Driving in Italy is challenging, but not unmanageable. City, country and coastal driving present their own unique challenges, but all can be done with confidence and preparation.
Preparation can include several factors. The first tip is to know where your are going. Many cities are a labyrinth of streets that are poorly marked. In some, like Florence, there are areas that are restricted (and not marked so), so have a plan on where you are heading.
In this day and age, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have a GPS to assist. We found the best deal for our trip was to get a daily international plan through Verizon, which was $10/phone for 24 hours with regular, unlimited usage.
We only turned on one phone and used it for both car and foot directions every place we went. It also assisted us in finding parking garages and navigating back to them after our excursions. I highly recommend this option!
You can get GPS with your rental car, but keep in mind you’ll still want something to help guide you when on foot.
Also of note is that most cars are manual transmission. You can get an automatic, but it costs extra. A lot extra. And supply is limited.
Cars are also diesel, which has pros and cons I won’t go into here, but something to be aware of.
Lastly, you DO NOT need an International Driver’s License to rent a car in Italy is your primary driver’t license use the Roman alphabet.
What side of the road do they drive on in Italy? If you are from the United Kingdom, they drive on the “wrong side”. If you are from the States, they drive on the “right side” of the road.
Driving in Italy- CITIES
- City driving in Italy is chaotic. It can be anxiety provoking. Just a take a deep breath and step on the gas.
- Scooters and bicyclists rein. Many locals are not driving cars. They will be driving defensively and some even aggressively, but always nice about it. W were being passed on the right side, the driver apologized and told us to have a good day. Just be aware and know that these folks might not be following the same rules of the road as cars.
- Parking is tight. Research parking options before you leave and if you can go by foot or mass transit, I recommend it. We choose our hotel by their ability to park the car. Be aware that parking can be quite pricy. While this might seem alarming, remember that modern day Italian cities have been built around historic Italian cities. The ancient Romans weren’t thinking about a car park.
- The same goes for the size of car. Whether you are driving in the city, country or coastal highway, the smaller, the better. Streets were established well before automobiles and are therefore, very tight. With that said, make sure you pack accordingly so your luggage fits into the car. Nearly all cars are a hatchback.
- Pedestrians sometimes make passable roads appear un-passable. This is a street that was open to automobile traffic, although you’d never know it.
Driving in Italy- COUNTRY
- Just when you get out of the city and think you can relax, you are hit with a whole new type of driving- Italian countryside.
- People drive fast. Really fast. Like scary fast, and I am a fast driver. We were told be several locals that It is typical to drive well over the speed limit and Italian police don’t pay that much attention as long as your speeding isn’t endangering anyone else. *Please do not take this as an excuse to speed and say I told you it was allowed. I am merely reporting what we were told.*
- Drive fast. In fact, if you drive slow, you might be more of a danger.
- Drive with confidence, do not hesitate and be aware.
- Some roads (I use this term loosely) look like they shouldn’t be traveled at all, but are in fact, drivable.
- Italian country roads are narrow, winding roads with hairpin turns. Most look one way, but are two-car.
- You will wonder how in the world they navigated this prior to GPS. And how GPS even knows about some of the dark alleyways it sends you down. Creepy.
- Another reason to not get a big car… there isn’t a “small roads” option on GPS, so before you know it, you might be stuck. I’m not sure how some of the RVs and SUVs we saw were avoiding this.
- People drive fast and will pass you. Not matter how fast you are going, someone is going faster and knows the nuances of the road better than you. Don’t let it bother you and don’t take it personally. It really is part of the driving culture.
Driving In Italy: COASTAL
- The only coastal area we visited was Amafli, but after reading reviews, I assume that the Rivera and other coastal areas are similar.
- Specifically on the Amalfi Highway, the only ways on and off are at the beginning and the end. This means once you stop, you are in for the long haul. In total, the drive from Positano to Vietre Sul Mare is 90 minutes.
- Roads are even more narrow and in many places are chiseled into a mountain, hugging it so close you can touch the rock with your hand, or skirt to the outside of the lane to close you can see the plunging rocks below.
- Still, people will pass you and drive fast.
- Even though the lanes are narrow and the turns sharp, tour buses still manage to meander down the roads they are the most assertive drivers out there. Give them the right of way. Can you imagine driving one of those things?
- If you drive down into one the towns, except a one-way street down and another one-way street up. There is limited parking, with much of it being on the side of the road hanging out into the roadway.
- Despite high speeds and curvy roads, there is a lot of foot traffic on the highways. Watch for pedestrians and know that this is common and normal. Do not get upset with these folks. Chances are if you are staying on the coast, you’ll be one of them at some point!