Do you want to visit Parma like a local? Then check out 7 things to get the best out of the city.
Parma is a charming city, full of life.
The second biggest city of Emilia Romagna has a lively and cheerful spirit.
Art and music have always played a key role in Parma, so that the city earned the title of "city of music" due to its musical history (Giuseppe Verdi was born in Busseto, a stone's throw from Parma).
Parma was also the capital of a duchy that flourished during the Middle Ages. This prosperity has left an important trace that you can see on the streets of the historic center among theatres, churches, monasteries and chic villas.
For its varied gastronomy, Parma has also received the "UNESCO Creative City for Gastronomy" award: after all, we are in the land of raw ham and Parmesan, two cornerstones of Italian cuisine.
The following is therefore a list with our suggestions to make you experience the city like a genuine Parmesan, to discover those little gems that make a visit special.
Here are the 7 things to do in Parma to experience the city like a local: enjoy our article, whether it's to find out how to attend the opera at the Teatro Regio, to choose the best traditional dishes or to listen to the curious talking statues.
7. Eat local food
A delicious plate of cured meat from Parma.
Parma is famous for being the land of ham, parmesan and lambrusco.
This corner of Emilia is in fact a paradise for lovers of cold cuts: in addition to Prosciutto di Parma, you must try the delicious culatello (originally from the town of Zibello), Felino salami, coppa, cooked pork-shoulder and Strolghino.
The best way to start a meal in Parma is to order a platter of tasty cold cuts and Parmigiano Reggiano, accompanied by torta fritta, golden strips of fried batter recalling the Modenese gnocco fritto.
To drink, of course, order a bottle of Lambrusco, the best-selling red wine in Italy! A not particularly sophisticated wine, but light and fragrant that perfectly accompanies the traditional dishes of Parma.
Among the unmissable first courses we recommend to try filled fresh pasta, such as cappelletti and anolini in broth, or pumpkin tortelli. Among the other top-notch first courses we find risotto and tagliolini, spectacular when seasoned with strips of culatello or raw ham.
The local second courses are decidedly rich in flavour, especially the beef stew (marinated for hours with the vegetables in wine) and the boiled meats which are served on a special trolley, in which you will find very tender cuts of chicken or beef, with to the ribs.
Finally, if you love tripe, in Parma you will also find the excellent Parmigiana tripe, finished with a generous grating of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Among the oldest trattorias in Parma, we recommend the Trattoria Salumeria Sorelle Picchi and the Trattoria Corrieri, where the traditional recipes are respected to the very fine details.
6. Visit churches and monasteries
The wonderful ceiling of the Parma Cathedral.
Parma has a deep religiois and artistic vocation.
If you love religious art and architecture, you'll surely find something for your taste between the Cathedral, the Basilica, the churches and monasteries scattered in the city centre.
We recommend that you stroll around Parma and visit the churches that interest you the most among those listed here.
Start from the Duomo, standing in the main square next to the Baptistery. This cathedral is Parma's most famous place of worship, consecrated in 1106 and built in Romanesque and Renaissance styles. Do not miss its wonderful dome painted by Correggio. After the Cathedral, also visit the Baptistery to appreciate its octagonal plan and the pink marbles of Verona.
The Basilica of Santa Maria della Steccata is a small Renaissance b Baroque masterpiece. Here you can appreciate the beautiful frescoes of the Parma school, including those by Parmigianino.
Finally, there are two Benedictine monasteries deserving a mention: San Giovanni Evangelista (in the heart of the historic center of Parma) and San Paolo (where you can see the splendid Chamber of the Abbess frescoed by Correggio and dedicated to Giovanna da Piacenza).
5. Get lost in the bamboo maze
What if a talented editor gets influenced by Argentina's greatest writer?
Simple, he creates the Labirinto della Masone, the largest bamboo labyrinth in the world.
This beautiful maze was built by the publisher Franco Maria Ricci, who has always been passionate about labyrinths, inspired by the readings of the Argentine writer Borges.
But the Labirinto della Masone is much more than a place to play at "getting lost", as it acts as a cultural center housing Ricci's art collection.
The bamboo maze covers an area of 7 hectares and is shaped like an eight-pointed star. 200,000 bamboo plants give shape to a labyrinth in which to test your sense of direction, hiding the building housing Ricci's publishing house, a restaurant and a museum.
The museum brings together his art collection, with about 600 pieces on display - among them canvases of Hayez and Ligabue, the mannerists (such as Carracci and Cambiaso), the sculptures of Canova and Bernini and local artists of the Duchy of Parma.
The Labirinto del Masone is a truly original place, perfect for a day trip from Parma - it makes fun and art coincide. Here you can spend a few hours in the countryside away from the chaos of the city.
You can book the entry ticket online, choosing the time slot, or go on site and buy the ticket at the last minute (the cost is around 20 euros, with family discounts). Allow about 2 hours to find your way out of the labyrinth and appreciate the museum or any temporary exhibitions. The maze is located in the Fontanellato area, 20 km west of Parma, and can be reached by car, or by bus (6, 9 or 12 to Sanguinaro).
4. Visit local museums
3. Chat with a statue
In Parma, you can listen to ancient statues speaking.
That's true! The "Talking Teens" project brings greater depth at local art, making tourists interact with the statues scattered throughout the city centre. The project is original and represents quite well local culture, as the author of the project are mostly young people from Parma's schools - helped by a local cultural association.
It's easy to get the statue to speak.
Just read the instructions on the totem near the statue and use your mobile phone to scan the relevant QR code. Shortly after, your phone will ring and the voice of the character represented by the statue will explain its secrets and history.
Among the 16 statues present in the circuit we find those of Giuseppe Verdi, La Vittoria, Parmigianino and many others. The voices bringing life to the sculptures are those of great Italian actors, such as Franco Nero (for Arturo Toscanini), Marco Baliani (Giuseppe Garibaldi), Laura Cleri (La Vittoria) and Adriano Engelbrecht (il Correggio).
Phone calls can also be listened to in English or even Parmesan dialect, for a truly local experience (which does not exclude the visually impaired thanks to a plate in Braille).
To listen to all the statues, the path to be covered on foot is just under 5 km (about 3 hours on foot), but you can also do the tour by bicycle like a true Parmesan.
2. Explore the medieval castles
A dramatic view of the Bardi fortress.
In Parma you can experience the Middle Ages firsthand.
There is no better way to look at Parma's past than to explore the castles of the duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Pontremoli. This circuit of fortresses, castles and manors offers a glimpse of the ancient life of these lands: visiting these castles is an ideal activity for families and children, halfway between history and fairy tale.
Among legends, ghosts, ancient wall tapestries and local food, here are our favorite castles near Parma.
The Castello dei Bardi stands on a rocky outcrop at the confluence of the Noveglia stream with the Ceno river: it was once a key stop along the Via Francigena (which connected Canterbury to Rome).
This is perhaps the most fascinating castle in the province of Parma, a great example of military architecture hiding a mystery: it is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the knight of Moroello and his beauty, Soleste. There was even a media case when journalists said they had photographed the ghost of the knight.
In addition to the walkways along the walls - offering stunning views of the valley - the Castello dei Bardi boasts museums and galleries, covering from the archaeological findings to the local fauna. Near the castle there is a restaurant serving traditional Parmesan cuisine. You can also visit the castle at night!
We also recommend to explore the fairy-tale atmosphere of the Castello di Felino, hidden in a forest, with its ancient ramparts and ditches. You can only visit the external walls, the courtyard and part of the basement, but it's definitely worth a visit. Inside you can taste great local food at the Locanda della Moiana. The castle is 1 hour by bus (line #6) from the center of Parma, or just 30 minutes by car.
Another castle worth a visit is the Castello di Torrechiara, not far from Parma, a beautiful expression of Renaissance architecture in the heart of the raw ham valley (so why not also book a gastronomic tour?).
It is important to remember that many castles and manors are still the living place of the old nobility from Parma, so you should check beforehand visiting times and opening days.
1. Spend a night with opera lovers
Parma is considered the city of music and opera.
Spending an evening at the theatre in Parma means sitting in the hall together with true opera lovers.
It's true, locals adore theatre, drama and opera, to such an extent that they are regarded as one of the most demanding and knowledgable audiences in the world (even Bellini was booed at the premiere of his Zaria in 1829).
The Teatro Regio is Parma's opera house and is one of the most important in Italy for its tradition.
You can visit the Teatro Regio with a guide who tells you about its history and curiosities. The opera season is generally between January and April, with events in October coinciding with the interesting Verdi Festival (not to be missed if you're a fan of his work). In addition to the opera, here you can also enjoy ballet, concerts of classical music and contemporary music artists. You can buy tickets at the ticket office, jostling with enthusiast locals, or online, where you can find the program of events and the guided tour on the official website.
Parma offers two other noteworthy location, the Teatro Due (nationally famous, with performances of contemporary and classical Italian drama) and the Niccolò Paganini Auditorium (designed by Renzo Piano, using spaces and materials from an old sugar factory).
The Teatro Farnese, on the other hand, is an example for its charm. Built in 1617 at the behest of the Duke of Parma and Piacenza, the theatre is located inside the Palazzo della Pilotta and enchanted the audience in the stalls with a mobile stage system and many ingenious tricks to flood the scene and move the characters in peculiar ways. It was used very little and fell into disuse until it was destroyed during the Second World War.
The Teatro Farnese was rebuilt in 1960 and in recent years it has been used as a hall for concerts and theatrical events. We recommend to visit it to appreciate the architecture while you explore the wider Pilotta complex and the National Gallery.