San Marino Travel Guide
San Marino was my 45th country visited and the only called a “micro state” It is therefore one of the smallest countries in the world, and is completely enclosed by Italy, kind of like the Vatican. Due to its location near Bologna and Rimini, it is definitely worthwhile to plan some San Marino travel during your Italy adventures.
I honestly didn’t really know what to expect from, and I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of San Marino. The country is located in the mountains, which gives you a fantastic view of the surroundings. Plus the capital is full of romantic streets and mysterious alleys that you can stroll through.
In this San Marino travel guide I’m sharing my best tips from the more practical, like how to get there, to the more fun, like what to see and eat!
What You Should Know About San Marino
San Marino is a dwarf state. This mean it’s a country with a very small surface. With its 61 square meters, it is the 3rd smallest country in Europe (after Vatican City and Monaco), and the 13th smallest country in the world.
So to immediately answer the most important question: Yes, San Marino is a country of its own. About 30,000 people live there.
San Marino is completely surrounded by Italy, and is therefore an enclave (an independent country within the land area of another country). Funnily, it really almost does feel like another Italian state. There are no border controls between the two countries; you can use the Euro, and the official language is Italian!
But nothing could be further from the truth. San Marino is an independent country, and the oldest republic in the world. Many San Marines are particularly proud of this fact, by the way! It’s also not a part of the European Union, but it does have open borders.
Helpful Hint: You don’t need a world plug in San Marino.
Brief History of San Marino
As mentioned earlier, San Marino is the oldest republic in the world. The country was founded by monk and stonemason, Marinus van Arbe, in 301. He ended up in the San Marino area to escape the Christian persecution of Emperor Diocletian.
In the mountains he found you could live both safely and peacefully, so he chose to build a chapel and a monastery. From these two buildings, San Marino was born, and, as you might guess, the country’s name comes from St. Marinus.
The Middle Ages were turbulent times in which San Marino was invaded several times. Only two attempts were successful. The first time lasted only a few months because the ruler fell ill and could not sustain his power.
San Marino has had its own constitution since 1600 (the oldest surviving constitution in the world). It also came under Papal protection in 1631. In the second domination, the Pope was asked for help, and in turn he restored San Marino’s sovereignty. The country never fell into foreign hands ever since.
San Marino is a very rich country, with high GDP, low unemployment, and a budget surplus. A large part of their income comes from tourism and the banking system.
Fun fact: in 1848, San Marino was the first country in the world to introduce free health care.
San Marino Travel Guide
How to Get to San Marino
San Marino is located between the two Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna and La Marche. The closest major city is Rimini, which is where many day trippers visit from.
San Marino does not have its own airport or train connection. The closest airport is in Rimini. You must therefore visit the city by car or public transport.
By public transport
Fortunately it is fairly easy to visit San Marino by public transport. A direct bus leaves from Rimini train station to San Marino City. The Bonelli Bus is only €5 one way, or €9 for same day round trip. The bus takes about an hour. You can find the timetable here.
By car is by far the easiest way to travel San Marino. It is about half an hour’s drive from Rimini, and you will find plenty of parking around the city. If you want to rent a rental car, I recommend that you rent it at Sunnycars.
Parking in San Marino
There are 11 parking places in San Marino. You will find a map with all parking spaces here. Expect around €1.5 per hour, or €8 for six hours or more parking.
How Much Time to Spend in San Marino
As mentioned, many people visit San Marino as a day trip from Italy. And that in itself is great to do if you mainly want to visit the main city. The city is not that big and in a few hours you have seen everything. But I would still recommend that you spend the night in San Marino.
During the day it can be very busy with day trippers, but as soon as they go home, the San Marino is almost deserted and very magical. Nothing beats a nice bite to eat and then a walk through the deserted streets. Why should you hurry?
9 Fun Things to Do in San Marino
1. Visit San Marino City
The place where you will find all the important sights of San Marino is San Marino City, the capital of the micro state. The historic center is in its entirety on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is located on Mount Titano, with an altitude of 749 meters. You can entertain yourself for hours strolling through the medieval streets of the city. Enter the walled city through one of the entrance gates.
2. Explore the Three Towers
The symbol of San Marino is the three defense towers that stand on top of the mountain. They are so important that they are even depicted on the national flag. Independence and freedom are the most important values for San Marines, so you can imagine that the towers that defended the city are very important to them.
The towers bear names: Guaita, Cesta, and Montale. Guaita is the most famous of the couple and dates from the 11th century. It served as a prison for a while. Cesta dates from the 13th century and stands on the highest point of San Marino. Here you will find a museum. The 14th century tower of Montale is the smallest of the couple and cannot be visited. However, this tower was crucial for the defense, because this tower had the best view of the entire valley.
The towers served as a defense of the city during the 14th century war against the Malatesta family from Rimini.
You can pay €3 if you want to visit the first tower, or €4.50 for both towers. I would definitely recommend you to visit the first tower because of the great view that you have. It does have a tricky staircase, so it is not suitable for disabled people.
TIP: Do you want to visit multiple museums in San Marino? Buy the Two Museum Pass (€6.50) or the Combined Museum Pass (€10.50).
3. Walk the Witches Path
The most beautiful path of San Marino is the Passo delle Streghe, or “Witches Path”, which connects the first tower with the second. Not only do you have a beautiful view of the towers and the valley, but it is also a very nice place for the sunset.
A dark explanation for the name can be found in the fact that in the Middle Ages women suspected of witchcraft were thrown over here.
4. Enjoy Piazza della Libertà and the Palazzo Pubblico
The main square of San Marino is the Piazza della Libertà, or: the Freedom Square. Here you will also find the 19th century Palazzo Pubblico, the town hall. And not to forget: a great view of the area. You will also find a number of terraces around the square.
This square used to be a central water supply for the residents. But now people mainly come to celebrate freedom. The most important attraction is the Statua della Libertà, the Statue of Liberty. The crown of this image refers to the three towers of San Marino.
A fun fact about San Marino is the fact that the country elects a new parliament every five years, but that there are two new heads of state every six months.
These “Captain Regents,” as they are called, are ordinary citizens. The underlying purpose is to make politics as democratic as possible. When we were there, we quite accidentally saw one of the current regents arriving at the Palazzo Pubblico.
Already in the 14th century there was a building on the site of the current town hall with the name Domus Magna Comunis. However, that was demolished in the 19th century due to the danger of collapse, and replaced by the current building that was completed in 1894. The building is not only the town hall, but also the parliament building, and the building where all official state affairs take place. During the summer there is a change of the guard of the palace guards every half hour.
TIP: The Palazzo Pubblico can be visited. A ticket costs €3, or is included in the Combined Museum Pass.
5. Take the Cable car
The lower Borgo Maggiore and the higher San Marino city are connected by a cable car. The ride takes about 2 minutes and you have a nice view of the surroundings from the cable car (but nothing you can’t see from San Marino City).
A ticket costs €2.80 and a return ticket €4.50. You will find the opening times on this website.
6. Get a passport stamp from San Marino
Although you do not need your passport to visit San Marino (because of the open borders), you better take it if you want a passport stamp from your visit to San Marino. It’s possible!
For 5 you can have a stamp placed in your passport at the tourist office as proof that you have actually been in this special country.
7. Visit the Basilica di San Marino
This Basilica di San Marino is the largest and most important church of San Marino. It is a Catholic church, and is dedicated to St. Marinus, the founder of San Marino.
Although the church may look older, it only dates back to 1836. It was built to replace a 4th century church that worshiped the same saint. That church was demolished because it was too old and unsafe.
The Basilica is built in a Neoclassical style with eight Corinthian columns at the front. Under the altar you will find relics of St. Nicholas.
On the right is another smaller church, the Chiesa di San Pietro. In the crypt of this church you will find two stones that, according to legend, were the beds of San Marinus and his companion San Leo.
TIP: The Basilica di San Marino is free to visit every day, as long as there are no services.
8. Take a Cooking Class at the Museum of the Agriculture
The old farmhouse “House of Fabrica” dates back to 1770, and has been completely refurbished in recent years with the aim of opening it as a museum. You can now find the Museum of the Agricultural Culture there. Here you can see and learn more about the history of rural life in San Marino.
Visit an old home with interior design as it would have looked in the old days, or, even more fun, take a cooking class! We learned how to make Piadina. That is a traditional bread (it looks a bit like a pita), made from flour, water, and egg. Delicious with local cheese and a little honey.
The other recipe that we learned was that of the strozzapreti. The name means the “Priest-Burger,” because in the past priests often came by unannounced and then wanted to eat with them. This form of pasta required little work and few ingredients and was a subtle hint to the priest that they might have to come by a little less often.
Entrance to the museum is €3. The museum is open on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, and on Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 am to 10:30 am. The museum is located in Montecchio, outside the capital. You can book the cooking class at the tourist office in San Marino City.
9. Do some tax free shopping in San Marino
Tax is generally lower in San Marino than in neighboring Italy, but the country also has many duty-free shops, where you do not pay VAT. I honestly didn’t like the shops in San Marino City: they were mainly tourist shops with souvenirs, and a lot of the same. There were also a striking number of fake weapon shops (WHY ?!).
But there are also shopping centers outside the city and even the Serravalle Designer Outlet, where you can buy luxury brands at a discount. So perhaps that is worth a visit.
Where to Eat in San Marino
This is the Michelin restaurant in San Marino. You can find it on the main square of San Marino City. The food was much less complicated than I expected (in a good way!).
This restaurant has perhaps the best location. From this terrace you have a great view of both the town hall and the beautiful surroundings. Delicious pastas and wines.
This is the best place to drink a sunset drink. See how the sky turns as orange as your Aperol Spritz.
Where to Stay in San Marino
I stayed at the Grand Hotel San Marino. My favorite part? The amazing view from my balcony, although the jacuzzi also looked very enticing.
What would you add to this San Marino travel guide?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe and Tiqets for specific attraction deals.
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I was in San Marino as part of a press trip. This does not affect my opinion.