Fun things to do in Parma, the best things to do on a short visit to Parma, our favorite activities in the city of Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese!
Colorful Parma was Italy’s 2020 Capital of Culture and the designation even went through 2021 (due to the pandemic’s freeze on travel).
Here’s our take on some of the best things to do in Parma – plus our favorite things to do nearby. This area of Emilia-Romagna has something for everyone – from foodies to cyclists, and architecture lovers to car enthusiasts. Parma is an excellent place to start your exploration!
Why Visit Parma, Italy?
Parma makes an excellent one-day stop or a base for visiting this part of Emilia-Romagna. We like visiting Parma because:
- It’s the home of Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma, two staples in our family’s diet!
- The historic center is small enough that you can get the feel of the city but not so tiny that you get bored in an hour.
- There are large green spaces if you need a break from the city.
- There’s a lively outdoor café culture, day and night.
- It’s colorful!
Where is Parma, Italy?
Parma is located in Northern Italy, between the larger cities of Bologna and Milan. It’s set in the Po Valley in the foodie region of Emilia-Romagna.
When to Visit Parma, Italy
We love Parma in the late spring (April and May) and early autumn (September and October). It can get toasty in the summer months, but there are plenty of places to relax in the shade (and you can always get a gelato). December is a lovely time to visit – during the holidays there’s a large Christmas tree in Piazza Garibaldi and there are lights and decorations in the city.
You can get a good feel for Parma on a day trip, but the evenings in Parma are beautiful – if you can, spend a night. Or, use it as a base for exploring the region (although we prefer more centrally-located Modena).
16 Best Things to Do in Parma
Eat Parmigiano Reggiano
This is the home of the famous parmigiano Reggiano cheese, one of Italy’s most famous cheeses along with mozzarella (and burrata, and pecorino…).
You can sample the cheese in town or get an insider’s look at the process by visiting a caseificio (creamery). You can’t just walk in, so plan ahead and book a visit and tasting. They’re outside of town, so it’s best to drive your rental car or to book a tour that includes transport to the caseificio.
Caseificio San Pier Damiani and Caseificio Ugolotti are both well-known and loved for their visits, staff, and of course, cheese!
Can’t make it out to a caseificio? Don’t worry, you can sample the cheese at shops in town or at a restaurant meal.
Sample Prosciutto di Parma
Parma isn’t only about cheese – it’s also home to the mouthwatering prosciutto di Parma. You’ll see prosciutto legs hanging up in town, and you should try some. If you can, taste prosciutti that have aged for different amounts of time.
You can also visit a salumificio (cured pork meat factory) and learn about the curing process. Salumificio Conti and Salumificio La Perla are located near Parma in Langhirano and offer visits. You’ll need a car to get there.
Tuck into a Restaurant
One of the best things to do in Parma is have a lunch or dinner filled with local foods and dishes like:
- Prosciutto di Parma
- Parmigiano Reggiano
- Aceto di Balsamico (balsamic vinegar)
- Tortellini in Brodo
- Torta fritta
We love Trattoria Corrieri (Strada Conservatorio, 1. +39.0521.234426).
Emilia-Romagna is known (nationally and globally) for its red sparkling wine – Lambrusco. It’s excellent with dinner, but also makes a wonderful aperitivo beverage. Sit outside at one of Parma’s cafes – scattered throughout the city on pedestrian streets and lively piazzas.
Piazza Garibaldi (with Palazzo del Governatore dominating the scene) is a perfect after-dark aperitivo spot with its bustling cafes and twinkling lights.
If you’re not a Lambrusco fan, try a classic Aperol Spritz or a glass of regional white or red wine.
Visit the Piazza del Duomo, Cathedral, and Baptistery
Take in the Duomo di Parma (Parma cathedral) and the striking Baptistery from one of the benches along the edge of the piazza or step inside. Warning – the baptistry/Duomo museum ticket is pricey, but know that the Baptistery is said to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Northern Italy. However, if you’re on a budget, you can admire the exterior and the fantasy animal friezes or head into the Duomo for free.
After your visit(s), hang out in the piazza and do a little people-watching or head to a café just down the street (Strada Duomo). Cardinal Bar and Magnolia Café both have outdoor seating and gorgeous views of the pink marble Baptistery.
Relax in a Bookshop
Parma is full of bookstores, from big chains like laFeltrinelli and Mondadori to smaller shops like Pietro Fiaccadori (or favorite).
Walk in the Parco Ducale
Leave the historic center and walk across the Parma River to the city’s green oasis, the Parco Ducale. As you enter the park to the right, you’ll see the Ducal Palace (it’s now used by the Carabinieri and is closed to visitors).
The green spaces of the park are crisscrossed by gravel paths and towering chestnut trees. Keep walking and you’ll eventually see the Trianon Fountain (Fontana del Trianon).
The park has plenty of benches and shade in the summer. It’s gorgeous in autumn when the leaves change color.
Explore the Palazzo della Pilotta
This complex is a nice place to see from the outside, with its green space and walls that are full of character and history. There are always people around and you’ll often hear musicians.
Head inside to see:
- Teatro Farnese (Farnese Theater) – wooden theater, constructed in the 1600s
- National Gallery (Galleria Nazionale) – has La Scapigliata, an unfinished painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
- Palatine Library (Biblioteca Palatina) – has one of the world’s largest collections of Hebrew manuscripts
- National Archaeology Musuem (Museo Nazionale Archaeologico)
Go to a Soccer Game
Cheer on Parma’s Serie B calcio (soccer) team from their stadium just outside the city center. The games are lively and exciting, because the Serie B teams are competing for a spot in Serie A next season.
Wander the Smaller Streets
Walk away from the main drags every once in a while and you’ll find colorful homes, small piazzas, and quiet parts of the city.
Borgo Giacomo Tommasini is a quirky shopping street and even if you’re not interested in shopping, you’ll want to visit to see what’s hanging above the street. On our recent visit, it was full of mirrors that lit up at night.
Go for a Bike Ride
The area around Parma is perfect for cyclists – it’s flat! There are paths, gravel roads, small country roads – many of which are designated bike routes.
You can rent a bike and helmet from Cicletteria in town.
If you don’t feel like leaving the city, you can still use Parma’s bike share program (but don’t expect a fancy bicycle).
Castello dei Burattini – Museo Giordano Ferrari (Puppet’s Castle – Museum of Giordano Ferrari)
This small puppet museum is a well-organized display of puppets (with styles from papier-mache to television puppets), gorgeous old posters, props, and more. You can take a guided tour and sometimes there are puppet shows.
University of Parma Botanical Garden
Relax in a quiet oasis in the city. The botanical garden is a part of the University of Parma’s museum network, and you can visit most of the museums if you reserve a few days in advance. The museums include:
- Natural History Museum – with displays of insects, taxidermied animals
- Minerology Museum
- Museum of Paleontology
- Museum of Veterinarian Anatomy – animal skeletons and taxidermied animals (currently closed for restoration)
- Museum of Biomedicine – anatomical wax models from as early as the 1700s
Attend an Opera
Famed composer Giuseppe Verdi was born in nearby Le Roncole, so it’s only fitting to head to Parma’s Teatro Regio to enjoy opera season at the beginning of the year. If you visit Parma later in the year, you can catch the Festival Verdi at the theater.
Interested in seeing where Verdi lived? Just 10 kilometers from his birthplace of Le Roncole is Villa Verdi, where he lived and wrote music. You can visit the villa and see its rooms with original furniture and walk through the park on the grounds.
Camera di San Paolo
If you’re an art or history lover, you won’t want to miss the Camera di San Paolo (St. Paul’s Chamber) where you can admire local painting legend Correggio’s work. Highlights include the 16-section ceiling and the fireplace. Located near the Palazzo della Pilotta, it’s often overlooked for the Palazzo’s larger museums. But don’t make that mistake!
Good To Know: Only 10 people are supposed to be inside at once, so go early in the morning if you can.
You’ll find plenty of high-quality gelato shops in Parma. Our favorite in the city center is Gioelia Cremeria – it has mouthwatering, unique gelato flavors. Even if your belly is full of prosciutto and parmigiano, make room for some of this sweet cool treat.
Best Things to Do Near Parma, Italy
- Labirinto della Masone (Mason’s Labyrinth)
- Enzo Ferrari Museum
- Ferrari Museum Maranello
- Lamborghini Museum
- Food Museums (Parmigiano, Tomato, Pasta, Salami, Wine, Cured Meats)
- Ducati Museum
- Autodromo Riccardo Paletti
How to Get to Parma
Getting to Parma by Car
It’s easy to arrive in Parma by car. It’s on the A1 Autostrada between Bologna and Milan.
Parking: It’s easiest to park just outside the Parma city center and walk in. Park in blue spaces (pay or use the parking disco – check the signs) or use a paid lot or garage.
If you’re planning on driving in Italy, check out our posts on:
Renting a Car in Italy
Italian Gas Stations and Getting Gas in Italy
Important Italian Road Signs
Driving in Italy
International Driving Permit for Italy
Renting a Car in Italy with a US Driver’s License
Italian Toll Roads – Driving on the Autostrada
Paying Tolls in Italy
Getting to Parma by Train
Parma is easily reached by train. The Parma train station (Stazione di Parma) is on the northern edge of the city center and you can walk to Piazza del Duomo in 15-20 minutes.
Getting to Parma by Plane
The best airports to reach Parma are Bologna (BLQ), Milan Malpensa (MXP), Milan Linate (LIN), and Bergamo (BGY). Other airports that serve Parma include Verona (VRN) and Venice (VCE).
Getting Around Parma
Getting Around Parma on Foot
Parma is easy to walk around – it’s flat, the sidewalks are large and smooth, and the city isn’t huge.
Getting Around Parma by Bicycle
Parma is very bike-friendly, and you’ll see locals moving around on two wheels. You can cycle on the city streets and on the gravel paths of Parco Ducale.
Restaurants in Parma, Italy
You won’t have any problems finding a great place to eat in Parma.
Parma has two Michelin-star restaurants that serve creative cuisine:
Parizzi (Strada della Repubblica, 71. +39 0521.285952)
Inkiostro (Via San Leonardo, 124. +39 0521.776047)
Dine on classic Emilia-Romagna dishes at:
Cocchi (Via Gramsci, 16/a. +39.0521.981990)
Trattoria Corrieri (Strada Conservatorio, 1. +39 0521.234426)
Frank Focaccia (Piazzale S. Lorenzo, 19/a. +39 0521.237970)
Tra L’uss e L’asa (Borgo San Biagio, 6/c. +39.0521.284699)
Visiting Parma with Kids
Parma is also a nice Italian city to visit with little ones. There aren’t a ton of kid-focused activities in the center, but there are enough things to do to keep them engaged for a quick visit. Or, use it as a base for exploring the region and its kid-friendly activities (Mason Labyrinth, Ferrari museums, Lamborghini museum, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factories, and more).
We hope this list of the 16 best things to do in Parma has helped you plan your visit! Divertitevi – enjoy yourselves!
First trip to Italy? 10th? Either way, check out our 200+ Essential Italy Travel Tips!
Can I bring Parma ham (prosciutto di Parma) back to the US?
Currently, the USDA doesn’t allow travelers to bring meat into the country.
What are the other main towns in Emilia-Romagna besides Parma?
Emilia-Romagna’s main cities are Bologna, Parma, Modena, Ferrara, Ravenna, Piacenza, Rimini, Reggio Emilia, and Forlì.