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Everything You Need to Know About Driving in Sicily

Trying to decide whether to rent a car and road trip around Sicily? Or have you already booked a car rental and are now stressing over the challenges of driving in Sicily? Well, don’t worry, because this post will cover everything you need to know about driving in Sicily and prepare you for hitting the open Sicilian road!

After driving extensively throughout Sicily on our incredible 11-day road trip, we learned a thing or two about how locals drive. This guide will outline what you need to know about driving on the Mediterranean’s largest island and alleviate some stress about your upcoming road trip.

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You (may) need an International Driver’s Permit to drive in Sicily

If you are not a resident of the EU and do not hold an EU driver’s license, then you will need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) to drive in Sicily. This is required by Italian law and necessary for renting a car and driving throughout the country.

If coming from the United States, you can easily obtain an IDP through AAA, even if you don’t hold AAA membership or insurance. We were able to complete this process while living abroad in Ireland, and it was straightforward, though took a few weeks since both the application and permit were issued by mail.

To obtain an IDP through AAA you have two options: Apply in person at a AAA office or complete the application by mail. The application should take about 5 minutes to complete and costs $20. Keep in mind that while many countries issue IDPs, to get an IDP with a US driver’s license you will need to get it from either the AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA), as they are the only organizations authorized by the US Department of State to issue them.

Interestingly, no one at the car rental agency ever asked to see our IDP, and we weren’t stopped by police at any point during the trip, so in our case it was questionable whether it was truly necessary, though the technical rules certainly indicate that it is.

a man and young boy look up at a white car being lifted up in a mechanic's shop.
Checking out a mechanic shop in Palermo, thankful it’s not our car up there (and that we splurged on insurance!)

Invest in good insurance

While I normally wouldn’t advocate buying the overpriced insurance from the car rental agency, Sicily is one place where this comes in handy. Before your trip, double-check the coverage of your home insurance policy and confirm what it does or doesn’t cover.

When driving in Sicily, assume you will acquire some bumps or dents on your rental car. Even if you’re an excellent driver, between the narrow roads and unfamiliarity with a new car, along with adjusting to driving in an intense and unfamiliar environment, incidents happen.

In our experience, the driving was no big deal, but parking was a real challenge. Let’s just say, after a few dents acquired while parking our car in Sicily, we were glad we splurged on the most comprehensive insurance plan from the rental agency!

Consider Buying a Travel Insurance For Your Trip

As for me, travel insurance is a necessary part of any trip, if you want to be calm in every unexpected event during your journey. So, I suggest you choose Insubuy. It is currently the largest provider of visitors insurance. Be sure: you will definitely find the most appropriate insurance plan for your trip.

Buy your Insurance here

When driving in Sicily, start out cautious but be bold and assertive

When you first pick up your rental car and start driving, it may be tempting to be passive and defer to other drivers. While it’s important to drive cautiously, it’s equally important to be a bold and assertive driver. Striking this balance is key to your driving success in Sicily.

Sicilian drivers have a reputation for aggressive driving that may seem erratic to those unfamiliar with it. While driving in Sicily, practice defensive driving and assume every driver will cut you off, pull in front of you in a roundabout, or turn left from the righthand lane (yes, seriously).

Being a defensive driver does not mean being passive. You will never get anywhere in Sicily if you don’t assert yourself. Inch your way into traffic and hold your spot. Be bold, get your bearings, and once you understand the rules of the road a bit more, go native!

Indicators do not indicate

Turn indicators are not trustworthy signs of a driver’s intentions. A Sicilian driver may indicate left for miles without changing lanes. Just because an indicator is on, don’t assume a driver is turning or planning to change lanes.

Even more frustrating is when a driver moves right to cut you off from the left, all while indicating left! As mentioned before, always assume neighboring drivers will cut you off. And don’t trust turn signals!

a white car driving through a stone gate in the city of Noto in Sicily.

Passing may take place on the left, right, or straddling lanes

Sicilian drivers have a nerve-wracking habit of staying very close while passing at high speeds. Often, the passing car will not even clear the lane entirely, therefore staying in your lane while passing. In Sicily, the car being passed is expected to pull aside (often onto the shoulder) and make room for the passing car.

Another important thing to be aware of is that passing may occur on either the left or the right. Potentially even the shoulder. While best practice to stay in the right lane while driving, be aware that cars may overtake on either side.

Highways are well maintained but have their perils

Overall, we found the highways in Sicily to be in good condition. Roads were new, mainly level, and generally free from traffic. However, they were not without their hazards.

Sicilian highways pass through numerous tunnels, some of which are unlit. While the tunnels tend to be short, it’s frightening to drive through a tunnel with no interior lights, especially when other cars are zooming past you. We found that reducing our speed and making sure our headlights were on, removing sunglasses, and increased vigilance were the best ways to stay safe in unlit tunnels.

Another major hazard is construction. In our experience, road closures and construction would often appear without advance road signs. One minute you’ll be cruising the highways at 120 km/hr, and the next your lane is closing and you have to perform a quick merge.

a narrow street lined on one side with parked cars. Pink buildings with black wrought iron balconies line either side.
The narrow streets of Ortigia, Syracuse, where the ZTL limits who can drive in the old city.

When possible, avoid driving in cities

But if you must drive in the city, beware the dreaded ZTL. The ZTL, or Zona Trafico Limitato, is a section of the city where traffic is limited to locals with special permits. Driving through one of these sections without the proper permit could mean a hefty fine. These zones are policed via traffic cameras, so steer clear even if police are not physically present.

Driving throughout most of Sicily will be no trouble for an experienced driver, but cities are another story. Driving through Catania, we saw motorists making left turns from the far-right lane, cutting in front of other cars.

Where possible, try to reduce or avoid city driving. Sicilian cities are hectic and crowded, and they are where you run the most risk of accidents. If you’re not ready to hold your ground and be an assertive driver, then you won’t get far driving in Sicily’s cities.

signs telling drivers in sicily not to enter down a pedestrian only road.
Entrance to a pedestrian zone in Noto.

Be mindful of bold pedestrians

If you’re used to driving in major cities, then you’re probably used to pedestrians darting in front of cars and between traffic. Sicilian cities are no different, and drivers must be mindful of pedestrians in their midst. Drive defensively, and always assume someone will walk in front of your car.

Check – and double check – for motorcycles

Motorcycles and scooters are popular modes of transportation in Sicily, especially in cities and towns. Before changing lanes, always check your mirrors and scan your blind spots for motorcycles. Since Sicilian drivers may decide to pass on either the left or right, it’s important to look for motorcyclists or scooters skirting by you in traffic.

Have a good navigator

Driving in Sicily is confusing. While roads are generally well maintained and highways are well signed, roads twist and turn in perplexing ways. A good navigator is crucial when driving in Sicily. Have your navigator give you advanced warning of your next directive and remind you of upcoming turns or lanes changes to avoid last-minute moves. And while we’re on the subject of navigating…

Don’t put blind faith in Google Maps

Google Maps is a great tool. I love it and rely on it way too much. That being said, don’t assume Google Maps is infallible when using it to drive in Sicily. Google Maps will give you the quickest route, but that may not be the best route. Further, road closures are not always up to date in the app. On multiple occasions during our road trip in Sicily, Google Maps navigated us onto closed roads, which added significantly more time to our driving.

At other points while driving through Sicily, Google Maps navigated us down poorly maintained backroads with unpaved sections and giant potholes. In both these instances, there were better options that the app didn’t suggest.

My advice is to study the map and decide for yourself if you trust the directions. Use your instinct. When traveling longer distances, stick to the highways as much as possible, even if the routing shows the driving time will be a few minutes longer.

narrow alleyway with cars parked along one side. The buildings on either side tower over the street, blocking out most of the sunlight.
Driving in Sicily means navigating narrow lanes for two-way traffic.

Don’t leave valuables in your car

Not leaving valuables in your car is common sense, but it’s good to be reminded. Thieves can tell which cars are rentals and are more likely to target them. Don’t leave anything out in the car, valuable or not. Leaving a jacket or bag in sight, even if not valuable, may entice someone to break into your car. Avoid these situations by taking everything out of the car or hiding it in the trunk.

Tips for parking in Sicily

Parking, especially in cities, can be tricky on the island. When you can, choose parking lots over street parking. Paid lots may be safer, as they are often monitored by attendants, and you won’t have to worry about street parking restrictions. Prior to arrival, check the parking options with your hotel. Some hotels may offer valet services or have suggestions on the most convenient and safest parking areas.

Street parking in Sicily can be complicated. In Syracuse, the color of the parking space indicated whether you needed to be local or not to park there – but good luck finding that information written anywhere!

Other Sicilian cities use a semi-honor system when it comes to street parking: drivers write their arrival time on a sheet of paper and place it on their dashboard. Parking enforcement checks the time on your paper, and if you are within the permitted parking time (usually one or two hours) then you will not get a ticket.

As you can see, street parking can be confusing. While parking lots will cost more, their rules are easier to follow and you’ll have peace of mind about the safety and security of your car.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it, everything you need to know to prepare you to drive in Sicily. If you take one thing away from this post, let it be that driving in Sicily is not that scary. You can do it! Be bold, be assertive, drive defensively, and you’ll have a wonderful road trip.

If you’re looking for more Sicily trip planning inspiration, then check out our 11-day Sicily road trip itinerary!

Until next time,


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