Driving in Italian Cities

Heavy traffic on small roads
Cars, Scooters and Buses Oh My


So… you’re planning on doing some driving in Italian cities on your next vacation, is that right?

I applaud your confidence but worry about your decision!  Now, I realize you may be a great driver at home wherever that may be but… driving in many of the bigger Italian centers is in a word, Crazy.


There are a number of things to consider which can make driving in the city centers difficult or in many cases impossible.


  1. Traffic
  2. Parking
  3. Road restrictions


Traffic Congestion

No matter how you look at it, driving in the city is not for the faint of heart.  The thing to remember is that most of the people driving on these streets are locals who work and live in these cities.  They hate traffic.  What they hate even more are lost and confused tourists that cause more delays.

There’s a definite artful flow to navigating traffic in cities.  It consists of stops and starts, weaving and creeping, pushing and honking as they skillfully squeeze ahead of the one who hesitates a split second too long.  Check out traffic in Napoli.

If you want to get a good sense of what it’s like to drive in the city, grab a taxi, buckle up and watch your driver do their thing through the busy streets of Italy.  These drivers don’t mess around.  It’s best for everyone if you use public transit within the cities.  You don’t need the stress!


Traffic Around the Colosseum
Traffic Around the Colosseum


Driving in Roma
Just a Normal Day on the Streets of Roma


Scooters and Motorcycles are King at navigating the streets in Italy no matter what city you’re in.

These two wheeled daredevils bend the rules of the road like a clown bends a balloon into poodle shapes at your kid’s Birthday party.  If the lanes of traffic come to a halt all around you, you can bet there will be scooters pushing on through finding the smallest of gaps that help them forge a path to the front of the pack.  If no gaps between cars are available, they’ll just make a new lane into oncoming traffic, only to swerve back into the right lane at the last second.  Here’s a YouTube  sample of  driving a scooter in  Rome traffic.  They really are NUTZ. 


Driving a scooter in Italy can be risky
Scooter Crazies in Sorrento


Scooters and motorcycle are king
Waiting for the Rush


Parking in the Big City… Sucks!

It’s one thing to drive in the center of the city, but it will be the parking that will send you off the deep end.  It’s unusual to see an open parking spot on most streets and you can forget about parking on the residential side streets.  We noticed that once a spot is filled, cars won’t move for days.  Now let’s say the stars are in perfect alignment with the planets.  Next, you just happened to catch someone leaving their spot as you show up.  It’s highly unlikely that spot wouldn’t restricted (for residents only).

Parking in Italy is unlike anything I have ever seen here in North America.

Scenes like this are typical in most of the metropolitan centers of Italy.  We always get a chuckle pondering how the heck the drivers can get in and out of their cars once they squeeze into a spot.  If you look close at the condition of the paint on the bumpers and doors of these vehicles you’ll soon realize that there is a lot of bump and nudge going on.


Bump and Nudge
Tight Squeeze


It’s no coincidence the cars here are miniaturized… they have to be!

You won’t find any Dodge RAM 2500 4X4 trucks parked on these streets.  If you did… there would be 3 Smart cars and a few scooters parked in the truck bed.


Park as you Please
Creative Parking


Depending on your accommodations you may luck out and they’ll have parking spots allotted for their guests, but don’t count on it.


Who came first?
Door Dent Special


Road Restrictions

Up to this point we’ve presented some of the problems traffic and parking cause while driving in Italian cities.  You however, may still be thinking you’ll be giving this driving thing a go.  Not so fast.  There is one other thing to consider before you hit the street.  Road Restrictions.

As you get closer to any of the historical City Centers, undoubtedly you’ll come across the dreaded ZTL tourist snare.  What is this ZTL you ask?  It’s short for Zona Traffico Limitato (limited traffic zone). 


Zona Traffico Limitato
Watch Out for the ZTL’s


If you decide to forge ahead in your rental car, get to know this type of signage well.  

This little sign is packed full of information that you need to heed.   The first bit of info is Zona A Traffico Limitato.  This lets you know that the traffic in this zone is limited to permitted vehicles.  There are times that allow Joe tourist to enter these zones but make sure you’re up on telling time using the 24 hr clock.

Esclusi i veicoli autorizzati  tells you except authorized vehicles, which is not you!

A red circle means not permitted, which means you.

The red circle with the diagonal slash and blue background is a no parking sign.  The tow truck picture says it all.

Oh… just in case you think you’ll take your chances and take these roads anyway.  The ZTL usually have cameras near them to snap your picture so that they can send your rental company the fine.  The rental company will tack the charges to your bill when you return the car.

Here is a link to many of the signs you will see in your travels on Italian roadways.  It’s a good idea to get familiar with them.  (See Signs Here)


Whether you choose to drive a car or rent a scooter… just be especially careful out there.  You need to be extra aware of your surroundings to ensure a happy holiday.  Happy travels and buona fortuna!

Two wheeled warriors
Ready for Action








7 thoughts on “Driving in Italian Cities

  • July 31, 2016 at 9:34 am

    You hit the nail on the head with your article! Driving and getting lost in Naples for 3 hours in the middle of the night was one of the most frustrating and scary things that happened to us in Italy. Take public transit for sure! Talbot worth the stress.

  • July 31, 2016 at 11:56 am

    I am sure your right. How are you guys now?

  • July 31, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    My husband is very comfortable driving in Italy. Not me. Try driving in the hills with the hair pin turns where only one car fits. You use the mirrors and honk at the turn. The autosrades ( highways are easy except for the speeds).

    • August 3, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Like your husband I’m comfortable driving in Italy but only outside the big city centers. I’ll be posting a Driving in the Italian Countryside on our blog in the near future.

  • August 8, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    Never ever would I drive on those streets..yikes


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