Okay, okay, you’ll find lots of articles online with tips on driving in Italy. But most of them just talk about generic stuff like the fact that most cars have a manual transmission and that a GPS is recommended. Of course it’s recommended, Captain Obvious, you’re in a country you don’t know full of winding streets! Let’s be honest here, how do those tips even help you? I’m not gonna fall into that trap so therefore here are my super handy tips for driving in Italy!
Choose a small rental car
Let’s start off with the most important thing you should know before driving in Italy. If you plan on renting a car, choose the smallest one possible. Yes, that is correct, the smallest one. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Fiat Panda, it is still gonna be better than a big BMW sedan. I know, I know, we all want to brag to our friends at home about how big, luxurious and brand-new your rental car is. But believe me, if you choose a small car, you’ll be bragging about how swift you were able to get through Italian traffic!
Streets are narrow
Streets are incredibly narrow especially compared to the United States and might look like a one-way street but in fact they are actually two-way streets and oncoming traffic will not necessarily slow down just because you happen to be there too. In historic towns and villages with century-old buildings, pedestrian sidewalks are virtually nonexistent so the road starts right where the buildings end.
Italians are known for their mad driving. Remember that scene from the Italian job with the Minis racing through traffic? That’s every Italian ever. Traffic signs are more of a suggestion than the law. A driver making hand gestures and tailgating at 130 kmh is not unusual in Italy so don’t worry about it. It doesn’t mean the situation is gonna turn into a road rage. You could say it’s part of their lifestyle! I advise you adapt that driving style. If you drive way more cautious than the people around you, this in itself can make the situation far more dangerous because you’re doing something Italians don’t expect. If you see a gap, just go for it.
Italy sure loves its roundabouts. I can’t remember if it was equally bad in Rome or Naples, but when I was in Lombardy recently it really struck me. There are an enormous amount of roundabouts. During the first 3 days of driving, I have come across hundreds, if not near a thousand roundabouts (no kidding). A lot of those are two-lane roundabouts that allow smoother traffic. And if it’s a one-lane roundabout, Italians are gonna make it into a two-lane roundabout! This is an important thing to know about driving in Italy especially for e.g. Americans who might be less familiar with roundabouts.
Parking is a pain in the ass
Finding a good parking spot can be really difficult, especially during high season. Around Lake Como for instance, there are signs next to the road that lead you to a public parking. But you’ll be happy to find one that offers more than 10 parking spaces and isn’t fully occupied yet.
So you have to be creative when it comes to parking, just like the locals. I’ve seen locals that have mastered the art of parking their Fiat 500 in every nook and cranny possible. Spots that are free will often be accompanied by signs that say ‘resident vehicles only’ or ‘customers only’. You can park there anyway, because as you know, signs are nothing but a suggestion!
Italians slam their doors against another car
Yes they do. Italians are famous for this so don’t park too close next to someone else! This is another reason to rent a small car and be wary of where to park. I advise to look for a hotel that offers parking, so at least your car is safe at night. The absolutely incredible Hotel de la Ville in Monza, where I stayed, even offers free secured parking!
GPS is recommended
There, I said it anyway! Oh and most cars have manual transmissions!