The city of Parma, Italy, is vibrant with its culture, its history, and its passion for two of the world’s most desirable and recognizable foods; Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto de Parma.

Known as the food capital of Italy, Parma offers the budget traveller an Italian experience rich in culture, music, beauty, and food.

Unlike the more famous Italian counterpart tourist destination cities such as Milan, Venice, and Rome, Parma offers many options that are easy on the pocketbook.

Parma, Italy: Tour Parmiagiano-Reggiano Factory

On the top of our list of activities is a tour at the Parmigiano-Reggiano Factory. This fascinating free tour may last up to 3 hours and you’ll have a chance to sample cheeses at the end of the tour, and to make purchases directly from the factory.

Often simply referred to as Parmesan cheese in the United States, authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese can only be produced within the boundaries of certain areas of this region. True Parmigiano-Reggiano bears little resemblance to the American variety and this cheese is produced under strict regulation and in a manner that is very close to how it was originally produced nine centuries ago by Benedictine monks of the area. The tour walks you through the process which remains virtually unchanged to this day.  Known as the King of Cheeses, every aspect of the production is carefully monitored and only the cheeses that pass inspection, after a minimum 18 months aging, can be certified as Parmigiano-Reggiano.

You can identify these cheeses by their unique pin prick markings on the rind, as well as by the different colored markings, also on the rind, that indicate age and quality. Any cheese that doesn’t meet the strict criteria is immediately stripped of its outer, aged rind.  The enormous value of a single wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano means that that are a prime target for thieves.

Dining Out in Parma

Dining out in Parma can be as extravagant or as budget-friendly as you want. For an inexpensive option, check out Pizzeria Orfeo on Via Giosuè Carducci and order a thin crust pizza baked in a wood burning oven but be prepared to wait for service at this popular restaurant.  It was voted the Best Pizza in Parma in 2012.

Or you may choose to take advantage of the local ‘aperitivo’ which is the customary cocktail hour, or pre-dinner drink, usually between 7 and 9 or 10 pm. For the price of a drink, complimentary snacks are offered in many restaurants. We like Le Malve on Via Farini for its free buffet of pasta, pizza, and a range of other snacks.

Things to Do in Parma: Markets, Buildings, Theatre

Love exploring neighbourhood markets? Check out the open air markets at Mercato della Ghiaia and the surrounding streets on Saturdays and Wednesdays. It’s a great place to find clothes, handbags, books, shoes, games, fresh fruit and vegetables, and the perfect spot to pick up a picnic lunch for your bike ride around the city. Rent a bike, because everyone, from locals to tourists, seems to get around by bike and riders here are very cautious and courteous, and no helmets are required. There are wonderful bike paths to explore throughout the city.

Visit the many beautiful, historical buildings such as the medieval Battistero di Parma and the nearby Cattedrale di Parma.  The Palazzo Pilotta, built for the Farnese family, now houses several museums as well as the Teatro Farnese. Parma is known for its fantastic architecture, from its religious buildings to its beautiful palaces.

Photo credit: Palazzo Pilotta: Norbert Nagel / Wikimedia Commons License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Love the theatre? There are sometimes free or reduced rate performances at the local theatre, Teatro Regio, home of the Italian composer, Giuseppe Verdi.  Check their website for details.

Staying longer and want to learn the language? There are free Italian language courses for extended stay visitors, provided by the Comune di Parma.

If football is your thing, Parma is the location for John Grisham’s short novel, Playing For Pizza, his best-selling account of American football in Parma. Take in a Parma Panthers game for only 5 euros. An astoundingly low price of 30 euros gets you tickets for the season.

Getting There

Ryanair offers a direct flight from the United Kingdom, through London Stansted Airport, to Parma’s Giuseppe Verdi Airport, located 6 kilometers from the city centre. Travel into town via Bus Linea 6, which takes about 15 minutes and runs every hour.

You can also fly into Milan which is serviced by a number of airlines. The Malpensa Express services the Milan airport to Milan Centrale and costs 10 euros for a single ticket or 25 euros for a family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children.  Unless you have a lot of luggage or travelling as a group, this is the best way to get into town for a reasonable price.  A taxi from the Milan airport could cost you 90 euros. The journey from Milan to Parma by car takes approximately 90 minutes.

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