No doubt you’ve heard that Italian drivers are crazy, so it might be that the last thing in the world you want to think about is renting a car in Italy and sharing the roads with them. While it’s true that Italian drivers can be, shall we say, creative at times, sometimes the easiest way to get where you want to go – especially if your destinations are a little off the beaten path – is to rent your own set of wheels. If you’re really apprehensive about driving in Italy, just make sure to avoid the big cities and you’ll be much happier.
Should I get an International Driver’s License?
While some people will say otherwise, it’s a very good idea to get an International Driver’s License if you are even considering renting a car in Italy. Should you have any trouble with the Italian police, the International Driver’s License is at least translated into Italian so you don’t have to try to communicate by gestures. Also be sure you find out from the rental agency if there are any particular laws in the region about what you need to have in the car at all times – things like a reflective vest or flares – and if they’re legally required the rental agency should provide them.
>> Find out more about driving in Italy, including what road signs look like and what the driving laws are.
Don’t Forget About the City Taxes
In order to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution in London, they’ve instituted a tax on all motor vehicles which enter the city. Milan is the first Italian city to be following suit, which is just another reason to avoid driving in the cities. The public transportation systems within most of the cities you’ll be visiting will be exceptionally good, so you’ll have no need for a car – it’ll just be a headache for you. To get further away from the rest of the tourists, however, you will want to visit towns that are even off the nation’s train network. That leaves you two options – figure out the local bus system or rent a car.
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Finding Your Way Home is Easy with GPS
A word of advice – if you can afford it, rent a car with a GPS system in it. These things are invaluable when you are in a foreign land (provided you can switch it into English, of course) and allow you the freedom of just taking whatever turns look interesting to you and then programming in your hotel’s address so the car can direct you home. A good driving map is still a necessary accessory, as not every route is in the GPS system, but GPS makes exploring by car more fun and less stressful.
Car Rental Agencies
Most major international car rental agencies will have offices in Italy – usually at Italian airports and often in town as well – and there are also several companies which only serve European countries, too. Companies like Six-T and Europcar might not be familiar if you’re coming from outside Europe, but they’re big European auto rental agencies. Auto Europe is also a good company to check out for prices, because rather than being a car rental company themselves, they will match you up with a rental agency in the country you’re visiting.
What about two wheels instead of four?
And if driving a car doesn’t sound like your cup of tea but you want something with a motor, you can always rent a scooter – they’re everywhere, especially in the big cities, and are a great way to get around. Ask at the tourist information office of the city you’re in (or at the front desk of your hotel or hostel) for information about local scooter rental companies. In my opinion, the scooter drivers are even a little nuttier than the people driving cars, but they’ve got panache. Oh, and if you happen to figure out how they manage to park and retrieve their scooters without causing a Domino effect, do let me know.
Parking in Italy
As creative as the Italians appear to be with their driving, they’re equally as creative with their parking. You may find parking in Italy to be a game of how much you think you can get away with, but remember that parking tickets exist in Italy as well! Learn the local parking rules – what the colors painted on the sidewalk mean for parking, for instance – if you want to avoid problems. Street parking can be tough to come by, especially in the city center, but remember that there are often parking lots or parking garages just on the outskirts of the main downtown area (or outside the ring road). You can park there and then take public transport wherever you need to go. Or, you could do as the Ligurians do and rub your own buttocks to find a parking space.
Ferrari rental, anyone?
Of course, this is the land of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Alfa Romeo, so you might be salivating at the idea of really opening up on some curvy country road. If that’s the case, you will be pleased to know that there are companies which specialize in high-end sports car rentals for people just like you. This is not a cheap proposition we’re talking about here, but if a day spent driving a Ferrari through the Emilia-Romagna countryside is going to make your life complete then you can’t really quibble about price, can you?
Italian Road Maps & Information About Driving in Italy
For a great interactive map on the Italian autostrada (highway) system, as well as information about driving on the highways in Italy, see this page on the Wandering Italy blog and the official Italian site here. There is also some good basic information about driving in Italy here.
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