Parma is known for Parmesan cheese and prosciutto di Parma and Modena is known for balsamic vinegar and Ferraris. However both of these Emilia-Romagna cities should also be visited for their interesting historic centers and beautiful Romanesque cathedrals.
A short walk from the train station, Parma’s compact historic center is easy to explore on foot.
Walk up Garibaldi Street to enter the center of Parma through an archway. Go past Piazza della Pace, peace square, a huge open space in front of the Palazzo della Pilotta that houses the Farnese Theater. On some days there’s an open air market near the square. The tourist office is also near the square.
Continue walking toward Piazza Garibaldi, a big square where you’ll see the beautiful 17th century facade of the Palazzo del Govenatore, Governor’s Palace. Its tall bell tower has an interesting astronomical clock. Several bars and restaurants are around the square.
Wander through the narrow streets lined with shops until you reach the Duomo, or cathedral, an excellent example of Romanesque architecture. Completed in the 12th century, it has an octagonal dome that’s unusual for the time period. The interior is heavily decorated with beautiful frescoes that have recently been restored. Since it sees far fewer visitors than more famous cathedrals, take your time enjoying the art without the crowds.
Also dating from the 12th century (but finally completed in 1307), the octagonal Baptistery is a beautiful monument built of pink marble. The lower part is decorated with bas-relief sculptures and the doors are elaborately decorated, too. Inside are sculptures depicting the months, seasons, and Zodiac signs.
Near Piazza del Duomo, have lunch at Ristorante Angiol D’Or. Try an appetizer of prosciutto and Parmesan. Then have tortelli, a stuffed pasta similar to ravioli.
Parma has several museums. Housed in an old monastery, Stuard Gallery displays art work from the 14th to 20th centuries. An early Christian mosaic and items from the Middle Ages can be seen in the Diocesan Museum in the former bishop’s palace. The National Gallery in Palazzo della Pilota has art and archaeology displays.
The Ducal Park, dating to the 16th century, is a pleasant place for a stroll and you can visit the Ducal Palace to see its beautiful frescoes.
Parma is the home of Giuseppe Verdi and a Verdi festival is held each year in October. Arturo Toscanini was also born here and his home is now a museum. Read more about Parma.
Modena is the home town of Enzo Ferrari and Italian tenor Luciano Pavorotti Ferrari. It’s also known for traditional balsamic vinegar, produced in the province around Modena.
Modena’s medieval center is a delightful place for a stroll. Its 12th century duomo, or cathedral, on Piazza Grande, is one of Italy’s best Romanesque churches. The square, the duomo and its beautiful Gothic bell tower, called Torre della Ghirlandina, make up a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In Piazza Grande you’ll see several medieval relics. The most famous is the stolen bucket from a battle against Bologna in 1325 that inspired a famous Italian poem called the Stolen Bucket. There’s also a marble slab that was used as a speaker’s platform.
A short walk outside the historic center is the Enzo Ferrari Museum, in the house where he was born. The museum houses a display of Ferrari. Since it doesn’t close at lunch, it can be a good thing to do in the early afternoon when stores and museums are usually closed.
For more museums, head to the Museum Palace. The Estense Art Gallery and Library has 14th – 16th century illuminated manuscripts. Other museums are the Archaeological Ethnographic Civic Museum and the Civic Art Museum. They’re all closed on Mondays and the Library is also closed on Sundays. Opening times vary.
Have lunch in the historic center at Ristorante da Enzo, Via Coltellini 17 (closed Mondays) or Taverna dei Servi on via dei Servi (closed Tuesdays). Zampone, or Cotechino Modena (the less fatty version), a type of pork sausage, often served with lentils is one of the traditional dishes. Accompany your meal with the local sparkling red Lambrusco wine.
Visit the Balsamic Vinegar Museum in the small town of Spilamberto, 17 kilometers away, for an inside look at how it’s made and aged. You’ll get the chance to taste authentic aged Balsamic Vinegar, too. In the museum you discover the process of making Balsamic vinegar through a movie, exhibits and a guided tour. Balsamic is being made in barrels in the museum, so you’ll smell its wonderful aroma, too.
Take the bus to Spilamberto from the Modena train station if you don’t have a car. If you want to have lunch in town, try La Tana dei Tassi on Via San Giovanni, 25. Also take a little time to walk around the medieval town center.
Guided Tour Option: Fast Cars, Slow Food Full Day Tour of the Motor Valle