The drive along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, preferably in a vintage Alfa Romeo Spider, is the stuff of travel legend.
And it’s just one of dozens of epic road trip routes in this fascinating, richly layered country. Don’t be put off by stories of impatient local drivers – the countryside here was made for exploring by road (and stopping every few hundred yards to take another photo).
With an extensive network of well-maintained roads that weave between snow-capped peaks, trace plunging coastlines, and meander through rolling farmland and vineyards to scenic lakes and historic towns, pretty much every journey in Italy is a scenic odyssey, but some road trips stand out as being particularly memorable.
To set the scene, we’ve chosen six classic road trips ranging from gentle Tuscan jaunts to hair-raising mountain adventures. Some are a little challenging, but they all make for unforgettable experiences! Here are the best road trip routes in Italy.
1. The Amalfi Coast
Best classic Italian coastal road trip
Salerno–Sorrento; approx 75km/46 miles, 1 day
Experience Italy’s most spectacular coastal scenery on this white-knuckle drive along the Amalfi Coast. From Salerno, the main southern gateway to the coast, strike west to Vietri sul Mare, a small town famous for its ceramics and the start point of the coastal road proper. From here, the driving becomes more challenging as the road narrows, the curves become tighter, and the views become ever more dramatic.
After about 20km (12 miles), you’ll arrive in Amalfi, the coast’s main hub. Stop here to look around the landmark Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea and then head up to Ravello in the hills above. Pause for lunch here, perhaps at the Ristorante Pizzeria Vittoria, and enjoy heady panoramas from the town’s lush gardens.
Next, push on to Positano, a chic, near-vertical town where colorful, steeply-stacked houses cascade down the precipitous hillsides. Beyond Positano, the route leads inland, up and across the hilly interior to Sorrento, a lively tourist hot spot overlooked by the dark, brooding bulk of Mount Vesuvius.
Planning tip: It’s a popular drive, so try to come out of season to avoid the traffic. With another day to spare, you can continue north to Naples via the ruins of Pompeii.
2. The Tuscan tour
Best road trip for art and architecture
Florence–Orvieto; approx 210km/130 miles, 2–3 days
Taking in two of Italy’s great medieval cities, the wine treasures of Chianti and swathes of classic Tuscan scenery, this two-day route leads from Florence to Orvieto in the neighboring region of Umbria. Whet your appetite for the road ahead by feasting on fine art and Renaissance architecture in Florence before striking south to Chianti wine country.
Stop for a tasting at the Enoteca Falorni in Greve and to sample the region’s celebrated bistecca (steak) at L’Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano. From here, follow the backroads to Siena, a stunning medieval city centered on an awe-inspiring Duomo and a 12th-century square, the famous Piazza del Campo. Recommended overnight options here include the Pensione Palazzo Ravizza.
In the morning, head to Montalcino to stock up on Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s most revered red wines. A short drive to the east, the Val d’Orcia provides quintessential Tuscan landscapes with its billowing green hills, cypress trees and hilltop towns. Lunch in Pienza, then continue through Montepulciano to Orvieto, a striking hilltop town famous for its remarkable Gothic Duomo.
Planning tip: While you could easily do this route in two days, consider adding an extra overnight stop to explore the region in more depth.
3. Southeastern Sicily
Best road trip for exploring Sicily’s charming towns
Catania–Ragusa; approx 165km/103 miles, 2 days
Hunt UNESCO-listed baroque treasures on this two-day tour of Sicily’s rugged southeast. Start by investigating Catania’s grandiose historic center and brilliant fish market. After a seafood lunch, hit the road and make for Syracuse where you can trawl through ancient Greco-Roman ruins at the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis and stroll elegant baroque streets in the Ortygia district. Overnight at the stylish Hotel Gutkowski.
On day two, continue to Noto, home to what is arguably Sicily’s most beautiful street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which is dotted with churches and charming cafes. Once you’ve digested this masterpiece of urban design, turn inland to Modica, a bustling town wedged into a deep canyon. Stock up on the town’s famous chocolates before pushing on through the rocky hinterland to Ragusa and the handsome historic center known as Ragusa Ibla.
Planning tip: To round the trip off on a high note, book ahead and treat yourself to dinner at the Ristorante Duomo, one of Sicily’s top restaurants with meals prepared by chef Ciccio Sultano.
4. The Great Dolomites Road
Best road trip for stunning mountain vistas
Bolzano–Cortina d’Ampezzo; approx 125km/78 miles; 2 days
The Grande Strada della Dolomiti provides some of Italy’s most exhilarating driving. Running from Bolzano to Cortina d’Ampezzo, it boasts superb scenery as it snakes past craggy, saw-tooth peaks and over lofty mountain passes in the Dolomites.
From Bolzano, head eastwards toward Ponte Nova, where you’ll get your first sight of the Dolomite’s mighty granite peaks. Continue to Val di Fassa, a magnificent valley framed by forested slopes and gigantic rock summits, and up to the 2,239m (7,345 ft) Passo Pordoi. The descent from here is slow going, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views as you corkscrew down to La Villa in the spectacularly sited Val Badia.
From here, you could push directly on to Cortina d’Ampezzo, the chic resort that marks the end of the road, but for a more relaxed trip, stop for the night at the Dolomit B&B and take some scenic detours around La Villa on day two.
Planning tip: This is serious country for outdoor activities with superb winter skiing and wonderful summer hiking.
5. The southern shore of Lake Como
Best springtime road trip
Como–Bergamo; approx 112km/70 miles; 1 day
Surrounded by Alpine peaks and wooded hills, Lake Como (Lago di Como) is the most picturesque of Italy’s northern lakes. This leisurely one-day drive takes in elegant art nouveau villas and lush waterfront gardens along the lake’s southern shoreline.
The obvious starting point is the town of Como itself. Once you’ve explored the charming historic center and the nearby Villa Olmo, take the swooping road up to Bellagio. Stop at this charming lakeside village to explore the grounds of neoclassical Villa Melzi d’Eril and have lunch at Terrazza Barchetta.
Suitably refreshed, leave your car and jump on a ferry to Tremezzo, home of the 17th-century Villa Carlotta and its spectacular gardens. Back in Bellagio, pick up your wheels and strike southeast, following the scenic lakeside road down to Lecco and on to historic Bergamo, where you can rest up in style at the Hotel Piazza Vecchia.
Planning tip: Time your visit for April and May when the area is awash with spring color.
6. Highlights of Abruzzo
Best road trip for unspoiled landscapes
Rome–Sulmona; approx 240km/150 miles, one day
Just over an hour’s drive east of Rome, the little-known region of Abruzzo is a world apart from the big city, with wild, empty valleys and unspoiled mountain landscapes. From the capital take the A24 autostrada to Fonte Cerreto, from where it’s a twisting climb up to Campo Imperatore, a highland plain overlooked by the Apennines’ highest peak, Corno Grande (2,912m/9,553ft).
Continue on to Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a remote, semi-abandoned village high in the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga. If you’re traveling during the weekend you can lunch at the Locanda Sotto gli Archi; otherwise, pick up picnic supplies in the village.
In the afternoon, push on to Sulmona, a graceful town set in the shadow of the Morrone massif. Famous for its delicacy confetti (sugar-coated almonds), Sulmona makes a good base for exploring the region’s rugged southern reaches, offering good accommodation at the Legacy Casa Residencia and filling food at local restaurants such as Il Vecchio Muro.
Planning tip: We strongly recommend spending a day or more in Sulmona, exploring the surrounding hills by car or on foot away from the tourist crowds.