Who wants to visit one of the smallest countries in Europe? San Marino, the oldest republic, is the perfect day trip while in Italy. Visit San Marino castle, shop, and unwind! You’ll never want to leave.
One thing we knew for sure when we were planning our summer road trip in Italy, was that we had to spend at least one day in San Marino. The tiny, “Most Serene Republic of San Marino,” is on the border of the Italian provinces of Emilia Romagna and Marche and is not too far off the track driving between Bologna and Tuscany.
San Marino is one of the oldest republics in the world, established in 301 AD, and has remained largely unchanged throughout its history making it a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. From its origins as a small refugee community atop Mount Titano, San Marino grew to the present day micro-state consisting of the towns of Fiorentino, Montegiardino, Serravalle, and Faetano covering about 61 square kilometers.
Almost as important for us, however, was that after this trip we would have finally visited every country in Europe! But all of that history aside, are there enough things to do in San Marino to make up a good day trip? Is one day enough?
Day Trip To San Marino
San Marino is mostly known for its stunning medieval and renaissance fortifications, crenelated walls, lofty cliff top towers, and narrow winding passageways precariously perched on the slopes of Mount Titano.
In some ways the city is reminiscent of the fictional walled city of Minas Tirith from the Lord of the Rings. We fell in love with the architecture and the incredible views looking out across the Italian Adriatic coast while siting on the highest walls of the city.
While many visitors come to the city on day trips from Bologna, it is worth staying overnight and enjoying the evening in the old town after the day tripping crowds have left for the night.
San Marino Passport Stamp
Let’s face it, one of the main reasons to visit San Marino is to claim the bragging rights of having been there, especially when this ticks the box to complete the countries of Europe list. What better way to commemorate this achievement than an official stamp in your passport.
This can be a difficult thing to get in most European countries where borders are virtually invisible and the only passport stamping is done at the Schengen-Non-Schengen borders. In San Marino, however, all it takes is a trip to the Tourist Information center next to the Funivia station at the top of the city.
Plop down your five euros, offer a friendly smile and some pleasant conversation, and hand over your passport for stamping. While you’re there, be sure to check out any upcoming events.
San Marino Attractions
San Marino Castle
First time visitors to San Marino can’t be faulted for thinking there is one huge castle at the top of Mount Titano. The reality is a bit different. The ornately crenelated walls, and tall towers seen from a distance seem like they are all part of one larger fairytale palace, but really this is a fortified city with defensive structures strategically located to protect the republic from outside invaders.
In reality, San Marino Castle refers to the nine provinces or municipalities of the country which are called Castelli. The most important of these for tourists is the capital, Citta di San Marino.
Strolling the winding, cobble stone streets and alleys of San Marino is the real treat here. The beautiful architecture, expertly designed stone work and decorative facades, are worth all the stairs and climbing. Shopping includes a collection of local artisanal products as well as medieval themed armor and weaponry.
Of course, you might also find that fine leather handbag you’ve been searching for. Seriously, though, this is a city meant to be explored on foot. You never know what surprising courtyard, palace, or church is waiting just around the next corner.
City Walls and Towers
You see them as you wind your way up the mountain, driving through the city gates, and along the massive stonework walls. The three towers of San Marino are impressive fortifications well worth the hike to the top of Mount Titano.
Of course, no one will think less of you if you take the cable car up to the top of the city and climb the remaining shortened trek from there, but don’t kid yourself, there will still be some climbing.
The views from the towers are incredible and the Museum of Ancient Weaponry in the second tower is one of my favorite museums.
How To Get To San Marino
Unlike Rome, all roads do not lead to San Marino. That being said, driving is perhaps the easiest and most direct mode of transportation to get to this beautiful tiny republic in the middle of Italy. San Marino doesn’t have a train station, there is no airport, and bus service connecting outside the country is limited.
For those travelers choosing slow travel and interested in reducing their carbon footprint, leave the car at home, but be aware you will be making connections in Rimini on the Italian Adriatic coast for just about every other option.
Rimini-San Marino Bus
Bonelli Bus runs daily routes between Rimini and San Marino every day of the year with regular departures all day. Tickets for the 40 minute ride can be purchased on the bus from the driver for about 10 euros.
Catch the bus outside the main train station in Rimini and get off the bus at Portici in Borgo Maggiorre at the base of mount Titano. From here you can take the Funivia gondola up into San Marino city. If you’d rather skip the cablecar, stay on the bus till the final stop in San Marino and then walk up into the city.
Bologna To San Marino
Visitors to Italy won’t want to miss a trip to Bologna and the Emilia Romagna region. From here, San Marino is a short one and half hours drive down the autostrada. The tolls will run about 8 euros so if you have the car this is the best option.
If you don’t have your own set of wheels, or need to take public transportation, don’t despair, trains depart Bologna’s central station starting around 05:00 about every half hour for Rimini on the Adriatic coast (another nice day trip, btw).
Be careful, though, the last train heads back to Bologna out of Rimini station around 10:00 P.M. The price of this trip is about 25 euros per person and the total travel time is about two and a half hours each direction at a cost.
Rome To San Marino
With a driving time of just about four hours, driving from Rome to San Marino would make for a long day trip. Instead, consider spending the night in the old town to get the most out of your visit.
The most direct route will leave Rome on the A1 Autostrada and then switch to the SS3bis heading Northwest. Tolls for this trip will be around 15 euros each way.
Getting from Rome to San Marino by bus is perhaps the cheapest method at about 25 euros oneway, however, service is limited to two runs each week (Monday and Friday) on Bonelli’s buses and the trip takes about 7 hours. Catch the bus at Rome’s, bus hub – Autostazione Tibus.
A better option is the train, though, which takes about 5 hours depending on connections. Regular train service connects Rome and Bologna everyday, and from there, it is an easy connection to Rimini. Expect to pay about 50 euros for a one way train ticket From Rome to San Marino.
Venice To San Marino
Driving from Venice to San Marino on the autostrada will take around three and half hours and cost about 25 euros in tolls. This does make for a doable day trip without too much stressful driving. Of course, most visitors to Venice will be there without a car so taking the train might be the only option.
Trains leave regularly from Venice’s Santa Lucia station to Bologna every 2o minutes and then connect on to Rimini for a total travel time of about four hours at a cost of approximately 40 euros.
Ravenna To San Marino
Ravenna’s UNESCO World Heritage sights are only an hour’s drive from San Marino. Alternatively, trains run about every hour and make the one way trip to Rimini in an hour for around 10 euros.
Flights To San Marino
The Federico Fellini International Airport of Rimini is the nearest airport to San Marino with service by several small airlines operating throughout Europe including RyanAir.
Getting from the airport to San Marino is not too difficult, however, requiring only one bus transfer. After arrival, take the local bus, number 9, to the central station (Rimini Fs) and then transfer to the Bonelli Rimini-San Marino bus.
San Marino Travel Tips
In the end, and after some serious research, we decided to spend the night in San Marino on our drive between Bologna and Montepulciano. This gave us two days of gorgeous driving through some incredible countryside and we had the best light of the day in the afternoon and morning in San Marino.
All in all, our time for touring the city was about the same as if we had just gone in for the day from Bologna or Rimini.
The Best Time to Go to San Marino
The climate and weather of San Marino is very similar to Bologna, but luckily it is a little higher altitude, so you can get some good breezes flowing through the city. The average temperatures are relatively moderate, but let me tell you that during those summer days it does get quite hot.
You will notice this right away as you climb the streets and paths to the summit. The most comfortable time of year is in the spring and fall, and there are fewer tourists during that time as well, so if you have a choice, that would be a good time to go.
Where To Stay In San Marino
After deciding to stay overnight, we began searching for the best San Marino hotel. We came across the Hotel Cesare and knew we had found the one. This small hotel is located at the top of the old town in the heart of the medieval quarter but still only steps away from parking.
No worries about the car and no schlepping bags up into the city. Our room was comfortable and spacious and looked out into the old town. The view from the bar’s balcony at sunset was unbelievable and the restaurant was perfect. We really couldn’t have asked for better.
Other Important Info
- Parking: Driving to the historical sites in San Marino is basically impossible. However, for as difficult as it may be to drive there, parking is surprising plentiful and affordable. There are several parking lots at the various levels of the city as you climb up Mount Titano. For a day trip, however, park at the base of the mountain and ride the Funivia up into the medieval quarter.
- Museums: There are a host of interesting museums in San Marino. Our favorites were the Museum of Ancient Weapons in the Second Tower, and the state museum in Palazzo Pergami Belluzzi. Among the quirkier options, there are the obligatory Museum of Torture and the bizarre Vampire Museum.
- Eating and Drinking: Naturally we expected a strong similarity to Italian cuisine and we weren’t disappointed. One surprise, however, was the excellent San Marinese beer brewed by Titanbrau. This was our sun down drink of choice!
- Visa Requirements: San Marino has an open border with Italy and as such has the same visa requirements. Anyone with a valid visa traveling in Italy can enter San Marino. While it’s not required, consider getting your passport stamped for the nominal five euro fee at the tourist information office. This is a great souvenir!
Additional Reading for Nearby Italy
- Photography Tips for Venice”>Venice Photography Challenges
- Lucca, Another Italian Gem”>Lucca Italy – A Hidden Gem
- Top Ten Things to do on Bolzano, Italy
San Marino, not well known and bit difficult to get to, is one of the hidden gems of Europe. It’s not high on most people’s lists. We know this well, because it was our very last country to visit in all of Europe. However, after spending about 24 hours in this beautiful city, we wished we’d allotted it more time. We loved the invigorating hikes along the winding alleyways. We loved the views, especially the sunset. It was a great place to sip a glass of wine and unwind from all of our busy traveling. Don’t be like us, go soon!
Author Bio: Jim Vail, is a travel, food, and video creator and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 15 years. For many years he lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands, and he’s visited over 90 countries.