6 Tips for How To Drive in Italy

Thinking of going to Italy? Our free online travel guide will answer any question you might have and if you want to experience some of Italy’s top attractions with a friendly, expert guide, check out our award-winning Italian walking tours. 

Want to drive in Italy? We get it: If you’re relying on Italian public transport, it can be tough to visit the off-the-beaten-path villages and rural areas that make Italy so special. Even though it is possible, and easier than you might think explore areas like Umbria and Tuscany by train and bus (don’t miss our guides for getting around Umbria by train and bus or the navigating Cinque Terre by train), renting a car gives you more flexibility and freedom. Plus, depending on the number of people you’re traveling with, it can be the cheapest option.

Driving in Italy can be intimidating, especially given the fearsome reputation of Italian drivers. But if you follow these 6 tips you’ll be cruising Italian roads like a local in no time – just lay off the horn, please.

1) What to know when renting a car

Yes, you can wait until getting Italy to rent a car. But you’ll get a better price, and more options, if you book before your trip; it’s often easiest online, although you can also book by phone. Most rental cars can be reserved online or by phone with major international chains or smaller companies.

Insurance may not be included with plans depending on the company, but it can always be added for an extra charge. Consider renting a car for a longer period for a more convenient rate (usually half the price of the daily rate) and factor the rising cost of gasoline into your budget!

Drive in Italy

There are lots of benefits to driving in Italy!

2) Remember that automatic cars don’t come, well, automatically

Don’t drive a stick shift? You might be surprised to know that most Italians do—so the majority of cars in Italy are stick-shift (aka: manual), not automatic. That means automatics often have a limited availability, and usually cost more. (Another good reason to book in advance!).

Motorcycles and scooters are also available for rent, but we do not suggest them for long-distance trips, or in areas you are unfamiliar with. And never, ever try to learn to drive a scooter for the first time in a foreign city. You have been warned!

3) Technically, you need an international driving permit

When you rent a car, you probably won’t be asked for it. But if you’re stopped? You might be. Or you might not. Really, there’s no knowing. But technically, you’re supposed to have it (along with your normal license) when you drive, and it’s easy to get; applications are open through the AAA website, and permits are valid for one year.

Sign for driving in Italy

This means… you can’t drive here! (flickr: Elliott Brown)

4) Have a good map—or better yet, a GPS

On the road in Italy, signs often won’t indicate north, south, east, or west; instead, they’ll use a city sign. So if you want to drive north from Rome, for example, you might look for a sign for “Firenze” or “Milano.” As you might expect, this can be incredibly confusing for anyone not intimately familiar with Italian geography (especially when you get to smaller roads, which often indicate their direction with smaller towns and villages!).

We recommend having a good map or, better yet, rent a GPS with your car (if it’s not already included), at the cost of about 10-15 euros a day. GPS systems are programmed in English as well as Italian, and can be a godsend for guiding you through winding roads and small streets.

Roundabouts, intersections, and exits off main roads often have signs indicating restaurants, hotels, and sights of interest… but you’ll have to be a quick reader to scan them all.

5) Know the rules of the Italian road

Some quick pointers:

Italians drive on the right side of the road, just like Americans. That may seem basic, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know.

Traffic lights and stop signs work the same as most other countries, but, like most of Europe, right turns during red lights are ALWAYS ILLEGAL.

Zona traffico limitato and zona pedonale indicate pedestrian streets that are not open to cars.

An inverted red and white triangle means that you do not have the right of way at the intersection.

While driving in Italy, some useful words to know include destra (right), sinistra (left), dritto (straight), uscita (exit) and pedaggio (toll). 

6) Mind the speed limit, or get stung

All Italian roads—from city streets to highways—have speed limits, usually indicated by a white and red circle with the number (by kilometers, NOT MILES, per hour) written in the center.

Police officers usually do not patrol the roads; instead, cameras are set up to register a car’s speed, automatically issuing a ticket. And there are lots of them, especially on the highways!

If you’ve rented a car in Italy, the ticket will be sent to the agency and the cost automatically taken from your credit card—so no, you can’t get out of it just because you’ve left the country.

Keep an eye out for signs that show a police officer with a hand raised, or for orange autovelox boxes, which indicate speed traps and check points.

Drive in Italy

Street signs indicating which way you should go… according to the city located in that direction. Photo by David McSpadden


If all of this makes you hesitant to rent a car, but you’d like to travel to beautiful destinations like Livorno and Pompeii, check out our tailor-made tour transfer packages—including an English-speaking driver—over at WalksOfItaly.com

Have you ever rented or driven a car in Italy? Share your experience with us in the comments!

Driving in Italy, especially in a stylish, cream-colored vintage fiat like this, is one of the coolest ways to get around. Check out our tips for how to drive like a local.


  • Lisa says:

    We recently took a 4 week roadtrip through Italy. Navigating while my husband drove was much more stressful than I anticipated. If you get frazzled easily, you might rethink driving. I think the most important tip is to learn what the road signs mean before you get there. The conventions are different, and it’s hard to look them up on the fly. Lastly, using google maps to navigate using your phone can be tricky since the map relies on your data connection to keep updating. Be sure to have another means – GPS and/or a map.

  • Judy Murphy says:

    I have rented cars in Italy several times with great results! Never a problem. Driving in the cities is not for the faint-hearted. I recommend taking a train to the first smaller town with rentals available and picking up a car there. Returning the car–the same procedure.

  • karen says:

    Be sure to check the entire car for damage before driving away. For the first time i decided to take the insurance and i am happy I did. I was charged $1100 for a dent that could have been there when I picked up the car. Another time having conversation with 2/3 people while picking up the car i signed and didnt read…….when I got home there were charges on my credit card that I couldn’t dispute because I signed…..BUT I always rent a car in Italy and now I’m just a bit smarter !!!

  • Jane A says:

    Driving in Italy is easier and less intimidating than most people realize. In addition to the great tips above, I suggest becoming familiar with Italian driving etiquette. For example, on highways, the left lane is for most definitely for passing only, so stay to the right or risk inciting the ire of other drivers.

    And the International Drivers Permit is a must. My experience during my last three visits was that the car rental agencies all asked to see my permit before releasing the car to me.

    • Joe says:

      This is great advice. We are going this New Years and I was a little hesitant to travel with a rental car. Usually we just train around Europe but this time we are skiing in locations where it is time consuming to travel by train and bus. Based on your advice I think we’ll do just fine.

  • If i were to be there in italy and rent a car, wouldnt it be confusing because im used of having the drivers seat on the left side? One thing im worried about is the road signs on italy. It would be easy if it also comes with english.

    • Hi Sandy,
      In Italy (and the rest of Europe apart from the UK), we drive on the right, so the driver’s seat is still on the left side.

      The road signs are in Italian, but as with road signs everywhere, they tend to rely more on symbols and place names than phrases.

      Let us know if we can help with anything else!

    • Anne Mccarty says:

      In Europe, exept for brits and Irish, every driver seat is on the left side…

      • Amanda says:

        Even Malta is like Britain and we drive on the right hand side. Driver is on the right.
        I am now planning for our first trip to Italy and we are thinking of renting a car. But reading all theses comments, I re-thinking this. 🙁 I read there are a lot of crazy drivers and especially in Sicily,-Catania, where we wanted to go. 🙁

        • Walks of Italy says:

          Hi Amanda,

          It’s true, there are a lot of crazy drivers, especially in that region. Still, it all depends on you. If you’re a calm and attentive driver, we know it’s possible to drive and drive well in the area, but if you don’t feel comfortable you can easily get by with public transportation or taxis!

  • Anja says:

    If you plan on renting a car in Italy make sure you check your creditcard provider for their insurance cover in Italy. In most cases they will cover all European countries EXCEPT Italy.

    Insurance provided by the car rental companies in Italy is fairly expensive so make sure you contact your card provider before your trip…

  • Alan Harrison says:

    Don’t forget that not all readers are American. British and Irish drivers do NOT require an international permit, as all EU licences are acepted in all EU countries.
    I think GPS is a good idea, since Italian road signage is not the best. Road numbers are not usually shown on signs, so (except for motorways) it isn’t possible to follow a route by looking for a road number. e.g. In England you can get to Winchester from the midlands by following signs for the A34 from junction 10 on the M40 motorway. You can’t similarly follow the SS 123 in Italy.

  • Cindy says:

    GPS is a must, but (as we found out) the required maps are not always loaded or can be in German, if you’ve rented a German vehicle. Be prepared with alternatives.

  • Ellen C says:

    Is there a GPS that I can buy in USA that is loaded with Italian maps before going to Italy?

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Ciao Ellen, most modern Garmin and Tom Tom GPS devices already have the Italian map available, but be sure to check the product description before purchasing. Let us know if you have any questions!

    • larry burgess says:

      I have 2 Garmins. One that only works in the USA, so I had to buy one that works in Europe. Mine required a street name, as well as a town, so I had to google a map in advance to find a street. An alternative was to search a restaurant in a different city, and that would get us to the town.

  • Lodia Barnes says:

    In September to October 2012, My husband and I found leasing a vehicle at Callais France was very easy and we drove all through France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Poland, Holland, France. Hubby was concerned at first but easily slipped into the road rules. Italy was challenging in the big cities but you soon learn that drivers are very obliging and give you a short beep if you indicate, to allow you to come across….at no time did we encounter any impatience by anyone…..nothing like our abusive drivers here in Australia. Yes..insurance is a must and we also took pictures of both vehicles before we took off and when we returned, the one we rented in the Uk and the one we leased in France. A Navman is a necessity and note they work differently there as you need to be searching for the region your destination is in not so much the road….we didn’t have a clue about any of this when we set off but worked it out quickly and had an absolute ball. So much so that we are saving our dollars for another trip in the next couple of years.

  • Ron S says:

    I rented a car( Fiat Panda) in Italy. Made many mistakes and surprises. Definitely have a GPS a lot better than map. Learn to follow directions given from the GPS. The one we used had directions for the USA, Canada and Mexico. Had a screen that let us switch to europe. What a time saver!
    Surprises good and bad. When renting the car had to give the rental company a 350 euro deposit! Italy was beautiful. We rented the car in Rome(Roma). Returned it to the airport. Asked at the rental desk where is the return area at the airport? No help. When we returned the car at the airport went to the B parking structure. Wrong one. Went to the C. OK. This was at 4 am.
    After returning home 3 weeks went by was Taxed by the Italian Government for the miles driven. When renting a car in italy the rental company has an area in the rental box for that particular car on its emissions per kilometer. Read it carefully. In Florence I missed the ZLT signage two tickets for that mess up. 40 euros to the rental car company and 83 euros to the city of Florence(Firenza) for each. So don’t site see while driving. No fun.

  • Véronique says:

    In March 2014 we arranged ahead of time through Hertz to rent a car to drive between Florence and Levanto. We loved our Fiat 500! No problem for me driving a stick. I certainly learned about that left lane on the autoroutes. If you don’t pass with dispatch, some car will very quickly be right behind you. We didn’t drive much around Levanto, using the train to go to the Cinque Terre, but we explored a little. My proudest moment was passing a Piaggio Ape going uphill on a winding road with barely enough visibility. I felt like a true Italian at that point. 🙂

    Next time we will definitely rent a GPS. We rented wifi instead, thinking my spouse’s phone with Google Maps would be enough, but it was not. We spent an hour and a half in and around Pisa getting constantly lost.

    The rental was expensive too. I imagine there were charges in there that I never fully understood. But it made sense for us to do that leg of the trip by car. In Florence we mostly walked, and we took a fast train from there to Rome, where we did a lot of walking again, but getting to Levanto would have been a lot more difficult without the car. And it was so much fun to drive!

  • Rita MJ says:

    Even better than GPS is a real, live navigator. I had my dad beside me when I drove in Rome — what a rush! — and knowing the city well, he was able to direct me with no problems!

  • Joseph R. says:

    An absolute blast, but you MUST have a GPS to navigate. Honking is a rarity. You cannot be timid at intersections. Stick your nose out there and go. It’s what I call “driving with a purpose”. I drove in Florence and all over Tuscany. I did not try it in Rome proper. Glad I didn’t because it turned out to be a little too hectic.

    • Walks of Italy says:

      We agree, Joseph, GPS can make a trip much easier and driving less stressful, as you don’t have to try to drive and navigate! Another thing to consider is that many of the city centers, like Rome, are limited traffic zones. If you enter them you can be hit with a hefty fine!

  • Leonardo says:

    GPS & Time Management – Don’t wait until you are in Italy. Use it to plan the driving portion of your trip. Buy a GPS at home that lets you load Europe maps. Then use the “Plan a Trip” feature to determine your accurate travel time and routes between locations in Italy. If you want to make hotel reservations in two different locations, you will need to know if you can drive the distance in one day. Perhaps there will be time to visit a third location. Can you drive between Lake Garda and Levanto in one day? What time will I have to depart? Where will I be at lunch time? What time will I arrive? Is there time for a side trip?

    While still at home, use the “Street View” feature of internet map programs. Enter the address of your destination and review the area; even print out a photo of your destination. Then, when you are actually driving in heavy city traffic, you will have some familiarity with the location.

    Pay attention to the “Return Location” listed ON THE RENTAL AGREEMENT; it’s not always the local rental office. The “return” in Rome was inside of a parking structure a few blocks away from the office. Fortunately, I had previously “visited” the parking structure on Google Maps ‘Street View”. When driving in Rome, in heavy traffic, I was able to recognize the parking structure with certainty. Only afterwards did I see the small sign for the auto rental agency.

  • Nick says:

    Lots of good tips here. We drove the Amalfi Coast, Tuscany & Umbria in 2013; and last May (2015) drove from Rome to Sicily, looped Sicily, and then went back to Rome after a few days in Puglia & Campania – no significant problems. +++ “driving with a purpose” – Joseph is correct. (An element of that is what we called it ‘nosing in’. Many times you have no alternative but to nose in with the crowd, especially in the south of Italy – this is urban & town driving of course.) Drive with a purpose, or get off the road and sort things out so you can. We follow the rule that our driver is always right – even when wrong. Sometimes you just have to move through an intersection not having resolved your route, that is OK, just move through and find a place to pull over and resolve your route as best you can.
    And Leonardo is spot, spot, spot on. You can’t do too much pre-planning !!!!! We printed out turn-by-turn instructions for all of our major routes, ‘drove’ critical routes in Google Street View, studied locations in Street View, had GPS in our cars …………cell phone …………. We also had paper maps for the larger perspective and back-up. Even so, you will encounter many opportunities to go off course. At times, the street signs are your best tool, and having several ‘navigators’ looking out for the right (often small) sign is a must. We were both ‘rescued’ by the car GPS on occasion, and ‘led astray’ by the car GPS on occasion (frightfully forged a ‘relatively dry’ half mile wide river bed on Sicily, the route our GPS recommended). Know your cars ‘edges’, keep your eyes on the road fore & aft, rent as small a car as you can (traveling light with luggage), pull in the side mirrors when necessary, have full insurance ………… and have fun !!!

    • Nick says:

      Forgot to mention: Absolutely love driving in Italy with the curvy, hilly scenic roads. I think Italian drivers are actually extremely good drivers. Just “drive with purpose” and you will be fine – well that’s the theory anyway.

  • Razvan says:

    A very good article on car rental.

  • Jonathan More says:

    Regarding GPS, Google Maps now offers offline mode whereby you can download maps for GPS use when you don’t have WiFi or cell data access. I used this in Canada and it worked great (tested it by turning off cellular data so I know it was truly operating offline. The one difference is that in offline mode you don’t get voice prompts for turns, so you need a navigator to watch the phone map and the road to tell the driver what to do. Also, the maps “expire” after a month so you have to load them just before you start driving – you can use hotel WiFi when you first get there…

  • Stanley says:

    Italy is a quite specific country for traveling. There is a well-developed public transport system In Italy.
    Nevertheless, a car is the only way to see all of Italy’s nooks and crannies.

    Don’t wait until you’re over there to rent a vehicle. It is invariably cheaper to rent a car from home.

    You should drive defensively and cautiously. Yes, Italian drivers are aggressive. Do not attempt to imitate them. See, they know the rules of the road—both the meanings of all the road signs and official regulations, and the unwritten rules of how people drive in Italy (like how you should slow down and drive a bit on the shoulder to let a larger, faster car pass you, even if he insists on doing this on a blind curve of a meandering, two-lane country road).

  • Caro says:

    So I’m going to Italy this summer, I’ve rented a car already, I have my international driver’s license, and I’m trying to get familiar with road signs and such. I will be travelling with my 2 teenage daughters, so it made sense to rent a car, as train tickets add up, and we do want to visit the country side (from outside of Rome, to Tuscany, to Marche, to Puglia, then Calabria and back to Rome). I’m not really excited about visiting cities packed with tourists in the summer. There are aspects that I’m not sure about, for example safety, like leaving luggage in the car and such. I’m thinking we will most likely leave the car for a few hours at a time during the day when we’re visiting, and even maybe leave the car somewhere and take a train into the city. We would obviously have to leave some stuff in the car. Is that safe? Also, I have heard of scams involving people deflating your tires and then stopping to help you out and of course rob you.. It also seems like the south is more dangerous. Someone was saying it might not be wise to travel the small quiet country roads where there’s not so much traffic. Should we avoid driving in he south? I’m just a little worried, I’ve never been to Italy, we’re hoping to have good time, and I don’t want feel stressed out about our safety…
    I appreciate any advice on this!
    Thank you,

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Caro,

      We think it’s just as safe to leave your luggage in the car in Italy as it is in any major Western, first world country. In that sense, the same safety measures should be taken. For example, be discreet when opening up the trunk to take things in or out and be aware of your surroundings. We imagine you’d have the possibility to leave your luggage at a hotel for many visits – especially if you base yourself in one city, then take the car to drive around during the day!

  • kenny says:

    I think that people over state how frantic driving in Italy is.

    If you come from the USA or UK sure it is different, rules become guideilnes in Italy but that is how a large part of the world drives. I think the reputation for Italian drivers comes purely from the fact that for visitors from the USA, UK, GERMANY we do drive very much within the rules whereas the Italians really do not.

    Lots of speed cameras? I can tell you there are NOT lots of speed cameras there are almost none
    I assume the author has never driven in the UK?

    One of the things i like is that you drive as you feel in Italy, as an adult with a car you judge the speed an drive as appropriate, 130km may be the limit on the autostrada but 150km can see you in a line of traffic waiting ot accelerate!

    Roundabouts, ok Italians really REALLY do not know how these work, GIVE WAY does not apply, the way a roundabout works in Italy is, you approach, you refuse to actually stop at all costs and you make eye contact with the approaching drivers and nip into the tiniest gap.

    When you drive in Italy you think people are crazy but they are not, the reason you think this is because in the USA OR UK if someone is tailgating you and or flashing their lights, its normally road rage, in Italy it is normal and does not mean there will be blows when you arrive at the next stop it is simply a warning that a faster car is approaching, so use your mirrors and relax, what appears to be aggressive driving is just a different style.

    I am from the UK and have lived in Italy for 5 years

  • Shruthi says:

    Hi Walks of Italy, Love your page, its so informative.
    I am going from Naples to Positano with a day trip to capri, and then onward to Amalfi, ravello, matera, alberobello and bari, before going back to rome.
    We looked at car rental options but read a lot of reviews about parking in sightseeing areas etc, where it might not be safe. There might be instances where we might stop along the way to explore sights and our bags will obviously be in the trunk of our car.
    Is there a train service/bus service that we can use to easily get around these towns? What do you think of driving all the way?


    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Shruthi,

      Are you planning on seeing all those sites in one day from Naples then back to Rome? We think that’s a bit difficult to fit in! If you have a hotel somewhere along the Amalfi Coast, you could always check in and drop your bags off, eliminating the risk of them being in the trunk. Many people drive along the Amalfi Coast with no problems, we’re sure you could to. If you prefer, however, you can easily take the SITA bus all up and down the coastline. It takes the same road as a car would and offers the same breathtaking views. Let us know what you decide!

  • most modern Garmin and Tom Tom GPS devices already have the Italian map available, but be sure to check the product description before purchasing.

  • Pam says:

    I will travel to Italy in September, I would like to rent a ca to go around Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and the small cities around. However, many website or travel book in HK do not recommend it, as the above cities have limited traffic zone! How can I avoid it, I am OK to park the car in nearby train stations and then go by train to visit the city Center. I am also worry about booking hotels in limited traffic zone as I have no idea on it.

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Pam,

      A car is great to explore the Italian countryside, but not so great in the big cities. Limited Traffic Zones have hefty fines – even for international drivers – and it can be hard to understand when you’ve entered one. You can drive to each city, but you’ll likely have to park your car in a private, pay parking lot that is likely to cost you anywhere from 20 euro per day or up to 5 euro per hour parked.

  • Henry says:

    Along the same lines as the previous post, I’m wondering where you DO recommend to drive. I’m looking to visit Venice, Rome, Tuscan hills, and Amalfi coast. I want to drive at some point to slow down the busy pace and just roam around. I heard Tuscan hills are great to drive around in, but not sure how parking will be at each town. I also want to drive in the amalfi coast because of the cool roads. Do I rent a car in Rome and drive it down to Amalfi coast, then return it back in Rome? Seems like driving to the coast will be great, but for the 2-3 days we’ll be there, it probably will be parked the whole time right? Is that a waste of money? Is there options to rent a car at Rome and drop it off at a rental car location in the amalfi coast? As many tips as you can give here is very much appreciated, thank you. I want to drive somewhere! 🙂

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Henry,

      It makes the most sense to drive in the country, so for cities like Venice or Rome you definitely don’t want a car. Tuscany is a great place to drive through (the best way to get around the hilltowns, in our opinion). Parking can be found in pay parking lots in all the towns, with some patience and knowledge of small spaces! The Amalfi Coast can be a beautiful – and hair raising! – place to drive, but to avoid any stress we recommend choosing a hotel that offers parking, free or otherwise. Each individual rental car place will have different options that we encourage you to explore. Have a great trip!

  • Charlie says:

    Great posts, thanks vm, everyone! Going to Italy in 2 weeks and renting a car, so all these tips make me feel better prepared and a bit more confident that I will survive the experience!

  • Charlie says:

    One question which I have not seen answered in any forum on driving in Italy is: do rental cars come supplied with warning triangle and hi-vis vests; if so, do you have to pay extra for them over and above the quoted car hire; and do you get one vest for each occupant? Or do you have to supply them yourself?

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Charlie. In Italy it’s illegal to drive without a warning triangle and a hi-vis vest so all rental car companies should and usually do provide you with one at no extra charge. If you find that they haven’t, in most cases it’s a simple error and correcting it is as easy as popping back into the office and reminding them. In our experience you only get one vest but that varies depending on the company. Most the rental companies you will encounter are international chains (europcar, avis, thrifty, etc) and thus maintain the same regulations that they do in all other parts of the EU. If you are still worried after booking a car the best thing to do is call the rental office or email them.

  • Fae Muletta says:

    We are going to Italy in December 3 adults and 3 children we have rented a 9 person mini van we have been before first time renting a car any tips on leaving the airport is it easy to find way put of the airports hoping not to get to confused thanks

  • Julio B says:

    Hey, I like your description about don’t learn to drive a scooter in foreign country. I don’t find that be mentioned about that Italian people like to when they parking hit a little bit each other car back ,because in italy streets are little and there are no free space. What about this situation insurance?

  • Kimberly says:

    We will be going to Italy in July and will be renting a car (only driving two of our 3 1/2 weeks). While we have driven all around Italy before–and found it to be as easy as driving in the states–it has been a number of years. Now, there are GPS’s instead of paper maps! My question is which will be more accurate–a GPS rental or using our Google Maps app on our phone? I calculated the costs and it is more economical to purchase a data plan through our provider than rent a GPS for our whole trip (though not by too much.) But if Google Maps is not as accurate as a GPS then I’m not sure it will be worth the cost savings. Anyone have recent experience using Google Maps in Italy?

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