Rome, Florence, and Venice are great — but these Italian cities can become unbearably crowded with tourists during the summer months.

Sometimes, it feels like the most popular destinations in Italy cater just to visitors, with endless souvenir shops and overpriced tourist trap restaurants.

Want to avoid the crowds in Italy this summer? Here’s why you should head to these two underrated, authentic Italian cities!

Bologna and Parma are two medium-sized cities in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, which was recently named one of the top destinations in Europe for 2024 by National Geographic. They have many things in common, but they’re also very unique.

Why should you visit? Here’s why Bologna and Parma are perfect for your next trip to Italy!

Easy Train Connections

Getting to Bologna and Parma from other cities in Italy is super simple, so you can easily add on a visit to these two cities as part of a larger trip to Italy.

Woman eating meat and cheese in Bologna

There are fast train connections to Bologna and Parma from Venice, Milan, and Florence.

Bologna is really close to Florence (only a 40-minute train ride) and a 1.5-hour train ride from Venice, while Parma is just 45 minutes from Milan by train.

And the two cities are just a 50-minute train ride apart, so they’re both very easy to visit.

Bologna is the larger of the two cities, but I highly recommend visiting both and not skipping one!

Church in Parma, Italy

Foodie Paradise

Okay, let’s get to the real reason you want to visit Bologna and Parma… THE FOOD!

While Italy as a whole is full of amazing culinary destinations, Bologna and Parma happen to be two of the best foodie cities in the entire country.

Bologna is a carnivore’s heaven, famous for its mortadella sausages (known as baloney to Americans) and meat-heavy Bolognese sauce over pasta.

Parmesan Cheese

Parma is also known for meat (especially Parma hams) but it’s also a paradise for cheese lovers as the home of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, better known as parmesan to Americans.

The best activity to do in both cities is a food tour — it will give you an amazing overview of the cuisine of both places and clue you in to all the best spots.

University Cities

Along with being incredible foodie destinations, Bologna and Parma have another thing in common: they are both historic and beautiful university cities.

Aerial view of Bologna, Italy

Bologna is a gorgeous medieval city that is home to the oldest university in not just Italy, but all of Europe. The University of Bologna, which has been in continuous operation since 1088, lends a lively, youthful atmosphere to the city.

Similarly, Parma is also a university city, with the University of Parma at the heart of everything.

Both cities are packed full of history too, with stunning churches, fascinating museums, and incredible architecture dating back to medieval times.

Parma, Italy at Dusk

Fewer Tourists

While Bologna and Parma are hardly off the beaten path, these two underrated cities do get FAR fewer tourists than more popular destinations in Italy.

While I love somewhere like Venice, it does occasionally feel like a theme park version of Italy that’s only designed to cater to tourists. Similarly, you can end up frustrated in Florence or raging in Rome at the enormous crowds, long lines, and overpriced, low-quality tourist trap restaurants that abound.

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy

Things are way more chill in Bologna and Parma.

You will very rarely need to make reservations for museums and other tourist attractions in advance, and you don’t have to worry about long lines or tickets being sold out.

These are cities that actually feel authentic and lived in, making them great alternative destinations if you want to skip the crowds of Italy this summer.

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