I’ve had many a road trips to visit this glorious tower.
First things first, driving in Italy is not for the faint hearted! Their streets are often small and narrow, their highways big and fast, their traffic lights are sometimes in obscure places and that’s all before even getting to the drivers themselves.
That being said, driving is a great way to see Italy and I would highly recommend it. Especially if you’re pressed for time and want to see as much as possible, or the exact opposite, and you simply want to take your time and enjoy the Italian countryside.
Like most things when it comes to traveling, driving in Italy just takes a little a confidence, assertiveness and research.
There’s a reason I didn’t mention the drivers before and that’s because I believe they deserve their own paragraph. Driving in Italy is an art form and despite having to go through extensive driving lessons and tests, sometimes I wonder how people actually pass the process. They are fast, aggressive and some of the most selfish drivers I’ve come across.
If you come from a country like Australia, then forget everything you know about driving (giving way, using indicators, letting people in) because as soon as you get behind a wheel here, it all goes out the window.
I would describe driving in Italy as a dog eat dog world, and if you’re not prepared you’ll get eaten alive. Italians rarely use indicators, barely let people in, have a penchant for speeding and seem to always be tailgating one another.
Much like crossing a road in Italy, when you see a gap in the traffic that’s your cue to take it. Regardless if you think you have the space or the time, just do it! Italians are used to it because it’s exactly what they do. It’s all about confidence I tell you!
Hands up who has road tripped it to Rome and back from Padova in a day? I have!
Generally, when driving, it’s all for yourself over here. So as I said previously, be confident when approaching situations such as roadabouts or merging lanes and just go for it. Despite my negative connotations, everything will be ok because this is what is expected in Itay.
If you are on a highway or freeway (more on those later) and see flashing lights from behind you, that means you should move over to the slower lane and let the driver pass. Basically, it’s their way of saying drive faster or move to the right.
Tip: Always be hyper vigilant and also patient when entering a roundabout because Italians do not like to use their indicators at all. So when you think someone is going straight, and you’re waiting patiently for them, don’t get too annoyed when they end up turning left instead. And, likewise if you want to go straight and a car you thought was also going straight decides their turning right.
Again, when travelling on a highway or freeway and you see people using their hazard lights, this means to slow down and that traffic is approaching ahead. Typically, Italians do this when travelling at high speeds and need to suddenly slow down and want to warn drivers behind them.
Lake Garda — always one of my favourite day trips.
Roads and highway systems
Italy is very well connected when it comes to their roads. You can basically drive from the north to the south of Italy on one road, by way of a series of connected freeways called Autostrada’s.
Interesting fact: It’s common knowledge over here, particularly down south that the highways and freeways are very good because they are built and run by the ‘Mafia’.
Autostrada’s are very easy to drive on and are the fastest way of getting around Italy, albeit a little expensive as they are tolled. They are always a minimum of two lanes, and on the busier routes can increase to four lanes.
Tangenziale’s are the highways that you drive on in individual cities. They do not have tolls. Again, they are very well connected and are easy enough to drive on. Just beware of peak time in the morning’s and evening, as with most major roads there can be a lot of traffic.
Aside from the highways, Italy has normal roads just like everywhere else. In the city centre’s small, narrow, cobbled streets are very common but generally they are just normal roads.
Ok so you can’t actually drive to Burano, but hey it’s a pretty photo!
From my experience of driving in Australia and the UK, Italian roads tend to be a on the faster side. On the Autostrada the speed limit is 130 kilometres per hour but don’t be surprised to see drivers passing you by while you’re sitting comfortably on 130.
Interesting fact: On an Autostrada from Padova to Milan one day, I was driving at probably 140km p/h (because I may or may not be known to speed occasionally) and out of no where a Lamborghini police car sped past me. No sirens, no lights, nothing! Just casually doing about 180 to 200. Only in Italy, I swear!
Tangenziale’s are 90 kilometres per hour and ordinarily, speed limits on most other roads range from 60 to 70 kilometres per hour and 50 for residential areas.
Cinque Terre will forever be one of my favourite Italian regions!
In a bid to reduce traffic, most larger cities have what they call ‘Zona a traffico limitato (ZLT)’ or limited traffic zones in English. Essentially, unless you have a permit and either work or live within the ZLT area you will be fined.
A friend of ours who wasn’t aware of the ZLT once copped 5 fines amounting to over €500 while driving in Padova. He managed to rack up 3 fines within 1 minute of each other!
So prior to driving through a major city, do a little research as to whether you’re actually allowed to drive in the centre. If you are staying at a hotel within a ZLT, the hotel will usually allow you access to the ZLT for the duration of your stay but definitely double check this! Some cities that I am aware of with a ZLT include Padova, Milan, Florence and Rome.
Padova centre is a 10 min drive from home but sometimes it can feel like 100.
Big cities V small cities
Obviously, there are significant differences when driving in a large, chaotic city like Rome versus a small, countryside town like Bertinoro. Aside from the ZLT area, roads will be much smaller and narrower in smaller cities and street signs, particularly in country towns, will be hard to find.
However, driving in smaller and country cities is very much an easier feat and more enjoyable. I mean don’t get too ahead of yourself, Italian drivers still drive the same and if anything are even more laid back than in the bigger cities, but in terms of chaos, business and amount of cars, it is significantly less.
So there you have it! Some background to driving in Italy. Now, I hope I haven’t scared you off too much because as I said before I do truly believe that driving is a great way to see Italy. For more tips on surviving a road trip through the land of carbs, WATCH THIS SPACE.
Also, if you have any experiences or stories about driving in Italy I would love to hear them! Write a comment below and share the wanderlust 😉
The medieval walls of Cittadella, a city to add to the great Italian road trip!
Disclaimer: Upon thinking about what images to include with this post, it came to my realisation that I do not have many photos featuring cars or driving. Therefore, all the photos in this post will be of Italian cities. Besides, who wants to look at cars and roads when you can look at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colosseum or the Venetian Canals?