It is possible to travel to most places in Italy using both regional buses and Italian trains. However, there are certain destinations and situations in Italy that a car is better suited for.
I will tell you now, driving is not for the weak-hearted.
Yes, it is great fun to drive out into Tuscany on a rural road that is almost empty and has many curves and beautiful views. If Dante were to write today, driving in Italian cities would be like Dante going through hell.
Okay, it’s a slight exaggeration. But it’s only a small amount.
It can be difficult to drive in Italy’s cities and towns. You will be fined if your car is caught in an area that is prohibited, but there are complicated parking regulations. A “congestion fee” is an additional charge on your rental car fee in some cities. This is an attempt to reduce pollution and traffic.
Overall, I recommend staying on public transport until you have to rent a car or your itinerary calls for it. For a short time, you might consider renting a car to drive around the Tuscan countryside. This is a great way to enjoy the best of both worlds while not being too stressed.
Do you think renting a car is a good idea in Italy?
A car is great if your itinerary departs from the main cities or towns served by trains and (as back-up) regional busses, then a car would be a good idea. This applies to most of southern Italy. A car is necessary if you are renting an apartment in an out-of-the way town or staying in an agriturismo. A car is a good option if you are traveling with a large group or family. You’d probably spend more on train tickets per person than on renting a car.
You can also enjoy driving in Italy if you do your research prior to arriving. You can follow my lead and leave the rental car at the airport before you arrive in the city.
Practical stuff: What drivers in Italy need to know
Italian Driving Laws
This topic is very complex. You will find all the details in my article on Italian driving rules and laws.
Italian Road Signs
This is a lengthy article with numerous photo and image examples. Find out all about the important road signs in Italy.
Types of roads in Italy
The “Autostrada”, which are Italy’s largest highways, may be familiar to you. These roads are easy to spot on maps, as they’re often colored red or yellow. They are also known as the A-roads (A1, A14 and so forth). E-roads can also be highways. Sometimes, a road is both an E and A. So make sure to factor this into your travel budget.
It is possible to break down the middle ground of Italian roads into two groups: major roads and minor roads. Major roads usually have two lanes, while minor roads can be accessed in one lane. Major roads are generally straighter, but without the Autostrada tolls and higher speed limits, so it will take longer to get to your destination. Minor roads are the most meandering. Although you won’t be able to set any speed records, you will probably enjoy some beautiful scenery.
The “white roads” are some of the most remote roads in Italy. This is because they are designated with the same color as AAA maps. These strade biches are the best example of “off-the-beaten track”, as they are rarely paved and frequently used by agricultural vehicles. If you don’t really want to go off-road, you won’t spend much time driving along the stradebianche. However, you can see them if your have a detailed driving map of Italy.
Italy Driving Maps
This is the conclusion. I believe you should get a good map of Italy if you plan to drive. If you don’t own a portable device, I would recommend renting a car that has GPS. But I wouldn’t rely on it alone. Without a map, you can’t plan your route without it. Sometimes, the computer can be – let’s face – wrong. One GPS voice tried to convince me and my companions that we should drive the wrong route up an on-ramp to the highway.
We ignored her and I’m sure you would too. But it just goes to prove that computers are not perfect. Once you are in Italy, bring a map that is accurate and detailed.
Michelin Maps are my favorite to use at home. Then, once in Italy, look for maps created by Italy’s version AAA – Touring Club Italiano. Here’s a Link to the TCI Store’s Italy Maps. (FYI it’s all Italian). The right-hand menu lets you break down the selection by region.
The Via Michelin website offers suggestions for driving routes and estimates on fuel costs. It’s great for planning a trip to Italy, and I love the paper map. The Italian autostrade.it website is another useful site for planning road trips to Italy. (It’s partially in English, but look for the trip planner which is an orange box at the bottom of the page that says “Your Journey in a Click”); and AutoEurope’s site that outlines several road trips.
Italy: How to Get Gas
Italy’s gas stations are almost entirely self-serve and have some stations that don’t have any humans on them. This means you need to be able to identify what you want when you pull up. Gasolio is the word that you are most likely to use, because it sounds right. But unless you have rented a diesel vehicle, you will be wrong.
ZEE Before you depart with your rental car, confirm with the company which type of fuel it uses. It is common to find diesel-powered rental cars in Italy. Don’t assume it’s a small benzina car. It is a common fact that diesel fuel costs less than unleaded gasoline, so it’s a good idea to ask for a diesel car. However, using the wrong fuel can lead to expensive repairs.
Concerning fuel costs… Some people may think that gas prices are the same as what they pay back home. This time, the unit of measurement is not the same. You can buy gasoline in Italy by the liter. This is a much smaller unit of measurement than a gallon. For the most current prices, visit this site . As of today, gasoline in Italy costs EUR1.447 per Liter (diesel is EUR1.258/liter). This amounts to approximately EUR5.48 per gallon (or $5.99 if you use today’s exchange rate).
Most gas stations are open daily from 7:00am to 7:00pm. There is an extended midday break that lasts between 12:20 and 3:30pm. Although many stations are closed on Sundays due to traffic congestion, they can still be found on major highways.
This article lists prices that are more than 10 year old. However, it provides a good overview of what you can expect at self-serve or attended gas stations in Italy. It also includes instructions on how to use the self-serve machines.
In Case of Emergency
Every 2km along Autostrade or other major highways there are emergency call boxes. They’re usually yellow. You won’t find any emergency call boxes on smaller roads. The number 116 is the number to dial if you need emergency road service. The Touring Club Italiano will assist you. However, members do not need to call to request tow trucks or other assistance. You can also call 113 or 112 to reach police, 118 to get medical help, and 115 to contact the fire department.