11 top-rated tourist attractions in Parma and easy day trips

Almost nothing remains of Parma’s early days as a Roman colony along the ancient Roman main road, the Via Aemilia; the grand palaces and elegant squares in the center speak more of its later role as the seat of the powerful dukes of Farnese and its French estate owned by Napoleon’s wife, Marie Louise. Foodies will recognize Parma as the home of the region’s famed cheese, and one of the most popular things to do here is visit a dairy to watch master cheesemakers turn milk into Parmigiano Reggiano.

The 15th-century painter Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio, lived and worked in Parma, and visitors can still admire his work in the city’s churches and museums. Music lovers come here to pay tribute to two other native sons: opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, who was born in the nearby village of Roncole in 1813, and conductor Arturo Toscanini, born in Parma in 1867. A good place to explore Parma is the Garibaldi square, where the 18th-century façade of the Palazzo del Governatore features an intricate astronomical clock. Before embarking on a tour, claim a table at the café that sprawls across one end of the piazza, taking in the local scene over a cappuccino.

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1 Duomo (cathedral)

Duomo (cathedral)
 

Filling one full side of the Piazza del Duomo is the cathedral, a 12th-century Romanesque basilica whose broad facade forms an impressive ensemble with the church’s 63-meter-long campanile and the lofty octagonal baptistery just to its left. After looking up a huge fresco of the Assumption of the Virginpainted by Correggio in the dome, make sure to descend into the crypt to see the beautiful pillars and early Christian floor mosaics.

Address: Piazza del Duomo, Parma

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2 Baptistery

Cathedral and Baptistery in Piazza del Duomo
Cathedral and Baptistery in Piazza del Duomo
 

To the right of the cathedral Cathedral square, the massive octagonal marble baptistery was begun in 1196 in Romanesque style by Benedetto Antelami, who carved out the biblical reliefs sculpted into the doors. The building was finally completed in Gothic style almost a century later; it is one of Italy’s best examples of the transition between these two very different styles. Inside are colorful frescoes and more reliefs from the 13th century. Even those who are not normally into religious art must admit that this is an impressive building.

Address: Piazza del Duomo, Parma

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3 Farnese Theater (Farnese Theater)

Farnese Theater (Farnese Theater)
Farnese Theater (Farnese Theater)
 

In the huge Palazzo della Pilotta, the palace theater was built entirely in wood by a student of the great Italian architect Andrea Palladio. When it was built, in 1618-28, it was the largest theater in the world, seating 4,500. It is considered to be the first theater with a permanent proscenium arch. Nearly destroyed by bombing during World War II, it was rebuilt in its original splendor and reopened in 1962. Beautiful in its exquisite simplicity, unpainted wood lines the entire theatre, its surface undecorated by the gilding and stucco found in so many great opera houses.

Address: Piazzale Marconi, Parma

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4 Teatro Regio (Royal Theatre)

Teatro Regio (Royal Theatre) ho visto nina volare / photo rotation
Teatro Regio (Royal Theatre) ho visto nina volare / photo rotation
 

As plain as it may be on the outside, get ready for the inside of one of Italy’s most beautiful theaters, the neoclassical Teatro Regio. It was the marvel of its time when it was built in 1829 as the Ducal Theatre. Singers and musicians may appreciate it less, given its reputation as the toughest audience in Italy, especially for the work of the native son, Giuseppe Verdi. Because of its Verdi connection, Parma draws opera lovers from all over the world during the season, from January to early April, and in September and October for the annual Verdi Festival. In addition to opera, there are occasional Sunday concerts. Guided backstage tours (90 minutes) include the cloakroom laboratory, set-painting lab, orchestra rehearsal room, dressing rooms, and the stage, none of which are normally open to the public.

Address: Strada Garibaldi 16, Parma

Official site: https://teatroregioparma.it

5 Palazzo della Pilotta

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Pilotta Palace

Facing Piazzale Marconi, the Palazzo della Pilotta is a huge brick building begun in 1583 and still unfinished. The courtyard is so large that it was once used as a ball field. Within the sprawling palace are national museums of art and archaeology, a printing museum, a historic theater, and the magnificent library. Palatine Library. National Gallery owns important works by Correggio (Madonna of San Girolamo in Our Lady of the Bowl), Parmigianino, Fra Angelico, Cima da Conegliano, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Carracci and El Greco, plus a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. This is a great quiet place to view the work of a large number of artists from Italy without having to spend all day.

Address: Piazzale Marconi, Parma

6 St. Paul’s Room

In a former Benedictine monastery near the Piazzale Marconi, the Camera di San Paolo is lined with well-preserved frescoes by the Renaissance master Antonio da Correggio, a native of Emilia-Romagna. Painted in the early years of his career, in 1518-19, these surprisingly bright paintings include non-religious subjects such as Diana, the goddess of love, along with much of Correggio’s signature cherubs with their cherubic faces.

Address: Via Melloni 3, Parma

7 Heiligdom of Santa Maria della Steccata

Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata Jon Mountjoy / photo modified
Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata Jon Mountjoy / photo modified
 

The Renaissance church was built between 1521 and 1539 to house a revered statue of John the Baptist and an equally miraculous statue of the Virgin and Child. A number of local and other artists worked on the lavishly decorated interior, including the young Parmigianino, who created many of the frescoes. The large fresco in the apse depicting the Coronation of Mary with Saints was painted in 1541 by Michelangelo Anselmi. Panels on the wall next to the statue of the Virgin hold votive offerings in thanks for granted prayers.

Adres: Strada Giuseppe Garibaldi, Parma

8 San Giovanni Evangelista (St. John the Evangelist Church)

San Giovanni Evangelista (St. John the Evangelist Church)
San Giovanni Evangelista (St. John the Evangelist Church)
 

Behind Parma Cathedral, the Monastery Church of San Giovanni Evangelista is a Renaissance building (1510) with a Baroque façade added a century later. In the dome are more frescoes painted by Correggio and his pupil Parmigianino in 1521-23. Stop at the adjoining monastery every 10 minutes Historic Pharmacy of San Giovanni Evangelistaa charming old apothecary shop, with a Renaissance interior where monks sell cough drops, creams and other herbal products.

Address: Piazzale San Giovanni 1, Parma

9 Ducal Park

Ducal Park
Ducal Park
 

The grand Parco Ducale was once the grounds and gardens of the grand 16th-century Palazzo Ducale, the ducal palace. Today it is a quiet riverside park well used by locals and a favorite place for tourists to stroll along the river to the Doge’s Palace or sit on benches and watch the world go by. It’s also a favorite spot for a picnic (pick up some of the region’s famous cheese from one of the shops).

10 Puppet Castle

Four generations of Parma’s Ferrari family have hand-sculpted, painted, laced and dressed puppets, and this free museum next to the Camera di San Paolo showcases those and other marionettes from elsewhere in Italy. Faces and costumes are all individually designed to match the characters in the stories, which are also created here. The same goes for the stage sets and props. You can watch movies of past puppet shows produced by the Ferraris.

Address: Via Melloni 3, Parma

Official site: https://www.castellodeiburattini.it/

11 Old Parma

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Old Parma

On the other side of the river Parma is the old center, Parma Vecchia. To get there Garibaldi squarefollow Strada Mazzini west of the Middle Bridge, where you can recognize parts of the old Roman bridge in the tunnel. Almost straight ahead, the unusually shaped baroque church of Santissima Annunziata was built in 1566 with a boldly designed dome. Other sights of interest to tourists are the Romanesque church of Holy Cross, with good 17th century frescoes. At Borgo Rodolfo Tanzi 13 is the house where the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini was born in 1867.

Where to stay in Parma for sightseeing

We recommend these great hotels in Parma within walking distance of the old town and other top attractions:

  • Park Hotel Pacchiosi: 5-star luxury, budget-priced, impressive building, marble staircase, chandeliers.
  • NH Parma: mid-range pricing, contemporary style, serene room decor, helpful staff.
  • Mercure Parma Stendhal: affordable prices, convenient location, elegant decor, family rooms.
  • Hotel Button: budget-friendly hotel, central location, friendly staff, spacious rooms.

Day trips from Parma

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Day trips from Parma

Several interesting villages and small towns are options for day trips from Parma. About 16 kilometers away, the Apennine village Torrechiara is crowned by a large 15th century castle, beautifully situated above the valley. It is one of the best preserved castles in the region. Northeast of Parma, the small town Sandpit is interesting because it was built as a model princely residence and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a perfect example of Renaissance urban planning theories, complete with fortifications, palaces, a church and an unusual theater that now hosts summer performances.

More destinations to see near Parma

Parma is located in the Po Valley next to the main Autostrada between Bologna and Milan. Between Parma and Bologna is Modena, and not far from Bologna is the first capital of Ferrara, Este. North of Parma are Brescia and Verona, with Lake Garda in between. Across the Apennines to the south are the Ligurian coast and the Cinque Terre, one of Italy’s top attractions.

Parma Map - Attractions
Parma Map – Attractions

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