Driving a Scooter in Rome

Ah, Rome, sweet Rome.  Thinly veiled chaos, full of motor bikes and trash (among a few other things).

I don’t freelance write any more, but I have had the great fortune to contribute to some lovely websites and publications. Unfortunately, the freelance life is full of turmoil and pieces you write for new publications on spec (helpful hint: don’t agree to do that, ever) never see the light of day.  Here is one such piece:

Driving a Scooter in Rome

The road to obtaining an Italian drivers license is long and onerous.  The theoretical test has the reputation of being nearly impassable and it can take would-be drivers years to navigate the bureaucratic red tape that accompanies the quest for an official license.

With such strict controls, one might imagine that Roman drivers are the epitome of rule-following road users. But few statements could be farther from the truth, especially when it comes to driving a scooter.

The one rule you have to learn about taking to the streets of Rome on a scooter is: rules are meant to be broken.

Roman motorini often swerve into oncoming traffic to beat slower moving vehicles.  Moped drivers see red lights as more of a suggestion than a rule, and believe crosswalks and sidewalks are just as well suited for scooters as they are for pedestrians. Looking for a designated scooter lane? Any space between two cars is fair game.

Rome ranks among the cities with the most registered scooters in the world.  With congested traffic and little parking, it’s no wonder that the motorino has found such a devoted following in the Eternal City.

The Italian love affair with the motorino reaches back to 1946 when Piaggio first debuted the Vespa to journalists in Rome.  From there, Piaggio sold 2,500 Vespas in 1947, more than 10,000 in 1948, 20,000 in 1949, and over 60,000 in 1950.  Sales exploded in 1952 when Audrey Hepburn joined Gregory Peck for a Vespa ride past the Spanish Steps in Roman Holiday. While the iconic Vespa can still be found on any street, Romans ride a range of modern scooters from brands such as Aprilia, Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda.

You have to be at least 14 years old to ride a scooter in Rome, and it is not uncommon to see young teenagers zipping along through traffic at breakneck speeds.  However, the Roman affinity for motorini extends far beyond youthful rebellion and the scooter is the transportation mode of choice for many more mature commuters.  You’ll spot many riders impeccably dressed in tailored suits on their way to work.

To rent and ride a motorino in Rome, all you need is a valid drivers license, a sense of adventure and a good dose of common sense.  Watch out for wet cobblestones, potholes, restricted traffic areas and other drivers.

You can drive a motorino up to 125cc with no special license required.  Helmets, however, are very much required, as is proper paperwork, so confirm the presence of both with your rental agency before you drive away.

To hire a scooter in Rome, try some of these rental agencies, with one major disclaimer:  I have never tried any of them, because the idea of riding a scooter in the center of Rome without having been born and raised here seems absolutely crazy to me.

Barberini Scooters for Rent
Offers guided tours as well as a variety of individual rental options
Via della Purificazione, 84
+39 06 4885485

Baci e Bici
Just steps for the Colosseum, the rental agency offers bicycles in addition to scooters and hosts daily tours.
Via del Viminale, 5
+39 06 4828443

Offers hourly rates as well as rentals by the day, and can even deliver the scooter to your hotel.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 204
+39 06 4815669

20 thoughts on “Driving a Scooter in Rome

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  3. Jennifer says:

    Several years ago my husband and I were in Rome. Being of European descent, I was familiar with the scooter culture in Italy, and Rome in particular. My husband, who had never been in Europe before, didn’t know what to expect. We took the hotel shuttle bus into town, and I insisted we sit in the front seat. After six years, he still talks about the insanity of the scooter riders in Rome, weaving in and out of traffic, in front of the bus.

  4. John says:

    My wife and I are going to Rome next year and certainly will try the scooter hire option. I wonder how practical for longer trips say Naples via back roads or are there other options say transport of scooter by train.

  5. Olly Bridge says:

    Thank you for your post! I have US driving license and looking for some options to rent a scooter in Rome. I found a local rental company http://www.bikesbooking.com, on their website it is said I need to have an international driving license to hire a scooter in Rome. Is it true? Was the rules changed? Thank you!

    • Natalie says:

      Hi Olly! I think having an international license is probably best to guarantee but it is not usually required for the rental.

    • Alison says:

      Easy enough to get. Just have a couple passport photos taken and then take them and your state DL to AAA. They’ll issue you an international driver’s license on the spot for $15.

  6. Giovanni says:

    I’m looking into shipping my motorcycle from the US to Italy for three months to ride it while on a three month tourist visa.
    —-However from talking to several, it seems that the Italian government makes that such a bureaucratic nightmare, it’s practically an impossible dream.
    Does anyone have any insights into this possibility or lack of?

  7. dena says:

    Even though it seems like it would be fun , No way I would drive a scooter or car around Rome, riding from air port to hotel , scared the hell out of me, no lanes , everyone in a hurry, lights mean nothing! and park anywhere they can squeeze in ,, not to mention the stone/brick street. not smooth like in US. just seeing the traffic is enough to convince anyone that is a bad idea to undertake driving in Rome!

  8. Donita says:

    My husband and I are experienced Vespa riders and we would NOT ride in Rome. We also visited Florence, and did rent scooters there for a day trip to Siena. It was the most beautiful ride we’ve ever taken and I highly recommend it. We did get an international permit before we left, because I’ve read that if you do take a spill or have a fender bender, you would be subjected to high fines without it. Also, make sure you have a charged phone with google maps and some earbuds to navigate the city streets. We didn’t use it in the country, but was necessary to find our way back to the rental place on the return trip.

  9. Ana Catarina Almeida says:

    Hi! I have a baby with 1 year old. Me and my husband can ride a vespa with the baby? We are going to Roma in May. Grazie

  10. Leslie says:

    I live in Italy but am not NEARLY fluent enough to attempt the driver’s license exam. My question is this….
    Is there ANY type of vehicle (other than an electric bicycle) that can be driven in Italy without a driver’s license? I cannot use an international license because I’ve been here longer than one year and am a permanent resident.
    Any thoughts?

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