If you're touring Italy by car, then you might be planning to drive to Florence. We deliberately chose the phrase drive to Florence because we absolutely recommend against trying to drive in Florence. It's maze of one-way streets, strictly enforced pedestrian-only areas, narrow roads and lack of parking. Plus, everything you'll want to see is within walking distance, so driving in Florence ill-advised.
Still, if you arrive to Florence in a rental car, you need to know how to get into the city and where to park. Our guide to driving in Florence will answer your questions about how to navigate the city with a car.
In order to rent a car in Italy, drivers are required to have an international driver's license. This rule has been on the books for some time but is only recently being more strictly enforced. Two agencies in the U.S. issue international driver's licenses: the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. While other companies may advertise that they provide the licenses, AAA and AATA are the only two reputable sources for the permit. The permit currently costs $15 to $20 and typically arrives within two weeks of the date you apply.
Note that even if your rental car company doesn't require that you carry an international driver's permit, the Italian police do. You might get pulled over for speeding or some other infraction, or during one of the frequent flag-downs that happen everywhere in Italy – carabinieri (who are responsible for policing Italy's roadways) randomly stop cars to check that all documents are in order. If you do not present an international driver's license, you could receive a fine of 100 euros or more.
If you are renting a car in another European country and driving to Italy, you are required to have an international driver's permit, even if it's not required in the country where you rented the car.
Other driving requirements to keep in mind:
- The legal driving age in Italy is 18. Drivers under the age of 18, even if they have valid drivers' licenses in their home country, are not permitted to drive in Italy.
- All passengers are required to wear seatbelts at all times.
- Children ages 12 and over can ride in the front seat. Younger kids have to ride in the back seat.
- Car seats or booster seats are required for children who weigh under 97 pounds (36 kg) or who are less than 5 feet (150 cm) tall.
- Child car seats are required for children who weigh less than 48.5 lbs (18 kg), regardless of age or height.
For more information on driving requirements, see our guide to driving in Italy.
Rules of the Road
We like to think of the first rule of the road in Florence as "just don't." If you are driving into Florence, you should have gotten in advance very specific driving directions to your hotel or the nearest parking lot. Some hotels will let you park your car in front long enough to unload luggage, then they'll direct you to a parking lot. Very few hotels in the city have parking areas, and those that do charge for daily parking. The majority of city hotels simply don't have the square footage for parking areas, and underground garages are a rarity.
Assuming you've got directions in hand—or better yet, have a calm navigator in the passenger seat, preferably one with a good sense of direction—try to stick to those directions as closely as possible.
Zona Traffico Limitato
Zona Traffico Limitato means a limited traffic zone and is abbreviated ZTL on roadsigns. These are typically pedestrian-only zones or areas where only local residents, taxis, delivery trucks, public buses, police cars, and ambulances are allowed to enter. If you drive in a ZTL you may get pulled over and ticketed. More likely, a traffic camera will photograph your driving violation, and you'll receive a traffic citation at home, maybe months after you've returned from Italy. Trust us on this one—they will find you.
In case you're wondering, all of Florence's centro storico, on both sides of the river, is a ZTL. There are cameras everywhere, waiting to snap a photo of your license plate when you inadvertently drive into a ZTL. It's simply not possible to drive in the city without risking a traffic ticket.
ZTLs may be marked by a red stoplight, similar to a traffic light. Or they may just be marked by a street sign. These signs are easy to miss if you're searching for street names or trying to make sense of the directions from your navigation system.
Depending on the location of your hotel, they may be able to give you permission to enter a ZTL briefly in order to drop off your bags or reach their parking area. You'll still get your car's photo snapped when you enter the ZTL, but your hotel will take down your license plate number and report it to the traffic agency, which will get you off the hook. But don't count on this option unless it has been explicitly confirmed in advance by your hotel.
Citations & Emergencies
- If you are stopped by a city police officer and issued a ticket, do not try to pay it on the spot—this could be considered a bribery attempt and subject you to even more fines.
- If you receive a traffic citation, do pay it as soon as possible.
- In the unlikely event you have a traffic emergency in Florence, dial 112 from your cellphone. This will connect you to an emergency operator.
If you're driving into Florence on your own, without directions from your hotel, you need to get to a parking garage or lot and leave your car there for the duration of your visit. Garages that can be reached from the perimeter of Florence (meaning you won't have to enter the ZTL) include the following:
- Parcheggio Sotterraneo Stazione Smn is at Santa Maria Novella train station, in the WNW section of the city. This garage is most convenient for drivers entering Florence from the north, but it's also one of the most expensive, at 3.80 euors an hour with no discounts for nights or weekends.
- Parcheggio Sant’Ambrogio, located east of the city center, is best for those arriving in Florence from the south. Rates vary here but cost an average of 2 euros per hour.
- Stazione Fortezza Fiera, also near the train station but a farther walk from the city center, is 1.60 euros an hour, or 20 euros per day.
- Parcheggio Parterre, north of the city center at Piazza della Libertà, is the cheapest option, at 10 euros for the first day, 15 euros for the second day, and 20 euros for each subsequent day.
Firenze Parcheggi operates these and most of the major lots in the city and has a real-time map on its website that allows you to see how many spaces are available at each of its lots.