Italy has so much to offer and provides a multitude of different landscapes. From historical structures to award-winning coastlines and snow-dusted mountains, Italy has plenty to keep you busy.
But you may be wondering, how do you manage to see it all? The answer is simple. You drive it.
For an Italian road trip, you will require around 2-4 weeks to experience the country fully. It can be difficult to know where to start, where to depart, and what destinations to prioritise.
In this article, we guide you through the best route to take when making your way around the boot-shaped region and essential bucket list activities that you just need to cross off your list!
Sure, planning a road trip across an entire country may sound daunting, but the experience is guaranteed to be unforgettable.
Places you must visit when driving through Italy:
There’s no better place to start an Italian road trip than the capital. Due to the popularity of Rome, there are constant daily flights in and out of the city. These flights tend to be pretty affordable, too. Most budget European airlines, including Ryanair, frequently fly into Rome.
Parking in Rome is notoriously tricky, making it difficult to navigate for unfamiliar road trippers. If you’re lucky enough to score yourself a parking space, it’s likely to be expensive and it’s probably going to be a long walk away from major attractions. Don’t rely on free parking either, as it’s pretty much non-existent in central Rome.
A great way to get around the parking issues in Rome is by parking outside of the city and travelling in on public transport. Rome has great bus and rail links and you can save money by purchasing multi-day tickets. Alternatively, if you’re planning on staying in a hotel in the city, check if they have guest parking spaces available.
As Rome is Italy’s capital city, there’s a lot to see and a lot to do. You’re going to want to spend a minimum of 2 nights here, and you could probably fit all of the sights in within 4.
Rome bucket list:
1. Visit the Colosseum
The ancient oval amphitheatre dominates the entire city and is the largest of its kind left in the world today. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance and leave plenty of time for queuing!
Alternatively, get your hands on a ‘skip the line’ ticket that gets you straight in. We recommend taking part in some sort of guided tour at colosseum so that you can fully appreciate the building.
2. Toss a Coin in the Trevi Fountain
Perhaps the best thing about visiting the Trevi Fountain is that it’s completely free of charge! Apart from the coin that you choose to toss in, of course.
An estimated 1,200 tourists make a wish at the destination every hour during peak times, and it can be visited during the day or the night.
The tradition goes that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, your return to the Eternal City is guaranteed. A second coin launched promises you'll find love.
A third is supposed to guarantee marriage. To toss your coin correctly in order to reap the rewards, you should face away from the fountain, hold the coin in your right hand and toss it over your left shoulder.
It's estimated that around 3,000 Euros of coins are extracted from the fountain each day. All money collected from the fountain is donated to charity.
3. Visit the Smallest Country in the World- The Vatican City
The Vatican is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Rome. It is where the current pope resides and it houses the Vatican Museums & St Peter's Basilica.
You’re going to need separate tickets for both. You can also feast your eyes on Michaelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Be sure to wear the correct dress code when visiting this tiny city, as you won’t be allowed inside if you’re wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts.
4. Climb the Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps of Rome, also known as, “Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti” are made up of 138 steps. It’s a great place to sit down and relax and there’s plenty of space.
The steps have become synonymous with Hollywood movies, and you may recall Audrey Hepburn eating some ice-cream on the steps back in 1953 during the filming of Roman Holiday.
After soaking up all of the excitement of Rome, we recommend heading North towards Tuscany where you’ll find the serenity of the hills of Val d’Orcia. The breathtaking landscapes and rolling hills will serve as a respite from the heavily populated capital city.
Driving from Rome to Val d’Orcia shouldn’t take you too much longer than a couple of hours. If you’re not in a hurry, consider taking the slower and more scenic route along the coast. Visiting Val d’Orcia will provide a quieter experience of Italy than Rome, but its landscapes have inspired great artists and writers for decades, so it’s definitely worth a peek.
Parking in Val d’Orcia is miles easier than it is in Rome, and you shouldn’t struggle to find a space pretty much anywhere in the vicinity. You could probably squeeze everything in here in a 1 day stop, but stay for 2 if you can spare the time. The whole valley of Val d’Orcia is now part of one big park and it became recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2004.
Val d’Orcia bucket list:
1. Stop by historic Montalcino
Montalcino is a beautiful medieval hamlet that boasts an artistic heritage as well as culinary heritage. Montalcino is famed for its exquisite wines, so take advantage of the many wine tasting sessions available here.
We also recommend visiting the historic monuments in and around Montalcino. There’s a few interesting museums here and marvellous buildings to admire such as the Palazzo dei Priori, which resembles a domineering fortress. However, head inside and you’ll discover that it’s now home to an impressive art gallery.
2. Listen to the chants at the Abbey of Sant’Antimo
One of the most popular churches in the whole of Tuscany is the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. Legend has it that the church was founded by Charlemagne himself back in 781.
The inside of the building is full of traditional architecture, and if you visit at the right time of day, you’ll catch the monks singing Gregorian chants. This is a tradition that started back in the Middle Ages and can still be enjoyed today.
3. Bask in the free thermal baths of Bagni San Filippo
You’ll find Bagni San Filippo nestled away in the municipality of Castiglione d’Orcia. It’s a pretty small place and a little out of the way, but if you love natural thermal baths, it is a must-see while in Tuscany.
The baths here are completely free to use and offer views of the impressive landscape. However, if you want to enjoy some natural hot springs but with all creature comforts included, you can book yourself into the private spa in the area.
Once you’ve exhausted the Val d’Orcia region, we recommend taking the A1/E35 road North towards Florence. It’s more populated than the previous stop, but it is still far quieter and more relaxed than Rome. Florence offers an array of things to see and do but remains more authentically local than the capital.
Once you’ve driven into the area, you may have difficulty finding a parking space. The closest official parking area is located in Piazzale Michelangelo, however, this space is often occupied by events during peak months, so you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Parking in central Florence is reserved for permit-holders only and it is full of vehicle surveillance cameras, so don’t try to risk it. Savvy road trippers and online forums recommend staying in a hotel downtown, as sometimes the reception staff can provide you with a central parking permit- we think it’s definitely worth a try.
We recommend staying in Florence for 2 nights as part of a road trip, but you could probably accomplish a lot in just 1.
Florence bucket list:
1. Marvel at Michaelangelo’s David
One of the most iconic works of art of all time, Michaelangelo’s David’s Sculpture is housed in the Accademia Museum in Florence.
If you’re set on seeing this beauty, make sure to book tickets on the official website ahead of time to avoid long lines and disappointment.
2. Admire the artworks at the Uffizi
If art is your thing, why stop at Michaelangelo’s David? Consider heading to the Uffizi Gallery.
It was built in the 16th century and houses incredibly famous artworks such as The Birth of Venus as well as famous works by Da Vinci and Raphael.
After you’ve exhausted the galleries of Florence, we recommend making the 270km trip to Venice. On average, a trip from Florence to Venice will take about 3 hours, especially if you are travelling by car. Taking this direct route will incur some toll charges, however. To get around this, you could take the longer, coastal route, but this will take around 5 hours instead of 3.
Venice is probably one of the most tricky places to visit whilst on an Italian road trip, as driving is not permitted here. However, you should take advantage of the ample parking available at the entrance to the city.
These spots will cost you around £25 per day. Once you park your car, you can take a boat or any other public transport to reach your hotel or other central accommodation.
Spending 2-3 days in Venice is ideal. This will give you plenty of time to visit the key attractions and take in the city’s charm. You may even have time to visit a neighbouring island too, such as Burano or Morano.
Venice bucket list:
1. Enjoy a relaxing gondola ride
Yes, this is a cliche, but it’s honestly one of the most authentically Venetian things to do. As this is a super tourist-targeted activity, it comes with a hefty price tag.
However, many road trippers claim it’s worth it. For centuries, gondola’s have meandered through Venice’s tight canals and served as a means of transportation as well as being a romantic, sight-seeing adventure for visitors.
2. Wander inside Saint Mark’s Basilica
Venice’s iconic cathedral, Saint Mark’s Basilica, is a showpiece of Italian artistic design with a lengthy yet fascinating history. It is surrounded by lots of shops and restaurants, too.
Some seasoned road trippers suggest visiting the cathedral after midnight- as local music can be enjoyed without the bustle of crowds and tourists. Consider purchasing a guided tour, which can be found on their website.
3. Visit The Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs is a small arch bridge nestled in a canal alley over the Rio di Palazzo. It connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms inside Doge’s Palace and is made entirely from white limestone.
It was built in 1603 and was formerly used as a passage for convicted criminals to cross to begin their sentence in the prison, hence the strange namesake. You can catch a good glimpse of it by gondola ride, but to actually walk across it, you’ll need to book a tour.
Once you’ve exhausted Venice, The Dolomites should be next on your list. They’re an awe-inspiring mountain range located in northeastern Italy, so you’ll just be continuing your route up north.
The drive from Venice to The Dolomites will take around 2-3 hours, depending on your starting point and how deep into the range you plan on venturing.
The Dolomites dominate a huge area, so it can be hard to know what to prioritise. We recommend not skipping it out though, as the jagged mountainous landscape is unlike anything else you can find in all of Italy.
Road trippers consistently recommend using Bolzano as a base, as it’s close enough to all the action. However, it can be just as rewarding to reside out in quieter villages and enjoy the natural beauty that The Dolomites have to offer.
We suggest carving out at least 2-3 days to get the most out of your visit to The Dolomites, as the surface area of the whole region spans a whopping 15,942 km².
As this area of Italy has more of a countryside-feel, it is super easy to come across free or affordable parking here. Parking should be a breeze and driving the wide-open roads here is an experience like no other.
The Dolomites bucket list:
1. Visit a WWI frontline
During the beginning of the 20th century, The Dolomites was home to a three-way border between Italy, Germany, and Austria. This border became the frontline for several battles during the First World War.
Because of this, there now lies a series of tunnels burrowed into the mountainsides. There are many tours available and you can view genuine artefacts and weapons along with re-staged barracks.
2. Marvel at the views from a cable car
The Seceda Ridgeline is one of the best natural beauty hotspots of the entirety of The Dolomites. Fortunately, you can save yourself the stress and exhaustion of climbing it by hopping on a cable car instead.
It’s super user-friendly and simple to park your car at a cable car station and relax on your way to the top. If you’re a lover of heights, consider trekking to Mount Marmolada- it’s more than 3000 metres tall and has cable car transport, too.
3. Connect with nature by staying in an alpine hut
Rifugios, also known as alpine huts, pepper the landscape of the mountain range. These small huts have been around for many years and are used to serve mountaineers.
If you’re into hiking nature trails and cooler climates, we’d recommend looking into alpine lodges.
4. Feel like royalty at Castel Roncolo
This mighty castle fortress is conveniently located just outside of Bolzano. If you love castles and mountain scenes, make sure this stop goes on your Italy road trip itinerary.
The Castle itself is a beautiful sight to behold and the mountain vistas don’t disappoint. It is located right outside of Bolzano and it involves wide open roads, making it a perfect location to include on an Italian road trip.
Upon leaving the Dolomites, we recommend making the 4-6 hour drive southwest towards the coast in Cinque Terre.
You’ll be skimming closely past Bologna on the route, so if this is a destination that interests you, here’s the best place to fit it in. Check out our bucket list ideas for Bologna, Verona, and Sicily at the end of this article.
The length of time it takes you to reach the coast of Cinque Terre will depend on which route you take and which area of the Dolomites you’re coming from. This drive is by far the longest on this itinerary list. However, in the grand scheme of things, 6 hours is not a particularly long drive when on a road trip adventure.
Parking is hard to come by in Cinque Terre, and some villages have prohibited driving entirely. Your only options include parking a few kilometres away from the centre and commute in using public transport or take advantage of free parking facilities in La Spezia, where a shuttle to the centre takes only 5 minutes.
Cinque Terre can be fully enjoyed and experienced in 2 days, feel free to relax and stay for longer if you can spare the time though, as there are lots to see.
Cinque Terre bucket list:
1. Walk Along the Marina in Riomaggiore
If you’re travelling north from La Spezia, Riomaggiore is the first of the Cinque Terre (5 towns) that you’ll encounter, and it’s also the largest.
This village is famed for its colourful houses staggered along the cliffside and its impressive harbour. It’s a fishing village that looks like it’s been pulled straight from a fairytale.
2. Climb the Stairway of Corniglia
As this village is situated 100m above sea level, it is quite a climb to get there. Upon the entrance to Corniglia, you’ll find a vast staircase with an impressive 350 steps.
The walk up can be tiring but the views are well worth it. If you’re not much of a climber, don’t worry. There’s a shuttle bus that you can hop on that’ll take you to the top- we won’t tell if you don’t.
3. Make authentic Italian pesto in Nessun Dorma
Nestled in the heart of Manarola, is the magical Nessun Dorma. It is known as a foodie’s paradise and prides itself in providing authentic Italian cuisine. One of the most popular things to do here is taking part in a Pesto making masterclass.
Don’t be fooled by how bland this may sound, it has been massively praised on forums and road trippers claim that it is a must-do when in the Cinque Terre.
4. Sit back and enjoy a boat tour
If you’re not staying in Cinque Terre very long, you can save precious sightseeing time by joining a boat tour of all five villages. This will give you access to each town in quick succession, without feeling too rushed.
Boat tours are probably the least expensive way to make the most out of the villages, too. Driving between villages isn’t an option here, so consider swapping out a shuttle bus for a trip on the water.
After indulging in the beauty of the five towns, we recommend taking the A12/E80 north until you reach Milan.
This drive should take you just over 3 hours, but expect it to take a little longer during peak times. Milan is very built-up and densely populated, so there are frequent flights in and out of the city, much like Rome.
Milan is often overlooked by backpackers and road trippers, but it’s a great destination to round-off an Italian road trip. It’s packed full of exciting things to do and is famously the fashion capital of the country. It’s no surprise that many A-list celebrities choose to spend time here.
If you’re hoping to park close to the city centre, expect to be paying a lot for your space. However, if Milan is your final destination, consider dropping off your rental car (if you’re using one) as soon as you reach the city, then you’ll be vehicle-free for the remainder of your trip.
Alternatively, you could always head downtown and get your hands on a parking spot there, but you’ll still be expected to pay around £4 an hour for it. For further information about parking in Milan, check out this page.
2 days is an adequate amount of time to spend in Milan, but stretch it to 3 if you’re able to- you’ll manage to fit a lot more in.
Milan bucket list:
1. Visit the Milan Cathedral
You can’t set foot in Milan and not appreciate the craftsmanship of its cathedral. It sits on Piazza del Duomo and it took a whopping 500 years to build! So, it’s not surprising that it’s the third-largest cathedral in the world.
It’s worth heading up to the terrace area as the views are said to be some of the most spectacular in the city. As the cathedral is Milan’s most popular attraction, we recommend booking pre-booking your tickets online to avoid the inevitable lengthy queues.
2. Shop ‘til you drop at La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
If you’re into designer brands, La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the place to be. The shopping centre is the hub of high fashion in Milan and is home to the best and biggest brands, including Prada and Louis Vuitton.
Even if splashing out on designer clothing isn’t your cup of tea, it’s still worth the visit. The Galleria has been voted one of the most beautiful in the world, thanks to its stunning architecture and domed ceiling. It’s a must-see if you’re in the city.
3. Attend an opera at La Scala
La Scala, Milan’s Opera House, is the world-famous home of Italian opera where Verdi, Puccini and other great composers first had their works performed. The building itself is a sight to behold.
The theatre has more than 3000 seats organized into 678 pit-stalls, so the atmosphere is said to be mind-blowing. If opera isn’t your thing, an array of ballets and other productions take place here. Check out their full calendar and how to book tickets here.
Other stops to consider
While the itinerary above works perfectly for those who are looking to spend 2 weeks on the road, there’s plenty more to see in Italy if you decide to stay longer.
Our list above consists of essential must-see destinations, whereas below are a couple of extra places to consider if you have a few days to spare.
The city of Bologna is located in northern Italy and it consists of picturesque narrow streets that are lined with independent cafes and authentic Italian restaurants.
While Bologna may not be as rich in culture as other Italian cities, it still has plenty of great sights. Some of which include their beautiful churches and meandering walkways. It also happens to be one of those cities that hasn’t become overrun with tourists- yet!
If you have more than 14 days for your trip, consider stopping off in Verona while you’re on route west from the Dolomites to Cinque Terre. Fair Verona is the backdrop for star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.
There’s even a 14th-century dwelling which has a small balcony. Locals have nicknamed it “Juliet’s House”. Verona is a must-see destination for all literary enthusiasts and hopeless romantics alike.