Driving In Rome – Best Tips To Avoid Traffic And Fines

Driving in Rome is not easy. 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.

Driving in Rome – Our top tips

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 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.

Renting a car in Rome

Image of Stazione Termini 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.

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. Renting a hybrid (self-charging, not USB) would be ideal, but I’m not sure you can find one.
  • Pick the right place. Renting your car from Fiumicino Airport is cheaper than inside Rome, even Termini Station.

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 of weekdays and Saturdays, sometimes up to 2 am. When the “gates” are active (“varchi attivi” or), you can’t access the area with your car.

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 fine.

For driving in Rome, a navigator or Google Maps are very handy but they don’t always keep up-to-date with the ZTL.

Image: Myself driving in Rome

Choose the A90 highway when possible

Romans call it “raccordo”, and it’s the A90 highway that runs all around the city. 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 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

Image of cars parked 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 some half an hour, you can enter one of the paid parking areas. Which are also quite expensive.

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. On the highway, the speed limit is 130 km/h, while in 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 documentation.

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%.

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