Do You Need to Rent a Car in Italy? A Quick Guide

You’ve seen all the videos – the beautiful couple cruising along the Amalfi Coast in a pristine yellow Fiat 500 – not a single speeding bus or impatient local Italian resident motorist in sight. Before you try living someone else’s fantasy, it’s worth considering: should you rent a car to explore Italy, or can you rely on public transportation? I’ve lived in Italy for over 2 years and have traveled to all 20 regions, primarily with public transport, but occasionally with a car. Keep reading to see if a car rental is the right idea for your trip.

fiat on a narrow rode in Perugia

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may receive a commission. I will only recommend products and services that I would [or currently use] myself.

Quick Guide: To Rent or Not to Rent?

First off, let’s break down when it’s advisable to rent a car and when you might want to stick to public transport:

🚫 Don’t Rent If:

    • Your itinerary is city-centric, like Rome, Milan, Naples, Venice, or Florence.
    • You’re hitting well-connected spots like the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, Pisa, and Pompeii.

✅ Consider Renting When:

    • You’re exploring the countryside or less accessible areas, particularly in regions like Tuscany, Sicily, Calabria, Sardinia, Abruzzo, Basilicata, and Molise.
    • You’re on the coastline and want to find remote, uncrowded beaches.
parallel parked cars on a street at night in Florence
If you’re only going to major cities (like Florence), you don’t need a car.

On a Budget or Can’t Drive?

If you can’t afford to rent a car or legally can’t drive – don’t worry. I live in Italy without a car, and not in a big city. I have traveled to all 20 regions using only public transport, so the lack of a car won’t prevent you from having a great experience. 

The Ins and Outs of Car Rentals in Italy

If you’re leaning towards renting a car, here are some essential insights to ensure you’re prepped and ready for the road.

Driving Legally in Italy

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is essential alongside your driver’s license. It’s a simple yet crucial document that keeps you on the right side of the law, ensuring your driving in Italy is worry-free. It will cost you $20 with AAA (more info here). 

picture of international driver's permit
International Driving Permit from AAA

Embrace the Manual Lifestyle

You should know – manual cars dominate the Italian auto scene. If you’re not comfortable with a stick shift, make sure to request an automatic well in advance. Automatic cars are getting more popular because most tourists (from the US at least) can’t drive stick. But if you know how to drive stick, you’ll have many more options.

True story: before moving to Italy, I didn’t know how to drive stick, and I didn’t want to learn on Italian roads with Italian drivers. So a few months before the move, I traded in my car for a cheap manual Nissan – that way when I did occasionally rent a car in Italy, I would be prepared. It certainly paid off. 

Navigating the Italian Way

Italian driving etiquette might seem daunting at first—with a penchant for close following, spontaneous honking, and flashing lights at you. Remember, it’s not aggression, just a different rhythm of road life. Road rage isn’t really a thing in Italy (except when arguing over a parking spot). They drive assertively, and you should too. 

Narrow street of Peruiga with cars parallel parked
One-way streets like Corso Cavour in Perugia are pretty common in Italy.

Essential Insights on Car Rental Insurance in Italy

Understanding car rental insurance in Italy is crucial for a worry-free journey. The mandatory Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) is always included, ensuring you’re covered, albeit with a high deductible. Opting for an upgrade can provide you with lower or even zero deductible options, offering additional peace of mind despite the extra cost. My personal take? If you can afford to pay up, the additional insurance is worth it (usually an additional 30-35 euro per day). Cars in Italy are driven into the ground, and in many places in the south, the cars will sometimes magically disappear.

Note: Even if you’re used to relying on your credit card’s rental insurance, the compulsory nature of CDW in Italy necessitates a thorough check with your card issuer to confirm your coverage. Additionally, understanding the difference between CDW and LDW (Loss Damage Waiver) is important, as LDW typically includes both collision and theft protection. Always ensure you’re familiar with the specific terms of your rental contract to fully grasp the coverage and limitations provided.

cars parallel parked extremely close together in Italy
This is an extreme case, but get used to close quarters in Italy.

Before You Hit the Road

A bit of prep can transform your driving experience in Italy. Take some time to get acquainted with Italian road signs and rules. Notably, unlike in the U.S., you can’t turn right on red in Italy. Additionally, navigation here is more about destination signs pointing towards towns or cities, rather than north/south/east/west directions. Importantly, be aware of Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) areas—restricted traffic zones common in Italian cities, where non-resident access is regulated and often requires a permit. Entering a ZTL without authorization can result in hefty fines, so it’s crucial to know these zones and plan your route accordingly. You can, and should, read more about Italian driving laws here.

Understanding Parking in Italy

When exploring Italy by car, it’s crucial to navigate the parking scene smartly, as free parking is a rarity, especially in tourist spots. Italy uses a color-coded system to indicate parking rules: white lines denote free parking (though sometimes with time limits), blue lines mean paid parking, and yellow lines are reserved for special vehicles or residents. Always carry some cash for parking, as not all machines accept cards. However, many are equipped to do so, and you’ll find that the EasyPark app is widely used throughout Italy, offering a convenient digital payment option. Setting up EasyPark before your journey can save you time and hassle, and help avoid the inevitable “what’s taking so long – I’m hungry” from your significant other while you’re downloading and creating an account for the app while in the parking lot.

a typical pay-to-park machine in italy, with a detail view of the EasyPark sticker on the side of the machine
Pay-to-park machines look like this almost all across Italy, and almost always have this pink EasyPark sticker – have the app ready beforehand and take advantage of its convenience.

Who to rent from?

I personally have had good experiences with SIXT and Hertz. Avis, Budget, and Enterprise are some other global brands which exist in Italy as well. You can book directly or through (owned by, where you can see cars available through all of the suppliers. 

Wrapping Up: Your Italian Journey Awaits

Deciding whether to rent a car in Italy hinges on your personal travel narrative—where you’re going, what you’re craving to experience, and how you vibe with local driving customs. Both options offer different versions of freedom. Whether you decide to rent, or just rely on public transit, you’ll love Italy. Let me know in the comments what else you’d like to see covered here. Buon viaggio!

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