Last updated on October 16th, 2023
If you’ve decided to rent a car and drive in Sicily, you’ve made a great choice! In my experience (for both work and pleasure), it’s the best way to see and experience the island. Having your own car gives you flexibility, freedom, and access to so many places you can’t reach with public transport. Plus, you’ll spend less time waiting for buses and trains, and more time eating cannoli, visiting ruins like the ancient Greek theatre in Taormina, and lounging on Mediterranean Sea beaches like those in San Vito lo Capo.
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Driving Times are Longer
While there are a few Autostrade (Italian toll roads), you’ll mostly be driving on small country roads and highways.
Keep this in mind when you’re planning out your road trip itinerary. You can’t zip from one side of the island to another in an hour.
Take a look at some commonly driven routes:
Driving Distances and Driving Times in Sicily
|Catania – Palermo||210||2 hr 40 min|
|Catania – Taormina||55||55 min|
|Taormina – Siracusa||120||1 hr 25 min|
|Siracusa – Ragusa||80||1 hr 30 min|
|Siracusa – Palermo||260||3 hr|
|Ragusa – Agrigento||130||2 hr 20 min|
|Agrigento – Marsala||135||2 hr 10 min|
|Marsala – Palermo||125||1 hr 45 min|
|Palermo – Cefalù||70||65 min|
Good To Know: On the map, you’ll see roads with labels like SS194, SR15, and SP14. These are labels for strada statale (national road), strada regionale (regional road), and strada provinciale (provincial road). After the Autostrada, the SS roads tend to be larger (with faster traffic), followed by the SR and SP roads.
Drivers Don’t Always Yield to Traffic in the Roundabout
If you’ve driven in mainland Italy, you know the rule about roundabouts (traffic circles): when you’re entering, you must yield to cars already circulating in the roundabout.
In Sicily, drivers often enter the traffic circle without yielding to traffic already in the circle.
As someone used to Italian roads and drivers, this is the biggest difference to me when I’m driving in Sicily (vs. the mainland).
Always be ready for a car to enter the traffic circle in front of you – you may need to brake.
Two-Lane Roads Sometimes Become Three
You may be on a two-lane road and notice cars driving to the far right to create a third lane in the center. Cars driving in both directions will use this ‘lane’ to pass.
Feel free to move over to the right but pay attention to potholes and items on the edge of the road – the locals know where these obstacles are.
It’s Best to Rent Point A to B
If you’re planning on driving around the island (vs. just concentrating on one area), it’s often best to rent ‘open-jaw,’ meaning rent in one location and drop off in another.
In Sicily, a common car rental scenario is a pickup in Catania and drop-off in Palermo (or vice versa).
While you will need to pay a one-way fee, it’s worth it for the vacation time you save and the cost of gas.
What I Do: On a recent trip, I rented a car at the Catania airport before visiting eastern Sicily (the Ionian Sea coast and the Val di Noto), the north coast, and Palermo. I dropped my car off at the Palermo airport before flying out.
I like to use a search consolidator like DiscoverCars.com or AutoEurope.com.
I recommend checking both DiscoverCars.com or AutoEurope.com and the individual car rental companies for the best prices and vehicle availability. I rent from DiscoverCars.com.
Stop Signs are Sometimes Just Suggestions
You’ll notice most drivers don’t come to a complete stop at the stop sign. The stop sign tends to function more as a yield sign.
This is common in southern and central Italy as well.
If you want to get anywhere in Sicily, you can’t be a timid driver.
To merge onto a road or traffic circle, you must make a move – Sicilian drivers will not make room for you to enter.
Keep Your Tank Full
If you’re driving in the countryside, you may not always have a gas station nearby.
Read more about Italian Gas Stations & Getting Gas in Italy.
Always Have Cash for Gas Stations
Sometimes you may find you need to fill up on your own (like if the gas station is closed) using the self-service machines. On our most recent trip, we had trouble with our US credit cards – they were all rejected, which doesn’t happen on the mainland. I ended up using an Italian credit card or paying cash. Even if you have a PIN for your credit card or ATM card, it might still be rejected (many gas station attendants told me it happens often with US cards). So, always have some cash handy!
Use a GPS
Either use Google Maps on your phone (make sure you have a data plan & a car phone charger) or reserve a car with navigation.
What I Do: Even though our recent rental had a navigation system, I used Google Maps. It was very accurate, and I’m used to the graphics, which made it easier to decipher while driving.
I also carry a paper map which is handy for getting an overview of the route and just in case technology fails. I use the yellow and green Touring Editore 1:200,000 scale map. You can purchase it when you get to Sicily.
Be Aware of the ZTL
Most Sicilian cities and towns have a ZTL (zona traffico limitato – limited traffic zone). The purpose of the ZTL is to help reduce traffic and pollution in cities and towns and maintain pedestrian-only areas.
You can only enter the ZTL if you have permission or if the ZTL is not active (non attivo), often with a green light or font. If the ZTL is active (attivo), you may only enter if you have permission (local residents, guests of hotels in the ZTL, parking garage customers, and local workers).
If you enter an active ZTL and you don’t have permission, you’ll be fined.
The best thing to do is avoid entering the ZTL. Just like in mainland Italy, it’s much easier to park outside the ZTL (usually the historic center of the city, town, or village) and walk or take public transport into the center.
Read more in our Complete Guide to ZTLs in Italy.
Be Ready for Any Parking Scenario
The most important thing to do is read the signs because you can’t park everywhere.
In general, in Sicily: BLUE lines are pay and display parking, YELLOW lines need permission (residents, handicap permit, public transport, etc), and WHITE lines are free. However, sometimes WHITE lines are for residents.
In larger cities, I usually pay to park in a garage or parking lot. If there is an attendant, you will either leave your keys and he or she will park your car, or you’ll park it and take your keys with you. You typically pay when leaving the garage or lot. This is a more expensive option, but I find it less stressful than looking for street parking and I feel like there are fewer opportunities for my rental car to get scratches and dings.
Most street parking has blue painted lines. You must pay for parking, either in the machine (then put the printed ticket on your dash) or with an app on your smartphone.
On our recent trip, we used Easy Park, which is becoming more and more common in Sicilian cities and towns. It’s a simple way to park and top up when needed (without walking back to your car to feed the parking machine). It also sends a reminder when you’re parking is about to expire and the app keeps a record of your parking (time, date, location, etc).
Other less-common scenarios: disco parking (rotate your parking disk to the time you arrived to stay for a limited amount of time) or scratch-off parking (scratch off the date and time and put the card on your dash).
Read more in our Guide to Parking in Italy.
Try to Arrive in Cities During the Day
It’s much easier to find your way around town in Sicily if it’s light out. If you have someone helping you navigate, he or she will also have a much easier time reading signs and looking for landmarks.
You’ll also avoid evening commuter traffic.
Put Large Towns in Your GPS to Avoid Country Roads
When you’re driving on roads other than the Autostrada, you’ll be on country roads or 2-lane highways. The country roads are gorgeous, but they’re often narrow and dotted with potholes or farm animals. If it’s daytime and you’re enjoying the views, these roads are pleasant, but if you just want to get from point A to point B, you’ll want to skip them. Instead of just entering your destination in your GPS (or Google Maps), enter the next ‘large’ town. Then, when you arrive in that town, enter the next ‘large’ town, until you arrive at your destination. This will keep you on the larger highways for a quicker, smoother drive.
Have the Required Driving Documents
Remember to carry the following with you while you’re driving in Sicily:
- Home country driver’s license
- International driving permit (for non-EU residents)
You’ll also need to show your passport and credit card to the car rental company agent when you pick up your rental car.
Know Important Italian Road Signs
Sicilian drivers zipping by you, mopeds on both sides of your car, cows on country roads, narrow streets that require you to fold your mirrors in…
You’ve got enough to worry about while you’re driving in Sicily, so make sure you know Italian road signs before you’re actually on the road.
Read about Important Italian Road Signs and look at the photos so you’re familiar with them before your trip.
Obey the Speed Limit
This isn’t a case of ‘when in Rome.’ Sure, you’ll see Sicilian drivers speeding by you, but they also know the roads well and they know where the obstacles and speed traps are.
To drive safely and arrive home without a multa (fine), keep your speed within the posted speed limits.
The Autostrada limit is 130 km/hr (110 km/hr in rain or poor weather conditions), and other roads are generally 50-110 km/hr, depending on where you are, the type of road (highway vs. country lane), the condition of the road, and if there’s road construction. Always follow the limits on the posted signs.
Good To Know: Sometimes the speed will be lowered for no apparent reason (for example, from 70 to 30 km/hr). Usually, it’s for large potholes or dips in the road. Slow down, or your car will pay for it (and eventually, you will too… €).
I hope these tips help you feel more confident about your upcoming trip to Sicily. Enjoy your time driving in Sicily and exploring the island!
Driving in Sicily FAQ
Yes, you can easily drive up to Rifugio Sapienza, which is like a small village. From there, you can walk to see some of the craters, or even take the cable car and 4×4 vehicles higher up the volcano.
Having a car gives you the freedom to explore, but you could also take a guided tour, take a bus or train, or hire a private driver for the day. If you do decide to rent a car for a day trip from Palermo, rent it from (and return it to) the city center instead of at the Palermo airport (far from town).
You can drive, but parking can be extremely difficult, especially in the summer months. The easiest thing to do is take the bus or cable car from Taormina.