San Marino is the smallest republic in the world but it punches well above its weight when it comes to castles, quirk and epic views. Read on for things to do on a day trip to San Marino.
San Marino’s Guaita Tower
San Marino is one of the world’s oldest and smallest constitutional republics. You’ll probably see it billed as ‘San Marino, Italy’. San Marino isn’t actually in Italy although it is totally landlocked by it and surrounded by the Emilia-Romagna and Le Marche regions. The Adriatic Sea is nearby.
San Marino is an easy day trip from Bologna or Florence and a bus ride away from Rimini. I took a Bologna day trip to San Marino to see what surprises the third smallest state in Europe had in store. The micro-state didn’t disappoint.
I went from Bologna to Rimini by train and from there took the San Marino bus. (How to get to San Marino below). The Bonelli bus climbed higher and higher as the road twisted ever upwards. Mount Titano towers 739 metres above sea level and my ears actually popped on the way up. I knew for sure I’d left Italy and arrived in a new country when my mobile pinged a ‘Welcome to San Marino’ text!
Things to do in San Marino
Take in San Marino’s epic views
We arrived at the coach park and as I climbed off the bus I turned and caught a glimpse of the first of the day’s views. The sun was shining, it was a clear day, and miles and miles of lush green Emilia-Romagna countryside stretched into the distant Apennines.
Mount Titano, San Marino’s highest point, is a balcony of rock offering a panoramic view of the Upper Marecchia Valley and Montefeltro across to the Romagna coastline. Mount Titano and San Marino Old Town are both UNESCO world heritage sites.
Eventually I tore myself away from the epic panorama and made my way upwards towards the town. I only had a few hours and wanted to see as much of San Marino as possible.
See San Marino’s Towers
Guaita Tower (first tower)
The high point of my visit were the fortresses of San Marino. Turreted, castellated, fairytale towers reaching skywards into the bluest of skies and linked by a winding path that runs the entire ridge of the mountain. The towers were built to protect the small state from Emilia Romagna’s Malatesta family. The first and oldest tower, Guaita, is surrounded by two circles of city walls, one of which can be walked. The tower housed prisoners right up until the 1970s.
San Marino – Guaita tower
The pathway connecting the towers “Passo delle streghe” means Passage of the Witches. The name is pretty apt in this fairytale scene but sinister because it’s where the hanging of witches took place. I could imagine seeing winged monkeys in waistcoats swooping down on me Wizard of Oz style had the day been dark and overcast. But it wasn’t and the blue skies were the perfect backdrop.
Pathway between San Marino’s towers looking towards Cesta
Cesta Tower (second tower)
The path between the two towers is the one of the best places to get great shots of both the first and second towers. It also has some gorgeous countryside views. The view from the top of Cesta back to Guaita tower totally took my breath away. It’s possible to climb right into the roof of this tower but there’s a steep step-ladder and a small trap-hatch. The views back to Guaita Tower from the lookout windows are worth the effort. Today the Cesta Tower houses the Armoury Museum containing weaponry and armour from as early as the thirteenth century.
Montale (third tower)
The third fortress was built around the thirteenth century as a guard post. The tower is not open to visitors, but it’s a nice walk through the trees and the views are good from there.
Travelbunny Tip: To save you queuing I recommend you buy the combined ticket. This allows you to visit the Public Palace, the first and second towers, the Church of St. Francis, and the State Museum. Buy your tickets at the Public Palace – it’s not as busy as the ticket offices at the towers. A combined ticket for all five visits costs €10.50.
Explore San Marino Old Town
San Marino’s old town centre is good for a wander but the streets are steep so flat shoes are best for walking here. The old town is mainly closed to traffic and contained within the medieval stone walls. You’ll find lots of shops, cafes and restaurants. You may want to visit the gruesome Torture Museum.
San Marino Flag
Do some duty-free shopping
San Marino old town is full of welcoming cafes, street artists and boutiques selling handbags, clothes and ceramics. Banks are plentiful, maybe because San Marino is one of the wealthiest countries per head with a population of just 30,000. Many goods are tax-free so San Marino shopping attracts tourists on the hunt for bargains. I was surprised to see a lot of shops selling replica guns and weapons.
If you’re looking for a deal on Italian brands, jewellery or souvenirs you’ve come to the right place. There’s also a Factory Outlet with electronics and clothing. San Marino currency is the Euro.
Try a Piadina
Lunch was a tasty Piadina with a local beer for €6. Piadina is an Emilia Romagna regional dish. It’s a soft flat bread and when it’s filled with two local specialities, squacquerone cheese and prosciutto, it’s divine especially when it’s popped briefly in the oven and served warm. I’m not sure the name of the restuarant – I thought it might have been ‘Pasta Fatta En Case’ as plastered across the door but it seems that means homemade pasta. Fail.
The Basilica del Santo
The Basilica of San Marino was completed in 1836. It was built on the site of a fifth-century church which was sadly demolished to make way for it. The Neoclassical structure has a porch of eight Corinthian columns. The Basilica is the main religious building in the state and conserves the relics of the founder of the community of San Marino. Saint Marino. If you want to enter the basilica, you’ll need to dress appropriately i.e. no bare shoulders, vest tops or short shorts.
Get a San Marino Passport Stamp
You don’t need a passport to get into San Marino but make sure you take it along anyway. I dropped by the tourist office (by the funicular) and got a San Marino stamp in my passport. The cost is €5.00 (2019) although the stamp has changed a little since I got mine. As a Brit travelling in Europe it’s quite a novelty to get a passport stamp, although who knows what might happen post Brexit…
San Marino is big on postage stamps and claims to have one of the best and oldest postal systems in the world. Drop into the Post Office, if you’re a collector, and take home some stamps and a San Marino Euro coin – both collectors’ items.
I became so entranced by the views that I totally lost track of the time. I missed seeing the Houses of Parliament and Palazzo Pubblico. I’d loved to have spent more time in San Marino the tiny state with the big, big views.
I’m told the sunsets are spectacular. Can you even begin to imagine?
How to get to San Marino
Bologna to San Marino by train
You can visit from Bologna to San Marino as a day trip. First take the train from Bologna to Rimini which takes 60-90 minutes. The cost varies depending on the speed of the train. The faster train is more expensive.
Call center Trenitalia: from San Marino and Italy – tel. 892021
Call center Trenitalia: from abroad – tel. +39 (0)6 68475475
Rimini to San Marino by bus
From Rimini train station you’ll need to take the Bonelli bus to San Marino. The ride takes about 50 minutes and costs €5 each way. Get your ticket opposite the railway station next to Burger King.
Bus Line Rimini – San Marino
Fratelli Benedettini s.a. Via Ovella, 13 – Borgo Maggiore
Tel. 0549 903854 – Fax 0549 906352www.benedettinispa.com
Bonelli Bus Sas Via Murano, 54 – Riccione (RN)
Tel. (+39) 0541 662069 – Fax (+39) 0541 642512
A14 Bologna-Ancona Motorway; Rimini South exit – Superstrada Rimini-San Marino SS72 dual carriagewayA14 Bologna-Ancona Motorway; Rimini North exit – SP “Marecchiese” n° 258
There are several parking areas outside the city walls and around the area where the buses turn round at the bottom of the Old Town. Use the elevator to go up the mountain. You could also park in Boro Maggiore, the village at the bottom of Mount Titano, and take the inexpensive funicular up.
How long to spend in San Marino
Allow yourself at least 4 hours in San Marino itself. For more information on tower and museum opening times and prices check out the Visit San Marino website.
Our apartment in Bologna was provided by the Emilia-Romagna Tourism Board as part of the #BlogVille campaign created by iAmbassador. As always all views and opinions – good, bad or otherwise – are entirely my own.