Updated: May 4, 2018
- Renting a car is a great way to see the Florence countryside. While there are many great tours of Tuscany, having a car undoubtedly allows you more freedom to explore the less-touristy areas.
- Book rental cars in advance for visits from April to October.
- RentalCars.com is the best site for reserving cars in Florence. They find the best deals with all the big car rental companies (Avis, Enterprise, Budget, Alamo, Firefly).
- Most rental cars in Italy have a manual transmission. If you only drive automatic then definitely reserve in advance.
- If arriving by plane pickup your rental car at the Florence Airport as it’s easier than finding car companies in the downtown area.
- For rental cars near the Florence train station select pickup area: “Florence – Via Borgognissanti”. All of these car companies will be close to the Florence train station (Firenze Santa Maria Novella railway station).
- Take pictures of the vehicle (inside and out) before driving away from the rental company.
Getting Around Florence
There are five ways to get around in Florence:
- Walking is the preferred mode of travel for exploring the historical heart of the city. The city is small with all of the best attractions, dining, and hotels close together. Travelers can walk the full length of the historic center from Piazza Della Libertà in the north to Porta Romana in the south in just 40 minutes, though most points of interest are within 10 to 20 minutes of each other. Most of Florence’s streets are pedestrian only or fall in the ZTL (limited traffic zone), making a car more of a burden than a help when sightseeing.
- Cycling is a popular mode of travel for locals and for fearless travelers. Bikes are allowed in all parts of the ZTL, though they share the roads with scooters and taxis, who drive as fast as they can get away with. A bike is pretty unnecessary in the city, but cycling in the Oltrarno hills, along the Arno River, or in the countryside is a fantastic way to escape the crowds. The best bike rental shop here is Florent; they offer great rates on city bikes (geared and fixies), electric bikes for hill climbs, and even tandem bikes.
- Busing is an easy way to get to and from the further flung parts of the city, like Piazzale Michelangelo and San Niccolo, though buses are not allowed in City Center/Duomo area at all and have limited access within the ZTL. From the SMN train station, several bus routes serve nearby Tuscan cities, such as Fiesole and Siena. To take the bus, you’ll need to plan ahead. Bus tickets are sold at tobacco shops here, labelled “tabacchi” and with ATAF stickers in the windows. A standard ticket costs €1,20, with multi-ride passes available at an additional rate. You may also buy a ticket from the driver for €2 (no change given), but they often run out of tickets to sell. Board from the front or rear door; the middle door is the exit. Once you board, validate your ticket in the machine, which is usually near the front of the bus. The ticket is valid for 90 minutes after the time stamp for unlimited transfers. Stamp your ticket when you board the first bus, and stamp the opposite end on the final bus. Officers regularly board the bus to check passenger tickets for validation, so do not skip this step, or you may face a hefty fine.
- Taxis are the most expensive public transport option, but they are permitted to drive through most of the ZTL, making this a great option for traveling with kids and luggage, or for late nights. You cannot flag down a taxi from the street here. Instead, grab a ride form one of the many taxi stands, located at nearly every major landmark, piazza, train station, or the airport, or you may schedule a taxi over the phone. Base rates differ whether traveling in the day (€3,30), night (€6,60), Sunday/ holiday (€5,30), and go up from there based on distance, time, total passengers, and baggage. For detailed rate information, check the taxi websites directly. Taxi Firenze 4242 is the most ubiquitous; you can find their rates and official price list here, as an example. Other taxis are similarly priced.
- Driving is doable in Florence, no matter what you’ve heard. The rest of this article will walk you through driving options, the rules of the road, and the most common roadsigns – so you’ll know what to expect before you go.
Driving in Florence
There is a lot of hype around driving in Florence, mostly due to the ZTL (limited traffic zone), narrow streets, and notoriously aggressive Italian drivers. But it’s really a whole lot easier than people may expect, especially with the new rideshare options available. And while a having a car in the city is way more trouble than it’s worth, driving is the best way to take a day trip into the Chianti region, Tuscan countryside, and nearby cities, such as San Gimignano. The best scooter rental company is Florence Station Rental. The best rates will usually be found through RentalCars.com while the best local car rental company in Florence is Knowleggi. But the absolute best and easiest way to rent a car and drive here is through the rideshare app Car2Go. (More on that later.)
You must be at least 18 to drive in Italy. Driving here requires an International Driving Permit (unless you already have a European Union license). You can pick one up quickly and easily at any AAA location (recommended), order via mail through AAA, or order online using Fastport Passport. If ordering online or by mail, do this a few weeks in advance of your trip. You will need an IDP in addition to your driver’s license to rent any car or scooter in Florence.
Limited Traffic Zone
The main concern of most travelers considering driving in Florence is the Limited Traffic Zone – aka the ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato). This area encompasses the historic center of Florence and includes a large, pedestrian-only area that surrounds the most heavily trafficked attractions, including the Duomo, Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, and the Accademia. The ZTL gives restricted access to motorized vehicles, and driving into the ZTL without the proper pass can incur a hefty fine.
Above is a simplified map of the ZTL. There are other more detailed and complex maps online with specific hours listed valid for only specific times of the year, but using this map is the easiest to follow for travelers. The yellow part (Section A) in the middle is the pedestrian only zone. This area is open to bicycles, scooters, and some taxis with special permits. The blue portions (Section B) are open to bikes, scooters, some taxis, some buses, and rideshares. Delivery trucks are allowed into the whole ZTL (sections A&B) but only during a brief window of a couple of hours very early in the morning.
Travelers renting a car can gain access to the ZTL via a pre-determined route, using the entries and exits marked with a purplish-blue T on the map. This requires planning ahead with the car rental company and the hotel where you’ll be staying. Your car rental company (inevitably located inside the ZTL) will explain the route you are allowed to take to and from their storefront, and your hotel will help arrange parking (usually offsite) and will tell you how to get from the hotel to the parking garage. Street parking in a rental car in the ZTL is pretty much not allowed for non-residents, as your rental car won’t have the proper permits.
Driving or parking on the street in a traditional rental car in the ZTL is not permitted, and doing so will incur a steep fine. GPS systems don’t know where the ZTL starts and stops (GPS systems here don’t even always know which streets are one-way), and will guide drivers on the most direct route, often right into the ZTL. There are cameras stationed at every entry and exit point of the ZTL that will snap a photo and send a ticket every time the boundary is crossed. The tickets will be sent to the car rental company, along with a forwarding fine. The car rental company will send the tickets directly to whoever paid for the rental, after tacking their own fee on top, of course. The ZTL makes driving a headache, but all of that can be avoided by renting a Car2Go instead.
Renting a Car2Go in Florence
This relatively new option makes getting around Florence so much easier. Because it is a rideshare and not a traditional rental car, Car2Go is exempt from most rules governing the ZTL. It is treated as a scooter; allowed on any street within the ZTL, including the pedestrian only zones. (But avoid driving in the pedestrian areas as much as possible anyway, because you will get stuck behind multiple walking tours.) Just stay out of the bus lanes, go the right direction on one ways streets, and only park in spaces marked with blue or white lines, and you should have absolutely no problems driving in the ZTL.
Car2Go rentals are available by the minute, by the hour, in 4-8 hour blocks, or for the day. In addition to allowing you to skirt the ZTL rules, all rates includes gas, insurance, and free parking in any blue-marked spots on the street or in any public parking lot. The majority of Car2Gos in Florence are automatic, with a few semi-auto gearboxes. They offer two- or four-door options.
To rent a Car2Go, download the app and register on your phone if you don’t already have an account. It’s best to do this after arriving in Italy, so that it creates an Italian account. You may be able to complete the process online, but if it doesn’t work for any reason, you will just need to visit their office near Santa Maria Novella train station. If you already have an account from another country, you will most likely have to visit the office to create an Italian account. The whole process is quick, only 10 or 15 minutes – still way faster than going the traditional car rental route. Be sure to bring your driver’s license, international driving permit, credit card, and passport. There is a one-time registration fee, then all rides thereafter are paid for individually.
Renting a Scooter in Florence
Scooters are a very fun, very Italian alternative to a car for traveling in and around Florence. Their compact size makes them easy to maneuver through the narrow streets in or out of the ZTL, they are about half the price of a rental car or Car2Go, plus you can park them just about anywhere. These are ideal for zipping around town or for day trips to Fiesole or the Chianti wine region. To rent a scooter, you will only need your driver’s license and international driving permit. Unlike in the U.S., you do not need a motorcycle license or endorsement to ride, no matter what size scooter you choose.
If you’ve never driven a scooter before, consider booking a scooter tour first, such as the one offered through Tuscany Vespa Tours. This exceptional day tour begins with a driving lesson in a quiet, suburban parking lot before cruising the gorgeous roads through the Chianti countryside. After a full day of riding here, you’ll be ready to scoot to nearby Fiesole or Prato.
Rules of the Road
Rules of the road in Italy are straightforward, and very similar to driving in the U.S.
- You must be 18 to drive.
- Driving is on the right-hand side of the road.
- Keep right unless passing another car; only pass on the left. Italians drive fast and will pass you, no matter how fast you are going, so seriously – keep right. Don’t be intimidated by other drivers to exceed the speed limit. There are speed traps and cameras everywhere.
- Seatbelts are mandatory at all times for drivers and all passengers.
- Trains and trams always have the right of way. At an intersection, vehicles approaching from the right have the right of way.
- Absolutely do not drink and drive. Blood alcohol legal limits are lower in Italy than in the U.S. A blood alcohol level of 0.05 is considered legally intoxicated, while a level of 0.08 will land you six months in jail. That’s not to mention the fines, ranging from €500 to €6000. Refusing blood alcohol testing incurs a fine of €2500 to €10,000. Fleeing the scene of an accident is three years in jail. No joke. If you’ve been drinking, take a taxi.
Street Signs and Markers
Aside from the ZTL signs, there are a few important signs to familiarize yourself with.
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