Italy has been on my bucket list for years. I mean, why wouldn’t it be? Great food, amazing art and history, and beautiful scenery always make for an amazing trip.
Jonny had served his mission (for the Church of Jesus Christ) in northern Italy, so when we got married we decided that we would save up for a big trip to Italy together.
Just about two years into our marriage, we were able to snag some great discounted flights and we anxiously waited until we could pack our bags and take off!
We decided to rent a car and explore the country on an 10-day Italy road trip. And I’m so glad we did! Seeing Italy by car is definitely a great option if you want to explore multiple cities, see the country side, and save a little money while you’re at it.
Here are all my best travel tips for an Italy road trip!
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Our 10 Day Italy Road Trip-Tips & Tricks
Renting a car in Italy
When you rent a car in Europe, in particular Italy, you technically need an International Drivers Permit. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize this until we got to the country. *facepalm* We got lucky and we were never asked to show one, but if you plan on driving in Italy (or other European countries) I would play it safe and get one.
We rented our car through Hertz in advance online. Another fun fact about renting cars: They may not let you rent a car if your driver’s license doesn’t perfectly match the name on your credit card. They may also not let you rent a car with a debit card. So just be prepared and aware of that. In Italy, we had no issues. They took our credit card just fine and they even gave us a brand new Fiat 500L for the week.
Now when you rent a car in Italy, you’ll want to request something relatively small since you’ll be driving around cities and parking spots are scarce and tiny. Fiat’s are probably the most common option. Also, your only option may be a manual since it’s less common to find automatic cars there. Your car might also take diesel gas, so be aware of that too.
Driving in Italy:
I definitely recommend you (or whoever is driving) have phone service in Italy so you can access Google Maps with no issues. It will make your driving time SO much easier and less stressful. You can also download a portion of Google maps so you can use it offline just in case.
When you drive in Italy, you have two options: toll roads and non-toll roads. Toll roads (aka the Autostrade) are usually faster and more direct. The downside is you have to pay to use them. You can check ahead of time using this link to see how much it will cost to drive from city to city.
We decided to save money and avoid toll roads on the first part of our trip and it was fun to take the smaller, country roads. Towards the end of our trip, it just made more sense to pay instead of driving for hours upon hours.
Using the Autostrade is easy. Just make sure you have some cash (Euros) available just in case the machine won’t take your credit card. The Autostrade is also nice because there are plenty of pitstops along the way that are easy to stop at, get gas, and use a free bathroom. Look for AutoGrills, as they are usually pretty nice and clean!
Where We Stayed, How to Get Around, Tips for Each City
We started our Italy road trip in the big, busy but friendly city of Rome. We stayed at a Marriot in the city just south of the Vatican (hooray for Marriot reward points and free night stays!)
If you plan on visiting Rome, I definitely recommend staying somewhat city central as it will make getting around much easier. There are plenty of affordable hotels or Airbnb options. If you can’t make that work and plan to stay closer to the Rome airport, there is a train that goes to and from the airport and city center often called the Leonardo Express. It takes about 30 minutes each way.
We spent about 1 ½ days in Rome and we were able to see just about everything! All the major sights are within walking distance, but you can also take the metro or busses. Everything is easy to find and public transportation is easy to figure out, especially with Google maps.
If you want to visit the Vatican, I would suggest booking your tickets well in advance or even a guided tour. We are not “group tour” people at all, but we decided to book a small group tour to
1. Save time
2. Get skip the line early access
3. Get access to the Sistine Chapel and St. Pauls Basilica
4. Be informed about what we were actually looking at in the museum.
I’m so glad we did! We were able to skip the super long lines (that can take up to 3 hours) get a comprehensive, but not overwhelming tour of the museum and chapel, and we learned a lot too.
Also, keep in mind the Vatican has a dress code. Make sure you cover your shoulders and avoid super short dresses or shorts.
The next stop on our Italy road trip was Venice! We only had about ½ day in Venice, but I felt it was plenty of time to see the famous floating city and the neighboring islands.
We stayed just outside of Venice at an Airbnb. It only took about 15 minutes by bus to get into the city center and we saved tons of money by staying outside of the city. Busses run frequently here too and are cheap.
We arrived in the city center and walked around the narrow and charming alleys. We found our way the Piazza San Marco where the famous St. Marks Basilica is. You can pay to go inside, but we skipped that. We also skipped the gondola boat rides (They cost about 80 Euro for 30 minutes btw) and decided to take a river taxi to the even MORE charming islands of Murano and Burano.
These two islands get way less attention than Venice, but honestly…they might be better. Fewer crowds, more charm, and each island is unique. Murano is famous for its Venetian glass. You can watch a glass making a demonstration at the museum or wander in and out of glass shops.
My favorite island was Burano. It’s known for its amazing colorful homes! It was so fun to wander around and see the colors, canals, and shops. It’s definitely worth the hour boat ride to get there!
You guys. BOLZANO IS A FREAKING HIDDEN GEM. When my husband served his LDS mission in Italy, Bolzano was his favorite area and I totally see why. Maybe it’s the mountain girl in me, but it is the cutest, greenest, most beautiful little mountain city and was definitely the highlight for me.
The drive from Venice to Bolzano was the best. We drove through green valleys, canyons, long tunnels up and over mountains, and past ski resorts nestled in the Dolomites. It was nothing short of magical.
We stayed just outside of the main city in the CUTEST little mountain town of Fie. Since Bolzano is close to the Austrian border, you get a really cool blend of Austrian and Italian culture. Everyone speaks German, Italian, AND English. Our Airbnb felt like a cozy Austrian cottage and the food was amazing.
There are beautiful hikes and lakes nearby (I’m talking about you Lake Carezza) and the little towns nestled high in the hills (that you can hike to!) are so much like Hobbiton (I would know, I’ve been to the set in New Zealand) that it feels like your in a dream. Bolzano, I love you.
First of all, finding a place to stay that’s reasonably priced in Cinque Terre AND has parking can be a challenge. It might have been easier to stay in the neighboring city of La Spezia and just take the train in every day, but we wanted the full Cinque Terre experience. We were able to find a comfortable and affordable Airbnb in the quietest of the 5 cities, Corniglia.
The beach loving, California wannabe girl in me LOVED Cinque Terre. The sunshine and views of the Mediterranean were just lovely. Sadly, most of the hiking trails between the cities were closed due to damage and have been for years. So we decided to see the cities from a different point of view and take a kayaking tour!
We booked through Airbnb experiences and our guide was awesome. It was just a small group and we got to see 3 out of the 5 cities in such a unique way! It wasn’t the easiest kayaking tour (I’ve kayaked in Fiji and Alaska, this was definitely the toughest because of wind) but it was so fun!
If you’re not into kayaking or hiking, no worries. There is a train that connects all of the towns and it runs frequently. I’d recommend getting the park pass which gets you all day access to the trains and allows you to hike the trails that are open. All of the cities are fun to visit and we had yummy food in just about all of them! If you love seafood, this is a great place to indulge in some really fresh dishes.
Our last day in Cinque Terre we took a pesto class in Riomaggiore I’m not a huge fan of pesto (my hubby loves it) but this homemade ultra fresh pesto was so delicious. Our host was so knowledgable and fun to learn with too.
Our last stop on our trip was to Florence. We only had about a ½ day here too, but again I felt it was all we needed.
We stayed just outside of the main city in the most stylish Airbnb. We took a quick tram to the city center and enjoyed walking around the Duomo, up to Piazzale Michelangelo hill, and the super old and unique bridge, Ponte Vecchio. At this point in our trip we were feeling pretty broke and tired, so we skipped the expensive museums and lines. Instead, we just enjoyed the city, got some Florence leather braided bracelets and called it a day!
Italy Safety Tips
Like most counties in Europe, Italy is a safe place but in the big cities pickpocketing is a problem. Always be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded places.
Use a cross-body bag rather than a backpack as backpacks are easier to rob without you knowing. On all my Europe trips, I’ve purchased an under clothing wallet to keep my passport and money in. I would rather be safe than sorry!
In some of the big cities, you might see street “vendors” who are very aggressive. They might come up to you and put something like a bracelet in your hand and try to say “it’s free”. I find it best to be civil, but say no firmly and walk away.
It’s also not a bad idea to let friends and family members know your itinerary and always have a way to communicate with them in case of emergency. Don’t count on always having wifi and plan ahead!
What to pack for an Italy road trip (in Spring)
- Carry on suitcase (it’s much easier to get around with)
- Drivers license
- Credit card
- Cash (Euros, you’ll get a better exchange rate through your bank)
- Cross-body bag or somewhere secure to keep your money and passport.
- Small umbrella
- Italy power converter
- Phone with Google maps or GPS
- Chargers for the camera, phone, and other electronics
- Reusable water bottle
- A few healthy snacks/protein bars
- Rain jacket
- Light sweater
- Outfits you can make warmer or cooler easily
- Comfortable walking shoes
We loved our Italy road trip and I can’t wait to see where our next adventure takes us. Have you been to Italy before? What was your favorite place?