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Driving in Italy: Italian Road Signs




You’ve got your rental car, you know what kind of fuel goes in it, and you’ve plotted a route for a road trip in Italy. Now all you have to do is make sense of all the road signs in Italy.

And yes, there are a lot of them.

For kicks and giggles, I looked at Wikipedia’s page on Italian road signs. I was immediately transported back to my 15th year, imagining how many times I would have flunked my driver’s permit test if I’d had to learn all of those signs. It’s a bit of an anxiety-inducing collection of colorful circles and squares, but I’m going to cover the main road signs you really need to know if you’re going to be driving in Italy. (You can consult the Wikipedia page if you want the rest.)

As overwhelming as that page is, it does a good job of breaking down Italy’s road signs into different shapes, and the shapes have meanings even before anything is printed on them. Circles mean something is forbidden, or an instruction that is compulsory. Rectangles or squares are informational signs. Triangles are warnings.

There are some colors that have meaning, too. Highway signs that are green are for the Autostrada, and indicate toll roads. Blue highway signs are non-toll roads. Brown signs point you toward historic or tourist attractions.

Now, let’s dive into some specifics.

Don’t miss my other articles in this series: Driving in Italy 101 and Italian Driving Laws & Rules of the Road

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Important Road Signs to Know in Italy

Stop

Stop signs in Italy are just like stop signs in the United States and many other places – they even say “STOP” in English. Easy peasy, right? Sort of. Italians approach stop signs a bit like they’re yield signs, or yellow flashing lights. If there’s no one coming, or no one close enough (by their assessment), they may just slow down and not stop completely. In other words, don’t assume everyone is going to come to a complete stop at a stop sign.

creative commons image by Flanker

creative commons image by Flanker

Beginning & End of Restricted Zone

The way Italy communicates the start or end of a particular rule on the road is by using the same sign twice – once to tell you a rule is starting, and again with a slash through the sign to tell you the rule is ending. In this picture, then, the signs are indicating that you’re leaving a town called Oropa (there’s a line through the sign you would have seen when you entered town) and that the in-town speed limit of 30kmph is now ending. As you can see, the color of the slash changes, but just remember that if you’ve seen a sign like that before without the slash, you’ll be looking for its mate at some point.

creative commons photo by cesare

creative commons photo by cesare

Speed Limit

The signs for speed limit – maximum speed – are white circles with a red border, and the speed limit in black in the center.

Italian speed limit sign

Minimum Speed

Minimum speed is indicated by a circular blue sign with the minimum speed in white in the center.

creative commons image by Flanker

creative commons image by Flanker

Do Not Enter

Signs indicating that no vehicles are allowed past them are red circles with a white horizontal bar across the middle. This might be because it’s a one-way street and traffic is coming the other way, or because it’s a pedestrian zone.

Italian do not enter sign

Limited Traffic Zone

An increasing number of Italian cities now have what are known as ZTL areas. It stands for “Zona Traffico Limitato,” which translates as Limited Traffic Zone, but really means no vehicles allowed. These signs are white circles with a red border. Sometimes they are blank, sometimes they actually say Zona Traffico Limitato on them. If only a particular kind of vehicle is prohibited, that’s what will be in the middle of the circle – no buses, no big delivery trucks, no motorcycles, no cars, etc. There are big fines associated with driving in a ZTL when you’re not supposed to be there, and you’ll likely get that fine without ever being pulled over (there are cameras in many city centers now). Check out maps of ZTL zones for some of Italy’s major cities on this AutoEurope page.

Italian ZTL sign

No Parking or Stopping

No parking signs are blue circles with a red border and a red slash through the middle. No stopping (which, one assumes, also means no parking) signs are blue with a red border and two red slashes through the middle like a red X.

creative commons images by Flanker

creative commons images by Flanker

No Passing

No passing zone signs are white circles with a red border and two cars in the center of the circle. The one on the right is black, the one on the left – in the passing lane – is red. The red color is telling you that what the car is doing is a no-no. You may also see similar signs that have a car and a big truck, with the truck in red on the left. That’s telling you cars can pass, but trucks can’t.

creative commons image by Flanker

creative commons image by Flanker

One Way

Italian one-way signs used to say “SENSO UNICO” on them, but the new version of the sign has no words (you may still see some of the old ones, of course). Now, one-way signs are blue rectangles or squares with a white arrow telling you which way the traffic is supposed to go. Somewhat confusingly, there are circular blue signs with similar white arrows that just indicate that you’re to drive straight or left or whatever direction the arrow is pointing… These don’t mean it’s a one-way street, only that you’ll need to follow the arrows to avoid things like a pedestrian-only street. The end result is the same – you’ll turn in the direction of the arrow – so it’s not too much of a worry, but just be aware that the rectangles and squares in this case are the true one-way signs.

Italian one way sign

Right of Way

Right of way signs are yellow diamonds (a square on one corner, really) with a white border. The concept these signs are communicating may be a little confusing, so bear with me. Let’s say you’re driving along something other than a big highway and you see a right of way sign. That means any cars turning onto your street from any intersecting side streets would have to yield to you – you have the right of way, and they have to wait their turn. When you later see that same right of way sign with a black slash through the middle (remember the “end of zone” section above?), that now means you’ll have to do the waiting, because cars coming in from the side streets now have the right of way.

creative commons image by Flanker

creative commons image by Flanker

Yield

Another sign telling you that you’re the one who has to wait and give other cars the right of way is this one, an inverted white triangle with a red border.

creative commons image by Flanker

creative commons image by Flanker

Parking Area

Parking areas – including parking lots and garages – are indicated by a blue square with a white P in the middle. Keep an eye out for these, as sometimes parking garages are tough to spot (especially if they’re underground) and parking in historic city centers can be nightmarish.

creative commons image by Flanker

creative commons image by Flanker

City Center

When you’re driving in from the countryside and heading for the heart of a town, look for the white circular sign with black concentric circles inside it. It almost looks like a black and white bullseye, with a black dot at the center. Note that, again, parking in this part of a town or city can be problematic, but at least you’ll be able to take the right highway exit and then find a parking lot or garage that’s close to the town center once you’ve driven to it.

creative commons image by Rupertsciamenna

creative commons image by Rupertsciamenna

Italian Road Signs in the Wild

So many signs! You can see here green Autostrada signs for Trieste, Travisio, and Belluno, a city center sign for Mestre (plus an additional street in Mestre that doesn’t have the city center bullseye), non-toll highways for Venezia and Ravenna, and even a gas station sign on the lower right.

creative commons photo by Luca Fascia

creative commons photo by Luca Fascia

On this sign you can see a brown indication of a point of interest – in this case a national park – as well as the word “uscita,” which means “exit.”

creative commons photo by Ra Boe / Wikipedia

creative commons photo by Ra Boe / Wikipedia

This collection of signs is especially fun, since it’s in the north of Italy and therefore in a couple languages. There’s a non-toll highway toward Courmayeur, the city center for Aosta (or Aoste, in French), Autostrade toward Genova, Milano, and Torino, as well as toward Monte Bianco (or Mont Blanc, in French). The last is a customs sign (the red-bordered circle with the word “dogana”).

creative commons photo by Tenam2

creative commons photo by Tenam2

Do not enter this street; instead, turn left.

creative commons photo by Michael Turk

creative commons photo by Michael Turk

No stopping pretty much anywhere along this street. They are serious about it.

creative commons photo by Conan

creative commons photo by Conan

Here’s one of those ZTL signs.

creative commons photo by Simone Ramella

creative commons photo by Simone Ramella

Sometimes signs will come with time limits – no stopping between certain hours, for instance. This no parking sign is amusing because the time limit sign has been added, but it’s a 24-hour prohibition. I’m not sure why the no parking sign on its own wasn’t sufficient.

creative commons photo by Amelie

creative commons photo by Amelie

And now, for some fun…

It’s far too tempting to resist, so here are some Italian road signs with my own made-up meanings. (Their actual meanings are listed below, I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.)

No trumpet playing!

creative commons image by Flanker

creative commons image by Flanker

(No use of car horns)

No cars on fire!

Italian no explosives sign

(No carrying of explosives)

No invisible motorcycles!

Italian no motorcycles sign

(No motorcycles)

No soccer playing!

Italian "Home Zone" sign

(End of “Home Zone;” these are usually neighborhoods with reduced speed limits)

Caution: Half a Death Star ahead!

Italian tunnel sign

(Tunnel ahead)


16 responses to “Driving in Italy: Italian Road Signs”

  1. Jane DeVore says:

    What is the sign that is blue and red with a red skull in the middle? I saw this in Florence and Rome. I remembered this post and tried to find it. Thanks.

  2. V says:

    How are the bus lanes marked in Milan, Italy? I’ve looked on many websites and can’t find it. i received a notice of violation 18 months after I was there, plus i have yet to see the alleged video that I have requested. please advise. Thank you

    • Jessica says:

      I’m afraid the painted lines for buses (and for no-parking areas) aren’t always as well-marked as they could be – not to mention the fact that there have been cases of locals painting over the official lines with their own colors! You can see some examples of bus lanes here. There are also cases where it’s fine to drive in certain areas but only during certain hours – drive there outside those hours and you get fined. From what I’ve seen when other people have a similar problem, you have two options – either pay the fine or don’t (and then see what happens). I’m not sure what the long-term ramifications of the latter would be.

  3. Sandra Lefevre says:

    What about a yellow zone that is intended for mopeds, bicycles and pedestrians only. Is this fact or fiction?

  4. Vanessa says:

    a lot of the signs on backroads of Sicily advised us to “Procedura con Prudenza” which we did. Reasons given were difficut to translate but included massive land slips/mudslides, road surfaces broken into steps/terraces, wild switchbacks with cycle races on them, no effectice barrier (nr Comiso). I wish that I had taken photos but too scared to stop. Locals regard the whole thing as an excersise in bravado.

    • Jessica says:

      I completely agree about the exercise in bravado thing. Or, if they’ve only ever driven in Italy, they just don’t know how wild it is!

  5. judie says:

    Planning a driving trip from Bari to Lecce and back to Bari. would like to take roads that are used for bike trips since I will be following my husband as he bikes from one hotel to the next. Is driving on the small roads very busy? Is driving on these road done without much trouble?

    • Jessica says:

      If you’re talking about paved roads, then my guess is they’re fine for cars – though perhaps not used as often as the highways. Some roads used for cycling are small, gravel roads, primarily used by farm vehicles and whatnot (found out the hard way by making a sort of wrong turn in Tuscany once). It’s probably best to check with locals about what roads would be best for both your husband on his bike and you following in the car.

      • judie says:

        Thank you Jessica, My husband and Grandson have their trip planned by a tour operator so I’m sure they will be fine. I was more concerned about me..lol I do want to stay on paved roads but not really wanting to travel all the time on highways.

  6. DriverSK says:

    Does crossroad is equivalent to traffic sign for ending local speed limit in Italy?

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