Car rental in Italy: tips, cost and my own experiences

Italy has been on the rise in recent years and slowly but surely overtakes France and Spain as the most popular holiday destination for the summer holidays. The many beautiful sights, the unsurpassed cuisine and the warm summers are certainly some of the reasons for the success of this country. Italy is quite a big country, so why would you stick to just one location? If you're planning to rent a car or are seriously considering it, make sure to read this article so that you're perfectly prepared to drive around in the boot of Europe!

Car hire in Italy: cost

A rental car in Italy really doesn’t cost a lot of money. I rented a car several times, and each time I had very cheap rates. I never paid more than €30 per day (with insurance already included!), but often you can even rent a car for less than €10 per day. And how on earth can you resist not renting a car for those prices?!
I always compare the cost of a rental car between websites such as RentCars.
In most cases, RentCars gives me the cheapest rates, but don’t forget that you still have to add the cost of insurance on top of that.

For insurance, you shouldn’t pay more than €5.5 to €11 per day extra. If you want to have insurance, I advise you to book it as an add-on online, because you’ll definitely pay more if you only add it at the rental agency.

car hire italy holidaycarsIn the screenshot above you can see that renting a car for one week in Palermo costs only € 28.48 (or €4.06 per day) and that a car in Milan is also incredibly cheap: €39.12 per week (or €5,59 per day).

Why would you rent a car in Italy?

The answer to this question is less straightforward than you might expect. Much depends on where you travel in Italy and for how long.
It goes without saying that during a city trip to Rome you don’t have to choose for a rental car in Italy. There is a lot to do in the Eternal City and you won’t need a car here at all. Moreover, all sights are within walking distance of each other and the capital has an excellent network of public transport. This also makes it very easy to reach Ostia (a gorgeous coastal city) by train, for example. An ideal getaway to escape the bustle of the city.

However, if you have found a cheap flight to Rome and you can stay for two weeks instead of just five days, then you should definitely choose to rent a car in Italy. Nature lovers can, for example, visit Abruzzo, travelers who prefer the typical picturesque Italian towns should then continue to Viterbo, Spoleto and Terni. And from there on, there’s a lot more that Italy has to offer.

Then there’s of course still that other question: where exactly should you go on holiday in Italy. If you’re living in Europe, the whole north (including Milan, Turin and Venice) is quite easy to reach with your own car. Milan is located less than 1000 kilometers from Brussels and if everything goes well, you can get there in between eleven to twelve hours (including short stops). To reach Rome from Brussels you need at least eighteen hours and this means that you have to stop somewhere along the way. Basic mathematics tells us that eighteen times two is 36 and that you thus spend a day and a half driving back and forth to the Italian capital. This time behind the steering wheel can be spent much better in the pool or on a sunny terrace. You also should keep in mind that you definitely won’t be the only tourist on the road, so that popular access roads might have heavy traffic on them. And to be honest; a holiday that starts (or ends) with so much stressing out can’t really be called a holiday, can it?

When you opt for car hire in Italy, you avoid all this unnecessary stress and you also won’t lose valuable time. Because in the end, we go on vacations to escape from this stress. On top of that, you shouldn’t leave it for the cost. Because you can already rent a car for less than €5 in Italy

Of course, you should also opt for car rental in Italy when you visit the islands (Sardinia or Sicily) or the south (Naples, Sorrento).

san vito lo capo

Some of the most beautiful beaches in Italy can’t be reached without a car. The beautiful San Vito Lo Capo, for example!

What sights are easier to see with a rental car in Italy?

When you limit yourself to the big cities, you can easily travel by public transport. Trains are fast and not too expensive (especially the regional trains – but book tickets in advance!!!) and with several companies there is also an excellent and inexpensive way of traveling in Europe by bus. So you can travel perfectly from Turin to Genoa to Milan to Venice and to Bologna without ever needing a car.
If, however, you ask me what the unmistakable beauty of Italy is, my answer won’t only include established values ​​such as Florence and Venice, but also in the (more or less) hidden gems such as Castelluccio, Ascoli Piceno and Monteriggioni. These small but charming villages aren’t easily accessible by public transport. Moreover, driving on Italian roads is part of the fun: you make your way through the picturesque sunflower fields and vineyards while Eros Ramazzotti sings through the speakers.
On top of that, you can perfectly spend the night with your own car in one of the many romantic agriturismo’s that are found everywhere in the country.

ferrari museum bologna

A visit to the Ferrari museum near Bologna is also much easier with your own rental car.

Which car should you rent in Italy?

I can assure you that there is not a specific car that you necessarily need to rent in Italy. Of course it’ll be very charming to explore Umbria in a Fiat 500, or cruising along the highway in an Alfa Romeo Spider with an open roof. 
Whatever rental car you pick, depends entirely on your own preference. When you mainly visit large cities, a smaller car can be quite handy because there are fewer parking spaces. And a smaller vehicle is also always quite a lot cheaper.

view vesuvius

In the area around Naples you’ll get to see the Vesuvius, another attraction that is easily accessible with your own car.

Hire a car online in Italy

The times that we had to arrange everything on arrival at the airport are fortunately over. Today you can book your rental car in Italy with a few simple clicks. And of course it’s more economical for your wallet if you book in advance.
I can really recommend RentCars if you’re looking for the cheapest prices.
The minimum age to rent a car in Italy is eighteen, but some companies only rent a car to drivers who are at least 21 years old. In addition, there is often an extra charge for drivers under 24 years of age.
You don’t need an international driver’s license to rent a car in Italy.

car hire italy

There’s nothing easier than having your own car in Italy!

Traffic rules in Italy

Just like in most parts of Europe, you drive on the right side of the road in Italy. Of course wearing a seatbelt is mandatory just like in the rest of the world.
Don’t drive too fast, because the police will get you! Keep your need for speed between the following limits:

  • 50 km/h: within the built-up area
  • 90 km/h: smaller roads outside the built-up area
  • 110 km/h: larger roads outside the built-up area
  • 130 km/h: motorways

La polizia is installing more and more speed cameras in Italy, so the chances that you’ll get a fine when you speed are very real. Money that you should spend in other ways, like for buying pizza, mamma mia!
If you want to drink some delicious vino or Aperol Spritz, you should think twice before you get behind the steering wheel. The alcohol limit is 0.5 per mille and if your blood test shows a higher amount, you’ll get a hefty fine.

Also pay close attention to the so-called ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato or Zone with Limited Traffic). In certain Italian cities such as Florence and Rome, but also Milan, you have to pay per day if you want to enter this zone. They want to limit the traffic in the historic centers of the Italian cities and no one without a pass may enter these specific areas.
The annoying thing is that these zones are not physically closed, so you can easily still drive in them. However, the incoming traffic is carefully observed with cameras and a photograph of each license plate that enters the ZTL is taken. If you want to buy a ZTL pass, you should check out the site of the city that you’re going to visit. You can also always purchase them from the local police. If you’re staying in a hotel in this zone, you should contact them in advance so that they can hand in an application for you.
A solution to avoid this hassle is to park on a parking outside the ZTL zone.
In any case, don’t blindly follow your satnav!!! Pay attention to the traffic signs or you might get (yet another) fine!

You also have to pay for the use of most of Italy’s motorways. Roughly speaking, a toll road costs 0.067 euros per kilometer. To drive from Rome to Milan you pay almost 39 euros when using the motorway, Venice – Milan costs just under nineteen euros. You can also avoid these roads, but that will cost you a lot of time. And well; time is money…

car rental in italy

Be well prepared so that you don’t get unnecessary fines.

Parking in Italy

Parking your rental car in Italy is child’s play. Most tourist-friendly cities have large (paid) car parks just outside the historic center.
Parking on the street is indicated by a color system. A white line indicates that you can park for free, a blue line tells you that you have to pay. Always look carefully at the traffic signs to make sure.
Disco orario means that you need to park with your parking disc.
The Italian police have a bad reputation because they love to hunt for people who didn’t obey the parking laws or tourists who exceed their parking time. So make sure you pay enough or that you put in some extra money in time!

parking italy car hire

Always check twice to see if you can park somewhere in Italy.

Some extra tips for renting a car in Italy

  • This tip actually applies to every country where you rent a car, but it’s also the most important: always read your rental contract. Car rental companies often try to charge you extra costs, but don’t fall for it.
  • Personally, I also consider it my duty to point out that you should add car insurance to your booking. During my many travels I have had a few (small) accidents, and however small they were… It always costs a lot of money! In total, the price of the insurance was still much cheaper than repairing the scratches or broken parts of the car. That’s why I definitely recommend adding car insurance. If you drive around the busy Italian cities, it might not be necessary. But if you drive inside some of the big cities, it can really get risky business!
  • Don’t forget to check your credit card limit before you travel to Italy. Car rental companies always keep a deposit on your credit card, and it’s important that this doesn’t exceed your limit. Usually this limit lies around 700 to 1500 euros. Call your bank to be sure of how much your limit is and if necessary: make it higher.
  • Important in connection to your credit card: make sure you pay with the credit card of the person who will also drive the car. Otherwise there may be difficulties on the spot with the car rental agency.
  • It’s not a bad idea to have another driver drive with your rental car. Sometimes the distances in Italy are indeed very long. Don’t forget that a second driver must also be paid (in most cases).
  • Bring your satnav (or smartphone) yourself and don’t forget your car charger (or power bank). Roaming is free within the European Union and so if you’re coming from the EU, that’s already one thing that you don’t need to worry about any longer. Personally, I find apps such as Google Maps, Maps.me and Apple Maps very useful to navigate through Italy.
  • Always check if there’s no damage to the rental car when you pick it up at the airport. All damage must be indicated on the form! Take photos of scratches or other damage, so you have proof that you didn’t cause it.
  • Is there a warning triangle, fluorescent jacket and spare tire in the trunk? For legal reasons, this must always be present.
  • Don’t automatically choose the cheapest car if you already know where you are going. The cheapest cars don’t have very strong motors, so driving up a mountain is sometimes a real scare… One car class higher can sometimes increase your comfort a lot!
  • Avoid the Italian roads around (large) cities between 8 am and 9 am and from 4 pm to 6 pm. The Italian traffic jams are not so much fun!
  • Don’t rent a car for longer than you need. In the big cities you don’t need a private hire car in Italy. If you go on holiday for two weeks in the area around Rome, it’s best to start renting a car from, say, the fourth day. In Rome itself you’ll be nothing with a car, just like in the rest of the Italian big cities.
  • You can easily rent a car for just one day (or two) as well. For example, when traveling to Palermo, it’s worthwhile to rent a car for a day to visit, among others, Scopello and the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro. We often think that it costs a lot of money to rent a car for a day, but in Italy this is certainly not the case.
  • In some big cities the local drivers are a bit crazier than in others. If you’re not the most experienced driver, you better stay away from Palermo, Catania and Milan. On the other hand, on more local roads it’s wonderful (and quiet) to drive.
  • At certain car rental companies you can also leave your rental car at another destination. Perfect if you want to drive from the north of the country to the south. Note that this will almost always cost an extra fee.

A rental car in Italy certainly doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Especially if you book well in advance and if you plan your holidays well in advance. Every day that you don’t use your car, you lose money.
Italy is one of the nicest countries in Europe to drive through. Whether you drive along the Amalfi coast or through the hills of Tuscany… La dolce vita è in Italia!

italy car rental

Have fun in Italy!

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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.
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