Italy is home to historic city centers, plunging coastlines, snow-capped peaks, colorful towns, and sandy beaches.
So how do you see it all? You drive through it.
Road-tripping allows you to travel deeper into the Italian landscape and enjoy the bits of culture that lie off the beaten path. Sure, planning a road trip across an entire country may sound daunting, but the experience is guaranteed to be unforgettable.
WHERE TO START
We suggest arriving in Milan and departing from Naples. Both of these cities have major airports that offer a wide range of options for flight and rental cars.
WHAT TO DRIVE
You can either rent a car, van, vespa, or rickshaw — though traveling with the latter will take a very, very long time. Also note that rental agencies do have automatic cars, though they are less common and typically more expensive.
WHERE TO STAY
Your options are endless. You can stay in hotels, hostels, home-stays, AirBnBs, campsites, or even in your car. Plan according to your preference.
THINGS TO KNOW
Renting a car in another country is extremely straight-forward. There are only a few things you should know ahead of time.
- Italy requires that you obtain an International Driving Permit before you go. The rental agencies won’t always ask for it, but if you’re pulled over by the police, you’ll need one. To get an IDP, head over to a local AAA office and fill out the required form. For $20, they’ll take your photo and process your permit in less than 30 minutes.
- When you pick up a car in one city and drop it off in another, there are often added drop-off fees. That said, sometimes these fees are only applied to certain types of vehicles, so do your research.
- The minimum age restriction for anyone renting a car in Italy is 18. However, if you’re under 25, rental agencies will typically charge a higher daily rate per driver.
- Insurance packages work the same way as they do in the U.S., but keep in mind that most credit cards have rental car insurance built into them (so make sure and check yours before you get to Italy!).
- You can rent a GPS with your vehicle, but you’ll run the risk that it hasn’t been updated alongside Italy’s ever-changing roads. We recommend using good ol’ Google Maps, so remember to grab a car charger for your phone!
DRIVING YOUR CAR
If you’ve done any research on road-tripping across Italy, you’ve probably read that Italian roads are a bit intense. Well, they are. But you can handle it! Aside from road conditions, here are a few other things worth noting before you get behind the wheel.
- Italians drive on the right side of the road.
- Italians are very disciplined drivers, but they drive fast.
- The standard speed limit on highways (or autostradas) is 130 kph/80 mph.
- Speed cameras are everywhere.
For additional information on tolls and mileage, check out viamichelin.com.
BASIC ITALIAN WORDS
Destra = Right
Sinistra = Left
Dritto = Straight
Uscita = Exit
Pedaggio = Toll
Autostrada = Highway
Strada = Street
Milano = Milan
Firenze = Florence
Roma = Rome
Napoli = Naples
In case you need help planning your Italian excursion, we’ve put together a sample seven-day road trip itinerary. Feel free to adjust according to your own preferences!
Fly into Milan, pick up your car, and explore the city.
Milan is the fashion capital of Italy, but that doesn’t mean shopping is the only thing to do in the prestigious city. A short visit to Milan should include at least one of a myriad of experiences, from the Milan Cathedral to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, to Pinacoteca di Brera, to the ominous Sforza Castle. Don’t forget to pack an umbrella — the weather in Milan is notoriously unpredictable!
Hit the open road and head to Piacenza. (105 km, approximately 1.5 hours)
Enjoy your drive through the Italian countryside and keep an eye out for picturesque farms, villages, and open fields. Stop in Piacenza to grab something to eat and soak up the rustic atmosphere of northern Italy.
Continue on to Parma. (94 km, approximately 1.25 hours)
Ever wonder where Parmesan cheese came from? Look no further. Parma is a university city in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region notable for its Romanesque buildings, including the frescoed Parma Cathedral and the pink-marble Baptistery. To make the most of your time here, get out of the car and walk around.
Stop by Reggio Emilia. (42 km, approximately 1 hour)
If you have time, take a pit stop in this old, charming town. Reggio Emilia features ancient architecture and historic buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries.
End your day in Cinque Terre and stay for the night. (197 km, approximately 2.75 hours)
If you’ve ever wanted to stay in a rustic Italian cottage on the sea, this is your chance. We recommend staying at La Francessca, as it offers cottages tucked into a landscape of native trees, grapes, olives, and wild flowers.
Explore “the Five Lands” of Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre is made up of five towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. All are situated in the Cinque Terre National Park and overlook the Mediterranean Sea, like an idyllic throwback to the romantic vision of Old Italy. We’re talking crooked houses, winding roads, cliffside vineyards, and architecture that glows in the sunlight. It truly is the gem of the Italian Riviera coastline.
Hit the road and stop off in Pisa for pizza — errr lunch. (105 km, approximately 1.25 hours)
Take the coastal roads and make your way to Pisa. After getting some food (and gelato), get out and see the sights. Start off with the the famous Leaning Tower, then make your way to the Baptistery and the Pisa Cathedral, which is one of the most impressive cathedrals in all of Italy. Also, keep in mind that there are a lot of other amazing things to see outside of the main piazza — so don’t forget to allow some extra time for exploration!
Head to San Miniato and catch the sunset. (48 km, approximately .75 hours)
Drive through the Tuscan countryside and ready yourself for an Italian sunset that dreams are made of. San Miniato is the quintessential image of Italy, with beautiful buildings, green countryside, and friendly locals. It also acts as the perfect pit stop between bigger destinations in Tuscany.
Drive to Florence. (41 km, approximately .75 hours)
Enjoy the orange and blue hues in your rearview mirror as you make your way to Firenze. Once you’re there, grab a bite to eat (check out our recommendations) and relax for the rest of the evening.
See the sights of Florence.
For anyone first-timers to Italy, Florence is a must-see. With beautiful streets, stunning architecture, and rich culture, this city is a favorite of many travelers. While you’re there, make sure to explore the Duomo and surrounding square, Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Strozzi, and Piazzale Michelangelo. For more ideas of how to spend a day in the capital of Tuscany, check out our 24-Hour Guide to Florence.
Get back in the car and make your way to San Gimignano. (53 km, approximately 1 hour)
San Gimignano is the postcard-perfect place of Tuscany. Set in breathtaking wine country, it offers beautiful views as you stretch your legs and wander the medieval Old Town.
Stop in Civitella to take in the amazing view. (93 km, approximately 1.5 hours)
Off the beaten track, the town of Civitella in Val di Chiana is a village filled with orange-hued buildings, charming streets, and more Tuscan countryside. Feel free to park and wander through the village on foot — there’s a lot to see!
Drive to Montepulciano. (40 km, approximately .75 hours)
A medieval town tucked in the mountains, Montepulciano is one of those places that feels like a movie set. Seriously, it’s Italian perfection. To top it off, this beautiful town offers more amazing views of Tuscany (are you noticing a theme yet?).
Spend the night in Orvieto. (67 km, approximately 1 hour)
Orvieto is often referred to as one of the most dramatic cities in Europe. At nearly 3,000 years old, it’s built on steep cliffs of a volcanic tuff and boasts one of the most elaborate facades of any cathedral in Italy. Walk through its cobbled streets, enjoy some gelato, and watch the sun set over the Umbrian countryside.
Enjoy your morning in Orvieto.
Take it slow and get some breakfast. You deserve to relax for a bit.
Get back in the car and head to Viterbo. (58 km, approximately 1 hour)
Viterbo is an ancient city in central Italy, and a beautiful backdrop for a pit stop. Wander for a while, get some lunch, and take in the views.
Continue on to Rome. (90 km, approximately 1.5 hours)
In case you forgot, Rome is the capital of Italy that also happens to surround Vatican City. Visit the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Sistine Chapel, and just keep going. Make sure to leave time before and after sunset to explore.
Catch up on the Roman sights you missed the night before.
Head to the smaller side streets of Trastevere or test out the food — prices tend to be lower and food quality higher the further away you get from Rome’s main attractions. Even walking for 10 minutes in the opposite direction of major sights will reveal a whole slew of less crowded cafés and restaurants.
Stop in Frascati. (20 km, approximately .5 hours)
Located in the Alban Hills, Frascati is a town and commune known for its wine. Pick a bottle to save for your next stop.
Head to the beach. (107 km, approximately 1.25 hours)
Drive to Terracina and spend a day at the beach. A seaside oasis, Terracina is located in the south of the Lazio region, between Rome and Naples (where you’re headed next). Make the most of your time here and enjoy the wide, sandy beaches while you crack open that bottle of Frascati wine
Drive to Naples and spend the night. (127 km, approximately 2 hours)
Don’t drink too much wine — you still have to make the two-hour drive to Naples and rest up for the next day.
Get some breakfast and explore Naples.
Take a walk around the Piazza del Plebiscito, visit the Archeological Museum and Napolitan National Gallery, and climb to the roof of Castel Nuovo to see some of the best views the city has to offer. You can even explore these archaic streets via city bike or treat yourself to a shopping excursion at the Galleria Umberto.
Drive to Pompeii. (29 km, approximately .5 hours)
Pack in as much as you possibly can at this stop — it’s massive. Learn about the history of the city and see the remnants of the streets, houses, and monuments that were desecrated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. You will do a lot of walking, so make sure to wear comfy shoes.
Head for the Amalfi Coast. (39 km, approximately 1.25 hours)
Arguably one of the country’s most famous coastlines, the Amalfi Coast stretches along the Sorrentine Peninsula in Southern Italy. Only an hour’s drive from Pompeii, these cascading hills are covered in colorful houses that contrast the sea and mountains.
Spend the rest of the day in Positano. (19 km, approximately .75 hours)
Positano is a village on the Amalfi Coast known for its food and wine. It has become one of Italy’s most prized towns for visitors to explore, so soak it up! Spend the rest of your day relaxing and sipping, or head out on a drive to see more of the coast. The choice is entirely yours!
Explore more of the coast and take all the photos.
Take it easy until it’s time to leave. Relax in Positano, ride the ferry between towns, and snap as many photos of the colorful villages as you can. (But keep in mind that the drive to Naples takes about 1.5 hours, so make sure to leave time to catch your flight!)
Drop your car off in Naples and head for the airport. (63 km, approximately 1.5 hours)
Try not to cry as you leave.
Header image by Oliver Astrologo.