I have met many people who are hesitant to drive in Italy. They have heard that the Italians can be aggressive drivers and the roads are not easy to navigate. Some of that may be partially true but driving in Italy is a lot like driving in the US; yes some drivers may be aggressive and some areas are more difficult to navigate then others. In the major cities driving can be a challenge and drivers are not waiting to let lost tourists find their ways, you have to keep going. Also, unlike many U.S. cities, the Italian cities are not based on a grid, so if you miss a street you may not be able to just make a right, a right and another right to get back to your destination. One other challenge is that there are areas where a permit is required to drive; for example in Rome close to the embassies is a no traffic zone. Similarly, in Florence you cannot drive in parts of the historic area without a permit. However, it is probably not useful to have a car while in any of the cities, as I mentioned in a previous article it is preferable to either rent a car after your stay in a city or before you arrive and then drop it off. Parking in the city can be expensive anyway and most likely you will not need the car while exploring a city destination.
Once outside the cities, driving is quite easy and actually very enjoyable. Having a car allows you to visit towns which might not be as easily accessible as taking mass transit. Also, you can vary your length of stay in any one destination, you can stop along the way when you see something of interest and of course there are always beautiful pictures that you can stop and take during your travels, something you can’t do while on a bus or a train.
The Autostrada (A-1) is the main highway that will take you north-south between Milan and Naples. Note, that there can be tolls on some of these roads and most except cash, credit cards or the Italian version of an EZ Pass. Exit signs on the Autostrada, list the towns that you can reach if you take that particular exit. However, there can be many towns listed on one exit sign so it is preferable to have someone who can navigate and read the signs. While driving on the Autostrada, if you are in the left lane and you see someone flashing the cars high beams while approaching at a high rate of speed, my advice is move over to the right lane and let the person pass.
Once you leave the Autostrada the main roads tend to be easy to drive though at times they can be windy and in the towns themselves can be narrow but it only requires that you use a little caution. One time while in Sorrento my husband and I followed another very small car through an alley way only to find that it narrowed about half way through. Luckily, we were able to pull in the side mirrors and with about a an inch or two on each side of the car made our way through. Once you arrive in the town you are visiting the navigating may be a little more difficult but don’t let this be a deterrent. On my first visit to Montepulciano with my mom, we had to call the proprietor of the hotel to come and show us the way. Stay calm and just think if you have arrived at the town you can’t be that far from your final destination.