7 Phenomenal Italy Road Trip Ideas (+ Driving Tips!)Italy
There’s a lot to love about taking an Italy road trip, from admiring beautiful countryside views along the open road during the day to stopping at whatever hilltop village or seaside vista looks lovely, to spending evenings in small countryside inns or perhaps even a Tuscan farmhouse.
This guide will show you where to find the best road trips in Italy to help make those dreams a reality, while also providing plenty of practical advice along the way.
It’s no secret that Italy is one of our absolute favorite countries to explore, nor that we have taken more road trips in Italy than in any other country that isn’t our own–but at the same time, we fully believe that most popular, first-time-in-Italy itineraries are not best experienced as a road trip.
While traveling in Italy is absolutely amazing, most of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations–Rome, Florence, Venice, Cinque Terre, and Milan, just to name a few–are not well suited to an Italy road trip.
On the contrary, if you ask us, a rental car is more of a liability than an asset in every single one of those destinations!
But that being said, there are some truly phenomenal road trips in Italy that are easily among the best in the world.
If you’re looking to plan an Italy road trip, here’s what–and where–we recommend.
Table of Contents
Is a Road Trip in Italy Right for You?
Italy is home to some fantastic road trips, but whether or not a road trip is right for you depends a lot on both your personal travel style and what your dream trip to Italy looks like.
If you decide a road trip isn’t right for you, we highly recommend checking out some of our more classic Italy itineraries instead–this 2 week itinerary is a great introduction to the country, and this one week guide is packed full of Italy trip ideas!
An Italy road trip might be the right choice for you if…
… you’re hoping to focus on small towns and countryside destinations.
As I mentioned above, Italy’s biggest cities, while absolutely fantastic places to visit, are not well-suited for road trips.
If your dream Italy trip looks something like Rome, Florence, Venice, and Cinque Terre, you’re bound to have an amazing time–and you definitely shouldn’t experience it as a road trip.
This 2 week itinerary will get you started on your planning, though!
… you’re not intimidated by driving in a foreign country.
While driving in Italy is far from impossible, it does have an intimidating reputation for a reason: if you’re not a regular driver and/or are not confident behind the wheel, you may want to reconsider driving in Italy, or at the very least, be very careful to choose an easier road trip destination.
… you want to maintain maximum flexibility.
Want to duck into roadside cafes, randomly detour to check out a small town you spotted on the map, and wake up each morning unsure of what adventures it will hold?
If so, an Italy road trip might be the right vacation for you!
… you’re willing to trade a few logistical challenges for a chance to get off the beaten path.
From finding the right parking spot to keeping an eye out for toll booths to getting lost along the way, taking a road trip in Italy definitely comes with its own set of challenges–but if that sounds like a worthy trade for an open-ended adventure and a chance to see a side of Italy that most of its visitors don’t, then it’s absolutely worth it.
Renting a Car for Your Road Trip
For most people, of course, taking an Italy road trip will require renting a car.
We’ll cover some tips and tricks for renting a car later in this blog post, but here’s the short version: we recommend renting a small car in Italy through Discover Cars, which will allow you to compare prices and inclusions of multiple companies at the same time and choose the best car for you from there.
We’ve rented a car in Italy more times than we can count, and we’ve used a different rental car company almost every time: the variations in prices depending on time of year, availability, and rental inclusions will vary dramatically, and you’ll want to make sure you arrange for the best combination of price and inclusions before arriving to start your road trip in Italy.
Check rates & book your rental car with Discover Cars today!
The Best Italy Road Trip Destinations
The Italy road trips outlined here aren’t just destinations that are doable as road trips–they’re destinations ideally experienced as one!
The freedom of the open road, beauty of the countryside, and delights of traveling Italy independently are all easily felt on these sublime Italy road trips.
Arguably the most classic Italy road trip of them all, the idyllic Tuscan countryside lives up to expectations: from the beautiful hilltop villages to the seemingly endless rows of grapevines and olive trees, from the delights of Tuscan hot springs to the majestic beauty of Brunelleschi’s dome erupting from the center of Florence’s skyline, the reality of Tuscany definitely lives up to the legend.
Consider starting your road trip from Florence (though you won’t need to pick up your rental car until you’re ready to leave the region’s capital), and visiting charming Lucca, stunning Siena, and famous Pisa along the way.
Of course, since half the fun of a road trip is going where the trains can’t easily reach, you’ll want to mix in even smaller towns as well–Volterra, Montepulciano, Cortona, and San Gimignano are all excellent options.
Be sure to visit the famous Val d’Orcia for those classic Tuscan views, and if you’ve ever wanted to stay in an Italian villa or at a vineyard, a Tuscany road trip is definitely an excellent opportunity to do so!
You can check out our full guide to taking a Tuscany road trip here.
Suggested Road Trip Length
A roughly 10 day road trip, plus a couple of days spent in Florence at the beginning and/or end of the trip, will provide an excellent overview of Tuscany while still leaving plenty of stones left unturned that will have you already dreaming of your next trip back by the time you say goodbye.
However, Tuscany is also well-suited to a mini road trip, so if you only have 3 days or so to spare, you can still get a delightful taste of Italy by car!
The Amalfi Coast
Despite being a mere 43 miles long, the dramatically curving road along the Amalfi Coast just may be the most famous–and challenging–Italy road trip of them all!
There’s no denying that the views of the Amalfi Coast along the drive are absolutely sublime and deserve their status as one of the most picturesque places on the planet.
From the shimmering sea visible far beyond the opulent villas of Ravello to the colorful houses climbing improbably up the cliff in Positano, the Amalfi Coast is positively packed with beauty at every turn.
Road tripping the Amalfi Coast has distinct advantages over a more traditional visit, including a chance to escape the crowds, discover offbeat vistas and coves, explore lesser-visited villages, and find (comparatively) inexpensive lodging by staying outside of the most popular towns.
On the flip side, though, the driving is intense: an Amalfi Coast road trip will take you along a very narrow road, perched on a very steep cliff, and demand that you repeatedly navigate around gigantic tour buses that have very little patience with cars clogging up the road–in other words, it’s quite challenging!
If you are a confident driver, there’s no reason to skip it–the Amalfi Coast truly is home to one of the most scenic road trips in Italy–but if you aren’t comfortable behind the wheel, it may be best to pick a different road trip (or simply visit the Amalfi Coast without driving, which is very doable!).
Suggested Road Trip Length
While you can easily drive the Amalfi Coast itself in less than a day, we recommend spending roughly 3-5 days in the area.
You won’t necessarily want (or need) to change accommodation each day, but you can take incredible day trips via car each day along the Amalfi Coast.
If you’d like, you could also add on a (long) day trip to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and/or Mount Vesuvius by car as well!
The Great Dolomites Road
The Great Dolomites Road–in Italian, the Grande Strada della Dolomiti–runs from Bolzano in South Tyrol to Cortina d’Ampezzo in Veneto, offering positively jaw-dropping views of the Dolomites along the way.
If you’re looking for one-of-a-kind mountain vistas, sweeping valleys, epic lakes, and charming villages that leave you a bit uncertain as to whether you’re actually in Italy at all or if you accidentally wandered into Austria, then this is the Italian road trip for you.
Be sure to leave plenty of time in your road trip itinerary to stop and check out Carezza Lake and the vistas along the Passo Pordoi!
Although not technically part of the route, nearby popular stops in the Dolomites include Sella Pass and Passo Gardena, and you can easily expand your Italy road trip to include the ever-popular Seceda and Val di Funes as well.
Suggested Road Trip Length
The Great Dolomites Road can easily be driven in a day, but we recommend taking your time and soaking up the views–this isn’t a region you’ll want to rush through.
For the bulk of your time in the Dolomites, you can easily base yourself in either Bolzano or Cortina d’Ampezzo (both offer excellent nearby mountain hikes and villages to explore as part of your trip to the Dolomites), but you can also choose to spend part of your time at one of the countryside hotels that exist along this Italy road trip.
The largest island in the Mediterranean has long been a source of mystery and intrigue: loomed over by the enormous Mount Etna and covered in the scattered remnants of a half-dozen empires, from the Ancient Greeks to the Byzantines to the Moors to the Normans and beyond, Sicily an intensely beautiful and historically fascinating island, and easily one of the best places for an Italy road trip!
While exploring Sicily, be sure to visit the incredible Mount Etna, take in the views from Taormina, enjoy the phenomenal beach towns (we’re partial to Cefalu, but there are plenty to choose from!), admire the Baroque towns of the Val di Noto, and check out the incredibly well-preserved Greek ruins at Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples.
And, of course, I have to acknowledge that if driving in Italy has a reputation for being challenging, Sicily has a reputation for being home to the most challenging driving of all.
Our opinion is only one among many, but I will say that after driving all over Europe and Italy both, we didn’t find the driving in Sicily to be significantly different.
We have lots of region-specific driving tips in our detailed Sicily road trip guide.
Suggested Road Trip Length
Roughly 10 days to 2 weeks in Sicily will give you a chance to hit up most of the island’s highlights, but you’ll need to move quickly!
If you have 5 days or less in Sicily, we recommend concentrating on only one portion of the island–the east coast, from Taormina to Syracuse, with a possible detour over to the Val di Noto, is a great option.
Emilia-Romagna is often overlooked in favor of Tuscany when it comes to planning a road trip in Italy, but Tuscany’s less-famous next-door neighbor also makes for an incredible road trip destination!
The region is the original home of many of the most beloved foods of Italian cuisine, including parmigiano-reggiano, tagliatelle al ragu (what’s known outside of Italy as spaghetti bolognese), mortadella (also known as bologna), and traditional (and decadent) balsamic vinegar, just to name a few!
A road trip in Emilia-Romagna will mean a chance to explore each of these cuisines in their natural settings–the towns of Parma and Modena should both be on your radar–as well as take in unique features of the region like Ravenna’s world-famous mosaics and Rimini’s laid-back beaches.
Visiting Emilia-Romagna via car also provides an opportunity to visit a unique destination that’s technically not even in Italy at all: the stunningly beautiful country of San Marino is entirely surrounded by Italy, and is easily accessible as part of a road trip in Emilia-Romagna.
Suggested Road Trip Length
A week-long road trip in Emilia-Romagna can cover a lot of what makes the region special.
If possible, we highly recommend adding a couple of days in Bologna, the capital of the region, to one end of your road trip!
The Lakes of Northern Italy
Northern Italy is positively packed with stunning Alpine lakes that are a delight to visit, and a northern Italy road trip is the perfect way to experience them!
Most lake-focused Italy road trips focus on some combination of the large and beautiful lakes of Como, Garda, and Maggiore, mixing in stops and lakeside small towns, along beautiful hiking trails, and sometimes in nearby cities like gorgeous Verona.
By visiting this part of Italy by car, you’ll be able to avoid crowds of day-trippers at hotspots like Bellagio, instead concentrating your days on harder-to-reach corners while saving the most popular places for the beautiful (and less crowded) evenings.
Suggested Road Trip Length
If you’d like to visit all three lakes, possibly mixing in lesser-known spots like Lake Iseo along the way, we recommend setting aside 7-10 days for this Italy road trip.
However, if you’d like a taste of exploring Italy’s beautiful lakes by car but only have a couple of days to spare, you could also have a fantastic trip by narrowing in on just one lake.
In the southeast corner of Italy–or, more colloquially, in the heel of Italy’s boot–sits the region of Puglia, a beautiful place laden with white-washed beach towns, craggy cliffs, unique architecture, tasty seafood, and plenty of sunshine.
If you’d like to get off the beaten path on your Italy road trip while focusing on the sun and sea, Puglia is the perfect place to land: while it has a growing tourism scene and is popular with Europeans, Puglia is still a bit under-the-radar for those of us coming from further afield, and it feels miles apart from the crowds of, say, the Amalfi Coast.
While you’re there, be sure to check out the unique trulli houses of Alberobello (these unique cone-shaped buildings can be found throughout the region, but are most highly concentrated in this village), the stunning beach at Polignano al Mare, and the gorgeous villages of Ostuni and Otranto.
Though not technically in Puglia, as it’s located in the region of Basilicata to the west, the ancient hilltop city of Matera definitely belongs on any Puglia road trip itinerary!
Suggested Road Trip Length
You can see the biggest highlights of Puglia in under a week, but as a destination that is more about ambiance than sightseeing, you can also easily extend it–especially if you’d like to include several beach days as part of your road trip in Italy.
Italy Road Trip Tips
Consider picking a base or two and traveling from there.
Just because you’re on a road trip doesn’t mean you need to move hotels every day!
Some of our favorite road trip experiences in Italy have been renting a villa in Tuscany for a week with family and then driving throughout the region to different nearby destinations each day.
Take advantage of agriturismos and rental homes during your Italy road trip.
Part of the joy of taking a road trip in Italy is experiencing the countryside–so take advantage of it!
Agriturismos–essentially Italian farms that operate as small inn-and-restaurant combos in the countryside–are incredibly fun to experience, and there is no shortage to the number of hotels and villa rentals available.
Not only can you often find better prices than in the cities, waking up in the morning to watch the sunrise over the Italian countryside without another soul in sight is definitely a bucket-list-worthy experience.
Stick to 1-2 regions at a time.
Driving large swaths of Italy may be tempting when looking at a map, but large, sterile highways pretty much look the same wherever you go–that’s not where you’ll find the best Italy road trip experiences.
By narrowing your focus and sticking to a smaller geographic region, you’ll end spending far less time looking out the window at generic highways and far more time discovering the quiet corners that make traveling in Italy so very special.
Don’t feel like your Italy road trip has to last the length of your vacation.
Want to take a Tuscany road trip, but also to spend some time in Florence? Want to cruise the Amalfi Coast, but also spend several days in Rome?
No worries–that’s actually an incredibly fun way to structure a trip!
Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you need to pick up a rental car at the airport the second you land: there are rental agencies all over Italy’s cities and towns, and there’s no reason you can’t spend part of your vacation on a road trip in Italy and another part focused on its incredible cities.
Make sure you have access to a GPS for your Italy road trip.
This is absolutely imperative, in our opinion, and can make the difference between an extremely stressful road trip and a fairly laid-back one.
Whether you purchase an international cell phone plan through your carrier before leaving for Tuscany or you purchase an Italian SIM card on the ground, you’ll 100% want to make sure you have cell phone data–and therefore GPS–with you as you drive.
Buy the extra insurance–you won’t regret it.
Ultimately, this is up to you–I know some people prefer not to buy additional CDW insurance (aka the insurance that covers damages to the actual car you’re driving, as opposed to your liability to anyone else) on trips–but we buy it every. single. time. when driving in Italy and have no regrets.
I don’t want to overstate things, because driving in Italy isn’t exactly like driving in the Wild West–but let’s just say that the roads are often tiny, the buildings very close, the parking lots cramped, and the other tourists’ rental cars parked nearby are frequently scratched and dinged in a way that while not horrendously damaging, is definitely something a car rental company would love to charge you for if it happened on your watch.
The peace of mind is absolutely worth it to us–you can price it for yourself when shopping on Discover Cars, or purchase a travel insurance policy through World Nomads that includes car rental insurance (but be sure to double-check the policy, because only some of their policies cover it).
… and note that your typical car insurance may not cover your rental car in Italy.
Be sure to double-check what coverages you have, if any, before renting a car–and make sure that they cover Italy specifically, not just Europe.
You’ll need an international driving permit to rent a car in Italy.
Technically, you always need an international driving permit to rent a car in Italy.
You can pick this up before you leave home from AAA, and it’s very easy and cheap to do–just a bit annoying, as it’s one more thing to add to your to-do list before leaving for your Italy road trip.
Now, that being said–will your rental agency always ask for it? No. Will the police always ask for it? No.
Is it worth the risk of being refused a rental car or getting a ticket over what amounts to $25 USD and a bit of hassle? Not in our opinion.
Rent the smallest car you can.
Not only is it cheaper, which is always excellent, but a smaller car is also much easier to drive in Italy.
While the highways in Italy are pretty standard, this-could-be-anywhere highways, the small country roads, parking lots near villages, and dirt roads leading to vineyards and villas can be incredibly narrow–which, naturally, does not stop them from being used for two-way traffic (you’ll probably end up pulling over to let someone maneuver past you at least a couple of times during your Italy road trip).
Be sure to account for how much space you’ll need for luggage, especially if you have three or more people in your group, but other than that–the smaller, the better.
Be militant about avoiding ZTL zones.
ZTL zones are restricted access zones that dot most of Italy’s historic city centers, including both world-famous cities and smaller towns.
If you drive into one, even accidentally, you’re risking a big ticket (and we’ve definitely had to call tiny Tuscan police stations to help some of our family members pay them off months after the fact).
Avoid them by parking on the outskirts of historical centers and by doing your research on where to park ahead of time.
You will encounter toll roads, so carry cash.
Most toll roads in Italy do take credit cards, but it’s always best to have a little cash on you–just in case.
Most cars in Italy are manuals.
Rental car agencies do tend to keep a few automatics on hand for tourists, but you’ll likely pay less and have more selection when renting a car for your Italy road trip if you can drive a manual instead!