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All roads lead to Rome, making experiencing all the charms of Italy easy. There is history in the capital, art in Florence, food in Tuscany, wine in Chianti, fashion in Milan and romance in the fabled city of Venice. Driving to any of these places can be a sublime travel experience because not only are they great destinations in themselves, but visitors get to experience the beauty of the Italian countryside along the way.
Driving Tips for Italy
The well-maintained motorway network has good signposts. It is a different story, however, within the built-up areas. Roads in the city centres are often one-way or even closed to vehicles. Additionally, local drivers tend to ignore traffic regulations.
Driving licences: licences from the EU, including the UK, are accepted, except old-style licences without a photo. In this case, an International Driving Permit must be presented.
Which side does Italy drive on: the right.
Highways and dual carriageways (outside urban areas): 81mph (130kph)
National or provincial roads: 68mph (110kph)
Open roads: 56mph (90kph)
Urban roads: 31mph (50kph)
Alcohol limits: 0.05 per cent compared with the UK's 0.08 per cent limit. For drivers who have had their driving licence for less than three years, the limit is nil.
Driving age: 18 years, but 21 years for those wishing to hire a car.
Seatbelts: compulsory for both rear-seat and front-seat passengers. Children who travel in a UK registered vehicle must wear seatbelts per UK standards.
Mobile phones and GPS: driving while talking on a mobile phone is illegal in Italy. Using a hands-free kit, however, is allowed. The use of a GPS device is possible but it must be programmed while the vehicle is stationary.
Cost of fuel in Italy: unleaded petrol (benzina) is slightly cheaper while diesel (gasolio) is slightly more expensive than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: for most suppliers, hiring a car requires a swipe of your credit card. Filling at a petrol station can be done using a credit card.
Insurance: third-party insurance is compulsory and inclusive with car hire. However, because small accidents are common, especially in the cities, comprehensive insurance is recommended.
Traffic and parking: traffic is restricted in many major towns and historical centres under the Limited Traffic Zone (Zone a Traffico Limitato). Parking can only be done on the right side and requires a parking disk, obtainable from hotels, petrol stations and tourist offices. You leave the disk on the driver's side of the dashboard. It counts the total time the car is parked, with the maximum allowed time one hour.
The railway network in Italy is good and comprehensive but the quality of the trains varies. The high-speed trains (Eurostar Italia, Frecciabianca, Frecciarossa and Frecciargento) are fast and reliable. They are the trains to take when you plan on using them in conjunction with flights and they stop at the major destinations such as Rome, Milan, Bologna, Venice, Florence, Naples and other cities. Meanwhile, the regional trains, while cheap, are slow and unreliable. Somewhere in between are the intercity trains. The main railway operator is Trenitalia. A high-speed train ride from Rome to Venice costs around £65, while a Rome to Florence train ride costs around £35.
Taxis are an option to get around many of the cities and towns as they are widely available. A ride can be expensive but weighed against speed and convenience, might just be worth it. Visitors are advised to use only government-regulated cabs, which are white or yellow. They can be hailed at official taxi stands or ordered by phone. Unofficial cabs do not have an official ID or a metre and may charge exorbitant prices. In Rome, a quick cab ride usually costs under £10, but more when the streets are congested or when hired at night. Drivers usually charge a supplement for luggage, typically £0.80 per bag.
The advantages of train travel in Italy almost always outweighs the advantages of taking an intercity bus. Still, there are a few places without a train station that are best reached by bus. There is no one main bus operator for intercity travel. Thus, the quality of service varies. Local tourist offices are able to provide timetables and fares, and in the major cities, the intercity buses have dedicated ticket offices. Meanwhile, getting around by bus major tourist centres is straightforward as most networks have some sort of city card which make paying for public transport as well as museums fast and easy. A single-trip bus fare within a city usually costs under £1.
The main ports of Italy are Genoa (the largest), Rome, Naples, Cagliari and Livorno. There are regular ferries that take both passengers and vehicles to the islands of Sardinia, Sicily, Capri and the Aeolian Islands. Tirrenia Navigazioni has services to most Italian ports. Ferries can have cabins, dorms and armchairs. The cost for a Genoa to Sardinia ferry ride begins at around £35.
The main international gateway to the country is Rome's Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport, with Alitalia as the main carrier. Alitalia, British Airways, EasyJet and Monarch fly direct from London to Rome. Rome Ciampino Airport, meanwhile, is a hub for Ryanair, which has direct flights to London. A London to Rome flight usually takes around 2 hours, 20 minutes. Budget carriers are popular in Italy and the cost of a return domestic ticket begins at around £40. Alitalia flies many domestic routes between the main airports in Rome, Milan, Bologna, Naples, Palerma and a handful of others.
No other country has a higher number of UNESCO World Heritage sites than Italy. It is for this reason that perhaps no one holiday is enough to experience all it has to offer and to discover all its charms. Those willing to try can begin in the historic capital city of Rome where some of the best-known landmarks of the world can be found, from the Roman Coliseum to the Basilica of Saint Peter.
Heading north, travellers will come upon the city which has filled, and continues to fill, the travel dreams of many. Venice and its twisting and winding canals is said to be one of the most beautiful and most romantic cities in the world. Don’t miss the Rialto Bridge, St Mark’s Square or the Jewish Ghetto.
Also in the north is Italy's centre of finance, commerce and most importantly, fashion. Milan is filled with fashionable locals and even the police sport uniforms designed by world-class fashion designers here. But it is perhaps the city’s museums and Duomo (cathedral) that appeal to most culture buffs.
In central Italy, art, learning and history come together in a city where the Italian Renaissance movement was born. Florence has some of the most beautiful architecture in the world, including plazas and museums like the Uffizi, which is filled with works by some of the world's greatest artists, such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Caravaggio and many others.
Of course, no visit to Italy would be complete without sampling the country's culinary delights. Naples is the birthplace of pizza and it is every visitor's responsibility to have a slice of the country's most famous food export. For some of the best wine in the world, visitors can simply head to the rolling hills and vineyards of Tuscany where the landscapes are as splendid as the wines.
Our Travel Editor’s Recommended Drives
Dolomites – in Italy's Alpine regions is the spectacular Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The drive here, particularly along the SS48 (Grande Strada delle Dolomiti), is scenic for many reasons, including the stunning views of mountains, valleys and lakes.
Florence to Siena – the drive to and from these two medieval cities in the beautiful region of Tuscany is something that should not be missed. Along the way, visitors will come across vineyards which offer a taste of some of the finest Italian wines.
Italian Riviera – the northwest region of Italy is famed for its mild climate and the beauty of the old fishing ports found here. The towns and villages of Portofino, Ventimiglia, Cinque Terre and San Remo are great places to head by car.
Amalfi Coast – some of the most iconic images of the Mediterranean can be viewed in the coastal cities of Amalfi. One such city is Positano, with its quaint yet spectacularly beautiful cliff-side villages. A drive on the coast-hugging SS163 highway offers some of the best views of the region.
Holidays and Festivals
New Year's Day (1 January)
Epiphany (6 January)
Easter Monday (Monday after Easter)
Liberation Day (25 April)
Labour Day (1 May)
Anniversary of the Republic (2 June)
All Saints' Day (1 November)
Assumption Day (15 August)
Christmas Day (25 December)
St Stephen's Day (26 December)
Immaculate Conception Day (8 December)
Italy stretches from the high Alpine regions of the north to the Mediterranean islands of the south. It is for this reason that weather in the country is diverse. In the Po Valley region of the north, the climate is continental. Summers are warm while winters are cold and harsh. In Milan, average winter temperatures dip a couple of degrees below freezing. July and August see the highest temperatures. In the Sicilian capital of Palermo, summer temperatures average at 28°C. The coastal regions covering the Italian Riviera, Tuscany and much of the south have a typical Mediterranean climate.
Italy Travel Tips
Italy is a popular travel destination because of the wealth of travel experiences it offers: from history to art and food to natural landscapes. Unfortunately, petty theft can be a problem, especially in the major tourist centres. Vigilance and caution must be taken. Below are other travel tips worth considering before travelling here.
Italy contact numbers
County code (+39)
British Embassy, Rome – +39 6 4220 0001
Italian state police - 113
The official currency in Italy is the euro (EUR, €). Currency is easily exchanged at airports, railway stations, banks, exchange bureaux (cambio) and hotels, which accept both travellers' cheques and cash. Major credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club and American Express are widely accepted. ATMs (bancomat) are widely available.
Health and safety
Water from most taps is safe to drink. Otherwise, visitors will see an acqua non potable sign. At any rate, bottled water is readily available. Special precautions against diseases are not required. European Health Insurance Cards are accepted for emergency medical services. Unless specifically covered by travel insurance, non-EU travellers need to pay for healthcare out of their pocket.
Appearance is important in Italian culture and people here judge other people based on their looks. Dress appropriately in order to be treated properly. Many tourist spots are churches, chapels, monasteries and other places of worship where visitors need to respect the sanctity of these places with appropriate dress and behaviour, with religion playing an important role in Italian life.
Visas for Italy
Italy is a signatory to the Schengen Agreement meaning nationals of other signatory states can enter with just a national ID card. Citizens of the UK, the US, Canada and Australia can enter visa-free on presentation of a passport which is valid for three months beyond the intended date of exit.
As with the rest of Europe, the voltage of sockets in Italy is 220-230V/50Hz. A power converter or a transformer is required to use appliances with a different voltage. Most Italian sockets accept plugs with two or three round prongs. If your device uses a different plug, purchasing an adapter before travel is recommended.
Offices: 08:00 to 13:00 and 15:00 to 19:00, Monday to Friday
Shops: 09:00 to 13:00 and 16:00 to 20:00, Monday to Saturday
Banks: 08:30 to 13:30 and 15:30 to 16:30, Monday to Friday
Ciao – Hello
Grazie – Thank you
Buon giorno – Good morning
Prego – You are welcome
Arrivederci – Good bye
Buona sera – Good evening
Si/no – Yes/no
Scusami – Sorry
Buona notte – Good night
Non capisco – I don’t understand
Quanto costa questo? – How much is this?
Parla inglese? – Do you speak English?
Dove e… ? – Where is… ?