So small – and so spectacular! The old town of San Marino is majestically enthroned at the top of Monte Titano. No wonder its historic centre has been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. San Marino is simply breathtakingly beautiful.
Referred to as a microstate, San Marino is one of the smallest countries in the world. It is completely surrounded by Italy. Therefore, visiting San Marino is ideal for a road trip through “Bella Italia”.
In this travel guide we show you all you can experience on a day trip to San Marino and which sights are not to be missed. On top of this we share our experiences, what we enjoyed, and of course, as always, our personal tips and the best itinerary for your day trip.
- 1. San Marino: Overview of the microstate [initial travel tips]
- 2. San Marino Travel Guide: Things to See on a Day Trip
- 3. Practical Travel Tips for your Day Trip (Arrival, Entry, Parking etc.)
- 4. Staying the Night in San Marino
- 5. Further Travel Destinations around San Marino
- 6. Map: The Best Sights for your Day Trip at a Glance
1. San Marino: Overview of the microstate [initial travel tips]
Useful & exciting facts
- San Marino is tiny. Spanning just 12 kilometres from north to south. Crazy, right?
- San Marino is considered the oldest republic in the world.
- The old town is enthroned on a ridge of Monte Titano. The area is really extraordinarily spectacular. It isn’t for no reason that San Marino’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Around 30,000 people live in San Marino – the vast majority not in the old town, but in the suburbs at the foot of the mountain.
- San Marino is not part of the EU. However, you still pay using euros.
San Marino’s flair: our (honest) experience
As spectacularly as San Marino is situated – unfortunately the flair of the town centre (at the capital on the mountain) did not amaze us personally as much as we had hoped. To clarify what we mean, we need to expand a little.
No doubt, the city landscape of the old town is beautiful. Small alleyways, old houses, stunning buildings and of course the three landmark towers – San Marino is quite a feast for the eyes.
However: the life was missing for us. The old town is completely, thoroughly catered towards tourists. There are rows of souvenir shops, jewellers, leather goods shops and gun stores. Yes, you read right. Gun stores. There are an absurd amount of stores in San Marino where you can buy pocket knives, air pistols and so on. Why is this? We didn’t understand until the end, but it definitely puts people off.
Taking a stroll through San Marino feels a bit like visiting a museum. And unfortunately we don’t mean that in a positive way. Nevertheless: the historic town centre is definitely worth seeing, even though the sparks didn’t really fly with us.
Is a day trip enough to visit the main sights?
Admittedly: it sounds a little strange to visit a whole republic in just one day. In the case of San Marino, we definitely think that taking a day trip is enough.
All the main attractions can be found in the old town (the capital, which is enthroned on the hill). You can imagine this part of San Marino as being kind of like a small, medieval town, which can be explored rather quickly. There would even be enough time for an excursion to Borgo Maggiore (the municipality at the foot of the mountain, where the gondola starts).
If you would like, you can of course also spend one night (or two) in San Marino. Although, the hotel selection is rather light, because the vast majority of guests only visit San Marino on a day trip.
2. San Marino Travel Guide: Things to See on a Day Trip
The three towers
San Marino’s landmark and easily the main attractions are the three defence towers and the associated castle complex. They are enthroned on the ridge of Monte Titano and can be seen far and wide.
- Guaita: The first tower is the oldest and most iconic of the three. From this tower (and from the castle’s defence wall) you get a grandiose view of the second castle complex.
- Cesta: The second tower (also called „Fratta“) is just as impressive. You can visit it, although the area is currently (as at Spring 2022) being renovated. You have a great view from here back towards the first tower.
- Montale: The third tower in the bunch is the smallest and youngest of the three. It probably originates in the 14th Century. It is not possible to visit this tower.
Travel Tip: witches’ path between tower 1 + 2
All three castle complexes are connected via a so-called witches’ path. They path is always open (even outside of opening hours). Most of all, you can look forward to the iconic postcard picture view in the first part of the witch path.
The stone staircase with a view of the second tower, Cesta, presents an especially popular photo opportunity. Also don’t miss the view back towards Guaita. It is really impressive to see how the majestic fortress is perched here on the ridge.
Palazzo Pubblico in the Piazza della Libertà
The central square of San Marino’s old town is the Piazza della Libertà. One of the nation’s most important sights is situated here, the Palazzo Pubblico. It is the seat of the town hall, parliament and the government – and is also depicted on the back of the 2 euro coin.
The Palazzo Pubblico immediately catches the eye with its cream coloured, Neo-Renaissance style façade. You can also view the palace interior (including the large boardroom), as long as there isn’t an important meeting taking place.
The spacious Piazza della Libertà stretches out in front of the Palazzo Pubblico. The square is open to the south-west so that you can enjoy a great view of the surrounding landscape. In our opinion, you shouldn’t leave San Marino without having paid a visit here.
San Marino Basilica
San Marino‘s main church is the San Marino Basilica. It was built in the 19th century in classical style and is definitely one of the most impressive sights in the country.
You can of course also view the church interior. Entrance is free. The column architecture of the cathedral’s entrance continues into the interior. We personally found the flair very special and worth seeing.
Small tip: be sure to dress appropriately. You cannot enter with shorts, short skirts or bare shoulders.
Tip: get your passport stamped
You can get a pretty souvenir for your passport from the tourist information centre in the Piazzetta Giuseppe Garibaldi. You can get a sticker with a stamp in your passport for 5 euros. Clearly, this whole thing is rather touristy, but we really enjoy this special kind of souvenir.
3. Practical Travel Tips for your Day Trip (Arrival, Entry, Parking etc.)
Arrival: how to get to San Marino
San Marino is located inland, only about ten kilometres away from the Adriatic sea, and is completely surrounded by Italy. The next largest city is Rimini, which you can drive to in less than half an hour.
San Marino does not have any airports. You usually get there using your own car, especially if coming from Germany or Austria. It is a good 8 hour drive to this region from Vienna.
An alternative possibility is to arrive by plane (e.g. to Bologna). You can find cheap flights on Skyscanner. From there you can then book a rental car. We always book our rental cars through SunnyCars.
Entrance into San Marino
Entering San Marino from Italy is less spectacular than you would think. There are several border crossings, which you only notice if you’re really paying attention. There are simply signs that say you are leaving the European Union.
Surprisingly, there is no border control, so you don’t need to account for wait times. The same entry requirements apply in San Marino as in Italy.
Tips for parking
Once you arrive in San Marino, you have roughly two options for parking to reach the (mainly car free) old town (i.e. the capital).
Option 1: You park “down” in the municipality of Borgo Maggiore (e.g. at carpark P11). You take the gondola (Funivia di San Marino) from there directly to San Marino’s old town. The trip (there and back) costs 4.50 euros. The top station is located practically in the middle of San Marino’s old town.
Option 2: You drive along the road up towards the old town. You can park there at e.g. carpark P9. From there you reach the town centre via two elevators. Then just a short stroll (uphill) lies between you and the town centre.
4. Staying the Night in San Marino
Option 1 (our tip): In neighbouring Italy
Personally, we wouldn’t suggest you stay in San Marino, but instead one of the surrounding villages in Italy. The picturesque town of Santarcangelo di Romagna is recommendable. You can drive from there to San Marino in less than half an hour.
We can highly recommend the Delle Farfalle Boutique B&B. This personally managed bed and breakfast is located in a peaceful area on the outskirts of Santarcangelo di Romagna’s old town. There are only three rooms and a lovely garden.
Option 2: In San Marino
If you stay overnight in San Marino, you do naturally have the advantage being able to get up and going in the morning and explore the old town before everyone else. The majority of the guests visit San Marino on a day trip, so of course staying the night there has its appeal.
The range of accommodation options in San Marino is fairly slim. We recommend the B&B Balsimelli 12, an authentic Bed and Breakfast located right in the historic old town. The rooftop terrace and its view is simply fantastic.
5. Further Travel Destinations around San Marino
If you are not already staying in Rimini and visiting San Marino from there, then taking a stop-off in the small town is definitely worth the while. Aside from parties and the beach, Rimini has a lot on offer.
Rimini’s old town, with its many Roman remnants, exudes a very special flair. The Tiberius Bridge and the Arch of Augustus are particularly impressive.
You can find our tips in this blog article: Rimini Sights (available soon)
The small town of Verucchio sits gracefully on a hill just a few kilometres away from the border to San Marino. We personally really liked it here.
The main sight in Verucchio is the historic castle complex, the Malatesta, from which you can enjoy a dreamy view into the Marecchia valley and back towards the Adriatic coast.
The flair of the alleyways in Verucchio’s old town is just as charming. Time passes slower here. Because Verucchio is so small and quick to explore, a couple of hours is enough time for a visit.
West of San Marino, just five kilometres as the crow flies, lies another jewel: San Leo. With its medieval and spectacularly situated fortress, San Leo is a little reminiscent of San Marino in terms of its setting.
Although, the flair of the town centre is hardly comparable. San Leo can gladly be described as an insider tip. We personally had a really great time here.
6. Map: The Best Sights for your Day Trip at a Glance
To round things off, we have marked all of the main sights and our tips for your day trip on this interactive map. How do you get the most out of this map? Our tip: it is best to click the top right corner of the map, to open the map in the Google Maps app on your smartphone. That way, you can comfortably navigate your way from A to B while there.
Disclaimer: Affiliate Links
This travel guide contains our personal recommendations in the form of affiliate links. If you book or buy something via the links, we will receive a small commission. This will not change the price for you at all. A million thanks from the both of us!
Have you already been to San Marino? How did you like it? Do you have any additional tips for the perfect day trip? We look forward to hearing about your experiences below this blog article.