From the train station it is an easy walk into the historic city center. The train ride from Bologna to Parma is about one hour and there is a shuttle service from the Bologna airport to the Bologna train station. Milan is also less than two hours north of Parma along the A1 autostrada, or a 45 minute train ride on the freccia bianca inter city trains.
Virtually everything in the historic city center is within easy and leisurely walking distance. Sites across the river require a little more walking but still not too much. The terrain is flat and biking is very popular among the locals. Taxis are easily available at the train station and across the street from the Governor's Palace (Palazzo del Governatore) in the center of town. There are rental cars at the small airport just outside town. Parking can be a challenge downtown. However there are several parking garages outside the city center, the largest of which is behind Teatro Due. The city has an access control system which limits entrance to the city center to local tagged vehicles only. This system is generally switched off after midnight. There is an extensive local bus line.
The Museo Glauco Lombardi is a particularly interesting and well done museum documenting the life of Maria Luigia, second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duchess of Parma. The museum is very personal and engaging with many artifacts and belongings of the gifted, talented and well educated Maria. Well worth the visit.
The Piazza Duomo is where you'll find the city's cathedral and the baptistry, both built in the late 12th century. The baptistry was designed by Benedetto Antelami and is constructed from a pink marble called rosso di Verona. The marble appears to change color depending on how the sun hits it. It is one of the most recognized medieval structures in the country. The frescoes inside the building are very moving, as well as the relief sculptures on the interior stone. The painting inside the dome of the cathedral is one of the most remarkable paintings of the Renaissance. Entitled "Assumption of the Virgin" by Correggio, it shows the Virgin Mary being taken up to Heaven. For dramatic effect it is superior to the Sistine Chapel and Titian himself is reputed to have acknowledged that he could not have achieved this effect. Unfortunately the prior who commissioned the work was rather conservative and Correggio never worked in Parma again.
Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi (Garibaldi Square) is where the original Roman Colony, founded in 183 BC, had a forum. The square served as a road hub over the Roman road, Via Aemilia. Today the modern square contains shops and restaurants, as well as the Palazzo del Governatore (Governor's Palace), with a façade dating to 1760 and an astronomical clock. The 13th century Palazzo del Municipio (Town Hall) is also on the square.
The Palazzo della Pilotta, named for the Basque ball game pelota once practiced in one of the courtyards, is a sixteenth century complex of buildings constructed as court to the famed Renaissance Farnese family. It was said to be one of the finest in all of Italy. The Palazzo della Pilotta houses the historic Baroque style theatre, Teatro Farnese.
Attend the opera at the gorgeous and world-famous Teatro Regio, known for its passionate and critical local opera aficionados. Buy tickets early as the opera is extremely popular in Parma and tickets sell out early. The Festival Verdi celebrates the famous and adored Parma resident Giuseppe Verdi throughout the month of October every year.
- Parma Point, Strada Garibaldi 18. A great little shop for souvenirs, postcards and other Parma related memorabilia as well as a nice collection of books of local interest.
- K2 (behind the cathedral on the right). An ice cream shop. The nuns make a gelato in the shape of a flower in seconds.
- Trattoria I Corrieri, Via Conservatorio 1 (near the law faculty of the university). A typical restaurant to have dinner. Try some torta fritta, and prosciutto di Parma and all the other salami and coppa specialities from that region as a starter, followed by the typical tortelli. If you take Tris di Tortelli, you will enjoy that special type of pasta, one filled zucca (pumpkin), radicchio and ricotta e spinaci (spinach & cheese).
- Osteria del Gesso, Via Ferdinando Maestri 11, ☎ , e-mail: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. Osteria del Gesso is a small, quaint restaurant down a narrow street in historic center city. The menu is based on the typical cuisine of the region. The food is well prepared and delicious, particularly the tortelli di erbetta and crespelle di grano. The staff did not speak English, but are helpful and provide excellent service.
- La Forchetta, borgo San Biagio 6, ☎ . Excellent ristorante just off the Piazza del Duomo serving typical regional cuisine. Superb tortelli di zucca and a very interesting and creative appetizer of gelato of Parmesan cheese with a fig preserve and balsamic vinegar.
- Trattoria delTribunale, Vicolo Politi 5, ☎ 0521.285527, fax: 0521.238991, e-mail: email@example.com. Excellent traditional restaurant in the city center recommended by the Slow Food editors. The guanciale (pork cheek) diavolo was tender, sweet and succulent with just the right amount of spiciness. The local specialty, anolini in brodo was also excellent.
- Hotel & Ristorante Leon D'oro, V.le Fraiit 4a, ☎ 0521.773182. A family owned restaurant that has been around since 1917. They serve traditional food near the train station and are more of a local place as opposed to a tourist location. They are known for their salumi and handmade pastas, as well as their extensive wine list.
If you are in Parma, your trip is not complete until you try a hunk of its eponymous cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano. Known the world over, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese owes its quality to its source. The cows that produce the milk graze only on grass and hay in fields around the city. The cheese is made and aged from 18 months to over 30.
Another food you must try in Parma is the local cured ham, Prosciutto di Parma. Parma's Prosciutto is the gold standard for salumi. The hams are cured and aged in temperature and humidity controlled rooms for at least 10 months. The result is a salty, sweet, piece of meat that is sliced razor thin and can be eaten all by its self, or as a part of many regional dishes. It is delicious served simply over a plate of summer melon. As far as salumi goes though, Culatello is king. Unfortunately government regulation on the production of Culatello has driven it nearly to extinction, but there are still rogue producers who cure the meat in cellars. Culatello differs from Prosciutto in that it is made from the fillet cut of the ham as opposed to the whole ham. If you can get your hands on some genuine Culatello, do it, because it is next to impossible to find in the U.S. and can go for around $60.00 a pound.
Parma is also known for its delicate stuffed pastas and outdoor markets. Be sure to take advantage of the fresh seasonal vegetables that Parma has to offer.
An aperitivo in Via Farini is something you should not miss. There are several bars in that little street where you will find a lot of people standing outside with a Martini or a Sprizz con Aperol at around 6pm, enjoying the free buffet that is offered when you buy a drink.
Try a bottle of the local sparkling red wine called Lambrusco, great on its own and perfect with much of the local cuisine. It can be purchased in virtually any bar or corner shop and is very inexpensive.
- Hotel Button Parma, Borgo della Salina, 7 (angolo San Vitale) (Parma), ☎ +39 0521/208039, fax: +39 0521/238783, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hotel Ponte Parma, Via P.le Asolana, 89 (Colorno), ☎ , fax: +39 0521-313250, e-mail: email@example.com. Inaugurated at the end of 2011 and boasting its own private parking facilities, this friendly and courteous hotel is run by the Ghezzi family, which truly knows how to welcome its guests, providing information about major events in the area. From €40 per person.
- Villa Franci, Via Segalara, No. 2 43038 Talignano di Sala Baganza, tel +39 335 6830676, firstname.lastname@example.org, . From €32 per person. This is a beautifully decorated bed and breakfast about 20 minutes away from downtown Parma in the countryside bordering a national park. The ancient road between Rome and Canterbury, Via Francigena, runs right outside the villa. An excellent place to stay if you have your own transportation. The owner is an outgoing, friendly local with extensive knowledge of the entire region.
- Astoria Executive Hotel, ☎ +39.0521.272717, fax: +39 0521.272724, e-mail: email@example.com. Via Trento. This three star hotel is in a central position of the city, just a few meters from the train station and centre. Each of the hotel's 88 rooms is soundproofed. Also offers events organization, dining in the characteristic San Barnaba restaurant or surfing the web from Internet points in the hotel reception.
- Dimore d' epoca, ☎ +39.0521.774039, fax: +39 0521.780756, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Via Valenti 5/c. Short walk from the centre, in a large park, the villa belonging to a noble family of Parma has been open to guests since 1987. Hotel, quality restaurant and modern convention halls.
- Hotel Torino, ☎ +39.0521.281046, fax: +39.0521.230725, e-mail: email@example.com. Borgo A.Mazza 7. In centre, an ancient monastery bombed during the II World War, in the 60s has been partially rebuilt and used as a hotel. Today, it continues its tradition of hospitality after a thorough restructuring aimed to revive the feeling of staying in nice home's atmosphere.
- Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati, ☎ (+39) 0521 386429, fax: (+39) 0521 502204, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 7 Strada al Duomo. Centrally located, with a number of elegantly appointed suites. The Palazzo is on the quiet and historic Piazza del Duomo. It is located in a pedestrian zone but the owner or his assistant will make parking arrangements for you. The rooms are clean, elegant, spacious and comfortable with all modern amenities. The owner, Vittorio, and his assistant, Mattia, are gracious and helpful hosts. They speak English. In the evenings there is often an accordion player outside on the piazza playing great old classics.