Having your own car for your Italian vacation gives you maximum flexibility and freedom to explore at your own pace and schedule. Italy has over 5,600 kilometers (3,480 miles) of Autostrada, or superhighways, giving you lots of asphalt to cruise on. You probably won’t have all the time and gas to cover every kilometer of the country, so we wanted to help you make the most of your tour across the land. These are our best tips for experiencing Italy’s wonders by car.
Renting a Car
It is most economical to rent a car ahead of time, before you leave for Italy. Most big-name car rental companies have offices in Italy to give you that familiar brand of service even if you’re a long way from home. Renting by the week and not by the day can also save you money.
Most cars in Italy run on manual transmissions. It can be difficult and more expensive to rent an automatic transmission car. If you plan on driving when you’re in Italy, make sure you know how to drive with a stick.
Paperwork and Rules of the Road
An international driver’s license is required to operate a vehicle in Italy. This can be obtained through the AAA in the United States and through the CAA in Canada.
Theft insurance is mandatory when renting a car in in this country. A Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) which covers damage done to your rental in the event of an accident is often a must depending on your credit card coverage.
In some regions during the winter season, you are required to have chains in the car in case of an emergency situation. To make sure you comply with local regulations, check with your rental car company for details.
Watch that Speedometer
The following are Speed limit for urban areas, secondary roads and the Autostrada:
- 50 km (31 miles) per hour in urban areas
- 90 km (56 miles) per hour on secondary and local roads
- 110 km (68 miles) per hour on main roads outside urban areas
- 130 km (80 miles) per hour on highways
The penalties for violation are in proportion to the speed that you run over the limit. The more you push that pedal to the metal, the worse the situation can get so slow down and enjoy the scenery!
On the Autostrada, no U-turns are permitted and stopping only allowed in emergency parking areas or parking lanes. The Italian Highway Code follows the Geneva Convention and Italy uses international road signs. Driving is on the right, passing on the left. Violators of the highway code are fined; serious violations may also be punished by imprisonment.
On three-lane roads, the middle lane is reserved for passing, and your turn sign must be kept on while passing.
Follow the Signs
Pack a paper map. Signs can be frustratingly confusing and your GPS might not point you to the right direction. Make sure you have a general route mapped out with a few key towns along the way noted and have the low-tech option of a comprehensive paper map with you.
Some Useful Vocabulary on the Road
- Accendere i fari – turn on headlights
- Autovelox/controllo elettronico della velocita – speed limit cameras
- Benzina – Gasoline
- Code – traffic
- Divieto di accesso – No Entry
- Divieto di sosta – No Parking
- Il libretto – car documents
- La multa – fine
- la patente – drivers license
- Nebbia – fog
- Pericolo – danger
- Pedaggio - toll
- rallentare – reduce speed
Gasoline and diesel fuel are significantly more expensive in Italy than in the United States. Be prepared to pay at least €1.50 per liter.
Look for signs with a large blue P. In most tourist towns, there are well-marked parking lots with plenty of space. Most of Italy’s historic city centers are off-limits to drivers without special permits called ZTL zones. These may not be well-marked and will result in a hefty fee if entered.
By this time, you probably know all about good food in Italy. What you might not know is that even on the road, the food is excellent. Look out for a large red A if you ever get hungry while driving and stop at an Autogrill. There are good bathrooms, fun food and trinket shopping, excellent coffee in these motorist diners. The larger Autogrills have sit down tables with a variety of pasta and entree courses. At the checkout, make sure you stock up on Italian chocolates and tiny pocket coffee for the rest of your road trip.
Drives of a Lifetime
While traffic and restrictions make driving in Rome and Florence a bit difficult, outside of the big cities are some of the world’s most scenic routes. The following are can’t-miss locales that you should drive by whenever you’re in the country:
The SS163 just might be one of the most famous 36 kilometers (22 miles) in the world. Known as the ‘road of 1,000 bends’ it was commissioned by King Ferdinand II of Naples and completed in 1852. The road connects the towns from Sorrento to Salerno and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The entire length of the two-lane road is full of tight turns, sheer drops and narrow passes. The views of crystal aquamarine water below and the pastel towns clinging to the cliffs will take your breath away. The SITA bus drivers and locals know the road and their vehicles to the centimeter, just let them pass you. Be patient and confident and you will enjoy the drive. In high summer, parts of the road can be very slow. This is particularly true around Positano and Amalfi
San Gimingano to Bagno Vignoni – Tuscany
Fall under the spell of symmetrical rows of cypress trees, green hills and impossibly charming hill towns. On this drive you will see picture-perfect Tuscany from the windows of your stylish Italian wheels.
Verona to Bolzano
Begin this easy drive in the fair city of Verona heading out towards the Prosecco and Valpolicella vineyards. Plan a stop along one of the towns bordering Lake Garda. You have castles, churches and ancient glacial walls to choose for a visit. As you head farther north you will see the majestic Dolomite mountain range. The South Tyrol region of Italy is a bridge between Mediterranean Italy and Alpine Italy. The city of Bolzano is home to Ötzi the Iceman, a rich musical tradition. During the holiday season, it hosts the famous Christmas markets where you can shop ’til you drop.
We’ll leave the rest of Italy’s roads for you to discover. In this lovely nation, it’s almost impossible to go wrong wherever you decide to go. Each road and town has its unique charm and secrets waiting to be unlocked by a curious traveler’s eyes. Happy driving!