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When you think of Italy, food always comes to mind. I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves. Italy and food belong in the same sentence. Pizza. Pasta. Gelato. Cheeses. Guh. Without a doubt, eating your way through Italy is a dream come true that all of us would like to replay for years to come. If only calories weren’t real, alas.
Anyway, before I order an entire pizza just for me (ssh), I want to talk more about food options in Italy cause they are diverse, a lot different than the recipes we’re used to in the United States. Where do you even go for the best cuisine in Italy? Particularly, Emilia-Romagna is well-known for its rich gastronomy so if you’re a self-proclaimed “foodie,” then you don’t want to skip this region of Italy on your next trip. Chefs come from around the world to learn about the specialties produced in this area. Food tours and cooking classes are everywhere, too.
Not to mention, Emilia-Romagna offers more than fine dining. As you explore Emilia-Romagna, there are also plenty of medieval cities, urban centers so well-preserved that you feel as if you’re suddenly a knight (or warrior princess, whichever you prefer) summoned on a quest. You’ll have a lot of options to weigh when choosing a “base” for your visit.
Personally, I decided to stay in Parma on my own trip to Italy. And I loved it!
Is Parma Italy Worth Visiting?
In my opinion, I absolutely think Parma is worth visiting while you’re staying in the Emilia-Romagna region. I liked that Parma was a smaller university city, one which wasn’t packed with tourists, and as a result, it was very walkable and easy to see all the attractions. Furthermore, the lack of bustling crowds made Parma feel far more relaxed than Lake Como and Cinque Terre.
Since Parma had fewer tourists, common scams happened with less frequency and blending in with the locals was easy to do, even as a solo woman. Avoiding lousy and overpriced restaurants wasn’t as much as a priority either compared to cities like Rome or Venice. Even in Milan I felt like I had to double check restaurants (although I still think Milan is worth visiting). Believe me, everywhere I ate in Parma was amazing, including establishments not far from the main squares. There are lots of good reasons to stay in Parma.
Now, if you’re a solo traveler, then keep in mind Parma doesn’t have any big social hostels, so meeting other people is challenging. However, for my introverts out there, Parma is an excellent choice for your needs.
With all that said, onto the best things to do in Parma Italy…
The Best Things to See in Parma Italy Are Food & Art!
As I’ve said, Parma has plenty of incredible food and you won’t feel hunger pangs for a second, because you’re stopping so much to sample allllll the delicious morsels. You guys, it took me a solid week to get used to the food in New Jersey after traveling to Parma, haha.
However, gastronomy isn’t the only reason to visit Parma. Like many other Italian cities, Parma has a ton of beautiful art for visitors to ogle at. For instance, I was surprised that Parma has an original Di Vinci piece at its small art gallery! So, if you were an art history major or just have a passion for fine works of art, then Parma is definitely a great option for you.
Finally Parma gives you the chance to “soak” up daily Italian life. Find a wine bar or cafe, and people watch. You’ll see a lot!
My Favorite Things to Do in Parma
Alrighty! Let’s break down my favorite things to do in Parma. I was lucky enough to spend two days in this city, so what I have listed here can’t all be done in a day or on a day trip from a nearby city. You need to spend the night.
Read over this list and prioritize according to your personal needs. Onward!
1. Parma Baptistery
You must see Parma’s Baptistery without a doubt. It was constructed between 1196 and 1216, and every inch of the walls and ceiling are filled with spectacular artwork. Seriously, the ceiling is extraordinary. You’ll crane your neck a lot. Luckily, photographs are permitted inside the Baptistery, but please remember to turn off your camera’s flash. You don’t want to do any damage.
In addition, the outside of the Parma Baptistery is also beautiful! My favorite color is pink, so perhaps I’m bias here, but still. Try to ignore the scaffolding.
A word of warning. You cannot buy tickets to the baptistery at the building itself. Instead you need to cross the square to a small museum and buy your entrance ticket. You don’t want to waste time in line only to be turned away.
2. Teatro Farnese
I absolutely adore the theater. Operas, musicals, the theater is a second home for me. Hey, I was a choir kid in high school. So imagine my excitement when I heard all about Teatro Farnese in Parma.
This Baroque-style theater was built in 1618 by Giovanni Battista Aleotti, but was destroyed by the Allies in World War 2. The reconstruction is made out of all wood and is a wonder to behold. It’s also a pretty huge theater, believe it or not! Teatro Farnese was designed to hold 5000 people. Pretty cool, huh?
Teatro Farnese isn’t a separate museum. Instead a visit to this theater is included in your ticket for Palazzo della Pilotta. But more on that later.
3. Visit a Cheese Factory
Let me guess. You recognize the name “Parma,” because of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (duh). The real parmigiano is so much different than the fake cheese we buy at supermarkets in the United States. In Parma, you will discover the intricate art behind this fine cheese by visiting a local factory and taking a guided tour. You’ll see how the cheese is made and stored, and afterwards, you’ll taste a variety of samples with a thoughtful selection of local wines. My stomach’s growling just thinking about it.
As for me, I had the greatest time posing with all the cheese wheels. Someone in my group even commented on my sheer happiness. Seriously, I was bouncing everywhere, haha. Have fun in the factories, but listen to your guide. You don’t want to accidentally burn yourself or damage the equipment.
Finally keep in mind most of these cheese factories are located outside Parma’s city center, well into the countryside. For tours, you might have to pay extra for a driver, especially if you’re not renting a car or don’t feel comfortable driving around Italy. Read the fine print ahead of time.
4. Taste Some Real Balsamic
In addition to the great Parmigiano Reggiano, you’ll want to sample true balsamic which is originally from the Emilia-Romagna region. This is not balsamic that you dump on a salad like in the United States. Balsamic from this region is the real deal sealed in large wooden barrels for decades.
Tasting balsamic, heavenly drops aged over 25 years, is an out of body experience. I’m not kidding. Sadly, a bottle of this magic stuff costs around 90 euros, so savor the tastings on the tour. Unless you wanna splurge, in which case, be my guest. I’m jealous of you.
5. Eat Raw Horse Meat (No, I’m Not Kidding…)
Another specialty in Parma is raw horse meat. I know, I know. It’s definitely an unusual meal if you’re like me and grew up in the United States. Horses are pets to us. The thought of eating one is … off putting for some people due to cultural differences. And, if you’ve dietary restrictions, no pressure. Skip this suggestion.
As for me, I’m the sort of traveler who wants to try everything at least once. And when given the opportunity to eat raw horse meat, I took it.
I’d recommend two places to try “pesto di cavallo.” If you’re on a budget, check out Pepen, which is known for delicious sandwiches including horse tartare. Try not to go to Pepen in the middle of lunch hour. You’ll wait awhile for your food. For travelers willing to splurge, then go to Ristorante Gallo d’Oro and indulge as much as you want. I also recommend their pumpkin tortellini. And tiramisu. So. So. Good.
6. People Watch in Piazza Garibaldi
As a solo traveler, people watching is a fantastic activity. Piazza Garibaldi is the main square in Parma. On a sunny day, find and bench and watch all the action around you. Every so often, you’ll see street performers, but not nearly as much as in more touristic cities.
Travel isn’t only about zipping to a million attractions and taking perfect pictures for your Instagram account. Rather being in a new place forces you to be in the moment. Take a break and enjoy a traditional Italian piazza. You won’t regret the quiet moments.
7. Cattedrale di Parma
In addition to the Baptistery, you need to check out Parma’s stunning cathedral. I know. Not a surprise, right? All European cities, big and small, have gorgeous churches. I thought Parma’s cathedral was one of the more memorable places, though.
Construction began in 1059. The dome is a fresco Renaissance painter Antonio da Correggio, so don’t forget to look upwards as you’re exploring the inside of the cathedral.
8. Palazzo della Pilotta
Do you like art? Of course you do. Then go to Palazzo della Pilotta, which is a complex right in the center of historical Parma. You’ll definitely want to visit Galleria nazionale di Parma, which includes La Scapigliata by Leonardo da Vinci. It’s not a huge art gallery meaning you can see most of the pictures within a single afternoon. Palazzo della Pilotta is also home to Parma’s National Archaeological Museum.
And, like I said earlier in the post, you’re also able to visit Teatro Farnese on this trip to Palazzo della Pilotta. Without a doubt, your ticket gives you a lot of “bang” for your buck.
9. Eat Gelato at Emilia Cermeria
You can’t visit Italy (or Parma!) without eating as much gelato as your stomach is able to physically hold. I ate gelato every single day in Italy. My stomach has zero regrets. Zero.
As for Parma, my absolute favorite place to grab a cone of gelato was at Emilia Cermeria. Oh my god, I wanted to move into this place and never leave it. Emilia Cermeria has stores all over Italy so you might be lucky enough to go here multiple times. Jealous.
Without a doubt, going to Emilia Cermeria is one of the best things to do in Parma Italy.
How Do I Get to Parma?
Luckily for you, Parma is really easy to reach due to Italy’s reliable train connections. For example, I went from Milan to Parma, and the entire train ride took about an hour and fifteen minutes. The train was on time with plenty of comfortable seating. Milan departures terminate in Bologna, so make sure that you don’t fall asleep and get off at the right stop.
Parma’s train station is about a fifteen minute walk away from the city center. You might want to find a cab if you’re carrying tons of bags or if it’s raining or snowing. What can I say. I don’t like lugging heavy suitcases around when I don’t have to do it, haha.
Lastly, if you’re arriving by plane, nearby cities such as Bologna have frequent international connections, making Parma a possible first city to stay in.
I hope you enjoyed reading about the best things to do in Parma Italy! Have you ever been to Parma? How about Emilia Romagna? Share your thoughts in the comments.