Driving to Italy from the UK – your ultimate guide

Driving to Italy from the UK – your ultimate guide
With summer months bringing the sunshine, millions of families across the UK are looking at going on holiday – with Italy being one of the most popular destinations. However, have you ever considered driving there from the UK?

There are many benefits of taking your car on the journey as an alternative to taking a flight to one of the many airports across the country.

If you are looking at taking the trip in your family vehicle, then this guide will give you all the information you need to have an unforgettable experience.

Once you are packed and ready to go on your European adventure, you’ll need to head to the south coast to either take a ferry or go on the Channel Tunnel – and travel to France.

From there, you have a few choices on the route you can take to get to Italy – which can take you through the heart of France, or Switzerland and along the border of Germany.

Preparing for your drive to Italy from the UK

Now that you have decided to make the journey to Italy – you need to prepare your vehicle.

When was the last time you checked to see if your car was ready for a long distance road trip? Here are 12 simple car checks you can carry out today to keep your car safely on the road and on the right side of the law – both at home and abroad.

Spending a short amount of time to check to see if your car is road worthy and up to the challenge can end up saving you a lot of money in repairs and avoid any breakdowns in Europe.

Breaking down is the last thing you want when driving abroad. But with RAC European Breakdown Cover, help is at hand when you need it most. Our 24/7 English-speaking helpline makes it easy to get help quickly. And we’re the only European breakdown cover provider to include unlimited roadside assistance, and a contribution towards garage labour costs, as standard.

If you have broken down in France – call 0800 942044. And if you are in the rest of mainland Europe – call 0033 472435244.

We have also made a downloadable travel abroad-checklist of all the essential items you may need when driving in Europe - so you can tick as you go and guarantee you don't leave anything behind.

Before setting off on a long road trip, it’s best to make some basic maintenance checks. The acronym FORCES should help you prepare your car for the trip ahead: Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics, and Screen wash.

If you’re unclear about how to check any of the above, our tips for avoiding a breakdown offer more information and helpful tips before you hit the roads.

What documents will you need?

With your car packed and passengers ready to go on your Italian adventure – make sure you have all the important paperwork needed for your trip.

You’ll need your full, valid UK driving licence, your passport, motor insurance certificate, and your car’s V5 registration.

Also, make sure you have a copy of your travel insurance for you and your passengers.

After 28th September 2021, the national identifier displayed on vehicles registered in the United Kingdom that are driven abroad have changed from GB to UK. 

This means that vehicles registered in the UK must display the letters “UK” when driven in Italy.  

The identifier can be incorporated in vehicle number plates (along with the Union Flag) or as a separate sticker. Note that vehicles featuring the letters GB together with the Council of Europe golden stars are no longer valid for driving abroad.

If your vehicle does not have the UK identifier within the number plate, you will require a UK sticker when driving in Italy. GB stickers will no longer be valid from the end of September.

What else will you need?

In addition to required documents, drivers are also required by law to carry the following items in their vehicle to avoid on-the-spot fines:

  • Reflective jackets – although not mandatory to carry, you could be fined for walking on the road or hard shoulder if not wearing one
  • Warning triangle – compulsory in every vehicle with four wheels or more
  • Headlamp beam deflectors – depending on your car, you will either need deflector stickers or have to adjust the beam manually

It's a good idea to pick up a European driving kit for Italy to make sure you're carrying all the legally required and recommended items.

If you are travelling through Europe to get to your Italian destination, then make sure you are packed for all eventualities.

Check the driving through Europe travel guide to make sure you have all the necessary equipment and advice to have the best possible journey.

Routes to Italy from the UK

Whether you have taken the ferry or Channel Tunnel to get to France – you have many options to get to Italy.

The map below shows the three fastest routes to get to Milan from Folkestone in Kent – all of which take around 12 hours.

This journey will take you through Calais and north-eastern France, down towards Reims. Here you have three options.

Continue straight south through to Troyes, Dijon and towards Lyon. From here you can pass through Geneva and into the Alps toward Italy.

The central route takes you to Nancy and then on to Basel and travel through the spine of Switzerland before you cross the border. The northern route will take you through Metz and then onto Strasbourg before heading to Basel.

Perhaps you want to visit Paris on the way?

Maybe you would like to head to Belgium and Luxembourg before heading south?

Alternatively, you could want to wind your way through northern mainland Europe before heading to Italy? Maybe you would like to stop off at Bern, Geneva, Chamonix, and Turin before making it to Milan? Make sure you take plenty of breaks as this can be a very long journey!

Have you driven to Italy before? Comment below and explain the best routes you have taken.

No matter which routes you take to get to Italy, RAC Route Planner can help you find the best journey for you.

However, it is important to remember once you cross the border, Italy has motorways with tolls. You can pay for them with cash, debit, or credit card.

Most motorways allow a payment system known as Viacard, which is a prepaid card that can be used at toll booths. Viacards cannot be used on Sicilian motorways.

An electronic payment system called Telepass is also in operation on around 80% of motorways across the major roads in Italy.

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Cost of driving to Italy

With fuel costs continuing to rise in recent months, one of the biggest drawbacks to driving may be the rising price of diesel and petrol – both in the UK and on the continent.

Not including the travel over or under the English Channel, hotels/campsites – and all the amazing pit stops you will make – the cost can be up to £1000 each way for a family car with passengers from the moment you land in France.

However, the benefits in comparison to paying for flights can far outweigh other modes of transport – especially if the current issues with airports across the UK continue.

To keep up to date with the latest price for petrol and diesel in the UK, RAC Fuel Watch is updated daily with the latest costs. Fuel Watch also provides the latest fuel prices in Europe.

Advantages of driving to Italy

Once you’re packed and ready to go on your next holiday to France, you can set off towards the south coast whenever you like.

By choosing to drive, you’re not at the mercy of the strict timings and possible delays often encountered at the airport.

Unlike flying, when driving you can have your own choice of entertainment, food, and passengers.

You’re also not restricted to enjoying the sights out of a window. There are many amazing places to stop off and visit in France, where you can embrace the culture and all that the country has to offer. From stunning road trips to exciting cultural landmarks and events, the freedom that driving offers is unmatched.

From a practical perspective, if you’ve chosen to drive south, you’ll be able to take more items with you – and bring more back!

Drivers can also take advantage of towing a caravan and installing a bike rack to see more of the country.

Driving in Italy

From north to south, Italy has some amazing towns, cities, mountains, lakes, and historic monuments for you to visit on your road trip – but there are many important tips to take onboard before you get going.

Much like the UK, you will need a licence and be over the age of 18 to drive abroad. If you do not have a licence, your car will be confiscated.

If the worst should happen on your journey, emergency telephones linked to an SOS telephone network are installed at 2km intervals along motorways. You can dial 112 from anywhere in Europe and an operator will connect you to an emergency service in the country you're visiting. Operators can answer your call in their native language, English, or French.

When driving through Italy, overtaking is forbidden on and approaching level crossings, at bends, on the brow of a hill, at intersections, and when visibility is limited. It is also prohibited to overtake a vehicle that’s slowed to allow pedestrians to use a crossing.

Trams can be overtaken on the right if there’s enough space and no other road users are in danger.

In one-way streets, it’s permitted to overtake a tram on the left if there’s enough room but overtaking a tram when picking up passengers where there is no island is also prohibited.

As a general rule, priority must be given to vehicles coming from the right or on rails unless indicated. Pedestrians on crossings and cyclists near cycle paths also have priority.

Emergency vehicles and vehicles on rails have priority over other road users.

On some mountain roads where two vehicles are unable to pass each other, the descending vehicle must reverse to a passing point. If two vehicles cannot pass on a road, priority should be given to the heavier vehicle.

No matter where you in Italy, it is compulsory to wear at seat belt for everyone in your car – and you will receive an on-the-spot fine from the police.

Similar to France, you are allowed to use sat nav systems – but radar detectors for speed cameras are illegal. They will be confiscated, and you will receive a fine.

Before you enter the country, make sure you familiarise yourself with Italian road signs and be prepared for your journey across the country.

Parking is prohibited on or near a bend, intersection, or brow of a hill, and in cycle lanes, on pavements, and in areas reserved for other activities, like bus/tram stops and loading zones. Vehicles must be parked on the right-hand side of the carriageway except in one-way streets where parking may be allowed on both sides, providing at least 3m of space is left for vehicles to pass. 

Illegally-parked vehicles are likely to be clamped unless causing an obstruction to moving traffic, when they will be towed away. In both cases, a fine must be paid to cover the offence plus towing and impounding costs. 

If you are enjoying a road trip across Italy, you may want to enjoy some local wine or limoncello – but the general limit for drivers of private vehicles is 0.05% blood alcohol content. That's lower than the 0.08% in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. For newly-qualified drivers (less than three years' experience), the limit is 0%.

Finally, if you are driving a camper van or towing a caravan, you are not allowed to exceed 12m in length, 4m in height, or 2.55m in width.

The RAC’s Italian country guide contains more helpful information for drivers looking to travel from the UK to Italy.

Speed limits and fines in Italy

Like the majority of Europe, the country uses km/h rather than m/ph.

Always follow the road signs for the right speed, however, the general rule for built up areas is 50-70km/h, outside urban areas is 90-110 km/h, and on motorways the speed limit is 130 km/h.

Fines range for €40 – to more than €5,000 and having your licence revoked.

Italian police are very active on their roads – so respect the limits and make sure you have all the important paperwork to be driving the country.

The best road trips in Italy

There are so many amazing locations to visit in Italy – so why not journey to them via the country’s best road trips?

From the Amalfi coast, to the rolling hills of Tuscany, to Lake Como and beyond – these Italian car journeys are the best to visit on your next holiday.

Have you got European Breakdown Cover?

Now that you have all the information you need for an amazing holiday and journey to Italy – be sure to have all the necessary documents, including European Breakdown Cover – to give you peace of mind before you hit the road.

Are you heading to Italy soon? Let us know if you are driving there – including your route and any ‘must visit’ places on the way. Have a great holiday in Italy!

European Breakdown Cover

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*Based on 1 day cover in Zone 1, max 9 people in a vehicle up to 1 year old.