The Top Things to See and Do in Parma, Italy

Photo of Richard Franks
Freelance Travel & Music Writer30 July 2021

Visiting Parma is worthwhile just for its amazing food, with parmesan cheese and parma ham topping the list of must-eat produce. But art and culture lovers will also fall in love with the romanesque cathedral, Roman ruins, Renaissance art and famous opera house.

Think of Parma, and prosciutto ham and parmesan cheese probably spring to mind. But there are plenty of other delights to sink your teeth into in this ancient city, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Alongside the many culinary offerings of Parma, it has world-leading art, Roman ruins, Renaissance frescoes and opera houses to explore. Here are the top things to see and do in Parma.

Visit Galleria Nazionale

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Roman statues, National Gallery, Parma, Emilia Romagna, Italy, Europe
© Robert Harding / Alamy Stock Photo
The iconic Palazzo della Pilotta, home to the Galleria Nazionale, houses the main art collection in the city and is a must-visit spot for fans of Old Masters paintings. Over 700 pieces are on show here – from Leonardo da Vinci’s famous unfinished painting Head of a Woman to the fascinating oil painting Turkish Slave by renowned local artist Parmigianino. Various exhibitions centred around everything from the art of 14th-century Parma to Correggio’s High Renaissance paintings make this gallery worth the trip.

Dig into some parmesan and parma ham

Cafe, Charcuterie, Italian, $$$
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parma ham (jamon) traditional Italian meat specialties
© Olga Kriger / Alamy Stock Photo

Of course, no visit to Parma would be complete without tucking into the finest delicacies the city has to offer: parmesan cheese and parma ham. Don’t miss the charcuterie boards at Degusteria Romani, a cafe in the heart of the city, which piles delicious prosciutto and nutty parmesan next to salty local salami and bread.

Learn the history of the region at Museo Glauco Lombardi

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Set across seven exhibition halls in the Palazzo di Riserva is the Museo Glauco Lombardi, a museum dedicated to the art and history of Maria Luigia of Habsburg – the Duchess of Parma between 1814 and 1847 – and her first husband, Napoleon Bonaparte. Opened in 1961, the museum showcases local 19th-century artefacts, from painting and jewellery to documents and furniture.

Sip wine at Enoteca Fontana

Restaurant, Wine Seller, Italian, $$$
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Italy, Emilia Romagna, Parma, Piazza Duomo, Strada Farini, Enoteca Fontana
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They say you don’t know Parma until you’ve squeezed your way into Enoteca Fontana. Regional wines and moreish nibbles take centre stage at this bustling wine bar where, if you’re lucky enough to get a seat, you can ask the local drinkers for recommendations and enjoy glasses for as little as €2. Think of this place as a crash course in regional Italian wines. Your head won’t thank you tomorrow, but at least your bank balance will be intact.

Visit the Cattedrale di Parma

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Consecrated in 1106, the romanesque cathedral is understandably one of the top attractions in the city. Two great marble lions guard the entrance and inside, amazingly colourful frescoes – including Correggio’s Assumption of the Virgin, one of the finest pieces of the Italian High Renaissance – steal the show. Below, the crypt preserves the relics of San Bernardo degli Uberti, patron saint of the diocese. Entry is free and guided tours are recommended to get the most out of your visit.

Explore the Battistero di Parma

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Romanesque frescoes inside the dome of the Romanesque Baptistery of Parma, circa 1196, (Battistero di Parma), Italy.
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

The baptistry, conveniently located next door to the cathedral, dates back to the 12th century and is a stunning example of romano-gothic architecture in the region. Its unassuming pink-and-white marble facade undersells the magnificence that awaits inside: just like the cathedral, its interior is covered with mesmerising frescoes. It’s a small building that punches above its weight in terms of the art and history to discover – and there are local guides available who can talk you through its beauty in detail.

Watch the opera at Teatro Regio

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A host venue of the Verdi Festival – a month-long annual celebration of composer Giuseppe Verdi – this intimate opera house has been entertaining Parma citizens since the 1800s. Verdi, who was born nearby, performed most of his renowned operas at the theatre. Thanks to its reputation, contemporary performances – including Verdi’s Requiem – are of a very high standard and you’ll need to plan ahead if you’d like to attend, as tickets sell out very quickly.

Stroll around the Piazza Garibaldi

Historical Landmark
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Governor's Palace, Palazzo del Governatore, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Italy, Europe.
© steven gillis hd9 imaging / Alamy Stock Photo
Piazza Garibaldi is a humming, cobbled square on the site of an ancient Roman forum, now known for its top-rated bars and shops. This bustling interchange is also home to the Giuseppe Garibaldi statue, alongside the Governor’s Palace, an arts, exhibitions and events centre in a former government building. Keep an eye out for the unique sundials that adorn the building.

Take five in Parco Ducale

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Escape the buzz of Parma city centre at Parco Ducale, a former royal residence that’s now a public park, on the banks of the Parma stream. This expansive green lung is just a 10-minute stroll from the heart of the city but its tree-lined avenues, calming fountains and wildlife pond give it an entirely more tranquil vibe. The 16th-century Ducal Palace, which was once the Duke of Parma’s lavish palace and now used by the carabinieri (domestic police), sits within in the park.

Listen up at Casa del Suono

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At the unusual Casa del Suono – or the House of Sound – you get a unique opportunity to learn about the weird and wonderful history of music technology. This quirky museum, housed within a deconsecrated 17th-century church, touches on everything from vinyl records to transistor radios and more modern digital music. It’s an excellent way for an audiophile – or anyone interested in the development of music – to while away a few hours.
These recommendations were updated on July 30, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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