Rome-Venice-Florence-Rome: Where to rent a car?

My husband and I will be arriving and departing in Rome. We'll spend a week in the north, before returning to Rome, picking up friends at the airport, and then going on to Sorrento, before returning to Rome for a few days before heading back to the States. My plan is to head to Venice via train, and then on to explore Florence and the surrounding hill towns before heading back to Rome to pick up our friends at the airport. My question is, where should we rent a car? We plan to spend 3 or 4 days in Venice, and 2 or 3 in Florence, and 3 or 4 days "on the road." Should we take the train to Florence, staying in town and THEN rent a car there, avoiding having to deal with a car in the city? Or should we rent the car closer to Venice, and stay outside Florence, going into the city for day trips? Can we rent a car near Venice or Florence, and return it in Rome? Is there a big surcharge to do this?
If we do the first, where would be a good place to rent the car near Venice? If we do the latter, would we rent a car near the central train station?

Posted by Angela
Vancouver, Wa, USA
591 posts

You only need a car for those few days in Tuscany. The rest of the time a car will be an expensive and useless hassle. Drop off the car in Orvieto and take the train to Rome.

Posted by lgalen
33 posts

Thanks, Angela. We'll need the car for the Amalfi part of our trip. So, where should we PICK UP the car? Near Florence?

Posted by Angela
Vancouver, Wa, USA
591 posts

Are you sure you want a car for the Amalfi coast? I've not been there yet, but my understanding is that the roads are crazy curvy scary and jam packed with traffic, particularly in peak season. I'll be there at the end of October, and I'm planning to take the bus! Or a boat, depending on weather.

Posted by lgalen
33 posts

I would prefer to hire a taxi/tour guide for outings but our traveling companions are firm about wanting a car. We are also going in October!

Posted by Susan
Marin County/San Francisco
4031 posts

I've rented cars in Italy many times, and have visited Sorrento/Amalfi Coast many times but not with a car. I agree with Angela, best way imo to get around in the Sorrento/AC area is by train, boat or bus. Staying in Sorrento (my favorite place in Italy) is ideal as it's a hub for train/boat/bus.

Many people hire a private car and driver for a day to visit the AC. You may want to ask for recommendations in a separate thread if that appeals to you. Split 4 ways wouldn't be so bad.

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
4369 posts

Unfortunately the masses still believe car rentals are required in order to function. Fine with me - means more space on the train for my luggage!

Posted by dgashburn
5 posts

I'm currently in Rome (3 wks) on my 2nd trip to Italy.

Best car rental advice:
NEVER for cities!
NEVER for the Amalfi Coast -- dangerous driving and most aren't prepared.

Yes -- If limited time, consider if moving from small town to small town -- and buy a map BEFORE you go.
Remember that roads are typically unmarked and you go town-to-town, using the map as a basic guide.
Have a lot of patience. When you miss a turn, you'll see something you wouldn't have.

Places I've driven:
Rented from Hertz (Florence): Drove to Lucca, Pisa, Volterra, Arezzo. Good experience.
Rented from Hertz (Salerno): Drove to Paestum, Matera, Lecce. Good experience.

READ UP -- on signs for parking and driving -- driving in historic areas is generally VERBOTEN,
and sometimes has particular hours -- confusing and signs aren't standard. Best to park outside
of historic centers -- BLUE lined spots + pay per hr @ machines which produce a receipt.
(In Salerno, I could get a parking biletto -- ticket/receipt -- at a cafe to park in front of the cafe.)

It's great to say we should just use public transportation, but some have limited time and must get back
to jobs in the States. While bus-riding is a wonderful cultural experience, it's sometimes inefficient.
LOVE LOVE LOVE the trains, tho'!

Posted by lgalen
33 posts

Many thanks for all the advise! Our plan for the Amalfi Coast is to rent an villa in Massa Lubrense, and use it as a base to explore. This is one reason we would like a car. Also, since there are 4 of us in the Rome/Amalfi/Rome part of trip, I'm not sure taking a bus or even the train makes economic sense. Our traveling companion has driven in Europe (Italy, Greece, France and more) in the past and is not daunted by the narrow, twisty, busy roads--in fact, he's looking forward to it!!

As we did in France, we'll be taking our GPS, loaded with maps of Italy.

One question no one has answered yet is if we can rent the car in, say, Florence, and return it in Rome. If so, is there a costly surcharge?

We will be traveling in late September/early October. What should we expect in terms of crowds? How much in advance should we buy our train tickets for the Rome/Venice/Florence part of our trip?

Posted by Angela
Vancouver, Wa, USA
591 posts

I haven't rented a car in Italy, BUT I've read many people do pick them up in one place and drop in another all the time. It only gets super spendy if you drop it off in another country.

I believe the "peak season" is April thru mid-October... Though it's bound to be a bit less hectic mid week outside of summer.

For train travel, you can usually buy 120 days in advance (or as soon as the times are posted) for the fast trains. Doing so can save you a huge chunk of change! But these super saver tickets are non-refundable, so don't buy them in advance if you aren't completely sure of your itinerary. Tickets can be bought at the railway station just before you go... Trains rarely sell out.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
3553 posts

You need to go to priceline and type in the info for your car rental pickup and drop off locations. Each company (Hertz, Avis, Budget, etc) will have different prices and policies. Choose the cheapest for the car size you want and hold the reservation. There is usually no extra fee for dropping in the same country. I have driven all the places you want to go and would suggest getting your car after you see Florence, if you stay in the city. If you stay outside, then take the train from Venice to Florence, get the car and go to your village/hotel. Take a bus or train to Florence for day trips... don't bother taking the car.
Drop car before you visit Rome (either at the airport or someplace a little further out)
As far as driving the AC, I did it in Feb. and although not the tourist season it was still very busy and parking was a nightmare. I have driven all over Europe many times and it was more than a little stressful... I would not do it again, but I know some enjoy it:))

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
13875 posts

Each driver requires their home drivers license as was as an in-date (within one year of issue) IDP which is available from the AAA/CAA. The rental places may not care but failure to have it when challenged by the police, or after an accident, is illegal and you may find that your insurance is voided as well as a very large on the spot fine and/or impounding of the car.

ZTLs may prove exceedingly expensive.

Be prepared for the tolls.

I have driven the Amalfi Coast road in the off-season in my own car and I enjoyed it. I tend to love windy high speed roads and windy low speed roads and I have an exact knowledge of where my car ends in each dimension. I don't mind no guard rails and straight down to the sea on one side and mountain on the other.

It was interesting backing up the whole lane I was in a few times to allow something bigger to pass to the next slightly wider bit, especially on the curves because curves work well for passing.

The road is in many places just a bit wider than one narrow lane.

I've never done it in peak season and wouldn't want to.

I really like Sorrento, and all the way to Salerno and onwards.

Posted by Abe
Rick Steves' Europe
369 posts

ZTL are the zone and traffic cameras that snap photos of your license plate. You would then get a ticket in the mail when you get home. Be aware of these when you do go over. Many tourists have called and emailed us about tickets they received long after their trip. As for the information on this thread, I don't have anything new to input. I completely agree with everyone else. Amalfi coast and cities are not typically wise to drive in. Amalfi coast will be similar to the Cinque Terre in that the roads will be narrow and parking will be sparse. if you need the car to get to your villa, that's one thing. But don't use it to get between towns. Buses and taxis are the most logical way to get into the Amalfi coast, but boats are another popular option.