Renting a car in Sicily is one of the best ways to get around the little Southern Italian island. Public transport here leaves a lot to be desired and although trains and buses across the island exist, they run on infrequent schedules and can be unreliable.
Even getting to well-known coastal towns and historical attractions is not all that easy in Sicily without a car. Places that should theoretically be straightforward to get to often require multiple bus transfers.
Journeys that should be relatively straightforward can wind up taking hours. Getting anywhere in Sicily can really start to test your patience and so, if you can drive and you are confident enough to drive overseas, doing so here comes highly recommended.
Renting a Car in Sicily
Renting a car in Sicily gives you a lot more freedom and independence than having to depend on public transport. It also enables you to travel more off the beaten path to secluded beaches and rural country villages that you would otherwise not be able to reach.
Booking your rental car
Several reputable international rental firms operate in Sicily – including the likes of Avis, Budget, and Europcar. Smaller, local firms can also be pretty good and should not be written off.
Use a rental car comparison website like Discover Cars to compare the different deals available. Always read past reviews, particularly if you are opting to rent through an independent company.
You should try and book your Sicily car rental as far in advance of your travel dates as possible. Generally speaking, the closer to your departure dates you leave it, the more expensive it becomes. The same could be said of planning all aspects of your trip to Italy!
Most cars in Italy are small and manual. Automatic cars are often in limited supply so if you specifically want/need to rent an automatic, that should be an additional reason to reserve your car as far in advance as possible.
Cars in Europe, particularly Southern Europe, tend to be smaller as the streets here are narrow and not wide enough to accommodate large vehicles. This can be a culture shock if you are coming from the US.
It is a good idea to purchase your car insurance at the same time that you reserve your vehicle. That way, you have the peace of mind that everything is already organised and taken care of well in advance of your trip.
Car insurance for Sicily car rentals
Purchasing comprehensive insurance is essential for renting a car in Sicily (and renting a car in Italy in general). By law, you must have Third Party Liability, Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), and Theft Protection insurance.
However, it is a good idea to opt to purchase full coverage insurance. That way, you are covered for any and every eventuality. You will likely then not have an excess should your vehicle incur any scratches or scrapes during your trip.
Southern Italy and Sicily are safe for the most part. However, petty crime is more common here than in the Central and Northern parts of the country.
Full coverage insurance plans often also include Personal Effects Protection which covers your personal belongings should anything happen to be taken from within your car. (You should also not leave valuable items in the car or on display).
Always read the small print of any policy that you are considering so you know precisely what you are covered for. If you have a credit card that comes with international car insurance, it is worth keeping in mind that Italy is excluded from most international policies.
Understand the requirements for renting a car in Sicily
You must be 18 years old to rent a car in Sicily. The maximum age limit varies from company to company but it generally tends to be around 70-75 years old.
If you are under 25 or you have only recently obtained your driving license, you may be required to pay an additional premium. A full driving license is required and if your driving license was issued from outside of the EU, you also need to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) in hand.
Fortunately, the process for acquiring an IDP is fairly straightforward. But it is something that you should organise in advance of your Sicily itinerary.
Getting an International Driver’s Permit for travel to Sicily
The process varies depending on which country you are from. It is important to note that you must apply for an IDP in the country where your driving license was issued. You can check the information for all countries here.
If you are British and aged 18 and above with a full driving license, you can get your IDP from the post office for £5.50. If you are American, you need to print out and fill out your IDP application and then take it to your nearest AAA branch. The permit fee in the USA is $20.
Make copies of all important documents
Theoretically, the Sicilian police can ask you to present your driving license, other ID documents, and rental papers at any moment. Realistically, this is only likely to happen if you are involved in some sort of accident.
You will need to present your passport and driving license to the rental office when picking up your vehicle. You need to carry your license and vehicle details with you at all times.
It is also a good idea to make copies of everything. At the very least, take photos of your passport, driving license, and rental information, store it on your phone and upload it securely to the cloud. This is good practice whenever and wherever you travel.
Airport pickups are popular
Sicily is home to four international and two national airports. Usually, you will fly into Palermo’s Falcone Borsellino Airport or Catania’s Vincenzo Bellini airport.
Both are serviced by numerous international flight routes to other destinations in Europe, the Middle East, and further afield. It is possible to collect your rental vehicle from both of these airports.
This is perhaps the most convenient option. However, sometimes, prices are higher if you opt to collect your vehicle from Catania airport rather than Catania city centre and from Palermo airport rather than Palermo centre.
Sometimes, the price difference is marginal but it is worth playing around with the quote tool on rental comparison platforms to double-check. If you are planning on spending a couple of days in Catania or Palermo, you might find it preferable to get a bus or transfer to the city.
You can explore both of Sicily’s main cities on foot. That way you may find that you save yourself some money as you may not necessarily need a rental car for the first couple of days of your trip.
Think carefully about your pick-up and drop-off points
One-way rentals (i.e. rentals whereby you pick your vehicle up from one place and drop it off in another) often cost more than a rental where you collect and drop off your vehicle in one place. Sometimes the price difference is significant and it often works out better to plan your itinerary so that you travel around Sicily in a loop.
For instance, you might be considering collecting your rental car in Palermo, driving east across the island, and dropping it off at Palermo airport. Check everything carefully to see what option is best based on convenience/cost.
Thoroughly check your vehicle before driving off with it
Wherever you travel, you should always be very careful about checking your rental car thoroughly before driving off with it. Unfortunately, scams do happen from time to time.
You will usually be asked to sign an inventory confirming the condition that the vehicle was in when you picked it up. Be sure to document every nick or scratch and check both the inside and the outside of the vehicle.
It is a good idea to photograph everything. That way, you have time-stamped photo evidence of the condition the car was in when you collected it.
So, if your rental company tries to dispute anything later, you are covered. Save the photos on your phone and upload them to the cloud. Do the same when you return the vehicle.
It is a good idea to do this whenever you travel and rent a car. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Getting gas in Sicily
A gas station in Italy is known as a benzinaio. You may also hear them referenced as distributore di benzina or a stazione di rifornimento.
You will usually find plenty of gas stations scattered around the island – in both cities, towns, and rural areas. Use your GPS or Google maps to see where they are located.
Some gas stations, like many businesses, close in Sicily on Sundays. Others remain open. Google and Google maps will usually inform you of their opening times.
Bizarrely, the price of gas can vary wildly from one part of the island to another. When you drive around, keep your eyes peeled for gas station signs and rates so that you can establish an idea of the correct “going rate”. The price here is charged per liter, not per gallon.
Most gas stations give you the option to go full service (i.e. someone fills up your tank for you), or you can do it yourself. The former is obviously the more expensive option of the two.
In Italian, diesel is diesel, benzina is petrol, and senza piombo is unleaded petrol. Few people speak English in Sicily, but any efforts to communicate in Italian are appreciated. When you want someone to fill your tank, a simple “benzina/senza piombo/diesel” per favore” is all you need.
Taking Italian rental cars across borders
Most Italian rental companies will allow you to take their vehicles across borders to other European countries. However, some will not so it is important to double-check in advance.
This is good news if you are enjoying an Italy itinerary as part of a wider European road trip. You will usually be required to pay a cross-border fee. This covers your insurance, taxes, and any other fees required.
Catania car rental
You can get a Catania car rental for around $15 a day. Prices vary depending on the season and demand.
Cheaper isn’t always better so use a comparison website like Discover Cars to obtain a few no-obligation quotes. If a deal seems too good to be true, sometimes it is.
You can pick up your Catania car rental from Catania airport or the city centre. Renting a car in Catania puts you in a good place to then explore Sicily’s eastern coast. You can drive north to the charming town of Taormina, and south to Siracusa, Ortigia island, Noto, Pozzallo, and Ragusa.
Driving in Sicily
Driving in Sicily is not as daunting as it may seem. Yes, people drive a little more chaotically here.
However, be patient, cautious, and aware of your surroundings and you will be fine. In Sicily, it is very important to always be mindful of other drivers – arguably more than elsewhere.
Sometimes, it can feel as though Sicilians see road rules and speed limits as more of a rough guideline than stringent rules to be followed. As far as some drivers are concerned, when you approach traffic lights, green means go, orange means go, and red means go!
Drive on the right
In Sicily, you drive on the right-hand side of the road, much like the rest of Europe. The left lane is for overtaking only.
Sicily road trip ideas
If you are visiting Sicily for the first time, it is understandable that you may want to see everything. However, the island is actually larger than you may realise (it is the largest island in the Mediterranean sea!).
So, you might find it preferable and more manageable to draw up an itinerary that focuses on a certain part of the island. For instance, on the East or West Coast.
A cross-island itinerary is great if you don’t mind a lot of driving. You can start in Palermo, drive along the coast to the seaside town of Cefalu, visit the sunbleached ruins at Agrigento, fall in love with beautiful Siracusa and Ortigia island, and then visit Catania, Taormina, and Mount Etna.
An East Sicily road trip allows you more time to focus on the underrated coastal towns close to Catania. For instance, Aci Trezza and Acireale. You could also drive all the way up to Messina where you can see the mainland Italian region of Reggio Calabria across the water.
Basically, the possibilities are endless. Don’t feel that you have to do it all in one trip!
Zona Traffico Limitatos in Sicily
One of the most important things to be aware of when renting a car and driving in Sicily is the existence of ZTL areas (Zona traffico limitatos). These are restricted areas (usually the historic centres of touristic cities) that aim to curb the amount of traffic and congestion.
ZTLs are enforced by cameras and the fines for accidentally driving into one can be hefty. Even if you unknowingly drive through a ZTL, you may return home from your vacation to receive a fine.
Not the souvenir that you want! Worst still, when you drive through a ZTL with a rental, rather than your own car, the rental company may slap additional extra charges on top for the inconvenience of them having to notify and follow up with you about the fee.
ZTL zones are usually signposted. You will know you are approaching one when you see a sign of a red circle on a white background.
Not all ZTLs are created equal. Some do not allow access throughout the day, while others are only restricted at certain times.
The sign will usually display additional information if restrictions only apply at certain times. This will be in Italian but it is pretty self-explanatory, even if you don’t speak Italian.
In Sicily, Palermo is a low emission zone. The below areas are ZTLs/restricted traffic zones.
- Castellamare del golfo
- Punta Secca
Road conditions in Sicily
Road conditions in Sicily are fine for the most part. If you have spent any amount of time driving in Europe, driving here is not too dissimilar from driving in Greece and other Southern European and Balkan countries.
The roads are usually in a decent condition and well-maintained. They may not be as sleek and clean as roads in Western Europe but they are fine, free from potholes and damage, etc.
Things get a little bumpier when you head into rural areas or venture down offbeat roads to hidden beaches. Still, you will be fine on these roads with a standard rental car.
Speed limits in Sicily
Speed limits in Sicily are displayed in km/h. If you are caught speeding (speed cameras are present across the island), not only will you incur a fine for speeding, but you will also incur an additional fee from your rental company.
So, it is important to drive carefully. You will notice a lot of Sicilian drivers bolting along the roads at unnecessarily high speeds. Don’t follow suit.
The speed limit is 50km/h in built-up areas, 90 km/h on local roads, 110 km/h on non-major highways, and 130km/h on highways.
Road rules in Sicily
The road rules in Sicily are fairly standard in terms of what you would expect across Europe. Whether people follow them is another matter entirely, but just watch out for your own driving and you will be fine.
You must have no more than 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in your system when you are driving. Fines for driving under the influence are heavy and can be accompanied by a prison sentence.
You will be fined if you drive over the speed limit and Italian police can slap you with on-the-spot fines. Seat belts and children’s car seats are compulsory.
You should turn on your headlights on highways and outside of built-up areas. It is also important to note that some tunnels are not illuminated. The headlights on most Italian vehicles do not come on automatically when entering a dark tunnel so remember to turn them on.
Toll roads in Sicily
The majority of roads in Sicily are free from tolls. However, there are exceptions.
The A18 and A20 are both parts of the Sicilian freeway and require tolls. These must be paid in cash and so it is always a good idea to keep plenty of coins and small notes with you.
Toll prices range between 1 and 5 euros. You can alter your GPS route so that you avoid toll roads and make your journey cheaper. However, since tolls are not expensive, it is generally not worth the inconvenience to take the longer route.
Do you have any experience with renting a car in Sicily or traveling here? I spent two months living in Catania in 2018. I also taught English in Italy for a year (in Naples).
So, I know firsthand how stressful it can be to try and get around the island by bus/train! Regardless, sometimes the chaos is all part of the fun of travelling in the Mediterranean.
Have a wonderful time in Sicily! Andiamo! Melissa xo