Idyllic countryside, dramatic coastal roads, and romantic lake towns – this is a side of Italy you’ll only get to see if you step out of the big cities and go on a road trip. While, indeed, the rumors are true – driving in Italy is a bit of a challenge – it’s also very doable with a little extra planning and prep, and ultimately thrilling once you’re zipping around Italy behind the wheel.
Whether you’re planning to brave the Amalfi coast’s cliff-hugging roads for breathtaking views of the Tyrrhenian Sea or eating your way through the wine and food regions of Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, this guide will gear you up for your driving adventures ahead. Here’s everything you need to know about driving in Italy.
Driving in Italy
- Requirements for driving in Italy
- Renting a car
- Road rules and driving safety
- Navigating in Italy
- Costs of driving a rental car in Italy
- Plan your trip – top tips for travel to Italy
Age requirements – The legal driving age in Italy is 18, but most rental car companies may require you to be at least 21 to rent a car. Drivers under 25 may have to pay a “young driver” surcharge.
License requirements – You can drive in Italy with a valid European Union driver’s license. If your driving license is from a country outside the EU, you need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your local automobile association. Take note that the IDP is only valid when used with your local license, so make sure to bring both.
Other documents – Most rental car companies in Italy would require you to present your passport (or your national identification card if you’re an EU citizen) and a credit card under your name when picking up the rental car. They might authorize a deposit on your credit card to cover for any damages. Generally, cash, debit cards, or prepaid cards are not accepted.
In your car – You must have a reflective triangle, a spare tire, and a reflective safety vest in your car. Also always have the car’s registration certificate in the car when driving.
Reserve a car online – Reserve your rental car online in advance to get the best models at the best rates.
Take note that Europe mainly drives manual transmission cars, so if you require an automatic transmission car, make sure to reserve at least a month in advance.
Get a comprehensive car hire insurance – Collision damage waiver and theft protection are usually included in car rentals in Italy, but it’s best to avail of a personal car hire insurance that will cover for the excess. This means you will get reimbursed for any excess fees the rental company may charge for damages.
Add-ons – A GPS unit and child seats also be added to your reservation if needed.
One-way rentals – Many rental car companies in Italy allow domestic one-way rentals for an extra fee. This means you can pick up your car from one city and drop it off in another.
Here is a list of locations where you can pick and return your rental car in Italy. Plug in your travel destinations and dates below for a quick quote. RentalCars is our trusted online car rental booking platform and they work with Italy’s leading and most reputable car rental companies. Their simple online booking platform also allows you to compare prices, car models, and inclusions easily, plus they give you instant confirmation, free cancellation, and big deals and discounts.
- 113 – police
- 115 – fire
- 118 – medical emergencies and ambulance
Italy drives on the right side of the road.
Drive with your lights on.
Don’t turn right when the light is red.
Usual speed limits – Here are the normal speed limits you need to remember when driving in Italy:
- Motorways –130 km/hr (80 miles/hr)
- Major out-of-town roads – 110 km/hr (68 miles/hr)
- Minor out-of-town roads – 90 km/hr (56 miles/hr)
- In towns and cities / urban areas – 50 km/hr (30 miles/hr), unless otherwise indicated
Always refer to posted speed limits. Watch out for speed limit signs and cameras in motorways as well as in villages.
Zona traffico limitato (ZTL) – Italy enforces restricted traffic areas that help protect historic city centers from excessive traffic and reduce pollution. These areas are marked by a sign of a white square with a red circle. Do not drive in an area marked as a ZTL unless you have a special permit (for example, from your hotel). In my experience, Waze gives directions that avoid ZTLs, but in case your GPS unit directs you into a ZTL, find an alternative route. A camera would take a photo of your license plate when you enter a ZTL, and you may get a hefty fine by mail months later.
Priority/right of way – Priority roads marked with a yellow diamond have the right of way. Yield when you’re driving on a road marked with an inverted red and white triangle. At an unmarked junction or crossroads, yield to traffic on the right.
Roundabouts – At a roundabout, the driver in the roundabout has the right of way. Use your turn indicator signal when exiting.
Seatbelts – Must be worn at all times.
Drinking and driving – Don’t drink and drive (maximum legal concentration is 0.5 mg of blood alcohol).
Tolls – Italy’s system of toll roads is called the autostrada designated with an A in front of a number and with green signs pointing to them. Take a ticket as you enter and pay a toll as you exit. Most tolls take cards, but in our experience, they don’t always work on the self-service booths, so make sure to also have cash with you. Toll roads cost about EUR 1 for every 7 kilometers.
The maximum speed limit in the autostrada is 130 kilometers per hour, but it varies so keep an eye out for posted speed limit signs. Drive in the right-hand lane, except to pass.
Parking – Blue zones are free parking spaces where vehicles can be left up to 60 minutes, or as indicated on a blue sign within the vicinity. If parking on a blue zone, you need to have a parking disc that shows your time of arrival. This is usually included in your rental car, or you can get it from tourist offices and petrol stations.
Navigational apps like Waze, Google Maps (internet connection required), and maps.me (offline map should be downloaded in advance) are useful when driving in Italy. Some rental cars will also have a built-in GPS navigator, or you can purchase it as an add-on.
I used Waze for navigating in Italy and it’s great for avoiding ZTLs (restricted traffic areas). It notifies you if the place you want to drive to goes through or is in a ZTL so make sure to review the route before proceeding. If your hotel in Italy provides you with a ZTL pass, you can also add this information to the Waze app. Of course, always watch out for road signs and follow these instead of Waze as the local rules and traffic schemes can change all the time.
Here’s how much it costs to go on a 3-day road trip in Italy based on 2019 prices and estimates.
Rental car – A 5-seat sedan ranges from EUR 75-120 for 3 days. This already includes unlimited mileage, theft protection, and collision damage waiver. Check here for real-time quotes for your travel dates.
Gas – Estimating 600 KM over 3 days, gas could cost you up to EUR 60.
Tolls – The use of toll roads is about EUR 1 for every 7 kilometers. You can calculate tolls and travel time here.
Parking – Within cities and towns, parking rates vary from EUR 2-3/hour with cheaper whole day rates.
Getting there – You can get into Italy via multiple international airports (search for the best flight routes here) or by train from neighboring European countries. While rental car pick-up locations in airports and railways may impose a surcharge, its convenience may be worth the extra euros, especially if you’re traveling with a group or heading straight out on a road trip. Take advantage of one-way rentals and check if dropping off your car to a location different than your pick-up can make your itinerary smoother and more convenient.
Where to stay – Italy is one of the world’s most popular destinations, so make sure to book your hotels at least a month or two in advance. Check here for real-time hotel deals in Italy.