A day in picturesque San Marino
A quick introduction: San Marino is one little country which has to be explored and can easily be done in a day (or two maximum). This tiny country claims to be the world’s oldest republic dating back to 3AD and is also the third smallest country in Europe after Vatican City and Monaco (in the world, San Marino is the fifth smallest, behind Tuvalu and Nauru). The capital city, San Marino, is located at the highest point of Monte Titano, the mountain which the country lies on and surrounds, at 657 meters above sea level. San Marino is also in a special group of countries which is surrounded by one country, Italy. The other two are Vatican City (also surrounded by Italy) and Lesotho (South Africa). With a population of 33,000, not a member of the European Union but uses the Euro currency and most of its laws and customs are those of its big surrounding neighbour, Italy, this country is definitely worth a stop off if in North-East/East Italy.
My connection to San Marino is that I have been here twice. The first time was on my second major backpacking trip around southern Europe in the summer of 2008 and recently with my family in the summer of 2019. This post is the lowdown on what to do and see and hopefully I can give you some helpful tips on the way.
How to get to San Marino
San Marino does not have an international airport however the nearest ones are all located in Italy with Rimini being the closest, then Bologna and Marche airport in Ancona. For buses, the main connections to San Marino city are from Rimini and takes about forty-five minutes to complete the journey. I did this on my first visit, however on the second visit I drove my car (as part of my road trip from the UK to North-East Italy where I stayed at a campsite nearby at Lido di Spina, check out my post here). The best way to drive to San Marino is from Rimini and this is the only main road towards the mountain (the SS72 road) and is all signposted. Also you just follow the road! It’s simple! The best place to park for the car I found (and wasn’t too expensive to be honest) was right at the top of the mountain. The underground car park is called Parcheggio P9 on Via G.Giacomini (zip code is 47890 if using a GPS). There are several car parks before this one on the road up the mountain but this is one of the nearest. Also from the car park we followed the signs to reach the touristy sights and there were two elevators on the way which really help and cuts out a lot of walking if following the road.
What to see in San Marino city
Being a small city in a small country there isn’t much to see but don’t let that put anyone off. I loved coming to the summit of Monte Titano and checking out all the views of Italy and all the other settlements at the bottom of the mountain which makes up San Marino. The view to the east is amazing as the Adriatic Sea isn’t that far away.
The main sight has to be The Three Towers which is also the national symbol of the country (and appears on the flag). The towers were built to defend the city but are now no longer in use. One of the towers, Guaita is built directly into the rock with no foundation (which is totally amazing). Visitors can come to the tower to look inside, check out the old prison cells, the chapel and climb up the tower for more amazing views. The second tower nearby is called Cesta Castle which hosts the Museum of Archaic Arms and has armoury pieces dating back to the Middle Ages while the third tower, Montale is closed to the public.
Basilica di San Marino (which is a couple of minutes walk further up the hill from Palazzo Pubblico) is a catholic church which was completed in 1838. Dedicated to the nation’s founder, Marinus, the church was built in place of an earlier church that had stood here since 7AD.
What else to do in San Marino
There is plenty of shopping to be done here. A lot of tacky souvenirs shops as well as ‘tax-free’ shopping is located around the city and for some reason, a lot of establishments are run by Russian people. As I was walking in and out of shops, a lot of the staff spoke Russian (I know Russian and my wife is Russian). Even in restaurants, Russian. Where have the San Marino people gone? I learnt that due to the high influx of Russian tourists, Russian is probably the main second language here with English being third. By the way, San Marino people speak Italian as the main language but they do have their own dialect, Sammarinese to which over 80% of the local population speak.
The food here is, well, you guessed it, Italian. There are lots of pasta, pizza and gelato on the menu in restaurants here. The only regional dish I could find is the ‘piadina’ which is best described as a thin flatbread stuffed with either cheese, meat and salad or if feeling really lucky, all three.
Personal advice and afterthought
San Marino can be done in one day, seriously. In the settlements at the bottom of the mountain, there maybe some hiking trails but otherwise these places have the locals staying around here plus a few hotels. I would highly recommend staying in nearby Rimini (which is on the coast) and explore San Marino early, stay for lunch and head back to Rimini in the evening for a late evening meal and enjoy the nightlife there. There isn’t much nightlife going on in San Marino.
Some strange facts and advice
Let’s talk political for a moment. In San Marino there are only two embassies and three consulates based here, Malta, Italy (of course), Canada, Croatia and Austria. However San Marino has sixty-four places based all around the world (either embassy or consulate), but the most interesting one is probably the consulate located in Hawaii. Hawaii…come on! Everyone else is based in Washington D.C and San Marino has theirs based in Hawaii. You guys are so cool! (Ok, San Marino does have a place in D.C as well so they are not missing out with all the other representatives from around the world). Amazingly (and not sure why this is needed with a population of 33,000), San Marino has eight consulates in ITALY (one of which is a short distance drive away in Rimini, seriously!) and the embassy is in Roma.
During the Second World War, San Marino remained neutral and hosted over 100,000 refugees from the nearby regions of Italy. However there was a battle here in 1944 which lasted a few days during the war where allied forces (mainly the British and Indians) kicked the Nazi Germans back over the Alps. Since then San Marino has had a special relationship with my home country (the UK that is!).
In football (soccer to the Americans), San Marino are joint bottom of the world rankings on the international stage and loved to get beaten by a few goals in every single game. However I remember watching on television when I was younger that San Marino did score a goal against England in London after 8.3 seconds. This goal scored by Davide Gualtieri is still the fastest goal in World Cup qualifying competition. However England recovered and scored seven goals to beat the minnows. Since then they have lost about seventy times, beat Liechtenstein (their only victory) and somehow drew against Turkey and Latvia (my other nation).
Staying in San Marino is easy and is mostly visa-free (check your passport requirements if traveling from outside the European Union) however that is pointless for day trips etc as San Marino has an open border with Italy. However, all visitors staying in the country over a period of ten days must register with the government. If any tourists stay here for more than ten days, I want to meet you and shake your hand!
Do not call the locals Italians. They are not Italians. The Sammarinese are very proud to be independent.
If looking for a passport stamp, the only way this will happen if visitors go to the tourist information office and pay five euros for the privilege.
So there you have it guys, I hope my little post on San Marino will make you want to visit this small country, even if it’s a day trip (remember, if you stay more than ten days, I want to know and shake your hands!). Have you already been to San Marino. Please leave a comment below and tell me about your experience.