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Car rental return office for Noleggiare at the Palermo airport in Sicily, Italy.

Renting a Car in Sicily in 2023 – Tips & Advice Straight From Italy

Are you heading to Sicily soon and trying to decide if you should rent a car or use public transport?

I’ve written this guide based on my time driving in Sicily and renting cars in Sicily for work and personal travel.  I’ve also tapped into my Sicilian family for their advice.

This article includes:

  • help deciding if you should rent a car in Sicily
  • ideas for where to go with your rental car
  • which documents you need to rent a car in Sicily
  • where to rent a car on the island
  • alternative to renting a car in Sicily
  • my helpful tips for renting a car and driving in Sicily

You may also want to read our Complete Guide to Renting a Car in Italy.

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Should You Rent a Car in Sicily?

Yes – Renting a car in Sicily is the best way to see all the island has to offer.  Having your own car on the island gives you freedom, flexibility, and access to many destinations that are difficult (or impossible) to visit with public transport.

If you’re only staying for a short time and planning on visiting one of the larger cities (like Palermo or Catania), you’ll be fine without a rental car.  In fact, I recommend avoiding a rental car in this case.

If you’ll be visiting Catania or Palermo at one end of your trip, only rent a car for the non-city portion of your trip.  Parking is pricey and can be complicated, and you won’t need (or want) to drive a car in a major city in Sicily.

Good To Know:  It is possible to see Sicily by public transport (I’ve done it!).  However, you’ll spend a lot of your vacation time waiting for trains and buses and the services aren’t always frequent or on time.

Best Things to See and Do in Sicily with a Rental Car

Church and outdoor restaurant in Piazza Regina Margherita in Marzamemi, Sicily, Italy.
The small fishing village of Marzamemi
  • Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site towns of the Val di Noto, including Modica, Ragusa, Noto, and Scicli.
  • Marvel at some of the island’s ruins – like Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples, the Temple of Segesta, the Selinunte Archaelogical Park, the Villa Romana del Casale, and the Neapolis Archaeological Park in Siracusa (Syracuse).
  • Feel chic in Taormina.
  • Check out Sicily’s beaches like San Vito lo Capo, Sampieri, Cefalù, Scala dei Turchi, Isola Bella in Taormina, and the beaches in the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro.
  • See Etna on your own.
  • Go on a road trip around the island.  Stop in small villages, explore beaches, and sample fresh citrus at stands on the side of the road.

Required Documents for Renting a Car in Sicily

  • Home Country Driver’s License
  • International Driving Permit (if you’re coming from a non-EU country) – translation of your driver’s license so that Italian authorities can understand it.  You’ll need it when you pick up your rental car (the agent may or may not ask to see it) or if you’re pulled over at a road check or for a traffic violation.

Good To Know:  You may hear or read about an International Driver’s License, which doesn’t exist.  You need an International Driving Permit.

Helpful Tip:  You must obtain an IDP in your home country.  If you need to get one while you’re abroad (yours is lost, stolen, or expired) you can often do so by mail.

  • Passport
  • Credit Card

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

Best Places to Rent a Car in Sicily

Car rental desks inside the Catania airport in Sicily, Italy.
Car rental desks at the Catania airport

The main car rental locations in Sicily are at the Catania airport (CTA) and the Palermo airport (PMO).  You can also rent a car in the city centers of Catania and Palermo.

Read our guide to Renting a Car in Catania.

Smaller car rental locations in Sicily include:

  • Comiso
  • Castellamare del Golfo
  • Cefalù
  • Cinisi
  • Messina
  • Milazzo
  • Pozzallo
  • Ragusa
  • Taormina
  • Trapani
  • Other smaller towns

The best place to pick up your car depends on the structure of your Sicily trip:

Flying to Sicily and Heading Straight Out to Explore the Island

The simplest thing to do is rent your car at the airport you fly into and drop it off at the airport you fly out of.  You will most likely fly into or out of Palermo (PMO) or Catania (CTA). 

Prices at Sicily’s airports tend to be slightly higher than renting in the city centers (due to airport taxes).  However, the airport locations have more vehicles, a larger variety of vehicles, and the operating hours are longer.  It’s also more convenient and quicker to rent your car at the airport if you’re flying into Sicily.  You avoid having to get transport into the city center, having to deal with city traffic, and possibly getting a ZTL fine.

Example: I recently flew into Catania (CTA) and immediately headed north to Mt. Etna and Taormina.  Next, I visited the Val di Noto and a few more small towns.  After some time in Palermo, I flew out of the Palermo airport.  For this trip, I picked up my rental car at the Catania airport (CTA) and dropped it off at the Palermo airport (PMO).

Visiting Your Arrival City Before Exploring the Island

If you’re flying into Sicily and you want to spend time in your arrival city before exploring the rest of the island, rent your car from the city (unless your desired car is less expensive or only available at the airport).

Example:  Fly into Palermo and spend a couple of days visiting the city’s sights.  Then, rent a car in the center of Palermo (Via Messina), explore the western part of the island, head back to Palermo, and return your car to the Palermo airport (PMO) before flying to Rome to continue your trip.

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.

Tips for Renting a Car & Driving in Sicily

  • Rent a small vehicle (but make sure you can fit all passengers and luggage inside).  Sicily is full of narrow streets and parking spaces, scratchy bushes on the sides of roads etc.  It’s easy to get dings and scratches on your car, so choose a smaller (and narrower) car.
  • Reserve your car in advance during the late spring, summer, or early fall.  You’ll get the best rates and have more choices regarding the size of your car, type of transmission, etc.  Check a consolidator for the best rates for your chosen location.  I use and recommend Discover Cars.
  • Rent open-jaw.  For example, pick up your car in Palermo and drop it off at the end of your trip in Catania (vs. driving all the way back to Palermo).  There will be an extra charge but it’s worth it (time driving, cost of gas).
  • Buy CDW or LDW, but not twice.  I usually add the CDW when I reserve my rental car on Discover Cars.  I was also asked if I wanted to buy it when I picked up my rental car.  After looking through my documents, I showed the agent, who still tried to get me to add the CDW again.  I refused since I already had it, but I imagine many visitors get stressed and end up paying for it again.  Print out a copy of your rental car contract and do not purchase the CDW twice. 
  • Be patient at your car pick-up.  First, you’ll need to sign your contract at the rental desk and get your keys (and there may be a long line).  Next, you’ll need to go to your car and sign off on any damage to the vehicle.  Then, after making sure you know how to work the vehicle, you can go.  Sometimes this takes a while, especially the first part (waiting in line to sign your contract and get the keys). 
  • Carefully go over the vehicle on pickup to make sure there’s no damage.  If there is, make sure it’s marked on the rental contract.  All dings, dents, scratches, etc. should be marked on the contract and the contract should be signed by both parties.  I also make a quick video of the vehicle to have ‘just in case’ I’m accused of damaging the car.  Some of the rental car pick-up locations are dark (like Catania and Palermo airports), so use your phone’s flashlight to check the outside and inside of the car for damage.
  • Before leaving the car rental lot, make sure you know how to use the A/C and put the car in park, and reverse.
  • Speed limits in Sicily are marked with a white sign that has an outline of a red circle with a black number inside. The Autostrada (toll road) speed limit is 130 but is reduced to 110 if it’s raining or the weather is poor.  Other roads on the island generally range from 50 – 110, 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.
  • Be aware that Sicilian drivers often do not yield to drivers already in the traffic circle (roundabout).  This is contrary to Italian law, which states that a driver entering the traffic circle must yield to drivers already in the traffic circle.  If you’ve driven on the mainland, this may take some getting used to.  For me, this is the biggest thing to get used to (compared to driving in mainland Italy). 
  • 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.  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!
  • Avoid entering one of the city’s ZTLs (zona traffico limitato – limited traffic zone), which help to reduce traffic and pollution in cities and towns and helps cities maintain pedestrian-only areas.  Know what they look like and try to stay clear.  Just like on 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. 

Good To Know:  You can enter a ZTL in two cases: 1) The ZTL is ‘NON ATTIVO’ or non-active.  You may also see a green light or ‘OPEN.’  In this case, you’re free to enter.  2) If the ZTL is ‘ATTIVO,’ or active (or red light or ‘CLOSED’), you may only enter if you have permission.  Who has permission?  Local residents, guests of hotels in the city center, customers of parking garages, and others (like workers).  Again, save yourself the headache (and possible fine) – know what ZTLs look like and avoid entering them. 

Read more in our Complete Guide to ZTLs in Italy.

ZTL entrance in Palermo, Sicily, Italy.  The ZTL is active - the sign reads ZTL ATTIVA.  There are apartment buildings on the left and cars and motorcycles parked on both sides of the street.
Entrance to a ZTL in Palermo
  • Use GPS but have a paper map as a backup.  On our most recent trip, I found Google Maps to be the most reliable and easy to follow (over our car’s GPS). 
  • Know where you can park.  Always read signs, but 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.  Read more in our Guide to Parking in Italy.
  • Take advantage of parking apps.  Easy Park (the app) is used in some Sicilian cities and towns and 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).
  • Don’t underestimate travel times.  Autostrade (Italian toll roads) are rare in Sicily.  You’ll mostly drive on highways and small country roads.  The road conditions vary from excellent to full of potholes (we found the best roads in the southeast), and there are a lot of winding roads in the countryside, especially moving up and down the mountains and hills.
  • Use the Autostrada in Sicily to cover longer distances.  Sicilian toll roads are not run by the same company that runs the toll roads on the Italian mainland, but the system is the same.  Take a ticket at a toll booth, enter the Autostrada, and when you exit, you pay your toll.  For a detailed explanation, read more about Using the Autostrada and Paying Tolls in Italy.  The Autostrade in Sicily are: A20 Messina – Palermo, A18 Messina – Catania, A19 Palermo – Catania, and A29 Palermo – Mazzara.

Good To Know: On our recent visit, the new Ragusa-Siracusa Autostrada was open but the toll booths weren’t ready, so in the meantime, you can drive on it for free.

Exit toll booths of the Autostrada in Sicily, Italy.
Exiting the Autostrada in Sicily
  • Be assertive when you’re driving in Sicily.  No one will ‘let’ you merge – you just need to do it!
  • Don’t take tailgating personally.  The car behind you isn’t mad.  If you’re on a multi-lane road, move to the right.  Otherwise, know the car is probably close because the driver is preparing to pass you.
  • Pay attention to rental location hours and drop off your car when an agent is present.  I always make sure I drop the vehicle off with an agent and that he or she does the walk-around and signs off that there is no damage to the vehicle.  Sometimes it’s an extra wait, but it could save you hundreds of euros!
  • Leave plenty of time for car drop-off if you have a flight.  You may show up to drop off your car and have a few other cars in front of you.  Your agent will also need a few minutes to check the car for damage.  Leave extra time so you’re not rushing to get to your flight.

You may also want to read about
Driving in Italy

Alternatives to Renting a Car in Sicily

Mount Etna guide adjusting a boy's helmet while his grandfather looks on.  The guide is sitting on the back of a 4x4 vehicle and you can see Mt. Etna in the background.
On a guided tour of Mt. Etna

As I mentioned earlier, you certainly can see Sicily without renting a car. 

Group Tours

You can either take a tour for your entire trip or take day tours from larger cities like Catania or Palermo.  For example, you can visit Agrigento or Corleone on a day trip from Palermo.

Trains

Sicily’s train network runs throughout the island, with the main lines running between Palermo and Messina and between Catania and Siracusa (Syracuse).  There are no high-speed trains in Sicily. 

Trenitalia operates Sicilian trains, except for the Ferrovia Circumetnea, which travels around the base of Mt. Etna.

Buses

Buses are the best way to see the smaller inland villages and towns if you don’t have a car.  You can catch the buses from all major cities. 

Private Drivers

While it’s certainly an expensive option, if you want the flexibility of renting a car, but don’t want to drive, you can hire a private driver (NCC – noleggio con conducente) to show you around the island.  You could also choose to hire a driver for a day.

Ferry

Ferries (traghetti) and hydrofoils (aliscafi) are the best way to travel between Sicily and its islands (like the picturesque Aeolian Islands) or between Sicily and the mainland. 

Bicycling

I’ve cycled in Sicily and if you stay on the smaller countryside roads, it’s a beautiful way to see the island.  Bike tourism is popular and continues to grow, especially in the southeastern corner.  There aren’t many bike shops, so it’s best to carry spares of parts.

Renting a Car in Sicily with Kids

Two boys standing next to a decorated FIAT 500 in Taormina, Sicily.  The black car has a traditional Sicilian print and there's a presepe (Italian nativity scene) inside the hood.
Checking out the local vehicles in Taormina

You’ll need to focus on most of the same things you think about when renting a car in Italy.  I’m often asked if car seats are always available.  Make sure you reserve the seat at the time of rental (vs. waiting until your arrival).  Or, travel with a Bubble Bum portable inflatable car seat.  They’re handy for rental cars and taxis for older kids.  We use them for our 5- and 8-year-olds.

Remember that even though distances between towns and cities aren’t large, the actual driving time can be long because of the road quality and winding roads.  Make sure you have activities (car bingo, quiet books, tablets, etc) and that you’ve stocked remedies for car sick-prone kids. 

Good To Know:  There’s quite a bit of trash on the sides of roads in Sicily.  We had some conversations about why and how to solve the problem.  It may come up for you too. 

Enjoy your time driving in Sicily! 

Sicily Car Rental FAQ

Is there UBER in Sicily?

UBER Black arrived in Palermo in 2022.  The service isn’t like the traditional UBER you may know and love at home. UBER Black consists of professional drivers and luxury vehicles – with a price tag to match.

Can I take my rental car on the ferry from mainland Italy to Sicily?

While you can physically do it (the ferry will let you on), most rental car companies prohibit it (check with the individual company).

Can I drive my rental car from Sicily to mainland Italy?

Yes, but to take a ferry (which you’ll need to do), you’ll need to make sure the rental car company allows it (many don’t).

Which car rental companies have locations in Sicily?

Major companies and smaller local companies operate in Sicily.  You’ll find Avis, Hertz, Budget, AutoEurope, Noleggiare, SIXT, Auto Europa, Sicily by Car, etc.

Are minivan rentals available in Sicily?

Yes, you can rent a monovolume in Sicily.  Some are smaller than typical minivans you’d find in the US, so make sure you enter the number of passengers when you’re reserving your vehicle.  For example, I drive a ‘minivan,’ but it only seats 5 people.