Cremona Travel Guide
The Birthplace Of The Violin
When I say Italy, what comes to mind? For most it's visions of Rome, Florence, and the Amalfi Coast.
But ask about Cremona and you're more likely to hear crickets. Or perhaps a muttering about music, seeing as Cremona is the 16th century birthplace of the violin.
Despite the popularity of Italy as a travel destination, Cremona -- located about an hour southwest of Milan by train -- remains relatively untouched from tourists and clichés. You won't find many Americans here. Or many chain restaurants. Or many English-speakers for that matter!
What you will find is one of the most architecturally stunning towns in all of Italy, completely untouched by modernization. Situated in the heart of Italy's fertile Po River Valley, this town isn't only one of the country's most important food cities, but also one of its most overlooked.
This charming renaissance town is a taste of the real Italy. Despite it's sleepy reputation, Cremona is a city to fall madly in love with -- and fall in love we did! Between the ample culinary delights, stunning architecture, and musical beauty, it's a wonder this city isn't packed with tourists.
But perhaps that is part of Cremona's charm? Without tourists pushing and shoving past, you can experience this city slowly and personally. You have the city to yourself -- you can climb the Cremona Cathedral and be entirely alone! You can really get to know this enchanting town in a very personal and beautiful way.
And I bet it's subtle melody will haunt you for years after... just as it has haunted me!
What To Do & See
A visit to Cremona would be incomplete without first appreciating its musical heritage. Ever since the 16th century, the world's best violins have all been made HERE in Cremona. And many of the world's most famous violin makers, including Antonio Stradivari, lived and died in this small city.
Cremona is the musical core of Italy and a visit to the Museo del Violino is an absolute MUST!
But much of the joy of visiting Cremona comes in the quiet moments you'll have walking through town. The beautiful chords of a violin playing while you're sitting in the Palazzo. The delicious cheeses you'll eat al fresco in a garden. The sounds your steps make on the medieval stones outside the Baptistery.
This is how Italy should be experienced. Not in endless lines, battling with waves of tourists but through the small moments that will linger for a lifetime...
If you do only one thing in Cremona, climb the Torrazzo Bell Tower of Cremona Cathedral.
Not only is the Torrazzo where Cremona's famous nougat candy "torrone" gets it's name from but it's also the tallest spot in all of Cremona -- and the heart and soul of the city.
Completed in 1309, this is the oldest brick structure taller than 100m still standing in. the. world. It's incredible to think about the labor and time that went into crafting this stunning tower. And even more incredible to think that Cremona boasts Italy's most famous!
So climbing to the top is non-negotiable! This was by FAR my favorite moment during our entire stay in Cremona and one I wouldn't recommend missing at any cost.
The climb up can be terrifying -- especially if you're afraid of heights like I am. But it's absolutely worth it. You won't find a better view of beautiful Cremona.
Or a better bell tower view in all of Italy!
(The Torrazzo also houses the world's largest astronomical clock and the 16th century details are incredible to see up-close.)
Be sure to pay a visit to the Cathedral itself too -- the interior is absolutely breath-taking and, again, you're very likely to have it ALL. TO. YOURSELF.
One cannot visit the birthplace of the violin without stopping at Museo del Violino. Not only does this museum house five centuries worth of violins from all of Italy's most famous masters including Amati, Guarneri and, of course, Stradivari but the modern, interactive exhibits give you an in-depth understanding as to how violins are made and how their shape affects their sound.
Not only do you learn about the incredible anatomy that makes a violin so special, you learn so much about why Cremonese violins have long been regarded as the best in the world.
But the best part is by FAR the Treasure Room, which -- naturally -- is filled with incredible stringed treasures. Some of the world's rarest and most valuable violins are on display in this room and the awe you'll feel standing in front of them is one of the best moments you can have in Cremona!
Where To Eat
While Cremona is well-known among chefs as a culinary mecca, few others realize the gastronomic delights this small town offers.
Beautiful, rich flavors coupled with ample fresh produce from the nearby Po Valley are why Cremona is such a foodie destination. Here you'll find aged cheeses, cured meats, and plenty of pasta! And some of the most delightful restauranteurs I've ever met.
While the food may feel humble at times, it's prepared with a care and attention that's rare to find anywhere in the world. And it's served with so much passion.
And just like every city in Italy, there are gelato shops on every corner in case you get a sweet tooth!
Located within the acclaimed Violin Museum, here you'll find traditional dishes prepared with deft. Fresh caprese salads, vegetable risottos, and some of the best grissini (bread sticks) we had in all of Italy.
Be sure to catch a live violin performance before or after your meal!
You'll fall in love with Hosteria 700's luxurious-yet-approachable attitude towards food. Not only are it's red and gold rooms positively enchanting but the food is to-die-for. Expect rich dishes of white truffle tagliatelle pasta with cream and large plates of charcuterie.
And all run by an owner who is one of the most beautiful opera singers I've ever heard!
Any Cafes Along The Piazza del Comune
All of Cremona centers on the Piazza Del Comune and, when it comes to a perfect meal, it's hard to envision sitting outside anywhere else. There are ample cafes littered around the grand cathedral and we did our best to try as many a possible -- none of which disappointed!
Order a spritz and an antipasti and just soak in the city. Having a cocktail and some olives underneath that medieval cathedral was one of the most beautiful moments of my life, and is worth the trip to Cremona alone.
Like most cities in Italy, Cremona seems to have a gelato shop on every corner. Our favorite was Emilia Cremeria, which you can find throughout Italy.
Though it is a chain, the creaminess of their gelato puts most artisan gelato shops in the States to shame. And their enormous selection of flavors are swoon-worthy. I fell hard for the pistachio in particular (and it makes for a beautiful photo!).
Enoteca Cremona isn't just a restaurant -- it's a wine & grocery shop that also hosts educational programs dedicated to Cremonese food. Our dinner here was absolutely delicious and focused on the humble beginnings of Cremonese cuisine. We sampled all sorts of cheeses, wines, and crostinis... none of which disappointed.
And you'll fall in love with co-owner Patrizia Signorini Reggi, who may be the most enthusiastic and educated Italian chef I've yet met!
Where To Stay
We only stay at one hotel in Cremona but I certainly would recommend it!
This modern hotel feels worlds away from the charming, old-world vibe of Cremona. And that's precisely why we loved it so much. The modern decor and architecture are a lovely juxtaposition and the free breakfast is surprisingly solid.
And -- if you've travelled a lot in small-town Italy -- you know finding a hotel room with an outlet near the bed is ALWAYS worth seeking out.
10 Of My Favorite Things To Do in Cremona
Eat A Sperlari Torrone (their factory is just outside of town!)
Climb To The Top of the Torrazzo at Sunset
Drink a Spritz in the Piazza del Comune
See a Violin Concert at the Museo del Violino
Try Mostarda di Cremona (a sweet & spicy fruit preserve -- most of us didn't enjoy it but it's a local delicacy you must try once!)
Light A Candle in the Cremona Cathedral
Watching Artisan Stefano Conia Craft Violins By Hand
Visit Casa Stradivari, the Home of Young Antonio Stradivari, Cremona's Most Famous Violin-Maker
Attend the Festa del Torrone (or Torrone Festival) in November
Wander Through The City's Many Beautiful Gardens
"You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
– Giuseppe Verdi
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Disclosure: I received a complimentary visit to Cremona as a guest of True Italian Taste and the Italian Chamber of Commerce but I was not monetarily compensated for this post, and all opinions expressed are my own.