Parma is one of the largest cities in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy and is particularly famous for its prosciutto and cheese. With a population of 192,000 the city has seen some form of inhabitation since the Bronze Age and throughout the ages has continued to play an important role in the development of Italy.
During the Middle Ages, Parma was ruled by the Franks and was part of the Holy Roman Empire, but during the 1200’s it became engulfed in the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. During the 1800’s, the city was annexed by France under the rule of Napoleon, and then finally became a part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. Due to its long history and influence from various cultures and ruling empires, Parma has a plethora of historical sites and fantastic religious buildings.
From the beautiful Parma Cathedral and the magnificent Teatro Regio, to the interesting Museo Glauco Lombardi and the National Gallery – There is something to suit everyone’s tastes and interests! Aside from the fantastic array of attractions, Parma also has a host of amazing restaurants and cafes that serve its world renowned foods.
Lets explore the best things to do in Parma:
1. Parma Cathedral
Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Parma Cathedral is considered one of the finest examples of a Romanesque Cathedral in Italy, and is particularly known for its fantastic interior frescos.
Located in the Piazza del Duomo in the centre of the historic old town, the cathedral holds an important place in the city.
The front façade features a series of large ornate arches, and an immense campanile stands next to the church.
Inside, the cathedral has a plethora of beautiful decoration but the centre piece is the stunning fresco on the main dome.
Depicting the assumption of the Virgin, and painted by Correggio, this fresco is bursting with colour even today and is considered a fine example of Renaissance art.
2. Parma Baptistery
As the main Baptistery of Parma, this structure sits next to the cathedral but actually dwarfs it in size and stands higher than the central point on the roof of the cathedral.
Towering over the surrounding buildings, the baptistery stands tall and features some fantastic exterior artwork and arches.
Whilst the exterior is fantastic in its own right, the interior is simply stunning and is covered with detailed frescos and marble statues.
Each of the octagonal wall panels contain a separate fresco that was painted in the 13th and 14th centuries, and the higher wall sections contain statues of important Italians.
On the ceiling sections there is a gorgeous painting split into sections that each depicts a different religious figure.
3. Piazza Garibaldi
Parma has a number of charming squares, but the most notable is the Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi that can be found to the south of the cathedral in the historic town centre.
This square is surrounded by important structures including the monumental Palazzo del Governatore, the Comune Di parma and the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle.
Standing in front of the Palazzo del Governatore is a bronze statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi who was instrumental in the unification of Italy.
This is a great place to relax and there is also a series of shops, restaurants and cafes for your convenience.
4. Teatro Farnese
Located within the Palazzo della Pilotta complex, the Teatro Farnese is one of the most renowned example of a wooden theatre that stands today.
Created in the 1600’s, at the time it was also the largest theatre in the world and could hold a crowd of 4,500 people.
Although hugely damaged during WWII, the theatre has since been restored and today you can admire the amazing detail of the wooden seating and walls.
Surrounding the semi-circular seats are a series of ornate wooden arches that would have served as boxes for the wealthy elite of Parma.
5. Church of St. John the Evangelist
Tucked behind the cathedral is another fantastic church – The Church of St. John the Evangelist that was created in the 1500’s during the Renaissance.
Made of the same pink marble as the Cathedral, the front façade of the church has a Romanesque style and features several highly detailed sculptures and a bell tower that stands at 73m high.
Inside, the building has a great deal of religious artwork and beautiful decoration and features more work from the renowned artist Correggio.
Furthermore there is also an adjoining monastery that provides insight into religious history with its series of ancient manuscripts and codexes.
6. Palazzo della Pilotta
This huge complex is one of the largest in Parma and sits in beautiful grounds on the banks of the River Torrente Parma.
Constructed in the late 1500’s, this complex served various functions including a royal palace and a court.
Parts of the structure remained unfinished and thus create a strange combination of plain stone architecture together with decorated facades and beautiful arched walkways.
Within the complex you can find The National Gallery, The Biblioteca Palatina and the magnificent Teatro Farnese.
7. Parco Ducale
Parma has several beautiful parks, but non as expansive and luscious as the vast Parco Ducale.
Covering over 200 square metres, this park is one of the central places of recreation in Parma and is simply known as “The Garden”. Located across the river adjacent to the Palazzo della Pilotta, the park is easily accessible.
Throughout the park you can find various pleasant avenues lined with trees and plants, and also the fantastic Fontana del Trianon that is surrounded by a beautiful body of water.
Designed impeccably, the whole layout and aesthetics of the park are wonderful and if you are looking for a place to relax, the Parco Ducale is your haven.
8. Palazzo del Governatore
Constructed in the 1200’s, this historic building served as a major government building for hundreds of years and is designed in a Baroque and Neoclassical style.
You can find this immense building on the Piazza Garibaldi and it spans the whole width of the square – the central bell tower has a large clockface and towers above the surrounding structures.
Inside the structure is the wonderful Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art which provides a fantastic range of modern creations and exhibits that are continually changing.
9. Museo archeologico Nazionale di Parma
Another fine establishment that is located within the Palazzo della Pilotta complex, the National Archaeological Museum was founded in 1790 and has housed a fantastic collection of ancient artefacts and relics ever since.
Today, the extensive collection includes a colossal head of the Greek god Zeus, artefacts from excavations at Palatine Hill, various ancient Egyptian finds and also a collection of Greek Vases and pottery.
Furthermore, there is also a wonderful exhibit of Bronze Age and Iron Age finds that have been collected from the Emilia-Romagna region.
10. Visit Torrechiara
If you are looking for a day trip from Parma, the quite country village of Torrechiara offers a different experience.
This charming village can be reached via car in approximately 35 minutes and is located to the south of Parma – during the journey you will travel through the beautiful Italian countryside.
The main attraction of this village is the amazing Castello di Torrechiara that was constructed in the 1400’s.
This immense structure dwarfs the village and stands proudly on a small hill providing it with panoramic views of the surrounding region.
Whilst the architecture of the castle remains in a brilliant condition, the interior is well preserved too and features several finely decorated rooms including the famous Camera d’Oro (Golden Chamber).
11. The National Gallery of Parma
You can find this hugely impressive art gallery within the confines of the Palazzo della Pilotta complex in the centre of the historic old town.
This collection has been built over time and some of the works have been accumulated since the Renaissance period.
Notable artists included in the exhibits include Leonardi da Vinci, Anthony Van Dyck, Correggio and Canaletto.
For art lovers this fine display is truly monumental and the variety and quality of the works included are wonderful to behold.
12. Teatro Regio
Located next to the Palazzo della Pilotta, the Teatro Regio is another stunning theatre and is still in use today.
Although the exterior of the theatre might look plain, the interior of this structure is simply divine and is one of the finest theatres in the whole of Italy.
With a capacity of 1400, the theatre has an intimate feel and the audience is close to the action.
The circular seating plan is decorated with red velvet and gold trimmings and there are 5 tiers of individual box seats.
Furthermore, the ceiling and walls are packed full of ornate decoration.
13. Orto Botanico di Parma
Maintained by the University of Parma, this botanical garden can be found on the Viale Martiri della Liberta in the centre of the city.
Within the grounds of this beautiful garden you can find a host of different plant and tree species.
Notable variants include various Aquatic Plants such as Butomus Umbellatus, Lemna Minor, and tree species including Ginkgo and Magnolia.
Furthermore there are several different green houses that contain a beautiful selection of tropical plants and tropical fruits.
14. Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata
Another fine church in the centre of Parma, the Shrine of Santa Maria della Steccata features a Renaissance design and is a hugely beautiful building.
Whilst the exterior architecture is symmetrical and features several rounded towers, the interior is quite stunning and has a great amount of colourful frescos and ornate decoration.
Each of the four circular towers contains a ceiling that is covered with golden decoration, but the central dome is the main attraction.
Painted in bright colours with an abundance of blue, the main fresco features a scene of the assention and was partly painted by the notable Parma artist, Bernardino Gatti.
15. Museo Glauco Lombardi
This museum offers a unique insight into the world of the legendary military commander and emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte and his wide Marie.
Located on the Piazza della Pace in the centre of Parma, this museum is a fantastic place to visit during a walking tour of the city and provides a different look at history.
Here you will find a brilliant selection of photographs, artefacts and letters that centre on the commanders personal life and his relationship with his beloved wife – something that is not touched upon and often eclipsed by Napoleons military exploits instead.