The San Marino Travel Guide: Finding Castles in the Sky

Italy

Jan 15

Use our San Marino travel guide to plan your trip to one of Europe's smallest countries. 

High above the clouds of Italy, you'll find castles in the sky. More than just a legend, they mark the home of the world's oldest republic. 

Disclosure - if you buy or book through some of the links in this article, we may earn a small amount at no extra cost to you. Cheers! Also, I visited San Marino as a guest of the San Marino tourism board. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. I wouldn't recommend everything we did. This article covers the many things I would recommend. Ta!

The Ultimate San Marino Travel Guide

What is San Marino?

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino is both a beautiful and curious place to visit. It's a tiny, landlocked nation surrounded entirely by Italy. Only three places in the world share this set up. The other two are Lesotho and Vatican City.

Where is San Marino?

You'll find San Marino surrounded by Italy, just an hour from the Old Town of Rimini on the Adriatic coast. It's one of the smallest countries in Europe, with a population of around 33 000 and a land area of 24 square miles.

Is it Worth Visiting San Marino?

Yes, yes, yes! It's one of the most interesting places I've visited in Europe (and I've visited a lot.) 

However, I imagine that a crowded day trip could possibly feel a little soulless. I'd highly recommend an overnight stay to have the place to yourself. And push yourself beyond the main sights to start to get a sense of the place and its people.

Why is San Marino a Country?!

It's a fascinating question, isn't it? While wars raged on the ground below and then in the air above (Allied Forces accidentally bombed San Marino during WW II,) San Marino remained independent throughout. 

To understand why, we need to travel back in time a little and remember that Italy as we understand her today is actually very young. For most of history, Italy has consisted of city states, kingdoms and principalities until the formation of the Republic of Italy in 1871.

Since the fall of the Roman Empire in 301AD and the foundation of San Marino by the saint of the same name, wise strategic choices have maintained independence. Governments provided just enough support to roving armies to keep them alive, but not enough to "back them." San Marino persuaded Napoleon not to invade and then negotiated exemptions from the united Italian state. 

Do you need a passport to visit San Marino?

With all that said, San Marino has maintained a harmonious border with her much bigger neighbour. You don't need separate passport and visa checks to enter San Marino, but you can pay for a passport stamp to commemorate the event!

Fun Facts About San Marino

  • The San Marino capital is called... San Marino. 
  • In 2010, twins Aldo and Davide Simoncini wrote themselves into the history books by each scoring an own goal in an international football match against Sweden. The record stands to this day.
  • Her people are called Sanmarinese.
  • The San Marino area isn't just Mt Titano. The surrounding foothills make her territories larger than the Vatican and Monaco, but apart from those two, she's the smallest sovereign state in Europe.
  • San Marino has two presidents and no army. 
  • The entire city of San Marino is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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What To Do in San Marino

The great pleasure of visiting San Marino involves strolling around her medieval cobbled streets and battlements and pondering the events of world history while gazing out over the land below. 

But for more concrete examples and a more traditional San Marino travel guide, you can:

Take The Cable Car to the UNESCO World Heritage City

A cable car connects the large (for San Marino) town of Borgo Maggiore with San Marino City - and it's a fantastic way to make the journey.

Clean and efficient, it's only as you rise up above the terracotta rooftops that the geography of the area makes sense. No wonder weary soldiers thought better of trying to invade and opted for a bowl of warm soup instead. This area is steep amid a flatland of rolling vineyards and olive groves. 

Ride up at sunset for one of the most spectacular views in the world. 

Cesta tower in San Marino Italy

Walk along the witches' path between the three towers of San Marino

Visit the Three Towers

Ay caramba. The three medieval towers that claw across the craggy peaks of Titano like a dragon's spine make fairy tales seem real. 

Known as the three towers, and featured on the San Marino flag, you can climb two of the three and teeter around the battlements and ramparts of the rest of the complex. 

Guaita

11th century Guaita is the oldest of the three, with steep stony steps and a ladder that gives the view across to Cesta tower.

Cesta

Cesta is the fairytale turret rising out of the green. Built on a the ruins of a Roman fort, it houses over 1550 weapons from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century.

Montale

Once a prison, the Montale tower is no longer open to the public. 

Walk the Witches' Path

The atmospherically named Witches' Path curves and claws along the ridge between the Guaita add Cesta towers. And it lives up to the promise of the name. Wear comfy shoes and stride along, imaginary broomstick in tow.

Liberty Squiare or Piazza della Liberta in San Marino Italy

See the Piazza Della Libertà

A beauty spot in itself, Piazza della Libertà offers fantastic views across the countryside as well as the entrance to the Palazzo Pubblico, the official government building. If your'e lucky, as we were, you may even see one of the presidents arrive...

Watch the Changing of the Guard

The changing of the guard ceremony takes place every half hour from 8am to 6pm outside the Palazzo Publico in Liberty Square.

Cycle Mount Titano

Not for the faint of heart or foot (!) you can take the roads and off-road paths of Monte Titano herself in a hair-raising downhill scramble. 

Hire an eBike from the base of the Cable Car to help get back up again ;-)

Making traditional flatbread piadina and drenching with olive oil and rosemary in a farm in San Marino

Nothing tastes better than a freshly cooked piadina

Take a Cooking Class: Make a Mean Piadina

Food in San Marino shares a lot in common with the surrounding Emilia-Romagna countryside. While tourists focus on the UNESCO World Heritage Site citadel, the rest of San Marino consists of traditional farming land and practices. 

And some farmhouses are opening their doors to visitors, forming cooperatives, and running cooking classes through the kind of agroturismo that warms my cockles at night. Once such operation is the Terra di San Marino, where I learned how to make a traditional flatbread called piadina.

You can also learn how to make handmade pasta and buy locally produced olive oil to take home. That's easily two of the best Italian souvenirs right there, even though they're Sanmarinese here.

Duty Free Shopping

"More knives and guns than Texas," was a phrase I heard a lot, although​ make of that what you will. Many day trip visitors are lured in by the duty free shopping experiences and there are a lot of weapons on display. 

Enjoy the Sunset

The sunset views from the 2500 high Mt Titano take some beating. Another good reason not to race away after a day trip. 

Visit Some Quirky Museums

I didn't have time for all of these on my trip (too busy enjoying that sunset?!) but you can find the following in San Marino. 

  • The Museum of San Francesco - religious sculptures and paintings in cloisters that date back to the 1400s. 
  • The Museum of Ancient Arms - think armour, swords, crossbows and firearms.
  • The Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art - houses over 800 pieces of work. 
  • The Museum of Emigrant - as befits such a small nation, many Sanmarinese need to leave. This museum explores why and how they live elsewhere in the world and discusses the patterns that drive people to go - and then return. 
  • The Ferrari Museum - leave the city confines of San Marino and immerse yourself in shiny cars.
  • The San Marino Museum of Torture - not for me, but if you have the stomach for it, you can visit and reflect that perhaps our current European governments are not so bad after all.

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The San Marino Travel Guide: What to Know Before You Go

When to visit San Marino

July and August are peak months for tourism in Italy - and hence San Marino. The UNESCO World Heritage City is a little cooler than down on the ground, so a trip to San Marino can provide some light relief. 

That said, the spring and autumn months are often far less crowded and the temperatures easier to manage for outdoor activities. May to July and September are probably the best times to go. San Marino can look festive in December but bad weather and mist can obscure the views (although, to be fair, that can happen at any time of year.)

What to wear in San Marino

As with most of Italy, a degree of effort in what you wear is appreciated. Stylish, good quality clothes will help you fit in. But no one will mind if you opt for the full tourist shorts, sneakers and strappy top combo.

What languages do people speak in San Marino?

You can get by in English in most tourist spots, although the official language is Italian.

Do you need a visa to visit San Marino?

If you don't need a visa to visit Italy, you don't need one for San Marino. You can pay for a passport stamp as a souvenir, if you wish at the San Marino Tourist Office. At the time of typing, visits are visa free for EU, US and Canadian citizens.

How much time should you spend in San Marino?

Many (many) people visit San Marino as a day trip but if I've said it once, I'll say it again. Stay overnight to truly get a sense of the place beyond just being a tourist hotspot. That said, San Marino is small so unless you really enjoy slow travel, one night should be fine. 

How to Get to San Marino

By Air

San Marino doesn't have an airport of its own. The closest airport is Federico Fellini International in Rimini (RMI.) However, Bologna Airport (BLQ) serves more international flights.

By Public Transport

From Rimini

Bonelli Bus 72 runs from Rimini Train Station to San Marino on a daily basis. The trip takes just under an hour.

From Bologna

Take the train from Bologna to Rimini and the bus from there. Links are easy to follow and close together and the journey will take around 2 hours 30 minutes. 

From Rome

It takes just over 4 hours to travel from Rome to San Marino.

By Car

I'd highly recommend creating a road trip through the Emilia-Romagna region, combining Bologna, Casa Artusi, Rimini and San Marino. 

You will be able to explore more of the rest of San Marino with your own transport, such as the farmhouse cooking lessons run by the Terra di San Marino.

It takes 90 minutes to drive from Bologna and 45 minutes from Rimini.

Top tip: speak to your hotel about where to park your car in advance. It's often simpler to park out of the UNESCO area and have the hotel pick you up. 

Getting Around San Marino

You won't need a car in the central UNESCO World Heritage City of San Marino. It will only get in the way! 

However, to explore the rest of the countryside, it will make life much easier.

San Marino Currency

San Marino has its own mint and while they are not in the European Union, they do use the Euro. 

Using Your Phone in San Marino

There are no additional roaming charges as you cross from Italy to San Marino. So, if you have EU coverage or a SIM for travel within the EU, you will be fine in San Marino.

Hotels in San Marino

For a taste of Agatha Christie-era grandeur, stay at the Grand Hotel San Marino. Although a little dated, the view across San Marino is unbeatable and it's easier to get to that other San Marino city hotels.

San Marino Tours

Head to the Tourist Office website to book some official tours. Otherwise, a good book and a pair of sturdy shoes should be all you need. It's a small place and (almost) impossible to get lost.

Where and What to Eat in San Marino

Gastronomy in San Marino is heavily influenced by the surrounding Emilia-Romagna region - or should that be the other way around? Either way, it's great news for foodies as great wine, pasta, cheese and breads march their way onto the table. 

San Marino has its own wine and protects its cultural traditions, such as making pasta and piadina by hand.

San Marino city may be small but their gastro ambition is not. Here are some restaurants in San Marino that I would recommend in particular:

San Marino Nightlife

Dinner is the main event, followed by strolling around the cobbled streets. San Marino is not a place for night clubs and all night revelry. Thankfully ;-)

What to Pack for San Marino

Build on your standard packing list for Italy with something a little warmer for San Marino. It can get breezy up on that mountaintop!

Looking for a guidebook for San Marino?

Is San Marino Safe?

With its wealth, small area and full police force, it's probably one of the safest places in the world. Unless you include mountain biking.

More on Travel in Italy

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

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