Driving in Italy or any other foreign country can always be a fun adventure if you are prepared and know what to expect. We drove for a week visiting some of the most exotic locations that Italy has to offer, and I’m so glad we choose to drive instead of any other means of transport even though we faced some challenges.
If you are coming from the United States and want a quick suggestion on how crazy driving in Italy can be. I’ll say it’s a 7 out of 10 (1 being super crazy – 10 being super easy). If you have driven in any mayor city in America you should have no trouble getting your way around Italy on your rental car.
We picked up our rental car in Rome at the train station and finding the actual office took us a little longer than expected. Once we reached the rental agency they were very friendly and accommodating. We had reserved our car online and the process of getting our car was pretty smooth.
Museo Ferrari in Maranello (One of our favorites stops on our trip)
Driver’s License (Permit)
We were told by the rental agency that a valid US License was all we needed, some websites mention that you should get an International Drivers Permit, but we had no problem renting our car with a valid US drivers license, thankfully we were not stopped by the police, so I couldn’t tell you if they ask for one.
Renting a car in Europe is fairly inexpensive you can get economy cars for under $30/usd per day.
When renting your car online, don’t be fooled by the low prices some agencies offer, oftentimes they will overcharge you for many different fees when you are about to pick up your car. Is best to use well know agencies that will show you the full price online at time of booking.
Driving In Italy – Insurance
Make sure you find with your local car insurance or credit card if they cover your International rental. We added the rental basic insurance just in case and that was all we needed; thankfully again we had no incidents whatsoever.
Driving in Italian Cities / Towns & Highways
Rome was by far the worst cities of all to drive in. If you want peace of mind and are renting your car in Rome I recommend to not use it for your sightseeing while in Rome, but to just rent it the last day on your visit in Rome (This is what we did). Drivers in Rome are quite reckless, but if you are careful you’ll have no problem getting out of the city fairly quick.
Smaller cities and towns are much easier to handle, driving around Pizza, Florence among others is rather simple as long as you are careful with the small streets and follow all street signs.
Highways on the other hand are a treat to drive in. This is pretty much true for all of Europe but Italy was no exception, driving on the Italian Highways was nice and easy, people most of the time respect your space and speed.
Nowadays I don’t see why anyone would not use a GPS to drive in Italy or any other foreign country. Every phone has Google Maps nowadays, and even if you don’t have cell service, most of the time your GPS will still function. We switched to an International cell phone plan so we have Internet coverage mostly everywhere we go, so we use our phones for GPS every single time. I trust Google Maps very much when driving and even more so when driving in Italy or any other country. Just put the location where you are going and let your friendly gps voice guide the way, instead of fighting with maps. Using a GPS will help you avoid turning in the wrong direction on one-way streets or even into an alley with no exit.
Zona Traffico Limitato ( ZTL )
This was probably one of the most confusing parts of driving in some Italian cities. Some cities have what they call Area Pedonale, which is limited to pedestrian only. You will find it in most of the historic centers. A special permit is needed to drive in these zones, and your rental will most likely not have one.
We unfortunately drove to the City Center of Florence trying to find our Airbnb and our expensive parking ($50usd night) told us that the high rate was due to the fact that they will let the authorities know that you park there and you will not get a ticket – THIS WAS NOT THE CASE – After our amazing Europe trip, I got a letter with a ticket from the car agency because we drove on the ZTL. It is best to find parking outside the city center and walk or take public transit.
If you are staying in Hotels or Airbnb’s make sure to find out well in advance if they offer parking and if its included or not. We use Airbnb most of the time and let our hosts know that we needed parking in advance. We had available parking in most of our rentals, where others would help us find parking near the property. Again I recommend using your car to get from city to city, but not to use it inside the cities or sightseeing as it is more of a hassle.
There are plenty of speeding cameras in Italy, especially on the Highway. Try to stay within the speed limit at all times in order to avoid getting your tag photographed and potentially getting a ticket.
Final Thoughts of Driving in Italy
If you respect all of the rules mentioned above there is no reason why you wouldn’t have an awesome time driving in Italy. I feel that seeing a country by car is one of the best ways to truly experience it as you can stop in small towns that you would otherwise not do by other means of transportation and you get to pass through the countryside etc.
Thanks to driving in Italy instead of flying or using the train we were able to see some of the best sights in Italy that we would not have done otherwise.
Cat posing for us in a beautiful Fiat 500 in Orvieto
On our way from Rome to Florence we stopped in a town called Orvieto and it was probably our favorite small town in Italy. On our way from Florence to Venice I stopped in Maranello home to the Ferrari Factory.
Read our related article of RoadTrip Europe / Europe By Car