Florence's much-feared ZTL area demystified, useful if you're planning to drive (or thinking of driving) in the Renaissance city
One reason why Florence is so pedestrian friendly is because the historic center is closed to traffic except for residents, taxis and buses. Great news for walkers and cyclists, not so great for drivers. This area is known as the "zona a traffico limitato" or ZTL, meaning it is a restricted traffic zone.
Since we're asked about this quite often, it made sense to sit down and try to write a clear article that puts what it is, where and how it works into perspective as the official website is not that user-friendly (it has improved lately!). Please read the entire article below carefully if you're planning to drive in Florence and post any questions below in the comments section.
What is the ZTL?
First, keep in mind that Florence is not the only town in Tuscany with this restriction. Many cities have created these restricted areas in their "downtown" to minimize traffic and make moving around easier for pedestrians and cyclists. The zone is marked with signs indicating the start of the ZTL area and WHEN you can and cannot enter. The ZTL areas are only "active" during certains hours (more below), but the hours depend on each town.
In Florence, this is indicated by a red or green light (green meaning you CAN enter and red obviously meaning you can't unless you have a permit). There are video surveillance cameras shortly thereafter that take photos of ALL cars and their license plates which are then checked off the "white" list if the license comes out on their database as having a valid permit. Please be careful and do not enter during the prohibited times because you will be fined! If you enter the ZTL area by accident - you will be fined, even if you leave right after.
The good thing is that once you are near most "doors" or entrances, there is a way to turn either right or left or onto a roundabout and go back the way you came without entering the ZTL. Sometimes this is not possible, so please be careful and know the route you are planning to take to your destination, whether it is a hotel, private garage or car rental agency.
The ZTL area in Florence is actually then further divided into A, B and O areas, the A area being a more restricted space in the very heart of the old city center. The A area is off-limits for those without a permit, at all times (the red light will be on always). Also note that the areas around Piazza del Duomo, Via Tornabuoni, Piazza della Signoria and Piazza Pitti are fully pedestrian-only areas, with only taxis (and ambulances and few others) allowed to move around in the day time so this restriction on traffic should be quite pleasant when you are out and about seeing the sights.
When is the ZTL "active"?
Essentially what the ZTL means is that unless you are one of the vehicles mentioned above (resident, bus or taxi) with a permit, you cannot enter into the city center during the following times:
- Weekdays from 7:30 am to 8 pm
- Saturdays from 7:30 am to 4 pm
This also means that after 8pm on weekdays, after 4pm on Saturdays and all Sunday, the ZTL IS ACCESSIBLE to anyone, not just those with permits. But watch out and continue to read carefully, as there are EXCEPTIONS to keep in mind!
The first one: the SUMMER EXTENSION! From the first Thursday in April until the first Sunday in October (so much longer than actual summer months), the ZTL is also "active" (which means it is prohibited to enter) AT NIGHT on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11pm to 3am Sunday morning. This is because there are many weekend events during the summer evenings and people hanging out at restaurants, clubs and enjoying night life when the weather is fine; many would enter the ZTL by car, so restricting the entrance of cars on these nights reduces traffic within the center. The ZTL area is also extended to cover areas beyond the traditional daytime ZTL for these night-time summer evenings... so when in doubt, just walk around downtown and leave the car parked in a lot or far away.
The second one: PARKING! Or, to be more honest, the lack thereof. The center is small, there are a lot of narrow, one way streets and parking is very limited. Even residents have trouble finding street parking. Parking within the ZTL area is possible, if you are able to find a spot, during the times that the ZTL is OFF/not active.
Where are the ZTL boundaries?
If you are planning to drive in Florence or just arrive in Florence by car, you should be very aware of the boundaries of this area so that you don't accidentally enter it, especially on a wrong turn.
This is a preview below of the ZTL area and where the entrances and cameras are located - but check out the official map here to get the latest version and plan your route into Florence carefully to avoid accidentally entering when you hadn’t planned on doing so.
Car rental in Florence downtown, reaching hotels and private parking garages
Although this may make you think twice about renting a car and your travel plans, you can still easily plan on renting a car in downtown Florence to then visit Tuscany and return the car in Florence: read our tips here. Car rental agencies do communicate your license plate so that is placed on the "white list" and you are not fined later for having entered the ZTL area when the light is red. Just make sure to double check that they do it on your arrival, as there is a 3 hour time limit for them to do it once you've entered the ZTL to reach them.
If you arrive with a car for just a day trip in Florence, the best solution is to park it at one of the many parking lots outside of the city center, which are often much cheaper than the private ones inside the city center. If you're in Florence for a few days, you can stay at one of the lots that have daily passes or check whether your hotel, B&B or apartment offers parking for you.
If you are staying at a hotel within the ZTL area, you can generally drive into the ZTL to reach them and unload your suitcases but you then have to leave the ZTL area to park if they don't offer parking for you.
Check with your hotel or lodging before you arrive - they have to pay to communicate your license plate to authorities so that it is placed on a "white list" and not all might do it (think of independent apartments and small B&Bs). If you would like to park inside the ZTL zone at a parking garage, they will, like the rental agencies, send your license plate to be placed on the "white list" to ensure you will not be fined later even if you enter during the restricted times when the light is red. You can book your parking spot at one of these garages with Parclick (this is an affiliate link which means we earn a small commission if you book through this link).
Dangers of driving in Florence beyond the ZTL
I am adding this new section to the article after receiving many comments below about another danger of driving in Florence that goes beyond the borders of the limited-traffic area: RESERVED LANES! These are lanes generally reserved for transit of only public transit buses, ambulances, police cars, taxis (as well as NCC or cars with private driver), and postal and sanitation vehicles (I went to look up the precise categories - all can be found here). These can be found ALL ACROSS FLORENCE and not just in the ZTL area!! Let me repeat that: they are found all over in Florence beyond the ZTL borders, so if you're driving in Florence, pay attention!
The photo above shows the start of the reserved lane on Via Senese in the direction of Piazza Romana. You can take that street in the opposite direction (see the cars coming down?) but you cannot take it in the direction I am showing above (toward Piazza Romana). See those red signs? They mean DO NOT ENTER. In the U.S., the sign normally has the words written on it as the image to the left shows. However, it makes no sense signs in Italy (or other non-native English speaking countries) to have words in English on them, so there are no words. See the three signs at the intersection above? It is the same sign, just with no words. So whenever you're driving, do pay attention to the street signs, particularly RED colored signs. Don't just follow other cars, particularly taxis or buses as they can go on these reserved lanes.
There are 3 types of reserved lanes as well as exceptions -- but rather than list them all, I think a general warning should help those already looking into the ZTL and how best to avoid it while driving here in Florence. Even if I live here, don't think I know where all of these lanes are so I have to be careful, too!
Hope this article has helped clear some doubts about what the ZTL is, how it works and where it is! For any doubts, ask away in the comments section below.