I’ll be real with you guys on this one – researching San Marino was hard because there are so few resources about it. The beautiful, mountainous country isn’t usually number 1 on most people’s bucket lists. In fact, many people haven’t ever heard of San Marino. Even though a San Marino day trip may be at the top of your bucket list, hopefully you’ll think otherwise by the end of this post!
San Marino is a small landlocked country in central Italy. In fact, it’s one of the oldest countries in the WORLD! Pretty impressive for being such a small country. As you can see from the pictures, San Marino is built right on top of a rock and no enemy could ever breach its walls. Heck, our little rental car could barely make the climb, how on earth were invaders in the 1100s supposed to get there?
It is a hidden gem in Europe but is definitely worth a quick trip if you’re in the area. I visited San Marino on a day trip from Ancona, where our cruise ship was docked. My parents and I had ZERO desire to check out Ancona (sorry, Italy) so we made the wise decision to rent a car and drive the 1.5 hours to San Marino. We definitely made the right decision!
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Did you know that San Marino is the 5th smallest country in the WORLD and the 3rd smallest country in Europe? It’s its own independent country even though it’s not part of the European Union. I guess if you’ve survived since the 300s YOU can tell the E.U. what to do. If you are interested in visiting other micro countries in Europe, the Vatican City, Lichtenstein, and Monaco are nearby!
San Marino is also the world’s oldest republic. It was founded in the year 301 by a Christian refugee, St. Marinus. Surprisingly, the country has never been ruled by a king. Today, any citizen who is elected to parliament can become the president! They have had more female presidents than any other independent country in HISTORY and the current president is only 26 years old! Talk about some girl power!!
The nation’s official language is Italian, which makes sense considering Italy is its only neighbor. Nevertheless, everyone I encountered there spoke English, which was great since my Italian is atrocious.
San Marino uses the Euro even though they aren’t part of the European Union. Italy also uses the Euro so you shouldn’t really run into any issues while visiting. One thing that is especially interesting is San Marino has lower taxes, which makes it cheaper to buy things in San Marino than in surrounding Italy.
HOW DO I GET TO SAN MARINO
Unless you have legs of steel, you’re going to have to get there with a car. If you’re choosing ones to rent, choose a compact car because some of the switchbacks will be killer on a larger vehicle. Then again, you’re in Europe so most of the cars are already compact.
Another option is to drive to the town of Borgo Maggiore at the base of the mountain. From there you can take a cable car up the mountain to the City of San Marino. A single ticket costs €2,80 and a roundtrip ticket is €4,50. If you don’t want to be constrained by the opening hours of the cable car then I suggest you drive your own car up into the City of San Marino.
San Marino has 9 towns, or municipalities. The country is 24 square miles and the towns are spread out around it. However, if you’re a visitor, you are probably wanting to visit the City of San Marino. The City of San Marino is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and after visiting I can completely see why!
Although most of Italy is well-connected by trains and public transportation, this stops at the San Marino border. The best way to get to San Marino is to take a bus from Rimini, a nearby city.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN SAN MARINO
Get a Passport Stamp
Okay this might not be THE best thing to do in all of the country but it was definitely really high on my list! Why wouldn’t you want to get a passport stamp on your San Marino day trip? I’m a sucker for a good passport stamp and San Marino’s does not disappoint! Follow the signs to the Tourist Office if you want to purchase a stamp. Each stamp costs €5 and is beautiful!
Piazza della Libertia
This beautiful square is home to the parliament building. It’s smaller than most parliament buildings I’ve seen in the world but its view is spectacular! Apparently the president comes here a lot, so keep an eye out for an important-looking car and you just might see him!
Explore on Foot
Since the Città di San Marino is on a narrow hill, it’s easiest to traverse the city on foot. The medieval city is full of narrow cobblestone streets that twist and turn along the mountaintop. It’s hard to get lost because most roads just lead back to one another. Some of the streets are lined with souvenir shops and cafes, and others look like they haven’t changed since the Roman Empire.
Even though San Marino is built on a mountain, I didn’t expect that it would be so… mountainous. I know, that sounds stupid. But the streets aren’t flat at all and you keep climbing up and down as you traverse the city.
Visit the Towers
If you look at San Marino’s flag you’ll see three towers in the center. Those represent the three stone towers that you see on the mountaintop today! The three towers are Guaita, Cesta, and Montale. Guaita Tower is the most prominent one and probably the first one you’ll encounter on your visit to the city. Many of the locals just call it the “First Tower”. If you want, you can purchase a ticket to give you access to the tower. A single ticket costs €6 but if you purchase a ticket to climb two towers, it only comes out to €4,50. So it’s up to you what you want to pay and climb. Unfortunately I didn’t climb the tower because 1. I’m frugal and 2. I was on a major time crunch and didn’t want to miss the boat!
The Cesta Tower, or the Second Tower is home to the Museum of Ancient Arms. It houses a huge selection of ancient weapons that were used in San Marino. Just like the other towers, this one boasts beautiful views over the surrounding area and if you’re lucky, you’ll even be able to see the Mediterranean Sea!
The path between the Cesta and Guaita Towers boasts some of the best views in the entire country. I love making claims like that about the ‘whole country’ since it’s literally true! As you walk between the two towers, aka the Witches Path, make sure to turn around so you can catch the view of the first tower. It gets even prettier as you walk! There are public restrooms along the way and if you walk down to them and turn around, you’ll get a gorgeous view overlooking the vista through a hole in the rock!
Montale Tower, the third one, isn’t open to visitors, which is a shame because supposedly it has the best views over the land. Regardless, it’s worth walking up to it and admiring it from the ground.
Bascilica di San Marino
If you know anything about me, you know that I always have to go into churches. Churches in places other than the US are just so beautiful, and this one is no exception to that! The Basilica is the biggest church in town and it’s where all official state ceremonies take place. It’s worth popping into for a few moments to admire it!
Okay so this might not be for everyone. I wasn’t able to go in when I visited but I’ve heard good things about it. It shows the horrific things that humans have done throughout history to each other. Probably not the best place to visit with young children BUT it could be informative for you and older children.
Exchange a Book
When I parked in San Marino, one of the first things I saw was this adorable community library! These are becoming popular throughout the world and this one has one of the best views! All the books may be in Italian but if you have one you want to leave for others, this is the place!
SHOULD I SPENT A NIGHT IN SAN MARINO?
The answer to this question all depends on you and your schedule. If I had enough time I would’ve been happy to stay in San Marino and experience it after dark. Unfortunately that it’s not always possible and a San Marino day trip is you only option. Many different bloggers and accounts have said that San Marino after dark is a whole other experience. You basically get to live out a medieval fairytale because you’ll have most of the place to yourself!
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