A Useful Guide To Renting A Car In Italy

Is renting a car in Italy a good idea? The short answer would be yes. A road trip is actually a really fun way of exploring the country. Now, I know most of you are worried about driving in Italy. After all, we Italians have a really bad reputation as drivers. But I promise you it’s not nearly as bad as you think (well, except in certain places where not even I would dare to drive to be honest) and driving is a great way of getting to know the country.

Of course, the decision on whether or not you need to actually rent a car in Italy should be based on a number of factors you need to consider. For example, if you are only planning on visiting cities, there really is no need to drive. On the other hand, if you want to get out of town, visit the beaches or hike in the mountains, a car will definitely be needed.

Curious to find out more? In this post, I will highlight the main reasons why you should be renting a car in Italy, and tell you everything you need to know before you rent a car.

Not sure where to go in Italy? Head over to my posts A Classic Italy Itinerary and The Best Places To Visit In Italy.

3 Best Reasons For Renting A Car In Italy

There are many reasons why you would want to rent a car in Italy. Besides being a handy way to get to see some harder-to-reach towns and destinations, this beautiful country has some incredible stretches of road to match. Before I get carried away, here are a few in-depth reasons to drive in Italy.

Want to have an idea of prices? Check out the prices of car rental in Italy here.

Italy is a great road trip destination

It’s true. It simply has some amazing places to drive. I’m not just talking about those who like the convenience of driving, but those who love driving (and I am one of them). Think winding through the dramatic Dolomites along the Grande Strada della Dolomiti, twisting and turning along the Amalfi Coast, or exploring the rambling coastline of Sardinia.

Some of these roads aren’t necessarily for everyone – some of them can be a little challenging (and scary) – but for experienced drivers who want stunning scenery and fun roads to drive, Italy ranks high.

Some places are hard to reach via public transport

I mentioned Sardinia already, but many other places in Italy aren’t exactly well served by public transport either. Even parts of Lazio, which is next door to Rome, aren’t easy to explore using buses or trains the whole time; the historical region of Tuscia, for example.

Public transport is great if you want to see the most famous places and go to the biggest cities. But if you want to delve a little deeper and see more of Italy, driving is a very good option.

coffee in Italy

Your schedule is entirely up to you

Rather than relying on bus timetables, looking up train times constantly, or having to arrange a guided tour ahead of time, driving is a breeze by comparison. Without having to plan ahead too much (especially with Google Maps or in-car navigation to help out), you can drive pretty much anywhere you want to on a whim (though mind you, if you travel to popular destinations and during peak season, booking your accommodation in advance remains a must!).

Driving in Italy basically allows you to be spontaneous in your travel style, so if that’s you then you’ll probably want to secure your own wheels. Making sure you’re at bus stops or train stations on time, and even getting to those transport hubs in the first place, can be a real hassle.

The Best Tips For Renting A Car In Italy

Now that you’ve got a few good reasons to drive in Italy (the road trips, the convenience, the freedom), it’s time to figure out just how to go about making it happen. The first step is to get a vehicle of your own, which for almost everyone means renting a car.

This is definitely doable in Italy, and something that you can do fairly simply. But to give you even more information on what to expect and the best ways to rent a car, here are a few handy tips to help you out.

Want to have an idea of prices? Check out the prices of car rental in Italy here.

Book in advance for best deals

If you’re a fan of saving money, or if you simply have to stick to a budget during your trip to Italy, then the best option if you’re renting a car, is to book in advance. If you book your car online in advance, the chances are that you’re going to find some good deals. In fact, I actually recommend using a comparison site to check out prices of car rental and the conditions across various companies. I recommend Discover Cars for that. They group the best car rental companies and have spot-on customer service too.

Please be advised that there’s often quite a big difference between the price of renting a car in Italy online weeks in advance (or months, if you’ve planned way ahead), and the cost of turning up to a rental car company and hiring a car there and then.

Another good thing about booking in advance is that you won’t get disappointed. If you’ve got your heart set on a particular type of car, then booking in advance will ensure that you have access to the road trip vehicle of your dreams.

Otherwise, if you leave it till the moment you arrive, the rental car company may have slim pickings in the choice of cars they have on offer – especially if you happen to be traveling in high season. This actually happened to me a few months back and I ended up with a car that was much bigger (and significantly more expensive) than what I actually needed.

Check out the prices of car rental in Italy here.

renting a car in Italy

How much does renting a car in Italy cost?

It varies. According to travel agency Kayak, the average cost of renting a car in Italy is around €30 euros per day or around €210 euros per week. Some companies claim that renting a car in Italy can cost from as little as €3 euros per day – honestly, I have never come across such a cheap deal.

The real answer is that it can depend on several factors. What time of year it is; where (airport or city?) you’re renting it from; whether or not you’re dropping the car back at the same destination you picked it up from; how old you are (there is often a “Young Driver Surcharge” if you’re between 21 and 24 years old); the kind of car you are getting; and any additions to the basic package (ie additional driver, kids or baby seats etc).

The best thing to do is shop around. You can’t predict how much renting a car in Italy will cost until you’ve given car rental companies the information they need to process your request.

Want to have an idea of prices? Check out the prices of car rental in Italy here.

The price of gas in Italy

Gas in Italy is expensive, and it keeps getting more expensive. At the moment, you are looking to pay around $8 USD for a gallon, or $2.1 USD for a liter. This is definitely a factor you need to consider if you are planning on renting a car in Italy.

renting a car in Italy

Have your documents in order

A valid driver’s license

One thing you obviously need when driving in Italy is a valid driving license. This needs to be the license of the person named as the main driver for the rental car. It has to have been held for at least a year if you want to hire a car in Italy.

If you’re traveling to Italy from outside the EU, and you want to drive, having an International Driving Permit is one of the most important pieces of paperwork that you’ll need. If this is you, then you’ll need to secure this before you leave your home country.

You’re not actually required to show your International Driving Permit when you go to hire the car. But it is the law in Italy that you carry it with you when driving. If you don’t have it with you, or don’t have one full stop, there is a chance you could get a fine if you’re pulled over by police.

An International Driving Permit is simply a translation of your driving license into another language – so your license can be understood in various countries. An International Driving Permit is relatively cheap, costing around $10 USD in the US, or £5 GBP in the UK. You can pick these up from official offices (AAA in the US and the Post Office, in the UK, for example).

Your passport

Another document you’ll need is a copy of your passport. You’ll need to show this when renting your car – or at least official government ID. Like the International Driving Permit, this needs to be with you at all times, not just when you go to pick up the car.

A credit card

When you pick up your car, you’ll also need to show the valid credit card you used to book the car online. Usually a credit card is preferred, as it gives both the company and you protection. If you are the designated driver but you didn’t book the car, you’ll need to be with the person who booked the car (and they need their card).

When you give the company your credit card, they’ll usually put a hold for a certain amount on the card. This will then be released when you return the car in good condition.

Buy insurance

Insurance can be super confusing when you’re renting a car, but it doesn’t have to be. By law, all cars circulating in Italy must be insured. Italian law requires that you have specific types of insurance when driving.

This is Collision Damage Waiver (or CDW) and Theft Protection (TP). Thankfully, this is usually included in the package when you’re renting a car; third party liability insurance will also be included.

There are optional add-ons for extra insurance to protect you, such as Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) and Personal Effects Coverage (PEC). These offer extra cover for things such as personal injury or loss of irreplaceable items.

These are optional, of course, and cost around $10 USD per day each. You can buy this at the counter of your rental car company when you arrive to pick up your car.

Some people may already be covered for these depending on their travel insurance; some credit cards even offer this cover as part of their service.

renting a car in Italy

Legal age for renting a car in Italy

The legal age for renting a car in Italy is 18, but as I mentioned you must have a driving license that’s been valid for at least a year. Note also that some rental car companies will not rent to those under 18.

Most rental companies will offer rentals to those aged 21 and above but, as stated above, they often will charge a “Young Driver Surcharge” if you’re aged under 25.

View from Aroma

Where to rent a car in Italy

This is a good question, and a simple one for most people. That’s because most people choose to rent their car directly at whatever airport they arrive at.

These rental car companies are usually grouped together at the airport, making it an easy part of the transport hub to find. Again, it’s a good idea to book online and choose your pick up point as the airport.

If you’re doing a road trip, this also means that you’ll get the added convenience of dropping your car off just before catching your flight home. It is also possible to find a good choice of rental car companies around big train stations.

Want to have an idea of prices? Check out the prices of car rental in Italy here.

renting a car in Italy
Perhaps too small?

Choose the right car for your trip

Choosing the right car for you is really important when it comes to renting a car in Italy. The first thing to consider is the size of the car.

The size of car you get will depend on whether you’re traveling solo or as a couple, or if it’s for a family or friends’ trip away. The bigger your travel group, the larger the car you’ll need.

You should also think about how much luggage you’re bringing with you for your vacation. If you’ve got big suitcases with you, then you’ll want a larger vehicle with room in the trunk.

Another thing to consider is what type of trip you’re taking. If you are renting a car for short trips, like for taking day trips from Rome or Florence, then a small car should suffice – and is better for small city streets anyway.

But if you’re heading off into the mountains, or on an epic road trip around the entire country, then you’ll want a more mid-sized vehicle. Something with good fuel economy is good.

Plus if you’re going to be on the road for a long time, you should think about how comfortable you want to be. Generally, the larger the car, the more comfortable it is.

Manual vs Automatic

The final thing to think about is whether you opt for a manual car or an automatic. Most cars in Italy are manual – it’s just the standard. Manual cars are also cheaper to hire, which means – if you’re used to manuals – you won’t have to foot the cost of renting an automatic car. Automatics are available but are more expensive.

Check the car before leaving, and once you return

Before you drive the car off the lot of the rental car company, you should make sure to inspect it. Check for pre-existing damage – scratches, dents, anything that looks like it shouldn’t be there. It’s a good idea to take pictures or even a video for your own records. This is just in case there is a dispute when you return the car.

Make sure that any damage that already exists on the vehicle is documented on the contract. Otherwise, you could have damage that you didn’t do being blamed on you, and therefore losing the holding deposit – sometimes this can be a lot of money.

Another thing you should check is how much fuel is in the car’s tank. Usually the tank will be full, and you’ll have to return it full, too. If you get in the rental car and it doesn’t feel like it’s to a good enough standard, or doesn’t feel safe in any way, then ask for a different car. It’s always best to make sure you feel safe and happy, so you can enjoy your trip without any worries.

renting a car in Italy

Leave plenty of time when returning the car

We’ve all been there: rushing to get back to the rental car company before you catch your flight back. It’s not a fun situation to be in, and can be risky speeding around or making rash decisions just to get it back for a specific time. The solution? Leave yourself plenty of time to get back.

Plan your trip so that you’re not making a huge journey on the same day you have to return the car. This way you’ll feel safe and totally unstressed – the best way to travel!

Use a GPS but also get a road map and follow signs

GPS is often a standard piece of equipment in rental cars. They’re very handy to use, but you should also get a road map. GPS isn’t always 100% reliable. Keep your phone fully charged so you can use Google Maps if necessary.

But a road map is a good thing to have, just in case – and following signs is good too. This means you keep your eyes on the road rather than on a screen, which keeps you more alert in the long run.

Be mindful of Italian traffic laws

Make sure you brush up on Italian traffic laws so you don’t get yourself in trouble. There are plenty of rules to know when it comes to driving in Italy, from speed limits to parking restrictions, so knowing the basics will help you stay safe and avoid the attention of the police.

Cisternino Puglia

What is a ZTL?

One thing you should definitely know about if you plan to drive in Italy are the ZTLs that you’ll find scattered throughout towns and cities. This stands for “zona traffico limitato” – or “limited traffic zone” in English.

You’ll find these mostly in cities with historic centers (i.e. pretty much all of them). What it means is that only local residents and specially authorized vehicles can drive there. Certain vehicles are totally prohibited from driving in ZTLs during certain hours.

ZTLs are marked with a sign, but sometimes it can be hard to see where those signs are. They’re monitored by CCTV, so there will be evidence if you drive in a ZTL – even if you didn’t see the sign, you may still face a fine. My advice? Keep your eyes peeled!

driving in Italy
This is what a ZTL sign may look like

Don’t drink and drive!

This kind of goes without saying, but it’s really just not a good idea to drink and drive – at all. A blood alcohol level of 0.5 g/liter or above is classified as drunk driving in Italy. The only way to know if you’re drinking and driving in Italy is by carrying a breathalyzer around with you, which is not likely! So it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether if you are driving.

If you’re caught, you can face hefty fines and possibly losing your license. The penalties get more severe as the blood alcohol level of the driver increases.

Further Readings

If you are planning a trip to Italy, these posts will be useful:

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Discover what you need to know before renting a car in Italy - via @clautavani

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