Parma, Italy: Day Trip Paradise in Emilia-Romagna

archway in Parma, Italy. Sabrina Sucato photos.
An elegant archway in Parma, Italy. By Sabrina Sucato
love locks in Parma.

A Quick Trip to Northern Italy: Discovering the Beauty of Parma

By Sabrina Sucato

With its central location in northern Italy, Parma has long been a hotspot for nobility and tourists alike. Although the city has passed from Roman to Turkish to Bourbon rule over the course of its long history, it has always remained conscious of its Italian roots. Nowadays, Parma has settled down from its tumultuous past and become a must-see destination for any food or culture lover.

The Parma of the present day is a quiet and charming town in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. Even though it often gets overlooked for bigger cities like Bologna and Florence, don’t let this deter you from making a detour from your travels to stop by this quaint historical center.

If you are traveling on a budget or if you just want to see an area of Italy that is relatively untouched by tourism, make sure to put Parma on your itinerary.

Where is Parma?

Located in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna province in the northern part of the country, Parma is only a short drive away from other noteworthy cities like Bologna, Modena, and Verona.

Why Parma?

Palazzo in a park in Parma.
Palazzo in a park in Parma.

Parma is the perfect spot for a day trip because it offers a retreat from the bustling city life of places like Milan or Florence without forgoing the award-winning cuisine and impressive architecture that has made Italy famous.

Even though Parma is a smaller town in comparison to its neighboring cities, it is still packed to the brim with attractions and eateries. A day in town is just enough time to stop by the religious edifices, museums, and shops, and still be able to continue on to your next destination.

When Should I Go?

Spring and fall are the ideal seasons to visit Parma and northern Italy in general. All the shops will be open, something which will not be true come summertime, when Italians flock to the south for their beach vacations.

An ornate sculpture in a park in Parma.

Stopping by Parma in spring or fall will guarantee comfortable temperatures that are perfect for wandering through

the city streets. The city feels alive during these seasons, meaning that you will be able to see it at its best.

How do I get to and around Parma?

If you take a look at a map of the region, you will notice that Parma is well-connected to surrounding cities like Bologna and Verona by street and by train.

While a train can take you in and out of the city without much of a hassle, I highly recommend traveling by car when exploring northern Italy. We found a good deal on a rental car in Italy from Alamo at the airport in Milan.

For a gourmet food tour, start in Bologna for a taste of the best the north has to offer. Once you have had your fill of spaghetti al ragù and tortellini, drive north to Modena to taste balsamic vinegar in its hometown.

From there, follow the same route to get to Parma, the home of artisan cheeses and cured meats.

The Baptistery, know locally as Battistero di Parma.
The Baptistery, know locally as Battistero di Parma.

The Baptistery, know locally as Battistero di Parma.Renting a car is best for getting to Parma because it gives you more flexibility with your trip and allows you to take in the picturesque northern Italian countryside as you drive.

Because there are so many interesting cities in Emilia-Romagna, taking a car is your best way to visit as many of them as your tripallows. Plus, when you are done day-tripping to Parma or another nearby town, you can always make a short drive back to your hotel at night.

As for getting around Parma itself, your feet are all you will need. Buy a map from a local tabaccheria, or convenience store, and wander around the city to your heart’s content. Parma’s radius is small, so everything you would want to see is always only a short walk away.

What Should I See?

For a relatively compact town, Parma has a lot to offer when it comes to sightseeing. Whether you are an architect lover, a theater buff, or an all-around city explorer, you will undoubtedly fall in love with the area’s small town charm.

A Day at the Theater

Parma is a theater lover’s paradise. The city that was home to famed composer Giuseppe Verdi boasts a surprising number of theaters and opera houses. Chief among these is Teatro Farnese, a reconstruction of the original one that was done after a bombing during World War II. The theater is made entirely of wood, a throwback to its original construction.

The Palazzo Ducale
The Palazzo Ducale

If you’re in the mood for a more interactive experience, stop by Teatro Regio for an opera performance. Once you have purchased tickets, sit back and enjoy a traditional Italian opera. If the show alone doesn’t leave you speechless, the theater’s rich design and architecture certainly will.

Live Like a Royal

If nothing else, Parma’s complex history has given it a number of magnificent buildings to admire. The Palazzo della Pilotta, home to the Farnese family during the 16th century, is a study in grandeur.

Not only does it house the Teatro Farnese, but it also contains a library, an art gallery, gardens, and fountains. Visit the theater and the library first before you make your way around the rest of the palace.

For a bit more natural beauty, head over to the Parco Ducale. After you have seen the Palazzo Ducale, spend the rest of your time there roaming around the lovely walking trails. Your stroll will take you by a lake and past some beautiful sculptures and ruins. Only in Italy, right?

Go To Church

At the heart of Parma lies the Cattedrale di Parma. This massive cathedral, which is free to enter, is one of the most impressive structures in all of Italy. Art buffs will be over the moon with the many frescoes and paintings that cover the church’s interior.

From there, walk over to the Battistero di Parma. The baptistry is an unusual hexagonal building in the center of town. You must buy tickets to see the colorful frescoes and statues that line the inside. Paired together, the baptistery and the cathedral rival the Sistine Chapel for art history.

What Should I Eat?

This, my friends, is perhaps the most important question you can ask for your trip to Parma. At the heart of it, the city’s food is what led Parma to its international fame. Both Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano were named after the region. Because of this, the people of Parma take both foods very seriously.

If you eat nothing else on your day trip to Parma, you owe it to yourself to try the cheese and the meat that have given the city its gastronomic reputation.Prosciutto di Parma and Cantaloupe

If you have never come across this combination before, then your trip to Parma is the time to try it. This dish is featured on almost every appetizer list in the city, and for good reason. The sweet and savory combination is unbeatable.

Parmigiano Reggiano and Pasta

Although this combination may be obvious, it is an entirely new experience when done in Parma. Look for a simple pasta base, like the tortellini that are popular in the region, to pair with the thick slivers of cheese on top. That way, the rich flavor of the parmigiano will stand out on your plate instead of getting lost in a sea of sauce and seasonings.

Where Can I Find More Information?

Sabrina SucatoTo learn more about local events and happenings, visit the city’s official tourism website. It has everything you need to know about the town, including updates on any festivals or celebrations that are in the works.

Sabrina Sucato is a 20-something PR and Event Coordinator for Pop Productions NYC. She is a lover of all things Italy, having studied in Bologna during college and worked outside of Milan as an English teaching assistant. She enjoys sharing tips on budget travel and local food specialties. In her free time, she can be found experimenting with new recipes or planning her next weekend adventure.

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