Driving in Italy: the ultimate 15 + 1 things you need to know

The top 15 answers to the most common questions about driving in Italy, to drive safely and make the most out of your Italy driving experience.

Many travelers are concerned about driving in Italy and eventually give up renting a car. This is unfortunate, since the “true” Italy is often found in small villages, rural areas and secluded landscapes.

Is that your case? Then no worries! Here are the answers to the most frequent questions I receive on my blog about driving in Italy, and all the things you should know to drive in Italy.

1) Is driving in Italy a good idea?

Drive in Italy_Tuscany

Yes it is, especially if you are not planning to visit only the main Italian towns (which can be conveniently reached by train) and would like to explore Italy at your pace in full freedom.

Good reasons to self drive in Italy are:

  • To explore the off the beaten path corners of Italy, including lovely villages and rural areas
  • To sleep in lovely country houses, much less expensive than down town accommodations
  • To maximize your visit time, avoiding wasting hours on inconvenient local public transports
  • To avoid been tightened to public transportation schedules
  • To save on train tickets, if travelling with your family or with your friends
  • To enjoy the pleasure of driving in this beautiful country!

2) Is it safe to drive in Italy?

Yes it is. Roads are generally good and, despite what you may have heard, local driving style is not so bad, especially in Northern and Central Italy.

However, some roads could be difficult, such as narrow and winding roads in the Dolomites or in the Amalfi coast. If you are not used to drive in these conditions, public transportation would then be the logical option.

By the way, in Italy, like in all continental Europe countries, we drive on the right side.

3) Which are the regions were renting a car makes sense?

In general, you should consider self driving in Italy whenever you wish to explore a large territory, with many sights and attractions scattered on a wide area. In particular, self drive could be a good idea to explore the following Italian regions:

  • Tuscany
  • Umbria
  • Dolomites
  • Sicily
  • Puglia

4) Are there places where I should not drive in Italy?

In general, you don’t want to drive a car in Italy city centers: it is usually not allowed and can be really complicated, even with a GPS.

As already mentioned, driving in mountain areas or in the Amalfi coast could be challenging if you are not used to it.

Don’t think of driving in the Cinque Terre (doesn’t make sense, and you wouldn’t find a place to park). And of course don’t plan to drive in Venice, where you only find canals (but you can rent or drop off your car in Piazzale Roma)!

5) Are there periods when I should not drive in Italy?

You should pay attention to Italy departures to and returns from holiday destinations during holiday periods and week ends. In these periods, traffic jams are very frequent and you could spend hours stuck on the highways.

In general, you will find a lot of traffic getting out of large urban areas such as Rome or Milan on Friday evenings, and coming back on Sunday afternoons and evenings. This is particularly true for destinations such as the Adriatic coast (queues around Bologna), the Liguria coast (queues around Genova), the Roman coast, the Amalfi coast and the Garda lake area.
Red periods are also August, Easter, Christmas and the week end close to April 25 and May 1st
Ask your rental company and your hotel concierge for more specific information. You can check highways congestion in real time on the Autostrade site.

6) Do I need a car for all the duration of my trip?

No, unless you are focusing on a specific region, such as Sicily or Puglia.

Otherwise, if you plan to visit also main cities, you can travel by train and rent a car only when you really need it. Most railways station in Italy have a car rental nearby so combining the two transportation means is easy and convenient.

7) Can I leave luggage unattended in my car while I visit Italy sights?

Leaving your luggage in your car is definitely a bad idea, the risk of finding your car empty can be high, especially in touristic places. You would be better off if you leave your personal belongings in your hotel before starting your visit. If you really can’t, don’t park your car on the street, but rather in a paying car park, with video controls (still at your risk, though).
By no mean leave valuable stuff visible in your unattended car, even for a short period of time.

8) How much is fuel in Italy?

Servito Self Service

Fuel is expensive in Italy, much more than in other countries such as the US. Price by liter vary according to petrol quotations. In August 2018 prices are on average 1,5 €/liter for Gasoline (5,7 €/Gallon) and 1,7 € /liter for Diesel (6,4€ / Gallon). Prices on the highways are usually slightly higher.

In most petrol station you can chose to have someone filling the tank for you: look for the “Servito” lanes. Unsurprisingly, you will pay a higher amount for your refill. If you are comfortable of doing it yourself, just look for the “Self Service” lanes.

Luckily, European cars consumption is usually low, especial for Diesel engines, expect to drive 15-20 Km/liter. In general, try to rent a diesel car, you will safe on fuel costs.

9) Do I need an International Driving Permit to drive in Italy?

Unless you have a driving license issued by a EU country, you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in Italy.

The International Driving Permit is just a translation of your country driving license, and is intended to ease and speed police controls. You will need to show it along with your license to Police officers if asked.
If you intend to rent a car, the car rental company may just refuse to rent a car to you if you can’t show your IDP.

10) Can I drive in Italy city centers?

In most cases you can’t, and you will be heavily fined if you enter the city center with your rented car.

In most towns, you will notice large signs saying: Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL). This means “limited traffic zone”, and you will likely find it even in small towns. Controls are automated: a camera will take a photo of your license plate as you enter, so you are 100% sure to receive a fine after two or three months (or even more). If you rented a car, the car rental company will receive the fine and just charge your credit card accordingly, plus a fee to handle the administration!

ZTL rules vary from city to city. In some cities (like Milan), you can purchase a 24 hours permit to enter the city center with your car, and in general you can access the city centers after 7:00 or 8:00 PM. However, always check before.

In case your hotel is inside the city center ZTL, they may provide you with special permits Your hotel may provide you a special permit. Get in touch with them to check.

11) What are the speed limits in Italy?

They depend on the roads, weather and traffic conditions, plus local communities decisions. You may think this is nonsense, and I can agree with you, but you will have to live with it, so always pay attention to speed limit signs.
In general speed limits are:
– Highways: 130 kilometers per hour (or 110 if raining).
– Main roads: 70 or 90 kilometers per hour
– Towns: 50 kilometers per hour (but could go down to 30 kilometers per hour in city centers)

12) Are speed limits strongly enforced in Italy?

Unfortunately yes! Charging outrageous fines for speeding has become one of the main financing means for local community and central state, so pay a lot of attention!
Italy has two main devices for catching speeders, Autovelox and Tutor.

Driving in Italy_Autovelox

Autovelox look like big orange boxes on the side of the road and can be found on highways, local roads and even in some towns. They are relatively easy to spot. Your navigator may actually signal their position. Autovelox will take a photo of your license plate, so you are 100% sure to receive a fine after two or three months (or even more). If you rented a car, the car rental company will receive it and just charge your credit card accordingly, plus a fee to handle the administration!

Tutor can only be found on highways. It measures your average speed and will send you a fine by mail if you exceeded the authorized speed.

13) On which roads shall I pay a toll in Italy?

You only pay tolls on highways (“Autostrade”), which are indicated by green signs. In most cases you take a ticket when you enter the autostrada, and pay the toll when you get out of it.

14) How can I pay the highway toll in Italy?

Driving in Italy_Paying lanes

When exiting the Autostrada you will find 3 different gates:

  • Telepass: this is a remote paying system, you need to subscribe to it. If you see a lane with only the Telepass sign, don’t take it: you would get stuck (with angry drivers honking behind you)
  • Credit cards: these are automated lanes, most credit cards are accepted
  • Cash: in general these are lanes with a human operator. They also accept credit cards, so you can use them to check if yours works properly.

15) Do I need a navigator (GPS) to drive in Italy?

 

Driving in Italy_Indicazioni stradali

A navigator will definitely make your driving easier in Italy.
Most rental companies offer you to rent a navigator, generally at a relatively high cost. You can bring your own navigator from home, provided that you download Italy road maps.

Alternatively, your Google Maps app works absolutely fine, provided that you have an Italian SIM card or a phone plan that allows for international data roaming.

No navigator is 100% reliable (you may have towns with the same name, for instance), so always double check the suggested itinerary.

16) Which company should I use to rent a car in Italy?

In Italy you will find all the main international rental companies and a bunch of local ones. Prices and reliability depend on the season, the location and company specific promotions. So you would be better off using an aggregator to compare the different options.

I personally use www.rentalcars.com.

They are absolutely reliable, their site is easy to use and the tariffs are generally the most competitive that you can find (I benchmarked them many times!). Because I think they are a great company, Delightfullyitaly is now a www.rentalcars.com affiliate.  Just follow this link to check cars availability and rates.

Do you have any other question I didn’t answer to? Put it in the comments and I will answer to it asap.

Enjoy your driving in Italy!


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