Between the ‘left-hand, right-hand' debate, mega roundabouts seemingly sent from hell, and frustratingly incomprehensible road signs (what does that squiggly shape in a triangle mean again?), there’s nothing quite as intimidating as driving in another country for the first time, especially when you’re navigating a big city.

To help you rule the road, we asked our team of Lonely Planet Locals to map out the driving etiquette of their cities. Get from A-B with ease using these top tips, and maybe even treat yourself to a classic ride with our hotlist of hot rods that embody the style of their city.

An aerial view of the Athenian Riviera
Cruise down the Athenian Riviera for a quintessential experience of the Greek capital © Aerial-motion/Shutterstock

Athens, Greece

The traffic in Athens (as in many major metropolises) can be, at times, horrendous, but an off-peak urban journey is a splendid way to savour the city’s feel and atmosphere. The drive down the ‘Athenian Riviera’ to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon during sunset is probably one of the most idyllic and picturesque things you can do in the Greek capital.

Downtown, the pandemonium of horns is slightly less intense than in other Balkan capitals, but pedestrians beware: on the streets of Athens you've got a better chance of seeing a live zebra than drivers who stop at zebra crossings!

Classic set of wheels: What more suitable vehicle to cruise down the sunny Athenian streets or coastal road – in true Mediterranean style – than an open-top car, shades on, ice cream in hand (or elegantly perched in the cup holder)?

Vangelis Koronakis is a Lonely Planet Local in Athens. Follow his tweets @vkoron.

Two people negotiating a tuk tuk fair with the driver in Bangkok
This stylish ride will get you from A-B in a flash – just remember to hold on tight © MooNam StockPhoto / Shutterstock

Bangkok, Thailand

Driving in Bangkok? You must be mad, say most foreigners, and they're not wrong. In a bustling metropolis of eight million people, it appears the Thai capital's residents are all on the roads – at once! Cars, buses and motorcycles vie for precious road space, edging their way forward in gridlock, making motorcycle taxis the best, and most popular, way to cross town. Pay the driver, take pillion position, and don’t forget to ask for a helmet – beyond the obvious safety sensibilities it is also illegal to travel without one and you could be fined.

If you're brave enough to navigate Bangkok's streets behind the wheel, bear in mind that Thai drivers won’t wait for you, so drive with confidence and gusto and you’ll fit right in with the locals.

Classic set of wheels: Tuk-tuk. These three-wheeled vehicles nip through the city at an astonishing speed all thanks to the fearlessness of their drivers. A fun and frantic way to see Bangkok’s sites, like the Grand Palace, make sure to negotiate a fee before hopping in to ensure you don’t get royally ripped off.

Bangkok-based Nardia Plumridge traded Florence living for navigating the hustle and bustle of the Thai capital. Follow her tweets @NardiaPlumridge.

A woman browsing a market stall in Naples
Ditch the car to follow your own feet through the city centre of Naples © VCoscaron / Shutterstock

Naples, Italy

For anyone attempting to drive in Naples, there is just one rule: leave your highway code at home and just follow your instincts. Sound terrifying? Strangely in this chaotic city, with scarcely functioning traffic lights and narrow streets, traffic order does seem to miraculously self-regulate.

For visitors looking to navigate the city centre – where entire families on mopeds fly by and pedestrians nonchalantly walk into the road expecting the cars to suddenly stop – there is little reason to drive. However, if needs must, make liberal use of your car horn; though sometimes used aggressively to protest other motorists’ driving skills, it is mainly used as a friendly warning sign to say the likes of, ‘hey, I am just behind you, don’t pull out’.

Classic set of wheels: Ditch the car because public transport is surprisingly good and you’ll avoid being fined for mistakenly entering a restricted traffic zone.

Sophia Seymour is a travel writer, documentary maker and curator of bespoke tours in Naples.  Follow her tweets @SophiaSeymour2.

A car parked between two huge dug-out snow banks in Chicago
I'd say you could call fair dibs after shovelling out this parking spot? © Aitor Rodriguez Claro / Shutterstock

Chicago, USA

Despite good public transport and an ever-improving network of bike lanes, Chicago remains stubbornly car-centric, making every hour feel like rush hour. On the bright side, there’s perhaps no lovelier spot to be bumper-to-bumper than Lake Shore Drive, a major 16-mile thoroughfare offering postcard-perfect views of many of Chicago’s prettiest waterfront assets, from Buckingham Fountain and the Museum Campus to Oak Street Beach and Lincoln Park.

In snowy weather, note that locals abide by the unwritten law of ‘dibs’, wherein drivers gain absolute sovereignty over parking spaces they’ve shovelled out, marking their territory with lawn chairs and upturned buckets.

Classic set of wheels: Fans of the iconic Chicago flick The Blues Brothers can make like the musicians on a mission from God in a 70s-era Dodge sedan. (Bridge jumps and high-speed chases not advised.)

Cate Huguelet is a Chicago-based food, travel & culture writer. Follow her tweets @CateHuguelet.

Moped users riding down the streets of Hi Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Get in sync with your fellow drivers and you'll be riding with the best of them in Ho Chi Minh City © David Bokuchava / Shutterstock

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The veritable sea of motorbikes in any big Vietnamese city can make just crossing the road a daunting task. However, there’s method to the madness in Ho Chi Minh City: traffic flows much like a school of fish, with everyone making minor adjustments to accommodate drivers around them. Just keep to under 40kph, and focus on defence rather than offence – and don’t be afraid to use your horn!

Pedestrians can raise their hand high when crossing the street to be seen above the fray, but should watch out for impatient motorists who have no qualms about driving on the pavement.

Classic set of wheels: For a throwback to colonial-era times, vintage Vespas are all the rage. Not only will you look cool zipping around with the wind blowing through your (helmeted) hair, the solid front panel protects you from backsplash on rainy days.

Writer, editor and photographer James Pham is a Lonely Planet Local in Ho Chi Minh City. Follow his tweets @trvlwrtr.

Melbourne's W-class tram heading to St Kilda Beach
Technically the W-class tram isn't a car, but when it offers you a free ride to the beach, who cares?! © Adam Calaitzis / Shutterstock

Melbourne, Australia

Ah, Melbourne – home of the world’s best coffee, the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground and the dreaded hook turn. You’ll spot them in the city when a sign prompts, ‘RIGHT TURN FROM LEFT ONLY’, which seems counter-intuitive given we drive on the left-hand side here. Indicate right but roll up to the far left lane; there should be a right-turning arrow painted on the ground. Stay put until the traffic lights on the road you are turning into are green, then go for it.

Other than that, stay out of bus and cycle lanes (always check for cyclists when opening your door) and avoid Punt Road like the plague when the football is on – or any major event near the city for that matter.

Classic set of wheels: Without a quintessentially ‘Melbourne’ car brand, the classic set of wheels here is in fact the W-class tram. Better yet, you won’t pay a cent within the city’s Free Tram Zone.

Sofia Levin is a Melbourne-based food and travel journalist. Follow her tweets @sofiaklevin.

Traffic on Barcelona's Glories roundabout
Driving Barcelona's busy roads and roundabouts is a baptism of fire! © marchello74 / Shutterstock

Barcelona, Spain

Driving in Barcelona can take some getting used to, but you’ll find there’s more order than chaos – apart from roundabouts and mopeds unfortunately. Keep your wits about you when it comes to two-wheeled riders, and avoid Plaça Francesc Macià and Glòries if you don’t want to be driven round the bend.

Locals joke that if you can drive the entire length of Carrer d'Aragó, then you’ve been baptised as a true Barcelona driver – it’s a helter skelter ride through several city districts, on one of the Catalan capital’s widest and busiest roads. You can get away from the scrum by heading up to Montjuïc hill, with its wide, open roads and incredible city views.

Classic set of wheels: Opt for the SEAT Mii, a stylish locally made compact car, ideal for the old city’s narrow streets and tight parking spaces.

Hispanophile Esme Fox was born in England and raised in the Philippines and Uganda. Follow her tweets @EsmeFox.

Traffic driving down a road in Amman
Grab a local guide to help explain the unwritten rules of the road in Amman © leshiy985 / Shutterstock

Amman, Jordan

If you enjoy obstacle courses, you’ll love driving in Amman. You need to be alert and aggressive to navigate these congested streets where pedestrians and cats cross as they please and drivers bring their cars to a halt in the middle of traffic to chat with friends. Keep one hand ready to hit the horn (or if you’re in a wedding caravan, feel free to honk the full chorus of your favourite tune).

Rumour has it that there are laws that govern these streets, but as a visitor, it may be unclear what these are and whether anyone is abiding by them. For a first-timer, your best bet is to get in a car with a local and learn the ‘unwritten code’ of the road.

Classic set of wheels: You’ll see a lot of Priuses and other Japanese and Korean cars cruising around Jordan’s capital. Import taxes on automobiles are exorbitant, and the cost of living is high (while salaries tend to be low), so a hybrid sedan is a practical choice.

Sunny Fitzgerald is an Amman-based travel writer who prefers the passenger seat or, better yet, her own two feet. Follow her on Instagram @froliq.

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