An Italy road trip is exactly what you need (when we’re allowed!). From the glittering coastal views to the vineyards of Tuscany, and historical cities to bookend them all – you can spend weeks in this sun-drenched country.
Make the best of it with a carefully crafted Italy road trip itinerary. It’s hard to squeeze in every exciting sight, there are so many, but I’ve narrowed down the top 10 stops so you can sample what an Italy road trip has to offer.
While a straight 778-mile drive between Milan to Reggio di Calabria takes just over 13 hours, you’ll definitely want to veer off the motorways and hit up the coast, or stop to ogle at Tuscany’s lush valleys.
Best stops on an Italy road trip
If you want the best stops for your Italy road trip itinerary, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s the best of Italy, in a car / motorbike / moped / motorhome.
What better city to start your Italy road trip than Venice?
The floating city of Venice is nothing you’ve seen before. Tourists glide through canals on sleek boats while others pose on the arches of countless bridges. The small islands of red-roofed residences are a hubbub of noise and colour; within are white-washed Renaissance buildings and the striking Basilica of central Piazza San Marco.
Zip up the Campanile bell tower for those panoramic shots. See how many Gothic palaces you can spot!
2. Lake Garda
Take the A4/E70 route out of bustling Venice to reach one of Italy’s most beautiful lakes: Lake Garda. The way the mountains open up into this dazzling region is a treat for sore eyes – and just a little over 2 hours away!
I spent a week in Lake Garda, and definitely could’ve extended my trip.
Offering 370 of crystal clear water, the lake lures in families and water sports-oriented crowds. The town of Sirmione stands out with the grand façade of fortress Rocca Scaligera; nearby is the Grotte di Catullo archaeological site. Framing the lakeside villas and calming vistas is the Dolomites up north.
Swimsuits and hiking gear are definite musts.
When I was in Lake Garda the Bardolino Wine Festival was on, which was fabulous, so make sure you check out the Garda festival calendar to make sure you time it just right. Stay at the Parc Germano for it’s fab location.
You’re probably thinking: this Italy road trip planner is crazy – you’d be right. Italy is all about ever-changing scenery! Get ready for a 180-degree ambiance switch with our next stop: Milan.
Everything in Milan is grand, grander, grandeur. It’s a fashion and design powerhouse, boosted with high-end restaurants and boutiques. If you’re a big brand lover, I highly recommend visiting outlets for deals on timeless pieces. There are loads of great things to things to do in Milan, and after being unsure on my first visit I’ve since been back and love the city.
Historical art is another highlight, featuring the king of Gothic cathedrals like the Duomo, as well as da Vinci’s The Last Supper mural. Sforzesco Castle, 1800s arcades and opera at Teatro alla Scala are more must-dos.
Most tours of Italy feature Milan, but if central Milan isn’t for you, the tawny, yellow-tinted houses of Lake Como and its glacial blues are just a 1.5-hour drive away.
4. Cinque Terre
Slow down the pace with a 3 hour drive from Milan to Cinque Terre, whether via Genova’s coastal route or passing through the in-land roads. If you haven’t guessed from the name, it’s five towns linked along the rugged Riviera. Houses and vineyards alike cling to steep terraces, connected by the Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hiking trail.
I fell in love with the Cinque Terre coast immediately – no postcard can properly capture its beauty. To quickly introduce:
- Monterosso al Mare – all about the beach and open space!
- Vernazza – 1000-year old dusty red houses and the Church of Santa Margherita.
- Corniglia – amazing clifftop views.
- Manarola – probably the most photographed, colourful place on this Italy road trip!
- Riomaggiore – sunset is indescribable.
I highly recommend dropping off the car at La Spezia and hopping on a train to these towns instead of navigating those (somewhat) treacherous curves.
When in Rome, do what the Romans do – so lean into being a tourist when you’re at the Roman legacy city of Pisa.
You definitely want your camera out at all times for this part of your Italy trip because grand architecture dominates in this town. No doubt you’re aware of the Leaning Tower of Pisa – an Italian icon – which was completed in 1372. But, make sure to scour around the striped-marble cathedral that it belongs to. Piazza dei Miracoli also shows off the Baptistry, known for its acoustics.
If you’re brave enough, join the courtyard singers and bask in the reverb!
Your Tuscany road trip properly begins when you leave Pisa for Florence. The 1.5-hour journey dips into the wine-indulgent portion of your Italy road trip itinerary. That’s right – it’s vineyard time!
Once you’re drunk on the beauty of the Tuscan country, it’s time to tackle Florence’s winding alleys and Renaissance flair. Masterpieces are literally everywhere; not just stored in the vast collections in the Galleria dell’Accademia and Uffizi Gallery. Brunelleschi’s terracotta-tiled Duomo, the Giotto bell tower, Ponte Vecchio and more will keep your jaw trailing behind you.
It’s an art-lover special.
7. Porto Ercole
The sleepy, islet town of Porto Ercole is a great stop not necessarily because of its Spanish Fortress (as impressive as it is) but because quiet is exactly what you need after a long day’s journey.
You’ll hit several scenic points and attractions on your drive from Florence:
- Livorno – backtrack to this port city for waterside promenade Terrazza Mascagni and delicious seafood.
- Sanctuary of Montenero – a 1300s mountain top icon and religious site.
- Parco Gallorose – 465-hectares of hiking, picnic, beaches and forest.
- Grosseto – city housing the Archaeological Museum and Art of Maremma.
- Oasi WWF Naturale di Orbetello – beautiful reserve with the occasional flamingo.
- Feniglia Beach – 7km of sandy goodness!
It’s easy to pass by Orvieto, a town nestled at the top of volcanic tuff, but don’t!
The historic centre is easily walkable, otherwise unassuming shop fronts beckoning with tendril plants. It’s a welcome change of pace with plenty to see – like the 1290 Duomo di Orvieto which showcases a gorgeous mosaic façade. There’s also the 16th Century Pozzo di San Patrizio with a cool double spiral staircase; perfect for Instagram photos.
Not adventurous enough? Browse the ceramics and bronze at the National Archaeological Museum or make your own dive into the underground cave network. It’s pretty cool.
Breeze through route A1/E35 towards Rome, one of the most anticipated stops on ANY Italy road trip planner. How do I even put it into words?
Founded almost three millennia ago, it’s among the world’s most ancient settlements. Park the car and walk – there’s so much to take in!
There are a lot of things to do in Rome, but here are some of the highlights.
- Colosseum – if you don’t know this Roman gladiatorial arena, you’ve probably been hiding under rocks!
- Pantheon – historic tombs, church and the closest thing to mythical Mount Olympus.
- St. Peter’s Basilica – the world’s largest and a Rome classic.
- Trevi Fountain – Admire Poseidon’s lounging form.
- Vatican Museums – for the Renaissance art fans out there.
- Roman Forum – a literal walk back in history at this excavated Roman Empire.
- Sistine Chapel – home to Michelangelo’s legendary ceiling frescoes.
READ MORE: Why don’t you try this road trip trivia quiz? FUN!
What makes Naples the perfect ending point of your Tuscany road trip is its deep reach into Italian history.
Rivalling Rome with its ancient origins (2nd millennium BC), this southern city shows its wears and tears proudly. Not only is the Duomo di San Gennaro teeming with stunning frescoes, landmarks like the lavish Royal Palace and 13th Century Castel Nuovo appeals to any artsy, history-drawn soul.
It’s also a great base for day trips out to Pompeii, with active Mount Vesuvius an ever-looming shadow. Amalfi Coast is also a much-loved day trip from Naples.
Other potential stops for your Italy road trip
Depending on what sights get you swooning, you might opt to road trip these bucket list stops instead. All make for a great weekend in Italy, too!
- Amalfi Coast – Stretching along the Sorrentine Peninsula is the absolutely stunning, coastal gem that is the Amalfi Coast. Its roads are extremely narrow and not recommended for unconfident drivers; cab around instead! Do check out the historic port town for some grand, sparkling views.
- Palermo – At the most southern tip of Italy is this ivory and orange-coloured town, known for its diverse mix of cultures. The Capuchin Catacombs are creepy but cool (think hundreds of mummies), while Mount Pellegrino is loaded with caves and historic buildings.
- Mount Etna – If you’re touring Sicily, this active volcano is a pretty cool experience to boast about. There are plenty of bus tours that take you to the top.
- Alberobello – You’ll see some of the most unique historical buildings in Italy here! The conical rooftops date beyond the 16th century; behind these white walls are lots of local arts and crafts shops.
- Trieste – If you headed over from the Adriatic Coast, Trieste is an awesome landing spot. Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the mixed influences linger to make this town quite the contrast to its southern counterparts.
- Puglia – Definitely don’t forget the white-washed hilltop towns that decorate guide books to Italy! The tiny village of Ostuni in Puglia is so, so beautiful. Dress colourfully to make full use of those clean canvases.
- Pantelleria – If you’re simply seeking an escape, go to this local secret. Secluded coves, natural volcanic spas and warm waters of Lago di Venere are just what the doctor ordered.
- Lake Maggiore – if you want to see a quieter side to Italy, with some beautiful lakes, this is the spot for you. Here are the top things to do in Lake Maggiore to keep you busy on your trip too.
- Mantova – I loved the underrated town of Mantova. If you want to visit stay at the Beatilla Resort and check out all the great things to do in Mantova from there.
- Trentino – Such a fabulous part of Italy – check out my Trentino castles and wine guide to learn more!
Is driving across Italy difficult?
Not at all! There are plenty of motorways (worked on frequently) to take you across, lengthwise or widthwise. Just be careful navigating coastal roads as the rugged landscape may feature sharp turns and curves.