Driving in Rome is not easy. Actually, it’s mental. There are many reasons why you wouldn’t really need to drive in Rome, but also many others for which having your own car becomes essential.
Even if I live here, I always try to avoid peak hours and the city center where I know there is going to be crazy traffic. When I know we are going somewhere mental, I leave the heavy burden to my husband, who is a far better driver.
Here I give you some tips on how to make things easier and smoother if you want to drive your own or rent a car in Rome.
Table of Contents
- 1 Do you need to drive in Rome? Find it out!
- 2 Driving in Rome – Our top tips from first-hand experience
- 2.1 Do I need an Italian driving license?
- 2.2 Is driving in Rome difficult?
- 2.3 The navigator is your friend
- 2.4 Renting a car in Rome
- 2.5 How to save on car rental
- 2.6 Rent a hybrid and automatic car
- 2.7 Rent a small car
- 2.8 Mind the ZTL (Limited Traffic Zone)
- 2.9 Can I ride a motorcycle in Rome ZTL?
- 2.10 Choose the A90 highway when possible
- 2.11 Parking in Rome
- 2.12 How much is parking in Rome?
- 2.13 Search for covered parking
- 2.14 Honking in Rome (+ other useful tips)
- 2.15 Rules for driving in Italy
- 2.16 Can I drive a right-side steering wheel car in Rome?
Do you need to drive in Rome? Find it out!
When you do need to drive in Rome
Here are the main reasons we feel you would need to drive in Rome:
- Your hotel is not served by public transport. If you are staying longer than a few days or if you are traveling on a budget, you might want to book more in the suburbs rather than in the city. While this will save you a lot, there are some areas that are only served by local buses. Unless you have trains, metro, or trams close to your hotel, it will take you a long time to get to the central landmarks.
- You like to stay out late at night. Do you want to experience the city at night? Driving in Rome might be necessary. Unless you live right in the city center or in an area well served by night buses, having your own car will become very handy. Night buses are less frequent than day ones, so you would have to check the schedule. Of course, you can also take a taxi. If you are staying out late only once, I would definitely recommend getting a taxi back to your hotel. The car would be essential if you are a night person and like to enjoy aperitifs and nightclubs.
- You want to visit more offbeat areas. Between metro lines and railways, Rome’s public transport is quite spread-out. However, there are some areas that are served only by buses and others that you can reach with a few changes. This will take much longer and you might not be able to visit as much as you have planned.
- You want to take day trips. Unless you are going to Viterbo or Castel Gandolfo, for which you will only need a train ride, you will need the car. Especially if you are going for only a day and then coming back to Rome. Nice day trips from Rome like Tivoli and Cerveteri take longer because they require a train and then a local bus. Others like Calcata have less frequent bus connections making it more difficult to plan your way back.
When you do not need to drive in Rome
Here are a few reasons why driving in Rome might not be necessary:
- Your hotel is in the city center. If you are staying in the very city center, not only you don’t need to rent a car, but I highly recommend not to. First of all, you will likely be inside the ZTL and without proper authorization, you can’t drive. Also, unless your hotel has a parking space, looking for a spot will drive you crazy every single time or you will have to spend plenty of money on covered private parking. On top of that, if you park in the street, it’s very likely that you are going to find the car scratched somewhere, and if you are renting it, you will risk losing your deposit because these types of damages are not covered by the basic insurance.
- You will visit only central landmarks. If you are interested mainly in visiting the most popular landmarks, getting around on foot and sometimes a bus or metro will be totally enough for all your holiday.
- You will join guided tours. Do you want to visit some of Rome’s surroundings? There are plenty of private tours that take you out on a day trip and the car is always included. Much more relaxing than driving yourself because you won’t have to worry about maps and parking.
- You are fine with public transport. If you don’t mind using public transport, you are good to go in most areas and to most of the famous landmarks in Rome. Plus, Rome public transport is really not expensive, with a single ticket valid for 100 minutes, 1 metro ride and 1 train ride costing only €1.50.
- You don’t mind taking a taxi. While taxis can be expensive if you take them often and for long drives, if you stay within the city, 10 to 15€ will get you a long way.
Make sure you read our extensive guide to using the Rome metro.
Driving in Rome – Our top tips from first-hand experience
Do I need an Italian driving license?
If you are a citizen of the European Union, your license is valid in Italy. If you are from another Continent, in order to rent a car in Italy, you need an international driving license taken in your home country that you will have to show attached to your regular license.
You can use the international driving license in Italy for a year. But if you are staying longer, you will need to take an Italian driving license from scratch, meaning you will have to do both the written quiz and the practical driving test.
It’s not mandatory to attend a theory course, you can just fill in the forms, study at home and book yourself for a theory test. But it’s mandatory to take some driving lessons, the number of which changes depending on the school, from 8 to 12.
Is driving in Rome difficult?
Many first-time visitors to Rome will find driving in the city to be a bit challenging. The streets are narrow and congested, and it can be difficult to find parking.
However, if you take a few precautions and plan ahead, you can make your experience of driving in Rome a lot easier. You can try to avoid rush hour traffic which is from 7am to 9am and from 5pm to 7pm.
The first challenge is navigating the city’s narrow and winding streets. Many of Rome’s roads were not designed for modern vehicles, so drivers should be prepared for tight turns and limited visibility. When driving in Rome, you really need to measure your space by centimeters.
Another issue is to navigate your way through the local one-way roads. Especially in central neighborhoods, streets look very similar and you can get lost in the maze. My husband is very bad in remembering street names but has a great orientation sense so he can get his way referring to where the river is located. I, on the other hand, have zero orientation sense but I remember all the street names, even though this doesn’t always help when driving because reading the street signs is not always easy.
Another significant challenge is unfamiliarity with local driving customs such as honking. More on this below.
Your rental car should have a navigator, but to avoid surprises, check before picking it up.
For driving in Rome, a navigator or Google Maps are very handy but they don’t always keep up-to-date with the ZTL, detours, or temporary road closures. Generally, we found Google Maps more up-to-date, while the navigator needs to get updated often with an online connection.
Strangely enough, we found that the iPhone map app worked better when we traveled to northern Italy on extra-urban roads than inside the city of Rome. Probably because of the aforementioned variations in traffic.
Renting a car in Rome
First of all, before deciding to rent a car in Rome, think carefully. Do you need it? Where are you going to stay? Usually, if you have booked your hotel in the city center or other popular Roman neighborhoods, you would hardly need a car as they are pretty well-served by public transport. And, anyway, they will likely be inside the ZTL, so unless you are authorized, you can’t drive there.
However, if you are staying far from the city center (and the ZTL) and you are planning to take some day trips from Rome or drive to other regions, a car might be necessary.
If you are flying into Rome, you can rent a car from both Fiumicino International Airport and Ciampino Airport. If you are arriving by train, you can also pick up your car from the main train station Stazione Termini.
Just a little tip if you are renting a car in Rome, make a little video of the exterior and interior of the car before you take it. In the end, rental car companies are going to look for the smallest scratch.
How to save on car rental
Here are some tips on how to save money on your car rental in Rome.
- Book in advance. Just like for everything, also for the car rentals booking in advance can save you money. You can find more offers and promotions usually active only in the low season and you can definitely find more options for cars and prices available.
- Compare car rentals. Different providers, different cars, different prices. In Italy, there are many car rentals operating, from Hertz to Avis to AutoEurope.
- Choose a cheaper month. February is one of the cheapest months, so if you are thinking about planning to spend Valentine’s Day in Rome, you are good to go. Obviously the summer months of June, July and August are the most expensive. And probably also spending Christmas in Rome won’t be the cheapest time.
- Inquire about fuel prices. In Italy, fuel is pretty expensive. Different stations have different prices, they can change even from a fuel station to the next. You will learn what are the most convenient stations around where you are based.
- Pick the right place. Renting your car from Fiumicino Airport is cheaper than inside Rome, even Termini Station.
Rent a hybrid and automatic car
If you can, do rent a hybrid car because it will save you plenty. If you are renting a hybrid car in Rome, at a certain speed (for our Toyota is around 50/60 km/h), it goes fully electric making you save quite a few bucks in fuel. Plus, on the blue line, you should be able to park for free. This is for Rome residents, but I’m guessing that if you rent a car in Rome this is also valid. Do enquire with the car rental company to be sure.
I also recommend renting an automatic car because especially if you are driving around the city center, you will have to change gear every two seconds. Since I switched to automatic, I would never go back to manual, and I’m always relieved to hear much more experienced drivers doing the same.
Rent a small car
I get it, you have a big family and you need an SUV or minivan. But trust me, when driving in Rome, the smaller car, the better.
A small car in Rome will not only make it easier for parking, but also for diving itself. Don’t forget that Rome is in Europe, and here we have a thing for tiny alleys. You will see also SUVs darting back and forth around the city center, but they are usually locals or private drivers. And I really don’t envy them.
Mind the ZTL (Limited Traffic Zone)
In Rome, the ZTL is pretty wide and spreads over many districts. The ZTL is mainly during the day on weekdays and Saturdays, sometimes up to 2 am. When the “gates” are active (“varchi attivi” or “ZTL attiva“), you can’t access the area with your car unless you have a specific authorization from the municipality.
The Roman neighborhoods covered by ZTL are the Centro Storico (historic center), Tridente (the area that includes Piazza del Popolo, Piazza di Spagna, Viale di Trinità dei Monti, Via del Corso, Via di Ripetta, up to Via del Tritone, all also inside the Centro Storico ZTL but probably with different hours), San Lorenzo, Testaccio, Trastevere, and Fascia Verde & Anello Ferroviario, which covers the Vatican, Trionfale and Prati neighborhoods, as well as the urban parks from Villa Borghese to Villa Ada, Villa Pamphilj, and others.
The “varchi” mark the beginning of the ZTL and are placed at the access streets with electrical panels. The times of the ZTL change depending on the area and on the day, so every time you are planning to drive, you need to check whether the gates are open or closed. Check out the official website to make sure you don’t drive inside the ZTL and get some heavy fines.
Can I ride a motorcycle in Rome ZTL?
The ZTL is the limited traffic zone in the historic center of Rome. Only residents and people with permits are allowed to drive cars in the ZTL. However, motorcycles are exempt from the permit requirement.
To ride your motorcycle in the historic center of Rome, you would still need to avoid riding in the public transport lanes dedicated to bus, taxis, and trams.
Choose the A90 highway when possible
Romans call it “raccordo”, and it’s the A90 highway that runs all around the city that you will see also referred to as GRA (Grande Raccordo Anulare). This is a toll-free highway, but for the rest, it has pretty much the same rules major highways have.
The speed limit is 130 km/h except in the case of rain when it becomes 110 km/h. You enter and get out via acceleration and deceleration lanes, and the road signs are green, as opposed to the blue of the built-up center.
If you are going to the other side of the city, say from north to south or to Fiumicino, instead of traveling all through the city center (even if it’s Sunday and you can!), take the A90 to avoid getting stuck in traffic.
The “raccordo”, too, can get pretty heavy in traffic, especially during peak hours in the morning and evening. Or when there are accidents, which does happen, unfortunately. But other than that, the flow runs pretty smoothly.
Parking in Rome
Parking in Rome is possibly the hardest thing of the whole experience. There are some areas like Prati, the Vatican or the city center that no matter what day and what time you try, you are not going to find a parking space.
Except in August. August is a bit of a dream-like month in Rome. If it wasn’t for the heat, it would be the best time to stay in the city. In August, there is no ZTL and since most Romans go on holiday, there is less traffic and you can find a parking space pretty quickly wherever you are. Except for the main Rome landmarks, the city is pretty quiet.
Any other time of the year, after searching for half an hour or so, you can enter one of the paid parking areas. Which are also quite expensive. Because if you are often in the city center, driving in Rome can become expensive, indeed.
How much is parking in Rome?
Paid street parking is marked with blue lines and depends on the neighborhood. In the city center, it generally costs €2-3 per hour, while in outlying areas it can be as cheap as €0.50 per hour or free altogether.
There are also a number of parking garages and lots, which charge different rates depending on location and time of day.
The white-lined street parkings in Rome are free of charge. But they might have a time limit on how long you can park. So, make sure to carry a parking disc in your glove box and to place it behind the windshield if necessary.
Search for covered parking
Private parking in Rome is expensive. For half a day, we usually pay between 12 and 15€, depending on the place and the parking. However, more often than not, we prefer to park our car inside a private parking lot rather than in the street, even if we have a hybrid, so free in the blue lines.
When we decide to go to the city center, we usually park around Flaminio or Prati areas, so before the ZTL starts. By the time we get there, pick hour is towards the end and most parking spots in the street are taken.
Instead of spending half an hour or more driving around in the hope someone leaves, we just head to a private parking lot. We like the one in Piazza Cavour because of its location right next to Castel Sant’Angelo and because it’s spacious and well organized. A little pricey, but we save on headaches.
Honking in Rome (+ other useful tips)
Where my husband comes from, Afghanistan, the traffic is way more mental than in Rome but you will barely hear honking. Or swearing. Honking might get you in a fight, swearing, especially towards the family, will definitely get you killed. In India, on the other hand, drivers start honking from the moment they switch the engine on. In fact, they encourage this with a sign on the back of their car that reads “please honk”.
In Rome, we are in the middle. When it comes to driving, Romans have no patience. The very second a traffic light turns green, someone behind you will honk. It doesn’t matter that you are already moving, they will still honk. If you are too slow, they will honk. If you break to allow pedestrians to cross, fellow drivers will honk at you (and at the pedestrians). If you slow down for a second to try to understand where you need to go, they honk you. I got used to it somehow, even though it’s still nerve-racking.
Cursing, too, is quite an essential part of driving. You will often hear “li mortacci tua”, which is a curse against your ancestors that became so embedded in the local driving language that it lost its original meaning.
Even though I’ve been living in Rome for some 20 years, I’m not originally from here, so I still don’t feel comfortable with the original driver’s slang, so I use my own expressions in the official Italian language. At this time, I will avoid writing it, but you may hear me saying it if you don’t give me the right of way when it’s mine.
Hand gesture is also a part of our street code. We gather our thumb with the other four fingertips and move it back and forth to say: “what the hell are you doing?”
Rules for driving in Italy
The speed limit in Italy is 50 km/h inside the city, sometimes 30km/h and sometimes 70 km/h, but only in specific areas and marked by a street sign. When driving in Rome, keep in mind that there are a few places where you can drive at 70 or 80 km/h. These are the Galleria Giovanni XXII tunnel in northern Rome connecting Ponte Milvio/Foro Italico area to Monte Mario where you can go at 70 km/h, or the large Via Cristoforo Colombo in southern Rome where the limit was raised to 80 km/h.
On the highway, the speed limit is 130 km/h, while on the extra-urban roads (Strada Statale or SS) is 110 km/h or 90 km/h. When it rains, the speed limit is lower, and also in some areas where it’s marked by a sign.
When driving in Italy, you always need to have your license/ID with you along with the car insurance and car documentation (“libretto”).
When driving in Rome and all of Italy, drinking is not allowed. If you have your license for less than three years, there is zero alcohol tolerance, while if you are a more experienced driver, the legal alcohol limit is 0.05%.
Can I drive a right-side steering wheel car in Rome?
Although it is not the norm in Italy, you can drive a car with a right-side steering wheel. Just be sure to still keep the right and to pay attention to the signs and road markings, as they will be oriented for left-side drivers.
The main issue with the right side steering wheel cars in Italy comes when you want to surpass another vehicle as you won’t be able to see if another vehicle is coming your way until you complete change lane.