Parma Travel Guide

What to See and Do in Parma

Parma, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Parma, in northern Italy, is famous for its art, architecture, and culinary specialties, but is somewhat off the radar of the millions of tourists who come to Italy every year. Parma is an elegant city with a compact historic zone and its Romanesque cathedral and 12th-century Baptistery are stunning. If you're touring northern Italy, Parma is certainly worth a day, or two or three days, of your time.

Parma Location & Transportation

Parma is in the Emilia Romagna Region between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, south of Milan and north of Florence. Major cities nearby include Modena, Bologna, Reggio Emilia, and Piacenza.

Parma is on the train line from Milan to Ancona. There are also a few daily direct trains to and from Rome, otherwise, you can change trains in Bologna to reach Parma. By car, Parma is reached from the A1 Autostrada. There is also a small airport. Parts of Parma, including the historic center, have traffic restrictions but there are pay parking lots nearby. There are also free parking lots outside the city, connected to the city by a shuttle bus. Parma is served by a good network of public buses, both in the city and to outlying areas.

What to See in Parma

The tourist office is in the town hall, or comune, at Piazza Garibaldi 1.

  • Parma's Cathedral is a great example of Romanesque architecture. The Cathedral was completed in the 12th century and has an octagonal dome unusual for that time period. Lions guard the porch and the bell tower is topped by a gilt copper angel. The inside is heavily decorated with beautiful frescoes, including the astounding cupola, painted by Renaissance master Correggio. 
  • The Baptistery, dating from the 12th century, is built of pink marble in an octagonal shape. Construction began in 1196 and was completed in 1307. The low part is decorated with bas-relief sculptures and the doors are all elaborately decorated. Inside are sculptures depicting the months, seasons, and Zodiac signs.
  • The Diocesan Museum displays items from the Middle Ages.
  • The National Gallery (Galleria Nazionale), housed in the massive Palazzo della Pilotta complex, has artwork from the 12th to 18th centuries. The Palazzo also houses the historic Farnese Theatre, an archaeological museum, a printing museum and a library of rare and ancient books.
  • In front of the Palazzo della Pilotta, the huge Piazza della Pace has an open lawn, a monument to WWII partisans and one to Giuseppe Verdi, and the footprint of a church — now defined by trees — of a church that was destroyed during wartime bombings. 
  • The Palazzo del Governatore, Governor's Palace, in Piazza Garibaldi, has a beautiful facade that dates from 1760. The bell tower has a fascinating astronomical clock.
  • The Ducal Park, dating to the 16th century, is a nice place for a stroll and a visit to the Ducal Palace with its outstanding frescoes.
  • Parma has a number of cultural events including theater, music, and opera. Teatro Reggio di Parma is a beautiful, neoclassical theater with a schedule of concerts and opera. 
  • Parma is a great shopping city, its main streets lined with name-brand and one-of-a-kind designer clothing stores, shoe stores and jewelers. There are many shops selling traditional Parma food specialties. Strada della Repubblica and Strada Cavour are both elegant shopping streets, with plenty of bars, gelaterias, and restaurants with outdoor seating for people-watching.

Food Specialties in Parma

Wonderful ingredients come from the Parma region, including Parma ham called Prosciutto di Parma and the famous cheese called Parmigiano Reggiano. Parma has good pasta dishes, food markets, wine bars, and many excellent restaurants. Plenty of tour providers offer food-focused half-day, daylong or multi-day tours of Parma and its surrounding farms. 

Where to Stay in Parma

Parma's centro storico (historic center) is compact and flat, so anywhere you stay in town, you'll be within walking distance of the major sights. Hotel Torino is a well-run three-star property with a modern annex, set right off Strada Cavour. Park Hotel Pacchiosi is a five-star just outside of the center and is about a 15-minute walk to Piazza Garibaldi. There is also a cluster of affordable hotels near the train station, itself just a 20-minute walk to Parma Cathedral.

Near Parma - Castles, Villas, and Mountains

Between the Po River and the Appennino mountain range south of Parma lie a series of wonderfully preserved castles from the 14th and 15th centuries, well worth exploring if you're traveling by car. There are also some villas open to the public. The nearby Apennine Mountains provide lots of opportunity for hiking, outdoor activities, and beautiful landscapes.

This article was updated and expanded by Elizabeth Heath.