Things to Do & Must-See Attractions 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.
The resort town of Portofino on the Italian Riviera is a popular bolthole for the international jet set, but the town offers more than tony boutiques and glorious sea views. It's also home to an important protected marine area (Area Marina Protetta, known for its pristine coastline and diverse marine life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The port city of Genoa (Genova may seem like an overwhelming monolith at first glance but it is actually a patchwork of distinct neighborhoods, each with a unique history and identity. One of the most scenic is hilltop Castelletto, home to the Spianata di Castelletto overlook, offering one of the most commanding views over the city.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Piedmont & Liguria
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.
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.
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.
Ringed by neoclassical buildings, flanked by busy roads, and crowned with a statue that commemorates the workers who built the trans-Alpine Fréjus Rail Tunnel, the Piazza Statuto is one of Turin’s most prominent public squares. Completed in 1865, it was built while Turin was the newly formed Kingdom of Italy’s first capital city.
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.
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.
In a country as storied as Italy, it comes as no surprise that there are important historic sites buried beneath its modern metropolises. Almost every major Italian city has hidden underground attractions; Turin’s is the Pietro Micca Museum (Museo Pietro Micca), with a network of tunnels that ultimately saved the city from the French in 1706.
Portofino is the crown jewel of the Italian Riviera, a cheerful clutch of pastel-colored houses lining the waterfront and backed by steep wooded hills of Liguria’s coast. High above this coastline sits the pretty Church of San Giorgio, its sunny yellow facade overlooking a scenic square with magnificent views of the harbor below.
The soaring square dome and spire of the Mole Antonelliana is Turin’s most recognizable landmark and home to the National Cinema Museum, where the vast collection of silver-screen memorabilia draws film buffs from around the world. Take the glass elevator to the top of the dome for sweeping views across the city.
The Aquarium of Genoa is not only the largest aquarium in Italy, but also the most extensive exhibition of marine biodiversity in Europe. Situated in Genoa’s Old Port, more than 70 different tanks hold 1.6 million gallons of water and 12,000 animals. Visitors can see sharks, dolphins, manatees, penguins, seals, jellyfish, and much more.
Genoa’s Palazzi dei Rolli are a group of 42 residences, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, that were listed on the city’s register. When notable guests came to visit Genoa on a state visit, a lottery was used to determine which palace would host the guest. Today, these palaces—out of 163 total homes—are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Turin’s oldest public park, theValentine Park (Parco del Valentino) is also one of the city’s prettiest green spaces. Measuring nearly 125 acres (50.5 hectares), the landmark made its debut in 1852 and hugs the River Po. In addition to prime picnicking turf, the park also contains attractions ranging from a replica medieval village to the grand Castello del Valentino.