Home Destinations 31 BEST Things to do in Parma, Italy // 2024 Travel Guide

31 BEST Things to do in Parma, Italy // 2024 Travel Guide

From palaces to prosciutto, artwork by Leonardo da Vinci to a flower-filled church, don't miss these things to do in Parma

by Michele
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BEST Things to do in Parma Italy
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Cultured, charming, and welcoming: Parma is the elegant heart of the Emilia Romagna region and one of the most exciting cities to visit in Italy. Located along the legendary Via Emilia, the road constructed by the Romans to connect Rimini to Piacenza, Parma proudly boasts a legacy as the city of illustrious musicians like Verdi and Toscanini, where the glorious domes of Correggio grace the skyline and culinary wonders like Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma ham were born.

Parma is making waves among travelers as an excellent city-break destination in Italy. With its relaxed atmosphere, a treasure trove of artistic masterpieces and historical marvels spanning different eras, it truly has it all. There are many things to do in Parma, including admiring the frescoes by Correggio, exploring the renaissance Farnese Theater, and strolling along the avenues of the Ducal Park. If you find yourself with some extra time, venture beyond the city limits to discover delightful villages and castles nestled in the picturesque surroundings.

Table of contents

Here’s what we’ll cover in this Parma guide:

Need to book accommodation? Don’t miss my detailed guide to the best hotels in Parma for all budgets, including apartments and family options.

A brief history of Parma

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Piazza della PaceParma boasts a captivating history that spans over two millennia. Founded by the Romans in the 2nd century BC, the town thrived as a strategic crossroads along the Via Emilia. It then endured the conquests of fierce groups, including the Lombards and Franks.

During the Renaissance, Parma flourished in the enlightened rule of the Farnese family, who reigned over the city until 1731. The city became a vibrant hub of art and culture, drawing in luminaries such as the renowned artist Correggio.

In the late 18th century, Parma fell under Napoleon’s sway. His second wife, Maria Luigia, assumed control of the governance and fostered the city’s cultural development. She even championed the establishment of the illustrious Teatro Regio.

In 1860 Parma was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy, which marked a new era of growth and tranquility. During the Second World War, the town was heavily bombed, but locals reconstructed it while lovingly preserved its majestic treasures. Soon, the city emerged as a key player in the food industry, earning the prestigious title of UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in 2015.

Today, Parma stands as an enchanting corner of Italy, offering a vibrant blend of history, gastronomy, and cultural splendor, so much so that it was rightfully crowned the European Capital of Culture in 2020.

How to get to Parma

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Orange VespaParma enjoys the privilege of being strategically located between the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and the Po Valley. This means it’s super easy to get to from both northern and central Italy, with plenty of transportation options. Plus, it’s exactly half away between Milan and Bologna, making it a fabulous day trip destination from both cities.

The easiest way to reach Parma is by train. Just keep in mind that Parma station primarily serves Regional and Intercity trains. So, if you are traveling on a fast train, you might need to transfer at either Reggio Emilia or Bologna Centrale station. 

If you’d rather hit the road, driving to Parma is a breeze. You can take the A1 or A15 highways or the picturesque Via Emilia state road. However, be aware that the city center is a limited traffic area, so you risk getting fined if you enter unauthorized zones. Your best bet is to park your car in a paid parking lot, such as Toschi in the city center or the DUC near the train station, then explore on foot. 

And here’s a surprise – Parma has its own airport! Located just a few kilometers from the city, the Giuseppe Verdi Airport is super convenient and offers flights to a handful of domestic and international destinations, operated by airlines like Ryanair and Flyone. To get to the city center from the airport, hop on the TEP bus #6, which departs every 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can fly to Bologna and then take a train to Parma.

Is Parma worth visiting?

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Violetta di Parma fragrance

Violetta di Parma fragrance

In this guide, you’ll discover all the incredible things to see in Parma that will make you want to add this city to your travel wish list right away. But before we dive into the main attractions, let’s share some fun facts about Parma to spark your curiosity.

Parma is often nicknamed “little Paris” due to its captivating allure reminiscent of the French capital. Its enchanting ambiance owes much to Napoleon’s wife, who played a pivotal role in the city’s development. 

And did you know that Parma is known as the City of Perfume? Maria Luigia loved flowers and encouraged locals to cultivate wonderfully fragrant violets. The Carthusian monks of the Annunziata monastery transformed those blooms into a special perfume exclusively for her, called “Violetta di Parma”, which is still on sale today at the historic store, Borsari Negozio Storico. Additionally, Parma is famous for another perfume, Acqua di Parma, which Baron Carlo Magnani crafted as his personal scent in 1916. It has since become a symbol of Italian sophistication. 

As you explore, you’ll discover a city filled with vibrant colors, though one shade shines above all: Parma Yellow. The Farnese family used this color to symbolize their opulence. Then, in the 18th century, the French architect Alexandre Petitot, responsible for much of the city’s urban planning, incorporated yellow into his renovations, drawing inspiration from the golden houses along Strada Sant’Anna and Strada San Michele, which paid homage to the blonde hair of Princess Isabella of Bourbon, the daughter of the then Duke of Parma. Today, Parma Yellow gracefully adorns local icons, such as the elegant packaging of Acqua di Parma and the iconic Ferrari logo, leaving an everlasting impression of timeless charm. 

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Prosciutto di Parma with breadstick

Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham)

Finally, the local cuisine is to die for, with a kaleidoscope of mouthwatering dishes ranging from delicious slices of prosciutto crudo di Parma to handmade tortelli di erbetta topped with generous shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Not to miss is a shoe-shaped sweet treat called Scarpetta di Sant’Ilario, paying tribute to the city’s patron saint, Ilario. Legend has it that once upon a time, Bishop Ilario of Poitiers visited Parma with worn-out shoes, and a kind-hearted shoemaker offered him new ones. To his astonishment, the saint’s old shoes magically turned into glistening gold in the morning.

31 BEST things to do in Parma, Italy

Parma is a wonderful small city that offers a wide range of attractions and activities. To familiarize with the city and its delicious cuisine, you may consider taking this private experience to explore Parma as a local. It combines visits to famous landmarks with opportunities to savor the region’s delicious cuisine and fine wines.

1. See where Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma are made

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese wheelsNo trip to Parma would be complete without immersing yourself in the world of  Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma. You can easily visit the factories where these famous local delicacies are made through guided tours that reveal the secrets behind their production.

One highly recommended option is this Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma food tour that grants you exclusive access to witness the intricate process behind crafting these delicious products. For those who enjoy a more active approach, this food tasting and biking tour is the perfect choice. And if you prefer a more traditional food tour in Parma , there are leisurely half-day walking tours that unveils the city’s gastronomic wonders. 

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Prosciutto di Parma Food tour - Aging racks

For the perfect multi-day food tour of Emilia-Romagna, I joined this Beyond Bologna tour which includes exclusive factory tour access to see how Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena are produced, join a private tortellini cooking class at a vineyard, plus exquisite 3-course meals, tastings and expert lead walking tours of various cities. Spaces are limited so be sure to check availability here.

2. Piazza Garibaldi (Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi)

Piazza Garibaldi is the heart of Parma, known for its lively atmosphere and the impressive monument dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi, a prominent military leader in Italy’s unification.  The square is surrounded by remarkable buildings like Palazzo del Governatore and the Church of San Pietro. It’s a bustling place with cozy osterias and inviting cafes where friends can enjoy leisurely conversations while savoring delicious aperitivos. The area around the square is filled with narrow, winding streets that add to the charm and create an intriguing labyrinth to explore.

3. Palazzo del Governatore

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Palazzo del Governatore in Piazza GaribaldiIn Piazza Garibaldi, on the north side, stands Palazzo del Governatore, a magnificent building that’s been the local government’s seat since the 12th century. This elegant palace combines Baroque and Neoclassical styles and features a beautiful Clock Tower at its center. The tower is decorated with sundials from the 19th century and topped with a statue of the Madonna. 

Today, the palace serves as a prestigious venue for modern and contemporary art. It hosts temporary exhibitions and workshops, making it a vibrant hub for artistic expression. Additionally, here you’ll find the city’s touristic Info Point.

Piazza Garibaldi, 17 | Open to the public only during exhibitions or on special occasions

4. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, aka the Duomo

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Looking up at Parma Cathedral and Baptistery

Don’t miss the magnificent Duomo, a stunning Romanesque-style cathedral that dates back to 1074. Art lovers will be in awe of the captivating frescoes by Lattanzio Gambara, depicting the life of Christ and scenes from the New Testament. The highlight is the dome, adorned with Correggio’s masterpiece, the Assumption of the Virgin. It’s a mesmerizing painting that seems to come to life, swirling and whirling with motion. The best part? It won’t cost you a penny! 

Inside the Duomo, you’ll also see one of the most important artworks by Benedetto Antelami called the Deposition. In the crypt, you can pay respects to San Bernardo degli Uberti, Bishop of Parma in the 12th century. The chapels in the cathedral are also worth exploring, with their beautiful frescoes. 

Piazza Duomo | Website | Open everyday 7:45AM – 12:00PM and 3:00PM- 7:20 | Free admission

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Duomo di Parma - Cathderal nave

5. San Giovanni Battista Baptistery

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Inside Parma BaptisteryNext to the beautiful Parma Duomo, you’ll find the Baptistery, a stunning octagonal building made of exquisite pink Verona marble. It was designed by the talented architect Benedetto Antelami and built between the 12th and 13th centuries. Its walls are adorned with intricate friezes, but one in particular stands out: the zoophoric frieze. This is a captivating sequence of 75 sculpted figures, showcasing a combination of real and mythical creatures that convey deep ethical and spiritual messages through their physical characteristics and behaviors.

Once inside, you can admire the remarkable cupola embellished with frescoes drawing inspiration from the rich iconographic traditions of Byzantine art. Additionally, you’ll find a collection of statues representing the months of the year, the seasons, and their corresponding zodiac signs.

Piazza Duomo | Website | Open everyday 10AM-6:00PM | Full price €12

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Parma Baptistery - Painted ceiling

6. Camera di San Paolo

Near the Duomo, there’s the beautiful San Paolo Benedictine Monastery, which was established in the year 1000. It flourished during the 15th and 16th centuries under the remarkable leadership of Abbesses Cecilia Bergonzi and Giovanna da Piacenza, two visionary leaders who transformed it into a beacon of Renaissance art and culture. Cecilia commissioned the talented artist Alessandro Araldi to decorate a room with stunning grotesque motifs. On the other hand, Giovanna invited the young Correggio to embellish her own chamber, known as the Camera di San Paolo. 

Unlike many religious paintings of the time, Correggio’s masterpiece doesn’t have explicit religious symbolism and today it’s considered one of the greatest Renaissance artworks in Italy. Hidden from the public eye for centuries after the monastery entered a period of seclusion, the Camera di San Paolo finally resurfaced in the late 18th century, earning its rightful place on every Parma itinerary. 

Strada Macedonio Melloni, 3 | Open 9:30Am-5:30PM on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays and 9:30AM-6:30PM on Saturdays and Sundays | Full price €5

**Closed for renovations from November 2, 2023 to  January 3, 2024**

7. Giordano Ferrari Museum (Castle Puppets Museum Giordano Ferrari)

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Giordano Ferrari Museum - Castle Puppets Museum Giordano FerrariThe San Paolo Benedictine Monastery is also home to the Giordano Ferrari Museum, a fascinating museum that’s a must-visit attraction in Parma, especially if you’re traveling with kids. It’s home to an incredible collection that showcases the rich Italian and international puppet theater tradition. The museum was the dream of Giordano Ferrari, a local puppeteer, who dedicated his life to collecting artifacts and mementos related to generations of puppeteers. 

The exhibition includes nearly 3,000 pieces, including puppets, television characters, scripts, and sets. It also displays marionettes from major Italian companies from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a space dedicated to the vibrant puppetry traditions of Palermo, Catania, and Naples.

Strada Macedonio Melloni, 3 | Website | Open 10:00AM-5:30PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 10:30AM-6:30PM on Saturdays and Sundays | Free admission

8. Church of San Francesco al Prato

The Church of San Francesco del Prato in Parma is a unique historical site: it’s one of Europe’s rare examples of a church-turned-prison. It was originally built as a church by Franciscan friars more than 800 years ago in a green area beyond the city walls, hence its name (the Italian word prato means “meadow”).

With the arrival of Napoleon’s troops and the enforcement of the Napoleon Edict in 1810, religious orders were dissolved and the church took on a new role, morphing into a place of confinement and penitence – a prison. This role persisted until 1992 when the prisoners were relocated to a modern facility outside the city. Despite the change in function, traces of the prison period can still be observed today, such as writings on the walls left behind by prisoners and the windows that were opened on the church’s facade.

Piazzale San Francesco, 5 | Website | Open 6:10AM-8:00PM everyday except Wednesdays (7:10AM-8:00PM) and Sundays (8:20AM-8:00PM)

9. The Pilotta Monumental Complex (Palazzo della Pilotta) 

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Palazzo della Pilotta courtyardThe Pilotta Monumental Complex in Parma is a historic site that reflects the city’s rich heritage. It was built in the 16th century as an expansion of the Parco Ducale (Ducal Palace) and served as a hub for the bustling Farnese court. Today, it is a vibrant collection of buildings housing fascinating museums and cultural institutions, including a wooden theater and one of Italy’s oldest libraries.

The name “Pilotta” comes from the game of “pelota,” which was played in the complex’s courtyards during special events. Delving deeper into the complex’s history, you’ll also discover that underneath the complex lies the city’s largest air-raid shelter, big enough to accommodate up to 1,400 people. You can still see the mural signs that guided people to the shelter during air raids.

Piazza della Pilotta, 3 | Website | Open 10:30AM-6:30PM from Tuesday to Sunday | Full price €12, covering National Gallery, Farnese Theatre, Palatine Library, and Archeological Museum

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Palazzo della Pilotta archway

10. The Farnese Theatre (Teatro Farnese)

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Palazzo della Pilotta - Teatro Farnese - Stage BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Palazzo della Pilotta - Teatro Farnese - SeatingOn the first floor of the Pilotta Complex, there’s an amazing place waiting for you behind a grand wooden door: the Farnese Theatre. Unveiled in the 17th century, this theater is a true masterpiece of craftsmanship. It’s made entirely of red fir wood, which has exceptional acoustic properties, and adorned with intricate stuccos that beautifully imitate the elegance of marble. But what makes the Farnese Theatre truly unique is that it was the first theater in Europe to have scene changes during live performances.

The Farnese Dukes commissioned the theater’s construction to honor the visit of Cosimo II de’ Medici to Parma. But although the theater was innovative and magnificent, it hosted only eight productions in those years because of the complex stage setups and machinery required. Sadly, during the bombings of 1944, the theater was mostly destroyed. However, it has been reconstructed in modern times while maintaining its original spirit, and today it hosts unique events.

Piazza della Pilotta, 3 | Website | Open 10:30AM-6:30PM from Tuesday to Sunday | Admission included in the Pilotta Complex ticket (€12)

11. National Gallery (Galleria Nazionale di Parma)

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - National Gallery - Galleria Nazionale di Parma - PaintingsBEST Things to do in Parma Italy - National Gallery - Galleria Nazionale di Parma - Large room with white columnsIt may come as a surprise, but the National Gallery of Parma houses one of the most remarkable art collections in all of Italy. Credits for this museum go to Maria Luigia of Austria and Duchess of Parma, a woman with a deep appreciation for the arts. In the early 19th century, she commissioned the design of a space worthy of showcasing these artistic treasures that the Farnese and Bourbon families had put together through donations and acquisitions.

When you visit the National Gallery of Parma, you’ll have the opportunity to admire some famous masterpieces in Italian art history, including Leonardo da Vinci’s renowned “La Scapigliata” and Guercino’s “San Gerolamo”, alongside works by the likes of Parmigianino, Tiepolo, Canaletto, and Correggio.

Piazza della Pilotta, 3 | Website | Open 10:30AM-6:30PM from Tuesday to Sunday | Admission included in the Pilotta Complex ticket (€12)

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - National Gallery - Galleria Nazionale di Parma - Statues

12. The Palatine Library (Biblioteca Palatina)

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Palazzo della Pilotta - Biblioteca PalatinaThe Palatine Library is an impressive collection of books and manuscripts housed in the Pilotta Complex. It has a diverse range of literary treasures, from ancient texts to printed books and letters. One of its notable highlights is its extensive collection of Hebrew manuscripts, one of the most important in the world. The library was established in 1761 by Philip of Bourbon as a gift to the local community, and it continues to serve its purpose by preserving around 800,000 invaluable works. 

During your visit, you can admire the beautiful coffered painted ceiling of the Petitot Gallery and see the elegant Maria Luigia Hall, which is part of the library’s active operations. Additionally, there are various works of art to admire, including a magnificent bust of Maria Luigia sculpted by Antonio Canova in 1821.

Piazza della Pilotta, 3 | Website | Open 10:30AM-6:30PM from Tuesday to Sunday | Admission included in the Pilotta Complex ticket (€12)

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Palazzo della Pilotta - Biblioteca Palatina - Step ladder BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Palazza della Pilotto - Biblioteca Palatina - Books and bust

13. The National Archeological Museum of Parma (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Parma)

Another notable gem housed inside the Pilotta Complex is the Archaeological Museum. Don Filippo di Borbone opened it in 1760 to house artifacts from the ancient Roman colony of Valeia, on the hills of Piacenza. Later, Maria Luigia contributed significant collections of Greek and Etruscan ceramics, as well as fascinating Egyptian artifacts that can be found on the second floor. 

The museum’s collection boasts several noteworthy pieces. Among them are twelve impressive statues depicting the Giulio-Claudian family, and the Tabula Alimentaria Traiana, an enormous inscription from Roman times, recognized as the largest of its kind ever unearthed.

Piazza della Pilotta, 3 | Website | Open 10:30AM-6:30PM from Tuesday to Sunday | Admission included in the Pilotta Complex ticket (€12)

14. Museo Bodoniano 

This museum is a true paradise for graphic designers! It pays homage to the legendary 18th-century typographer, Giambattista Bodoni, renowned for his unrivaled mastery of typefaces. Designing several typefaces, one of which still bears Bodoni’s name and is in common use today. Back then, his expertise attracted aristocrats and even captured the attention of none other than Napoleon himself. Fast forward to the modern era, his artistic genius continues to inspire visionaries like Steve Jobs, who drew inspiration from Bodoni’s work to enhance the digital reading experience.

The museum features a fascinating collection of books, objects, and the tools that brought Bodoni’s typographic wonders to life. And despite its relatively modest recognition, the Bodoni Museum holds a unique distinction—it stands as the oldest museum in Italy devoted to the art of printing!

Piazza della Pilotta, 3 | Website | Open 10:30AM-7:00PM from Tuesday to Sunday | Full price €4; combined tickets with the Pilotta Complex €14

15. The Regio Theatre (Teatro Regio)

Parma’s Regio Theatre is internationally renowned as a magnificent opera house. It is famous for hosting the Opera Season and the Verdi Festival every year. The theater was established in the 19th century by Duchess Maria Luigi. Unfortunately, financial troubles led to its closure in 1868. However, the people of Parma came together and brought the theater back to life through a referendum.

A guided tour of the theater reveals incredible machinery, elaborate stage designs, and grand halls that bear testament to centuries of artistic brilliance. One impressive feature is a massive golden-bronze chandelier weighing a staggering 1,100 kilograms, suspended from the ceiling. There’s also an ancient “light” clock that marks the passage of time every five minutes, and one of the oldest decorated acoustic chambers, adorned with intricate paintings by Carmignani.

Via Garibaldi, 16/A | Website | Guided tours available 10:30AM-12:30PM and 3:30PM-5:30PM from Tuesday to Saturday, and 10:00AM-4:00PM on Sundays | Full price €7 

16. House of Music (Casa della Musica)

The House of Music in Parma is a special place that honors the city’s rich musical heritage. It all started in 1600 when the Teatro Farnese (Farnese Theatre) was opened, and since then, opera has become an integral part of Parma’s cultural identity.

Inside the House of Music, you’ll find the Museo dell’Opera (Museum of Opera). It’s a fantastic museum that brings to life four centuries of musical and theatrical history through a wide range of artifacts, photographs, posters, and immersive multimedia displays. Best of all, it’s free to visit! One particular section of the museum is dedicated to Giuseppe Verdi, a legendary figure in the world of opera.

Piazzale San Francesco, 1 | Website | Open 10:00AM-6:00PM from Wednesday to Sunday | Free admission

17. House of Sound (Casa del Suono)

As you stroll along via della Speziera, you’ll stumble upon the House of Sound, a fascinating museum housed in the deconsecrated church of Santa Elisabetta. Despite its small size, this hidden gem will pique your curiosity with its focus on sound and the incredible instruments used to capture it. 

This museum takes you on a journey through the evolution of sound technology. From the nostalgic charm of the phonograph to the revolutionary impact of the radio phonograph and the portable wonder of the iPod, you’ll witness the progression firsthand. The exhibition is divided into six distinct stations, each providing insights into the pivotal moments that shaped the advancements in audio reproduction and their social significance.

Piazzale Salvo D’Acquisto | Website | Open 10:00AM-6:00PM from Wednesday to Sunday | Free admission

18. Abbey of San Giovanni Evangelista 

One of the must-see attractions in Parma is the Benedictine Abbey of San Giovanni Evangelista. This Renaissance gem showcases the incredible talents of Parmigianino and Correggio, two renowned artists of their time. Their exquisite brushwork has left an enduring impression within the abbey’s walls. You can also see a beautiful 16th-century cloister and intricately carved cabinets from the 1500s in the sacristy, exuding timeless beauty.

Within the complex, you’ll discover the ancient San Giovanni apothecary, which dates back to the early 13th century. Now transformed into a museum, this historic site houses a captivating collection of jars, mortars, vases, and distillation apparatus, ancient medieval recipe books, and a delivery counter with a precision scale, all transporting you back to a bygone era. 

Piazzale San Giovanni, 1 | Open every day 8:30AM-12:00PM and 4:00PM-7:00PM | Free admission

19. Basilica of Santa Maria della Steccata 

The Basilica of Santa Maria della Steccata is a magnificent Marian sanctuary that took shape between 1521 and 1539. It’s dedicated to a beautiful fresco depicting Mary nursing her child, an image that became object of great devotion. The church got its name “steccato” meaning “picket fence” because of a fence that was put up to control the flow of pilgrims who wanted to see the fresco.

Inside the church, you can admire Parmigianino’s final creation – “Three Wise Virgins and Three Foolish Virgins” – above the main altar. Interestingly, the artist faced many delays in completing the painting and ended up in prison for two months. After his release, he never returned to the city again.

Piazza della Steccata, 9 | Open everyday from 7:30AM to 12:00PM and 3:00PM-6:30PM | Free admission

20. Oltretorrente neighborhood

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Ponte di MezzoIn the western part of the historic center, there’s a neighborhood that encapsulates the city’s history and is full of charm: Oltretorrente. It takes its name after the Parma stream, which it lies beyond. Today, Oltretorrente is a treasure trove of hidden gems, with winding alleys, quaint streets, and delightful little squares that burst with a kaleidoscope of colors. 

One of the most picturesque corners of Oltretorrente is Via della Salute, a street lined with colorful houses. Conceived by the Duchess Luigia Maria back in 1855 to provide shelter for the city’s less privileged residents, they stand as one of Italy’s earliest examples of public housing.

21. Arturo Toscanini Museum

If you’re a music enthusiast, you’re in for a treat. Oltretorrente is the birthplace of Arturo Toscanini, and today you can visit the former home of this legendary musician who is considered one of the greatest orchestra conductors of all time.

Now transformed into a museum, the home of Arturo Toscanini retraces Toscanini’s artistic and personal journey through multimedia supports, letters, photographs, clothing, and musical instruments. Inside, attention has been given to everyday objects including the maestro’s famous hats, his poncho and dressing gown, ensuring an immersive experience.

Borgo Rodolfo Tanzi, 13 | Website | Open 10:00AM-6:00PM from Wednesday to Sunday | Free admission

22. Ducal Palace and Park (Palazzo Ducale di Parma e Parco Ducale)

When Parma became the capital of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza in the sixteenth century and the Farnese family arrived in town, they chose Oltretorrente to build their impressive Ducal Palace, a grand mansion that could befit their noble status. Inside, there are stunning frescoes inspired by epic chivalrous poems of the time and the nature that surrounds the palace. The palace now serves as the headquarters for the Italian Carabinieri.

The Palace is surrounded by the charming Parco Ducale (Ducal Park), a sprawling green oasis cherished by both locals and tourists alike. You can take leisurely walks along shady paths lined with different trees, statues, and fountains. There’s also a serene lake with an islet that adds a touch of magic. In the summertime, kids can have a blast riding the park’s famous grilli (literally, crickets), which are tricycles with low seats and pedal-operated steering wheels. They can also explore the Alice Library to read beautiful books by the panoramic windows.

Parco Ducale, 3 | The palace is currently closed to the public; the park is open everyday 7:00AM-8:00PM (Nov-Mar) and 6:00AM-12:00AM (Apr—Oct)

23. Glauco Lombardi Museum (Fondazione Museo Glauco Lombardi)

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Glauco Lombardi Museum - Maria Luigia of Austria PortraitThis museum is named after Glauco Lombardi, a passionate collector, and it showcases historical and artistic artifacts from the ducal period of Parma in the 18th and 19th centuries he gathered through his life. The main focus of the museum is on Maria Luigia, the second wife of Napoleon and the Duchess of Parma in the 19th century. She was an extraordinary woman known for her patronage of the arts, her talent as a painter, and her caring nature as a ruler. She dedicated herself to the well-being of the local people and supported numerous projects for their benefit, earning the nickname “The Good Duchess”.

The museum exhibits a variety of items, including portraits, one of her dresses, letters, diaries, jewelry, and even fishing equipment, one of Maria Luigia’s many passions. Additionally, it houses a collection of works by Italian and French artists who thrived under her patronage.

Palazzo di Riserva – Strada G. Garibaldi, 15 | Website | Open 9:30AM-4:00PM from Tuesday to Saturday and 9:30AM-7:00PM on Sundays and National Holidays | Full price €7

24. Da Pepén

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Da Pepén - Pastry with ricotta, mortadella and spanichDa Pepén is a highly acclaimed local favorite and an absolute must-visit in Parma. Tucked away in the charming alleyways of the city center, this historic sandwich joint prides itself on using only the finest locally sourced ingredients. Their mouthwatering sandwiches are well worth the wait in line, but seating options are limited. You can either enjoy your sandwich while standing or grab it to go for a delightful picnic.

One of their must-try sandwiches at Da Pepén is the Spaccaballe, which translates to “pain in the ass” in homage to a demanding patron. It features succulent roast pork with a fiery kick of chili. Another delicious option is the Carciofa, a savory pie filled with artichokes and cheese. For the more adventurous eaters, there’s the Pesto di cavallo crudo, a raw horse meat concoction. Don’t forget to pair your sandwich with a generous glass of Lambrusco wine, the region’s pride and joy. 

Vicolo Sant’Ambrogio, 2/C | Website | Open 09:00AM-2:45PM and 4:00PM-7:15PM from Tuesday to Saturday

25. Oratory of San Tiburzio (Oratorio di San Tiburzio)

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Oratory of San Tiburzio - Oratorio di San Tiburzio - Flowers hanging from ceiling

The Oratory of San Tiburzio is a fascinating place to visit in Parma. While no longer a place of worship, it stands as a remarkable example of local Baroque artistry. The Oratory has a long history, dating back to the 5th century when the first Christian church in Parma was built there. In 1875, it was bought by the Congregation of Charity, an organization that takes care of people in need. Today, the Oratory is home to a beautiful floral installation called “Florilegium” by British artist Rebecca Louise Law. It features 200,000 flowers that symbolize Parma’s community.

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Farmacia S. Filippo Neri - Ancient Pharmacy - Wall of bottles

San Filippo Neri Pharmacy

Next to the Oratory, you’ll find the San Filippo Neri Pharmacy, which was established in 1789. It was a place where medicines were crafted for the poor and sick in Parma. This continued until the National Health Service was introduced in the 20th century. You can explore its halls filled with ancient tools and weathered wooden shelves, learning about the development of healthcare and pharmaceutical practices from the 17th to the 20th century.

Borgo Palmia, 6 | Open 10:00AM-12:30PM and 2:30PM-5:30PM on weekends (10:00AM-12:30PM and 4:00PM-7:00PM on June and July) | Tickets €2

26. Piazza Ghiaia market and the hidden Roman bridge (Mercato della Ghiaia)

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Florist at Mercato della GhiaiaIn the historic center of Parma, Piazza Ghiaia has been the city’s commercial hub since the Middle Ages. The waters of the Parma river once meandered through this very spot, but during the great flood of 1177 it altered its course, leaving this area dry. With time, the area evolved into a tapestry of trade and community. Even today, Piazza Ghiaia remains a hub of activity, hosting lively markets and vibrant festivals.

The real surprise awaits underneath the piazza, where an archaeological dig reveals the remnants of the ancient stone bridge that once spanned the river in its previous course. Surely a must-see in Parma.

The weekly market in Piazza Ghiaia takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays 7:00AM-2:00PM

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Ancient Roman Bridge underground BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - Ancient Roman Bridge near Mercato della Ghiaia

27. Grab a coffee from Torrefazione Anceschi 

Fans of coffee must visit Torrefazione Anceschi on Strada Garibaldi, one of Parma’s iconic historical bars. Stepping inside, you’ll be greeted by an enchanting atmosphere filled with the irresistible aroma of freshly brewed coffee.

With a history spanning over 90 years, this beloved establishment traces its origins back to the late 1920s when Sante Anceschi started to import coffee beans from exotic lands that he then roasted to perfection and distributed to various outlets across the city. The result was a delicious blend that’s earned a reputation as one of the finest in the entire city. You can bring a piece of this coffee paradise home by purchasing their freshly roasted coffee beans by weight. It’s a delightful souvenir that will remind you of your wonderful trip to Parma.

Strada Garibaldi 46/M | Website | Open everyday 6:30AM-6:00PM, closed on Sundays

28. La Filoma Restaurant

BEST Things to do in Parma Italy - La Filoma - Prosciutto di Parma and frittataIndulging in the local culinary delights is one of the best things to do in Parma, and there’s no place to do it than Filoma, the city’s oldest restaurant. Opened in the early 1900s, it occupies a beautiful 17th-century building in the heart of the historic center. Its name pays homage to its founder, Mrs. Filomena, affectionately known as Filoma.

Expect a very local and traditional restaurant where every dish embodies the essence of Parma’s cuisine. The menu includes such specialties as Tortelli d’Erbetta (pockets of pasta filled with herbs), Lasagne with Strolghino ragù, and torta fritta (literally, fried cake) which is meant to be devoured alongside an assortment of cured meats, including the heavenly Culatello di Zibello. 

Borgo XX Marzo, 15 | Website | Open everyday 12:00PM-3:00PM and 7:00PM-11:00PM, closed on Wednesdays 

29. Parma Street Art

Parma’s urban landscapes have undergone a stunning transformation in recent years. The once dull buildings and hidden alleys have been revitalized with vibrant murals and captivating graffiti, breathing new life into the city. These artistic masterpieces have become an essential part of Parma’s must-visit attractions.

To explore Parma’s street art scene, there are several spots worth checking out. Some of the best locations includes the train station (look for the mural depicting the face of Mr. Giuseppe Verdi himself!), Piazzale Rondani, the bus platform in Viale Toschi, and the railway underpass in Via Trieste.

30. The Fountains Gallery 

Back in 1840, the visionary Maria Luigia commissioned the construction of an aqueduct to replace the older section built under Ottavio Farnese way back in 1574. She did this to facilitate the inspection of the aqueduct pipes within the city, enabling swift identification and repair of any hidden leaks.

The Fountains Gallery is what remains of Maria Luigia’s ambitious aqueduct project. Today it offers visitors an extraordinary underground experience, surely one of the most unusual things to do in Parma. Descending up to 4 meters below the city’s surface, you will embark on a captivating journey brimming with historical significance.

Piazza Garibaldi | Visits are available only at certain times of the year | Book here | Tickets €10

31. Botanic Garden 

The Botanic Garden of Parma is an oasis of peace and tranquility with a mesmerizing array of plants and flowers from around the globe, each unveiling a captivating tales. It was established in 1770 by the Bourbons on the site of the Garden of the Simples commissioned by the Farnese Dukes in the 1600s for the cultivation of medicinal herbs. Be sure not to miss the centenary Gingko Biloba planted in the 18th century and the fascinating carnivorous plants.

Within the Botanic Garden stands the Museum of Natural History, where you can explore the scientific collections curated by renowned naturalists, including an interesting Congolese ethnographic collection from the 20th century.

Via Farini, 90 | Website | Open 10:00AM-5:00PM from Tuesday to Friday | Free admission

Need to book accommodation? Don’t miss my detailed guide to the best hotels in Parma for all budgets, including apartments and family options.

Don’t miss my guide on what to eat in Emilia Romagna

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