Located in northern Italy in the foodie-rich region of Emilia-Romagna, Parma is a wonderful destination for those who appreciate art, architecture and Italian food. The city is probably most famous for Parma ham (prosciutto) and sits at the gateway to the area which produces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar.
In addition to the wonderful Italian delicacies, there is plenty to do and see in Parma, Italy. The small city has delightful streets, art museums, performance venues, and a celebrated cathedral and baptistry.
Ready to explore? Here is your guide to Parma, Italy.
What to See and Do in Parma, Italy
Visit the Parma Cathedral
Parma has a lovely museum (which we will get to later), but the city’s gorgeous Cathedral is a work of art itself. Most notably, the interior of the domed church was painted by Antonio da Correggio. His fresco of the Assumption of the Virgin seems lit from within. Construction of the cathedral, known as the Duomo di Parma, began in 1074 but the intricate decorations were added throughout the following centuries.
Walk to the front of the altar to stand below the cupola to get the full effect of Correggio’s masterpiece, and be sure to put €2 in the machine for the lighting. When illuminated, you can see the swirling figures rising up towards the heavens. The Baroque artwork depicts the assumption of Mary, and it can be hard to tear yourself away from the stunning effect.
Gawk at the Baptistery
The octagonal baptistery in Parma shares a square with the cathedral, but this many-sided building manages to steal the show from the much larger church next door. The building, which is lined on the outside with pink Verona marble, was constructed between 1196 and 1216 – right on the cusp of the transition to early Gothic architecture. The unique design created by Benedetto Antelami makes this an incredibly important building, but aside from the structure, the decorations inside will make your head spin.
As the name suggests, the building was created as a space for baptisms, and the holy spot is highly painted and adorned with all likes of sculptures and frescoes.
Step inside the Farnese Theater
This unique wooden theater inside Palazzo della Pilotta was first built in 1618 by the noble Farnese family but was then nearly destroyed in 1944 when it was struck by a bomb in the midst of WWII. The now-recreated theater is still breathtaking and one of the most unique places to see a performance in the city. However, even if you don’t visit for a show, you can still stop in to admire the gorgeous space which has hosted spectacles for centuries.
Browse the National Gallery within Pilotta Palace
The National Gallery art museum is also located inside Palazzo della Pilotta. The museum house a collection of artwork which was first started by the Farnese family during the Rennaissance. The collections include works by Leonardo da Vinci, Correggio, and Canaletto, among others.
Watch a Performance at the Teatro Regio di Parma
Elaborately decorated with red velvet and gilded accents, the Teatro Regio di Parma is the best place in the city to see a performance. There is a regularly changing program of dance, opera, and music, but the most famous performances are always the classical music shows that are a part of the annual Verdi Festival. The wildly famous composer was born in Parma and there is no better place to hear his work performed than from the box seats at this classic theater in the heart of the city.
While there is plenty to do in Parma, you really should also organize a visit to the nearby countryside to sample one of Italy’s most famous foods: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a DOP product and can only be produced in a specific way in the immediate area around Parma. If you love cheese, you absolutely must book a tour of a factory to see the process of how the cheese is made and aged. Tours also include a trip to a prosciutto di Parma factory so you can also sample
Where to Eat in Parma
It is no secret that many people come to Parma for the food. The city is renowned for its prosciutto (known colloquially as Parma ham), as well as its cheese and pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano is so important here that it is even available 24-hours a day from cheese vending machines on city corners. However, there is more to be enjoyed in the city, from sweets in the morning to exceptional simple sandwiches.
Grab a Coffee at Pasticceria Torino
Start the morning with a coffee and a pastry at Pasticceria Torino (Strada Garibaldi, 61). The pastry shop is a tight squeeze but locals hang around the tiny wooden bar in order to enjoy delicious baked goods and chocolates with their caffeine fix. There is no seating to speak of, but it is worth the slightly awkward eating experience to take in the historic cafe. The family-run pastry shop opened in the 1950s, and it does not feel like much has really changed. It is best known for its homemade gianduiotti, and the chocolate busts of the composer Verdi that they sell around the time of the Verdi Festival every year.
Join the Crowd at Pepen sandwiches
The most famous food stop in Parma isn’t a gourmet restaurant – it is a humble sandwich shop. Pepèn is packed at all hours with students looking for a cheap meal and locals hungry to build their own sandwich. Scope out the ingredients before braving the counter to request your own panino. There is some space to stand and eat inside, but most people take the tasty panini outside to eat while chatting away in front of the shop.
Stop for a Treat at Ciacco Gelato
There are lots of gelaterie in the center of Parma but it is worth the short walk to Ciacco (Strada Garibaldi, 11) for the best scoop in town. The innovative gelato lab makes delicious flavors with hard to find ingredients, which sets it apart from the standard ice cream shops in the centro storico.
Indulge at F52
Classic cooking is all fine and good but for an unforgettable Parma dining experience, book a table at the modern F52 restaurant. The pretty plates are as beautiful as they are delicious, with the chef preferring to play with tradition and bring a bit of a contemporary approach to fine dining.
Take a cooking class
If you prefer to eat a homecooked meal and learn how to recreate the Emilia-Romagna specialties yourself, then there are some wonderful cooking classes in Parma. For a quick introduction, learn how to make Parma’s most popular fresh pasta, or dive into a class that includes a visit to the market before you head to the kitchen to create a multi-course meal.
How to Get There
Parma is located in Emilia-Romagna, north-west of Bologna and Modena. One of the easiest ways to reach Parma is via train. If you are coming from the south, most high-speed trains will require you to switch in Bologna, continuing on to Parma. From the north, Milan is the best place to catch the train, which usually costs under €10 and takes about an hour and a half. Here is a quick guide to train travel in Italy.
Where to Stay in Parma
Parma is a charming, compact city that is divided in two by the Parma River. Regardless of where you stay, it is easy to navigate the city on foot or by bike.
Mercure Parma Stendhal: This is where I stay when in Parma because the four-star hotel is reasonably priced and just around the corner from Palazzo della Pilotta. The cathedral is less than a 10-minute walk away but the area around the hotel is quiet and peaceful.
Link124 Hotel: This gorgeous, new hotel is located a bit outside the historic center but is an excellent choice for those driving to Parma because it is conveniently located just off the autostrada. The modern, spacious rooms are well designed and comfortable, but you will need a bus or a cab to get to the heart of the city.
Apartamento Schizzati: For those who prefer to have more of their own private space, this rental apartment is centrally located and well-designed, featuring original artwork and lovely details like exposed wood beams.
Palazzo Gozzi Bed & Beauty: Come for the beautifully designed modern B&B rooms and stay for the haircuts. This unique accommodation in the center of Parma is part salon, and the owners clearly have a passion for lovely things, in more ways than one.
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