San Marino, which is said to be the world’s oldest republic, is a tiny independent enclave in Italy that shouldn’t be skipped if you’re traveling the Italian region of Emilia Romagna. To the surprise of many, it is very easy to visit, even if just for a few hours.
Founded in 301 AD by a Christian stonemason named Marinus and set on the imposing Monte Titano hills, this micronation is not only filled with rich history, but it is also surrounded by 360 degrees of stunning views.
If you’re interested in giving San Marino a quick visit, here’s how you can get there and what you shouldn’t miss.
The country doesn’t have an airport or train station, so you will either have to drive there or take the bus from Rimini - which is the closest major Italian city. Since San Marino is part of Schengen, there are no borders between Italy and San Marino, so driving an Italian rental shouldn’t be an issue. Despite San Marino not being particularly car-friendly, finding parking doesn’t seem to be an issue either. There is enough parking just outside of the gate and throughout the old town.
Alternatively, you could either fly or take the train to Rimini, which is less than 10 kilometers away and then take the Bonelli Bus #72, which departs opposite to the train station – in front of Burger King. Each way costs 5 Euros. You can either buy the ticket from the bus driver or at the Tourism Information Center outside the train station.
Even though San Marino is a micronation, it is bigger than most people think. What most people refer to as San Marino is the Old Town, but the country has other villages and settlements almost all tourists miss.
Dogana is one of these settlements that most people skip, yet it deserves a bit of your time. The name means “customs house” in Italian since it is set right at the border between San Marino and Italy, but no border formalities take place here anymore. Set some time aside on your way in or out of the Old Town of San Marino to walk around this traditional town that hasn’t been overrun by tourists.
If you’re just interested in the Old Town, there’s plenty to see there to fill an entire day or more. Since 2008, San Marino has been a UNESCO world heritage site thanks to its well-preserved original architecture, its fortifications, watchtowers, and beautiful cobblestone streets.
The town was built organically following the natural contours of Monte Titano, making it a place that looks not only picturesque but also feels enchanting to be in. The magic starts right after you park or get off the bus and walk through the historic Porta San Francesco – the gate that leads into the old town. From there, a maze of winding cobblestone streets, steep alleys, and steps fan out in all directions to take visitors to almost every corner of this fortified town.
Piazza Della Liberta – This is the main square of San Marino and one of the most important spaces in the town. From here you’ll see the House of Parliament.
The Parliament – Beyond its beautiful architecture, here you can learn about the country’s history and unique political system. You’ll learn how San Marino maintained its independence through the centuries, the base of its diplomacy, the many alliances formed with surrounding states, and more. Don’t miss taking a look at the alliance between the United States and San Marino during the American Civil War, in which President Abraham Lincoln was made an Honorary Citizen of San Marino.
The Towers – San Marino has three distinctive 11th-century towers, though only two of them can be visited. Walk along the walls and visit La Rocca o Guaita, or Main Tower, as it is the oldest of the three towers that crown the three peaks of Monte Titano. Enjoy the view from both towers open to the public. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Adriatic Sea.
Palazzo Pubblico – If you go from April to September, you can witness the change of guard of one of the smallest military forces in the world, which takes place every half hour from 8 am to 6 pm.
Get lost in a historic maze – The town of San Marino has no structured pattern since it follows the mountain’s contour, so each street, alley, and building is unique to its context. Get lost and enjoy every corner.
Even though San Marino has no border control, you can still get a passport stamp to mark your visit to the micro-nation. You can head to the post office, where they’ll place a visa and ink stamp on your passport as if you were entering a new country. The stamp is official and just as valid as any other stamp you get in any other country, but it'll cost you five euros.
Though San Marino is its own nation, it shares most of its culture and gastronomy with Italy. Take a break from sightseeing, sit down, and have a glass of wine with some antipasti. Or, snack a piadina, a thin flatbread with ham, cheese, or anything you want; followed by gelato. An excellent combination.
Try the Sammarinese cuisine, which is a reflection of the Italian cuisine, in a more traditional setting overlooking the city terraces. Dinner with a sunset view is a priceless experience here.
Lastly, don’t forget to go shopping – a popular activity in the country since it is tax-free. San Marino boasts hundreds of boutiques and outlets with a broad range of electronics, clothing and more.
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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