Driving in Italy is an adventure. After two years of living and driving in Italy, I’m still surprised each time I get behind that wheel. Between navigating the roads and finding a place to park, I’ve had my fair share of
emotional breakdowns mishaps! A stress-free road trip is possible in Italy, but it just takes a little bit of planning and managing expectations. These are some of my top tips and advice for a road trip in Italy.
Don’t: Rent a Huge Car
And by “huge car” I should specify… anything larger than a Fiat. When I was driving though Orvieto last winter, there was a turn so tight my Fiat barely made it. Also whenever I drive to Positano, I’m always glad I have a small car because those lanes are incredibly narrow and you’ll usually be sharing the road with tour buses and van taxis (if that makes you nervous, consider actually being on one instead).
I’ve used Rentalcars.com several times for our longer driving trips or in another country. They usually offer free cancellation within 24 hours of your reservation (which I’ve had to use several times!) and their customer service chat was very helpful when I was trying to find a rental car company that accepted dogs and allowed you to drive in multiple countries.
Huge luggage will not fit into the trunk of that small car you’re going to rent. This is the exact duffle bag I bring on almost all of my trips.
Do: Expect to Pay Tolls on the Freeways
Tolls can really vary depending on the roads you use and where in Italy you’re driving. I payed about 25 euros when I drove to Naples from Pienza. The autostrade mainly uses a ticket method where you take the paper ticket as you approach the booth on the on-ramp. Look for the booth that says “biglietto” (ticket). When you exit the freeway, insert the ticket and it will tell you how much you owe based on the distance you drove. Use this website to calculate tolls if you want an idea ahead of time.
Do: Look Up Where to Park in Advance
In google maps, I’ll search “parking” when I’m zoomed in on my destination. Then, I street view it to make sure it is indeed a parking lot. I always have an exact location entered into my google maps because it is just too nerve-racking to approach a town in Italy hoping you’ll find street parking. When you do eventually park your car, fold in those rearview mirrors!
I’m still not quite sure how this truck made it onto this street.
Do: Book a Hotel or Airbnb with Parking
When I search Booking.com or Airbnb, I will use the filter to find accommodations specifically with parking. I’ll also search for the word “parking” in the reviews section of TripAdvisor. You can get a good idea of the parking situation by how much people grumble about it in reviews.
Do: Stop at Wineries in Tuscany
Most wineries require you to make a reservation in advance if you want to wine taste. However, I have seen a few in Tuscany that will let you just drop in. It’s always worth a try!
BUT DON’T: Drink and Drive
Not only would an accident be a real buzz-kill (inapproriate pun?), but the legal BAC in Italy is only .05%.
Don’t: Ever Leave Anything Visible in the Car
I know…. You’re probably thinking, “Wow… Thanks for the insider tip, Captain Obvious.” But, I just want to reinforce that one. I had my car broken into because I had one pair of pants folded on the backseat. I didn’t think that was really a “valuable” item someone would break into my car for, but they did.
Do: Be a Defensive Driver
There’s no polite way to say it… Italians are crazy drivers. I’ll admit, I live near Naples and it’s the epicenter of terrible Italian drivers. However, you should still be aware that things are more chaotic in Italy as a whole.
People don’t stay in their own lanes. They triple park. They’ll have no problem “parking” right in the middle of the street to run into a bar and get an espresso. As my hair stylist once said, “This is Italy. People do whatever they want. It’s crazy. It’s beautiful.”
“This is Italy. People do whatever they want. It’s crazy. It’s beautiful.” – My Hair Stylist
Do: Go the Speed Limit
Everyone else might drive like this is Mad Max, but be mindful of the speed limit (usually 130 km/hr on the autostrade). Italy uses the Tutor system where a series of cameras will calculate your speed between two points. They’ll mail you/your rental agency a bill if you’re over the limit.
Don’t: Be Surprised that Gas is Expensive
Gas is over $6 a gallon in Italy. Another reason to get a small car with good gas mileage!
Do: Expect to See Some Strange Things
I see a man peeing on the side of the freeway at least once a week. Maybe it’s because there’s not as many exits off the freeway or Italians are just more comfortable doing that. I can’t explain the why, but I can tell you that it’s not at all uncommon.
Also, it’s common to see infants and children not in car seats. It still shocks me when I see a toddler just standing on the backseats or hanging out on mom’s lap in the front seat, head bobbling with the rhythm of the cobblestones.
Don’t: Panic When a Reverse Lights is Out
Italian cars only have one reverse light. There’s not one above both brake lights. I went into a shop to get the light replaced on my own Fiat and proceeded to be laughed out of the place!
Don’t: Drive in Limited Traffic Zones
These are streets restricted for residents’ use only. On the way to a hotel, I drove right up the main street of a small Tuscan town completely unaware that I was in a LTZ. The woman running the hotel looked like she saw a ghost when I drove right up to the front door of the hotel! She quickly got in the car with me and showed me where I needed to park. Thank god it was Tuscany in the off season and no one was around.
Have you ever driven in Italy? I’d love to hear any of your tips or experiences!