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Rick says: Driving in Italy is scary? What do YOU think?

"Driving in Italy can be scary - a video game for keeps, and you only get one quarter. All you need is a car, internal fortitude...." (Rick Steves, "Italy 2006" page 25). What do you think? Got any Italian driving epics to share?

Posted by
190 posts

I lived in Italy for 3 years, so I drove constantly over there. I would never drive in Rome, but I have driven in Florence. I don't recommend driving in the large cities unless you have been driving in Italy for a few days and have a navigator with you. On the "freeways", the major difference is the speed. Believe me that EVERYONE will be driving faster than you - so stay right. (It was awful when I came back to the States - I passed everything in sight!) And watch out for the phantom mercedes (don't know why it is always that make of car) who is going so fast that you don't see him, pull into the left lane to pass (yes, it will happen eventually), and there he is in your rear view mirror, so close you can tell if he shaved that morning. He has good brakes, but don't make him prove it; just maintain your speed and move right as soon as you can. Hey, it's all part of the travel experience! Have fun.

Posted by
800 posts

Made our 3rd trip to Italy this past summer. We have rented a car each time. Must admit we found the first time to be the most "scary" but quickly got used to it. We have even driven to our hotel for 1 night in Rome and out the next morning to the airport with no problem. I don't recommend that you drive in any of the very large cities because at best you will be just parking your car anyway. But the small towns and much of what we saw in Sicily would be very different if we had to do them with public transportation.

My daughter and friends did Europe post high school and since they were ONLY hitting large cities (in Italy it was Rome & Venice) they had no problem with trains, but I'm glad that my husband is old enough to rent a car!

Posted by
187 posts

Didn't drive in Italy in 2005 but will in 2008. Hubby has a tendency to drive in the left lane (drives me crazy since this is the passing lane here in the states) but I bet he doesn't in Italy.

Posted by
1127 posts

Driving in the cities is crazy but exploring the countryside is best seen by car. Make sure your rental has a GPS and it will be a piece of cake.

Posted by
28 posts

Just returned from 4 wks in Italy. Rented a car for Tuscany & Umbria countryside. Our take on Itallian driving: They tailgate-period. They speed up then slam on the brakes-always. Lines on the road are merely a suggestion. One way streets aren't. Passing on corners and hills are the norm. Even little old senior citizens drive on the freeways... just slowly, in the right lane.

My suggestion... relax, drive carefully, and as mentioned earlier, maintain a sensible speed and a sensible distance. Don't let them push you into driving like they do. They REALLY don't care as long as you move to the right to get out of their way. Especially the phantom mercedes!

Posted by
479 posts

I loved driving in Italy. It's totally controlled chaos, and I love it. It's frustrating because things aren't marked very well, including getting in and out of cities. But I had so much fun that I can't have in the US.

Posted by
13 posts

What about driving in Ireland? And the opposite side of the road in general? And with someone who has never driven a stick shift? (I am planning to learn, but definitely won't have much experience.) Should I just stick to buses and trains? We have been debating for a while for our June trip.

Posted by
468 posts

We have been to Italy six times, and five of those times we rented a car. I have driven in the countryside and in Sorrento and on the Amalfi highway. It does take fortitude, and you have to drive with attitude. Not road rage, I guess I mean really paying attention, not being tentative, and definitely not drinking coffee, text messaging, etc., all those things people do here while they drive.

I am not a big fan of GPS, but I am a big fan of having a good map, I like Michelin, and a compass. Even if you get GPS, I think it is still a good idea to have a map and compass with you.

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks Kent-- will read those old posts. I didn't realize the search feature also went through old helpline questions.

Posted by
17 posts

We didn't have any issues driving. Just get a GPS with your rental car so that you don't have to deal with maps that don't have all the roads on them.

Posted by
126 posts

We usually have a rental car for part of our trip. My advice is stay out of the large cities and have a passenger that can read a map. It gives you lots of freedom when you have a car. A must in Tuscany, Umbria or the Marche region. Hopefully you won't be in a hurry, and if you make a few wrong turns, so what. You can discover some neat things when you get off the beaten path. I can't say that driving in Italy was any different than driving here. Roundabouts can be a little tricky first time around, but nothing you can't figure out after going around a few times.

Posted by
10 posts

Question regarding Driving from Rome to Umbria...with 7 people...all very tall...are vans, or larger cars that the usual little Italian cars available for rent? could one take a train or public transport to Umbria?? we are headed there next October and trying to think through the 'wheels thing'. HELP.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks Kent...we have always had success with the travelers suggestions on this site. Ciao. [practicing my Italian]. We will be at LeVigne for a week...check it out on the website. Thanks again.

Posted by
206 posts

We were in Italy this past summer with a family group of eleven. We stayed for a week in a small town in the hills of Liguria. We rented a van and station wagon. The van seated 7, but it was smaller than a US minivan, and there was no way you could fit seven and their luggage in the van. Much of our "around town" driving was up and down the hill on a one lane (although two way) road. Driving a van in those conditions was definitely more difficult than the typical Italian small car. That being said, we had three drivers (my Dad chose-the men), and they all seemed to quite enjoy the experience. I was a passenger, and the car trips were the single part of the whole trip that I really did not enjoy. So maybe its better being a driver!

Posted by
2898 posts

I am an older female, good but cautious driver. I have driven on all 8 of our trips to Italy.Yes, Italians drive fast; and they do tailgate, mostly as a way to get you to let them pass or to force you to speed up. They also honk a lot. I just won't allow myself to be intimidated into driving in a manner that makes me uncomfortable. I also try to avoid big cities. You'd be mad to drive in Rome, except to get out of it. There are also places where, after serious consideration, I decided not to drive, e.g., the Amalfi Coast highway and the Great Dolomites Road. There are two other issues to consider, parking and navigation. You need to be sure you know where you can park when making daytrips to small towns. Many now have lots outside the centro. Check the TI websites. In the future, I think we'll invest in a GPS system to solve the problem of, to say the least, quirky signage. BTW, I have never heard of Italian drivers carrying guns and attacking other cars, as happens here.

Posted by
689 posts

Yes. Driving in Italy can be very scary. Especially for me - the passenger. My husband, the driver loves it. He has Italian blood. I think you have to have the genes in order to actually enjoy driving in Italy. WE enjoy it - but only because HE drives and I ride...

Driving has allowed us to see and explore places busses and trains don't go anywhere near...

Posted by
41 posts

The highways in Italy don't bother me so much...I've been living in Germany for the last 6 months so I'm used to the speed!...but the cities are a different story. If you have a GPS you'll do okay. Just pay attention and take it easy. As for driving in the UK, the highways, straight roads, and one lane roads in the country aren't difficult. The problem comes when you turn...you'll automatically turn into the right lane, which can be a problem. There are lots of parking lots that have a sign before you leave the lot that remind you to drive on the left so this is apparently something that happens often.

Posted by
4 posts

Not scary to drive in Italy at all. Landed in the Venice airport without knowing a word of Italian & then only real directions I had to our parent company was "north to Sacile". Rented a Smart 4 door & with some apprehension I headed out. Piece of cake, getting around Italy is easy & unless you are in a hurry there is no need to take the Autostrada.

6,000 kms in a month & only saw 2 accidents, was also pulled over 1 time by the Polizea but I acted as if I couldn't speak a single word of Italian & he didn't speak any english. Instead of getting frustrated he just had me go on my way.

The only part that is scary is when you come upon the Carbinerai..probably spelled that wrong..anyways they are the state police. When they want to check out a vehicle or driver there are always 2 officers, 1 pulling you over while the other stands there with his finger on the trigger of his machinegun!!

Posted by
710 posts

If you think Italiain drivers are scary or crazy, you should try driving a boat in Venice among Italian boat drivers. I loved the Rome cab driver we had one night who had a TV on and was watching it at red lights. Somehow he managed to cross over 4 lanes to make a left turn he almost missed.

Posted by
4 posts

Wow, after reading some of these posts, I am wondering what country we were in last year. We didn't have any problems driving in Italy. Granted we stayed in a small village in the Maremma area of Tuscany, but we did drive from the Rome airport to there, and on trips to Lucca, Cortona, Terme di Saturnia and then into Siena to turn in our car. We felt the drivers were more courteous and safer than those we drive with everyday here in the LA area, but perhaps therein lies the reason! We found the roads to be in good condition and the directional signage to be just fine. I don't think I would have been comfortable trying to navigate the bigger cities though. Our journey out of Lucca was memorable as the Italian soccer team had just won a World Cup match (not the final one) and there were tons of small cars filled with young Italian men and boys waving the flag, honking and driving a little more recklessly than usual.

Posted by
525 posts

Read Carolyn's reply 11/2/07, 7:40 am. She is right on.
On the autostrada the cars do drive 120km plus. They do tailgate, they do slam on their brakes, they do cut "right" in front of you when they pass you. They don't signal. The "hilltowns" do take a bit of work driving to them from the autostrada. Signs are a bit deceiving - which way the arrow is pointing on the street. Signs are "after" you pass the street you want or on the opposite corner. It isn't as much scary as frustrating when "you" don't get it right. Some parking for hilltowns is by an elevator, escalator or funicular that you take to the town.

Posted by
1 posts

I am a 54 year old woman of Italian heritage. I just drove for the second time in Italy. From Milan to Trieste and all the way to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. Driving in Italy? Exciting! Adventurous! Exhilarating! Fantastico! If you can't keep up, take a train. Next time though I will have a GPS.

Posted by
10 posts

Went spent a few days in Italy this past October and we rented a car in Pisa and drove through Tuscany ending in Chiusi where we got on the train again. Just over two days total driving and it was definitely a scary experience for me (first time renting outside of the states). Tuscany is very hilly and roads are very curvy and it was a new experience for me. Everything was fine and when cars came up behind me I would slide to the side a little to allow them to pass easily. Once a large truck was tailing me close so I just pulled over at the next little pull off area and let them pass. Good picture opportunity anyway =) The only real nail biter for me was the walled cities. The pedestrians are everywhere, streets are EXTREMELY narrow ... not my cup of tea! We stayed outside the walls and parked in the marked lots and walked. FYI: I'm a 28 yr old male from flat WI. My advice, rent in the rural and smaller areas and stick with metros in the large areas.

Posted by
32 posts

My husband and I stayed 16 days in Italy in Oct., 10 of which we spend with a rental car. We are in our mid 60s. He drove, I navigated. We came from Boston so crazy drivers are not a problem for us. Although he had his doubts, he didn't find it too bad. Would do it again in a heartbeat. Did not drive in Rome - it's a great walking city. Remember to follow "city" signs, not highway numbers when traveling. Famous for not giving too much warning for highway exits - we "sped" past a couple before we realized it.
Enjoy!

Posted by
32 posts

My husband and I stayed 16 days in Italy in Oct., 10 of which we spend with a rental car. We are in our mid 60s. He drove, I navigated. We came from Boston so crazy drivers are not a problem for us. Although he had his doubts, he didn't find it too bad. Would do it again in a heartbeat. Did not drive in Rome - it's a great walking city. Remember to follow "city" signs, not highway numbers when traveling. Famous for not giving too much warning for highway exits - we "sped" past a couple before we realized it.
Enjoy!

Posted by
51 posts

Hey,Kent.One more thing.I am pretty sure but not 100% about this,since ive been over there only once and my brother was driving(he lives in REGGIO EMILIA).The green arrow on left turns doesnt mean that you have the right of way.Treat it just like a green light and wait your turn.I migh be wrong on this but other other people will correct me if that`s the case.Buon voiaggio.

Posted by
365 posts

Generalizations about driving in other countries and the driving habits of the locals there are not real helpful for those contemplating renting a car. If you like to drive and are capable of handling a little stress, driving in Italy or anywhere else is quite fun and the only way to see many things. If you don't really enjoy driving but consider autos a necessary nuisance to get around, driving in a foreign country will not disabuse you of this notion. This is why everyone's opinion is different on this subject...it depends PRIMARILY on the driver, not the place. It's true they drive a little more aggressively in Italy, but at least they understand the purpose of a freeway on-ramp(to speed up and merge!) and those who enjoy luxuriating in the passing lane back home will finally understand the concept of "closing speed".

Posted by
157 posts

I have done the driving in most European countries and I concur with the general advice. Do not drive in the big cities. The country areas are fine and driving yourself there is likely preferable. If you think about it - it is best to park your car in any big city whether it is Europe or the states. It is not efficient to drive in those places, too easy to get lost and too frustrating and too expensive to keep moving the car and parking it in another location. Leave the car and use the public transportation in the big cities. It will be less aggravating and less expensive.

Posted by
2 posts

Actually driving in Italy is fun. Just keep up with the traffic and stay alert. No worse than the LA freeways.

Posted by
15 posts

We spent 12 days driving in Milan, Florence, Siena and Chianti. What fun. I have driven all over Europe and I didn't find italy to be that or even that challenging. We rented a wonderful Alfa Romeo Sport Wagon, Turbo which was very comfortable and fun to drive for the four of us.
Only one piece of advice. Rent a TomTom GPS unit from http://www.lowergear.com/
It will come with Italy maps preloaded and you will have a few days prior to leaving for italy to get to know the unit. Not once did our unit not have our destinatin on it's maps.
Good luck.