One Day Itinerary in San Marino - Day Trip from Rimini
San Marino is a country that I simply had to include in my 2019 European tour. It is a landlocked microstate located in north-central Italy, and can be reached pretty easily from Bologna.
Despite time constraints, I had carefully planned my route so that I’d have one extra day in Italy to make a detour to this tiny republic, which is also the oldest republic in the world.
The fact that it’s small and relatively unknown only added to the appeal. Besides, I’m never one to pass up the opportunity to add another country to my list!
Also Read: Day Trip to Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Only 61 square kilometres in size, the Republic of San Marino is the fifth smallest country in the world and the third smallest in Europe (after the Vatican City and Monaco). It’s about 20 times larger than Monaco and half the size of Liechtenstein.
Situated 657 metres above sea level, the country is made up of a few towns scattered over rugged mountains, with the capital itself sitting on the country’s highest point at the top of Mount Titano (755 m).
Although San Marino is completely surrounded by Italy, it is an independent state with its own government and laws. However, it has similar foreign policies, social and political trends to those of Italy.
San Marino was founded in 301 AD by Marinus the Dalmatian, a Christian stonemason who arrived from the island of Rab in Dalmatia. He climbed Mount Titano to flee from Roman Emperor Diocletian who was persecuting Christians.
Once he reached the top of the mountain, Marinus founded a small community and named it San Marino, after himself.
Originally, San Marino was only Mount Titano. But in 1943, as a result of an alliance against the Lord of Rimini, the Pope awarded the country with three cities: Montegiardino, Serravalle, and Fiorentino. Another town, Faetano, followed suit in the same year.
As of 2021, the country’s population is around 34,000, and of this amount, about 5,000 are foreigners, most of whom are Italian emigrants.
The primary language in San Marino is Italian, although Romagnol is also widely spoken throughout the region. The majority of Sanmarinese people are of the Roman Catholic faith, which makes up more than 97% of the population. Other minor religions include Protestant, Jewish, and other Christian faiths.
San Marino is not a member of the European Union, but because of an agreement with the council, it uses Euro as its official currency and has the right to use its own design.
Is San Marino Open for Tourists?
At present, San Marino welcomes all visitors from the white and yellow zones in Italy. Visitors from countries other than Italy and the Vatican City, or have stayed outside of these two countries within the previous 14 days are allowed entry upon presentation of a vaccination certificate and a negative swab test.
This decree is in force until 1st October 2021. Click here for more details and latest updates.
Best Time to Visit San Marino
San Marino has a Mediterranean climate, which brings mild to cool winters and warm, sunny summers. Temperatures vary greatly, but the weather is generally pleasant and temperate all year round, except a few cold weeks in winter.
If you’re looking for the warmest time to visit, the summer months of June, July, and August are your best bet, with temperatures regularly around 86.4°F (30.2°C) and rarely dropping below 68.1°F (20.1°C) at night.
I visited in mid-September and it was rather chilly and cloudy, but there was no rain.
How to Go to San Marino from Italy
San Marino has no airport or railway station. The most convenient way to get there is by driving your own car.
Although the country is not part of the European Union, international agreements with Italy mean that it is one of the three associate members of the Schengen Area, so does not have border controls.
For your reference, San Marino is approximately:
- 129 km (80 mi) from Bologna
- 237 km (147 mi) from Florence
- 277 km (172 mi) from Venice
However, if you don’t have your own transport, the only way to get to San Marino is by taking a bus from Rimini, which is the sole Italian city that provides direct bus service into San Marino.
I stayed in Bologna, and from there took a train to Rimini, then continued with a bus to San Marino. The bus stop can be found just opposite Rimini Train Station.
Buses run every day at regular intervals, with reduced service on Sundays and public holidays. Tickets cost €5 (one-way) and €10 (return). Click here for the latest fares and timetables.
The tickets can either be purchased from the bus driver, or in advance at the Tourist Information Center outside the train station, where you can also leave your luggage for a small fee.
The center’s opening hours are as follows:
- Weekday hours: 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. / 2:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
- Holiday hours: 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in summer (closed in winter)
It was closed when I arrived, so I had to purchase my tickets from a shop near the bus stop.
Please note that buying the ticket doesn’t guarantee you a seat. If you go during the weekend when the buses operate at a reduced frequency, you might have to push and shove your way onto the bus, like what I had to experience.
Otherwise, you’d have to wait for the next one. So, be sure to buy tickets in advance and show up early for the bus.
From Rimini, the 10-km journey to San Marino will take about 30 minutes.
How to Get Around in San Marino
Once you’re inside the walled city of San Marino, you can easily walk around from one site to another as it is fairly small and pedestrian-friendly.
There is also a cable car called the Funivia that connects Piazza della Libertà (on Level 2) to Piazzale Campo della Fiera in Borgo Maggiore (on Level 12).
If you’re driving into San Marino, there are many parking spaces where you can leave your car for the day. Click here for the locations and rates. The small streets aren’t very accommodating for bigger cars, but are perfect for bicycles, mopeds, and walking.
How Much Time Do You Need in San Marino?
Most people visit San Marino on a day trip from Italy. It is certainly enough if you only want to take a cursory look at the city and see a few attractions.
However, if you’d like to visit all the towers as well as the nearby towns, I’d recommend 2 – 3 days. Besides, San Marino’s relaxing vibe and amazing views are best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
Best Things to Do in San Marino in One Day
If you only have one day in San Marino, I’d recommend not to try to do too much so as not to overwhelm yourself. You don’t have to go to all three towers or visit all museums.
Pick one or two that you like, take your time to enjoy the shops and the views, sit at a restaurant and have a drink or a local dish. But of course, everybody has their own preferences. While I usually like to move fast and fit in as many things as possible, on this trip I chose the slower route.
1. Explore Monte Titano and the Three Towers
The 739-meter-high Mount Titano is the highest point of the country and is also where the capital city is located. Views from the top stretch all the way to the Apennines in the northwest, to the coast of Rimini in the east, and across the Adriatic to the Dalmatian coast in Croatia on a clear day.
The mountain ridge is punctuated with three fortresses, which are linked by Passo delle Streghe (Witches’ Passage), a paved path with kiosks selling food, drinks, and souvenirs.
Visiting at least one of these three towers is an absolute must in San Marino as they showcase the rich history of the country. In fact, they are even featured on the national flag and coat of arms.
i. Rocca Guaita (First Tower)
The oldest and most famous among the three is Rocca Guaita. Constructed in the 11th century, it has been rebuilt many times for different uses. It even served as a prison for several centuries until 1975.
Today, Rocca Guaita is a museum, where you can find the Chapel of Santa Barbara, the Bell Tower, and the Pen Tower. It takes a bit of a climb to get here, but the view at the top is worth it, as you can see as far as Rimini and the Adriatic Sea.
ii. Rocca Cesta (Second Tower)
At 756 metres high, Rocca Cesta is the highest of the fortresses and is the seat of the guardhouse. Like Rocca Guaita, it also utilizes some of its rooms as prison cells.
Today, Rocca Cesta houses the Museum of Ancient Arms with hundreds of swords, crossbows, knives, as well as medieval firearms and some unusual contraptions, such as the 1730 dagger-gun.
iii. Rocca Montale (Third Tower)
Dating back to the 13th century, the Third Tower is the smallest of the three but due to its position as the best lookout point, it has had an important role in the country’s defense. Inside, there is an eerie eight-metre deep prison, known as the “bottom of the tower”.
Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed inside the Third Tower, but you can still walk along the outside to take in the phenomenal views.
2. See the Palazzo Pubblico and Piazza della Liberta
As you come up from the bus parking area, you can’t miss this public square and the neo-Gothic Palazzo Pubblico (Public Palace) with its square tower.
Built in the 1800’s using stone quarried on Mount Titano, the Palazzo Pubblico is a town hall and government house — the epicenter of everything official and political in the country.
Although it has been restored in 1996, the palace still retains its medieval architecture and clock tower. The exterior is decorated with coats of arms of the republic.
While visitors are not allowed inside the building, you can still hang around at Piazza della Liberta to watch the colorful ceremony of the changing of the guards that happens several times a day between June and mid-September.
3. Immerse Yourself in History at the National Museum
The Museo di Stato (National Museum) was established in the 19th century following a series of donations from Italian intellectuals and political figures who wanted to show their admiration for the tiny republic.
Located in the historic building of Palazzo Pergami Belluzzi, it has four floors showcasing archaeological collections from the Neolithic Age to the Middle ages, as well as some 17th-century arts and antique San Marino coins.
4. See the Basilica di San Marino
Dedicated to St. Marinus, this 19th-century Neo-classical cathedral was built on the foundations of an abandoned fourth-century Romanesque church that was also dedicated to the same patron saint.
The basilica features an urn containing the relics of St. Marinus, as well as a statue of him sculptured by Tadolini.
5. Contemplate Art at San Marino Art Gallery
The San Marino Art Gallery houses more than 1,000 pieces of modern and contemporary art by Italy’s finest artists, including Giuseppe Spagnulo, Renato Guttuso, and Emilio Vedova. There are some by local artists and sculptors as well.
The 20th-century collections are divided into four categories, each one representing a different historic moment of San Marino’s recent past.
6. Get Your Passport Stamped
Passport stamps may not mean much to some people, but as that (obnoxious) person who keeps a tally of countries, I do get a sense of pride and achievement from them no matter how much I’ve traveled. Also, they make great memories, like photos in a photo album.
San Marino has no official border control, hence no passport stamp upon arrival. However, if you’re so inclined, you can get a souvenir passport stamp at the tourist office for 5 euros.
Although I personally have never had any problem with my souvenir stamps, do note that they may be considered an illegal tampering of an official document and can potentially get you denied at country borders.
7. Go on a Cable Car Ride
The original purpose of the Funivia cable car was not for entertainment but a more practical one: to transport people from the lower Borgo Maggiore to the upper station in the City of San Marino quickly and conveniently.
But as San Marino received more tourists, the Funivia partly became a tourist attraction, offering magnificent views of up to 200 kilometres of the Adriatic coastline.
Since being established in 1959, it has been one of the most popular means of transport to reach the capital, by both tourists and commuting locals.
8. Enjoy Tax-Free Shopping
San Marino doesn’t apply a Value Added Tax (VAT), so you should definitely take advantage of this and indulge in some worry-free shopping.
The Borgo Maggiore Market, which is available every Thursday, dates back to 1243. Back in those days, it mainly stocked cattle, but thankfully these days, shoppers have a lot more options, including food, clothing, and unusual knick-knacks.
If You Have More Than One Day in San Marino
If you’d like to fill up your day with more activities or spend more time in San Marino, here are some other things you can do:
1. Visit More Museums
Other than the Museo di Stato, there are several more museums in San Marino that might interest you, such as:
- Wax Museum – Similar to Madame Tussaud’s, the San Marino Wax Museum displays wax figures of significant historical characters dressed in the clothing of their day. The characters on display include Benito Mussolini, Pope John XXII, Adolf Hitler, Da Vinci, and Jacqueline Kennedy.
- Museum of Curiosities – the Museo delle Curiosità has nothing to do with San Marino but showcases the strange and bizarre things of the world. Think Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
- San Francisco Convent and Art Gallery – The San Francisco convent, completed in 1400, is now an art museum featuring sacred art from several former Franciscan churches. The city’s massive gate, known as the Porta di San Francesco, is built into the church walls.
- Museum of Agricultural Culture and Traditions – Being on top of a mountain, San Marino may seem like an unlikely spot for farming, but it does actually have an impressive agricultural heritage. The San Marino agricultural museum is set in the House of Fabrica in Montecchio, an old patronal house from the mid-1700’s. It is furnished to recreate the daily lives of farm families around Mount Titano.
- Coin and Stamp Museum – A must-visit for any philatelist and coin collector, the San Marino Coin & Stamp Museum is housed in the church at Borgo Maggiore. Items on display include special commemorative stamps issued by the republic since the mid-19th century and coins minted since 1862, including limited edition gold coins for collectors.
2. Visit Castle Towns
Surrounding the capital city of San Marino are a number of small towns scattered on the cliff side, each one with a castle of their own. Most offer amazing views of the countryside and of Mount Titano, and some have fascinating histories:
- Domagnano – previously known as Montelupo (mountain of wolves), it played a significant part in the war between San Marino and the Malatesta of Rimini. It is also where the “Domagnano Treasure” was found
- Faetano, which was once a territory of Malatesta, but was taken over by San Marino. They also managed to capture the Malatesta castle in Fiorentino.
- Montegiardino – a town that dates back to the Roman era, and has one of the most beautiful castles.
- Borgo Maggiore and Serravalle – both formerly small villages that have grown into important residential centers of San Marino.
Where to Stay in San Marino
For those who wish to enjoy more of the amazing views and tranquility on the mountaintop, an overnight stay in San Marino is highly recommended. Here are your options:
Hotel Joli – Featuring panoramic views of San Marino and Montefeltro countryside, Hotel Joli is only 300 metres from the entrance to the historical center. Rooms are air-conditioned with free WiFi, a satellite TV, mini bar and pink-marble private bathroom. Some have a balcony with views of the city or the mountains. From EUR 49 for a Single Room with breakfast.
La Grotta – The 3-star hotel is set in San Marino’s center, a few metres away from Piazza della Liberta. All rooms are air-conditioned, soundproofed, carpeted, and equipped with a TV, a desk, and a private bathroom. From EUR 86 for a Deluxe Double or Twin Room with breakfast.
Titano Suites – This luxury hotel is set in a 19th-century building 200 m from Palazzo Pubblico Palace and the Basilica of St Marino. The rooms and suites are all air-conditioned, soundproofed and come with a satellite TV, mini bar, and private bathroom. Guests have access to a fitness and wellness center 200 m from the property. A restaurant and snack bar are available on site. From EUR 200 for a Junior Suite with breakfast.
San Marino may be small and not as popular as its bigger neighbor, but it does have its own charms. To me, the biggest draw was the unique location of the country — on top of a mountain in the middle of Italy. Its cute size was another.
On top of that, San Marino Historic Center and Mount Titano have also joined the ranks as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.
So if you’re in Italy, be sure to set aside at least one day to pay a visit to this extraordinary republic. You won’t regret it.
Which underrated / relatively unknown European countries have you visited? Let me know in the comment section below.