Driving in Italy? 10 Italy driving tips

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So you’ve given some thought on whether to rent a car in Italy, and decided to go for it. You’ll have more freedom, but I do think there are a few things you should know (in no particular order), as I shared with a recent coaching client. Here are ten Italy driving tips that will help make the driving part of your vacation more enjoyable.
Cinquecento eye of einstein flickr

1) Italians have different driving habits than we do so make sure you are aware of them. You can read about Italian driving habits you should know here.

2) Gas is more expensive. The price of gas is of course published in Euros, but it’s also sold by the litre not the gallon. And when it comes to numbers, Italians flip periods and commas. If you want to figure out what Euros per litre works out to in USD per gallon, here’s how to calculate the price of gas. Or, you can enter your route on ViaMichelin and it will tell you how much to assume for gas and tolls.

3) Definitely get a GPS with your car rental. But where possible, rather than entering an address, use GPS longitude and latitude coordinates of your destination. Addresses are just not as reliable, particularly when (for example) navigating the hills of Tuscany. You’ll frequently see that countryside attractions like vineyards will put their GPS coordinates on their website next to their address.

4) If at all possible, avoid driving in the historic centers of Italian cities. Most cities have “limited traffic zones” (referred to as ZTL zones) monitored with cameras which will snap a photo of your license plate and send you a ticket in the mail (via the car rental company). More information on limited traffic zones here.  Also note that your GPS will not know where the ZTL zones are.

5) Study up on your road signs – many road signs are different, and you also need to know what the color of a sign means.

6) The law says that foreigners driving in Italy need an international driving permit. You can get one quickly and easily at AAA in the US and Canada.

7) Parking can be expensive and a huge hassle in Italy, so pre-plan where you’re going to park beforehand, rather than just thinking you’ll figure it out. Parcheggi.it is a good resource for finding public parking lots around the country, and always ask your hotel about parking – don’t assume it’s free.

8) Here’s a great tip on not getting lost while driving in cities (since I know you may not be able to completely avoid it): follow a taxi. If you want to get to your destination without getting lost or stuck in a ZTL zone, keep your eye out for a taxi stand, pull over to the first taxi in line, give the taxi the address of where you’re going, and follow the taxi. Trust me, it’s well worth the cost.

9) This may be common sense, but never ever leave any thing of value visible in your car, and if you’re going to park your car on the street overnight, ask the hotel about the area. Car break-ins are extremely common in Italy.

10) To calculate driving times, use www.ViaMichelin.com rather than google maps. ViaMichelin will also give you estimated fuel costs and toll charges.

Update: After reading this post, John Helm, an architect living in Italy, added some of his own excellent suggestions about driving in Italy on his blog. You can read his comments here: http://johnandluisa.blogspot.com/2011/03/tips-for-driving-in-italy.html

Photo by eye of einstein


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Posted by on Mar 30, 2011 in Driving | 17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Diane
    March 30, 2011

    I’ve been living in Italy for five years and driving here for at least four of those years. I can verify everything you say about Italian drivers. They’re good drivers…just different. I insisted on getting an automatic car because learning new driving skills while getting used to new driving attitudes was a little too much for me to handle! Great post.

    Reply
  2. John S
    March 31, 2011

    Second about verifying all these, especially what you said about the “looking ahead, not looking back” comment from your previous article about Italian driving habits. They tend to merge into the right lane in the autostrada very closely, and the assumption is that you slow down. It’s hard to accept at first, but then you realize everyone else is affording you the same respect from your rear. also, most cities with ZTLs (or most I’ve been to) post a map of it on their commune website. Again, this is one of those frustrating things that becomes understandable once you start walking around the town and enjoying not getting run over by a car. Finally, scooters…they’re all suicidal. Just accept that and refrain from ruining your day by cursing at every one that tries to go in front of the queue on a red light.

    Reply
  3. Madeline
    March 31, 2011

    Diane – thanks! Agree, learning to drive stick in Italy would be tough….
    John S – Great points. It does work both ways doesn’t it. And the scooter culture in Italy is definitely interesting isn’t it 🙂

    Reply
  4. PNR Status
    April 16, 2011

    I can verify everything you say about Italian drivers. They’re good drivers…just different. I insisted on getting an automatic car.

    Reply
  5. Miami refractive surgery
    April 28, 2011

    I traveled to Italy last year, but I didn’t rent a car, we visit the country with some other tourists, so we didn’t have to drive a car, so I guess we were lucky and enjoy the trip without any concern.

    Reply
  6. Bluegreen Kirk
    May 3, 2011

    Gas is a big one and also the permit. Those are two things I would have never guessed. I cant imagine paying more for gas then i already am.

    Reply
  7. driving school cheltenham
    May 9, 2011

    We always thought that once you know how to drive, it will not be hard that for you to drive in other countries. What they don’t know is that, it is a lot harder.

    Reply
  8. Angelica Emmanuel
    August 18, 2011

    Driving on European roads can be a challenge, especially in very narrow city streets. There are avenues in Milan that can only accommodate a single motorbike. Traffic rules and the driver attitudes are also different. I won’t drive a Hummer on the streets of Rome, but I did enjoy driving a sportscars up north in the autobahn.

    Reply
  9. prof
    March 8, 2012

    I will be sure to take note of those information when driving in Italy. It is best that we rent a small car.

    Reply
  10. DanaMarie
    March 26, 2012

    I have been finding conflicting information about the International Permit requirement. I have rented cars in Italy previously and never been asked for it. My upcoming Thrifty Car Rental terms say it is only required if my license is not in “English or Latin characters”. Help!

    Reply
  11. Madeline
    March 27, 2012

    DanaMarie,
    Having an international permit is the law, so you can’t go wrong if you have one. If you’re in the US, they are quick, easy and cheap to do at AAA. That said, you’re right, they won’t necessarily need it.
    For my latest car rental in Italy, which I picked up at Europcar in Turin a couple weeks ago, I called the Europcar office to ask specifically whether they would need it. They said no, as long as I had a valid US drivers license. So I didn’t bother getting an international permit this time, but if I hadn’t gotten than answer directly from the people who were going to be renting me the car, I certainly would not have risked it.
    For your upcoming Thrifty rental it sounds like you won’t need it either. Hope that helps!
    Madeline

    Reply
  12. Sharon
    March 28, 2012

    This may sound strange, but I love driving in Italy. I always get as small a car as possible depending on luggage and passengers , and I enjoy manual since there are do many curves and hills. I usually get the permit although have never been asked for it . I also believe that most Italian drivers are good about taking turns and watching out for each other . Keep on your toes and be prepared to avoid problems.

    Reply
  13. Bebe
    February 15, 2013

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    Reply
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