The Best Routes to Italy from the United Kingdom
Are you desperate for some Italian culture but don’t want to fly? With great routes across Europe, a road trip from UK to Italy is easy, leaving you arriving refreshed and unstressed, ready to enjoy la dolce vita from the comfort of your own vehicle.
Can I drive to Italy from UK now?
If you’re planning a road trip to Italy from UK, check the UK Foreign Office website regarding travel advice and driving to Italy before setting off. Their advice on driving abroad and foreign travel is updated regularly as the coronavirus situation changes in Europe, and their guidance should always be followed.
Ideally, you’ll be doing this trip in your own car. If you don’t own a car and don’t want to take a fly drive holiday to Italy, or use public transport, your only option is car hire, but this is the most expensive way of all the options to get to Italy.
Crossing the Channel
EuroTunnel Le Shuttle
The fastest route is using the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle from Folkestone to Calais. The crossing under the channel takes 35 minutes, with a fast check in and loading process, you can be in France in an hour. This crossing is Ideal if you are driving from UK to France with a dog, or just want to get to the other side as quickly as possible.
Dover to Calais
There is no direct car ferry from UK to Italy. Certainly the quickest way by ferry is the Dover to Calais route, on which both P&O and DFDS operate up to 40 crossings between them in peak season. Taking just an hour and a half, you’ll have time on board for a meal or drink and perhaps a quick snooze. Getting on and off can take a while though, as they have to piece all the vehicles together like a jigsaw puzzle. Not as quick as the shuttle, but very possibly a bit cheaper, especially if you can be flexible with crossing times.
Eastern England to the Netherlands
More expensive and quite a bit longer than the Dover-Calais route, the crossings from Harwich, Hull and Newcastle to the Netherlands may prove to be cost effective, but only if you don’t live in the south east of England.
The Stena Line Harwich-Hook of Holland route operates daily at 9am, with the crossing taking around seven hours. You’ll need to find a hotel on the other side as you won’t get through customs until well after 6pm, unless you can share the driving and go through the night.
If you cross from Hull to Rotterdam with P&O, their daily crossing departs at 20.30pm and takes around eleven hours, meaning you arrive refreshed and ready for a full days drive. The DFDS Newcastle to Amsterdam crossing is also overnight, but takes nearly 16 hours and is a but more expensive, although ideal for those starting their Italian road trip in the north of the UK.
Other Popular Crossings
There are a handful of other routes out of Newhaven and Folkestone to the ports of northern France, which are also worth exploring. The key here is to to be flexible with dates and times to get the best deals, this is where you may just find a bargain.
Driving on the Continent
Whichever route you choose, driving from UK to Italy means crossing through one or more other countries in Europe such as France, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. This means you need to familiarise yourself with the rules of driving in each country.
The AA website has great up to date information about country specific requirements and you should always check before setting off – failure to carry a specific bit of safety kit for example, can mean you’re fined if stopped, and buying it on the boat is always expensive.
There are some generic tips about driving in Europe which cover every country that you should be aware of;
- When you travel in Europe, remember that all EU countries drive on the right.
- Over the past few years, there has a significant increase in speeding fines issued by French authorities to Brit drivers. Many get home from a holiday or road trip to a nasty surprise in the post. Be aware and stick to the national speed limits when driving in Europe, the information sharing arrangement with the DVLA remains in place even now the UK is no longer a part of the EU.
- You must have at least three months remaining on your passport (issued in the past ten years) at your intended date of departure from Europe.
- You must have at least 3rd party insurance for your vehicle. Update August 2021 – you no longer require a green card to prove you have vehicle insurance cover when travelling in Europe.
- From 28th September 2021, you will have to display a UK sticker on the rear of of your vehicle, instead of a GB sticker, unless you have a new style UK numberplate which displays the Union Jack flag.
- Your headlights must be adapted for driving on the right.
- Your UK licence allows you to drive in all EU countries. If you only have a paper driving licence or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man then you will need an International Driving Permit, as will drivers from other non-EU third countries.
- You must carry at least one reflective jacket within the passenger compartment of your vehicle and must put it on before you get out in an emergency or breakdown situation. You must also carry a warning triangle.
- Most European countries, especially those with mountains, have rules about snow tyres and snow chains. Make sure you check these rules if you’re travelling in colder weather. There is more information later in the post about this requirement in Italy.
- You may want to consider carrying an electronic toll pass on your England to Italy drive 0 one of our essentials for driving in France. These devices work on French toll roads (as well as Spanish and Portuguese) and deduct the toll fees from a credit card automatically, meaning you don’t have to stop at a booth or barrier.
- Austria and Switzerland require you to purchase a vignette (a type of sticker) to use their motorway systems. They can be purchased a fuel stations or online here in advance of your trip. The latter is a good idea, as unless you are planning on touring these countries and set your satnav not to use motorways, you can easily find yourself on one as you pass through without even realising, and fines for non-compliance can be large. You need an extra vignette for a trailer and a different type for motorhomes and campervans over 3,500kg.
- French motorways are privately managed and you’re not allowed to request your own assistance company to attend to you if you break down. If you do break down, you should use the orange emergency telephones that are situated every 2km along French motorways to call the official breakdown service operating in that area. You will be towed to a safe designated area where you can make onward arrangements for your own European breakdown cover provider to assist you.
Driving to Italy from UK – Best Routes
There are so many driving routes to Italy from UK, depending on whether you’re doing a straight dash down, or whether you’re going to meander and spend a bit of time sightseeing along the way, and where in Italy you are heading to.
“How long does it take to drive to Italy from UK?” I hear you ask. Sadly, there is no really quick way of driving from England to Italy, it will take a couple of days by the time you’ve accounted for stops and rests, unless you’re travelling with someone who can share the long hours at the wheel. Make sure you book your hotels in advance, as popular and convenient hotels with good reviews will be reserved well in advance during peak times.
You could explore the motorail option, which transports your vehicle by train whilst you enjoy the journey in a sleeper coach. This is a fantastic way to travel, but an expensive experience. We took our touring bike from Dusseldorf to Verona (one of the few routes still operating) and saw lots of classic cars being transported this way, its a great option if you don’t want to add mileage to your vehicle. You can find out more about European motorail routes with the Man in Seat 61.
The Quickest Route
Calais – Reims – Nancy – Basel – Lucern – Milan
All routes assume travel in a 2.5l diesel car. Find your costs with Via Michelin here.
The quickest drive to Italy from England is the straightest, and probably also the most scenic! Within 2 hours from Calais, you’ll be leaving the flat plains of northern France behind.
This travel route from UK to Italy via Switzerland passes through some of Europe’s most spectacular scenery, especially as you approach the Alps.
You could take a few extra days and stop on route. Pretty Colmar, the tri-national medieval city of Basel and elegant Lucerne with it’s gorgeous lake, are all worthy of a stop-over.
Driving from France to Italy on this route, you’ll find excellent motorway and national roads as you pass through France and Switzerland before using the Gotthard Tunnel to enter into Italy.
The French Route
Calais – Reims – Troyes – Dijon – Lyon – Geneva – Turin – Genoa
If you want the convenience of the fast French autoroute (motorway) all the way on your drive from England to Italy, and a straightforward trip, then this is the route for you. Utilising the Mont Blanc tunnel to get through the Alps is also also a good route if you’re heading for the Italian Riviera or driving to Tuscany from UK, but you’ll pay for the privilege with higher French motorway tolls and a hefty €46.30 one way for the tunnel.
The Netherlands Route
Rotterdam – Cologne – Coblenz – Ulm – Milan
If you’re leaving from one of the eastern England ports, then travelling down through Germany is super cost effective as their autobahns are free of charge, unless you’re a commercial truck driver! If you’re driving from England to Germany before travelling on to Venice or Lake Garda, head for Innsbruck from Ulm, and cross into Italy via the beautiful Brenner Pass for an extra €10 in toll fees.
The Winter Route
Calais – Reims – Troyes – Dijon – Lyon – Avignon – Nice – San Remo
Almost all of the Italian border is mountainous. If you’re travelling to Italy in the winter but don’t fancy crossing the Alps to get there, then you need to drive right down to the Cote d’Azur on the south coast of France, and turn left. The coast road is simply stunning, and in winter won’t be rammed with tourist traffic. You’ll cross into Italy, just west of Menton on the infamous SS1 road, sections of which were used in a James Bond movie.
This is the best route to avoid needing winter tyres or snow chains, an added cost to your journey. Winter tyres are surprisingly not always mandatory when driving Italy, but if you see a sign with ‘obbligo di pneumatici invernali o catene a bordo’, you must either be using winter tyres or snow chains. Whether the signage is in place is determined by local authorities and it can be difficult to know where tyres and chains may be required in advance.
There are a number of exceptions to this ‘sign rule’. Between 15 October and 15 April winter tyres are mandatory in the Aosta Valley. If you have summer tyres fitted in this area, you will need to carry snow chains between 15 October and 15 April. In addition, you must use winter tyres from 15 November to 15 April in South Tyrol, the municipality of Bozen and the Brenner motorway.
The Adventurous Route
Calais – Reims – Colmar – Zurich – Davos – Stelvio Pass – Bormio – Milan
This is the route to take if the road trip to Italy is more important than the destination. Crossing three breathtaking passes, surrounded by the might of the Alps as you head east from Davos, the highlight of the route is the incredible Stelvio Pass, beloved of motorcyclists, classic car enthusiasts and the occasional motorhomer. This route is only suitable for the summer months, even crossing as late as June you may still find snow right at the top of the passes. From May to September, the roads are likely to be clear, but it always pays to check the weather before you set off when driving in northern Italy.
Onward Travel in Italy
You’ve arrived! Generally speaking, driving in northern Italy is a pleasure, the roads are in good condition and well maintained.
However, the further south you venture, the worse the roads become. Once south of Rome, you’ll find worn and potholed A roads and autostrada, but take it easy, follow our driving tips fro driving through Italy, enjoy the gorgeous scenery and you’ll soon feel at home.
Italy Travel Ideas
Driving in Italy Rules
- Drinking and driving in Italy is illegal.
- Stick to the speed limits in Italy which are strictly enforced. Unless you see a sign indicating otherwise, the speed limits in Italy are 130km/h on highways like the Autostrada and range from 50km/h to 110km/h on other roads.
- If your vehicle is over 3.5t, the limits are reduced to 100km/h and 80km/h respectively.
- Mobile phones can only be used through a hands-free device.
- Driving in a bike lane or bus lane is illegal.
- Children under age 12 aren’t allowed to ride in the front seat of cars.
- Children up to age four must be harnessed in appropriate child safety seats.
- Reflective vests are required and must be carried in the car so they can be put on before you exit the vehicle.
- You must carry a spare tyre and warning triangle.
- Headlights or daytime running lights must be turned on at all times.
- Autostradas are Italy’s motorways and are generally toll roads. Pay using a credit card where possible, often change is not provided when you use a large notes.