9 Top Tourist Attractions in Parma & Easy Day Trips
Almost nothing remains of Parma's early days as a Roman colony along the old Roman main road, the Via Aemilia; the grand palaces and elegant squares in its center speak more of its later role as the seat of the powerful Farnese dukes and its French legacy under ownership of Napoleon's wife, Marie Louise. Across the Parma River from its compact center lies the old town, Parma Vecchia, where the Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace) sits in an elegant park. Foodies will recognize Parma as the home of the region's famous cheese, Parmesan.
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 homage 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.
See also: Where to Stay in Parma
1 Piazza Garibaldi
A good place to begin exploring Parma is the Piazza Garibaldi, where the Palazzo del Governatore, with a facade dating from 1760, displays an intricate astronomical clock, which tells you more than you need to know - luckily there is a more traditional clock just above it to tell the time. Before beginning a tour, claim a table in the cafe that spreads across one end of the square and absorb the local scene over a cappuccino.
2 Duomo (Cathedral)
Filling an entire side of the Piazza del Duomo is the cathedral, a Romanesque basilica dating from the 12th century, its broad facade making an impressive ensemble with the church's 63-meter campanile and the tall octagonal baptistery just to its left. After looking up to see a huge fresco of the Assumption of the Virgin, painted by Correggio inside the dome, be sure to descend into the crypt to see the beautiful pillars and early Christian floor mosaics.
Address: Piazza del Duomo, Parma
To the right of the cathedral in Piazza del Duomo, the massive octagonal marble Baptistery was begun in the Romanesque style in 1196 by Benedetto Antelami, who completed the biblical reliefs carved on the doorways. 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 13th-century reliefs. Even those don't normally like religious art, must admit this is an impressive building.
Address: Piazza del Duomo, Parma
4 San Giovanni Evangelista (St. John the Evangelist Church)
Behind Parma's cathedral, the convent 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 by the adjoining convent to see the Storica Farmacia di San Giovanni Evangelista, a charming old apothecary shop, with a Renaissance interior where monks sell cough drops, creams, and other herbal products.
Address: Piazzale San Giovanni 1, Parma
5 Palazzo della Pilotta
Facing Piazzale Marconi, Palazzo della Pilotta is a huge brick building begun in 1583 and left unfinished. The courtyard is so big that it was once used as a ball court. Inside the sprawling palace, are national museums of art and archaeology, a printing museum, a historic theater, and the beautiful library, Biblioteca Palatina. Galleria Nazionale holds important works by Correggio (Madonna del San Girolamo and Madonna della Scodella), Parmigianino, Fra Angelico, Cima da Conegliano, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Carracci, and El Greco, plus a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. This is a great low-key place to see the work of a wide range of artists from Italy without spending all day.
Address: Piazzale Marconi, Parma
6 Teatro Farnese (Farnese Theater)
Also inside the palace, the theater was built entirely in wood by a pupil of the great Italian architect Palladio. When it was built, in 1618-28, it was the largest theater in the world, with 4,500 seats. It is thought to be the first theater with a permanent proscenium arch. Almost destroyed by World War II bombing, it was rebuilt in its original splendor and reopened in 1962.
Address: Piazzale Marconi, Parma
7 Teatro Regio (Royal Theater)
However plain it may be on the outside, prepare to be wowed by the interior of one of Italy's finest theaters, the neoclassical Teatro Regio. It was the marvel of its day when it was built in 1829 as the Ducal Theatre. Singers and musicians may appreciate it less, considering its reputation as holding the toughest audience in Italy, especially for the works of native son, Giuseppe Verdi. Because of the Verdi connection, Parma attracts opera lovers from around the world during its season, from January through 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 wardrobe laboratory, set-painting lab, orchestra rehearsal room, dressing rooms, and the stage, none of which is normally open to the public.
Address: Strada Garibaldi 16, Parma
8 Camera di San Paolo (St. Paul's Room)
In a former Benedictine convent 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 plenty of Correggio's signature putti with their cherubic faces.
Address: Via Melloni 3, Parma
From Piazza Garibaldi, follow Strada Mazzini west across the Ponte di Mezzo, where you might be able to identify parts of the old Roman bridge in the underpass. On the other side of the river is Parma Vecchio, the oldest part of the city. Almost straight ahead, the unusually shaped baroque church of Santissima Annunziata was built in 1566 with a boldly designed dome. Other attractions of interest to tourists are the Romanesque church of Santa Croce, with good 17th-century frescoes and the large Parco Ducale. This park is a favorite place for picnics (pick up some of the region's famous cheese in one of the little shops) and for strolling along the river to the grand 16th-century Palazzo Ducale, the ducal palace. 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, great-value, impressive building, marble staircase, chandeliers.
- NH Parma: mid-range pricing, contemporary style, serene room decor, helpful staff.
- Mercure Parma Stendhal: affordable rates, convenient location, elegant decor, family rooms.
- Hotel Button: budget-friendly hotel, central location, friendly staff, spacious rooms.
Day Trips from Parma
Several interesting villages and small towns are options for day trips from Parma. About 16 kilometers away, the Apennine village of Torrechiara is topped by a large 15th-century castle, magnificently situated above the valley. It is one of the region's best preserved castles. Northeast of Parma, the little town of Sabbioneta 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.