The fabulous Italian city of Parma is on the bucket list of many of us. The home of the trademarked Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Parma’s ham, Parma has culinary delights in store for you and many historical attractions. The city is rich in history and has been influenced by various cultures throughout the centuries. Its historical heritage can be seen in the well-preserved medieval streets, squares, and buildings that transport visitors back in time.
It has a strong cultural heritage with a thriving arts scene. Parma is renowned for its opera and classical music, thanks to its association with the famous composer Giuseppe Verdi. The Teatro Regio is a world-class opera house, and the city hosts various cultural events and exhibitions.
Map - Where is Parma?
Looking at the map, you find yourselves in northern Italy, in the Emilia-Romagna region, about halfway between Milan and Bologna. You are on the northern edge of the Po Valley, close to the Apennine Mountains in the south and the Po River in the north.
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- Distance from Modena: 70 km
- Distance from Bologna: 100 km
- Distance from Milan: 130 km
- Distance from Venice: 250 km
- Distance from Padua: 200 km
- Distance from Rome: 500 km
How to get there
- By bus: You can travel from Milan to Parma by bus, with a travel time of about 2 hours and a price of around €21 (return ticket). Flixbus operates rides between the two cities.
- By train: The travel time is similar to the bus to Parma from Milan. However, the price is about lower; it costs about €17.
The Old town
The Centro Storico (the historical centre) is the old town. It is also home to the Palazzo della Pilotta, the Parma Cathedral, and the Baptistery. The Cittadella district surrounds the old town and is known mostly for its university campus and student population. It has a lively young atmosphere with various cultural events and party options.
The Parma River flows through the city, and its charming bridges, such as the Ponte Verdi and Ponte di Mezzo, add to the city's allure. These scenic spots are particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.
The vibrant street life, bustling markets, and lively piazzas, such as Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza della Pace, offer opportunities for people-watching and soaking in the city's vibrant atmosphere.
Parma has a rich artistic heritage, with numerous museums and art galleries showcasing works by renowned artists. The Galleria Nazionale houses an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures, contributing to the city's cultural beauty.
Things to see
The Pilotta Palace is a monumental building complex home to numerous museums and cultural spaces. It was built in the 16th century as the ducal residence of the Farnese family. The name "Pilotta" comes from the ball game called "pilot" that was played in the courtyard of the building. One of its main buildings is the Teatro Farnese, one of the oldest Italian theatres. The National Museum of Antiquities and the National Gallery are also located here.
The Palatine Library was founded at the end of the 18th century by the ruling Farnese family, which accumulated significant books, manuscripts, and works of art. The name "Palatina" refers to the Palazzo della Pilotta, where the library is located. Its holdings include various materials, including illuminated manuscripts, ancient texts, early printed books, and historical documents. Here, you can find a Latin copy of Homer's Iliad from the 10th century and manuscripts of Dante Alighieri's works, the most significant of which is The Divine Comedy.
The National Gallery is also located in the Palazzo della Pilotta. It contains a collection of medieval and Renaissance works of art. The pieces displayed here have grown over the centuries through purchases from the city's rulers and private donations.
The construction of Parma Cathedral began in the 12th century and was completed in the 13th century in Romanesque and Gothic styles. Its ceiling is truly eye-catching, created by an Italian Renaissance painter, Correggio. Adjacent to the cathedral is the baptistery, a circular building with an exterior structure of pink and white marble.
The Baptistery is decorated with medieval frescoes depicting religious and biblical scenes. It is one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Italy. The "Torre della Ghirlandina" bell tower belongs to the cathedral, from which you can see the surroundings very nicely.
The Baptistery of Parma is considered one of Italy's most beautiful Romanesque architecture buildings. Its exterior is embellished with intricate decorations, detailed carvings, statues and reliefs. The octagonal shape of the building and its masonry made of pink Verona marble gives it a characteristic appearance. Inside, you can admire the dome and the frescoes decorating the walls. These frescoes are the work of various artists and depict religious themes, including scenes from the life of Christ.
#6 Parco Ducale
The Ducal Park was created as a private garden of the Farnese ducal residence around the Palazzo Ducale. Over the centuries, it was expanded and made accessible to the general public. It presents the formal design elements typical of Italian gardens, with tree-lined paths, fountains and open green spaces. Other green areas are the Cittadella Park, the Botanical Garden, and the Falcone Borsellino Park.
#7 Teatro Regio
The prestigious opera house was inaugurated in 1829 with the opera "Nabucco" by Giuseppe Verdi. It was commissioned by Maria Luigia of Austria, who was then the Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla. The architect Nicola Bettoli designed the theatre in an elegant neoclassical style, and it has been a place of great importance in Italian and international opera life ever since.
Many of the works of Giuseppe Verdi, who had close ties to the city, were performed here. In addition to the art productions, we can also use guided tours to discover the theatre's interior, the rooms, and the stage and learn more about its history.
The Farnese Theater was built between 1617 and 1618 by the order of Duke Ranuccio I Farnese as part of the Palazzo della Pilotta. It is considered one of the first theatres in the Italian style and one of the few Renaissance theatres still standing. The theatre is almost entirely made of wood, including the seating, stage and decorative elements. This wooden construction differed from previous stone or masonry theatres, allowing greater flexibility in design and functionality.
The Puppet Castle is a museum where many puppets and dolls are housed. It is also referred to as the Giordano Ferrari Museum after its creator. Throughout his life, Giordano collected accounts and puppets of the lives and work of generations of puppeteers.
#10 Basilica di Santa Maria della Steccatas
The basilica was built in the 16th century in the Renaissance style. The name "della Steccata" refers to the iron "fences" or "lattices" that once surrounded the church and protected it against hostile forces. One of its most remarkable elements is the dome decorated with frescoes depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, painted by Parmigianino, the famous Renaissance painter. These frescoes are considered one of the painter's masterpieces. It has an imposing facade, its columns and pillars are reminiscent of the Renaissance architectural style.
Sights in the area
Here are some ideas if you want to explore outside the city walls:
#11 Regional Park of the Forests of Carrega
There is a protected natural area nearby, which covers approximately 1027 hectares. "Carrega" refers to an ancient medieval defensive structure, "Carrega Castle", located within the park. This castle was built as a defensive fortress in the 13th century and is one of the park's main historical and architectural points of interest. Many programs are offered here for visitors. Hiking, cycling, bird watching, to name a few. There are well-marked trails that run through the forest, where you can observe a variety of plant and animal species.
#12 Castello di Felino (Felino Castle)
The Felino Castle is a hotel and event centre a few kilometres from the city. It was made in the 13th century in a medieval architectural style. The Marquis Pallavicino built it as a defensive structure and noble residence. Over the centuries, it has undergone many modifications and expansions, resulting in an interesting architectural complex. If you visit here, you can see the salami museum in the castle, and of course, you can also buy the delicious local meat.
The castle, located 20 km away, was built in the 15th century by the order of Pier Maria II de' Rossi, a noble military leader. It was built on a hill overlooking the Parma Valley. This site provided and continues to provide conservation benefits and stunning views. Its architecture reflects the transition from medieval defensive structures to Renaissance palaces. Its rooms are decorated with beautifully preserved frescoes depicting scenes from mythology, chivalry, and courtly love. The castle is also famous for the romantic story between Pier Maria II de' Rossi and his lover Bianca Pellegrini. According to legend, the frescoes here actually depict their love story.
The Labyrinth of Masone is a unique and extensive bamboo labyrinth located near Fontanellato, not far from Parma (25 km). This is one of the largest bamboo mazes in the world. It covers a huge area and is made up of towering bamboo plants, creating a complex and interesting maze for visitors. The types of bamboo used in the labyrinth vary in size, colour, and structure. This diversity adds to the maze's visual appeal and provides an immersive experience in an ever-changing environment.
Parmigiano-Reggiano, often called "Parmesan", is a hard, grainy cheese from Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and parts of Bologna and Mantua. The name "Parmigiano-Reggiano" is protected by the regulations of the European Union, ensuring that only cheeses produced in the designated region and compliance with strict guidelines can be named by this name.
- To this day, it is made using traditional methods that have remained unchanged for centuries.
- It is produced from high-quality cow's milk, following rules such as regarding the breed and diet of the cows.
- It is made from only three ingredients: raw cow's milk, milk rennet (a natural enzyme), and salt. No additives or preservatives are used.
- It is aged for at least 12 months, but many blocks of cheese can be made for much longer, up to 36 months.
Prosciutto di Parma
Prosciutto di Parma is a dry-cured ham referred to as Parma ham here. Like Parmigiano-Reggiano, "Prosciutto di Parma" is protected by special regulations ensuring the product's authenticity.
- It is made from only two ingredients: high-quality pork and sea salt.
- The types of pigs used, their diet, and the curing process are strictly controlled to preserve the product's quality and traditions.
- The ham is dry-aged with sea salt and undergoes a natural ageing process.
- It is hung in well-ventilated cellars for a certain period, usually 18-24 months, during which it develops its characteristic taste and texture.
Parma was a Roman settlement and played an important role as a Roman colony along the Via Aemilia, an important trade route.
- It went through a tumultuous period in the Middle Ages when different rulers vied for its control. The city was ruled by local families, bishops, and occasionally foreign powers.
- In the 16th century, it came under the control of the Farnese family, who turned it into a centre of art and culture. Under Prince Ottavio Farnese, important architectural projects, including the Palazzo della Pilotta, were carried out.
- During the Napoleonic era, it became part of the French Empire. After the defeat of Napoleon, it fell into the hands of the Austrian Empire.
- It also experienced the effects of the First and Second World Wars. During the Second World War, it suffered heavy bombing, which destroyed some historical landmarks.
It is one of Italy's defining centres of education, art, music, and culinary experiences today.
Parma is the secret ingredient that makes an Italian trip special and even pampers your tummy. We hope you found this article helpful. If so, save this link for later or share it with your friends. Have a nice trip! Ciao! Trekhunt team ❤️