I was at a laundromat in Mantova watching my clothes tumble dry when a car going backwards down the street caught my eye. The driver approached an improbably small parking space on the left side of the street. Traffic behind him came to a standstill. As the driver backed in, his rear bumper hit the car behind him. He did not appear concerned, repeated the maneuver, then pulled ahead, hitting the car in front.
The driver got out and nonchalantly walked down the sidewalk. Traffic moved again. ‘So that’s how you parallel park,’ I thought, ‘just hit the cars in front and behind yours.’
The day prior, I had tried and failed to parallel park and drove well past my destination to park in a spot I could pull into.
Despite my inability to parallel park, I’ve driven, and parked, all-around Italy, from tiny Sicilian villages to rush hour in Milan. If I can park in Italy, surely you can too. If you can parallel park, you’re a big step ahead. And if you’re like me, I have hints to help you avoid it.
Parking in Italy is pretty straight-forward once you understand the signs and symbols. Parking spots are marked in lots or along the streets. Blue lines mean you have to pay, white lines are free, and yellow ones are reserved for residents, deliveries, or otherwise off-limits to the average tourist. Parking areas are denoted with a blue sign and a white P.
To understand no parking signs, remember that parking is blue, and things you can’t do are red. No parking is denoted with a blue circle with a red frame and a red backslash though it. Signs are posted on the side that forbids parking. You may also see the words “passo carrabile” on garage doors that seem like a great parking spot until you notice it’s a driveway. No stopping signs add another line to make a big red X over the blue circle. If a street does not have a no-parking sign, you can most likely park along it, as long as you keep the driveways clear.
To pay for blue-lined parking spaces, find the small machine nearby. Often the directions are in English. The price per minute will be posted. Insert euros in coins, bills, and increasingly, a credit card, or payment app. The machine will then print out a small slip which you put on your dashboard with the date and time displayed. I have seen the police check, so it’s worth the small amount to comply.
White lines represent free parking, although it may be time-limited. If you see a parking sign with a blue rectangle and what looks like a white smiley-face, you’ll need to set your disco orario. The sign indicates the duration of your free parking – 30 minuti and un’ora are the most common. Your rental car should have a disco orario, either in a small pouch stuck to the windshield or on the dashboard. If your car does not have one, you can buy one inexpensively at a tobaccaio which is a small store displayed by a “T”, or a gas station. Set the spin-dial on the disco orario to show the time you arrived. And no cheating – the police may check.
If you see a sign with crossed hammers it means the parking limit posted only applies Mondays through Saturdays. In other words, on Sundays or holidays, the posted restrictions are not enforced.
Typically, it is harder to find and more expensive to pay for parking in larger cities and as you near any town’s centro storico. Walled cities and small villages often have large lots outside the perimeter for campers and oversized vehicles. If you can walk distances, this is a great way to pull into a space without parallel parking and to avoid driving in cramped areas. If there is a fee, it usually costs less than within the town. On market days or holidays, it can be a huge time saver as well.
Most parking lots are unattended and require prepayment at entry, or you’ll take a ticket upon entrance and pay upon exit after inserting your ticket.
The smaller the town, the more likely you are to find free parking. It’s not uncommon to see parked cars facing both directions, but often parking is limited to one side of the street only.
If you are staying in a hotel, B&B, or Airbnb, ask your host about parking. Some can get you a pass or register your car with the local authorities so you can access a limited traffic zone (ZTL) and park. Especially in large cities, the nearest parking lot outside the ZTL is a long distance away. Some urban hotels have their own lots—if you can get in and out while avoiding the ZTL, but expect to pay. One hotel we like in Rome charges €70 per day to park.
You may want to upgrade your rental car to one with distance sensors and a backup camera. Once you’re parked, fold in your side mirrors. I was excited when attending a large festival to find a great parking spot in a large empty lot. By the time we left, the lot was packed with cars. I thought we would be stuck there. Even with sensors, it took a friend and a police officer to direct me out of the tight squeeze.
The phrase “Dove posso parcheggiare?” may come in handy. It’s pronounced doe-vay poe-so park-eh-jar-eh. It means where can I park? I’ve always been given good guidance by passersby when I’ve asked. Once, after struggling to translate a sign in front of a parking lot, a local gentleman came over to explain it was free. My confusion stemmed from the lack of any lines whatsoever in a giant lot just across the street from a Mediterranean beach in Sicily.
In a tiny medieval village in Sicily I found a free overnight parking spot on the left with nothing in front of it. Thrilled, I backed into it no problem. But, never having successfully parked on the left, when I opened the door, it whacked the curb. I put three scratches on a brand-new black rental car. Thankfully I always travel with a Sharpie marker. If you do end up parking on the left side of the road, take care when opening your door, and consider packing a marker.
Everything you need to know about renting a car in Italy
Everything you need to know to drive in Italy
Polizia di Stato information on camera speed enforcement (Italian, use Chrome or an extension to translate): https://www.poliziadistato.it/articolo/175
PDF of Road Signs in English to Bring With: http://www.adcidl.com/pdf/Italy-Road-Traffic-Signs.pdf
Rome’s ZTL information: https://romamobilita.it/en/services/limited-traffic-zones
Milan’s Area C information in English: https://www.comune.milano.it/servizi/area-c-acquisto-ticket-attivazione-ricarica
Autoeurope has a guidebook in English for driving in Italy: https://www.autoeurope.com/pdf/travelguides/italy-travel-driving-guide-auto-europe.pdf
The Automobile Club of Italia is an excellent resource for advice in several languages: http://www.aci.it/laci/driving-in-italy/driving-in-italy-information-for-visiting-motorists.html
The Hertz guide to driving in Italy: https://images.hertz.com/pdfs/DL_Driving_in_Italy_NO_CROPS.pdf
The Hertz guide to ZTLs: https://images.hertz.com/pdfs/Brochure_nocrops.pdf
Wikipedia’s Road Signs in Italy Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_signs_in_Italy