Self drive in Italy or not?
So, you have zeroed down to Italy as your holiday destination. Good choice indeed! After planning your itinerary and completing your accommodation bookings, it’s time to think about the mode of transport to move around in Italy.
On our recent trip to Europe, we too had to make this choice and we did quite some research and managed to travel cost effectively yet exploring every bit of Italy we could, in every way we could! We took the intercity trains, we took intra city metro, we took the local bus and went monument hopping, we hired a rental car and drove into the Italian countryside!
Italy on your own:
If your itinerary revolves around major Italian cities, then the best bet would be to travel in train. Italy has a well-connected network of trains and they are easy to access with frequent connections and prompt service. For more information on booking trains in Italy, Trenitalia is the right place to be in!
Self drive in Italy – Planning a driving holiday in Italy:
During our research phase about Self drive in Italy, we read a lot of –
“Though it is easy renting a car in Italy, driving in Italian roads are difficult compared elsewhere in Europe”.
This kept us thinking and we kept self drive as the last option. It would have been a major blunder if we hadn’t braved the reviews and took the decision to do a self drive road trip in Italy!
Until now, to this date, we have explored India by car and have never taken a domestic flight EVER within India! We’ve traveled to far off places like Ladakh and Rajasthan from Bangalore by road trip in a car, both spanning 10,000km and 6,000km each respectively! So, how can you keep the wagon away from a couple who love to chase roads?
What made us to say YES?
Funny YouTube videos about driving in Italy, which intended people to discourage taking off on Italian roads, did just the opposite for us! Those videos convinced that Italy would be easy for us and we were confident enough to pull off this one in style!
Italian Driving Holidays be like:
Keeping aside the worldly clichés about Italians and their driving, we found Italians to be very disciplined drivers! I’m sure you too would agree with me if you have ever been to India and see how people drive here 🙂
Why choose Self drive on a road trip in Italy?
Instead of just surfing cities, we were intrigued by the Italian landscapes and we wished to travel deeper into Italy. Cruising on flower studded highways, often detouring to explore the lovely countryside or to drive along twisty roads with choppy cliffs on one side and turquoise sea on the other or huge fields with hay bales neatly rolled up placed in pretty patterns!
Self-driving in Italy was one of the best decisions we took in the entire trip!
Also Read: Day trip to Capri, Italy – Must see
Things to know before attempting a Self drive trip in Italy:
Ok, now you have decided to rent a car and rule the Italian roads. Yay! Great decision. But, hold on. Dear Friend, hold on your excitement. Before you zip your way beyond that Fiat 500 or stare at that Ferrari in awe, there are some things to know about driving in Italy.
Read on and be Italy ready!
1. Rent only when on the go – Car hire Italy:
This should be your mantra while on your Italian holiday. As mentioned earlier, if you are on a city hopping itinerary, then its best that you travel by train and explore each city in your own pace! A car is absolutely not required to travel inside any Italian city. Hassles being:
- City traffic
- Narrow roads in some cities
- Find a decent parking place in the city (For which you might have to pay)
- Some hotels and apartments also charge a parking fee for your car
- Using Metro, tram or local buses will be more cost effective than renting a car which you cannot use to its fullest extent.
But, after experiencing all the history and the bling of Italian cities, when roads kindle the wanderlust in you to see the sights only a road tripper can – then you must definitely rent a car and set off on an Italian road trip!
2. ZTL Zone:
“Zona a Traffico Limitato” or ZTL, meaning ‘Restricted Traffic Zone’ are certain areas in Italy, marked with red circle in a board with white background. Enforcing ZTL Zone is an attempt to minimize traffic and making it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to move around freely in specific areas of the city.
When you see such board, it’s always wise not to enter a ZTL zone even by accident. There are watchful eyes of the Big Boss aka Video cameras, whose eyes are always permanently fixed on your car. If you ever enter the ZTL zone and the Big Boss spots you violating the rules, then it is duly noted and the fine is deducted from your credit card while returning your car to your rental agency.
3. GPS guides you into Light from Dark:
No kidding! GPS literally guides you into light from the darkness of the parking lot; it guides into light from the darkness enveloped in every tunnel you pass by! Set your destination and leave the rest to the GPS gods. Just follow the commands and you are assured to reach your right end point – i.e. if you have entered the right destination!
We rented the GPS navigation device from the rental company throughout the trip. Most of the times, the rental companies are too lazy to update the firmware of the Navigation devices. This sometimes leads to confusion as the new roads are not updated. For instance, the brand new state-of-the-art road from Pisa to Florence was not marked in our device and we were confused to see our current location going right through vineyards and above train tracks!
This is where Google Maps came into picture. We were reassured by Google Maps that we really were going to Florence and not into someone’s private mansion! You can alternatively choose to spend your money to purchase a good data plan instead of pouring the money on the GPS Device.
4. One way drop off fees:
When you plan to pick up a car from one city and drop it off in another, make sure you are aware about the One way drop off fees. Some rental agencies charge a certain amount for a car to be picked up from one location and drop it in another location. The amount can vary depending on the type of car you choose and how far off are you dropping the car.
Sometimes, we found that it does not apply to all cars in the same rental agency, only some do. It also can happen that there might be NO ‘One way fee’ at all! The cars we drove were all void of ‘One way fee’. We saved some decent money on this!
As in every car rental, Insurance is mandatory for mental peace. Make sure that all major areas have been covered in your insurance. The ones we chose are :
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW)
- ThirdParty Liability (TPL)
- Theft Protection (TP)
- Personal Accident Insurance (PAI)
- Emergency Roadside Assistance
- Local Taxes Road Fee / Road Licensing Fee
- Windscreen, Rim and Tyre Damage Protection
6. Additional Driver:
Some car rental agencies charge extra if there an additional driver – i.e. if there is someone else driving the car other than the person against whom the car is booked, then they charge extra bucks for every other person who drives the car.
Why should you worry about this? In case your luck runs out and Police stop to verify your documents while you are taking on the wheels but documents don’t utter out your name – then, be ready for a hefty fine!
7. Age of the Driver:
“Ok, additional driver is fine, what’s with the age now? Haven’t I been issued a Driving License after I reach a drive-able age?”
“Sure, you are. But sorry, it’s our rules!”
This is the answer we got from the kiosk of the car rental office, when my 24 year old brother-in-law asked this question. Some rental agencies charge extra Euros if the age of the driver is below 25 or over 71. So, we did pay the additional required amount and then flew away with the car!
8. Price of Gasoline and toll fares:
Apart from the car rental, the major thing you need to consider is the fuel costs and the toll fares. Calculating the toll fares might sound silly, but these small amounts add up like an Egyptian Pyramid to disrupt your budget!
We were solely dependent on https://www.viamichelin.com/ for all our route planning, toll costs calculation. It is such an amazing website that it gives you possible routes – their distances, time taken to cover the route, traffic information, toll fares and approx. Costs by considering even the fuel consumption!
9. International driving Licence:
By law, it is a must to possess an IDL or International Driving License to legally drive in Italy. This doesn’t mean that you need not carry your original Driving License issued by your resident country. Sometimes, IDL is not asked by Rental agencies but Police might – if you are pulled up! In our case, the rental agency did ask for IDL, which we had!
10. Italian words:
Get used to some Italian words like: Destra = Right, Sinistra = Left, Dritto = Straight, Uscita = Exit and Pedaggio = Toll. Also, boards might read Roma for Rome, Firenze for Florence, Napoli for Naples and Milano for Milan.
11. Right side driving:
Like most European countries and unlike most Asian countries, Italy follows the Right Side driving. Meaning, you drive on the right side of the road and sit in left side of your car. Just opposite to how we drive here in India. Takes a couple of kilometers to get used to but not entirely difficult.
12. Don’t hang around in the Left lane:
This might seem like a matter of common sense to Americans and Europeans, but it definitely deserves a mention to all my Indian friends. Back here in India, we drive on the Left lane and overtake on the Right. But, after overtaking in the right lane, people usually forget that they were in the rightmost lane to overtake and they need to come back to the next lane. They make the rightmost lane as their home – forcing others to overtake from the left.
This practice essentially doesn’t work in Italy. Everyone follows lane discipline and you should too! You overtake from the left in the leftmost lane and come back to the middle lane. If you hang around in the left lane for too long, you will be frowned upon with honks and flashes!
13. Speed limit:
Unlike some European countries, Italy does have speed limit and it is 130kmph or 80 mph on the highways or the Autostrada as they call it. But, different roads might have different speed limits, which will be usually written on boards in regular intervals. If you have the navigation on, then it will usually warn you if you shooting above the speed limit.
If you speed a little higher than the designated speed limit – tell your prayers. Pray that the eyes of Big Boss aka Speed cameras are not watching you as you whizz by. That’s coz there are a lot of them! If they ever spot you speeding, they shall snap a picture of your license plate and a speeding ticket is sent to your mailbox and the fine is promptly deducted from your credit card! This holds good even if the violation is detected many months after you have left the country. Now, Beat that!
14. Decoding the Toll system:
Usually, you will have to collect the entry ticket from the automated machines and pay it later in regular intervals. Sometimes, the toll is collected on the spot. One thing to be vigilant – is to go into the right kiosk. When you approach the toll gate, raise your head and you will see a lot of signs. Fret not! Decoding them is simple.
First and Foremost – DO NOT go under the yellow board reading ‘Riservata Clienti TELEPASS’. Yeah, you guessed right, its for Reserved Clients who usually are residents who traverse the route frequently and hold all rights to zoom past the tollgate without paying any toll. These lanes are drive-though lanes for subscribers with a transponder in their car.
If you spot a blue board with ‘CARTE’ written on it, then it essentially means that you can pay by your card at this toll booth. Insert the ticket, wait for the amount to show up, insert your card and you know rest of the drill!
Other two signs are in a board with a White background – a card with coins and another one is hand holding the card with coins. The former means that you insert the ticket in the machine and pay the toll for the automated machine. The latter means that there is person to whom you can hand over the ticket to and then pay the toll. Isn’t it simple!
Now that you have read up all important things you need to know about hiring a rental car in Italy and set off on a Self drive road trip into the Italian wilderness. What are you waiting for? Get off the lazy couch and book your tickets to Italy today!
If you have anything else to ask me about driving in Italy, shoot your questions in the comment box below!
Have you ever been on a road trip in Italy? I’m really curious to know your Italian experiences on the road 🙂 Share them on the comment box below!
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Useful while driving in Europe
Thank you Sir!:)
Those pictures are really inspiring to go on a road trip in Italy!! Thank you for sharing these very useful tips 🙂
Thanks a lot! 🙂
Thanks Neha! 🙂
Thanks for the informative article. Can you please shed some light into effort required in obtaining the international driving license? I’m planning on a road trip to Italy too 🙂
Thanks Santhosh! A post on obtaining International Driving License was on my mind from a long time. Now that you have asked for it, I shall try writing about it !
I was planning on writing a post on obtaining International Driving License and then I stumbled upon this.
Seems like the process has changed since the time I applied. Refer to the above link for some detailed instructions to apply IDL from India.
Road trip is the only thing I care because it is fun. But safety come first.
We are also planning to rent a car for our Italy trip. We plan to rent from Milan and return it at Rome. A good point you brought up about one way fee. The cars I am looking at are charging one way fee. Which car rental agency did you hire your car from? We are a family of 4, my husband and I and our two 7 yr olds.
It really depends on the rental company. Sometimes, the same rental company will/will not charge one way fee. It totally depends on the type of car we rent and the place we drop off the car. Sometimes, one way fee is inevitable. We too had payed one way drop off fee for some destinations. Though steep, it still worked out for us when compared to other transport options, as we were a big family of 12 including a toddler. And that goes without saying that having a car at our disposal gave us the freedom like none other. And again, sorry for the late reply – I was roadtrippin Iceland!
So we’ve rented a car from Hertz. I read somewhere that it is better to pay the tolls with cash instead of credit cards cos you end up paying higher cos the rate of conversion is higher at the toll booth. What was your experience?
Great Trupti. We didn’t use credit cards for the toll booth, though we used it widely outside and the rate of conversion was fair. As we didn’t use credit cards in toll booths, I’m afraid, I can’t advise you on that! Hope all is well with your visa 🙂
Yes all is well with the visa. We got it. . So you paid cash at the tolls? And did you carry euros or used the ATMs ? We are leaving this month. Super excited.
Wow! Nice. Yes, we used cash in tolls. We didn’t carry any Euros. We used ATM everywhere. The rate of conversion is almost the same, sometimes less in card. Have a great trip!
Thanks Ashwini. Thats super helpful.
May be you should also
Mention the autogrills where you get the fabolous italian sandwiches in panin bread. Thats the trademark of the autostrada. Also worth mentioning is that if one doesnt want to pay tolls on the autostrada then you also have high speed schnell straße (ss) that goes by the autostrada that one can take. The speed limit in these roads varies from 90-110kmph and also
Offers breathtaking sceneries.
Thanks for the suggestions Rupam. The intention of the post was to list down things which must be known before self driving in Italy. Though Autogrills are an important part of Autostrada, it is understood as a resting, snacking and refuelling place. Anyways, I’m approving this comment so that it will benefit the future readers. And as of Schnell StaBe, I’m not sure if that exists in Italy. I know that they are prominent in Austria, but in Italy, I doubt! Infact, if we try to miss the autostrada and go inside the villages and by chance if we encounter a ZTL zone and drive by it, then a penalty ticket is a sure thing!
Hi Ashwini Neetan
I’m planning a road trip from Switzerland to Italy and intrigued by your blog. Could we connect on email as I wanted to understand a few things…just arrived about 3 months and with my own car, need to figure out a good itinerary for a 10 day trip. Kindly if possible drop me a message on my email if you’re ok to connect
Please feel free to write to us at [email protected]
I plan to visit Italy soon and intend to do a road trip to dolomite mountains from Venice.
Although, being a seasoned driver on Indian roads, I’m skeptical about riding a LEFT-HAND drive on the right side way of the road, as it will be a first time for me.
Can you shed some light on how challenging it was on adopting the change? I love riding and driving, & looking at the pictures clearly it seems to be an amazing experience, but at the same time, I don’t want to go overboard with excitement and take undue risks.
At first, it maybe a little difficult with the left hand going toward the gearbox, eventually, you will get used to it. If you drive an automatic then, it will be as easier as it can get! 🙂 Either ways, just a few kms and we are good 🙂 Honestly, this was our first driving abroad experience and the left hand drive – we did it, that means you can do it too! 🙂 Go ahead 🙂
Thanks, Ashwini! That pep talk will do!
Wow wow and wow. Such an inspiring blog! During my last trip to Europe we took a car and drove all the way from Paris to French riviera…a stone’s throw from Italian border. And i so much wanted to cross it. Except that the dreaded ‘Italian translation of your DL’ kept propping up in online forums, which said that while driving in Italy, I should have an IDL which should be a translation of my English license in Italian (and other languages), and it is mandatory to carry it while renting or driving. The IDP I got issued from Indian RTO was just a piece of paper that said it is allowed for me to drive outside India. No translation in Italian nothing. And RTO babus in India have no clue on translation – “sir we issue this only” is their answer. Would you guys pls help me with how did you manage to work around this. This is the only thing that’s stopping me from taking a car in Genoa and drive all the way to Amalfi. I have literally drank the internet, and haven’t found an answer to this. So, any and all pointers would be highly appreciated guys. Thanks, Saurabh
We drove around Italy with the IDL issued by RTO in English. Didn’t face any issues. Also remember to carry your original DL. It is very imp otherwise, the rental car wont be delivered.
What a great read. Lots of information and written with great wit. Happy travels.
Thanks Jacqueline. Happy travels to you too!
Did you book the cars before you left..?
Yes, we always book our rental car before we left. I recommend you the same too.
It is a very advantageous post for me. I’ve enjoyed reading the post. It is very supportive and useful post. I would like to visit the post once more its valuable content. Thanks for such post and please keep it up.
Thanks! this article was very helpful. We were getting a bit gittery about our self- drive plan in Italy. But after reading your page, its good-to-go.
Can I rent a self drive in Milan and driver to Switzerland and return to Milan the following day ?
May be possible. Talk to your car rental supplier once.