Ahh, Italian roads. You may have heard horror stories about the crazy speeds, the lane-straddling and the general danger of driving in Italy. When we were planning our trip, our dream was to drive through the Tuscan countryside but I was nervous about what I had heard about the drivers. This caused me to do a lot of research, including reaching out to several of my favorite travel bloggers to ask them personally about their experiences.
Everyone of them told me that it’s not too bad. At this point Brian and I already had romantic visions in our heads of cruising down mountain roads, watching the vineyards pass by. We booked the rental cars and crossed our fingers.
Now, before I get any further, I want to explain my and Brian’s driving habits. I hate driving. I am not fearful of being in traffic, but I find it awful and tedious. Brian loves driving. He is an offensive driver and he is not afraid to zip in and out of lanes on the highway. He’s also a very good, very accurate driver, even if he tends to have a lead foot. I felt pretty comfortable with him driving the whole time we were in Italy. I do feel bad that he didn’t get to enjoy as much of the scenery as I did, but I was a darn good navigator.
If you’re interested in renting a car in Italy, here are a few things to be aware of and a few things we wish we had known before our month-long trip!
1. Italians drive on the right side of the road, same as the U.S.
This was a pleasant find (one we researched before we went). Traffic signs are very similar as well.
2. We did not need international drivers licenses.
We rented through an American company that Brian uses all the time for work trips, so we knew we’d be fine with our normal Arizona licenses. I have not heard of anyone being denied a rental car because they didn’t have an international license, but make sure you check with the company you’re renting from, just in case.
3. Italians don’t pay attention to speed limits
If the sign says 100kpm (about 63mph), you can bet everyone on the highway will be going 150+kpm. Keep your seatbelt on and go with the flow of traffic. You’ll be fine.
4. Just get out of the way of faster vehicles.
People will want to pass you on the left. If you’re not going faster than everyone in the left lane, stay in the right. Regardless of the speed limit. You may as well pretend those don’t exist.
5. You’ll see drivers straddling lanes frequently.
It’s a little annoying, to be honest. Many times Italian drivers will keep their options open by straddling two lanes. I’m talking, the entire way down the highway. If you’re going faster than them and you can safely get around, do so. They will usually let you pass.
6. Lanes? What are those?
If they can fit their car between two others, you can bet Italians will do it. For driving, for parking, for turning. Highways tend to look like a free for all.
7. Drivers will get very close to people walking down the street. Don’t panic, it’s normal.
Like, a few scant inches from your person. This isn’t a rude thing, Italians are just very aware of where their cars physically end. They are pros at maneuvering them through narrow roads and alleys. Like I said, if they can fit their car through, they will. When walking, pay attention to where you are and don’t be offended if they zoom past. They (probably) won’t touch you.
8. Italians use horns like it’s going out of style.
If you’re not going fast enough for the car behind you, they’ll honk to ask you to move over. When buses and large trucks are going around a tight corner, they’ll honk to let you know they’re coming and that you might want to stop (very true on the Amalfi Coast where the roads are narrow). If you are honked at, it is not a personal attack against you (Americans can be so sensitive) they are just letting you know they need your attention. Don’t get upset, just stay aware.
9. GPS navigation isn’t always accurate. Roads are confusing.
Sort of like a child scribbled them on a map in crayon. Roads loop this way and that, one ways reverse at certain times. There are taxi and bus lanes that go the opposite direction down one way roads. If there’s space to park or stop on a tiny sliver of shoulder, it will happen. Google Maps helped us quite a bit in most cities. From Venice to Florence, through Tuscany, over to the coast at Ortobello and all down the Amalfi Coast we experienced (mostly) accurate navigation using Google Maps. Outside of Naples and Rome, fuhgeddaboutit. My navigation would spaz out and tell me to go 20 minutes out of the way, only to redirect me to the original route once we had done that.
We spent an extra 2 hours driving around outside of Naples because of these frequent spaz episodes. Going into Rome a few weeks later, we got lost for 3 hours trying to find our Air BnB. Our host forgot to mention that the apartment was in a vehicle-forbidden area, meaning no cars can drive or park within blocks of there. We ended up taking the car back to the rental company and walking to the apartment, dragging four suitcases over the cobblestone streets (not recommended).
Note: I have been told Waze works well in Italy, but I never tried it first hand.
10. Public transportation is convenient, if not entirely timely.
One great thing about Italy is that public transportation is everywhere. Trains are fast and on time. Buses, not so much. We used the buses on the Amalfi Coast to travel from town to town and not have to worry about finding a unicorn parking spot. Even the locals couldn’t tell us what time the buses arrived. They run every day, true, and most times every 30 min to an hour, but on schedule? Nahhhh, they get there when they get there. Relax. Also, the buses do not have air conditioning, so plan accordingly.
11. Speaking of buses. You can only buy bus tickets at tabaccherias.
If you need a bus ticket, you need to find a tabaccheria. That is, a tobacco shop. Bus stops rarely have ticket dispensing machines. And when they do, they’re usually out of order. Save yourself the headache and find a tabaccheria. Buy several bus tickets at a time. On the Amalfi Coast, they were about €1.60, each way. It’s better safe than sorry.
Tabaccherias are also the only places you can purchase any tobacco products–cigarettes, vaping or other. If you have a habit, I suggest you plan ahead.
12. Scooters are everywhere. Watch out for them.
And I mean everywhere. They zip out and around cars like lightning. They’ll scoot around you at a red light, look both ways and just go. Where you thought was an opening to turn or move over–look twice–there might be scooters zipping through. Keep an eye out for them, especially in the cities. They’re small and riders don’t wear any protection aside from a helmet. Just pay attention, please.
OK, how are you feeling about driving through Italy? I hope I haven’t dissuaded you from trying it. It can be scary, but those moments driving down the Tuscan countryside made it all worth it for us! The freedom of having a car is really convenient. We tend to be very spontaneous when we travel and not having to factor a taxi or bus schedule into our day really made it easy to do as we pleased.
Have you driven in Italy? Do you have any additional advice for travelers thinking about renting a car there? Leave them below in the comments and I’ll add them!