I’ve read and heard a lot about driving in Sicily or driving in Italy in general. When I first went to study in Italy, I didn’t have a driver’s license so I didn’t have the chance to drive. During the next 5 years, I went back at least once every year, and I always visited the North by train.
However, things changed a few years ago, as I headed to Sicily.
While the experience might not have been so challenging for me, it might be for you. Driving in Sicily is only a tad more hectic than driving in Bucharest. Another thing worth noting is that we didn’t drive around Palermo, since that is the most challenging Sicilian town.
If the thought of renting a car and going on a road trip through Sicily frightens you, continue reading because I will tell you everything you need to know. Based on my experiences on the Italian island.
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Driving in Sicily: tips, tricks, and things worth knowing
Driving in southern Italy is something else for sure. I drove from Puglia to the Amalfi Coast and all the way back, but also along the eastern part of Sicily, without any problems. I’m not the greatest or the most skillful driver, thus I think you could do it as well.
Once again, I’m coming from Romania where people don’t really follow rules, traffic signs are mostly suggestions, and you literally learn to survive in the traffic jungle.
Chances are the situation in your country is far better than that so you might need some heads up.
Renting a car in Sicily
No matter where I am traveling to, my go-to place for car rentals is always Discover Cars.
It is a great aggregator that will help you find and book the best option for renting a car during your trip, helping you save up to 70% on your car rental. They have a pretty good Cancellation policy that would give you options in case your flight or travel plans change.
Smaller is better
My dream was always to drive around Italy in a Fiat 500. While in Italy, you will understand that smaller is better when it comes to cars.
Streets are narrow and winding, and people park wherever they find even the smallest space. By choosing a small car you won’t only get to save on the rental price, but you will also be able to get to all the destinations on your itinerary.
Book in advance
Learn from my mistakes and rent your car in advance, especially during the peak season.
Many of you might know this, but I think it could never hurt repeating it: make sure to have a credit card in the driver’s name. You will need both when you pick up the car upon your arrival.
I didn’t have a credit card, lost the reservation, and ended up driving an SUV on the streets of Southern Italy. Parking was challenging but not impossible.
Don’t skip the insurance
If there’s one place in this world where you don’t want to skip insurance, that’s in Sicily! You will want to be covered against any possible incident.
Especially since lanes are just a suggestion here and people park back to back to each other.
If you are looking to save money, the best option would be to pick up and drop off the car from the same place – preferably at the airport.
Is driving in Sicily difficult?
As I’ve mentioned before, even though I am not the best of the drivers, I didn’t have problems driving around Italy. However, if you don’t feel confident enough, don’t trust your parking skills, or cannot handle stressful situations, driving on the streets of Sicily might not be for you.
On the other hand, if you can be a bit aggressive behind the wheel, and you plan for an adventurous holiday, renting a car is the best decision.
Getting around by public transportation is not impossible, but it is not easy either if you want to get outside of the bigger cities such as Palermo or Catania. You won’t need a car in those towns, but you will want one when you plan for an itinerary around the island.
While towns are packed with people and crazy traffic, driving in the countryside and even in smaller towns will make it all worth it.
Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the constant horns going off around you, or by the drivers that will always want to overpass you. Trust your gut and pay attention to the other drivers more than to the actual traffic signs.
In order to drive in Sicily and in Italy, you will need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). You will be asked for it once you pick up your car, thus make sure to have it ready on arrival.
Read more about how to obtain one here.
Tolls, fees, and limits
Road tolls work as in any place around the world, where you have to take a ticket and pay it as you exit the highway. Make sure to have some cash on you since not everywhere you will have the possibility to pay by card.
When looking for a parking space, try to understand the signs:
- white – free
- blue means you have to pay – you can either pay at the cash machine, or download an app and pay online for private parkings. You can easily find parking spaces around your area, and don’t have to worry about having cash on hand. If however you want to park at one of the blue line parking spaces, you will be able to pay at any ticket machine or at any tabaccheria (news stand, tobacco shop).
- yellow – only for residents
Zona Traffico Limitato (ZFL) – look for the white circle with a red outline, which means that you are not allowed to enter the area or park there. These areas are mainly inside the historical areas and are meant to protect buildings from pollution while helping tourists to have a better experience.
If you are staying inside a ZFL, make sure to talk to your host and let them know you are traveling by car. They will be able to help you activate a daily pass for the ZFL and help you avoid a substantial fine.
So should you drive in Sicily?
Your worst enemies will be the Italian drivers – they don’t have any patience, and are not afraid to use their honks to let you know.
Don’t leave any valuables inside the car because there are plenty of car crimes in Italy, especially in tourist areas. I’ve heard so many stories about breaking into cars while in Italy and you don’t want to risk it! Take all your documents, money, and any other valuable things such as phones or cameras with you. Of course, you can leave things inside of your trunk, just make sure nobody saw you placing them there.
Check with your hotel or accommodation beforehand that they have private parking and that you can use it.
Trust Google Maps but not to the fullest, make sure to have Waze as well and check it whenever you are not sure about the way. Follow road signs and avoid going on “shortcuts”. Another helpful thing is to ask the locals or police. As soon as we arrived and picked up the car at the airport, we drove by mistake on the wrong side of the road. Police stopped us and since I was the only one speaking Italian, I had to explain that we had no clue how to exit the airport. They were nice enough to help us exit without a fine.
Don’t be intimidated by people’s tone, especially behind the wheel. Italians are very passionate and will often scream and curse in traffic. At the end of the day, it is all about interacting with the other drivers so you might want to pay attention to them.
In Italy, they drive on the right side of the road, and most cars are manual. However, nowadays is easy to rent an automatic car, and sometimes not too much more expensive.
On the highway, you might be intimidated by cars entering without actually slowing down or checking if someone is already on the lane. They do check (or at least I hope so), and if you pay attention to them, you will be fine.
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