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Driving in Sicily

As an American, how easy/difficult is it to drive in Sicily? We are attending a wedding and staying in Castiglione between Catania and Taormina. My husband insists all cars have stick shifts. Is this true? Are road signs easy to follow? And how are the drivers? I’m from NY so use to aggressive driving! Thanks!

Posted by
3212 posts

You shouldn’t have any problems driving in Sicily. The only time you might incur difficulty is on very narrow roads in old town centers.

  1. Make sure you get your International Driver Permit fro AAA.
  2. Familiarize yourself with European road signs.
  3. Your credit card most likely will not cover auto insurance in Italy.
  4. I recommend renting a car with zero deductible insurance.
  5. Most rental cars are stick shift but automatics are usually available at airports, rail stations.
Posted by
6106 posts

We drove in Sicily and didn't have much difficulty beyond parking. We picked up in Siracusa and returned in Trapani. We purposely constructed the trip so that we would not have to drive in Palermo or Catania. We did have a stick shift. I'd be surprised if there wasn't automatic transmission cars to rent somewhere. I'm sure it becomes more complicated and more expensive.

For the rest of our Sicily trip, we made use of public transportation or hired a driver.

I think the talk of harrowing driving in Sicily is exaggerated. I was telling our rental car company representative in New Zealand that I found the car traveling in NZ much more disconcerting than in Sicily. In NZ people that are so kind and friendly change to passive aggressive behind the wheel. No passivity in Sicily! But, seriously, we thought driving in SIcily was very straight forward.

Posted by
6106 posts

Double check your credit card for insurance. My AMEX does not cover Italy. My AAA Visa does. (If your credit card does offer insurance, print out the letter of coverage)

Posted by
6825 posts

We picked up and dropped off in Catania, had a stick shift, and drove clockwise around the island. I’m sure automatics are available, but I have no problem with a manual shift.

I didn’t feel the rural roads were well marked at all. There were times I had no idea which road I was actually on. The main roads are generally in good repair while some rural roads need some Improvement. One needs to be aggressive yet defensive. If you’re nice and let a car merge, three others may go too.

I feel the no drive ZTL zones were well marked, but you need to know what the signs look like. I looked up parking lots before going over, bookmarked them to Google maps, and was able to go right to them. I used Google maps for navigation and it worked well. Once away from the cities traffic is light.

Posted by
461 posts

Automatics are easy enough to get in Sicily. As I use, and many recommend here, check AutoEurope.com to reserve. Just specify "automatic" in your search. Not sure where you are flying in but if Catania would pick up there at the airport. We were just in Sicily driving last month. Not as difficult as information in advance made us expect. I check out some youtube videos on the topic. And some other basic internet research so you know what the universal signs mean like do not enter, no parking, etc. And some cities in Sicily do have "ZTLs". You can do internet research on that topic too. And do get international driver permit from AAA. Our rental agency Avis required to see it when we picked up the car. Enjoy the planning!

Posted by
968 posts

The roads were generally very good. My biggest problem was Google maps. It constantly tried to send me down busted back roads because it was the “fastest route.” Having someone to help navigate will help, but plan your route ahead of time.

It can get a little challenging with a stick shift, you’ll be in mountainous areas. Nothing insane, but a lot of shift work that can get tiring when you haven’t done it in decades.

Posted by
11368 posts

There are automatic and standard(stick) transmission cars available in Italy. The automatics are much more expensive.

Posted by
2604 posts

We picked up a car in Siracusa and returned at Palermo airport. We did rent a stick shift. We live where drivers are aggressive and did not find Sicilians any more so. The rural roads are not marked well as others have said but goggle maps worked for us. Sometimes a road would just randomly be blocked off but we always found a different way to go. As others have said, do learn about ZTL but also be aware that they may not be in effect all the time. We drove all the way around Ragusa because the owner of the place we were staying neglected to tell us that the ZTL on the route she recommended was not in effect during the week except in summer. Still we found it better to park outside the old town in Ragusa to avoid the amazingly narrow roads.

The traffic was heavier returning the car at the airport. It is important to realize that there is not much time to merge from exits. No extra lines so you can gradually get up to speed. And signs aren't repeated as often as in the U.S. so you have to pay attention.

Don't get a bigger car than you absolutely have to have as streets and parking lots are not spacious.

We used public transportation when we could (took bus to Taormina from Catania airport, train to Siracusa, and train to Cefalu from Palermo) but parts of Sicily are very difficult without a car.