How to Drive in Sicily: Just Go Numb

I recently spent three weeks driving 800 miles around Sicily (working on our new Rick Steves Sicily guidebook, available now). And let me tell you, that’s no easy task. While touring Sicily by car is a smart, efficient approach for travelers, the timid and the uninitiated may find it challenging. Hold on, is “challenging” the right word? Hmmm. No, wait. I’ve got it: “Terrifying.”

The trick to driving in Sicily is keeping in mind that you are driving in Sicily. It took me a few days to dispense with my preconceptions about things like obeying traffic signs, or why it’s a bad idea to triple-park in the middle of the street, or the importance of cars staying in their lanes (or, really, the very concept of “lanes”). Drivers who refuse to accept Sicily on Sicily’s terms will need to end each journey by popping a Xanax and prying their raw, white-knuckled, death-grip claws from the steering wheel. But, like with other things in Sicily, if you just sort of go numb and roll with it…you’ll be just fine. (Oh, and while you’re at it, spring for the zero-deductible insurance. Not joking.)

Entering a big city like Palermo or Catania, forget about right of way and obeying signs — just go with the flow of local traffic. I was taught to drive defensively, which works in Sicily…to a point. But don’t be too stubborn about it. Assuming you actually want to get where you’re going, occasionally you need to drive like a Sicilian. Just today, in the very heart of Palermo, I obediently pulled to a stop at a red light, instantly generating a chorus of furious honks from the column of cars behind me. I shrugged, checked both ways three times, and ran the red light…followed, without a moment’s hesitation, by everyone else.

Meanwhile, there are the motor scooters — the true love of most Sicilians. Knock-off Vespas weave between cars stalled in traffic, brushing past your side-view mirrors, bushwhacking their own path through an urban jungle. Pausing at a red light, my car was instantly enveloped by motor scooters squeezing around me on both sides. They gathered in front of me, cramming into the tiny no-man’s-land between my hood and the intersecting traffic, forming a scrum of eager beavers at my front bumper. When the light turned green, a half-dozen little engines buzzed to life, like a swarm of bees taking flight, and off they zipped…leaving me in a cloud of dust and exhaust.

While urban driving is challenging, driving in the Sicilian countryside is, for the most part, a delight. The roads are empty — it’s easy to make great time. But be prepared for the dramatic variation in Sicilian cruising speeds. On a road with a limit of, say, 100 kilometers per hour, virtually nobody actually goes 100 kilometers per hour…except me. Approximately half of all Sicilian drivers go far, far below the speed limit. The co-author of our upcoming Rick Steves Sicily guidebook, Sarah Murdoch, quite rightly pointed out that Sicilian roads are clogged with dinky, boxy Fiat Pandas from the early 1980s, which appear to have a maximum speed of about 70 kmh. Sure enough, I spent enough long journeys stuck behind Pandas to become something of an aficionado. (The lines on the 1982 Panda 45 Super were nothing short of breathtaking.)

Meanwhile, the other half of Sicilian drivers go far, far above the speed limit. And if you’re going even a smidge below their preferred speed — even for a fleeting moment, even if there’s a stop sign a hundred yards in front of you — they’ll ride your bumper so close, it feels like you’re giving them a tow. Passing on blind curves is a high-risk national pastime in Sicily (like bullfighting in Spain), and drivers take insane chances. On a busy parkway into the city of Siracusa, a motorcycle screamed past me at around 120 kilometers per hour. As he faded into the horizon, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the daredevil driver riding sidesaddle, his bike leaning at a precipitous angle.

Navigation is tricky. Sicily’s roads are potholed and inconsistently signed. And when there are signs, they can be more confusing than no signs at all. Highways can be unexpectedly closed — or exist only on maps despite never having been completed (I spotted quite a few on-ramps to nowhere).

I am a fanatical devotee of using Google Maps on my phone for navigation, and — with only a few memorable missteps — it has been my reliable copilot through dozens of European road trips. But it was patchy at best in Sicily.  Late one night, returning to my agriturismo in the hills near Agrigento, I was counting on Google Maps to get me home. It treated me to a fun little detour, 10 minutes high above the seashore, before dead-ending me at a three-way intersection with two rutted, overgrown trails suitable only for tractors and herds of goats. (About 20 minutes of backtracking later, I finally found my way home.) I can get away with blindly trusting my GPS in most of Europe and the USA…but not in Sicily.

A word about roundabouts: I deeply believe that they are humankind’s greatest invention, a notch above penicillin and smartphones. We should have roundabouts at every intersection in the United States. I’ve driven miles and miles through the British countryside, zipping around the outskirts of major cities and through the historic cores of quaint villages, without ever coming to a full stop. When properly utilized, roundabouts make traffic flow like poetry.

But Sicily is a long way from Britain. And it’s the only place I’ve been where a roundabout is treated like a lawless intersection: Everybody just aggressively plows through, willfully defiant of silly concepts like “right of way.” Yield to vehicles already in the roundabout, and those entering from the left?! Per favore! What a ridiculous concept. You just go, and let God sort it out.

All of this sounds like madness…chaos. But if you manage to approach Sicilian driving with the right attitude, it becomes clear that it’s a controlled chaos. The thing is, it works. It works not because it’s “every driver for himself,” as it might seem at first glance…but because there’s an unspoken understanding that we’re all in this together. Other drivers are watching you. They see how fast you’re going, how big your car is, and where you’re headed next. They probably know more about your driving skills than you do. And they adapt — constantly, intuitively, and effectively. If you get stubborn and use roundabouts the way they were intended to be used, dammit! — you’ll get everyone angry (at best) or cause a fender-bender (at worst). Put another way: If you’re the only one using the roundabout “the right way,” then you’re the one using it the wrong way.

A cadre of road engineers in Britain and the Netherlands are pioneering a new way of handling complicated intersections: You simply remove all of the signage. There are idyllic little English and Dutch towns where, upon reaching the village green, suddenly there are no traffic lights, no roundabouts, no bike lanes, no crosswalks, no signs of any sort. You just have to pay attention. You have to. And so, everyone does: Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all make eye contact with each other, ensuring that everyone’s on the same page regarding what’s about to happen. It sounds counter-intuitive, but removing all signage from intersections not only drastically reduces accidents — it actually makes traffic flow more smoothly, reducing congestion. (This is just fascinating. Check it out.)

On about my third day driving in Sicily, I was cursing my fellow drivers who refused to abide by the universally accepted rules of using a roundabout, when it suddenly dawned on me: Sicilians long ago intuitively figured out what all those Northern European eggheads have spent their careers researching. The road is a shared venture — a communal enterprise. And as long as we all look out for each other, we’ll get through it in one piece. And if you can do that, and just dive in…well, then, you might just come to enjoy it.

Bruised and battle-hardened, but wiser, I leave Sicily thinking it’s a fine place to drive. A car gives you maximum flexibility for linking up the remote and rural highlights of Sicily, even on a short trip. And distances are short, making fuel prices reasonable — I circled the entire island on just three tanks of gas. So don’t be afraid to tackle the Sicilian roads. Remember: Just go numb. Go with the flow. And keep in mind that, like all things Sicilian, everyone’s in this together.

If you’re ready to tackle the Sicilian roads, our Sicily guidebook is available now.

In other blog posts, I wrote about my top 10 tips for visiting Sicily, Palermo’s amazing street food scene, and the challenge of driving in Sicily.

This post is part of my“Jams Are Fun” series — designed for those who savor the Schadenfreude of hearing about good trips gone bad. How about that time I ran out of gas on Scotland’s remote north coast? Or that time I was stuck on a cruise ship during a massive storm in the North Sea? Or the time I became embroiled in a gelato feud in a small Italian village?

If you’d like to visit Sicily — but would love it if someone else did all the driving, took care of the hotels and half of the meals, and explained it all to you — well, then, we have a great 11-day tour for you.

We also have a wealth of free Sicily content on our website, including a recommended itinerary, links to two new episodes of Rick’s public television series about Sicily, several interviews from Rick’s public radio show about Sicily, more gorgeous photographs, recommended books and movies about Sicily, and much more.

60 Replies to “How to Drive in Sicily: Just Go Numb”

  1. Comprehensive piece. If I go to Sicily and I decide to drive I will know how to proceed. This could be one of those “if I can drive there I can drive anywhere Sicily, Sicily.”

    1. Exactly right: After returning from our Sicily driving experience, maneuvering downtown Philadelphia now seems like a golf cart jaunt to the 9th hole.

  2. We just returned from 2 weeks with a car in Sicily & your comments are spot on. The worst roundabout: Siracusa, where approximately 6 roads converged, with multiple “lanes” created willy-nilly, and it was every driver for himself, a total scrum. After the first few times, my DH got into the spirit and became totally aggressive, AKA Sicilian, in his approach. Not for the faint of heart, but surprisingly and amazingly, few accidents in our experience.

  3. As a Sicilian I can’t help but smile at this… I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, there’s a lot of truth in it! Living now abroad and having toured quite a few places, I do believe it can be hard for foreigners to drive around Sicily and accept our rules!

  4. I rented a car in Naples and drove to Sorrento and Positano. It was a fantastic experience. I’ll do that every time I come back!

  5. Spot on! I’m Sicillian in heritage and loved the organized chaos of Sicily. As for the roundabouts, I wish we could redo all roads in America with them…traffic would flow instead of stop and go.
    Ps: I hope you visited my family namesake at the base of Mt. Etna

    1. Hi Janis. I did, as a matter of fact! Randazzo and that whole gorgeous wine area was one of my favorite parts of Sicily. It will be heavily featured in our new Rick Steves Sicily book.

      1. I will be in Taromina Sicily in May 2019. My Grandfather is from Randazzo and I would love to visit by train or bus.
        Any suggestions as to what I should see would be helpful.

    2. Until recently some parts of New Jersey used Roundabouts extensively. They were chaotic and sometimes dangerous. Remember, in the US, the cars and some trucks are bigger. There are more road lanes (usually >2), in respective cities, the traffic congestion is similar. But, outside cities in the US, there is much more traffic than in Sicily. Roundabouts, usually don’t work well in 2018, except in some isolated circumstances.

    3. I almost rented a car to drive from Messina to Termini Immerse (where my family originated) in 2017. We were on a cruise and had a few hours there. I was advised not to take the chance due to the crazy driving, accidents and tunnel closings for wrecks that take hours to clear. I was afraid that I would literally miss the boat. After reading your post, I am so glad now that I did not take the chance and listened to my cousin, who had experience driving in Europe!

  6. My Boston-born husband was in his element driving in Sicily — just a bit stepped up in the driving madness — UNTIL we rented our own Vespas and tried touring some of the Roman ruins in Siracusa. Absolute terror.

    1. Ha! Yes, Boston is the closest analogue to Sicily, driving-wise, I’ve seen in the USA. I should know. A close relative of mine married a Bostonian, moved there, and is always complaining about the “Masshole” drivers…

  7. I just came from Sicily and didn’t have any trouble driving at all, thanks to Rick Steves Sicily Tour! Bene and grazie!

    1. I want to either smoke whatever you’re smoking, or change my diet to what you’re eating.

  8. I just finished two weeks driving a small RV all over Sicily. My second time. Without incident though with much consternation and head-shaking. Thanks for the amusing and insightful article. The only item I would add is the conjecture that Sicilians all learn to drive on their motor scooters and then drive their cars and trucks as if they were still on their scooters….

  9. I live in Sicily during the summer months. Everything you said is totally true. Once, while driving on the Palermo – Catania A19 highway, I was doing 130kms in the left lane. I noticed someone high beaming me from behind. It was a bus! A bus telling me to move to the right because 130 km was too slow for the left.

    1. Just got back from 10 days of touring Sicily by car. I was doing 120 k/h on the autostrada between Syracuse and Catania. No way I could do anything close to the 80 k/h speed limit otherwise I would have been creamed by someone coming up behind me. And what passed me on the left? A hearse doing at least 180! One dead body was not enough I guess.

  10. Having been a passenger multiple times, both in Rome and Sicily, I was considering gathering up the courage to actually rent a car and try driving. However, considering my lack of any useful sense of direction ( I believe I could get lost in a closet) and a healthy dose of concern for my fellow drivers, I think perhaps continuing as a passenger is a better choice. Your entertaining (and accurate) description of life on Sicilian roadways helped me reach this wise decision! Ciao!

    1. I would recommend 2 things 1) reliable Audible GPS (like iPhone Maps); and, 2) a person riding “shotgun” as your GPS Navigator. Then, you have a reasonable chance of being OK.

  11. Back from driving from Uk to Sicily and around the Targa Florio route in 1970 Mgb Gt V8 in a convoy of classics including 2 guys from New Mexico in 1930s Mg K3.Driving in Palermo totally bonkers

  12. On a serious note two cars in our party (independently)had the scary experience of their Sat/nav trying to take them up the exit ramp to a dual carrigeway.

  13. We just returned from 2 weeks in Sicily. We had a car rental. The author’s observations of the insanity of driving there are Gospel,– especially about Palermo (a “pit of misery” in some respects, especially driving.

    There are just a couple of important points left out of this piece.

    Surprisingly, this topic is mostly ignored or downplayed for some reason, — even on RS website. It’s really important for Sicily visitors though.

    ZTLs are restricted driving zones (some conservation/environment/congestion “effort” to lesson the load in these areas, — a joke !) , generally in the places you want to be as a tourist. You will know them at the very last second by a Red circle sign, sometimes flashing lights,–or not, AND always surveillance cameras. If you are a tourist, not a resident, don’t have a permit (see below), aren’t a physician, EMS, law enforcement, or a couple of other exempted categories, once you drive through the ZTL sign, your licence is recorded, you pay a fine of close to 200 Euros, I think. Yeah, there’s that. It gets your attention.

    Incredibly as it seems, I was very concerned about ZTLs. So, I called the Italian tourist agency in both New York AND Italy. The 2 people I spoke with (in English !) didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. Incredible ! There is some website with details about every town and city which has their own rules, permits (or not). Waste of time.

    I read that some hotels can give some permit, or something. I don’t know; we had Air BnB rentals everywhere. None of the owners discussed ZTLs, and many nothing about even parking issues (another problem not mentioned in this fine article). See below.
    Case in Point: As it happens, the “main drag” in Cefalu from the east is a ZTL. There is a large fee-wheeling parking area along the road in advance of the ZTL (good luck with that). We goit a spot there walked to several shops before finding some student who spoke English). He translated to a shop owner who painfully called the rental owner. After about 2 phone calls, the owner (like the shop owner didn’t speak English) sent some guy with one of those golf cart “taxis” to pick us up at our out-lying parking spot to herald us through the ZTL to our in-town rental. (time wasted: about 2 hours !).

    Parking. The Good news: Some rentals include complimentary parking. The OK news: You may “hit the lottery” and find on-street legal parking, –somewhere, in the same city/town as your rental. Is it safe ? Maybe. Can you role the dice and park illegally ? Maybe. Palermo: 2 choices: 1) Park at long-term Parking at Palermo airport (it’s miles outside Palermo), and take the shuttle to the city, and then depending where your hotel is, engage the dishonest Palermo Cabbie that will ride you around the city and then your hotel; The The Good News: 2) Our choice: Park at Long term parking at the Port of Palermo, Cruise port. It’s 100 % safe and cheap ($15/1st day, $10/day after. AND, there are surveillance cameras and employees everywhere. Then call for a taxi and get ripped off as in 1) (35-50+ Euros). Elsewhere, your rental may include Free Parking.

    Suggestion: When you are in a congested area, Palermo, Catania, Arigento, Trapani, Catania, Syracusa. Try to leave your care parked for the duration of your stay there, if you can. Yes, you must walk a lot, probably need taxis (OUCH). But, your stomach acid output will be much lower in the bargain.

    You MUST figure out Parking before you leave, or be prepared for hours of wasted time, and multiple bottles of Tums when you are trying to figure this out in the traffic congestion noted in the article.

    Autostrada, unmanned toll booths.

    I don’t think this is very common. On the tolled northern coast Autostrada (turnpike), if you get off on some exits, some Italian language instructions or remote “voice” instructs you in Italian how to pay. We didn’t know what to do. The machine eventually spit out some “pay this toll/ (fine?) ” ticket somewhere. We didn’t; we don’t know how. And, at least the people we asked later didn’t know either (?)

    GPS, — Not, not an option ! If you have an iPhone, its talking GPS works splendidly 99% of the time in Sicily. Although, I don’t think you can convert from miles to kilometers. I can’t speak about other GPS. 2x and only 2x, our GPS screwed up in a Roundabout near “The Valley of the Temples’ (near Agrigento), and downtown somewhere once. It locked up in GPS Alzheimers mode. I rebooted my iPhone and it was OK again. If you are using the Rental car company map, you are in deep do-do.

    Valid US or other Driver’s License AND an International Driving Permit (the latter, before you leave).

    Speed Limits
    As the article states, if you drive the Speed Limit on the Autostrada, it will probably be a near death experience periodically en route on the Autostrada. Don’t even think about driving in the left lane if you aren’t passing at 190 km/hr someone like you in the right lane. If you just feel like cruising along in the left lane like here, I suspect very evil outcomes WILL happen. Case in Point: About 30 yards from an exit (we were going straight), the kamikaze driver tail-gating us whipped around in front of us and took the exit. Don’t flip anyone the “bird”; they don’t know what it means. Use the elbow pump insult (then be prepared for I don’t know what).

    Catania Airport – Car Rental “Deli-Counter”

    I can’t speak about Palermo airport or other rental venues. We rented through Auto Europe (name?) Hertz. Here is the process at Catania Airport. About 100 people are ahead of you at a Hertz “deli-counter” where there are at best 3 people working feverishly. It is about the size of a McDonald’s counter. You must pick a “deli-style” number. The current number served will be “12”; yours is “67.” Yet, incredibly, we only waited about 90 minutes. IMPORTANT: Coming back, — unlike here, the Rental Car airport drop-off location is near mysterious.The signs infrequent, cryptic. GPS no use. Maybe it’s better at Palermo airport.

    CDW insurance: The Good News: it’s mandatory, include with all rentals. The Bad News: There is a $1900-2900 Euro deductable ! Because of all the above nightmarish driving outcomes possible in Sicily, unless you are wealthy you MUST take the No Deductible CDW coverage, or rent using a credit card that includes it. If you do the latter, you MUST find out before you leave whether your Credit Card has an Italy exclusion. Mine did. I bought the pricey Hertz CDW coverage.

    Bottom Line: If travelling with others. Let the most anxiety-free person drive. I never drove; my wife did all because I would be writing this from some Sicilian prison right now otherwise. If you want to see the most interesting stuff (especially inner Sicily, such as the Villa Romana di Casale), you must have a car rental.

    You MUST rent a car in Sicily. I would recommend reading some scholarly “History of Kamikaze WWII” book ahead of your date with destiny on the “Yellow Brick Roads” of Sicily. Seat Belts, and possibly prescribed medications are a must.

    1. Can’t thank you enough for all of the information! I’m leaving for Italy on 9/18, and retuening on 10/5. Going to Rome for a couple of days, and then the rest of the time will be spent in Sicily. I really didn’t want to drive, but I realize that if I don’t, I will not be able to see much. Thanks again!

  14. I forgot to mention re: ZTLs. No GPS program that I know of tracks a ZTL zone. You MUST be aware of the ZTL signage before you drive through.

  15. Correction: re: Parking I mistakenly listed parking prices at the Port of Palermo as “$s.” It is, of course, Euros.

  16. Thank you for a fun article. We just got back from a 3 week stay in ortigia-Siracusa. We mostly walk everywhere but when we were passengers it was like being on a Disneyworld ride. I miss my beautiful ortigia-Siracusa!

  17. I live in France and often travel in Italy. A couple of years ago I went down into southern Italy (northern Italy not so bad, they are more Austrian mannered) and experienced the same thing. Disregard of all traffic laws and non-comprehension of how a roundabout works. Also, no problem stopping your car in the middle of the only thoroughfare through the town to go have a coffee, hey, they’ll get around it eventually. I have a VW camper, fairly new, pretty nice. I noticed many of the worse offenders were driving little, beat up Fiats that they wouldn’t have a concern crunching. The first couple of weeks had me hitting the breaks often but after a while I changed. When I would come to an intersection and they pulled out just a bit in front of me (a true test), I stopped hitting the breaks and accelerated. I was finally getting the hang of it. However, it was amazing with minutes of returning into France, the civility and courtesy on the road, a nice relief.

  18. My husband met you at the agriturismo outside Agrigento, on tour with Virginia. We had rented a car for a week before joining the tour and love this post! We had lots of fun getting lost in Sicily. Started in Catania to Ragusa, took a wrong turn and got off on a road with prostitutes every 100 meters or so, finally getting back to the right highway. Got lost again on the way to Petralia Soprana. Finally parked it and hired a driver in Petralia Soprana to take us on our tour of the hilltowns of the Madonie. It was an easy highway drive into Scopello. We dropped the car at the Palermo airport and took a taxi into the city to meet up with the RS tour and were never so happy to meet our bus driver, sit back and relax for the rest of our Sicilian Adventure!

  19. After living there for 4 years, you are spot on! Like so many things in Sicily, you have to let go of your preconceived notions, be it driving, customs, foods, etc…. once you do, you learn and enjoy things so much more. My favorite place in all of Europe!

  20. Great article and so true!! I haven’t yet recovered from driving in Sicily some years ago!! And the advice about the insurance is excellent.

  21. Just got back from a week driving all around Sicily in a 9 passenger van. Other than a close call with a ZTL in Taormina, it was a wonderful experience. The navigation on the iPhone worked perfectly. Everything you said is so true!

  22. Hi Cameron, this piece made me lol several times! As an American expat living here in Gela, Sicily for the last year, I never thought in a million years I would have the nerve to drive. However, I now zip around town in my Panda without fear! It IS fun!

  23. Spent two years in Sicily. The toughest thing for me to accept about driving there is that you can always fit one more lane on whatever road you are driving on. Not realizing this at first, I almost had a heart attack when faced with two oncoming cars where there were only two lanes. I quickly learned that it was considered polite for the two outside cars to move as far to the right or left as possible to make room for the temporary travel lane.

  24. Help!..we are planning to go to Sicily in September and drive. We did drive from Tuscany to Lucca and into Florence once and it wasn’t bad…however our GOS was off and on. Compared to that how can we prepare for our time in Sicily. We are going to all the major cities starting with Palermo, Trapani, Agrigento, Ragusa, Siracusa, Catania, Messina and Taomina then taking the ferry over to southern italy. What basic things should we know and do!! Thank…..grazie, grazie

  25. So pleased to find this forum and its lively discussion. Great tips; I’m on the way to the phone now to upgrade certain aspects of our car rental agreement (with Hertz). And, I’ll get additional tips on parking and approaches to our hotels.

    More, then, in May after 12 days in Sicily when we gather here for our next “committee meeting”.

  26. So pleased to find this forum and its lively discussion. Great tips; I’m on the way to the phone now to upgrade certain aspects of our car rental agreement (with Hertz). And, I’ll get additional tips on parking and approaches to our hotels.

    More, then, in May after 12 days in Sicily when we gather here for our next “committee meeting”.

  27. Having just returned from my first ever visit to Sicily at the age of 71 – a driving holiday with a rented underpowered car and based in Palermo – I found your blog spot on and voiced all my vent up anger and frustrations that have been building inside me during and since my return, like Mount Etna !

    At long last I have realised that those occasional rogue drivers that I see on London’s roads who undertake or run red lights – they must be Sicilian tourists here on holiday!!

  28. I loved this article! After 3 weeks in Italy (Rome south to and through Sicily) and found this to be the rule in Italy in general. I would add the additional complications of extremely narrow roads and pedestrians who step boldly right out into the motor scooter-cars-bikes melee. Go-with-the-flow is the only way to go, and it seems to definitely work! We didn’t experience any horn honking or nasty gestures. Some shrugged shoulders with out-spread palms with the charming, “Wassa mattah? Eh? You know how to drive, no?” Hair-raising at first, but once you learn the system, it’s kind of fun and certainly part of the culture. After all, isn’t the experience of the culture what traveling is all about? We did notice that most of the cars had side view mirrors damaged or missing and that there were large scratches extending down the sides of many vehicles. We were in a large Mercedes van and came back with a side-scrape. The rental place marked it as “in good condition”, shrugging off (literally) the damage: “Ah—no matter…”

    1. Boy I wish I’d had your rental agent. A small scuff on the fender (from getting wedged between two stone buildings in an alleyway that petered out – don’t ask!) cost me $800.

  29. We’ll be in Sicily in October & also wish to visit Randazzo, Bronte, Adrano, etc. Can you recommend a driver/guide? We’ve driven all over: Paris, Rome, Boston & aren’t necessarily afraid, but it might be more enjoyable if the driver was not us. (Rome was THE worst ever, though.)

  30. I drove in Southern Italy and Sicily back in October of 2017, and it took me a day to realize I needed to drive like the locals. By the end of our stay, I was making lefts on red without noticing till my wife pointed it out. The most difficult thing was driving the roads that were nothing but dirt paved and not much room for more than one car…and it was still marked as a highway! In the end, it’s not going numb that helps, but to just do it and try not to drive off the shear drops that Italy seems to use as road shoulders.

  31. Your article is spot on! I work in southern Italy and have driven in Sicily several times. Italians drive by custom vs. law.

  32. Just returned from two weeks in Sicily and this article nails it. Initially it was intimidating. But I went with the flow and actually became very comfortable driving all over the island. When you realize that the tailgating, horn honking, disregarding of almost all traffic norms is nothing personal it will become second nature. I live in Florida where abject stupidity is the norm amongst many drivers. I actually felt more relaxed driving in Sicily than in Florida.
    When in Sicily……….

  33. Wholeheartedly agree with this post about driving in Sicily. I just finished a week long trip and found the easiest way is just to go with the flow. Especially Palermo was actually not nearly as bad as people say – it’s give and take, sometimes you give way and other times you don’t. And it totally works. I didn’t mind the traffic at all and didn’t even break a sweat. Relax and just go with it and you’ll be fine. Using offline google maps is my tip – gets you around the place like a local. As most old towns are ZTL you’ll be spared the really narrow streets. Our hotel in Ortigia arranged for a temporary ZTL pass for our stay so we could park there. We loved Sicily.

  34. We are here now and personally the driving isn’t as difficult to get used to as it is driving a manual and constantly shifting due to the traffic and hills. It’s interesting to see the thought of driving above 100km as crazy fast, yet this why people die in the USA daily. That’s only 62mph, whereas 130km is 80mph and that is considered SLOW on American Highways. Most do 90-100mph which is over 160km. I’ll take the SLOW driving of 100km any day. IT and roundabouts save lives.

  35. Don’t forget that passing cars have the right of way! Both the passee and oncoming traffic should yield.

  36. We are sitting in the Courtyard at the Parco Statella in Randazzo after driving for the last eight days. I wish I had read Cameron’s blog beforehand only to be better prepared. Everything that he mentioned We have experienced. Would I do anything different, not a chance, my wife on the otherhand had to deal with my stress when we made a wrong turn at one of those “well” marked intersections. We are enjoying reading the other comments as we can truly appreciate what everyone has experienced. Would we do it again, absolutely. The most difficult experience we had was being trapped in a Parking garage in Ortigia. We paid our fee, drove to the exit where it was supposed to read our license plate but gate didn’t open, approached attendant told us we paid at wrong machine. I wasn’t going to pay twice sat in exit until gate opened.

    1. Was this at the Talete garage? If so, for me it was unmanned. I couldn’t get out of the garage and there was no one there to help.

  37. Thank the traffic gods, we took the RS tour bus around Sicily last month. But our taxi drive from the airport to Palermo was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. Topping 180 kph our driver swerved in and out of traffic at will, completely ignoring all signage, rules of the road and other vehicles.
    BTW, the guide book rules!! Many thanks to you and Rick. Safe travels!

  38. Glad I came across this. Cameron, the Sicily guidebook is outstanding. I lost my guidebook at Valley of the Temples in October but my wife bought me another for Christmas. Your driving adventure sounded similar to mine. I wrote about my experience for AAA. I was honored they put it online

  39. I’ve been driving in Sicily (Palermo in particular) for over 3 years now. Couldn’t have put the local “rules” of the road any better than you have! Love the chaos, but it sort of works!

    Proceed carefully at roundabouts and just go when you can (e.g. forget about right of way, as the author suggests). You have to be reasonably bold. Furthermore, and I cannot stress this enough, be especially careful about people coming into the road from the right at T junctions. They tend to think they have the right of way, so they just pile into the road…

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