Everyone has the fantasy – driving in Italy, through the winding roads of the Tuscan countryside or on the edge of the Amalfi Coast cliffs in a vintage cinquecento. A road trip through Italy is truly one of the best ways to see the country, allowing you to go from the busiest of city centers to serene rural landscapes.
Whether you’re a fellow ex-pat looking for some answers or a visiting vacationer preparing for the ultimate Italy road trip, this guide to the ins and outs of driving in Italy includes everything there is you should know before getting behind the wheel.
If you’re comparing modes of transportation for getting around on your Italy trip, check out my complete guide to Italy train travel and my thorough guide to using buses in Italy to cover all your bases.
Before you get on your way, make sure to not leave anything behind!
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Basic Italy Driving Facts
Before we jump into this in-depth driving in Italy guide, let’s get the basics out of the way.
- Italy drives on the right side of the road.
- Italy uses the metric system, so speeds and distances are calculated using kilometers per hour (kph) and kilometers/meters, respectively.
- Seatbelts are mandatory to wear according to Italian law.
- A reflective vest and warning triangle are required to be in your vehicle at all times in Italy in case you have to pull over. Most car rental companies will provide you with this, but double check this is the case before departing with your car.
Requirements for Driving in Italy
The minimum age to drive in Italy is 18 years old.
EU citizens may drive in Italy with their license issued by an EU member state. However, if you are coming from the US or anywhere else in the world, you will have to purchase an International Driving Permit.
This driving permit is simply a translation of your license. It’s not required to rent a car, but if you are pulled over by Italian police, you will be in trouble if you don’t have it.
It costs 20 USD.
If you’re moving to Italy, your driver’s license from another country is valid for one year since your move date. After that, you’ll have to study and take the tests in Italy to get an Italian driver’s license. Seeing what the requirements are for your particular license is one of the steps on the moving abroad checklist.
Renting a Car in Italy
Car rental in Italy is mostly straightforward. When searching for a rental car in Italy, make sure to read the fine print. The super cheap deal probably means there are extra fees that you could be hit with easily.
I always use Auto Europe for renting cars in Europe because they compare tons of different car rental companies for the best price. Plus, the mandatory Civil Liability insurance for rental cars in Italy is already included with their service.
The minimum age to rent a car in Italy is 21, but if you’re under 25, you will likely have to pay extra per day.
Always take note of any damage on the vehicle before setting off on your adventure. The last thing you want is having to pay for damage to the car that you didn’t do!
Here are some major things to keep in mind when renting a car in Italy:
- Car size: For road trips, an SUV is usually more comfortable, however, parking can be difficult in Europe with a larger vehicle. Stick to smaller cars, especially if you will be spending most of your trip in cities.
- Manual vs. Automatic: In Europe, manual cars are way more common than automatic. If you feel more comfortable driving an automatic vehicle, be sure to request it – although it will likely cost you more.
If you plan to rent a scooter during your trip to Italy, keep in mind the minimum driving age is 14 for 50cc engines and 16 for 150cc engines. Helmets are always mandatory on scooters.
Getting Gas in Italy
Gas stations are typically easy to find around Italy, a part from rural areas. You can usually pay with card or cash at the pump, but they may require you to pay inside if using card.
When getting gas for your vehicle, it’s important to know what each option means, as the setup is quite different from the US, for example:
- “Gasolio” or Diesel – Fun fact: As an American living in Italy, I was shocked to find out average cars like sedans and SUVs can be equipped to take diesel in Italy, although the country has put forth initiatives to steer away from using these types of vehicles for the environment.
- “Benzina” or Regular Gasoline
- “Metano” or Methane
- “LPG” or Natural Gas
Gas prices in Italy are calculated per liter. To an American, 1.60 euros looks like a great price for gas. But when you convert that to USD and realize four liters equals one gallon, the comparative price is 7.60 USD per gallon.
Use ViaMichelin to help calculate your fuel expenses along your Italy road trip.
Electric car charging stations are fairly easy to find. You can use the evway app to locate them in your area of Italy.
Highways in Italy
Highways or the “Autostrada” are well-maintained in Italy, with lots of barriers and signage. Wikipedia has a huge comprehensive list of Italy road signage if you’re looking to understand a specific sign.
On directional signs, you’ll find highways labeled with an A and then their number, like the A4 from Turin to Trieste, with a green background.
It’s important to note that in Italy, you’re required to have your headlights on at all times when driving on the highway, even during the day.
When entering a highway in Italy, you will approach the toll and press a button to take a ticket. Keep the ticket close for when you later exit the highway. You’ll insert the ticket and then be told the charge of your toll expenses.
Highways in Italy can be a bit costly, depending how far you are traveling on them. On a recent trip I took from Lucca to Bergamo, the 3-hour highway journey cost us 35 USD.
Tolls accept cash, most major credit cards, and Telepass, which is Italy’s electronic highway pass system. The latter payment option most likely won’t apply to visiting tourists, but the Telepass lanes are designated by yellow signs. The cash and credit card lanes are designated by blue signs.
If you need help, there’s a button for assistance at the top of the toll payment station and the operator usually responds very quickly.
Gas Stations & Rest Areas – Plus a Useful Tool for Your Italy Road Trip
You will find plenty of gas stations and rest areas along Italian highways, unlike what I found while driving in Switzerland.
Most gas stations will be accompanied by an Autogrill which has food options and restrooms.
A useful tool for checking for gas stations along your itinerary is autostrade.it.
You can input your route and it will show you all the gas stations along the way and if they offer anything special, such as LPG or “natural gas” if that’s what your vehicle takes.
The site also provides road closure alerts, emergency contacts, and car breakdown assistance.
Roads in Italy
General road conditions in Italy vary greatly based on the region. Typically in the north, roads are better maintained. However, anywhere you go that is more rural means there is a higher chance of being on small town roads that aren’t as well taken care of.
Even in urban centers, some roads will be made of uneven cobblestones that are tricky to navigate and tough on tires.
Roundabouts are more common in Italy than traffic lights. Always yield to the traffic that is already in the roundabout when entering.
When traveling through mountainous areas, you’ll likely go through tunnels. These tunnels are typically well-lit and well maintained, but always remember to drive with your headlights on.
Some roads in Italy are more dangerous than others. You may take a very narrow road up through mountains, for example, where there are no barriers.
In huge cities like Rome and Naples, the traffic can be chaotic. Although at complete different ends of the spectrum, both of these situations require you to just go slow and be incredibly attentive. It’s likely Italian drivers won’t follow suit like you, so don’t be intimidated by them overtaking you.
Italian drivers are not typically aggressive, but they do tend to drive fast and create their own rules. I rarely see turn signals being used to switch lanes and I often see people driving in between two lanes or over the lines.
One last thing to note about roads in Italy is that you’re often sharing them with public buses, trams, cyclists, and maybe even tractors if you’re in the Italian countryside. Pedestrians have the right of way, but many cars don’t stop at crosswalks, so be aware of people crossing even when there’s not a lot of space to do so. Public buses and trams also have the right of way.
Parking in Italy
Parking can be difficult to find in urban centers. Spaces are tight and Italians can be known for creating spots where there aren’t if it’s a super busy area.
Parking garages can be found in cities and also in some small touristic towns (like Varenna, for example.) These are convenient but usually cost more.
It’s more likely you will either be parking in designated lots or along the street. When parking, be aware of what the colored lines of the parking spots indicate:
- White-lined parking spaces are free of charge.
- Blue-lined parking spaces are paid parking, usually with a parking meter nearby.
- Yellow-lined parking spaces are resident and disabled parking.
Pro Tip: Italy has an environmental initiative that those who drive hybrid cars don’t pay for parking. You can read about some of the other subsidies here if this interests you!
A lot of towns and cities have begun integrating EasyPark into their paid parking system. This is an app that allows you to pay for parking from your phone.
I just started using it for parking in Italy and I can’t believe I didn’t use it before! You can attach your card and quickly select how long you’ll be staying.
Plus, you can stop or extend the parking at any time and only pay for what time you actually use. The only thing to note is that you’ll need to write EasyPark on a slip of paper and stick it in your windshield.
Road Rules in Italy
Avoid paying hefty fines by studying these Italy road rules!
ZTL and Area Pedonale
“Zona Traffico Limitato” or ZTL translates to limited traffic zone. This is a designated area, usually in city centers, where cars other than residents are not allowed to enter.
There is typically an electronic sign that will say if the ZTL is “attiva” or active. If there’s no sign, you can assume it is always a ZTL. You will get a fine if you enter!
Note that the ZTL does not apply to motos, or scooters like Vespas.
“Area pedonale” or pedestrian area is also a restricted area where vehicles are not allowed to enter.
Right of Way and Overtaking
Public buses, trams, trains, and pedestrians all have the right of way. When stopped at an intersection, the vehicle to the right has the right of way.
In Europe, you cannot make a right turn at a red traffic light ever.
In Italy, you can only ever overtake someone on the left – never on the right.
Speed Limits & Cameras
Italians are very strict with speed limits. There are typically lots of speed limit signs on roads, recognizable as white circles with a red border and the number in the middle.
If you don’t see any signs, note that the rule of thumb is 130 km/h (80 mph) on the highway and 90 km/h (55 mph) to 110 km/h (70 mph) for main roads outside of the highway.
A police officer can catch you speeding firsthand, but it’s more common now for Italian police to rely on cameras to enforce speed limit regulations.
There are two different kinds of cameras you’ll find while driving in Italy that check your speed. The Sistema Tutor is used on the highways, and indicated by a sign that says “Polizia Stradale Controllo Elettronico della Velocità con Sistema Tutor.
The other type of speed camera will sometimes be an orange pole on the side of the road or it may not be visible, but in either case you will see a sign that says “Controllo Velocità.”
These cameras will take pictures of your license plate and record your speed. If you are speeding, you can expect a letter in the mail, even up to a year after the incident!
In Italy, it is illegal to be holding your phone while driving, whether for talking on a call or using navigation.
You have to be hands-free when making calls or doing anything else related to your phone. Pack along a car phone mount to easily use GPS without risking a fine.
Everyone wants to sip a little Italian wine when they visit Italy, no? However, even on vacation, NEVER drink and drive.
The maximum BAC (blood alcohol count) in Italy is .5mg, before you will at the very least pay a fine, but penalties can be much more serious than that.
Italian Words To Know When Driving in Italy
Directions & Signage
Uscita – Exit
Entrata – Entrance
Sinistra – Left
Destra – Right
Semaforo – Traffic Light
Passo Carrabile – Tow Away Zone
Dogana – Customs
Polizia/Carabinieri – Police
Gas & Gas Stations
Stazione di Servizio/Distributore di Benzina – Gas Station
Area Servizio – Rest Area (usually includes a gas station)
Area Successiva – Indicates how far the next rest area/gas station is
Benzina – Gasoline
Metano – Methane
LPG – Natural Gas
Gasolio – Diesel
Fai da te – Self-Service
Servito – Attendant will assist you
Servizi/WC – Toilets
- SOS Phones – You’ll frequently see boxes marked SOS along highways and in tunnels that will connect you with an operator in case of an emergency.
- Emergency Number: Dial 112
Pro Tip: When traffic is coming to a sudden stop, Italian drivers will turn on their hazard lights to notify the vehicle behind them.
Driving in any new country can be intimidating, but hopefully I’ve been able to shed light on what it’s really like driving in Italy.
Here are some final tips & resources:
- Plan the perfect Italy road trip with Google Maps Trip Planner following my easy-to-use guide. This tool is the best out there for road trip planning!
- Download offline maps before you set off on your itinerary. Most places in Italy have good service coverage, but you’re likely to lose service in remote areas like the mountains of the Alps until you reach a town.
I think I’ve left everything else there is to know in the depths of this post!
Have any more questions about driving in Italy? Let me know in a comment!
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Buon Viaggio on your Italian adventure!