The Ancient Romans were known as great road builders.
That’s why “all roads lead to Rome.”
But how do you find your way around Rome once you’ve arrived?
In Italy, street names aren’t as prominently posted as they are in the U.S. and some other areas, so there’s a chance you may make a wrong turn during your travels.
In this article, you’ll learn how to ask for directions in Italian and how to understand the directions that you receive.
All Roads Lead to Rome: Directions in Italian
Asking for Directions in Italian
Phrases for Asking for Directions in Italian
Asking for directions in Italian is super easy. All you need to remember are some simple question words like “where” and “how.”
If you need to ask directions from a stranger, always be polite and say “scusi” first. Then you can use any of the following three phrases to ask that person how to get to where you want to go. Any of these are handy if you’re looking for a specific place.
Dov’è — Where is…
The simplest way to ask directions to a place in Italian is to start with “dov’è” and add the place you’re looking for.
Dov’è il cinema? — Where is the movie theater?
Remember that dove simply means “where,” but dov’è means “where is.” They’re pronounced the same, although when saying “dov’è” you’ll want to put more emphasis on the è.
Come vado — How do I go [to]…
Come vado alla piazza [del Duomo]? — How do I go to the piazza [del Duomo]?
You can also use Come si va to make your request more formal and impersonal.
Come si va alla piazza [del Duomo]?
Dove si trova — Where does one find…
Dove si trova la biblioteca? — Where does one find the library?
Common Places to Ask for Directions To
Odds are, you won’t always have an exact address of the place you need directions to. Here’s a list of common places that you may need directions to.
la biblioteca — the library
l’università — the university
la fermata dell’autobus più vicino — the nearest bus stop
il supermercato più vicino — the nearest grocery store
Grocery store chains in Italy include Coop, Carrefour, Conad, Di Meglio (D+), Lidl and Aldi as well as many independent grocery stores.
la stazione dei treni / la stazione ferroviaria — the train station
la piazza — the piazza
It helps to know the name of the specific piazza you need to go to. Otherwise people will just point you towards the main one.
il centro — the center (of the town)
la chiesa — the church
It also helps to know the name of the specific church as there are so, so many in Italy. Even for non-religious people, visiting churches in Italy is a treat. In many churches you can see artwork by some of the most famous Italian old masters for free!
la cattedrale — the cathedral
Most large Italian cities have a cathedral, also sometimes called Il Duomo. These are often must-see tourist attractions, but be sure to dress modestly before entering; No shorts, short skirts or sleeveless shirts. (And yes, this rule is enforced by security staff at the entrance.)
Understanding Directions in Italian
Let’s say you’re driving and have to stop for directions at a roadside café. After trying some delicious Italian coffee, you ask the bartender for directions to a nearby city.
You say, “Come si va a Firenze da qui?” or “How does one go to Florence from here?”
He says, “Firenze si trova al nord del fiume” or “Florence is to the north of the river.”
Or he could say something like “Vai al sud per 50 chilometri sull’ autostrada, poi si trova l’uscita per Firenze” or “Head south for 50 kilometers on the highway, then you’ll find the exit for Florence.”
As you can imagine, there are lots of possible responses you might get to the same question, even if they’re all “right” answers! You may also encounter lots of different accents and modes of speech.
For this reason, in addition to learning important vocabulary, you should also familiarize yourself with authentic Italian speech before attempting to find your way around an Italian-speaking area. FluentU videos are a great way to do this. FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, vlogs, travel videos and more—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
In this section, we’ll go over some key words and phrases so you can not only ask for directions, but understand the directions you’re given.
The Cardinal Directions
Here are your cardinal directions in Italian.
- nord — north
- sud — south
- est — east
- ovest — west
Using Verbs to Find Your Way
When listening to directions, there are a few verbs you should learn that’ll come up again and again. Note that many of these verbs are irregular.
- andare — to go
- girare or svoltare — to turn
- andare diritto — go straight ahead
- andare indietro — go back
- continuare — continue
- fermarsi — to stop
- partire — to leave
- arrivare — to arrive
Using Prepositions to Find Your Way
If you’re asking directions for a place that’s relatively close by, say within a city as opposed to between cities, you probably won’t be given directions using the cardinal directions.
Instead, you’ll be given directions that involve knowing your prepositions. This would be a good time to review what preposition are and how to use them, because they’re essential for giving and receiving directions.
Below are some prepositional phrases you may encounter when receiving directions. You may especially want to take note of how prepositions combine with articles so that you recognize these phrases in use even when they don’t look exactly the way they do below.
- a sinistra — left
- a destra — right
- verso or attraverso — through
- accanto a — next to
- vicino a — close to
- dall’altra parte di / di fronte a / davanti a — across from (opposite)
- davanti a / di fronte a — in front of
- dietro — behind
- fino a — until
Some other words you’ll encounter when receiving directions are diritto or dritto (straight ahead), indietro (in the opposite direction) and prossimo/a (next).
Putting It All Together
Now that you know how to ask for directions in Italian, as well as some essential verbs, prepositions and places, you can put all these elements together to find your way no matter how lost you are.
Example #1: Directions to the Store
Tu: Scusi Signore, dove si trova il supermercato più vicino?
Il signore: Va diritto per 200 metri. Poi, gira a sinistra alla prossima strada. Continuare per 50 metri e poi si trova il Carrefour accanto alla pizzeria.
You: Excuse me sir, where does one find the nearest grocery store?
Signore: Go ahead for 200 meters. Then turn to your left at the next street. Continue for 50 meters and then one finds the Carrefour next to the pizzeria.
Note: Short distances are commonly given in meters.
Example #2: Directions to the Bus Stop
Tu: Scusi Signora, come si va alla Piazza del Duomo?
La signora: La Piazza del Duomo è abbastanza lontano da qui. È meglio di prendere l’autobus. La fermata (dell’autobus) più vicino è davanti la biblioteca su Via del Corso. Per arrivare a Via del Corso, va indietro di questa strada e poi, quando si arriva a Via Garibaldi, si gira a destra e si cammina a Via del Corso. La biblioteca, e la fermata dell’autobus, si vede a destra.
You: Excuse me ma’am, where does one find the Piazza del Duomo?
Signora: The Piazza del Duomo is rather far from here. It’s better to take the bus. The nearest bus stop is in front of the library on the Via del Corso. To arrive at the Via del Corso, go back on this street and then, when you arrive at the Via Garibaldi, turn right and walk to the Via del Corso. The library, and the bus stop, can be seen to the right.
Example #3: Getting Directions from a Friend
Both of the above examples are using formal language in the third person. When asking complete strangers for directions, especially older people, they’ll use formal language, so it’s good to practice giving and listening to directions in the third person.
But what about if you ask a friend for directions? Then they’ll give you directions in the informal, second person. Here’s an example.
Tu: Giovanni, come vado alla facoltà di ingegneria all’università?
Giovanni: Da qui, vai diritto a Via Rossellini, fino alla piazza alla fine della strada. Poi vedi un grande edificio. Quello è la facoltà di ingegneria. L’ingresso è sulla parte ovest.
You: Giovanni, how do I go to the engineering faculty at the university?
Giovanni: From here, go straight ahead to Via Rossellini until you reach the piazza at the end of the street. Then you will see a big building. That’s the engineering faculty. The entrance of the faculty is on the western side.
More Italian Direction Learning Resources
Here are some additional direction resources with audio that you can check out for further study.
- Here’s an informal language Italian dialogue from the channel Learn Italian Language. Listen to how the character asks for and receives directions.
- Learn Italian with Me has an excellent video about asking and receiving information about places in Italian.
- This video from Language Guy breaks down the grammar of asking for directions in Italian quite nicely.
There are a lot of fascinating places to go in Italy.
Whether you’re just visiting or getting to know your new neighborhood, you’ll need to be able to find your way around.
By learning a few simple phrases, you’ll be well equipped if you ever get lost or are just looking for a fun new place to visit.
Jesica Versichele is a traveler, writer and pasta aficionado. After living in Italy for a year and tutoring Italian at the university level, Jesica moved to The Netherlands where she continues to write about European language and culture. Say hi to her on Twitter.
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