Having a rental car in Tuscany gives you freedom and flexibility, and it’s the only way to see some of the Tuscan countryside.
However, before you reserve your Tuscany rental car, read through these important tips that will help you decide if you need one.
And if you do decide to rent a car, the rest of the tips will help make your time driving your rental car in Tuscany fun, memorable, and stress-free.
Why listen to me? I’ve been driving cars (rental cars, our family’s cars, vans with trailers, and more) in Tuscany since 2004. I also help travelers rent cars in Tuscany and explore the Tuscan countryside by car.
Really don’t want to drive? You can visit Tuscany without a car.
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Table of Contents
What to Do and See with a Rental Car in Tuscany
- Visit hilltop villages like Pienza, Montalcino, and Montepulciano
- Stay in an agriturismo
- Photograph sites (like the Vitaleta Chapel, the San Quirico d’Orcia cypress trees, Pitigliano)
- Go wine tasting at Tuscan vineyards (Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Super Tuscans)
- Visit hotsprings (like Bagno Vignoni, Saturnia, San Casciano dei Bagni), especially in the winter!
- Explore the Chianti villages
- Visit lesser-known villages like San Donato in Poggio, Collodi, Montefioralle, Monticchiello, and Cerreto Guidi
- Attend a sagra or shop at a small town’s market
- Lounge at quiet beaches (or stop by luxe Forte dei Marmi and shop at its famous market)
- Follow a sporting event like the Giro d’Italia or head to a soccer match (although often possible by public transport)
- Go shopping at an outlet mall like The Mall or the Prada outlet.
- Head to the Apuan Alps for skiing or hiking
I like to use a search consolidator like DiscoverCars.com or AutoEurope.com.
I recommend checking both a consolidator (DiscoverCars.com or AutoEurope.com) and the individual car rental companies for the best prices and vehicle availability.
Important Tips for Car Rental in Tuscany
1. Don’t Rent a Car if You’re Only Visiting Cities
For example, if you’re planning on exploring Florence and Pisa and then leaving Tuscany by train to head to Rome, you don’t need to rent a car! It’s not necessary (you can easily travel to major Tuscan cities by train) and it’s a pain to park and drive around cities.
Popular cities in Tuscany that you can easily reach by train or bus:
Popular cities and towns in Tuscany that are best reached by car:
- Chianti towns (Radda, Greve, Panzano, Castellina, Gaiole)
- Forte dei Marmi
- San Gimignano (easily reached by bus from some cities, like Florence)
If you don’t want to take a train or bus, you can also hire a private driver (NCC – noleggio con conducente) or take a tour (private or with a group). And, you could always travel around Tuscany by bicycle or on foot!
2. Compare Rates and Choose the Best Location
Sometimes the best Tuscany rental location isn’t the most obvious one. For example, if you’re flying into Pisa, you may think that’s the best place to rent your car. It may be, but if you’re planning on exploring Pisa and then heading to Florence before you visit the Tuscany countryside, look into renting in Florence. You can easily take the train from Pisa to Florence, and there are car rental locations in the center of Florence and at the airport.
Another thing to consider – your comfort level driving in Italy. If it’s your first time renting a car and driving in Italy, renting a car in Chiusi is a ‘gentler’ entrance to the Italian driving experience than renting a car from a location in the center of Florence. There’s less traffic and confusion in quiet Chiusi.
3. Consider an Open Jaw Rental
If you’re renting a car in Florence, driving around the Tuscany countryside, then heading back to Florence for your flight out, great. If you’re heading elsewhere after visiting the Tuscan countryside, think about renting ‘open-jaw’ – pick up your car in one location, and drop it off in another. This almost always incurs a one-way fee, but you’ll likely make up for it with gas, tolls, and time savings.
4. Plan Out Your Route
While you may be a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ traveler, it’s a good idea to plan out your route for your time in Tuscany.
You’ll want to avoid backtracking or going out of your way to reach a destination if it’s not necessary. Why? Driving in Tuscany includes:
- Small, 2-lane roads (1 lane traveling in each direction)
- Winding roads
- Narrow roads
- Tractors and farm equipment
- Dirt roads (strade bianche)
It’s important not to try to do too much in one day. For example, it sounds easy to drive from Florence to the countryside and stop in a few towns. But if you plot out your route, you’ll see the travel time between towns is probably greater than you’d imagined. Plus, you’ll need to park and walk into town, etc.
Here are some sample routes, distances, and travel times:
|Florence – Gaiole (Chianti), using country roads
|1 hr 25 min
|Florence – Montepulciano, using A1
|1 hr 20 min
|Florence – San Gimignano, using country roads
|1 hr 30 min
|San Gimignano – Monteriggioni, using country roads
|Siena – Montepulciano
|Siena – Saturnia (thermal baths)
|1 hr 50 min
|Florence – Forte dei Marmi, using A11
|1 hr 30 min
Good To Know: Tuscany has a few Autostrade (Italian toll roads) that make travel over longer distances quicker. Some of the major Autostrada routes in the region are the A1 (passes near Florence, Arezzo, and Montepulciano), the A11 (passes from Florence and near Pistoia, Lucca, Pisa, and Viareggio), and the A10 (aka European Route E80, passes near Lucca, Pisa, Livorno, and Grossetto).
5. Avoid Traffic When You Can
Large Tuscan cities (like Florence, Pisa, Livorno, Grossetto, Siena) have heavy commuter traffic in the morning and from late afternoon to early evening. The traffic includes workers and students (September through June).
Additionally, Tuscany sees heavy traffic on the Autostrada in August (especially the beginning and end of the month and around August 15th), when most Italians and many Europeans are on vacation. The A1 is often at a standstill during this period, and the A11 has heavy traffic on Fridays heading west toward the beach, and on Sundays heading east.
Fun Fact: You can get your driver’s license at 18 here in Italy, so many Italian high school students are driven to school, take the bus, or drive a small scooter.
6. Gather Necessary Documents
Whether you rent your car on the outskirts of Siena or at the Florence airport, you always need the following:
- Home country driver’s license
- International Driving Permit
- Credit Card
Good To Know: Yes, visitors have been turned away at car rental desks in Tuscany for not having an IDP (International Driving Permit). And, you may be asked to show your IDP in the event of a traffic accident or even at a traffic road stop on a small road in Chianti.
7. Have a Paper Map & GPS
I find that Google Maps is generally very reliable in Tuscany and it’s what I use. I use it for directions, and I often have it on even if I know where I’m going – for its feature that redirects you to the fastest route (for example, if there’s an accident or traffic).
If you don’t use Google Maps, use another navigation system of your choice (like Waze) or your rental car’s navigation system.
But don’t rely on navigation. The speed limits are often wrong, and Google Maps and other navigation systems often lead you into city centers and their ZTLs and pedestrian-only areas.
I recommend having a paper map with you – it’s helpful for getting an overview of your route and it also comes in handy if your phone dies or you have spotty cell service. I use the Touring Editore ‘Toscana’ 1:200,000 scale map. You can find them in bookstores and at gas stations. They’re easy to read, waterproof, and tear-proof.
8. Know What an Autovelox Is
An autovelox is an electronic speed trap. You’ll see them in Tuscany on the side of all types of roads, from small country roads to Autostrade.
You will always be notified that a speed trap is coming up (no surprises!). There are signs that say ‘controllo elettronico della velocità,’ or ‘speed controlled electronically.’ After the sign, the autovelox will be present within 4 kilometers (by law).
Good To Know: There is no minimum distance between the warning sign and the actual autovelox, but there must be enough distance for cars to be able to brake gradually. Usually, this means a minimum of around 500 meters on country roads and small highways, and a minimum of around 800 meters on roads with fast-moving traffic.
9. Be on the Lookout for the New Speed Traps
On the Autostrada, there is another type of speed trap – the Sistema Tutor, (aka Safety Tutor). The Sistema Tutor measures your average speed between two points. If your average speed is over the speed limit (with a little leeway), you’ll be fined.
You’ll be warned that this is coming up with a sign that says ‘controllo elettronico della velocità media’ or ‘average speed controlled electronically.’
While this type of speed trap has traditionally been on the Autostrada, it’s now showing up on smaller country roads. I recently noticed one on the SR2 near Siena.
10. Know What a ZTL Is – And Avoid It
A ZTL is a limited traffic zone (zona traffic limitato) and when it’s active, only vehicles with permission may enter. You’ll find ZTLs in all large Tuscan cities (Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca, etc) as well as smaller towns and villages (Castellina in Chianti, Montepulciano, etc).
Who has permission to enter an active ZTL? If you’re driving a rental car, you only have permission if you’re staying at a hotel inside the city center (and you’ll need to have the hotel register your license plate with the local authorities), or if you’re parking in a garage in the ZTL.
Read all about ZTLs in Italy.
Good To Know: ZTLs are always marked with signs, so keep an eye out for them.
Helpful Tip: A stress-free option is to always park outside the city center and walk or take public transport into the city or town.
11. Park Outside Tuscan City Centers
As mentioned above, you can remove some of the stress from city driving and parking by choosing to park outside the city center. Then, take public transport (bus, taxi, tram) or walk to the center.
Read more about Parking in Italy.
12. Have a Designated Driver for Tuscan Winery Visits
Italian laws regarding drinking and driving are very strict – .05%. And, you will sometimes find roadblocks or traffic stops at entrances to main roads and even on country roads.
Ways to avoid drinking and driving if you’re planning on visiting wineries in Tuscany (or sampling wines at dinner):
- Have a designated driver.
- Call a taxi (or have the winery or restaurant call for you).
- Visit Tuscany’s wineries on a tour or with a private driver.
- Use public transport to visit a winery (for example, you can reach Antinori’s beautiful winery in Bargino by bus in less than an hour).
Helpful Tip: If you’re visiting during the grape harvest in the fall, make sure you call or email ahead to find out if the winery is open to visitors during the harvest. Many small wineries are ‘all-hands-on-deck’ during the vendemmia.
13. Don’t Leave Your Luggage Unattended
Thieves are smart, so don’t assume that if you can’t see your luggage, it’s safe. Leave your luggage at your accommodation, in a luggage deposit, or have someone stay in the car.
I know this can be tough if you’re touring the countryside and stopping in villages on the way to your next hotel or agriturismo.
If you’re stopping for lunch at a roadside trattoria or making a quick trip to a grocery store for picnic supplies, keep your car visible to at least one person in your group if you’ve got luggage inside.
Not to scare you – there aren’t thieves lurking around every corner – but luggage theft does happen here in Tuscany.
What I Do: I always try to avoid leaving luggage in my car. There are too many thefts – in cities and small villages. However, I sometimes find myself in this situation, and I never leave anything in my car that I would be upset to lose. Unfortunately, this may mean someone still breaks into my car (and leaves disappointed).
14. Know How to Use the Car
If you’ve seen photos of Tuscany, you’ve probably noticed there are many hills and narrow roads. Before leaving the car rental lot, make sure you can put the car in reverse, put it in park, and that you know which gas to use. Also, make sure you know how to use the air-conditioning – Tuscany gets hot in the summer!
15. Plan Fun Stops for Kids
If you’re visiting Tuscany with kids, traveling by car is a nice way to see the region and have some flexibility in your travel. Make sure you plan some fun stops at places like the Giardino dei Tarocchi, the Pinocchio Park, the Chianti Sculpture Park, and the Pistoia Zoo.
16. Know Italy Driving Basics
Driving in Tuscany may be different than what you’re used to in your home country. In order to make your time on Tuscan roads as enjoyable as possible, do a little prep work and be familiar with some Italy driving basics like how to get gas, how to park, and what some of the most important Italian road signs look like.
Enjoy the ride – er – drive! Tuscan roads are some of most beautiful in all of Italy!
Tuscany Car Rental FAQ
You’ll find all of the major companies (like Avis, Budget, Hertz, Maggiore, Alamo, Dollar, National, Enterprise, Europcar) as well as lesser-known car rental companies like SIXT and Sicily by Car. I use a consolidator like Discover Cars or Auto Europe to compare rates and locations for the city or area I’m interested in.