Driving in Italy: 18 Tips on How to Drive as a Tourist

Driving in Italy 18 Tips on How to Drive as a Tourist

Driving in Italy can be a stressful experience especially if it’s not in the language you speak or the side of the road you drive on. Personally, as long as it’s not city driving it’s well worth getting a car in Italy to explore the towns and regions.

As a tourist, it’s always great to study up on the rules of the road before renting a car and driving yourself around in it. This everything I learnt when driving in Italy. P.s. if you happen to be visiting Tuscany check out the beautiful town of Radda.

Do I need an International Driving License in Italy? (Officially known as International Drivers Permit (IDP))

Renting a car anywhere (apart from your home country) will require you to have your passport and driver’s license. However, some countries also require an International Driving Permit (IDP).

For those that hold a European Union driving license you will not need to obtain an International Drivers Permit (IDP). I drove in Italy with my UK license which is the pink format UK license (full license), however, if you are on the green format license (provisional) you will not be able to drive in Italy.

If you have a non-European Union driving license you will need to obtain an IDP before arriving in Italy.

How to Obtain an International Driving Permit?

You can get an IDP at your local association for example;

Make sure you go via an official website as there is a scam out there for IDP’s.

It is the traveller’s responsibility to ensure that they have the appropriate paperwork. Even though you may not be requested to show your IDP by the car company or travel agent, if you get pulled over by the police they will be expecting to see your IDP. I recommend even though it seems a silly process it gives you peace of mind while driving legally during your trip to Italy for only a small fee.

Cheap is not always best when renting

Cheap is not Always Best When Renting a Car in Italy

For our trip to Italy, I rented a car from a cheap hire company. It’s not awful but make sure to read the fine print and know exactly what comes with your rental. They really lure you in with their great offers!

Check the simple things like no hidden fees, how many drivers you can have or that you have unlimited mileage.

I may have hit a sign with our rental car (whoops…) thankfully it was exactly where there was damage on the car previously and no one was the wiser of my minor accident. Otherwise, those nasty fees would of definitely stung me.

Driving in a new country can be stressful (especially Pisa!) and caused my minor accident so make sure you have insurance. One of the biggest ways that car rental companies earn money from you is via the insurance. Picking up third party insurance will save you a ton of money.

Manual Transmission is the Preferred Choice

In Europe, it’s very common to get manual transmission cars and will be the option provided to you unless you specified otherwise. Make sure you let the car company that you want to rent an automatic or choose it as the option on the booking site and be prepared to pay a lot more.

What else do I need to carry in my car when driving in Italy?

You need to carry triangles in your car when driving in Italy

I had no idea there were certain things that you need to carry in your car when driving in Italy. Thankfully the rental car companies will provide you with these items which they did for mine. Being in Tuscany I did not think I would need snow chains in March!

Double check when you pick up the car just in case. Planning to drive your own car in Italy you will need to consider purchasing some of these items. So what do they expect you to have?

  • Warning triangles and reflective jackets (compulsory attire) – in case you need to pull over on the side of the road
  • UK cars will without a GB-euro symbol number plate to display a GB sticker
  • Snow chains during the winter months

Other items to add to your checklist:

  • Full and valid driver’s licence
  • IDP card (if required)
  • Proof of Insurance
  • Passport/national ID
  • Headlamp beam deflectors (if required)
  • Proof of ownership (original V5C document, not a photocopy)

Get a GPS or a Map

Get a GPS or a Map When Driving in Italy

I totally recommend that you get some sort of map or navigation as the roads or routes to get to places aren’t that straightforward. There is no way I would be able to navigate driving around without a GPS or a map.

Which side of the road do you drive in Italy?

In Italy they drive on the right-hand side of the road. Being a part of the small third-party of countries that drive on the left it can be a tad confusing (at least for me).

How Do Petrol Stations Work In Italy?

As I went with a cheap car hire company we had to fill up the car before going on a road trip the first lesson that we learnt and ended up with some pretty expensive full. There are two options to fill up your car, by an attendant or self-service.

Turns out when the attendant fills up your car you get charged extra €16 cents per litre or gallon (I can’t remember). So make sure you find the self-section to save yourself some serious cash. It also seems to be the option that has the least amount of fill-up points.

Look out for these signs to tell the difference between self-service and attendant service:

Self service will look like this at an Italian service station.
Self service will look like this at an Italian service station.
Attendant service will look like this at an Italian service station
Attendant service will look like this at an Italian service station

Service stations are very frequent along all of the motorways just like most of Europe.

Speed Limits in Italy

Speed Limits to remember when driving in Italy
Speed Limits to remember when driving in Italy.

Speed limit signs seem to be very limited i.e. the ones that actually show what speed you are meant to go. Most signs are the national speed limits signs so they expect you to know the speed limits before you drive. Make sure you memorise this speed limit in the table below and don’t forget the speed limits vary depending on the weather.

Speed Limits in Italy Motorway Dual CarriagewayOpen Road Town
Dry Weather 130 km/h110 km/h90 km/h50 km/h
Wet Weather 110 km/h90 km/h 80 km/h50 km/h

It Might Be Close But It Can Take You Long Time To Get There

Italy has a lot of windy Roads not very many highways and the roads can be in quite a poor condition (which they introduce speed restrictions for instead of fixing the road). It might be 7 miles away but it can take up to 40 minutes to drive due to this unless you are a rally car driver.

Everyone Goes Faster Than You In Generally

Coming from Australia we would only have pretty strict road rules whilst some people break the rules we tend to be careful in breaking the rules as there are massive fines if you are caught. However in Europe you can get some people are going 50 kilometres over the speed limit. As a left lane is generally where people speed or overtake you keep to the right-hand lane. This way you don’t feel pressured to speed and save yourself a speeding fine.

What is the alcohol limit in Italy?

Drinking wine in Italy is definitely alluring especially with lunch or dinner. The alcohol limit in Italy is 0.05% so no more than 1 to 2 wines or the safest option don’t drink at all.

How are fines issued in Italy?

Speed Cameras in Italy
Speed Cameras in Italy.

Police officers usually do not patrol the roads but if are and pull you over the fine will be issued on the spot. The police can collect 1 quarter of the maximum fine and must give you an official receipt for the amount of the fine paid.

If there is a sign showing with a police officer with a hand raised or orange autovelox boxes this indicates that there will be speed traps and check points.

There are lots of cameras set up to register a car’s speed and if you are running over the limit it will automatically issue a ticket. If you’ve rented a car in Italy, the ticket will be sent to the car rental company and they will generally charge it to the credit card they have on file plus admin fees.

Signs on the Autostrada

Italy uses international road signs. You will see signs like national speed limit which is white and black, green background signs that indicate road names/ types and general signs saying:

  • Uscita meaning Exit
  • Entrata meaning Entrance
  • Tangenziale meaning tangential, usually a ring road around a large town

To find out more about road signs see UK Motorists handy sheet.

Tolls

Motorways in Italy can have tolls which are really easy to identify as they will have toll stations. There are three ways to pay for the tolls:

  • Cash
  • Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners Club are accepted.
  • Telepass – unlikely method as a tourist, it requires you to have a transponder and linked up to your bank account.

Depending on how you would like to pay, look out for the following signs:

  • Cash follow the white signs
  • Credit card follow the blue signs
  • Telepass follow the yellow signs.

Be Careful at Entrances and Exits on the Motorway

You will generally find that the entrance and exit ramps for the motorways in Italy can be very short or have quite tight corners so be careful when approaching these.

Tailgating is Common

Coming from a country where you are supposed to give space on the road, this is the total opposite in Italy. Italian drivers drive much closer to each other than we’d be used to especially when overtaking. They can come right up to your rear bumper and be a little daunting so the easiest thing to do is slow down, let them overtake and continue to drive safely.

Never drive in the ZTL!

They have these zones called Zona Traffico Limitato (“ZTL”) also referred to as the“Area Pedonale” which are areas restricted to limited traffic and/or pedestrians only. It’s illegal to drive in these zones unless you have a special permits to do so. Most permit holders are police, public transport and emergency vehicles so not us tourists!

Watch where you park!

Ah parking in Italy can be a nightmare in certain areas especially the big cities. Its best to check with your hotel where the best places to park and how to pay for parking as they will have the insider knowledge.

Always make sure you have a ticket from the nearest parking meter and display it, the fine can add up really fast. The meters are normally coin only so have a few euros prepared.

Other tips

  • No brainer tip, wear your seat belt.
  • Age limits apply to where people can sit in a car, for example children up to the age of 12 cannot travel in the front seat.
  • Don’t use your mobile phone while driving (again common sense).
  • Always have your headlights on, they are compulsory when you are driving on motorways, dual carriageways and on all out of town roads.
  • In some countries I know they allow you to turn right on a red traffic signal but this is illegal in Europe.

Let us know in the comments below your tips for driving in Italy!

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