Italy is known for its stunning beaches, world-class food – like, maybe the world-classiest? – and jaw-dropping medieval architecture.
What it doesn’t get enough love for, though, are its humble lanes, quaint tiny villages, and sweeping vistas. (Okay, maybe the vistas get enough credit).
Point being, it’s a wonderful country to see by car. At about the size of New Mexico or Arizona, it’s big enough to give a distinct feel of the region, but small enough that you could drive corner to corner in a week, no trouble.
Perhaps you don’t want to see the whole country and are staying in one place. Still, you might be curious about the ease of renting a car on your trip.
This can make wherever you’re staying – from Rome to Sicily, Cinque Terre to Florence – feel more accessible, giving you more time to pop out to the country and soak in those ancient Mediterranean vibes.
Here we share the reasons you might consider renting a car, where to do it, how much it costs, how to drive safely, and some other considerations and FAQs to make your trip both safe and joyful.
Why Rent a Car In Italy?
Wondering whether renting a car is worth it? Here are the main reasons travelers decide to do it:
- Freedom: The main reason to rent a car in Italy is the freedom it provides. If you have a rental car, you can plan trips to your own schedule. That includes waking up early, coming back late, and driving great distances.
- Cost savings: When you rent a car, you don’t have to pay taxis’ spendy fees to get to special places that trains or buses don’t go to. It also means you can get out for however long you like to hike, eat, and sight-see without worrying about the cost of a waiting taxi. At an average of about $20 a day, this is certainly more cost-effective than a cab – though admittedly less cost-effective than public transport.
- Rural accessibility: Some areas of Italy are beautiful and well worth exploring, but buses and trains are either rare or don’t travel there very often. A car can get you there any day, at any time.
- Fun: Many people enjoy driving. Not only do you get to see more out the window than on a bus that sticks to main roads, it’s fun to zip along country lanes.
Why You Wouldn’t Rent a Car
The above probably makes car rentals pretty appealing. But, of course, there are also some reasons not to rent a car. These include:
- Cost: While renting a car is more accessible to the wallet than hiring cabs or private drivers, it’s definitely less budget-friendly than taking trains and buses. If you’re mainly sticking to the cities and major tourist sights, it’s not a good use of your money.
- Lack of confidence: If you don’t like driving or don’t feel you’re good at it, then renting a car will probably be more nerve-wracking than anything else. Do not rent a car to “practice” driving in Italy, which is known for its fast pace and aggressive drivers.
- If you’re only going to big cities: Not only is city driving intense and public transportation good, but many parts of the bigger cities aren’t even accessible by automobile. You can’t bring your car into the old part of Florence, for instance, and you have to walk to many of the main sights.
Where to Rent a Car in Italy
You can rent a car at a few main places:
- The airport: This is the classic place that many people choose to rent a car at. It’s easy, plus it saves you the cost of paying for a cab from the airport, which is often quite expensive – between $35 and $50 from Rome’s main airports to the city center. However, you might see an upcharge at the airport. Also, if you want to spend a few days in the city car-free, then it’s jumping the gun.
- Car rental companies: These are located around major cities, not just at the airport. If you’re getting a car partway through your stay, the best bet is to look up the nearest rental agency from your lodging.
- Travel agencies: You can make the job of finding a car rental easier on yourself by going through a travel agency, either online or at a brick-and-mortar location. However, you should also expect to pay an upcharge here.
How Much Is an Italian Rental Car?
The cost of a rental car depends on a number of factors, such as where you rent it from, how big it is, the make and model, when you’re visiting, and the amount of insurance you buy.
However, you will pay a rough average for cars depending on size. As follows:
- Mini: A small car will likely cost between $10 and $12 a day, providing enough space for two people and their luggage to travel quite comfortably or four people to squeeze in.
- Standard: Cars that are smaller than your typical sedan but larger than minis usually run about $25 a day.
- Premium: These cars are closer to what we in America might consider a “standard” size, such as small SUVs or sedans. Plan to pay about $40 a day.
- Sportscar: So you want to drive a Ferrari or Lamborghini? It’s tempting, but plan to pay around $800 a day.
All right, fine, no one’s renting a Ferrari. But it sure would be fun, wouldn’t it?
You’ll also need to pay for gas. As of the latest figures, gas costs nearly $8 a gallon in Italy, so be prepared for the cost. However, the smaller size of Italian cars means a tank goes much further, so don’t sweat it too much.
Usually the cost of mileage is included in your car rental, but make sure to check ahead of time.
The Italian Rules of the Road
The rules of driving in Italy are fairly simple:
- Drive on the right-hand side
- Occupy the furthest-right free lane
- Stay out of the emergency lane
- Maintain a safe distance from the other cars – even if they don’t!
- Keep your license on you at all times
- Know where the insurance and registration documents are in the car
- Yield to vehicles coming from the right in roundabouts
Also, Italy has specific speed limits of “130 km/h on motorways, 110 km/h on main roads, 90 km/h on secondary and local roads, 50 km/h in built-up areas.”
Things to Consider
Here are a few considerations about renting a car in Italy:
- If you’re nervous, start easy. Tuscany is a great place to drive in Italy, as is Puglia. The drivers are gentle, the countryside is beautiful, and the roads are in good repair. Plus, there’s lots of wide open space for impatient drivers to pass you if they need to.
- Avoid driving in cities if you’re anxious. This is like baptism by fire, and it won’t make your introduction to Italian driving very fun. For this reason, you should avoid renting a car at a big airport like the ones in Rome and Naples.
- There are tolls. The toll system works like so: take ticket on the way in, drive on toll road, pay on the way out. Cash is best, but credit card works too. (Just watch those foreign transaction fees, my friend!)
- Italian drivers are a bit scary: For people used to more genteel driving conditions, you’ll need to toughen up. Italian drivers tailgate, change lanes quickly without signaling, and use a lot of rude gestures when they feel they’ve been wronged. It’s a thing.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following include some more frequently asked questions about renting cars and driving in Italy.
Is renting a car in Italy expensive?
No, renting a car in Italy is not that expensive. You should plan to pay about $30 a day for a small sedan that gets good gas mileage, and the cost of the miles themselves are almost always included. Watch out if they’re not!
Is it hard to drive in Italy?
It is not so much hard to drive in Italy as scary if you’re not an aggressive driver. The Italian style of driving is fast and demanding, so don’t expect a lot of polite distance between cars – or polite exchanges with other drivers.
Can I rent a car on the islands?
You can rent a car on many of the larger Italian islands, such as Sicily or Elba. However, cars are forbidden on some of them, while others are so small it doesn’t matter. The main reason you might want a car on an island is to drive the outer perimeter of Sicily, which is a lovely experience.
Do I need a special license or documentation?
No, you don’t need any special documentation to rent a car in Italy. Your driver’s license and passport are enough to rent a car, as well as a credit card that the rental company will keep on file until you return it.
While you can pay for a car in cash, the company will still want a credit card number to release it to you, so make sure you’ve brought a card that doesn’t charge steep foreign transaction fees.
Should I rent the car before I get to Italy?
You can rent the car ahead of time, but usually the cost savings aren’t that big. With so many options, you can easily get the car when you arrive.
Now that you know all about renting a car in Italy, all that remains is for us to wish you well. As the Italians would say, buon viaggio!