo, and many winemakers have storefronts there, too, where you can taste (and buy) their wines.
For one of the best views of Genoa and its Old Port, a trip on the Bigo panoramic elevator is a must. Climb aboard the out-of-this-world contraption, designed in the style of loading cranes by Renzo Piano in 1992 for the quincentennial of Columbus’ voyage to the New World, and learn about Genoa’s history as you take in panoramic views.
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