Country: San Marino
Time zone: UTC +1
Closest airport(s): Federico Fellini International (Rimini), Marche (Ancona), Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport
A little bit about San Marino
San Marino is one of several European microstates, tucked away inside Italy’s north-eastern region. Less than 70 kilometres in size, it claims to be the world’s oldest republic, dating as far back as the year 301 BC.
It came to be under its own sovereign rule when a Christian stonemason named Marinus fled his home island of Rab, in what would be modern-day Croatia, to Mount Titano in an attempt to escape religious persecution. It was on the mountain that he built a chapel and a monastery, later proving to be the very foundations of San Marino.
Although landlocked by Italy, San Marino has its own proud history and identity – passport stamps and all.
Why should I go?
Although San Marino isn’t the kind of place that will scream out your name, it is somewhere that leaves visitors glad that they experienced it.
The main tourist area is Città di San Marino, or, to use its English translation, the City of San Marino, which sits on Mount Titano, rising high above the surrounding terrain.
This is where you’ll be able to catch amazing views, visit the Three Towers, see where the country is governed from Palazzo Pubblico, explore the UNESCO-listed historical centre and visit their amazing basilica.
Most of the country can be seen in a day, and can be done as part of a trip through Italy.
The main attractions
The Three Towers are a national symbol for San Marino. They appear on the flag and can be found carved into stone on various walls around the city.
Once used for defensive measures, the three towers are now no longer used for strategic purposes. The first tower – Guaita – is built directly onto the rock with no foundation, and is the main visiting point for tourists. Here you can look inside the ex-prison, which comes complete with a small chapel, and head up the tower for more incredible views.
The second tower – Cesta Castle – now houses the Museum of Archaic Arms which has approximately 535 pieces dating back to the Middle Ages, while Montale, the third tower, is closed to the public.
Ticket prices and opening times can be found here.
Palazzo Pubblico, or Public Palace, sits in the picturesque Piazza della Liberta (Liberty Square) and is San Marino’s town hall.
This is their official government building where San Marino’s parliament sits and where official state ceremonies take place. Palazzo Pubblico is open to the public daily, and opening times and ticket prices can be found here.
Basilica di San Marino
The Basilica di San Marino is a catholic church located in the heart of the city. Completed in 1838, it is dedicated to the nation’s founder, Marinus, and was built in place of an earlier church that had stood since the seventh century.
The basilica is open to visitors, and is one of San Marino’s most important landmarks.
Museo di Stato
The Museo di Stato (National Museum) has a large collection of over 5,000 pieces, most of which is native to the region of San Marino, spanning several historical periods.
It’s also a great place to learn more about the country, gaining greater insight on how it came to be and how Marinus’ hermit vision came to be much more than that.
Click here for the museum’s opening times and entry fees.
Walking around the city, then taking the scenic route past the three towers around the woodland in Mount Titano is a great way to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon. Oh, and the incline will get you sweating.
For information on entering the country, check out my blog post – How to get to San Marino.
Città di San Marino is so small that everywhere can be reached on foot, although there is a little tourist train that will take you around the main sights.
To see the areas that surround Mount Titano, you can take the cable car, which goes from the historical centre to Borgo Maggiore. There is also the Rimini-San Marino shuttle bus, which can be used to go up and down the mountain.
Where to stay
With San Marino being more of a day trip experience, I’d advise staying in a nearby Italian city such as Rimini if you plan on being there multiple nights. This way you can spend a day in San Marino, then take advantage of the nighlife that the microstate lacks.
But if you do plan on staying there, then choose a hotel near the historical centre, that way everything is close by.
We stayed at Hotel Joli. Although a basic hotel, the view from the room was on another level, and I think I spent more time looking out of the window than sleeping!
There is a hostel in San Marino – Hostel San Marino – although this is located away from the capital and makes exploring a little more difficult. I recommend heading over to Booking.com for accommodation.
Eat and drink
Sammarinese cuisine is extremely similar to what can be found in the surrounding regions of Italy. Be prepared to find an abundance of pizza, pasta and gelato.
One regional dish served in San Marino is the piadina – a thin flatbread which is usually stuffed with either meat, cheese, salad, or a combination of the three.
They do have their own beer and Titanbräu heads the lot. I can only assume it’s names after Mount Titano – or Titan, in English.
One day destination
The City of San Marino is an incredible and unique little place. From its beautiful architecture to stunning views, the city gates have plenty to welcome tourists to.
However, it’s that small, that all of the main sights can be done in a day. Yes there are walking trails, yes there are the Three Towers and yes there are other bits and bobs to do. But all of this can be done on an excursion, especially if you have a tour guide that knows where they are going and what they are doing.
Feel free to stay in San Marino, but my disclaimer would be that staying nearby and visiting on a day trip is the best way to do it.
The views from Mount Titano are, for me, the number one reason to go to San Marino. I know I said earlier it’s best to stay outside of San Marino, but to stay there to watch the sunset from the hill is a sight to behold. Don’t forget your camera, because you’ll be glued to the landscape.
I thought that museums in San Marino would be few and far between. I expected a national museum, or at least one that studies ethnography, as well as maybe an art gallery or two.
What I didn’t think I’d find was the Historical Museum of Torture (Museo storico della Tortura), the Museum of Curiosity (Museo delle curiosità) and the Vampire Museum (Museo dei Vampiri). For a place with a permanent population of just over 4,500 people, it seems strange that they’d offer up such attractions.
Even in San Marino, there’s a pub
Everywhere you seem to go in the world there’s either a British or an Irish pub or bar. San Marino is no exception to this, with London Pub, which is located just outside the City of San Marino’s walls. To be fair, it’s probably the nightlife hub, and seemed to be the only watering hole open late. It also showed live sport, which was pretty cool.
Beautiful… yet tacky
One of San Marino’s more quirky activities is shopping. Like almost anywhere in the world that welcomes tourists, they have their souvenirs, but there’s also an abundance of stores selling unofficial football memorabilia, knives, guns, jewellery and a whole host of obscure paraphernalia.
Even stranger is that there never appears to be many customers. I mean it’s not as if you’d be allowed a pistol in your hand luggage – so who, other than tourists, would be making that purchase in a city with less than 5,000 residents? Hmm…
Did you know?
Being surrounded by a single country is a distinction that San Marino shares with only two other nations – nearby Vatican City and Lesotho, which is encapsulated by South Africa.