Driving in Sicily: the Ultimate Guide

If you’re going to Sicily, you’re probably considering renting a car. Because the best of this incredible region is not in the major cities of Catania and Palmero, but the public transport network is not very robust. We don’t usually rent cars on our trips as they’re expensive and a bit of a hassle, but we quickly realized we’d need one if we wanted to get to Noto and the other small towns in the eastern part of the island. We were a bit apprehensive about driving in Sicily, as there are some horror stories on the internet. But our experience was great, and renting a car in Sicily actually turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip!

Which company should you rent from?

All of the major car rental agencies are available in Sicily – Sixt, Hertz, Avis, etc. We had spent a few days in Catania before getting our car, so renting from the airport wasn’t convenient. Fortunately there is a small Avis office in the city which turned out to be perfect!

WARNING: Just don’t rent with any of the sketch tiny companies that will claim to have cars for unreasonably cheap prices. You might just find yourself with a) a broken down car, or b) a giant fine for so-called “damage”! It’s not worth it.

We walked over from our Airbnb and picked up our small car. The worker even showed us a map of the city and the best routes to take to get to the highway, as it’s a bit of a maze downtown. Just took a few minutes, and we loaded our backpacks into the car and headed out!

NOTE: all the rental companies will offer extensive insurance plans to cover collision and other damages. In our experience, these were considerably more expensive in Sicily than in other places. We didn’t buy the company insurance as we have primary rental insurance through our Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but if you don’t have primary insurance, you should probably pay for it with the rental. It would be so easy to scratch the car on a narrow street, which might end up costing you hundreds of Euros!

Our trusty Sicilian ride
Our trusty Sicilian ride

Is driving in Sicily difficult?

If you’ve been to Italy, you know the streets are chaotic! And that’s even more the case in Catania. We were a little worried that driving in Catania would turn out to be a nightmare! And we weren’t really reassured by the Avis worker who told us that lots of the city is “unsafe” for driving!

But, once we were in our car things turned out to be much easier than expected. The scooters just weave around you, so you’re only task is not to hit anything in front of you! The streets are quite confusing, though – no grid here! If you don’t have cell data (which you should – SIM cards are cheap), make sure you load your route in Google Maps before you leave so you can have directions while you’re driving. A printed map will be super hard to follow – there are too many turns! But using Google Maps we easily got out of downtown Catania and onto the highway, where driving is just like it is most other places in Europe.

NOTE: If you’re an American with shaky stick-driving skills, get ready. The hills in Catania are steep! And the traffic is stop and go, so you’ll be shifting a lot. I would rate this as moderate- to hard-mode stick driving, so if you have no experience you might want to open up your wallet and pay for an automatic – they do have them, but they can be expensive.

Twisty, empty roads in Sicily
No traffic jams in sight – see if you can make yourself dizzy on these curves! Erm, maybe that’s bad advice.

But once you make it to the rural parts of Sicily, driving around is easy and awesome. There are not many people in Sicily, at least in winter, which means empty, high quality roads and beautiful views. Sicily is tiny, but unless you are interested in dying, the driving isn’t particularly fast – mostly narrow two lane roads with frequent small, occasionally picturesque towns. And you can stop in any of them!

What about parking in Sicily?

Fair question – but again we had no problems, even in the tiny town of Noto where we spent a few days. Generally parking is on the street, so get ready for some parallel parking! But all the cars are tiny, so it’s not so hard.

Overall, driving was much easier than expected. Don’t be too put off by the horror stories of driving in Sicily and Italy in general – it’s really not that bad. Certainly no worse than driving in NYC!

Is renting a car in Sicily affordable?

YES! You might ask, aren’t cars too expensive for budget-travelers? Not necessarily: ours was $7/day, or about $120 total, including gas, for 5 days – doable on even a near-backpacker budget. And this was from Avis – some smaller companies may have cheaper prices, but make sure you read reviews before you rent. There are tons of car rental scams to watch out for! And as we said before, make sure you have primary rental insurance either through a credit card or through the rental agency! This may save you much distress and sadness, as it did for us when we were falsely told that we damaged a rental in Croatia – a €500 scratch!

So, should you drive in Sicily? Yes, unless you don’t want to see the highlights of Sicily. And drive up Mount Etna!

Driving up Mt. Etna!
Couldn’t see this view from Mt. Etna without our tiny car!

Have a ridiculous driving experience? Let us know in the comments!

You might also be interested in:
Should I visit Sicily in winter?
Restaurants in Noto, Sicily

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