Yup, you read that right, driving in Italy. Some tourists do dare to drive there and manage to get off the beaten track and see much more of this wondrous country than the usual tourist spots. Driving in Italy is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s not as crazy as you might think. So, rent a car or bring your own, prepare to get lost more than once and treat it like an adventure and experience the true Italian dolce vita!
On your marks:
There are four main types of roads in Italy with the following speed limits:
Type of road Speed limit
Motorway (autostrade) 130km/h (80mph)
Main Highway (strade extraurbane principali) 110km/h (68mph)
Secondary Road (strade extraurbane secondarie) 90km/h (56mph)
Built-up Areas (strade urbane) 50km/h (31mph)
When raining or snowing the speed limit reduces to 110km/h on motorways and 90km/h on main highways.
Warning: there are many speed cameras throughout the road and motorway systems to keep electronic checks on speed. If caught, you will receive a fine.
- By law, you must:
- Have a full driver’s licence, no learners allowed
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have at least third party insurance
- Wear a seatbelt in the front and rear at all times, if fitted.
- Not use a mobile phone whilst driving but you may use a hands-free kit.
- Not seat children less than three years old in the front or rear seats without the proper child seat. Furthermore, children aged between four and 12 cannot be a passenger unless using a suitable safety restraint seat or an adaptor for a seat belt. However, they can use the adult seat belts in the rear if accompanied by a passenger aged at least 16 years.
- Not have a BAC exceeding 0.5g/l. You can face hefty fines and/or imprisonment if caught driving whilst over the limit.
- Turn on dipped headlights during the daytime when driving outside built-up areas and during snow, rain and poor visibility.
- Turn on lights when driving through tunnels.
In general, Italians are aggressive, confident and fast drivers, but there are some regional variations. It’s more relaxed and leisurely out in the rolling countryside compared to the frenzy of driving in the cities and it is a little more law-abiding north of Rome than it is south, where the rules-of-the-road are seemingly ignored.
Remember to always drive on the right and, if not otherwise indicated, give way to traffic coming from your right.
On the autostrade and dual carriageways, the left hand lane is always for overtaking. Do not linger in this lane.
Italians drive very VERY close to cars in front of them. If there is a space between cars, it usually fills very quickly with a car coming in from either side. Therefore, look out for cars cutting in front of you; however, if you drive as close as the locals do you don’t have to worry about being cut up!
Italian drivers expect the unexpected and are prepared for it and you should be too. Do not wait for a car to stop and let you out; if you see a gap be assertive and pull out, the other drivers will be expecting you to do this (but within reason, don’t be pulling off any silly or dangerous manoeuvres).
Many roads in towns and cities are area pedonale (pedestrian zones), which prohibit cars, or zona traffic limitato (limited traffic zones), which require a special permit if you want to drive through them.
If renting a car be sure to get one with GPS and make sure you bring some road maps too. Italian road signs are notoriously difficult to understand and pretty hard to find within cities.
Speaking of cities, if you do plan to drive through Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples etc., just be prepared. You’ll need to negotiate extremely narrow streets, find streets with no names, streets that change names half way through, avoid cars parked and stopped on the streets, pedestrians walking in the streets and one way systems. Not to mention cryptic parking restrictions, which mean nothing anyways as there are no empty parking spaces to be found. All of these can lead to a lot of wasted time and getting very lost. If this sounds like your idea of fun, then great, you will love the Italian cities, go forth and conquer. However, if this sounds like being thrown to the lions, leave the car out of town and get a bus or train in and enjoy the ride and sites and you’ll save time and be able to enjoy an ice-cream in a plaza, while the others soldier on looking for a parking space.
Places to Visit:
Too many to mention, not even possible to narrow it down but some of the more interesting regions are:
If you need a break from all the driving head to this UNESCO World Heritage Site and car-free zone and get away from it all. This area consists of five villages that cling to the cliffs of the rugged Italian Riviera coastline, connected via a network of narrow walking routes. Take a stroll along the routes, stopping in each little village to eat the local specialties and marvel at the vineyards cultivated on near vertical slopes.
Stunning beaches, smouldering Mount Etna, ancient Greek and Italian ruins and the sites made famous by the Godfather film. Just remember: “In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns.”
Situated in the northeast extending from the Dolomites to the Adriatic Sea and taking in the eastern shore of Lake Garda this region offers high mountain passes, low valleys and sandy beaches, as well as cities made famous by the Bard. Follow the canals from the Merchant of Venice or head to Verona and stand under the balcony where Romeo wooed Juliet. Forget about driving though…
We have to mention Stelvio Pass, one of the best driving roads ever. At 2,757m, it is the third highest paved pass in the European Alps and whilst the scenery isn’t the most stunning it certainly is a fun road to drive. Is it one of the best driving roads? We will leave that up to you to decide.
One road that is stunning is the Costiera Amalfitana, or Amalfi Coast, which according to UNESCO is “an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values”. This road follows the coast from Sorrento south to Salerno. It gets very busy during high season, but this is a route best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, preferably in a convertible Italian motor.
Drive Lake Como, beginning at Lecco heading to Bellagio and then on to the town of Como and finally to Mennagio. The road here is smooth and even yet narrow and windy and really puts your driving skills to the test, whilst taking in some pretty villages and scenery along the way.