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Driving in Europe

My wife and I will be in Europe this summer. We plan to rent a car and drive from Munich to Castelrotto/Alpe di Siusi, Fussen, then back to Munich. We have never driven in Europe, so this trip would be an adventure for us. Any recommendation for GPS as well as pocket wi-fi rental? Thanks.

Posted by
8868 posts

I like using my own GPS device. First I know how it works. Second it is not dependent on having cell service.

Posted by
1118 posts

Do you have a smart phone?

Then you can use Google Maps with a downloaded offline map without using data service. Buy a phone holder and check if the car has a USB output or you will need an adapter.

I used that in England between Heathrow and Southampton last year and it worked fine.

Posted by
521 posts

I second Joe's opinion. Take your own GPS that you are familiar with and you can pre-program your destinations from home.
Careful driving in Italy. I gather from this forum that many more people complain about getting tickets in Italy that in other countries (just my opinion). Have fun.

Posted by
12040 posts

A few pointers.

Pick up the rental car as you leave Munich, not while staying there. Parking in the inner city is scarce, difficult to find, and expensive. Munich is also one of the few German cities that is particularly difficult to navigate by car, even with a GPS. You shouldn't have much trouble leaving the city by auto, however.

Your proposed route takes you through Austria. You will need to purchase a vignette sticker at the border to legally drive here. It isn't particularly expensive, and easy to find where they're sold.

Italy is infamous for it's ZTLs. I forget what the initials stand for, but it basically means that certain streets, usually residential, require a permit to drive through. Without a permit, the camera snaps a picture of your car, which gets traced back to the rental agency, which gets traced back to you, and requires you to pay up for each violation, with a service charge. Now personally, having been made aware of the ZTLs in advanced, I found them well marked and difficult to mistake. Others have voiced different opinions, and were surprised at the number of citations they received. Who's right, I don't know. Just know what the signs look like and keep your eyes on the road and not fixated on your GPS (navigating through parts of Europe, Germany and Austria especially, is surprisingly easy without a GPS).

And speaking of carefully observing signs... make sure you understand the default speed limits within town limits vs. outside of boundaries. The limit will change as soon as you pass the town sign, but there may not be a sign to specifically indicate the new speed. Unlike in the US, where police have the discretion to only pull over the most flagrant violations of the speed limit, in Europe, this job is performed by radar cameras. The cameras have no such discretion, and everyone going over the limit will receive a souvenir photo of themselves driving, with the attached invoice.

Posted by
761 posts

Definitely pick up the rental car on your way out of Munich. My basic rule of thumb is if possible don't drive in ANY big city. It can be done but it is tedious and best avoided.

As for the GPS, get a European map card for your GPS and use it. I always take my own simply because I know how to use and I hit the ground ready to go. Take along some good paper maps of the regions. GPS is great at teeling you exactly where you are but the little screen fails miserably at filling in the details on the larger scale.

Open road driving is pretty simple. Germany, Austria and the part of Italy you are going to are all the same driving and language wise. The South Tyrol was part of Austria until WW1 when it was awarded to Italy. The signs are mostly in German with Italian sub titles. For example, the biggest family business name in Castelrotto is Silbernagle.

Along with the Autobahn vignette in Austria you need an International Driving Permit in both Austria and Italy. It's only $20 and you may never be asked for it, but if you have an accident or get stopped in one of the roving traffic check opints the Italians use, an IDP is worth its weight in diamonds.

Posted by
3333 posts

To elaborate a bit on the speed law enforcement in Italy . . .Those cameras allow very little leeway. Also, in some places there are sensors which monitor how long it takes you to get from one spot to another. Slowing down just where there is a camera is useless, if you get there too soon.
Be aware that your gps may give you a highway number, but road signs in Italy rarely (never?) sport that number. After you turn onto a road you may see small indicators of the number. It helps to get familiar with the names of the next couple of towns on your route. That way you can make correct choices.

Finally, I have found it useful to make a copy of what various signs mean and stick it to the dashboard.

Posted by
8014 posts

I always tape a copy of the various road signs for Europe as they are different from those used in the US. They are in Rick Steves' guidebooks.

Posted by
12040 posts

It helps to get familiar with the names of the next couple of towns on your route. Which brings up another point. Highway signage indicates the cities in your direction of travel, but not the geographic direction, like in the US. So for example, leaving Munich, you wouldn't look for signs for A95 south, but rather, A95 in the direction of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Posted by
31524 posts


A few thoughts.....

It's important to note that for driving in Italy, each driver listed on the rental form must have the compulsory International Driver's Permit, which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. (so you must carry both). These are valid for one year, and easily obtained at any CAA/AAA office (two Passport-sized photos required, which may be provided by the issuing office).

You may never be asked for an IDP, but failure to produce one if requested can result in fines on the spot! Failure to pay the fines on the spot can result in the rental car being impounded (which will result in further financial penalties). Have a look at for more information on I.D.P's and driving in Italy.

You may also want to have a look at some of the posts on the forum concerning the dreaded ZTL (which Tom mentioned) or Zona Traffico Limitato (limited traffic) areas that are becoming increasingly prevalent in many Italian towns & cities (especially Florence!). Some of these are enforced by automated cameras and some by local police. Each pass through one of the automated Cameras will result in a €100+ ticket and visitors often don’t know of these violations until several months after they’ve returned home. In addition to the actual fines, renters will also be charged by the rental agencies for providing information to the authorities. You may find this website helpful -

There’s also the possibility of fines for driving in bus lanes, parking tickets, tolls and speed cameras including the devious Traffic Tutor system which not only monitors instantaneous speeds but also average between two points. Violate either or both parameter and expensive tickets will follow! Be sure to budget for the high fuel costs and note that some automated fuel pumps may only accept Chip & PIN credit cards.

As mentioned earlier, you'll also need to obtain the Highway Tax Vignette for driving in Austria, as hefty fines can result there as well. You might ask the rental agency about that, as some vehicles in their fleet may have that.

A GPS along with a good map (Michelin?) would also be a good idea. I wouldn't bother with a "pocket wi-fi rental" as my roaming plan includes data so I don't need that. Check with your home cell provider to see what roaming options they offer, as that may be cheaper than a Wi-Fi rental.

Posted by
28145 posts

If you should decide route yourself back to Germany via Switzerland (who wouldn't!!) you will need a Swiss toll Vignette - similar to the Austrian one but rather than around €10 for a short stay in Austria it is an annual permit (no shorter times are available in Switzerland) which costs CHF 40 which is reasonably close to €37.

Posted by
2776 posts

I rented my GPS from Avis along with the car, the agent set it to English and powered it up so I would know how it worked. It was portable in its own carry bag so wasn't tied to the car. So that's another option. You can try and use discount codes on their website before you go to reduce the price.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks you all for recommendations. They are very helpful. We're gong to give driving in Europe a try. It appears driving in Italy could be a challenge for us beginners. As a trial run, we added a driving trip from Munich to Salzburg/Hallstatt in our itinerary before heading to Castelrotto.

We'll be in Munich for two nights upon our return before taking a train to Luzern, Switzerland. Any suggestion for hotels in Munich as well as in Luzern? Thanks.

Posted by
12040 posts

If you will have already seen Munich on the front end of the trip, consider spending at least your final night at Therme Erding, one of the best indoor waterpark/spa resorts I have ever seen. The resort has an attached hotel, but you can also find plenty of other lodging options nearby. The airport is an easy 15 minute drive away. The actual town of Erding (the resort sits on the outskirts of the town) is pleasent enough, although it doesn't really have anything worth visiting.

BTW, I can't remember the last time I rented a car in Europe and it didn't have a built-in GPS.

Oops.... sorry, I missed the last point that you're not flying out of Munich. Even still, the same advice applies...don't take a car into Munich proper unless to drop it off.

Posted by
3709 posts

I've never seen it recommended, but it is worth googling pictures of the camera devices so you know what they look can like.

Posted by
1117 posts

For driving in Europe, make sure you are aware of some major differences in the rules. I can only speak for Germany here; I assume that the following rules are true for the other European countries too, but you'd have to check for yourselves.

  • Stay as far right as is reasonably possible on roads with several lanes (Autobahn etc.). It's not only uncourteous to hog the left lane(s), it's actually illegal. And it is so for a reason:
  • No passing on the right-hand side. Absolutely. There are very few exceptions to this rule: in a traffic jam or when traffic is flowing very slowly and the line of cars on the right lane is moving slightly faster than the line on the left lane. Or when you are approaching an intersection and the lanes are already clearly designated to lead into different directions.
  • No "first come first go" at an intersection. If there are no signs telling you who has the right of way, the vehicle coming from the right always has the right of way, no matter who was there first. Which usually makes finding the guilty driver very easy in case of a collision. By default, it's the one coming from the left (unless there were some very unusual circumstances).

googling pictures of the camera devices so you know what they look can

... which is not going to help you a bit because you won't see them in time when you are speeding, no matter how well you know what they look like. :-)

Those cameras allow very little leeway.

I don't know about Italy, but for Germany at least, that is not true. If your ticket tells you you have been caught exceeding the speed limit by 15km/h, more likely you were speeding by at least 20km/h.

That's not because they are being nice to you and want to give you that bit of leeway; it's more like they are giving themselves that leeway for legal reasons: They need to make sure they are not going to be accused of inaccurate measuring to the disadvantage of the driver.

Posted by
3333 posts

On the question of how much leeway speed cameras give you: I'm not trying to "one up" you, Anna, but 5kph is very little compared to the 5mph that Highway Patrol officers in the U.S. routinely allow and Americans expect. In fact, less than 10 mph over the limit is considered negligible. If you follow the threads here on speeding tickets, you'll see many outraged complaints by posters who received speeding tickets when going "only" the equivalent of 5mph over the limit. Remember, the original question was asked by a poster who was trying driving in Europe for the 1st time. To my mind, the best advice for drivers is to stick to the limit. That way you'll have nothing to worry about.

Just another reminder regarding renting a car in Europe. The rental agencies charge a huge amount for the collision damage waiver supplement. Even though my USAA insurance doesn't cover it, my Costco CitiCard DOES cover it. They told me to decline the additional insurance which saves us almost $200 for a 10 day rental car in Nice. Just thought I'd add that to the conversation.

Posted by
2776 posts

Anna, the other reason the cameras give some fudge room is that German speedometers also fudge the speed. Google BMW speedometer and see what I mean, I was quite surprised when I discovered this - I figured they would accurate to the third decimal place.

Posted by
1117 posts

Oh, that's common knowledge, and I would be very much surprised if that was the case in Germany only or in German cars only. The speedometers of most cars - not only BMW - will exaggerate your speed by a couple of km/h, which is actually the "leeway" everyone is asking for. :-)

The problem of course is that everyone knows about this and drives a bit faster than they should, like 55km/h (by speedometer) in a 50km/h zone. But radar cameras will usually not take any pictures of you as long as you stay within those +5km/h or so.

However, that's NOT what I was talking about previously. If you get a ticket telling you you were going 65km/h in a 50km/h zone, most likely you were actually going 70km/h, and your speedometer was warning you you were going 75km/h.

Radar cameras will check your actual speed (hopefully accurately), but even with a true 55km/h (=speedometer at about 60km/h) in a 50km/h zone you will probably not get a ticket yet.

That said, I wouldn't try it, and I am not going to give any guarantees or register any complaints. :-)

Posted by
1117 posts

LOTS of speedcameras in Germany. Lots of them.

That's for sure. :-)

And having your GPS warn you actually is illegal, though I am sure everybody does it.

The worst ones of course being the mobile ones that weren't there the day before. :-/

turn on red doens't exist in most of Europe.

That's a good point you're adding there. I personally think it's somewhat silly not to allow that because it usually is not exactly a dangerous manoeuver.

This actually used to be allowed in East Germany, and after the reunification, they had to find a compromise: some traffic lights have a green arrow pointing right attached to them. At intersections with such an arrow, you may in fact turn right on red.

The leeway you are talking about is the tolerance of the camera. The
speed - the 'leeway' is the speed they take into consideration.

No, that's simply two different things we are talking about here:

  • the "leeway" your speedometer gives you by an inaccurate measurement, erring always on the side of showing you a higher speed than you are actually going: like showing 75km/h when you are in fact only going 70km/h.
  • the "leeway" the camera gives you by assuming there may be slight inaccuracies in the measurement: like sending you a ticket for going 65km/h when you were in fact going 70km/h.

I was caught driving 51 km/h in France, in Belgium and in Germany.

Well, what was the speed limit in that zone? I never heard of anyone getting a speeding ticket for driving 51km/h in a 50km/h zone in Germany.

Posted by
1117 posts

Oh, sorry about that. :-)

Important information for everyone: Don't talk (on the phone) and drive. :-) May get expensive, and I think they are just about to raise the fines on that.

Still, I really can't imagine they took pictures of you doing 51 km/h in a 50 km/h zone. That must have been a 30 km/h zone.

Which means you would have been going at least 21 km/h = 14 mph = about 70% above speed limit. Which would actually be quite a lot. ;-)

Posted by
3333 posts

As far as speedometers being set to show a higher than actual speed, it happens with cars in Italy, too. We experienced that in Sicily a couple of years ago, and the rental car was not a German one. Portable speed indicators had been set up at a numbers of spots along the route we were driving. I began to notice the discrepancy between what they indicated and what my speometer showed. Seems a bit silly, in that drivers would certainly catch on quickly and simply go at the higher indicated speed. BTW, the easy solution to avoid speeding tickets is stick to the limit. (Rocket science, that one)

Posted by
3709 posts

the easy solution to avoid speeding tickets is stick to the limit

Right, but as at home not always 100% of the time possible to determine. Typically standard speeds are not posted (not sure about Germany), only exceptions to the standard speeds. The default US method of just mimicking what everyone else is doing will of course not keep a person out of trouble. And often they have an irritating habit of posting that the lowered speed thorough a town is no longer in effect instead of posting what the speed has actually become.

Posted by
1117 posts

Typically standard speeds are not posted (not sure about Germany)

That is certainly true for Germany. And since there are only two of those (50km/h within city limits, 100km/h outside of city limits), it's really not all that difficult to get those memorized. There may be additional rules for trucks, RVs or other special vehicles, but for normal cars, it's really that easy.

They do post the standard speeds at most border crossings, so you will have a chance to know when you enter a different European country by car.

just mimicking what everyone else is doing

Not a good idea, that's right. In construction zones on the Autobahn for instance the speed limit often is at 60 km/h, and you have everyone going well over 80 km/h. Are they going to pay your speeding ticket for you? I don't think so.

an irritating habit of posting that the lowered speed thorough a town
is no longer in effect instead of posting what the speed has actually

Given that there are only two standard speed limits, what do you find irritating about that? If you can't keep these two numbers (or three, in other countries) in mind, you really shouldn't be driving a car in a foreign country.

BTW, in a number of countries, an intersection will have the same effect as the sign you linked to. After an intersection, the lowered speed limit has to be posted again (because cross traffic needs to be informed), or it will no longer be in effect.

Posted by
28145 posts

And often they have an irritating habit of posting that the lowered speed thorough a town is no longer in effect instead of posting what the speed has actually become.

The link to apparently show the spating of a speed limit isn't that at all. A blue background to a speed limit sign is the MINIMUM required speed, usually on a main road or autobahn. I must say I've never seen a 30 one. I was on the A6 a couple of days ago and saw several minimum 110 kph signs.

The linked to sign says that all cars now no longer have to have a minimum speed of 30 kph (about 20 mph).

A maximum speed limit will be a white round sign with a red ring and black numerals. The spating of same will be a faded version of the sign with a black diagonal line.

By the way, I don't know if spating a limit is in common use elsewhere - we use it on the railway to signify that the previous restriction no longer exists so the default one is now applicable after the sign. If anyone is confused, that what I mean.

Posted by
1117 posts

You're perfectly right of course that this is not the "end of speed limit" sign, at least not in Germany. That one looks like this.

An end of minimum speed sign is pretty rare, and I am trying to think of a situation where it would even make sense. Who would you be letting know it's the end of minimum speed? The drivers it applies to aren't on this road up to this point - hopefully.

Actually, I doubt many German drivers are even aware of the beginning of minimum speed sign, simply because it usually doesn't apply to you as long as you are driving a normal car. Don't hit the Autobahn with a tractor, a bicycle or an ancient driver's license that will only let you drive 25km/h, and you'll be fine.

What is in fact far more common is the sign for the recommended maximum speed which looks similar but is square.

Posted by
3709 posts

I couldn't find a proper picture, the ones in France were black and white with a red stripe.

Anyway, a sign of what the speed no longer is, is a bit like having a "No Need to Stop" sign. Well, nice to know what one does not need to do, I guess.

Posted by
1117 posts

Anyway, a sign of what the speed no longer is, is a bit like having a
"No Need to Stop" sign.

I'm sorry, I still don't quite understand your point about this.

If you have been going through a, say, 30km/h zone in a city, how are you supposed to know the zone has ended without such a sign? Or on the Autobahn, if there have been a couple of km through some sort of tricky terrain, how are you supposed to know it's no longer 80km/h after that without such a sign?

Posted by
3709 posts

how are you supposed to know the zone has ended without such a sign?

When used to one system then doing it another way can seem perplexing, like in some countries the light switches go DOWN to turn on, not up. How can down mean on, isn't that counter-intuitive?

The US/Canada/Mexico system is to just post the current speed limit, then it is understood that any previous restrictions have ended. To post what the speed limit no longer is with a red line through seems a bit loco to me, but it seems logical if that is what you are used to. Speed limits is one area where the European system is less friendly to strangers than what Americans are used to since in the US there is a lot of speed limit posting, even of standard speeds like on 2 lane highways. Also, speed cameras are rare or unknown....

Posted by
1117 posts

After the next intersection.

I know, see my earlier post. But there are quite a number of situations where you would need to let people know a certain zone has ended, and no intersection anywhere near. Like speed limit zones on the Autobahn for instance.

like in some countries the light switches go DOWN to turn on, not up.
How can down mean on, isn't that counter-intuitive?

Yeah, or the faucets saying "C" for "hot" - not for "cold" - in France. :-)

Also, speed cameras are rare or unknown....

But you do have these nasty planes, don't you? :-)

Posted by
28145 posts

As for minimal speed, they are in the code. In Belgium on highway .....

There's an actual code in Belgium? Have any Belgians (Wallonia or Flanders) ever seen one? I am astonished.....

of course, present company excepted, woinparis

Posted by
2916 posts

But you do have these nasty planes, don't you?

No, we just have signs that say "Speed checked by Aircraft." It's a whole lot cheaper to make the signs than to actually monitor speed by aircraft.
By the way, count me among those people who have trouble with speed signs on French roads that signal the end of a speed limit. While it's usually not a problem, every once in awhile I'll think "Now what was the speed limit before that?"

Posted by
28145 posts

Now, like all good Belgian, I'm a bad driver.

Q. E. D.

I'm sure there must be a few good drivers, even allowing for your admission, woinparis. I just haven't seen any recently. Like just the day before yesterday the idiot in the left most lane approaching Namur from the south decided he absolutely needed to change motorways at the junction for Charlerois. Doing at least 130 when every body else was at about 90 indicated LEFT and turned right across 3 lanes of traffic, between two large close trucks onto the ramp, between the 200 and 100 metre signs. White number plate with red letters and a big B on the back of the car.....

That said, nobody drives faster on Belgian roads than cars (often Range Rovers or Audis) from Luxembourg.

Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Posted by
1117 posts

No, we just have signs that say "Speed checked by Aircraft." It's a
whole lot cheaper to make the signs than to actually monitor speed by

I was wondering about that. :-) But then... can you be sure? That could be an urban myth...

that signal the end of a speed limit. While it's usually not a
problem, every once in awhile I'll think "Now what was the speed limit
before that?"

Why, don't they have a standard speed limit in France that would automatically be effective after that sign?

That said, nobody drives faster on Belgian roads than cars (often
Range Rovers or Audis) from Luxembourg.

For obvious reasons. They can never reach their maximum speed in their home country... they'll always hit a border. (scnr) :-)

Posted by
2888 posts

the tolerance is 3 km/h under 100 km/h then 3%.

In Italy the tolerance is 5 km/h under 100 km/h and then 5%. In cities you must drive 56 km/h to be fined.

Posted by
28145 posts

Very interesting. Don't go to Bulgaria, I guess???!!!!!

Posted by
18388 posts

Yeah, or the faucets saying "C" for "hot" - not for "cold" - in France

How dare they. Everyone should use English.

Are those nasty aircraft an urban myth? I assure you they are not. I once got a ticket for a speed checked by aircraft. Said so right on the ticket. They painted lines on the road and checked the time between them. And there was no sign saying "speed checked by aircraft".

By the way, I don't have a problem with needing gps, whether or not a speed is posted or just commonly known, how it is indicated, or speed camera tolerances etc. I use public transportation. In over 140 days in Europe I've never found it necessary to use a private car (taxis, yes, but rarely). I've always been able to get to where I wanted to go by train, bus, or on foot. And I spend the vast majority of my time in small towns, not big cities.