I went on a day trip to San Marino. Here I found out what makes it a gem in the middle of the mountains and the perfect getaway
With just over 60 square kilometers and a population of the size of an Italian village (33.000 people), the micro-country of San Marino is seen by many as a quick day trip to pass by, collect a stamp and add another country to their personal list. However, San Marino is more than just a short stop in a road trip and after visiting the country without many plans, I ended up staying three nights and collecting incredible experiences.
Even though most blogs recommend visiting San Marino as a day trip from Bologna or Florence, I found out that travelers just passing by simply miss the heart of this country. Staying overnight in San Marino will not only reward you with scenic views early in the morning, but also a unique history and the chance to meet proud “Sammarineses” willing to hang out with you and showing you their favorite spots.
How to get there
Without doubt, the fastest, easiest, and most convenient way to visit San Marino is by car. You will not only be able to access the country’s tiny villages and hidden nature getaways, but you move quicker from one location to the other.
Car rentals are available at the city of Rimini, just 20 km away from San Marino, and with relatively cheap prices for overnight car rentals, this is a very common activity for foreigners visiting the country. Another option is renting a car in Florence and add a road trip crossing the central Apennine mountain range. This is one of the most scenic road trips you can do in central Italy and with views that look as they were taken from Central or South America, you will stop more than once to take a photo.
For this trip, I planned a 5-day journey from Bologna, to Florence and then San Marino. I decided to combine local trains and private transportation. Due to the inexpensive costs of trains in Italy and flexibility in timetables, I was able to safe some time and money in going from one large city to another, while the car was more efficient to reach smaller places and hidden gems along the road.
It was an excellent choice, as I was able to see San Marino way more in detail by having a car, but also enjoyed the charm of sightseeing from a train once in a while.
San Marino does not have an airport or train stations. Which means that the only way to get to San Marino from Italy using public transportation would be taking the bus from Rimini to San Marino City Center. They run regularly throughout the day and ticket prices are 5 EUR for one way or 10 EUR for a round trip.
What to do
Explore San Marino Historic Centre
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Marino’s historic center is one of the key spots when visiting the country. It is located in the heart of San Marino’s capital, San Marino, and even if you are visiting this micro-state using only public transportation, you would be able to explore this location without much hustle.
The historic center is also situated at the top of Mount Tirano. This unique location offers not only a nice walk between narrow alleys and charming passages, but also magnificent views of the nature around San Marino. During my visit in San Marino, I decided to park the car down at Borgo Maggiore, a small village in the feet of Mount Tirano, and take the tramway all the way to the top. This 300-meter aerial tramway offers the best views of Borgo Maggiore and a first glimpse of the beauty of San Marino from Mount Tirano.
Once on top, the historical center is relatively small, and it can be visited in just a couple of hours. There are two main passages that cross the Old Town from east to west and connect dozens little alleys with duty free shops, cafes and local restaurants offering Italian cuisine with a Sammarinese twist.
One of the most popular spots inside the Old Town is Piazza della Libertà. This common gathering place for locals and visitors is also one of the hotspots for watching the sunset each afternoon. Yet, one of the most emblematic activities at Piazza della Libertà is watching Guardie di Rocca. Several times through the day, the change of guard becomes an attraction in the city center and a nice cultural activity to experience while visiting the country.
Other attractions in the Old Town are the Public Palace, the Statue of Liberty and the Museum of Ancient Weapons.
Climb the three towers of San Marino
Right next to the Historical Center three medieval towers inside a fortress stand out as the highest point in San Marino. These are the towers of Guaita, Cesta and Montale.
Even though travelers can only access the first two towers, Guaita and Cesta, the views from each one of these spots is magnificent and unique. Guaita was constructed back in the 11th century and for many years it was a prison. It is probably the most iconic spot in the whole country and no matter what time of the day you visit or how bad the weather is, there is an exceptional beauty in visiting such an old fort on the top of this ancient European city.
Hiking the three towers is not difficult at all. I considered it a nice walk before going for dinner or right after having lunch in the city center.
Watch the sunset at one of San Marino’s trendy bars
San Marino’s spectacular location above the clouds makes it one of the best places in Europe to watch a sunset. The vast views make it impossible to determine where San Marino ends, and Italy begins. Wineries, mountain ranges and little villages are some of the places you can spot from any of the many viewpoints in San Marino.
Moreover, nothing compares to enjoying these amazing views while enjoying a cold drink in the hand. The bars on top of Mount Tirano know that and with tables set along the gigantic cliffs at the edge of the historic city, an Aperol Spritz can’t taste better anywhere else in the country.
Fun Facts and Tips about San Marino
- San Marino has a national football team that competes for the World Cup Qualifiers and EURO Qualifiers. However, in the 25 years of its history, they have only won one game against Liechtenstein in 2014.
- Just like in other micro nations of Europe, travelers can get a San Marino stamp in their passport. It is one of the most common activities to do and a nice reminder of your time in the world oldest republic. The San Marino passport stamp is available at the Tourism Office of San Marino and has a cost of 5 EUR.
NOTE: Contrary to passport stamps of Machu Pichu in Peru and Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, this is an official stamp from an internationally recognized sovereign country. Whether it is an obligatory immigration stamp or an optional souvenir is not relevant. Having a San Marino stamp in your passport has nothing illegal whatsoever and you should not be concerned about immigration issues regarding to this in other countries. I also got one myself
- Even though San Marino doesn’t belong to the EU, they only use the Euro as a currency. Moreover, they also manufacture Euro coins with the San Marino landmarks. These are the least common Euro coins in the whole European Union and many coin collectors and tourists try to get one of these coins in their hands to keep it as a souvenir.
- San Marino is the fifth smallest country in the world, one of the only three countries that is fully landlocked by another country (Lesotho and Vatican City), and the oldest republic in the world (Year 301) – Definitely some weird statistics for such a small place.
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