Hiring a car in Italy gives the country a small yet expansive feeling you don’t often feel in a new country. But before you run off and book your Fiat Cinquecento (or perhaps Ferrari), here are some elements to consider.
That exquisite freedom of having a car on holiday – of only your own schedule to limit you – is never as tangible as when you’re in Italy.
It’s a country that’s both compact and capacious, with so much on the road between you and your destination, resisting tempting distractions may be the hardest part of hiring a car in Italy.
Driving in Italy opens the country up to you, putting every little hilltop village, every piazza, every ristorante and osteria at your fingertips. Italy feels like it grows to become its own universe when you’re behind the wheel.
On the other hand, having a car in Italy makes you realise how small the country really is. You can drive from Calabria in Italy’s south to the Liechtenstein border – Italy’s most northerly point – in 12 hours.
And crossing the country’s widest point – from the French border in the west to Slovenia in the east – is under a 6-hour drive. Usually you can get from coast to coast in about 4 hours.
These numbers are nothing to most people in Australia, who don’t flinch at sitting in a car for 5 hours for a weekend away.
So is it worth hiring a car in Italy? The short answer is definitely yes. However, there are a few elements also worth considering before you go straight out and hire yourself una macchina.
Is it worth hiring a car in Italy?
Where are you going?
Are you going for a city break? Rome, Florence, Milan, Naples – even smaller cities like Lecce or Siena – are all big enough to keep you busy without needing a car. Plus parking in these places is horrible. Hiring a car will largely be a waste of money.
Even if you want to go from Milan to Lake Como, the train journey is easy – here’s our post on how.
Getting to Venice – a place you really don’t need a car – is also easy by train.
However, if you want to explore the dales and rolling hills of Tuscany, and visit the fortified towns throughout this stunning countryside, a car is essential. Or if you want to go on a food safari of Puglia in the glorious southeast, get a car.
How long will you be there?
Most towns in Italy will sustain your attention for a week without you needing to move beyond walking or local bus distance from your hotel. Bigger towns and cities will keep your attention longer.
But if you’re on a longer trip and only in one place for a few days, trains will get you only so far.
And if you’re on a tight schedule and want to fit in as much as possible in a short time, hire a car.
How confident are you at driving?
This isn’t really too important because Italy’s roads and drivers are fairly forgiving – but worth thinking about.
If you haven’t driven a left-hand drive car before or if you don’t like narrow streets and frantic chaos, there are parts of Italy you might want to avoid. But I’m making it sound worse than it really is.
People drive very fast on the autostrada motorways, so expect to be overtaken. The further south you go, the narrower the streets – but the locals don’t slow down much. It’s a lot of fun; you just need to be able to take it in your stride.
What do you want to be doing?
Are you looking for a relaxing stay-in-one-place kind of holiday? Do you want to set down roots and really get into the vibe of one single place? Then don’t hire a car. You can get so much more out of one little Italian town if you stay there for a while and really get to know it. We’re big fans of slow travel.
However, if you want to a bit of comparing and contrasting, to visit several different parts of the country and experience the differences every town has to its neighbours, a car will save you so much time and money.
What’s it like hiring a car in Italy?
Hiring a car in Italy is very simple. Last time we were in Italy, we hired a car from Europcar in Monopoli – a beautiful little town in Puglia – because it was one of the cheapest.
It was a bit weird when we collected the car – we had to go with the manager in his car to collect our rental a bit out of town, but otherwise it was fine.
It’s a good idea to have an international driver’s licence from your country – it makes everything quicker – but also bring your passport and domestic driver’s licence.
Rental fees in Italy are very cheap – especially compared to places like the UK. And although trains are also cheap in Italy, and great too, car hire and petrol will work out cheaper and more time efficient if you want to explore further off that well-beaten Italian track.
Do you usually hire a car when you’re on holiday? Which company do you usually go with? Tell us in the comments.