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Busy car rental desks inside Milan Malpensa airport. You can see signs for Avis and Budget. People waiting and you can see suitcases.

Milan Car Rental – Guide & Advice for Malpensa Airport & the Central Train Station

Are you getting ready to book your rental car in Milan but aren’t sure if you should rent at the airport or the train station?

Or perhaps you’ve booked your rental car at the Milano Centrale train station and you want to make sure the pickup goes smoothly. 

I’ve been renting cars in Italy since 2004, and I’ve got some advice for you for your Milan car rental, including:

  • If you even need to rent a car in Milan
  • Documents you need for a Milan car rental
  • The Milan car rental pickup location that’s best for you and your trip
  • Tips and advice for renting a car at the Milan Malpensa airport (MXP) and the Milano Centrale train station
  • Tips for driving in Milan
  • Ideas for what to see and do with your Milan rental car

I’ve also included photos.

This is kind of a long article, but there are a lot of things to know and helpful tips that will help make your car rental experience in Milan easier!

You may want to read more about
Driving in Italy

Renting a Car in Italy
Renting a Car in Italy as an American

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Do You Need to Rent a Car in Milan?

Before you rent your car for Milan, make sure you really need it.

You DO NOT need a rental car in Milan if:

  • You’re planning on visiting Milan.  You don’t want to have a car in Milan.  You can visit everything on foot or with public transport (underground metro, buses, taxis, tram).  Plus, parking is a pain (and expensive) and if you’re not used to city driving, it can be stressful.
  • You’re planning on visiting cities in Italy that are connected to Milan by train.  For example, you can easily visit Florence, Torino, Rome, Venice, Verona, and even places like the Dolomites and Lake Como easily by train.
  • You want to use the rental car to get to your next destination and stop along the way.  For example, if you’re in Milan and need to get down to the Rome airport, you could rent a car in Milan, drive to Rome, and stop at places along the way like Chianti wine country or the town of Orvieto.

You DO need a Milan car rental if:

  • You’re planning on leaving Milan to explore places like Piedmont wine country, Lake Garda, or other areas of Italy best visited by car.
  • You’re traveling with a lot of luggage, a large group, or you just want more flexibility.  Even if you’re visiting a place easily accessed by train from Milan, you may want to rent a vehicle in any of these situations.

Good To Know:  Want the flexibility of a car but don’t want to drive?  In Italy, you can hire an NCC – noleggio con conducente – a private car with driver.  This is a more expensive option, but you don’t need to worry about driving or navigating.

Documents Needed for Renting a Car in Milan

If you’re planning on picking up a rental car in Milan, make sure you have with you:

  • Driver’s license from your home country. 
  • International Driving Permit if you are not a resident of the European Union. It’s required by law. The rental car company may or may not ask, but you can be stopped by the police and asked for it. 
  • International ID (passport)
  • Credit Card (yours – you can’t use someone else’s) or debit card if you’ve arranged it with the agency
  • Car rental voucher (printed or digital, depends on the car rental agency)

Helpful Tip: Most rental car companies in Italy require you to have had your driver’s license for at least one year. If you’ve renewed your license within one year from picking up your rental car and you’re young, bring your old license – just in case. If, like me, you’re nowhere near the age of 21 (the minimum age to rent a car here), don’t stress about bringing your old one.

You may want to read
Can I Rent a Car in Italy with a US Driver’s License?
International Driving Permit for Italy – How and Why to Get One

Where to Rent a Car in Milan

You have four main options for a Milan car rental:

  1. Milan Malpensa airport (MXP)
  2. Milan city center (especially around the Milano Centrale train station)
  3. Milan Linate airport (LIN)
  4. Bergamo Orio al Serio airport (BGY)

In this article, I’ll focus on the two major rental locations for Milan – Milan Malpensa airport (where most international arrivals fly in to) and Milan city center (focusing on the Milan Central train station).

If you’re flying into Malpensa airport, definitely rent your car at the airport (vs taking the train to the Milan Central train station and renting there).  Airport rentals are much easier! 

Likewise, if you’re doing a one-way rental and were thinking of returning your car to the Milano Centrale train station location, you may want to return your car elsewhere.  More on that below.

You can also read our separate article on Car Rental at the Bergamo Airport (BGY).

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.

Renting a Car from the Milan (Malpensa) Airport

If you’re flying into Milan to begin your trip, it’s easiest to rent your car at the airport.  

You have two options when you’re renting a car at the airport – INSIDE the airport and OFF-SITE (WITH SHUTTLE). 

Inside the airportConvenient – walk straight from arrivals to the car rental desksLong lines almost always; rates tend to be higher
Off-siteUsually less expensive; usually lines to pick up cars are much shorterYou must take a shuttle to the car rental location

If you rent in the arrivals hall, you walk out the arrivals door, walk to porta (door) 5, go downstairs (escalator or elevator) and you’re at the car rental desks.  Find your supplier, wait in line to sign your contract and get your car key, and then walk two minutes to the parking garage (there are two, but signs indicate which one you need). 

Sign inside the Milan Malpensa airport.  It has car rental companies and arrows pointing the way to the garages.  You can see baggage carts behind the sign.
After you sign your contract and get your key, you’ll leave the terminal and go to the garage on the right or left, depending on your company (follow arrows).

The walkways are covered, and once you double-check your car for any scratches or damage, you can be on your way.

It’s simple to leave the airport.  There are green signs for the Autostrada (toll motorways) and blue signs for other destinations.

This is the easiest Malpensa airport car rental method, but the lines can be long (like over an hour, even two hours!).  It’s really important to expect long lines and be happy if they’re short.

If you rent off-site, you will catch a shuttle bus that will take you on the 3-5 minute drive to an off-site car rental lot or garage.  Each car rental company will have its own instructions (sometimes there’s a specific place to wait for the shuttle, and other times you must call a number to get a shuttle). 

You’ll sign your contract, check your car over, and be on your way. 

Again, the lines can be shorter, but you have to get to your company’s offices/lot, which is sometimes a pain (for example, you may need to use your phone to call the company’s phone number to request the shuttle, then wait for the shuttle). 

When you’re ready to go, use your GPS or Google Maps to drive out of the airport area. There are green signs for the Autostrada (toll motorways) and blue signs for other destinations.

Close up of sign at Milan Malpensa airport.  It has a green arrow toward 'autostrade' and other signs pointing to car rental return, parking areas, etc.  There is green grass on the hillside in the background.  this is on a traffic circle.
To leave the airport, follow the green sign toward autostrade

Helpful Tip:  You can filter your results to choose whether you want an ‘in terminal’ rental or one with ‘free shuttle service.’ 

Helpful Tip:  Use the bathrooms (changing tables for babies) in the arrivals hall before you pick up your rental car.  There’s also a grocery store downstairs by the car rental offices (for last minute road-trip snacks and water).

To return your rental car to the Milan Malpensa airport, first make sure you have the address of your car rental company’s rental car lot or garage.  This is important because there are different locations at the airport. Most follow the instructions below, but if you’ve rented at an off-site location, you’ll need to follow your GPS to your company’s address. 

Drive to the airport by following the signs for Malpensa (with an airplane icon).  Once you’re at the airport, follow signs for Terminal 1, and drive to your company’s location.  There are signs up at the roundabouts and on the street for most of the companies.

Road at Milan Malpensa airport.  You can see signs for different car rental companies for car rental return.
Turn right or left, depending on which car rental company you’re returning to.

Allow plenty of time to drop off your car.  You may need to wait for the attendant to check your car and sign off for no damage.  If you’re returning to an off-site location, you also need to allow time for the shuttle back to the airport.

Walk (or shuttle) to the terminal and catch your flight!  If, for some reason, you’re not flying out, you can make your way back to Milan by bus, train, or taxi from the terminal.

Good To Know: If you need to get gas before you drop off your car, stop when you’re a few kilometers from the airport. This gas station is one of the closest to Terminal 1, but there are others in the area. ALWAYS have cash (in small bills) – newer machines may reject your foreign credit card (it happened a couple of times to my family members recently).

Renting a Car from the Milan Central Train Station

If you’re already in Milan or coming to the city from another city, it’s easiest to rent your car in the city center at the Milan Central train station (Milano Centrale), rather than traveling out of the city to the airport. 

Heads Up:  I find the Milan train station car rentals to be kind of complicated.  It can be challenging to find your car rental desk, the cars are all parked at different garages, and sometimes the drop off garage is different from where you picked up your car.  Additionally, lines to pick up cars can be very long (as in 1+ hour waits), and sometimes there is no agent to sign off on car damage when you drop it off (which means you could get a ‘surprise’ damage charge when you get home). 

The car rental desks are all spread out – inside the front entrance of the station, on the outer edges of the station, and in the piazza and streets in front of the station.  You may need to walk 10-15 minutes (or take a cab) to your ‘train station’ car rental office.

This means it’s very important to know the exact address of your car rental location.  I recently rented from the Milano Centrale train station, and it took me awhile to find my company’s office. 

Good To Know:  Make sure you allow enough time to get to your car rental – many Milan agents I spoke to said they often had to release reservations if the driver didn’t show up on time.  The time varied (1.5-3 hours), but they all said it happens often. 

Helpful Tip:  Use the toilets on the train or inside the Milan train station (middle level, 1€) before heading to your car rental desk.  There’s also a Conad grocery store in the station if you need water or road trip snacks.

After showing your documents to the agent and signing your contract, you’ll be given your key and directions to the parking garage.  The garage may be around the corner, or another 10 minutes away on foot (the case with my recent Milan train station car rental).  If you have a big group, you can go get the car and drive back to pick up your group and luggage.

Helpful Tip:  Do not leave luggage unattended in the area around the Milan train station.  It may not be there when you get back.

Once you’ve got your car, make sure you check it over for any damage.  I make a video, take photos and try things (like opening the gas tank and trunk and trying the radio).  If there are any discrepancies with damage, deal with them now.

Then, you can head out of the city.  It’s easiest to use your GPS or Google Maps, and an agent here told me that Waze works really well in Milan.  You can also ask for directions when you’re signing your contract and picking up your keys.  Remember that the Autostrada (our toll motorway) signs are green.

When you’re coming back to the train station to return your car, make sure you have the address of the garage.  It may be different than the garage where you picked your car up.

You can fill up with gas in many gas stations on your way back to the train station.  You can do a quick search or just stop at one you see when you’re within a few kilometers of the station.

If you need to return your car and catch a train, allow plenty of time for Milan traffic and to walk or taxi from the parking garage to the train station (some garages are adjacent to the stadium, and others are a 10-15 minute walk from the station).

Important:  If you’re leaving keys in the drop box or an agent isn’t there to check over your car, make sure you again take photos and or a video of the car.  I always try to avoid after-hours drop offs (here or anywhere else in Italy) because I want the agent to sign off on no damage immediately. 

Good To Know:  The area around the Milano Centrale train station is not a good place to be at night.  For safety reasons, avoid returning a car to the station in the evening (after dark, or even after dinner in summer when it gets dark later). 

General Tips for Renting a Car in Milan

  • When booking your car online, choose the right options for you.  I always choose: full to full fuel, full prepayment, automatic transmission, 8.0 rating or higher for the car rental agency.
  • Search Milan (all locations), and not just Milan central train station (if that’s where you’re picking up a car), because there are a couple of other locations really close to the station that will show up MORE.  But train station locations are very convenient!
  • Look at Google Maps to see what your route in and out of Milan will look like.  I think this helps make the driving less intimidating.  For example, if you’ve picked up your car near Milano Centrale train station, you can see that you’ll usually quickly get on a ring road to a major road that leads you out of the city – you’re not going to spend hours driving around the center of Milan.  I also like to use the satellite layer to get an even clearer picture.  You can also look at street view on your route if that makes you feel more comfortable. 
  • Make sure you have data for Google Maps on your phone or that you’ve rented a GPS system for your car.  I prefer to use Google Maps because it’s what I already know and I’m familiar with the icons, etc.
  • Confirm border crossing if you’re planning on driving into Switzerland.
  • You need to have your credit card with you physically to pay for the security deposit.  You cannot pay with a virtual card (like Apple Pay or Google Pay).
  • Your license must have been issued at least one year before the date of the rental.  This is important if you’ve just renewed your license.  Be sure to bring your old one with you.
  • Some car rental agencies now require that your credit card has a chip.
  • Whenever possible, avoid picking up or dropping off a car around Milan morning and evening commute times.  Traffic is guaranteed during the week, in and around Milan.
  • When you get to the Autostrada, remember to avoid the yellow Telepass lane.  Use the cash or credit card lanes.  Read more about the Autostrada in Italy and How to Pay Tolls in Italy

Tips for Driving in Milan

Street in center of Milan, Italy.  You can see apartment buildings and two buses.  You can also see overhead tram lines and tram tracks on the ground.
  • Be aware of the ZTL – limited traffic zone.  If you’re just picking up and dropping off your car at the train station, you’re outside of the main Milan ZTL, but there are still occasionally streets that are a ZTL, so always be on the lookout for ZTL signs.
  • If you’re heading straight out of the city, ask the car rental desk agent to show you the best way out of town
  • Know what signs for the Autostrada look like.
  • Be ready for pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, buses and trams to cross the road in front of you or move into your lane. 
  • Follow your GPS or Google Maps (or your chosen navigation system).  Don’t think too much – just follow! 
  • You’ll probably drive over or alongside tram tracks at some point.  Don’t worry, your car and tires will be fine.
  • Don’t leave valuables or luggage unattended in your car.

You may want to read more about
ZTL in Italy
Parking in Italy
Italian Road Signs
Getting Gas in Italy

Where to Go with Your Milan Rental Car

Side street in Parma, Italy on a sunny autumn day.

You can go anywhere* with your Milan rental car!  Here are some ideas:

  • Bergamo
  • Brescia
  • Piedmont wine country and small towns like Alba, Bra, Barolo, La Morra
  • Lake Como
  • Lake Garda
  • Lake Iseo
  • Lake Maggiore (especially Stresa and Isola Bella)
  • Lake Orta (especially Orta San Giulio)
  • The Dolomites
  • The Cinque Terre and the Ligurian Coast
  • Emilia-Romagna and cities like Parma, Bologna, Ravenna, and Modena
  • Verona
  • Mantua
  • Prosecco region in the Veneto

You may want to read about the Best Day Trips from Milan

*Important:  If you’re planning on crossing into another country, make sure it’s cleared with the car rental company and noted in your rental contract.

Milan Car Rental FAQ

Do I need to reserve my Milan rental car way in advance?

It’s always a good idea to make your reservation as soon as you’re sure of your plans.  That way you’ll have a better selection of vehicles and rates.  If you’re planning on renting a van or large vehicle, I recommend renting as early as possible, as those seem to disappear the quickest.

Which car rental companies operate in Milan? 

You’ll find all major car rental companies in Milan (like Hertz, Avis, Budget, Thrifty, Europcar), as well as Italian and local companies. 

How do I get from the Milan Malpensa airport back to the Milan city center? 

There are multiple ways to travel from the Milan Malpensa airport back to the center, including the bus, the train, a taxi, or a private driver.   

Can I rent a car seat in Milan?

Yes, you can rent a car seat at any of the Milan car rental locations.  It’s best to reserve car seats in advance to guarantee you’ll get one. 

Is there any leeway for pick up and drop off of my Milan rental car?

In general (check your contract for details), the leeway for pickup is 180 minutes and drop off is 59 min (at 60 minutes you’re charged an extra day).

Can I drop off my Milan train station rental car after hours? 

First off, I wouldn’t recommend dropping off a car at the Milan train station in the evening.  It’s not a very safe area.  If you must, you need to check with the individual company, as some of the companies don’t have lock box access when the station is closed from 12:00am – 5:00am.