Driving in Italy

Though I’m a CartaFreccia member and swear by TrenItalia, I must admit that I’m partial to having a car in Italy. If not staying in or exploring a city, I love having the freedom to pull over wherever and take in the incredible sights seen right from the Autostrade. My friend Natalie and I are notorious for waking up in the morning, looking at our iPhone maps, and choosing a place that sounds cool to visit that day! It’s actually how we discovered Portofino, one of our favorite spots on the Italian Riviera.

Driving in Italy, however, is of course different from driving at home in the US; it’s more fun 😉


  • Luckily, one thing that remains the same is the side of the road Italians drive on
    • No need to make adjustments there! They’re on the right side, like us
  • The majority of cars (probably like 95%, with the remaining 5% reserved for tourists) are stick-shift, not automatic (o Dio)
    • If you’re renting, be sure to specify that you need automatic and not manual!
  • They’re also much tinier than our cars, and at least attempt to be more fuel efficient
    • You may notice that your car turns off when you come to a full stop at a red light or to pay a toll. This happens automatically to preserve gas, and it’ll turn back on once you let your foot off the brake
  • Speaking of tolls, they can be paid in one of three ways: Telepass (their version of our EZ-Pass), in cash, or with credit/debit cards
    • In many cases, you’ll pull up to a tollbooth and take a ticket
      • Before you exit the highway, you’ll go through another tollbooth where you’ll insert your ticket and be given the price you’re required to pay
      • Though there are illustrations to help, if you’re paying with a credit card look for “CARTE” on the signs up top to know which lane to stay in
    • You won’t see many cops on the road, but Italians are definitely [sneakily] watching your speed!
      • There are cameras all over, so be sure to stay at a reasonable speed or you’ll come home to a speeding ticket in the mail! I get one every single time I’m here… you’d think I’d have learned by now (sorry Dad!!)!
    • Their road signs are different than ours, so it can be confusing to decipher what’s a one-way, where you can and cannot park, etc. Some of the more important ones include:
      • Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.35.49 AM and Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.35.58 AM may look like “Do Not Enter,” but they actually signify “No Parking” and “No Stopping,” respectively
      • Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.37.30 AM means “Do Not Enter,” whereas Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.38.23 AM denotes “Restricted Access”
        • Natalie and I have also gotten tickets in the mail months later for driving in restricted areas in Rome, so this would have been helpful to know!
      • Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.40.07 AM is “One-Way Traffic”
      • When headed into town/a city, you’ll see signs like these Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.43.08 AM to indicate where the center (“Centro”) is (probably where you’re looking to go!) as well as the main train station (Stazione)
      • Luckily, their stop signs are the same as ours
    • As with everywhere else on Earth aside from the United States, Italy uses the metric system
      • Distances are given in meters/kilometers, as is speed/speed-limit signs (km/hr)
        • 1km/hr is a little more than half a mile per hour, so if you’re driving 100km/hr you’re going about 62miles/hr
      • Just as Jersey loves jughandles, Italians are all about traffic circles
        • They’re everywhere!
      • They also love driving fast in the left lane
        • I have a heavy foot and love being number one on the road (especially on the Parkway), but Italians take it to an entirely different level
        • If you’re driving in the left lane and are not going well above the speed limit, they will tailgate and flash you with zero hesitation
          • It is considered extremely rude and unnecessary to stay in the left if you aren’t going very fast, so your safest bet is to stay out of that lane
          • Don’t expect dirty looks or middle fingers as they pass, though – this is simply common practice and etiquette on Italian roadways (so don’t take it personally) 🙂
        • Passing is common even in residential areas and on smaller roads
          • It is acceptable to move into the lane for oncoming traffic (if all clear, of course) to pass the person in front of you if you’re traveling faster than them
          • Italians have no fear! I’ve seen this done on windy, narrow, cliff-scaling roads along the Amalfi Coast as if it was nothing
        • AutoGrills can be found all over when driving on the highway/Autostrade
          • They’re awesome rest stops that are similar to our 7-11s but better
          • If you’re hungry or need coffee, they have tons of amazing snacks in addition to a “bar” with coffee, drinks, sandwiches, etc.


Good luck, have fun, and be careful!

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