To drive or not to drive in Sicily? If you are planning to visit the biggest Italian island and are not sure if driving in Sicily is worth it, then read on. Here is absolutely everything you need to know about renting a car in Sicily and driving around the island. – (updated in 2023)
Visiting Sicily by car is by far the best way to get around and explore the island. You will have complete freedom to explore not only the main best places in Sicily but also remote corners that are not easily accessible by public transportation. However, driving a rental car in Sicily does require some preparation and, sometimes, nerves of steel. Especially when driving in Catania and Palermo.
After driving around the entire island from east to west and south to north on multiple visits, including the 2-week road trip in Sicily, I am here to shed some light on what driving around Sicily is like and provide all the useful tips on how to rent a car in Sicily.
This one-stop driving in Sicily guide covers:
- Practical tips for driving in Sicily and what to expect or be aware of while on the road.
- Driving rules in Sicily (speed limits, road signs, and roundabouts).
- Road conditions, parking in Sicily, and notorious ZTL zones.
- Where to find a cheap car rental in Sicily, Italy, and how to save money on your Sicily rental car and full insurance.
- Required documents to hire a car in Sicily (credit cards, International Driving Permit, etc).
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Driving in Sicily a rental car: everything you need to know
Top tips for renting a car and driving in Sicily, Italy
For those of you who are an in a rush, here are my main tips for renting a car in Sicily.
- For the best rates to rent a car in Sicily, check Discovercars – a car rental comparison website that I personally use to hire a car in Sicily and Italy. You will find the most competitive rates and a variety of suppliers: from major ones such as Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, SIXT, and Thrifty, as well as local companies such as Sicily by Car. Make sure to also crosscheck with Rentalcars -the biggest car search engine in the market to confirm you are getting the best rate.
- Rent a small car that will fit the passengers and the luggage. It will be significantly easier to drive through narrow roads and tiny alleyways as well as to park in tight spaces.
- Make sure you carry the most important documents to rent a car in Sicily: driving license, International Driving Permit (IDP) (one is required for non-EU residents: Americans, Australians, Canadians, UK, as well as residents of UAE , and other non-EU countries), credit card in drivers name (or debit car if a rental company accepts it).
- Driving in Sicily is MUCH EASIER than you might have heard.
- However driving in big cities (Catania and Palermo) can be hectic during rush hour, and parking might be tricky. If you are landing in one of those cities, it might be better to visit them first, and then pick up your rental car once you are ready to start your Sicily road trip.
- Watch out for ZTL zones – limited traffic areas, located in historic centers. Entering one will certainly result in a hefty fine (I experienced it firsthand).
1. Is Driving in Sicily difficult?
Driving in Sicily is not as difficult as you may have heard before. In fact, it is much easier than you may expect.
After driving numerous times in southern Italy, I personally find it easy to drive in Sicily. Especially when you compare it to driving in Naples, or Amalfi Coast, some of the worst places to drive in Italy, based on my experience.
Let me comfort you by saying that all the talks about mad drivers on Sicilian roads are a bit exaggerated. I agree that it might be frustrating to deal with traffic in the biggest towns like Catania and Palermo, or slightly nerve-wracking on narrow roads of some mountain villages in Sicily. However, more often than not, you will be driving in much more relaxed conditions. Especially when you are on the quiet countryside roads of Sicily.
Therefore, if you are wondering if you should rent a car and drive in Sicily, I would strongly recommend giving it a go.
2. How to prepare for driving in Sicily?
Driving straight into the chaos of Sicilian streets will be less daunting when you are mentally prepared for it. In general, Sicilian driving is not entirely disorganized, or always chaotic, especially outside the big towns.
It is true that Sicilian drivers do have a reputation for being impatient and short-tempered. Just like many things in this passion-filled island of Sicily, the atmosphere sometimes might get pretty intense on the roads as well. This particularly applies to places with heavy traffic- Catania, Palermo, port side of Messina where the is not much room on the streets and plenty of time and reasons for a little bit of drama.
If you are used to the “civilized” Western European countries or American style of driving, always expect the unexpected and a more relaxed attitude when it comes to following written driving rules in Sicily (more on unwritten road rules in Sicily later in this post).
In general, the best way to approach driving around Sicily is to keep your cool and go with the flow.
If you are landing in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, I invite you to read my tips for renting a car in Palermo, Sicily. If your flight to Sicily is through Catania Airport, then make sure to check how to rent a car in Catania.
3. Is driving in Sicily a good idea? Do you really need to rent a car in Sicily?
Below are the tips to help you decide if and when you need to rent a car in Sicily and if it is a good idea to actually drive in Sicily.
You might NOT need to hire a car in Sicily if:
- If you are only spending time in the main big cities (Palermo, Catania, Trapani). In this case, you do not need to drive, as those places are perfectly walkable.
- If you are planning to go on day trips from either of the above-mentioned cities to the nearby destinations that are popular tourist attractions and have frequent transportation options. For example, the seaside town of Cefalu near Palermo is one hour by train. Meanwhile, Taormina, Syracuse, and Ortigia on the East Coast of Sicily can be accessed by public transport from Catania. Finally, visiting Mount Etna is possible and even recommended by using tour guides.
DO rent a car in Sicily if:
- If you prefer to have the freedom to move around independently without relying on public transport and its timetables. In fact, public transport in Sicily, just like many other things, does not always follow the scheduled timings.
- If you are planning to visit remote places in Sicily, such as small coastal villages, and mountain towns, as well as nature reserves that can only be reached by car. Even some Unesco World Heritage Sites (like Val di Noto Baroque towns Ragusa Ibla, Noto, Modica, etc.) and Valley of the Temples are easier to visit with your own vehicle.
- If you are traveling in a group of 2 or more, renting a vehicle might be more economical than buying single tickets for each traveler.
- If you are planning to explore mainland Italy, it is very easy to jump on a ferry even with a car. Visiting Calabria region which is connected to Sicily by a short ferry ride is also easier when you have your own wheels.
RELATED READS: Planning Sicily road trip? Here is my detailed 2-weeks in Sicily Itinerary.
4. Avoid driving in major cities in Sicily
You don’t need a car to get around the cities of Palermo and Catania (the two biggest towns in Sicily).
If you are landing in one of those towns, it is much easier to first explore them by using public transport, taxis, or just walking (both are walkable). That being said, you can pick up your rental car in Sicily a few days later once you are ready to start your Sicily road trip.
If your road trip includes a mid-stop at one of the busy towns, the best bet is to keep your car safely parked and explore the city on foot.
- If you are landing in Palermo, make sure to check handy tips for renting a car at Palermo Airport.
- If you are landing in Catania, then my post about How to rent a car in Catania, Sicily will be useful.
Note: if you are landing in Trapani, I would still recommend getting a rental car immediately. There are a lot of short trips you can do in the area from the base of Trapani. Trapani itself is very small and doesn’t require as much time to explore as Palermo or Catania. Alternatively, if you are planning on visiting Favignana (one of the Egadian islands 30 min by ferry from Trapani), you are as well better off picking up your car after as you won’t need it on the island.
Tips for renting a car in Sicily, Italy
5. How to save money on your rental car in Sicily
Top tips for saving money on your rental car in Sicily:
- Although you can hire a car in Sicily airport upon arrival from one of the agency desks, or in the city center, you will get the best price for the rental car that you want when reserving in advance through a car comparison website. Also, car search aggregators negotiate better deals with car companies and it is always cheaper than going directly through a particular agency.
- Book early if you traveling in summer as it is the most popular time for visiting Sicily. By booking around 1 month ahead you are guaranteed to get the vehicle you need for the best rate.
- Choose a rental car pick-up location to be at the airport (Catania, Palermo or Trapani airport, depending on where you land). It is almost always significantly cheaper to pick up your rental car from the airport than from the city center.
- If you know how to drive a manual transmission car, you are in luck as those are cheaper to rent than automatic cars in Sicily.
I personally use Discovercars to book a rental car in Sicily, Italy. I easily find the best rates for car hire on this particular car search website.
Before making a reservation payment, I also crosscheck with Rentalcars to see if I am getting the best deal. Rentalcars is the biggest car search aggregator on the market (yet their prices tend to be slightly higher lately).
Nonetheless, both car search websites provide a similarly easy booking experience with an intuitive user interface.
Reasons why I like using Discovercars to rent a car not in Italy and elsewhere in Europe:
- Offers the lowest price in the market for car rentals with a wide choice of suppliers and vehicles.
- You can pick a car from well-known international brands such as Hertz, SIXT, Europcar, Budget, Dollar, Avis, etc., or go with a local supplier that usually has great deals. For example, Sicily by Car is a popular choice.
- Car rental prices are always better through Discovercars and Reantalcars than booking directly through a specific agency.
- Free booking cancelation of up to 48 hours to the rental date (refunded in reusable credit, or cash upon request). Full terms and conditions can be found HERE.
- Discovercars offers reasonably priced full insurance (an optional add-on when booking online).
- You can filter suppliers that do not require a deposit to book a car.
6. How much does it cost to rent a car in Sicily?
Renting a car in Sicily is very affordable. During the peak of the summer season, you can find deals for smaller cars for around 25-30 EUR a day. While off-season it is a complete bargain to rent a car in Sicily. Late Autumn, Winter, and early Spring you can expect to pay as low as 6-10 EUR a day for an economy or a mid-size car.
Renting a car in Sicily in general is cheaper than renting a car in mainland Italy.
7. Book in advance if you are traveling to Sicily in the summer months
Booking a vehicle in advance applies to probably almost any destination. However, for Sicily, even in shoulder season I noticed a surge in rates closer to the travel date. Summer months (June, July, August) are the most popular for visiting Sicily.
I booked our ride 2.5 months before the trip planned in May. Out of curiosity, I checked the rates a month before the trip (in April)-all the cheapest deals were gone. There were some mini cars available but that option was not suitable for two people with 2 big suitcases. The remaining options were 3 times more expensive than the deal we got with our early booking.
We paid 20 euros per day for our rental car which is still not the cheapest you can get but that was the only option available 2 months prior to the trip. Thus, book your car well in advance if you can.
7. Where to pick up your rental car in Sicily?
The most convenient place to pick up your rental car in Sicily is at one of the airports where you land. It would be either Catania International Airport, Palermo International Airport, or Trapani International Airport.
As mentioned above, renting a car at the airport is usually much cheaper than in the city center. You can easily compare the rates for different pickup locations on Discover Cars website.
As you can see from the screenshot below, car rental price in Catania airport is much lower than non-airport (which refers to the location in the city). This is also true for Palermo and Trapani (and even anywhere else in Italy).
Dropping off your Sicily rental car in a different location
In some cases, you may need to pick up your car in one city and drop it off in the other. For example, rent a car in Catania and then return it in Palermo or Trapani. In fact, many travelers do it.
This is the best option for those travelers who have a return flight from a different city and want to save time. Returning the car to a different location is possible but a one-way fee will be applied by a rental agency.
8. What type of car to rent in Sicily: car size matters
Book a small car that would fit all the passengers and luggage. Tiny windy roads in Sicily are not made for big SUVs.
Roads in Sicily and Italy are narrow, often one lane only. Parking spots in Sicily are also tiny. Therefore, you will find driving in Sicily much easier if you have a smaller car.
Note that the smallest car you can rent is Smart, Fiat Mini (or similar), but it won’t fit your luggage. For two people, for example, a car like Fiat Panda is perfect. It is small but spacious to comfortably drive in Sicily. Any bigger car means that you will often face parking challenges and it might be difficult to move around curvy narrow roads.
Electric cars in Sicily, Italy are increasing in popularity and currently are offered by Sicily by Car (you can filter them out on Discovercars). Electric vehicles are perfect if you plan short day trips from the city. However, they might not be suitable if you are planning on visiting remote locations where charging stations are not yet available.
Good to know: electric cars are not only environmentally friendly but are sometimes allowed to enter restricted traffic areas in Italy- ZTL zones (those rules vary across municipalities), and can benefit from free parking! Moreover, Enel X charging points are completely free.
9. Documents needed to rent a car in Sicily
These are the documents you need to have to hire a car in Sicily:
- A valid driving license that has been issued more than a year ago before the rental date (in rare occasions, a company may require a license that is older than 2 years). If your driving license is new, carry the old one to prove your driving experience.
- International Driving Permit (IDP) will be required if: a) the driver’s license is issued outside the EU; b) driver’s license is printed in the non-Latin alphabet.
- IDP MUST be accompanied by the ORIGINAL driving license;
- A credit card (or debit IF the supplier accepts it) on the main driver’s name (some rental companies require a credit card to be valid 3 months after drop off, make sure to check rental conditions).
- Passport or ID card;
- Car booking voucher.
Where to get International Driving Permit for American drivers in Italy?
If you are coming from the United States and planning to drive in Sicily with your American driving license, you will have to obtain International Driving Permit (IDP) from AAA or American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). Those organizations are authorized by U.S. Department of State to issue IDP.
You can apply in person at any AAA branch by filling application form, paying 20 USD and showing your valid US driving license. You can also do it remotely by mail. If you need the permit to be shipped to you overseas, note that it will take quite a long to receive the physical IDP (5-7 weeks).
From my experience, car rental companies in Sicily and Italy always ask for IDP. If you do not have one, they either refuse to rent a car or will ask you to sign a document where you accept full responsibility to pay fines in case you get stopped by police. The latter happened to us when renting a car in Naples.
Be aware: there are a lot of fake companies online that offer to issue an International Driving Permit (sometimes even for 3 years). The service is so fast that many people get hooked. And you will certainly receive this fake document which at first looks legitimate, until you get stopped by local police and get a heavy fine. These are real stories I read online after ordering (while in Italy) one of those fake IDPs (yes I have been their done that). Thus always make sure to check with official companies who are authorized to issue IDP in your country!
10. Full insurance in Sicily- do you need one?
Another very important tip for renting a car in Sicily is getting Excess insurance (also called Full Insurance) which covers the cost of any damage you have done to your car (not only the damages to the third party). Without excess insurance, in case of an accident done by you, you may have to pay a huge deductible (1000 euros or more) for the damage done to your rental car.
Moreover, excess insurance coverage protects you in case of lost keys, or even a stolen car. It also prevents you from paying ridiculous excess fees in case the car gets small scratches and dents. And this particular “accident” is very common in Sicily and Italy in general.
There are a few ways for you to get excess insurance:
- over the counter at the time of picking up the rental car – the most expensive option (around 20-25 EUR a day);
- as an add-on when booking a car online- Discovercars provide very reasonably priced Full insurance (around 5-6 EUR a day)as an add-on during your booking process.
- through an independent insurance company that offers coalition damage waivers (it is worth it if you get one for a full year to cover all your future car rentals).
- If you are from the US, check if your bank already includes excess insurance coverage through your credit card.
For UK residents, Insurance4carhire offers some of the best policy rates for excess insurance. For any country of residence, Rentalcover or Worldwideinsure provides Full insurance coverage. I used it for my South Italy and Sicily road trips. However, I have never had to claim, thus I do not have experience with how would that go.
Note: if you are taking full insurance through a third-party company, in case of an accident you will still have to pay the deductible amount to the car rental company. Collect all the documentation that you can submit to the thrid-party insurance provider later and get your money back.
11. Renting a car in Sicily without a credit card
In case you do not have a credit card, it is possible to hire a car in Sicily with a debit card. On Discovercars, you can filter “debit card”. Some of the companies will also offer “zero deposit” option.
For example, Sicily by Car is one of the companies that accept debit cards under the main driver’s name as long as they have a chip, IBAN, and PIN. However, the possibility to use a debit card to rent a car in Sicily means that the car rental price will be either higher or you will have to buy full insurance directly from the car rental agency (it might add up to around 20-25 EUR per day to your car rental).
12. Other important things to know when hiring a car in Sicily
Here is a checklist of the things to pay attention to when renting a car in Sicily, Italy. On Discovercars website, all those points are listed under Rental Conditions tab. Make sure you read rental conditions carefully before booking!
- Refundable security deposit– it varies greatly from company to company. Can be as low as 500 EUR and as high as 1500 EUR (sometimes even more). Make sure you have enough funds on your credit card.
- Deductible amount – a maximum amount of $ you would be obliged to pay from your pocket in case of an accident. This amount is usually equal to the security deposit amount.
- Check if you are booking a manual transmission or an automatic transmission car.
- Take note if it is petrol or diesel so you know what to fill up the tank with.
- Pick up and drop off the car during the rental desk business hours to avoid additional charges.
- Note what is the grace period to pick up and return your car in case you are late. Some companies are quite strict and if you are late to return, they may charge you for another day.
- Check the mileage policy- unlimited mileage is preferable. Unlike in Oman and UAE, where companies set mileage limits, in Italy and most of Europe it is usually unlimited.
- Check fuel policy– do you have to return a full tank or the same amount as you received when picking up the vehicle?
- Young driver’s age– check the minimum age and the age brackets for the young driver as all companies have their own policies in terms of the age of a driver and charge additional fees for a newbie driver. A Newby driver is usually a person under 25 years old. Some companies also apply a maximum age limit.
- Additional driver- is it free or do you have to pay extra (we missed on that once, and had to stick to having one driver as the extra cost per day was high, especially when renting a car for long).
- Always inspect if the vehicle is in good condition or already has scratches- make sure to mark those in the presence of car rental attendant.
13. Rules of taking your Sicily rental car on a ferry or crossing the border
If you are planning to go to mainland Italy from Sicily or even abroad (Malta is a popular destination, for example), make sure the rental company allows taking the car on a ferry as well as crossing the border to a country you want to travel to. If it does, additional fees may also apply (every agency has different regulations).
I have checked a few car rentals in Sicily that allow leaving the island and using a ferry. Those are Locauto, Italy Car Rent, SIXT, and Sicily by Car.
Based on my experience, ferry restriction is somewhat vague. I took a car on a ferry between Sicily and Calabria without even knowing that this was not allowed. However, the risk is that if something happens to the car during the ferry trip or in mainland Italy, then your insurance policy will be void.
Tips for driving in Sicily
And now the most important part- the driving in Sicily curiosities. Read on to find out what to expect on the road.
14. Learn the unwritten rules of driving in Sicily
Apart from official written black-on-white rules of driving in Sicily, there is unofficial street etiquette passed from generation to generation.
Many times, the behavior on the road will not make much sense or follow any pattern. It may take a day, or two, or maybe a week for a more cautious driver to get used to the Sicilian driving style. Take your time, be calm and patient, and observe the organized chaos. Soon you will be driving like a local.
That being said, there are several things about patterns of driving in Sicily that you will encounter. Read on below to be prepared!
15. Tailgating is a safe distance when driving in Sicily
Keeping a safe distance while driving in Sicily only happens if you are a single driver on the road. Sicilians, as common in Italy, like to get close and personal. Motorcycles brushing the side mirrors of your car is nothing to get surprised about. Also, tailgating and overtaking as close as a few inches is very common and nobody sweats about it except for the terrified visitors like us.
If you drive too slowly (just at the speed limit), soon you will have another car attached to your car’s back. And sometimes it really feels like local drivers are constantly breaking into your personal driving space and breathing up your neck.
On a narrow road, you may even find yourself “pushed” to the side just to make more space for overtaking. If you see the other car flashing or beeping, know that it is the way of asking you to move to the side of the road and let the fast and furious pass. Don’t try to be macho, and let them go if you can’t keep up with the local (not necessarily official) driving speeds.
16. Road lane etiquette in Sicily: sharing is caring
If you are used to sticking to “your lane” and expect others to stick to “their lane”, you will have to re-adjust and learn to share “your lane” with other road participants (cars, scooters, pedestrians). White dotted lines painted on the road do not define possession of the lane. In Sicily (Italy), the road belongs to everybody.
The general rule of thumb is to drive wherever your car can pass through. Of course, respect the opposite traffic, and don’t drive against it for no reason. The only reason would be if you need to (safely) overtake someone slower than you.
If you need to turn to the right or left but are in the far lane (“wrong” lane), do not worry, you can still take the turn from far left to right or far right to left. Watch out for the other cars around you and just do it once the road is clear.
By observing local drivers in Sicily, nobody plans 1 kilometer ahead to be on the correct lane in order to take a turn.
17. Traffic lights alert: red light is green
Occasionally, traffic lights in Sicily do not seem to hold the usual red light-green light meaning (you can’t win Sicilian Squid Game if you follow the rules).
For many Sicilians, the traffic light is always green, even when it is clearly red. This mostly applies to scooter drivers and pedestrians. Car drivers are more responsible when it comes to traffic signals.
If you are driving, watch out for people crossing the streets. If you are a pedestrian, don’t expect scooters to stop for you at a green light (their red light). We saw motorcycles often crossing intersections through red lights as long as there are no cars in their way (and they do not care much about pedestrians having priority).
Be mindful that some car drivers may disobey red lights as well. On a rare occasion, you may get forced into crossing one as well. If you stop at a red light when there is no reason to (aka quiet road without traffic), you might get furiously honked at by the column of the cars behind you. If the road is clearly free, why wait? But don’t worry, this doesn’t happen that often.
All jokes aside, for your own safety, stick to the official driving rules in Sicily – obey the green and red signals on the traffic light.
18. Indicators are a useless feature when driving in Sicily
In Sicily, locals do not indicate, only tourists do. If you want to know that the driver is about to swap lanes, you have to trust your intuition and have the ability to predict unpredictable moves.
To me, a lack of indication is not a big deal. Here in UAE, similarly to Sicily, the majority of drivers do not bother indicating. Therefore, I developed a 6th sense for predicting the other drivers’ moves.
However, if you are used to driving on very civilized and well-organized roads, it can get really annoying when somebody just jumps in front of your nose without any sort of warning. But don’t worry, you will get used to it in no time.
19. Roundabouts in Sicily- claim your right of way
Standard rules of giving the way when entering a roundabout and having the priority once inside it, do not always apply in Sicily. In fact, roundabouts are completely unregulated, the most chaotic, lawless driving battleground, or at least that is how it may appear at first.
I have to admit, that even regulated roundabouts always give me anxiety. There is always somebody not abiding by the rules, and ready to cross over in front of you just because they need to.
Note that you will come across two types of roundabouts in Sicily (this might be unusual for American drivers who are driving in Italy for the first time):
- Drivers inside the roundabout have the right of way and joining traffic must wait. It is a common type of roundabout and the one you can expect to come across the most.
- Drivers inside the roundabout must give the way for joining traffic. This is not a common type of roundabout but it does exist, so just keep an eye on the signs.
You will see markings painted on the road before entering the roundabout. Those are indications to stop: a stop sign (red octagon with letters “STOP” or a row of white triangles painted on the ground.
And yet, it is just an indication. As mentioned before, if you strictly follow those rules, good luck making it through the roundabout. On a busy roundabout, you have to be bold, go for it, and pray for the best.
It will take crossing a few of those circles of madness until you start to see the chaotic flow in a more harmonious light. Local drivers in Sicily are quite good to adjust to the situation and other drivers’ maneuvers. They see what you do, and the only thing that can agitate Sicilian drivers is you being all too civilized trying to follow some strict rules and stopping the flow of traffic.
20. Scooters are the biggest hazard to watch out for
The biggest love of all for Sicilians is their Vespas. Everyone has one at least. Italians in general start driving scooters while still in their diapers.
Scooters are an inseparable part of every Sicilian life. Scooter drivers are skillful to squeeze through any free inch on a road. They sometimes go with the flow of the traffic but more often against it causing a panic attack for foreigners.
In busy urban places, they are like irritating flies buzzing around your head, squeezing your car from all sides, appearing out of nowhere when you least expect it and always keeping you on edge while you are worried about not knocking one of them out.
Just be mindful, as scooters often break the usual traffic rules as they go where they can pass. However, don’t worry about them too much either because those local drivers are also very good at navigating their way around you.
The only time when you should take extra care is when you are turning. More often than not, scooter drivers may be driving between your car and a sidewalk. Therefore, don’t forget to check the side mirrors before turning (as you already normally do, I hope).
21. Honking is surprisingly NOT a thing in Sicily
When I first arrived in Sicily, I expected endless beeping just like in Naples.
To my surprise, it seems that Sicilians use honk very occasionally. Seems like terrified foreigners use signals more often than locals.
You may get honked at if you “fall asleep” at a traffic light, or if you are driving too slow and the driver behind wants you to move to the side. Definitely in Palermo, Catania, or Messina, you will come across more noise caused by honking as those are busy places. However, the honking noise was not as severe as I had expected.
22. Sicilians are skilled to race into blind curves
Many Sicilians first learn how to drive scooters. And then they start driving cars, or buses and trucks. And they do it as if they still are on their scooters. That being said, Sicilians do not hesitate on zooming through the sharp blind curves at a crazy speed. It seems as if they are playing Russian roulette taking chances to see if they can make it alive.
Therefore, we had to take extra care on curving roads and often beep a few times before entering the bend. I have to admit, these blind curves are probably the most terrifying part of the whole Sicilian driving experience. Luckily, there isn’t as much traffic on the windy countryside roads in Sicily as there is on the Amalfi coast (that was possibly my worst driving experience in Italy).
Roads, street signs, and parking in Sicily
23. Keep an eye on notorious ZTL signs when driving in Sicily
If you are visiting Sicily for the first time, one of the most important things to know about driving in Italy is that practically all historic centers are a ZTL zone- Zonna Traffico Limitato – a limited traffic zones. As the name implies, it is an area with limited traffic.
Driving into ZLT is only permitted for registered vehicles that belong to the local residents of that area. Interestingly though, you can fairly obtain a ZTL pass if you are planning on driving in Palermo. This, however, is not the case for other places in Sicily, Italy.
The traffic sign indicating the ZTL zone is a white circle with a red outline. Sometimes it says “zona traffico limitato” but not always.
It is extremely easy to miss this sign if not paying close attention or not knowing what it means (although most of us learned about this traffic sign at a driving school, we might have forgotten).
What happens if you accidentally (or on purpose) enter the ZTL zone?
A result of driving through ZLT is a hefty few hundred Euros fine which you won’t receive immediately but rather after a year or so after your trip. Besides the fine, you will also have to pay a high administration fee of nearly the same amount as a fine to your car rental company.
If you are wondering about how you can get caught crossing ZTLs-there are cameras that monitor the traffic in limited access areas.
This is exactly what happened to me when I came back from my road trip to Tuscany, Italy. I have entered a ZTL twice (I did not know about this notorious road rule in Italy back then). As a result, I received a fine as a physical letter to my home address in Lithuania after one year! Being a responsible citizen, I paid the fine. Although a local Italian friend advised me just to throw the fine letter in the bin.
How to know where exactly are ZTL zones in Sicily
As a general rule of thumb, every town in Italy and Sicily has “centro storico ” which in most cases is a ZTL zone. Unfortunately, there is no unified app that would show those zones and it seems that those zones are being changed from time to time.
Usually, the local city website would point ZTLs out. You could possibly check in advance where those zones are exactly and pre-plan your driving route to avoid them.
But who really has the time for that when there are many other important things (like sightseeing) to be planned on a road trip?
The best way to go is always to look out for the ZTL sign.
For those of you still willing to pre-plan, the best resource I came across for ZTLs is Accessibilita Centri Storici – a local website that provides rough maps of ZTL zones for the bigger towns across Italy.
What to do if my accommodation in Sicily is in the ZTL zone?
If you are staying in a ZTL zone, you will either have to park outside it, or contact your host and let them know you are arriving by a rental car. Sometimes the host of accommodation will be able to activate a daily pass for you (as mentioned above, in Palermo you can get one relatively easily).
24. Roads in Sicily: Sicilian highways and local narrow roads
Roads in Sicily are varied with some of them being quite challenging mostly because they are often narrow and windy. The types of main roads and local roads in Sicily can be classified as follows:
- There are 5 main Sicilian highways, or motorways (Autostrada) marked with the letter A (or E): Catania-Palermo (A19), Messina-Catania (A18), Palermo-Mazara (A29), and Messina-Palermo (A20), Catania-Syracusa-Gela (aut. CT-SR). Those are the main highways made of 4 lanes (2 lanes for each way safely separated from opposing traffic).
- Then there are SS (Strada Statale) – two-way (one lane each) roads. Those are the mostly quiet roads in Sicily that run along the countryside and impossibly scenic coasts.
- Meanwhile, treacherously curvy mountain roads are usually just slightly wider than one lane and are marked as SP (Strada Provinciale).
- However, the most notorious “roads” you can find are located in old towns. Those are crazy narrow alleyways only good enough for one small car to squeeze through. And only a real Sicilian can do it with a breeze.
If you manage to pass an alleyway without any help, you may have some Sicilian blood running through your veins. In general, avoid tiny medieval streets by all means.
Trying to navigate our way through old towns, we got accidentally stuck a couple of times in one of those narrow lanes. Once, only with the direction of 3 locals did we manage to maneuver our way out of a ridiculously narrow alleyway (uphill in reverse on top of all the fun).
Tip: When planning your driving route, just by looking at the markings on Google Maps, you will know what kind of road you will be driving.
25. Road conditions in Sicily, Italy
In general, road conditions in Sicily are fairly good. Surely, they are not in mint shape as the highways in the middle east, like UAE or Oman. However, apart from a few bumpy pathways leading to remote beaches, roads in Sicily are okay. Even the one-lane SP roads are in quite good shape.
Highways are in the best shape of all roads in Sicily. Although they are frequently under some renovation process, which sows down the movement.
Expect that most of the time, you will be driving SS roads. However, there will most certainly be an SP (one-lane road) on your route if you go somewhere off the beaten path or a smaller towns.
The most exhausting is navigating curvy, windy, and especially hilly mountain roads with blind bends. Don’t get overconfident in racing the turns as you never know when a car can appear from the opposite side.
26. Tolls roads in Sicily
There are only two toll roads in Sicily: A18 and A20. The system works as follows: you pick up the ticket at the first gate booth and pay at a second one once exiting the highway.
Payment is in cash or by card. I did not try paying by card, but there are toll booths marked as card payments only.
Note: a few toll booths are reserved for the automatic “Telepass” system, so make sure you are on the correct lane. This will be obvious, as “Telepass” lanes are clearly marked and can be seen from afar.
The prices of tolls in Sicily are fairly low ranging between 1 EUR-10 EUR, depending on the distance driven. The most expensive stretch is between Messina and Palermo (10 EUR).
Top tip: Some of the booths are automated, and might not give change. Therefore, always carry some euro coins to pay for your wait out off the highway. More info about the toll system in Sicily can be found here (Italian only).
27. Driving times are longer: driving long distances and traffic in Sicily
Sicily is bigger than it appears. It could be a whole other country on its own. Driving from East to West can take up to 5 hours! When I was planning my Sicily road trip, I aimed for way too much.
One-third of the places I wanted to visit on my first trip, I had to leave for the next time. After a couple of days into our trip, I realized that driving times are longer than what is shown on Google Maps. Thus, be careful not to end up spending too much time in a car instead of actually sightseeing.
Moreover, the distances may appear not that long (like 200 km from Palermo to Catania does not seem far). But it takes 3 hours to drive between the cities.
Highways are usually the fastest way to knock down longer distances between main destinations. However, bear in mind that there might be some road works going on which slow down the traffic.
Usually, a two-lane road becomes one lane for a while. Therefore, always anticipate that you might need a little bit of extra time to get to your destination in Sicily. Heavier traffic closer to the towns and inside the towns is also very common in Sicily.
Also, take into account coffee and bathroom breaks in petrol stations. Those are the sneaky ones, believe me. Every time we stopped at a gas station, it would always add 20 min to our arrival time no matter how quick we were trying to be, and we couldn’t understand why.
Therefore, whatever time you see on Google Maps, your best bet is to add 20-40 min on top of that to be realistic with timings.
Top tip: don’t try to drive the whole island in one week- the only thing you will be doing is driving. Trust me, we were in Sicily for 15 days, and we drove all around the island. We saw a lot, but it was only scratching the surface of what this island has to offer. We still had to drop out a few interest points in Sicily. Thus, if you have less time than 2 weeks in Sicily, you are better off sticking either to the Western or Eastern side. This way you won’t have to continuously drive but rather slowly explore the places that are clustered in one area.
28. Speed cameras and speed limits in Sicily
There is no such thing as a maximum speed limit in Sicily. Interestingly though, half of the time we had to overtake old Fiats driving at a speed of a turtle while the other half of the time we were flashed at by fast and furious driving way above the posted speed limits.
That being said, there is no middle ground when it comes to driving speed in Sicily.
However, officially, these are the most common speed limits in Sicily you will encounter:
- Autostrada 110- 130 KM per hour (68-80 miles per hour)
- Outside cities two-lane SS road 90 KM per hour (56 miles per hour)
- Cities and small towns 50 KM per hour (30 miles per hour)
Speed cameras in Sicily. We haven’t seen a single-speed camera in Sicily except for the huge street signs warning about them. However, I have read about occasional mobile speed cameras placed and monitored by police officers. Therefore, speed with caution if you dare but better stay safe on those windy roads.
29. Where to park in Sicily (and where not to)
Street parking in Sicily is marked by either blue lines, white lines, or yellow lines that are painted on the ground and indicate a parking area:
- White color marks a FREE parking area
- Blue lines indicate PAID parking spaces.
- Yellow color paint indicates that parking is reserved for residents only, or loading/unloading.
- No lines and no signs– unofficial parking where you can park for free. The best way to know what to do is to look at what locals are doing. Make sure the area is safe to leave the car (usually it is as long as you are not blocking the traffic).
How to pay for parking in Sicily?
To pay for parking in Sicily, look for the meter (parcometro) on the street. If you cannot find one nearby, then look for Tabaccini (a small shop that sells newspapers, cigarettes and also parking tickets).
The easiest way to pay for parking in Sicily is by using EasyPark app on your phone (must have an Italian mobile phone number to register).
The parking rate varies from area to area. On average it is 1 euro per hour. But can be 0.20 or 0.50 euro cents, or go as high as 5 euros per hour (although I haven’t seen this rate in Sicily, only in Amalfi).
In general, parking in Sicily can be a headache (and in Italy overall) in busy and touristy places. In Sicily those would be Cefalu, Taormina, Syracusa, Palermo, Trapani, Catania. For this reason, sometimes the best solution is to park in big car parking lots or a private garage that is situated right outside the historical centers. These types of parking lots usually have ample of parking spaces (different story when you are in Amalfi though).
Parking garages are common in the major cities of Catania, Palermo, Trapani, and also touristy destinations like Cefalu, or Syracusa. Secured parking garages are the safest solution to park your car in Sicily in the city. The rates given are for 24 hours but can also be paid hourly. Daily rates vary from around 10 EUR to around 20 EUR per day.
30. Unofficial car parkers (posteggiatori abusivi)- illegal parking control mafia
Quite common not only in Sicily but also in Portugal, is to encounter a parking “helper” – an unofficial car park attendant called posteggiator who “shows” you where to park. This mostly happens in unmetered free parking lots. The car parker doesn’t physically park your car, he just shows the spot and gives directions (which you don’t really need).
For those “services” “helper” usually expects you to pay them a couple of euros. And it is better to do so if you don’t want any scratches on your car to appear out of nowhere. It may seem like a funny travel experience, but in reality, this activity is illegal and run by local parking “bosses”, divided into territories, and apparently is pretty profitable. This parking “service” is well known to everyone in Sicily but nothing much is being done about stopping it.
31. Navigating in Sicily: even Google Maps gets lost
Google Maps is usually my reliable copilot anywhere I go. Although it does mess up occasionally, in Sicily it can be completely lost quite often. There were quite a few occasions when while trying to get from point A to point B we were taking ridiculous detours over the backyard alleys because Google Maps got completely confused.
Also, trying to follow street signs can as well lead to more confusion than not following any signs at all.
If you are completely lost, try to ask a local for directions. Having an old-school map may help if you know how to use it in this digital era.
Another note- indicated driving times on Google maps might not match the reality due to road closures, slower traffic, and possible detours. Therefore, always allow a bit of extra time when planning your route.
Multitasking: navigating and driving in Sicily is a challenge
In Sicily, you must be able to multitask while driving- change the gear, follow the road signs, deal with impatient drivers around you, watch out for scooters when turning- all this plus simultaneously checking the map to make sure you are taking the correct way. The driving process can become very tiring.
Ideally, to make your road trip in Sicily easier, there should be one person driving and the other navigating. On my first road trip to Sicily, I did both, and I was exhausted (and I am used to following the maps and driving at the same time).
The other time, we split the roles – one person was driving while the other was navigating, checking for possible stops, and making sure we were taking the correct way. This made the trip so much more relaxed and smooth.
32. Petrol stations in Sicily, Italy
A couple of things are good to know about petrol stations in Sicily, Italy
- Petrol prices vary greatly from station to station. I did not memorize which company offers the cheapest fuel in Sicily, however, it won’t take you too long to figure that out after passing by a few of them. My advice would be, to fill in a little bit at the beginning of your trip before you opt for a full tank (once you know which petrol station has the most budget-friendly prices).
- Petrol stations usually have two price tags- one for self-service and one if you ask a service attendant to fill it up for you (servito). It is cheaper to fill up yourself by around 0.1 euro per liter which becomes significant if you are filling up a full tank.
- When filling up the car tank yourself, you will either have to pay inside the petrol shop or use the machine next to a petrol pump.
- You can pay either by cash or card at petrol stations. I advise always carrying some cash in case a card machine does not work.
There is an abundance of petrol stations in Sicily and we have never had a situation where were running empty and couldn’t find a gas station along the way.
33. Car crime in Sicily safety tips
Living in UAE, I do not hesitate to leave my camera equipment in the back seat. However, in Sicily, I was not sure if that would be a good idea so I always took it with me when leaving the car.
Apparently breaking into a vehicle is a quite common thing in Sicily- at least that is what we have heard. I imagine this is particularly applicable to bigger towns. Smaller villages seemed to be quite safe.
However, not to take chances, we almost never left our belongings even in the boot, let alone in the back seat. The only time when we would leave suitcases is when we were in transit from one accommodation to another. But our stops mainly included small towns which as I mentioned before seemed to be very safe.
When planning our road trip, we made sure that we have our luggage placed safely in the apartment before touring around the towns.
My most important final tips for renting a car and driving in Sicily
- Find the best car rent in Sicily rates using car search aggregators. My go-to is Discovercars while I always cross-check with Rentalcars as well.
- Get the smallest car possible that will still fit your luggage. It will be much easier to drive the narrow, windy mountain and countryside roads and tiny streets of Sicily. Purchase excess insurance for complete peace of mind.
- Be aware of ZTL-the easiest way for getting a fine is by accidentally (or purposely) entering a limited traffic zone
- Sicilians drive aggressively with the tendency to break one or two rules when it comes to giving the way, and it is particularly common in high-traffic areas, with scooters being the biggest hazard. To avoid stressful experiences and battles on the roads, try to minimize driving in bigger cities like Palermo and Catania. This will save you time and nerves.
- Do not leave your valuables in the car and get excess insurance just in case because getting minor dents are quite likely when driving in Sicily.
- Roads in Sicily are bendy and curvy- always watch out for the fast and furious drivers flying into the blind curves as well as giving way to big buses as they need space to make the turn.
Other than those above driving tips in Sicily- always try to stay cool! You got this!
Additional useful information about driving in Italy (and Sicily)
- Driving in Sicily, Italy is on the ride side of the road (as opposed to left-hand side driving in the UK, Cyprus, or Australia, for example).
- The minimum age to legally drive a car is 17 years old. The minimum age to rent a car is 18 years old (but some companies set it higher).
- It is compulsory to wear a seat belt in Italy by law for front and rear seat passengers. I recommend always wearing a seat belt for your safety.
- You must have short lights switched on when driving on highways in Italy during the day.
- Mobile phone usage while driving is prohibited. Using a hands-free device is permitted.
- Italy has a national law requiring the use of helmets when on motorcycles or scooters. This applies to both the driver and passengers. Child passengers under the age of 5 are not allowed but we saw parents carrying very small kids in front of them.
- Legal Blood Alcohol Content Level: 0.05%. Regardless, do not drink and drive.
FAQ about driving in Sicily, Italy
Can you drive around Sicily in a day?
Yes, technically you can drive around Sicily in a day. Is it a good idea? Definitely not. You will have to drive almost all day around the island (15 hours when you stick to the coast). However, you can cross the island from west to east in around 4 hours.
How long does it take to drive around Sicily?
It takes around 15 hours to circumvent the whole island of Sicily. While the driving times between major cities and popular destinations in Sicily are as follows: Palermo-Catania 2.5-3 hours, Palermo-Trapani 1 hr, Palermo-Messina 3.5 hrs, Catania-Trapani 3.5-4 hrs.
Can you drive to Sicily from Italy?
Yes, you can get to Sicily from mainland Italy by car. You will have to take a ferry on the Strait of Messina between Calabria in southern Italy and Messina town in Sicily. You can also take a ferry from other places in Italy, like Naples, for example.
Fun fact for the end of the article: Naples and Palermo are the most notorious when it comes to traffic and driving. Surprisingly, they are amongst the cities with the least number of deadly car accidents in Italy. Locals say that they always break rules and always expect others to break them too, therefore they have developed the skill to always watch out for other traffic participants and, in fact, know when is the right time to go slower and when to speed up.
I hope these renting a car in Sicily driving tips were helpful and did not put you off from going on a road trip to Sicily. Being prepared in advance and knowing what to expect is always helpful when driving in a foreign country. Thus, I am wishing you a smooth Sicilian road trip.
More Sicily Travel Guides
- Planning a trip to Sicily and looking for a great itinerary? Then check my Epic Road Trip for 2-weeks in Sicily itinerary
- Renting a car in Catania, Sicily: everything you need to know.
- Renting a car in Palermo, Sicily: everything you need to know.
- Before you go traveling to Sicily, also check my Essential Sicily Travel Tips.
- Get some more inspiration with 21 spectacular places to visit in Sicily – a list of wonderful must-sees for first-time visitors.
- How to visit Favignana island, Sicily: a perfect day trip or longer to Egadi archipelago from Trapani.
- Also, read a detailed guide to hiking Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve in West Sicily.
- Visit Gangi mountain town in Sicily hinterlands with my complete travel guide.
- Find The most beautiful small coastal towns and fishing villages in Sicily.
- Discover The most charming mountain towns in Sicily.
Sicily Travel Essentials
Here are links to essential travel resources and services I always use when organizing my trips.
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