San Marino is the fifth smallest country in the world and the least visited in Europe. But as the world’s oldest republic, with incredible views and interesting history, visiting San Marino is worth more than an extra passport stamp. Many people visit the country as a day trip, but there is definitely enough to do and see to spend a few days there.
This guide covers everything you need to know to visit the country and interesting facts about San Marino!
Visiting the Republic of San Marino, an overview
While you can get a San Marino passport stamp at the tourist office in town (see below), there is a lot more to this tiny country than collecting it. This guide covers everything you need to know to visit the tiny republic, but you’ll also want to check out the Interesting Facts about San Marino, Sports in San Marino, Museums of San Marino and detailed history of Old Town San Marino posts to get more into detail.
San Marino was founded by Saint Marinus (whom you’ll see all over the country and flag) in 301 AD. The country’s main principle is freedom, which is reflected throughout its history. The country stayed neutral in the World Wars and even served as a safe haven for refugees from Italy. The historic city center sits atop Mount Titano (Monte Titano) where the three towers and some of the fortified walls remain. It has a long
San Marino’s UNESCO World Heritage site status
The old towns of San Marino and Borgo Maggiore and Monte Titano were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. Each year the country celebrates the anniversary of its inscription on July 7th.
“San Marino is inscribed as a testimony to the continuity of a free republic since the Middle Ages.”
Its inscription further heralds the country’s continuity as a republic whose geopolitical state has not changed. The preservation and restoration efforts of the structures are considered part of its history.
Things to do in San Marino
While the historic San Marino city center is quite small, it takes a bit of walking around to get your bearings. Everything mentioned in this guide is included in the map below. You can try to see as much as you can in one day, but I recommend staying at least one night to get to see more of the country.
San Marino visitor map
First, get a TuttoSanMarino Card
San Marino offers a great, FREE pass for visitors called the TuttoSanMarino Card. This card gets you discounted multi-museum tickets (needed to enter the towers), discounts at private museums, the cableway, parking, and guided tours. It also gets you 10% off at several restaurants in both the old town and Borgo Maggiore, and 10+% off at many of the shops.
Ask your hotel for a card! It’s free and you’ll save on everything else you want to do.
Explore all three towers of San Marino
The three towers serve as the symbol of San Marino and you will see them all over the country. You can enter the first two, and the third is a bit rawer (and a bit of a hike). Make sure to take the Passo delle Streghe (Witches’ Path) between the first and second towers for incredible views.
First Tower (Guaita)
This tower is also known as Rocca Maggiore (Major Fortress) or, since 1253, Prima Arx (First Fortress). This is not just the first tower that you can access, it was the first built in the country, in the 11th century. You can enter the tower and climb all the way to the top. On the way to the top, the steps are at a very steep slant, and become a ladder. So, if you’re going to go up, you don’t want anything in your hands.
Second Tower (Cesta)
The second tower was built in the 14th century, over remains of an ancient Roman fortress. It is on the highest peak of Mount Titano (756 meters above sea level). It was then built into the city walls in the 16th century. In addition to getting different views of the mountain and old city, it has the Museum of Ancient Weapons, an impressively, large collection of weaponry and armor from medieval times to more modern guns.
The third tower is just the tower, you can’t enter it and it’s a bit wild. From the second tower you can carry on to it, where you will get views back to the other two. It is a manicured path, but uneven, and mostly shaded as the path cuts through the trees. It was connected to the other two towers in 1320, then restored in 1743, 1817 and most recently in 1935.
Visit San Marino old town
Public Palace (Palazzo Publicco)
The Public Palace is home to the country’s parliament and is where all official ceremonies take place. It was rebuilt in 1894 in a neo-Gothic style and its design tells the story of San Marino and its values.
Piazza della Libertà
Directly in front of the Public Palace is the Piazza della Libertà, which is an open square with panoramic views and a Statue of Liberty. This one (not the same as the US), was installed in 1876 as a symbol of freedom donated by Otilia Heyroth Wagener. A fun fact is that the water fountain at the statue is connected to the water system given as a gift from the United States. Here you will find Domus Parva Comunis (Small House of the Commune) and the Mercuri house (both built in the 17th century).
Basilica of Saint Marinus
The basilica is the dominant church in San Marino. If you want to enter, be sure to cover your shoulders and dress conservatively. It was built at the beginning of the 19th century and has a statue honoring Saint Marinus, with his ashes in an urn below. Just next to the basilica is the small church of Saint Peter that you can just look into (built 1st century AD). Notable here are the two rock beds from Saint Marinus and Saint Leo and the legend is that anyone who lays in those beds will be healed of their body’s ailments (again, you can’t go inside).
Saint Francis’s Gate
Saint Francis’s gate is the official entrance to San Marino old town (and where the bus from Rimini will drop you off). It is also called the Country Gate, or previously Porta del Loco. It was built in 1361 as a guarding post and serves as the entrance to the historic center.
This gate is at the end of Contrada Omerelli and where you will enter if you are coming from Borgo Maggiore, along the Costa dell’Arnella, an old path that is today only for pedestrians.
Museum for visually impaired
Near the top of the cable car, and atop the Cava del Balestrieri, the country has implemented a museum for the visually impaired. The small area has information in braille and models that people can feel to understand the construction of the city center. According to my guide, the country is moving to have more accessible features like this throughout the entire city center.
Statues throughout the city center (open-air art museum)
While walking around the city center, you will notice statues in every direction. Some are more notable, like the Monumento dedicato alle Vittime dei Bombardamenti. This statue depicts a woman surprised by bombing during the war, grabbing her child and running. Look for more at the base of the Cava del Balestrieri and throughout the historic center.
Cava del Balestrieri
This area is converted from the quarry left as stone was mined for construction. It is now a practice area for the country’s national sport – crossbow. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch an event like a competition for the San Marino Crossbowmen’s Federation.
Take a guided tour of the old town
If you’re really interested in learning about the country and its history, I’d recommend taking a guided tour of San Marino’s old town. You can book these through the Visit San Marino website (ask for Andrea and tell him I say hi). While walking around the historic center on your own is very easy, the guided tour gave me depth that I would have not gotten otherwise.
Visit one of San Marino’s many, unique museums
In addition to San Marino’s state museums, the country had lots of unique museums that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. The state museums are included in the museum pass (and most on the TuttiSanMarino Card); private museums are separate.
The State Museum is in the Palazzo Pergami-Belluzzi. It has a collection of ancient coins dated from 1864 to 1937. The National Philatelic and Numismatic Office in San Marino is dedicated to the coins, stamps and craftwork of San Marino.
The Ancient Weapons Museum (Museo delle Armi Antiche) can be found in the Second Tower and has an incredible collection and show of evolution of weapons from medieval times through current. The National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art is the country’s newest. Lastly is the St. Francis Museum, housed in the cloister of the church. The Public Palace is also considered a museum and can be visited when Parliament is not in session.
Private and quirky museums in San Marino
More museums you can look into are the Vampire Museum (Museo delle Creature della Notte), Museum of the Emigrant (Museo dell’Emigrante), Torture Museum, Museum of Rural Culture, Museum of Curiosities, Wax Museum and Museum of Natural History (in the San Marino Nature Center in Borgo Maggiore).
Take the cable car (funivia)
There is a cableway connected Borgo Maggiore and the San Marino old town. It runs every 15 minutes and takes about 2 minutes to go up or down 200 meters. It has been running since 1959 (though since renovated) and offers a beautiful panorama as you head up or down Mount Titano. Look for “Funivia” on the map – Borgo Maggiore is the bottom and Città (Libertà) is the top.
You can buy tickets at the top and bottom.
Go on an ebike tour
I cannot recommend this more. Many visitors to San Marino only head up to the city center, but with rolling hills and stunning landscapes, exploring by bike shows a different side to the country.
But you don’t have to be an avid cyclist – Ebikexperience has ebikes. These have a battery-powered engine that kicks in as you cycle and helps depending on how much you need (so you can power it up going up the hills and cruise going back down them).
If you know where you’re going, you can rent just the bikes. But as a visitor, you’ll likely want to go on a guided tour for help with navigation and to learn more about the country.
Captains Regent parade and investiture (April 1st and October 1st)
The Captains Regent in San Marino are the heads of state of San Marino. They change every six months, on April 1st and October 1st. Twice a year, a public parade commemorates this change and their investiture. If you happen to visit on these dates, you’ll be treated to festivities!
Visit Borgo Maggiore
Borgo Maggiore is the small town at the base of Mount Titano. This is where you can catch the cable car up to the historic center or the ebike tour, but the town itself is worth exploring as well. You can stay in town if you are planning to stay overnight (or up in the historic center), and enjoy restaurants, cafes and shops.
Nature and sports in San Marino
What most day-trippers miss when visiting the country is all of the outdoor activities that are available. You could so something easy like ebiking in near the city center, head out on an adventure course at San Marino Adventures, look for calm and wildlife at the Natural Park of Montecchio, or even try free climbing Mount Titano.
Cycling is HUGE in San Marino, with all of the beautiful and varied terrain. San Marino Cycling Experience Club has 23 road and mountain biking routes, and even partnered with hotels throughout the country to make sure bikes can be accommodated. See above if you prefer an ebike for a little help on all those hills.
Getting a San Marino passport stamp
Europe can be a challenge for travelers who collect passport stamps – the ease of border crossing has all but eliminated passport stamps at the borders. While your passport won’t get stamped (or even checked) at the San Marino border, the country does recognize the desire for stamps.
You can get a San Marino passport stamp at the tourism office. It is €5 and the office is located next to the top of the cable car.
Where and what to eat in San Marino
San Marinese food and drink is very similar to the Italian region around it – Emilia-Romagna. Its closest neighbor is Rimini, and the two things you will find just about everywhere in San Marino – piadina and Sangiovese – are hallmarks of Rimini. Learn more about Rimini here.
Piadina is the staple of Rimini and the greater Romagna region. These are small, thin, baked flatbread (think like a pita), with ingredients inside. The traditional Rimini piadina will have cured ham, rocket and cheese, but you can find all kinds of combinations.
This is the wine of the region. It can be made with red or white grapes, but is traditionally made red. Often if you order it, you will get a mini carafe, so be prepared to share!
Interesting facts about San Marino
Did you know that San Marino has two “presidents?” And they have two currencies! The two presidents are called Captains Regents and they serve for just six months at a time.
Here are a few more fun facts about the country:
- San Marino is the world’s oldest republic
- San Marino uses two currencies (the Euro and their own gold coins)
- Abraham Lincoln had citizenship!
- It’s believed that San Marino is the first country to have a regular postal service
- The population is approximately 34,000 (making it smaller than even the enrollment size of the US’s ten largest universities, or smaller than at least the 800 biggest cities in the US!)
- San Marino plays in a separate Olympics for small countries
- Crossbow is the national sport
How to get to San Marino
San Marino is easily accessed from the closest Italian city, Rimini. Even if you intend to reach San Marino by train or plane, you will still then need to take the bus from Rimini.
Flights to San Marino
The closest airport to San Marino is in Rimini (Federico Fellini Airport), but it does not have many international flights. You can fly into Bologna and then go from Bologna to San Marino by train/bus or bus combos.
Buses to San Marino
Buses run in each direction all day, for €5 each way. You can buy the bus ticket inside the Rimini station (in the tourist office, not at the ticket counter) or directly on the bus. The bus has several stops in the country, notably Borgo Maggiore and further up, at the entrance of the city center.
Driving to San Marino
If you are driving, there is a parking lot up near the historic city center as well at the base of the cable car in Borgo Maggiore. The roads get very tight, so use caution on the curves. If you are traveling by camper, there are spaces for you to park (aim for Borgo Maggiore).
San Marino day trips
With everything to do in San Marino, it might be overwhelming to picture as a day trip. But this can easily be done. If you only have one day in San Marino, you will want to plan ahead to make the most of it. Take an early bus from Rimini and go straight to the towers before the heat and crowds arrive.
From there, you can take your time strolling around the rest of the historic city center. If you plan ahead, you can arrange a guided tour or, even better, an ebike tour to see more of the country than just the towers. Enjoy a gelato and/or a piadina and take in the view. If you have time, stay for sunset because it is truly stunning as the sun dips below the waters of the Adriatic.
Events in San Marino
San Marino hosts their own annual events, like the twice-a-year investiture of the Captains Regent or Feast Day, but also international events, like car races and shows.
Here are the events you can plan for throughout the year:
- April 1st: Investiture of the Captains Regent (also October 1st)
- May: Mille Miglia usually comes to San Marino, though not in 2019 (classic cars fill up Piazza della Libertà)
- July 7th: the anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage inscription
- September 3rd: Feast Day of San Marino (the foundation of the Republic in 301)
- September (biennially): Renata Tebaldi International Voice Competition and the San Marino International Piano Competition
- September 13th-15th: MotoGP World Championship race at Misano World Circuit (Marco Simoncelli)
- October 1st: Investiture of the Captains Regent (also April 1st)
- October 10th-13th: three-day Rallylegend
San Marino hotels
While most visitors come into San Marino for a day trip, it is WELL worth it to stay at least one night. The sunsets and sunrises are insanely beautiful and the shoulders of the day (before day-trippers arrive and after they leave) is so perfectly peaceful and quiet.
Hotel La Grotta is right in the middle of the historic center and has a great location for views from the rooms out to the surrounding hills. They are part of the San Marino Cycling Experience Club, so a great option if you are cycling.
Hotel La Grotta
(Historic City Center)
Hostaria da Lino
Hostel San Marino
Note: This post contains affiliate links and some of my experiences were sponsored by Visit San Marino. My opinions and advice remain my own. For more information on affiliates and sponsors of How Dare She, click here.