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Go on a road trip holiday to Italy

Italy is a worldwide favorite destination, and for good reason. Italy has everything from mountains, warmth, vineyards, watermelons, and beaches with crystal clear water. It's not something you see every day (apart from in Croatia, possibly). Choosing a self-drive holiday gives you the freedom and flexibility to decide where, when, and how you want to experience "the land of the sun".

The only thing standing between you and a well-deserved, Southern European getaway is a drive across Europe. It sounds long, and it is – but with the right route and preparation, you'll almost wish the trip was longer.

The most obvious destinations for your self-drive holiday can be found in Northern Italy. The boot-shaped country stretches far, so if you want to go all the way to the south, the journey suddenly becomes twice as long. Although it's hard to make a mistake when choosing between Italian cities, we have selected four sure winners – including some you might not have heard of before.

In addition, we have collected a lot of good advice that can make your self-drive holiday to Italy an even better experience. So get behind the wheel, head south, and look forward to the scent of fresh pizza. We help you transform the grey motorways and sore legs into alpine idyll and adventure.

NOTE: this article assumes your road trip/vacation begins in Scandinavia

Lake Garda

Kongen af kør-selv-ferier

Gardasøen og bjerge

First on the list, we have a classic destination for road trips: Lake Garda. Lago di Garda is Italy's largest lake and likewise one of the country's biggest tourist attractions. Nestled in the shelter of the mountains, the lake is located where the regions of Lombardy, Veneto, and Trentino-Alto Adige meet. Lake Garda is especially known for its azure waters, which attract millions of tourists every year. At the same time, the area is filled with small, enchanting towns, fantastic camping opportunities, and fun amusement parks.

There are 150 km and about as many hairpin turns around the lake. Besides the many beautiful beaches, you will also find a long list of towns along the coast. There are many good ones, so explore carefully, but here's a good example from each coast:

  • On the southern tip, you find Sirmione, perhaps the most popular coastal town around Lake Garda. Here, the experience of the old, well-preserved Scaligero Castle is a draw – but also fantastic beaches, restaurants, and spas!
  • On the eastern side lies the wine region Bardolino, which offers vineyards and wine landscapes. At the same time, the town has museums about both wine and olive oil if you really want to dive into the Italian culinary secrets.
  • On the west coast, the town of Salò is where you can be sure of a good restaurant visit. You can also take a boat to the island Isola del Garda, which hides charming gardens in the middle of Lake Garda.
  • Up on the north coast, by Nago-Torbole, it's especially the opportunities for windsurfing and hiking in the mountains that draw people - besides the lavish beaches and overwhelming views, of course.

Looking beyond the lake's own, smaller towns, Lake Garda is also a gem among many major ones. The nearest are Verona and Brescia, which are within an hour's drive from Lake Garda (depending on where you stay).

Verona is especially known for both its Roman and medieval history, which is reflected in the city's architecture and art. The city is also famous for being the home of Shakespeare's tragic protagonists, Romeo and Juliet, in his masterpiece of the same name. In Verona, you'll find plenty of museums and references to the famous couple. If you've dreamed of seeing the Colosseum on your trip to Italy, this is where you'll find the best alternative: Arena di Verona. Arena di Verona is an extremely well-preserved amphitheater in the city center. Time your visit right, and you can even experience concerts, operas, and festivals in the fantastic surroundings.

Brescia is an ancient city, with about 3200 years behind it, dating back to antiquity. The city offers tons of churches, castles, museums, and squares from a past just waiting to be explored. Among them are the castle on the hilltop Monte Cidneo and the cathedrals Duomo Vecchio and Duomo Nuovo.

In short, Lake Garda is almost a sure bet that both children and adults can have a memorable experience. The tourist magnet Lago di Garda is not to be mistaken for a tourist trap. It has something to back it up.

Lake Garda is perfect for: Camping enthusiasts, families with children, swimmers, hikers, wind-surfers, sunbathers, history lovers, and foodies

Major attractions at Lake Garda: Gardaland, Scaligero Castle, Vittoriale degli Italiani, Arena di Verona

Great day trips from Lake Garda: Verona, Brescia, Venice, Milan, the Dolomites, Bergamo, Trento

Distance from Gedser: 1200-1300 km (14-16 hours by car)

Como og Lake Como

Norditaliensk charme

Byen Como og vandflyver i Comosøen

Right at the top, near the border with Switzerland, you'll find Como: A breathtaking city that encompasses both stunning nature and Italian charm. The city sits right against – and lends its name to – Lake Como, which is central to the city's character. In the city center, you'll find fabulous restaurants, beautiful churches, and architecture from ancient times. The city is brimming with charm and a cozy atmosphere with markets and life in the streets. Taking the cable car up the mountainside to Brunate, you'll be greeted with an overwhelming panoramic view of the lake, the mountains, Como, and the Swiss city of Chiasso, with which Como is virtually merged.

A visit to Como invites you to explore Lake Como's beautiful nature and colorful small towns. The lake itself has an unusual, inverted Y-shape, making it quite long and narrow. Following the lake for about an hour's drive north, you come to the ancient town of Bellagio, which many would describe as a must-see. Here, narrow, colorful streets are certainly worthy of an adventure. Geographically, given the strange Y-shape, you suddenly find yourself right in the middle of the lake's peculiar tripartite division. Walk along the waterfront to the tip, where a fantastic view of the water and the mountains awaits.

If you're craving modernity and the big city, Italy's second-largest city, Milan, is only a 1-hour drive away from Como. The same goes for Bergamo, an overlooked gem, where you meet the best of both old and new Italy. Definitely worth an excursion or a couple of overnight stays.

There are many reasons to visit Como on a road trip to Italy. And it's just a bonus that the city's northern location saves you a few hours in the car.

Como is perfect for: Hikers, nature enthusiasts, fashionistas, history lovers, foodies, camping enthusiasts

Major attractions in Como: Duomo di Como, Milan Cathedral, Villa del Balbianello

Great day trips from Como: Milan, Bellagio, Bergamo, Turin, Menaggio

Distance from Rødby: 1200-1300 km (14-15 hours by car)


Kultur og natur i topform

Torvet og palads i Trento

A little further east lies Trento: A medium-sized city that, like most Italian cities, is ancient. A keen historian would immediately think of the Council of Trent, which was held in the 16th century in Trento (then known as Trent) as part of the Catholic Church's efforts to counter the Reformation.

The streets of Trento are filled with churches, palaces, and museums that tell the city's history. If you love old buildings and frescoes, this is really the place. And should you get saturated with "the old days," the future is also represented in the form of the natural science museum MUSE.

Even if one sets aside the city's great cultural value, the beautiful surroundings alone make the city worth visiting. The city is located in the heart of the Dolomites, so it's essential to bring hiking boots. There are plenty of beautiful hiking and driving routes to embark on in the surrounding area, but it might also be worth heading to where the Dolomites are most majestic. This could be towards Val di Funes or Val Gardena, which are 1-2 hours' drive from Trento. Then the hike of the year and not least the picture of the year will be secured.

Trento is perfect for: History lovers, hikers, nature enthusiasts, photographers, art lovers

Major attractions in Trento: MUSE – Science Museum of Trento, Piazza Duomo (Trento), Val de Funes, Val Gardena

Great day trips from Trento: Bolzano, the Dolomites, Lake Garda, Vicenza, Verona, Venice, Rovereto

Distance from Gedser: 1100-1200 km (14-15 hours by car)



Vin, varme og vidunderlighed

Vinmarker og landskab i Toscana

If you're willing to drive a few more hours down "the boot," a sure winner awaits: Tuscany. Just by the name, the brain almost automatically forms images of an orange sunset over a rolling landscape, dotted with vineyards and olive trees. And that's not far from the truth. Tuscany is one of the most popular regions in Italy, and if the name isn't recognized from a wine bottle, it's most likely been encountered in a random rom-com.

The two biggest destinations in Tuscany are Florence and Pisa. Florence, the region's capital, is filled with all sorts of art and cultural treasures and was the home to great Renaissance painters like Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, and Donatello – just to name a few. And then, of course, there's Florence's colossal cathedral, one of Italy's (and the world's) largest. In Pisa, there's a very leaning tower and another magnificent cathedral, both of which must be experienced. If your road trip takes you to Tuscany, it's hard to bypass these two cities as must-sees.

However, the most important thing on the drive around Tuscany is to enjoy the warm, rolling landscape and the exceptional culinary experiences you encounter along the way. Besides wine and olive oil, you'll also come across a myriad of other specialties in the region.

Be aware that the major attractions can be crowded with tourists. Therefore, for some attractions, it's advantageous to book tickets in advance – for example, if you're planning to visit museums in Florence.

Tuscany is perfect for: Art lovers, history buffs, foodies, sunbathers, hikers, nature enthusiasts, photographers

Major attractions in Tuscany: Florence Cathedral, Uffizi Gallery, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Saturnia Hot Springs, Castelnuovo Di Val Di Cecina

Great day trips from Tuscany: Chianti, Cinque Terre, Siena, Elba

Distance from Rødby/Gedser: 1500-1700 km (17-19 hours by car)

Pick the perfect pit stops

Mor og to børn i bil

"We'll just make a long haul and have a late dinner"... Maybe you're one of those who can manage a 15-hour drive without batting an eye, but if so, you're probably in the minority. To avoid making the trip too strenuous, and not to become too dependent on European traffic, it's a good idea to plan breaks along the way. Both short and long ones. Fortunately, no matter which direction you're coming from, there are a lot of exciting destinations worth at least one overnight stay.

You'll get your first break on the ferry to Germany. Here, you'll have the opportunity to fill your stomach, do some shopping, or just lean back and enjoy the view of the Baltic Sea. At the same time, children can experience a boat trip and burn off a lot of energy.

If you're headed towards western Italy and take the ferry from Rødby-Puttgarden (via the A7 motorway), cities like Hamburg, Würzburg, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber are great destinations for a pit stop. The latter two are both part of the Romantic Road (Romantische Straße). If you're willing to spend an extra hour or two in the saddle, you might consider taking a look at the fairytale castle Neuschwanstein Castle or find a good spot by the enormous, beautiful Lake Constance.

On the other hand, if you're headed towards eastern Italy and taking Gedser-Rostock (via the A9 motorway), then cities like Berlin, Leipzig, and Munich are the ones to consider. A trip to the Tyrolean capital Innsbruck also guarantees a pleasant and beautiful experience if you'd also like to spend a day or two in Austria.

f you're just looking for a quick and easy overnight stay, you'll also come across many stopover hotels near the German motorways.

Tips for the road trip to Italy

Finally, we have a series of tips for before, during, and after you are in the car on your way to the sunny lands. Here are 10 great tips for your self-drive holiday to Italy:

  1. Plan good pit stops: The first piece of advice has already been given. Find some good pit stops so the trip doesn't become uncomfortable and exhausting – especially if you have children with you on the journey.
  2. Preparation and car check: Before you set off, it's a really good idea to have your car checked, make a checklist, and get a handle on the driving rules in Europe. You can get help with all this on our site here, but also make your own checklist.
  3. Planning vs. spontaneity: Decide for yourself and your fellow travelers how much you need to have planned. There is a lot of difference in how much preparation people need. Some need the trip planned to the smallest detail, others can just get in the car and set off.
  4. Environmental zones in Germany: Be aware of the environmental zones in Germany and Italy. In both countries, many cities and areas require environmental badges or driving permits. However, they can differ between the two countries, so read up on both if you want to avoid fines!
  5. Drive on Sundays in Germany: If possible, plan one of your driving days in Germany to be on a Sunday. There are (almost) no trucks on the highways because of the German ban – and thus less traffic.
  6. Avoid peak season: If you have a choice, it's a good idea to travel outside the high season (June-August) when you are on holiday in Italy. Spring and autumn in the south are warm enough for most people, and you avoid a lot of tourists.
  7. Entertainment: It's a really good idea to have entertainment ready for the drive. Music quizzes, playlists, bingo… We've already provided some inspiration.
  8. BorderShop on the way home: If you have space in the car, it's a good idea to stop by the BorderShop on the way home. You can shop for some goodies for the backseat and gear up for the upcoming summer party!
  9. Enjoy the drive: Consider the drive to Italy as part of the experience. You will cross the Alps, drive through mountain tunnels, and much more. For some, this will be the most memorable part of the holiday. It's not just travel time, it's a journey. And as we all know, to travel is to live!

NB: We reserve the right to changes in facilities and attractions for the various cities and areas.