Italy Car Rental?

We’re planning to be in Italy for a month starting in June. Arriving in Milan, heading to Lake Como, Piedmont Area before heading down to Tuscany and ultimately wrapping up in Florence. My plan was to get a rental in Milan and returning vehicle in Florence. Now I’m starting to doubt if this makes sense. I’m less concerned with driving in wine country as I am about places like Milan and Florence. Any tips appreciated.


Florence is a bitch to drive around in. The rest of the plan sounds good. I would drop the car off as soon as I got to Florence.

Weekly rentals are almost always significantly cheaper in Europe -at least via Hertz and Avis. I am guessing you won’t need the car in the large cities so maybe look at renting at the airport, dropping off in the city, then renting again.

Of course you have to keep an eye out for one-way rentals which usually aren’t an issue in the same country and of course overall cost and convenience of multiple rentals.

We recently did a trip to Brugge and Amsterdam. Although we had no use for a car in Brugge it was cheaper to keep it due to weekly rentals (and certainly more convenient) than to drop it off. Our hotel had free parking.


We like driving around Europe and even keep cars in major cities whenever we happen to be a big travelling group and keeping vehicles make it more convenient to get around.

But I don’t see the advantage of keeping a car when visiting Lake Como. We were just there 3 weeks ago and we went around visiting lakeshore towns riding the ferries with piers that are conveniently located in the center of the lake-shore towns. No hassle, no stress, no parking issues and fun. Plus, it’s much quicker to take a ferry to go to the town across the lake than to drive AROUND the lake. Ferries touch towns an average of 20 minutes during day-time. Comfortable trains from Milan airport to Como took an hour-and-a-half. From downtown Milano Centrale train station, it takes about an hour to get to Varenna, for example, with hourly schedules. It takes less time from downtown Milan to Como.

I’ve rented several times in Europe, including Italy. Getting between cities is a breeze with very modern highways. Within the city, like Florence mentioned above, is challenging. Italian drivers are on another level with their skills and nerves of steel. If you can navigate the old towns, the next problem is parking.
We prefer trains and walking now if at all possible.

Is Milano just an airport entry, or do you plan some time in the city? If the former, I’d lean towards reversing the trip, so that you start without the car in Florence, allowing you to walk around and get over jet lag before driving. Then either hire a car from a location you’re comfortable in Florence, or take train or coach to closer to your Tuscan countryside base & hire the car from there. From then on, you have the car the whole way, so you’re not having to carry heavy luggage (full of wine I’m sure [cheers.gif] ) on public transport.

However Ramon makes a good point about Lake Como, and the decision may well come down to what you want from Lake Como. If it’s a chilled drive along mostly deserted scenic roads then you might be a few decades late [wink.gif]. For me it’s about whether you desire to venture out and about - to villages away from the lake and the normal tourist trail. Having a car for ~ 3 weeks does give you a little flexibility though, such that if you only used it for ~ 2 days out of 6, then there’s still value in keeping hold of it.

However to contradict myself, there is merit in Lake Como being the first destination (and IMO try to get there first, and then from there to Milano if staying there as well, not the reverse order that sounds more logical) if you choose to forego the car there, as walking in a somewhat more rural setting is a wonderful way to get over jetlag and to help you relax more quickly. If that appeals, it might be worth looking at a single base in Tuscany, not in Florence but near to it (let’s say a 10-30 minute bus ride). This allows you to keep the car, but leave it parked up when heading into Florence for the day / evening. It also means you’re still pretty well-placed to explore Tuscany without having to fear the central ZTL / one-way systems. Again the focus of this plan is to ensure you can drop the car at the airport and lift those heavy bags only as far as the waiting trolley. You’re also very much in control of timing your journey to arrive at the airport on time.

Where to start the hire from may require some thought.

  • If you stick with your schedule of Milano then Como, I’d be tempted to hire on leaving Como (or perhaps after a couple of days there).
  • If you reverse Milano and Como, then hiring from Milano is a possibility, but put you in a big & busy city to start (ugh!), but get a clear route out and you’ll be fine. You could take a train, but although Milano-Torino is ultra fast, Torino is just as horrific for driving in. Looking at, it seems Alessandria might be a decent option e.g. Partenza 11:25 Milano Centrale Arrivo 12:49 Alessandria (direct) on a cheap regional train. From there it’s maybe a 50-70km drive on pretty decent (unstressful) roads to get to Barbaresco / Barolo villages.
  • Taking train to Torino allows you to change for the new SFM route direct to Alba (it used be more awkward). Hiring a car in Alba might be appealing, as you’ve then got a very short drive.

You’re right to avoid driving in the cities. It’s doable, but Italian driving is too fast and skillful, that visitors often end up causing problems because we’re not. If you ever do need to drive into a city, I’d recommend planning the route out in advance, targeting a car park a moderate walk (say 5-15 minutes) from the ZTL zone which typically marks the centre of the city and which entry into by accident will cost you a hefty fine. This goes for even moderate sized cities, but for somewhere like Alba, Acqui Terme etc. you can get closer.

Outside of the cities, driving is pretty good, though there are masses of signs on Italian roads, with signs for businesses mixed in with those to nearby towns / villages and touristic destinations. The Autostrade are of variable quality, but at least pretty consistent layout. You may hit the odd toll section, but it’s generally small change. One bit that can catch you out, is that when turning off, it usually sends you in a sharp loop to your left (after bearing off to the right), so do obey the speed limit shown as it’s a very sensible speed. Petrol(Gas) stations are all over but many have now moved to unmanned, with a variety of systems. Common is one central machine where you select which pump you want want and how much of what type of fuel, then you head to that pump and fill up, with it stopping once you hit your €20 or whatever. The large autostrada service stations are usually fill it up and pay inside, whilst we do rather like the old-school manned places where they fill it up for you, for as much as you want. They aren’t overly expensive considering, but are a dying breed.

If you aren’t a fast driver, or get rattled by people driving 2 feet from the back of your car (I told you they were fast and skillful), then one trick we use is if we see someone doing this behind, we’ll pull into a petrol station but just drive through, allowing the usually impatient Italian driver to be on their way. More normal, and scary the first time you see it, is on a normal road, one lane in either direction, they use an imaginary middle lane to overtake, relying on drivers in both directions to pull over a little to allow this. They’re skillful and it works, but puts the fear of god into many visitors envisaging a head-on crash, but there are always inches to spare so trust them.

Lots of rambling from me, I hope it’s helpful, but do fire back questions if anything needs clarification, or to bounce ideas. I can help better with Piemonte than Toscana accomodations / places to stay.


Are you staying in Milan or just arriving in the airport and then departing?

I just got back from Italy on a trip that took me to Cinque Terre, Parma, Verona, Torino, Piemonte and had a car the whole time. We flew into and out of Linate airport in Milan but did not stay in Milan. Had a car the whole time and worked out fine. No issues.

Your trip is slightly different as I agree with many of the posters above that having a car in Lake Como seems unnecessary (arrive by train and then take ferries) and Florence would be a pain unless you are staying outside the city.

Assuming you are planning to stay and sight see in Milan, have you looked into starting there with no car, sightseeing in Milan and then taking a train to Lake Como where you would also stay without a car. Then get a rental car there and drive to Piemonte (yes, you would back track slightly but not really a huge deal in the grand scheme of things), and then drive to Tuscany and end in Florence. Depending on how long you are actually staying in Florence, you could probably still stay in a hotel within the city and just bite the bullet on the cost of leaving your car in a car park for the duration until you need it to drive back to the airport. It may cost you a little dough but you wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle of actually driving in Florence and looking for parking. Florence is a very walkable city but has tons of pedestrian zones and streets that are just not made for driving as tourists.

Happy to help if you have any questions. I have been to all of the places noted above with the exception of Milan. We didn’t visit there but just flew into and out of the airport.


I did this trip but in reverse. Flew into Bologna (all other airports were closed due to a baggage strike) and stayed in a villa just outside Florence, drove into Florence, then up to Cinque Terre, then up to Piedmont, then onto Como and returned the car at Milan and flew home from there. Piece of cake. Driving was easy except for Florence as Paul already pointed out. I basically keyed a parking spot into the GPS and blindly followed it until low and behold I looked up and saw the parking garage. Left the car there and walked everywhere while in Florence. Driving every where else was a piece of cake.

A couple years ago we picked up a rental (from Kemwel which worked out well with their GPS and hotspot also) in Milan, drove through wine country in Piedmont and then to Florence and then dropped off at the Rome airport. I don’t mind driving anywhere but the advice about picking routes into and out of cities in advance is very important - and the GPS doesn’t always do the best job. The GPS may suggest the shortest route but not necessarily the fastest - for instance it may be faster to get to where you want to go in a city or park your car by going around the city to another side to enter but the GPS may give you an earlier exit and more time consuming trip around the city on city streets (this happened to us in Siena and it burned an extra 30-40 minutes).

Driving between cities and towns is usually pretty easy and quick - but getting in and out of cities and towns can take a while and so you will need to factor that into your travel times and plans. Even a handful of miles in a city like Florence can take 10-15 minutes to navigate.

It is also very important, for instance in Florence, to be careful where you drive because in some cities, certain areas are restricted to locals and you will get a ticket - most of the time the signs are reasonably well marked but sometimes not so well marked. Our hotel in Florence was within that type of zone and we had to be sure that the hotel took care of proper notifications/passes in and out for our car.

Avoid EuropCar.

I thought driving in Italy was fun, but agree with the comments about avoiding city driving if you can help it.

On one of our trips, we rented a car in Siena (and were staying in Siena) and took a day trip to San Gimignano. We stopped once or twice on the way and the car was having difficulty starting. I called the rental place, who sent a local mechanic when we were in San Gimignano, because at that point the car wouldn’t start at all. He and I got it started by pushing it and popping the clutch, but he made it clear that the starter was kaput and that I shouldn’t turn the car off. I shared this with the rental place over the phone and again in person when I went to pick up the replacement car. I had left the car with the bad starter running and asked the guy where he wanted me to park it. He was very dismissive and condescending (just as he had been over the phone) and told me to leave it anywhere I wanted, no matter how much I emphasized that they wouldn’t be able to start it again. He was a complete ass.

Their lot/garage was crammed full of cars and had a single very narrow entrance. I made sure to parallel park the car in between two other cars, in such a way that it blocked the entrance, with only a few inches between my car and the other two. I smiled and waved as I walked to the replacement rental (parked on the street) where my wife was waiting.

Ramon, that is probably very true but when I looked into it, it was much cheaper for me to rent a car at Milan airport and keep it for extra 3 days when I am at Lake Como then to take the train there and rent a car later when I need it.

Same plan as us. Maybe we’ll run into you! Arriving in Milan June 9th. June 10th and 11th at Lake Como. June 12th-14th in La Morra.

Hopefully GPS has improved significantly in Piedmont since 2013. It kept sending me to the wrong spots, wrong way on very tight 1 ways, and down streets closed for markets. It was a nightmare at times and cost me a few grand in damages. The highways and area near the airport in Milan were easy.

OTOH, Champagne and Alsace this year were very easy to navigate, but damn they have a thing for roundabouts. Went through more per day then the combined total for the rest of my life.

Hi John
I suspect the market days would be in few GPS systems (if any), but one advantage of being an over-enthusiastic planner, is that I tend to know the market days in advance, indeed I may well be heading there to that specific market!

We’ve yet to be sent the wrong way down a one-way street, but I do recall one rather amusing 3 street circle the satnav put us on, which after having completed the circle we had to decide which road we’d take that took us in the general direction & let satnav sort itself out. I think we did another full circle whilst debating which exit to take.

We take our old handheld TomTom to Italy, which I still very much prefer over most in-built satnavs. It is a bit old now though - maybe a decade or more. We have infrequently updated the maps, but the basic design was very good - showing you the direction of the following turning whilst still focusing on the next one - perfect for (e.g.) roundabouts after motorway exits in the UK, allowing you to exit in the right lane. I would definitely go this way again, having a hand-held you know well, to give you confidence in a foreign country.

The only two significant problems we’ve had in recent times, are a lengthy loss of signal between Acqui Terme and Serralunga, where we had no signal after half way. The cloud was quite dense and I suspect that may have been a factor. Newer machines presumably access more satellites & more efficiently? The other one was a 2c coin falling (unseen) into the cigarette lighter, compounded by then unwittingly pushing it down below a perfectly sized lip, so the satnav wouldn’t fit in. Panic set in, as this meant no satnav from Monforte to Cuneo and then on through France to the UK. Luckily Italy still has proper small businesses and a wonderful elettroautisti in Monforte was keen to resolve the challenge. He didn’t even want payment but we gave him something (looking back I reckon we should have given him more - it was a really critical fix for our confidence in navigating back).

Well, just 2 years ago, on different driving occasions, our Garmin directed us to drive through what looks like a private vineyard to get back to our hotel in Castiglione Falleto. Not sure why.

Also, in same trip but different day, we were directed to drive through another vineyard going down/up steep hills to get to our appointment in Barbaresco. Wasn’t thrilled with the incorrect way, as the 2 kilometer of road looks more like one for mini tractors used in the vineyards. Our winery hosts in Barbaresco said that the illogical GPS directions had happened a few times with other visitors.

OK, there was the time up in Trentino where an old dirt walking path was considered suitable for a car by TomTom. We did have a bit of a detour that day.

I no longer take my Garmin. iPhone with Google Maps, Apple Maps, Here WeGo, works very well with local sim card and service.

Driving in cities haven’t been a problem for me, but when in Milan, I got two tickets in the mail a few months later for going down streets in restricted traffic zones. Didn’t help that Google Maps didn’t know, it was late (dark) at night, and I had come straight back from tastings in Piedmont.

Grab discount rental codes on FT.
Don’t forget your IDP.

Hi Clifton
Yes you would get hit for two fines if you entered the ZTL, left it and then re-entered, no matter how short the time between each entry.