I often think back to our time in Italy, especially our time in Parma, Italy. That city really took us by surprise. It’s so full of cultural and historical traditions. We had such an amazing time exploring what to do in Parma. We wished we could have stayed longer.
Before we came to live in Parma for a month, we didn’t know much about this city in Italy. We didn’t even know much about the region. The city of Parma lies in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy. It’s a university city, but it’s also a city with rich culinary traditions. Parmesan cheese hails from Parma, as does prosciutto ham! (Admittedly, even though I am a Muslim, I did sample some ham while I was in Parma. How could you not?)
Our time in that region was packed with experiencing what to do in Parma, and exploring all the city has to offer. Even though it’s only a city of less than 200,000 people (the city where I grew up is bigger than Parma!), there are plenty of things to do in Parma. While we didn’t get to experience every site and attraction, we did get to see a handful. And many of the activities are family friendly too.
This post was updated on May 31, 2020.
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Things to know before figuring out what to do in Parma
If you’re planning a visit to Parma, there are a few things you might want to know. First, the city of Parma is a fairly walkable city, as with many cities in Italy. The Centro Storico (historical center) is packed with museums, galleries, and historical sites. So you can easily spend a few days walking around that area and exploring.
The public transportation system consists primarily of buses. The main bus service in Parma has 17 lines that go throughout the city, running from 6:30 in the morning to 8:00 in the evening. Bus fares are 1.20 euros per hour, if purchased ahead of time, and 2 euros per hour if purchased on the bus. Daily tickets cost 3 euros, and can be purchased at tobacco shops and newspaper kiosks throughout the city.
One thing to keep in mind when considering what to do in Parma is that many of the activities are actually found outside the city. That means you’ll most likely need a car if you plan to visit some of the attractions suggested in this post.
Europcar, Avis, and Hertz all have car rental offices within the city of Parma. If you’re coming from Malpensa airport near Milan, or Bologna airport, you can also find car rental companies located right at the airport. We rented a car from the Milan airport, and it made our Parma exploration a lot easier and more convenient. Just keep in mind the tolls, speed limits, and restricted driving areas. Italy is notorious for issuing tickets!
What to do in Parma for families
The city of Parma is an interesting city to walk through and explore. Its relatively small size makes walking through the city pretty manageable. And we loved stumbling upon little squares and alleys with cute restaurants and stores tucked into these places.
When it comes to what to do in Parma with families, there are at least a dozen museums and activities to make your experience complete. The Bradt Northern Italy: Emilia-Romagna guide book is a great reference book for figuring out what to do in Parma with your kids.
In this blog post, I’ve only put the handful of things that we were able to do during our time in Parma. It’s not hard to fill a month’s stay with all the many things to do in Parma!
The Walk of Taste
Parma is a culinary city. And when thinking about what to do in Parma, taking part in The Walk of Taste is not to be missed. It’s a free walking tour that goes through the streets of Parma’s historical center, visiting many of the city’s monuments and historical places. We walked by sites of old markets, butchers, and even kitchens. The walking tour was a great introduction to the city, and an easy way to get our bearings around the city.
Palazzo Della Pilotta
If you’re looking for what to do in Parma that’s more on the cultural side, to take a visit to the Palazzo della Pilotta. This complex is located along the Parma River in the historical center, and houses the Teatro Farnese, the Galleria Nazionale, the Bodaniano Museum, the Palatino Library, and the Archaeological Museum. However, the complex itself, is impressive to see. Originally built in 1538, the complex includes architectural elements from the seventeenth century as well. Entrance to the museums at the Palazzo della Pilotta costs 10 euros total for adults. Children aged 5 to 18 are 5 euros, and children under 5 are free.
Within the Palazzo della Pilotta is the Teatro Farnese, built in the early 1600s. The stage is built at a decline towards the audience, so that even the front row can see what is happening at the back of a stage. The wooden seats are built in a semi-round configuration, oriented towards the stage, much like Ancient Greek style amphitheaters. What I loved about walking into the Teatro Farnese is being able to smell the old wood of the stage, and imagine what it might have felt like performing there centuries ago.
Also within the Palazzo della Pilotta is the Galleria Nazionale which houses an extensive collection of art from various periods of Italian art history. We loved walking through the gallery and trying to determine the art period that each piece is from. It was fun to walk through the galleries and see the progression of pieces from the Middle Ages, flowing to the Renaissance, then to Baroque and Romantic. A visit to this gallery absolutely needs to be on your list of what to do in Parma!
What to do in Parma at Parco Ducale
Across the Parma River from the Palazzo della Pilotta is Parco Ducale. Created in the late 1500’s by Duke Ottavio Farnese as a garden adjacent to his villa, it’s now a 51 acre public park. We enjoyed spending an afternoon walking through the park. The many trees lining the main throughway in the park provides excellent shade on hot days. While there aren’t any playgrounds at the park, it’s still a serene place to pass the time on a lazy afternoon. We enjoyed walking along the paths and people watching!
What to do in Parma outside of the city center
While many of the things to do in Parma can be found within the city limits, there are a large number of activities that are in the villages and communes surrounding Parma. If you really want to experience what to do in Parma, it’s worth visiting the surrounding areas. Here are a handful of activities just outside of Parma that your family and you can enjoy.
Casseifici San Pier Damiani
No list of what to do in Parma would not be complete without a visit to a dairy. The Casseifici San Pier Damiani is a dairy specializing in the preparation of parmesan cheese. This dairy produces about 14 wheels of parmesan cheese each day (up to 30 in the winter time). For 20 euros per person (kids are free), you can take a tour of the dairy and learn about the cheese making process.
The tour allows you to see how the milk is curdled, separated into curds and whey, and formed into the cheese wheels. The tour also takes you into the warehouses where the wheels are aged. And you can also sample parmesan cheese, aged for one year, two years, and three years. A visit to Casseifici San Pier Damiani was by far one of my favorite things to do in Parma, Italy.
Labarinto Della Masone
Another idea for what to do in Parma is to visit the Labarinto della Masone. We stumbled on this labyrinth almost by mistake. Looking on Google maps one afternoon, I noticed there was a labyrinth outside of Parma, and we decided to take a visit. What a serendipitously pleasant surprise!
The labyrinth itself is made with bamboo. At the center of the labyrinth is a pyramid, which also houses a smaller labyrinth. And adjacent to the maze itself is an art gallery. Visiting the Labarinto della Masone was a fun way to spend an afternoon. And the kids had a chance to use their navigation and problem-solving skills to help us figure out how to get through the maze.
Tickets to the labyrinth cost 18 euros for adults, aged 12 and over. Children between the ages of 6 and 12 are 10 euros. And children under 6 are free. Families (two adults and a child) can take advantage of the family ticket, which costs 40 euros. You can buy additional child tickets for each additional child.
Museum of Pasta
In terms of what to do in Parma to learn about food culture, we really enjoyed visiting the food museums scattered throughout the area. The Musei del Cibo are a series of small museums dedicated to the food traditions that exist in the Parma area. There’s a museum dedicated to parmesan, another dedicated to tomatoes, and still another dedicated to wine.
Entrance to these museums are 5 euros for adults, and 3 euros for kids, aged 6 to 18. For 12 euros, you can purchase a punch card, which grants you access to all the museums within the Musei del Cibo. The card expires in a year, so you can take as long as you want to visit all the museums.
One of the food museums we enjoyed visiting while we were in Parma was the pasta museum. On display are different styles of pasta, and the different utensils used to cut the pasta. We saw the tools used to make pasta on a small scale, and also on an industrial scale (did you know that Barilla Pasta is headquartered in Parma?!?). We enjoyed the museum so much, and it even inspired us to try our hand at making home-made pasta!
Museum of Prosciutto and Museum of Salami
Being a Muslim, I’m don’t eat pork, but I couldn’t visit Parma without at least learning about the ham and pork industry in Parma. Both the Museum of Prosciutto and the Museum of Salami are great places to learn about the history of ham and salami production in Parma.
We saw pictures and videos of the processes of creating these pork products, and also got to see up close and personal the tools that are used to create these products. These museums are not to be missed when it comes to planning out what to do in Parma.
The Museum of Prosciutto is located in the town of Langhorino. And the Museum of Salami is housed in the basement of a centuries old castle in the town of Felino. At both of the museums, you can purchase a tasting for an additional 3 euros per person.
Museum of Wine
We love our wine, and one of the things we enjoyed while we were in Italy was drinking vino frizzante. We especially enjoyed Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine. Who knew that carbonated wine could be so tasty? Even if you’re not a wine lover, a visit to the Museum of Wine is a great way to get to know the wine history and traditions of Italy.
Like the other food museums we visited, we saw pictures of how the process is done, and we learned about the history of wine throughout the course of human civilization. The Museum of Wine is located in the basement of Rocca Sanvitale, in the town of Fontanellato. It’s a medieval castle with a sprawling garden next to it. There’s a museum at La Rocca that showcases how the castle was furnished during the height of its days, if you’re interested in extending your visit to Fontanellato.
Autodromo Riccardo Paletti
We didn’t know this ahead of time, but the town of Varano de’ Melegari, about a 45 minute drive outside of Parma, is home to the Autodromo Riccardo Paletti. It’s a race track that hosts Formula Renault and Formula Three events. We took a visit to the track one afternoon, and enjoyed watching the cars doing practice races around the track. They were so fast!
If your kids are of driving age, you can all try your hand at driving on the track yourself with Varano Kart. For 20 euros, you can do a 12 minute driving session around the track. Each session includes kart hire and a safety helmet. Our kids were too young to do that, so we just enjoyed watching the driving from the safety of the stands.
Having fun exploring what to do in Parma with our kids!
Our exploration of what to do in Parma was truly one for the memory books! We enjoyed sampling the food from Italy, visiting the museums, and really learning about the history and traditions of the Emilia-Romagnia region. Parma is truly a food lover’s dream destination. And I loved how we were able to incorporate many activities into our worldschooling curriculum during our trip. All the learning we did about food production made for some interesting lessons!
If you’re planning a trip to Italy, consider including a visit to Parma. There are so many things to do in Parma for families, even young kids will enjoy it. Take my suggestions from this post, and add your own activities, to make your Parma, Italy experience truly unique and memorable.
Have you visited Parma? What did you think about the city? Share your experiences of what to do in Parma in the comments!
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